Thursday, June 2

Baptist identity

What makes a Baptist a Baptist? Is it our traditions and practices? Our programs? Exactly what is it that determines if one is truly a Baptist or more identified with some other group of evangelical believers?

One of the earliest attempts to define who Baptists are is the London Baptist Confession 1644/1646. While too long to quote in its entirety, I pulled a few of the articles that caught my attention. As I read this document many of their original convictions mirror my own. After each article are my own comments in italics. Some of my observations are particular to our own context here in Ecuador and not necessarily issues in other parts of the world.

BEING thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their wellbeing, to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons, being qualified according to the word, as those which Christ hath appointed in His testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church; and that none have any power to impose either these or any other. Acts 1:23,26,6:3,15:22.25; Rom.12:7,8; 1 Tim.3:2,6.7; 1 Cor. 12:8,28; Heb.13:7,17; 1 Pet.5:1,2,3, 4:15.

"...choose among themselves" seems to be the pattern of those early Baptists who preceded us. The current practice of importing trained professionals from outside the congregation seems foreign to the wording in this article. As is the idea of home-grown plural "elders and deacons" which is in contrast with the more common "Senior Pastor" model which seems to be the norm today.

THAT the ministers lawfully called, as aforesaid, ought to continue in their calling and place according to God's ordinance, and carefully to feed the flock of God committed to them, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Heb.5:4; John 10:3,4; Acts 20:28,29; Rom.12:7,8; Heb.13:7.17; 1 Pet.5: 1.2,3.

"...ought to continue in their calling and place..." means to me that if they are a school teacher, they are to continue in that profession and not abandon it for the ministry. Our modern idea of having full-time professional church ministers seems out of tune with this earlier confession of Baptist belief and practice.

BAPTlSM is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed upon persons professing faith, or that are made disciples; who upon profession of faith, ought to be baptized, and after to partake of the Lord's Supper. Matt.28:18,19; John 4:1; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:37.38, 8:36,37,etc.

" be dispensed upon persons professing faith..." is the only prerequisite for baptism. In many Baptist contexts, especially in Ecuador, other prerequisites are often added to that of "professing faith"--usually in the insistence that the person requesting baptism be legally married (not living in adultery/fornication) before consideration is given to their profession of faith.

THE person designed by Christ to dispense baptism, the Scripture holds forth to be a disciple; it being no where tied to a particular church officer, or person extraordinarily sent the commission enjoining the administration, being given to them as considered disciples, being men able to preach the gospel. Isa.8:16; Eph.2:7; Matt.28:19; John 4:2; Acts 20:7,11:10; 1 Cor.11:2, 10:16,17; Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17.

The administrator of baptism are disciples. No where in Scripture is baptism tied to a particular church office. Our modern practice (especially overseas where this is an issue) of only ordained, recognized church leaders being the only ones authorized to baptize seems to contradict not only our Baptist forefathers but Scripture itself.

CHRIST hath likewise given power to His Church to receive in, and cast out, any member that deserves it; and this power is given to every congregation, and not to one particular person, either member or officer, but in relation to the whole body, in reference to their faith and fellowship. Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17; 1 Cor.5:4,11,13;12:6;2:3; 2 Cor.2:6,7.

Again, what caught my attention is that "power" is in the body of believers, and not in any particular sub-group or special persons like it is in many Baptist churches here in Ecuador (usually the pastor.)

AND although the particular congregations be distinct, and several bodies, every one as a compact and knit city within itself; yet are they all to walk by one rule of truth; so also they (by all means convenient) are to have the counsel and help one of another, if necessity require it, as members of one body, in the common faith, under Christ their head. 1 Cor.4:17, 14:33,36,16:1; Ps.122:3; Eph.2:12,19: Rev.2:1; 1 Tim.3:15, 6:13,14; 1 Cor.4:17; Acts 15:2,3; Song of Sol.8:8.9; 2 Cor.8:1.4, 13:14.

While meeting in various geographic locations around the city, the "several bodies" are to "have the counsel and help one of another..." How I wish we could get back to this basic practice of understanding that we are all one in Christ and in need of one another. We are to be there for one another and not separate ourselves from our brothers in our own mini church kingdoms.

Also such to whom God hath given gifts in the church, may and ought to prophecy [viz., teach] according to the proportion of faith, and to teach publicly the word of God, for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the church. 1 Cor. 14:3, etc.; Rom 12:6; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11; 1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Thess. 5:19, etc.

This is nothing more than direct teaching from Paul out of I Corinthians 14. Yet we have taken away from the people to publicly prophecy/teach and hired out professionals to edify, exhort, and comfort the church.

Comments? Oberservations? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.


Tim Young said...

Regarding XLVII and the relationship between churches: you might have read some of George Patterson's material. He advocates having nurturing accountability relationships between not only disciples, but churches as well, if we are to see spontaneous multiplication. It was from his material that I first encountered this idea. It seems to be something we have lost in all contexts, not just the Baptists. I'm Nazarene and we do not have these types of relationships either.

GuyMuse said...


I agree that sadly this is something that has been lost between churches. I find it interesting to read that the London Confession reflects a different mindset back in the 17th century. I have a lot of GP materials and we use them in our church planting here in Ecuador. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

Alan Knox said...

Fascinating... :)


Aussie John said...


You have made my day!!

It was this thinking from old Baptists which caused me to become one.

These days I would rather be known as a follower of Christ, because I don't see or experience the Bible believing people I joined so long ago.

BParsons said...

I have always wished that Baptists would identify with the London Confession (or even the Philadelphia Confession) instead of the watered-down New Hampshire confession that most associations now consider the standard.

This is great material, and it makes me want to read the whole confession again. I've got Lumpkin's "Baptist Confessions of Faith" buried under a stack somewhere.

I wish now I had read it while I was on the field. I knew these things, but they are really easy to forget.

Thanks for the post!

Arthur Sido said...

It is interesting that in confessional Baptist circles that the 1689 2nd LCF is more popular than then then 1644

GuyMuse said...

Alan: Thanks for the repost and link on your blog. About half of this posts readers have come over from your site!

John: I too would rather be known as a Jesus follower than primarily identified with any denomination.

Bruce and Arthur: I didn't realize there were so many Baptist confessions floating around out there. Reminds me of what my NT seminary prof J.W. MacGorman said about his reluctance to sign any of the Baptist confessions: "Just give me any Bible and I will happily sign it for you!"