In this lesson we will present Biblical truths that distinguish Bible-believing people from other groups. Over the years these have been called Baptist distinctives because they are historically what Bible-centered Baptists have believed. They deal with specific issues of doctrine and church polity. All of them are scriptural principles. I have no quarrel with someone who wants to call these Bible distinctives rather than Baptist distinctives. As the author of this book, I am not necessarily jealous for the name Baptist: but I will fight for the principles to which Baptists have historically held. These Biblical principles are the truths we present in this chapter as Baptist Distinctives.
Although many other groups hold some of these doctrines, only those of Baptist persuasion hold all of them. As a Baptist, I do not claim that Baptists are the only ones to hold any truth; but I do believe that a church that holds to the historic Baptist position is the local church closest to the pattern of the New Testament churches. This is not a doctrinal statement. Instead, it is a statement of principles taken from the Bible and revealing the difference between historic Baptist principles and those held by other denominations or groups.
THE BIBLE — OUR ONLY RULE FOR
FAITH AND PRACTICE
2 Timothy 3:16 — “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
1. Other groups find their authority for their faith (what they believe) and their practice (what they do) in different ways.
Roman Catholics have church dogmas and encyclicals.
Mormons have the Book of Mormon.
Other denominations use some type of denominational handbook.
All we need is the Bible. It is the Word of God, and we need no other book or method.
2. The Bible is our authority for faith.
“Faith” deals with what we believe. We take the Bible as the only authority in the matter of our teaching. The Bible is true. Though we may not always understand what it says, we do know with the Bible, our church is wrong but the Bible is right.
3. The Bible was written for churches today.
In Matthew 16:18 we find the founding of the church. In Matthew 18:17 we find the discipline for the church. The Book of Acts gives us the establishing of local churches. Nearly all the rest of the New Testament was written in the framework of a local church. Since the Bible was written for the churches and about the church, and since the Bible is God’s inspired Word, our churches need no other authority for their faith and practice.
Therefore, we must accept the Bible as our only authority for what we believe and for the manner in which we organize and operate our churches. We must not accept —
The traditions of men,
The new writings of men,
The thinking of great leaders,
The vain philosophies of men,
But rather, the sure Word of God.
We do not reject traditions or writings or the thinking of men completely. These can have their place, but they are not the authorities for our faith and practice.
Colossians 2:8, 9 — “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
The Bible teaches clearly that the church and state should be separate entities. The church should not control the state, and the state should not control the church. Baptists have historically held this position.
1. Moses and Aaron
God called Moses to lead the nation of Israel.
God called Aaron to be the high priest.
Their positions were distinct and separate. It was the position of Moses to bring God’s message to men. Aaron, as high priest, was to lift men up to God.
2. David and Nathan
Nathan, a prophet, came to King David in 2 Samuel 12:7 to announce to him that David was the man who had sinned. God used Nathan to point out sin to David. Nathan did not run the state, but he did accept his responsibility to warn the king about sin.
Saul intruded into the priest’s office. In 1 Samuel 13:8-10 we read of King Saul’s endeavoring to do the work of the priests. In 1 Samuel 13:13 the prophet Samuel rebuked Saul, saying, “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: . . .”
Saul was king. As such, he disobeyed God when he endeavored to do the work that was limited to the priesthood. He violated God’s principle of the separation of church and state.
Jesus paid tribute (taxes) to Caesar.
Matthew 17:24-27 — “And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him. Of Strangers, Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.”
Jesus is The King of kings, but He paid tribute to Caesar. This instructs us that there needs to be a separation of church and state.
5. Paul and Peter
Paul and Peter taught that Christians should be subject unto the higher powers.
In Romans 13 Paul taught these truths:
a. The powers that be are ordained of God (v. 1).
b. Rulers are to be a terror to evil works (v. 3).
c. The ruler is actually a minister of God. He is to bear the sword, executing wrath upon them that do evil (v. 4).
d. Believers are to be subject to the governing powers for conscience sake (v. 5).
e. Believers should pay taxes as assessed by the government (v. 6).
f. Believers are to render tribute, custom, fear, and honor to whom it is due (v. 7).
In 1 Peter 2:13-17 Peter taught these truths:
a. Believers should submit themselves to the ordinances of man (vv. 13, 14).
b. Believers should honor the king or the one in authority over them (v. 17).
There are those today who would teach that the state is to govern the church, to control the church, and to use taxes to support the church. Of course, if the state were to do this, then the state would control the churches and have full direction of them. That means the pastors would be paid by the state. This produces a clergy that are not interested in the church and are not answerable to the church or God. They are answerable to the state.
Wherever a state church has been adopted, that church has gone into corruption and apostasy. The state church was started by Constantine when he mixed the state and church together. This is the Pergamos Church of Revelation 2; and of it the Lord says in Revelation 2:16, “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
There are others who teach that the church is the highest authority and that it is to govern the state. This is also unscriptural.
There are three institutions founded by God.
1. The Home — founded in Genesis 2
2. Human Government — founded in Genesis 9
3. The Local Church — founded in Matthew 16 and established at Pentecost
Each one of these institutions is independent of the other. They should work together to function for the glory of God.
Historically, Baptists have held the separation of church and state as a Biblical distinctive. Though this conviction has sometimes meant martyrdom, godly men have stood for this Biblical position.
Of course, the church is to have an impact in society. Therefore, it should teach and aid and strengthen the home. And it should do the same in connection with the state. The church should make an impact on the state, helping rulers to rule according to Biblical and moral standards.
Believers should be members of a local church. At the same time they are citizens of the state. As citizens, we should exercise our spiritual influence so that we might have a decent and moral climate for our children.
The three institutions — the home, the church, and human government — are given to us by God. They are all divine institutions and as such are responsible to God.
The HOME God gave the responsibility of the education of the children (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). He also gave the home the responsibility of providing all the material, emotional, and spiritual needs of the family.
The the CHURCH God gave the great commission to evangelize, baptize, and teach.
To the STATE God gave the ministry of dispensing justice. The government official is a minister of God (Romans 13:6, 7) as much as the preacher, but with a totally different responsibility.
God never intended for the home, the church, and the state to be in conflict. The home and the church should produce law-abiding citizens, and the state should protect the home and the church.
The home is to be supported by the hard work of its members. The church is to be financed by the tithes and offerings of its members. The state is to be supported by taxes. Jesus Christ was speaking of taxes when He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). This does not mean there should be a wall erected where the church and state are never to have anything to do with each other. Don’t forget that it was Jesus Christ who told the tax collectors how to handle their office. And the Lord also instructed the soldiers how to carry out their duties.
It would be impossible for a Christian to leave his Christianity at home when he goes out in the world each day. As he deals with government, he must realize that he has the principles of the Word of God to uphold.
As Christians, we are to pray for our government officials (1 Timothy 2:1, 2), to submit to the laws of the government (1 Peter 2:13, 14), to pay taxes to the government (Romans 13:6, 7), and even to hold a government position if we choose to do so. When the rights of the Christian are infriged upon, he is to appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:1-12) but not to resort to violence. However when the government interferes with a Christian’s obedience to God, the government must be disobeyed. Scriptural examples of such disobedience are Moses’ parents (Exodus 1:22 — 2:10; Daniel (Daniel 1:5-8); the three Hebrew young men (Daniel 3:1-3-); and the apostles (Acts 5:26-29).
A REGENERATE CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
The Bible teaches that before a person can be a member of a local church, he needs to know that he is saved.
Acts 2:41 — “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
Acts 2:41 states that a number were added to the church fellowship. The requirement for membership in the church was that they “gladly received his word” and “were baptized.” Verse forty-seven states that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” To come into the church, they needed to be saved.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addressed them as follows:
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
He speaks later in verse four, saying that the grace of God was given them by Jesus Christ. These Corinthians were saved before they joined the church. Please note also the salutations in Ephesians 1:1-4; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1-4. In all of these salutations you will see clearly that the members of the churches were saved.
Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
It is this new birth that is required for a person to become a member of the church. Many denominations do not hold to this Biblical distinctive. If they baptize infants into church membership, they will have an unregenerate church membership. Some baptize the infants and then put them through a “confirmation” class when they become teenagers. However, they have been members of the church since they were infants, and very seldom is the necessity of the new birth emphasized in confirmation.
BAPTISM OF BELIEVERS ONLY BY IMMERSION
We have had a detailed discussion of baptism in Chapter two. There we learned that the scriptural mode of baptism is immersion.
The Bible teaches that the membership in the church must be scripturally baptized.
Please note again Acts 2:41 — “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
The Great Commission from Jesus Christ requires that we baptize the converts. Matthew 28:19 — “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
This distinctive, like the previous one, completely does away with the practice of infant baptism. An infant cannot believe. And those who “baptize” infants use the unscriptural mode of sprinkling or pouring.
THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER AND
The “priesthood of the believer” means that each believer is his own priest under the High Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. A believer does not need another human priest to serve as a mediator.
Peter taught that believers are priests.
1 Peter 2:5 — “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:9 — “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hat called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Revelation 1:5, 6 — “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
In 1 Timothy 2:5 Paul wrote that we have only one Mediator — “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Any human priest between us and our High Priest, Jesus Christ, is unscriptural. Believers do not need another priest. They do not need Mary to intercede for them. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, is at the right hand of God, ever living to make intercession for us (Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 7:25).
What does it mean that each believer is a priest?
1. Every believer has direct access into God’s presence.
Hebrews 4:16 — “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace; that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
2. Every believer has the personal right and privilege to read and understand the Word of God himself.
John 5:39 — “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
The Bereans reveal the attitude we all should have as individuals toward the Word of God.
Acts 17:11 — “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
3. Every believer can have immediate forgiveness and cleansing of sin upon his confession and without any other mediator.
1 John 1:9 — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We do not need to go to a special priestly person to have sin forgiven, and we do not need a “sacred” place to be able to pray. Neither do we need any human intermediary to understand the Bible. The Holy Spirit can and will instruct every Bible believer who is hungry enough to study the Word of God
1 John 2:27 — “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
Soul liberty involves the scriptural teaching that every believer is individually responsible to God. We each need to accept Christ personally. The Bible message is that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Also, we each need to grow individually. The Bible teaches that each individual is important to God. The distinctive of soul liberty means that a believer is not under the authority of some individual in a man-made religious system.
AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
Each church is a self-governing body. When Paul wrote to the various churches, he dealt with different problems in each church. There was no governing body outside the local church that had authority over the church.
Basically, there are four kinds of church government.
1. The Papal — practiced by the Roman Catholic Church
This puts authority in the Pope and is totally unscriptural.
2. The Episcopal
This puts authority in a group of priests and it, too, is unscriptural.
3. The Representative
This involves a presbytery in the Presbyterian Church or the synod in the Lutheran Church. It simply means that a group of men have authority over the local church.
4. The Congregational
This is the only scriptural form of the four. This allows God full control in the local church with the congregation seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Every New Testament church faced its own problems. They dealt with those problems to see the blessing of God upon the church. They did not look to an outside ecclesiastical organization.
Autonomy of the local church means:
1. The self-government of each local church
Each church is to seek the will of God under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
2. The independence of each local church
By this we mean that the local church is independent of other churches. Of course, the local church is entirely dependent upon the Lord. And it is responsible only to the Lord and not to any other church or organization.
This does not mean that a local church cannot fellowship with other local churches. Indeed, fellowship between churches is very important. Churches may fellowship together to accomplish various ministries such as missions, camps, retreats, etc. Yet while so fellowshiping together, each local church must remain an entity unto itself.
This means that the local church should govern itself and its own affairs under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Scriptural churches have no hierarchy of a clergy class over them. They have no general assembly or convention that rules over the local church. Each local church is independent and sovereign.
The local body of believers is to be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. (Note 1 Corinthians 5 and Acts 13.) The local church should be autonomous and sovereign in all its actions — whether in the election of its officers (Acts 6), the discipline of its members (1 Corinthians 5-6), or in its relationship and association with other churches (Acts 15). There is no higher authority than a congregation of believers meeting to transact business under the leadership of a pastor.
3. Congregational government
By this we mean that from a human standpoint, the membership of the church is actually the final authority. Some refer to this type of direction as a “democracy.” By that they mean: one person, one vote. Democracy refers to government by the people. I prefer to call it a “congregational” form of government so that we understand that it is the born-again membership of the people who should be the final authority.
Actually, it would be better to refer to the local church as a theocracy. This would put the Lord in control. A spiritual church will certainly follow this pattern. The New Testament teaches that Christ is the Chief Shepherd and that He has pastors as undershepherds in the local churches. The undershepherds (the pastors) are answerable to the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:4). The titles “elder” (1 Peter 5:1), “bishop” (1Timothy 3:1), and “pastor” (Ephesians 4:11) all refer to the same office. This is taught clearly in 1 Peter 5:1, 2 —
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed [the Greek word “poimaino,” translated “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11] the flock of God which is among you, taking the ovdersight [the Greek word “episkopew,” translated “bishop” in 1 Timothy 3:1] thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”
From this passage we see that the elder also did the work of shepherding (the pastoral responsibility) and overseeing (the bishop responsibility). Under the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, the pastor has the responsibility of leading the feeding of the flock (Acts 20:28). The assembly of believers has a vote in the work of the church, but they also need to learn to follow the leadership of a godly pastor.
The scriptural manner of church government is a congregational form of government, following the leading of a pastor who seeks to follow the Lord. Therefore, it is extremely important that the pastor, the staff, the deacons, and the membership of a local church seek to walk in fellowship with the Lord.
Another important truth concerning the autonomy of the local church is that the church is composed of members and not of organizations. Thus, a couples’ club or a women’s missionary fellowship or a men’s brotherhood may exist for fellowship or service, but they are not to be called a church.
THE ETERNAL SECURITY OF THE BELIEVER
1. The Bible promises eternal life to those who believe.
John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:36 — “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
John 10:27, 28 — “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
In John 10:29 the Lord Jesus Christ promised that no man could pluck the Lord’s saved ones out of the Father’s hand.
The word translated in the verses above as “everlasting life” or “eternal life” is used forty-three times in the New Testament to qualify life or to fix the duration of the believer’s life. It is the same word used in Romans 16:26 to describe the character of God’s existence. Also, we find it in 2 Timothy 2:10 describing the duration of the glory of Christ. Again it is used in 2 Peter 1:11, telling of the duration of Christ’s kingdom.
Thus — just as long as God is, as long as the glory of Christ and His kingdom endure, so long is the believer safe.
2. Salvation implies that the believer is safe.
Involved in the word “saved” is the idea of being kept safe.
Note 1 Peter 1:5 — “Who [we believers] are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
3. Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13, 14 — “After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise. Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
This “sealing” by the Holy Spirit signifies ownership and completion. The Spirit of God takes up His abode in the believer as God’s possession, never to depart. At the same time there is complete deliverance from the power of sin. Philippians 1:6 states: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
4. To deny security is to misunderstand the doctrine of grace.
We are saved by grace and only by grace.
Ephesians 2:8, 9 — “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
When we say that we cannot be kept secure by God, we are saying that our sin can cause us to lose our salvation. This means that we believe works enter into salvation. The moment we add works to salvation, we eliminate salvation by grace alone.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
The Bible reveals that the church has two teaching pictures for the believers. These are the two ordinances: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. An ordinance of the church is determined by the following criteria:
1. It is commanded in the Gospels.
2. It is practiced in the Book of Acts.
3. It is taught in the Epistles.
Only Baptism and the Lord’s Supper meet all three requirements.
The first teaching picture — Baptism — pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We have already given the scriptural teaching on that in Chapter 2 — Baptism; and in this chapter, under the fourth distinctive. Therefore, we will not discuss it any further.
Bible believers believe that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are only symbolical of Christ’s broken body and His shed blood. God refers to these as “memorials.” We are to do both until this church age ends.
The Lord’s Supper is a teaching picture, an object lesson, to keep before us the price of our redemption.
The bread pictures:
1. Christ’s broken body
Matthew 26:26 — “And as they were eating. Jesus took bread, and blessed it and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.”
I Corinthians 11:24 — “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
2. His bearing of our sins in His own body
1 Peter 2:24 — “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.”
The cup pictures:
1. Christ’s shed blood
1 Corinthians 11:25 — “After the same manner also he took the cup when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Matthew 26:28 — “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
2. Salvation only through His blood
Hebrews 9:22 — “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”
The Bible teaches there are only certain ones who have a right to partake. First Corinthians 11:27 speaks of those who partake “unworthily” and become guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. The Scriptures reveal the order in Acts 2:41, 42.
1. They were saved.
“Then they that gladly received his word . . .”
2. They were baptized.
“. . . were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
3. They fellowshiped at the Lord’s Table.
“And they continued steadfastly . . . in breaking of bread.”
Therefore, to partake of the Lord’s Table, one needs to be saved, to be baptized scripturally, and to be walking in fellowship with the Lord.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
1. To remember His death — 1 Corinthians 11:24-26
2. To be a time of self-examination
1 Corinthians 11:28 — “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
3. To remind us He is coming again
1 Corinthians 11:26 — “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”
SUMMARY OF BAPTIST DISTINCTIVES
I have listed eight truths as Biblical distinctives that form a New Testament church. Some groups or denominations believe some of these distinctives, but only Bible believers believe all of them. For example, Methodists could believe in the Bible (though most modern-day Methodism does not believe the Bible), could believe in separation of church and state, but would not believe in the baptism of believers only, the security of the believer, or the autonomy of the local church. (Methodists have district superintendents over the churches.) Presbyterians would not necessarily baptize by immersion, and they have a presbytery over the churches. Pentecostals do not believe in the security of the believers and many of them have a church hierarchy. Lutherans have not practiced separation of church and state. Etc., etc.
Only Bible believers have held to all of the eight distinctives. They are important for us to hold as we stand true to the Scriptures.
©2013 Mark Davis
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