In a time when clear identity is a challenge, it's a shame that so many churches and other
institutions are so eager to shed the name Baptist. Their excuse, supposedly, is to broaden their
appeal yet somehow clarify who and what they are, but the intent and accomplishment is
suspect. We have reached a point in church history where it seems as if we need a lengthening
string of adjectives to help convey where our churches stand and with whom we identify
ourselves, but it is an ominous mistake when we hastily trash the name Baptist.
First, I'm convinced that many of those who are quick to drop the name Baptist have no
understanding of our rich heritage, especially in the founding of this country. While many fled
to America in pursuit of religious liberty, not every refugee who came to this land was as eager
to grant real freedom to fellow colonists of different spiritual convictions. For example the
Puritans, whose writings have enamored many today, were notoriously intolerant of Quakers,
Baptists and others in New England, resulting in persecution reminiscent of that experienced by
our spiritual forefathers at the hands of the Reformers in Western Europe. Under persecution
Baptist colonists found refuge in other places, like Rhode Island, and developed a system of
government that even permitted the raising up of the first synagogue in America.
It can be said without qualification that because of the influence of Baptists, and Baptist
perspectives and thinking, places like Rhode Island quickly established and enjoyed liberties,
both civil and religious, for 150 years before the rest of the nation would catch up to them by
way of a national Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Even those accomplishments faced serious
jeopardy were it not for the labors of Baptists from New England, Virginia and Pennsylvania to
press those leaders of the early congresses for major changes from what they knew in Europe.
The battle over state churches, like those already established in New England and Virginia, put
Baptist preachers in jail and incensed their opponents so much that they tried to kill some
Baptist preachers by poison and fire, even while they were in jail. Many lost property,
possessions and some also their families, but even those imprisoned continued to preach the
Gospel, through prison bars, to those gathered outside to hear the Word of God.
The stories of Baptist history here in America are many and varied, but the threads of
Biblical principles interwoven throughout cannot be easily dismissed. Baptists have ever been
the persecuted and never the persecutors. That does not mean that they were tolerant of
everything, nor does it mean that they endorsed other denominations or doctrines. What it does
mean, however, is that Baptists were so strongly persuaded that their convictions were
absolutely true and totally consistent with the Scriptures that they feared no other denomination
or teaching when each could be openly and honestly compared in the spiritual marketplace of
the hearts of men. It is that unqualified conviction of the possession of the Truth that compelled
men of Baptist convictions to steadfastly refuse to subject their children to infant baptism and to
refuse to pay taxes in support of a state church, even though most of them lost everything they
cherished this side of heaven as a consequence. These were men worthy of our imitation who,
counting the cost, still could not compromise, even if it meant becoming a fugitive whose
greatest earthly comfort was shelter in a dog house.
Yes, the name Baptist has been abused, then again so have the names "American" and
"Christian," but I doubt that anyone of us is ready to give up those names just yet. The answer is
not to abandon a rich name with a godly heritage, but rather to militantly reestablish a correct
understanding of the word, both by edification and example. The real lines of demarcation
between those who have abused the name and those who honor its history are those Baptist
distinctives which rest squarely upon the Word of God. Every one of us should be able to recite
the list that comprises the acronym "BAPTISTS."
1. Biblical Authority
2. Autonomy of the Local Church
3. The Priesthood of all believers
4. The Two Ordinances of Believer's Baptism and the Lord's Supper
5. Individual Soul Liberty
6. Saved, Baptized church Membership
7. Two local church offices of Pastor and Deacons
8. Separation: of Church and State; Personal Separation; Ecclesiastical Separation
These are the convictions of which every one of us must be "fully persuaded," even as our
forefathers were. These are the Scriptural standards we must recommend to others, our families
and our churches as believers in Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Where these standards have
been redefined or disregarded as relics of the past, the right to call oneself a Baptist has been
abdicated, whereby men have divorced themselves from the very heart of the name.
Likewise, there are the Baptist pretenders who, while holding the name Baptist as
objectionable ("We don't wear the big B on our backs"), declare themselves to be "Baptistic" in
doctrine. One has to ask what problems does this solve? Does it clarify the position of a church
to call itself "Baptistic, but not Baptist, " or does it add to the confusion? Does it help restore
the proper understanding of the name Baptist or does it yield it too freely to the conventions and
other compromisers? Does disappearing into the nondenominational morass relate us to a rich
heritage that is both Biblically sound and respectful to godly forefathers, or does it lightly
dismiss the great sacrifices made for the Truth of the Gospel since the first century?
A growing number are declining to pay the price necessary to be true to the Word.
Probably because they are uninspired by the Scriptures and unchallenged by men who have trod
this way before in the footsteps of their Savior. Being a Baptist is not a matter of ecclesiastical
pride but rather the willing acceptance of a bright torch held high by godly men in the past which
has now been entrusted to our care.
Pastor Charles L. Dear