Baptists come in many shapes and sizes. Baptists are very diverse. Some Baptists shout, some are more solemn, and most fall somewhere in the middle. Some Baptist preachers wear suits, others robes, and some casual clothes. Some Baptists sing praise songs and others hymns. There are Baptist churches that clap and raise hands and there are others that frown at such things. In some Baptist churches women are silent and do not speak or even teach Sunday School. In some Baptist churches women are very involved in the life of the church and are often the strength of the congregation. In some they even preach! Baptists are diverse and yet there are some things that are similiar.
Baptists historically have 2 offices- Pastor and Deacon. Pastors are the ones who lead the church, preach, baptize, and usually are paid. Deacons are lay folks (no clergy) who serve in the church in leadership roles. In some churches deacons make major decisions and in others they are servant who do ministry roles. These two offices are usually ordained. This means they have been through a service of prayer and commitment and the word ‘ordained’ means ‘set aside.’ Often hands are laid on their shoulders or head and prayers are said. Some Baptists (a few) are adding ‘elders’ who serve in a leadership role. As churches grow larger other ministers (music, youth, education, etc) are added.
Baptists have 2 Ordinances– Catholics talk about 7 Sacraments. Baptist have 2 and they are called ordinances. They are not seen as giving grace but more of a memorial-to symbolize something else. The two are Baptism and Lord’s Supper/Communion. Baptism is by immersion (completely put under water) and is called “BELIEVER’S BAPTISM” and this means no infants. A person must accept Christ by their own decision and then are baptized. Baptism is not part of salvation and not necessary for salvation. Baptism is done as a symbol of the decision to follow Christ and entrance into the church. Lord’s Supper/Communion is taking the bread and cup. Baptists usually don’t drink from one cup but many cups (started for health reasons long ago) and usually pass the plate to them (sometimes they come forward). Baptists generally don’t do it at every service (always exceptions) and set the frequency. Christ is not literally or spiritually present but this is a memorial/symbol of Jesus’ death (body and blood of Christ). Usually deacons and pastor serve it.
Baptists are local focused. Baptist churches are totally free of control from other churches and denominations. The local church owns it’s own property, makes it’s own decisions, and no one controls it from outside. They pay their own bills, etc. Some denominations own the land of local churches but not in Baptist circles. Baptists historically unite over missions, resources, and education.
Baptists are freedom folks. Walter Shurden talks about the 4 Fragile Freedoms and this is a good summary of what drives Baptists.
*Bible Freedom– historically Baptists do not have creeds to sign or recite but focus on the Bible alone. Baptists promote Bible study and reading. Many Baptists do have a Constitution and By Laws in their church as guiding documents but they change and are not set in stone forever. Baptists often have ‘confessions’ that state beliefs but try to keep them from becoming controlling.
*Individual Freedom– Priesthood of the Believer is a term that stresses that a person is able to have access to God without aid of a priest and that he or she is equal before God. People are responsible to answer to God and serve God.
*Religious Freedom– Baptists have historically fought for church/state separation and do not support a church state connection. Baptists desire for all to have a right to believe or not believe. Baptists have stressed this throughout history.
*Church Freedom– Each church is free and can cooperate with denominations but not be controlled by them.
Basic Christian Beliefs– Baptists like many other churches hold to basic universial historic Christian beliefs. Baptists believe salvation is through Jesus only and each person needs Christ. Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Baptists believe in the power of prayer, the Bible as the word of God, the need for the church, and the need to share the good news of Jesus. Baptists are Trinity folks and believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptists like other denominations argue about the details but do hold to basic Christian concepts.
In future blogs I will go over the history (were we came from) and the fights we’ve fought. Plus I’m going to address baptism and the Lord’s Supper at some length.