I’m an independent Baptist by choice. Being an independent Baptist means that my church doesn’t belong to a denomination. There’s no departmental head over the local church, no extra funding for financially struggling churches, no board of directors determining our Sunday school curricula or ministry outreaches. The sole authority is the Bible, and the sole leadership is the pastor – who, by definition, is a shepherd, not a dictator. Obviously, such loosely governed organizations vary widely from place to place, as many flavors of personality as there are of ice cream. What links these independent local churches together, the common denominator, is a shared doctrinal set.
Historically, people who shared this doctrinal set weren’t necessarily known as Baptists. They went by many names, sometimes after their pastor or leader (e.g., the Donatists), their geographical location (the Albigensians), or other factors. Often, secular or church (read: non-Baptist) historians lump heretics together under the same name, regardless of what they believed, so there could be numerous doctrines floating around under the same umbrella.
What Baptist historians seek out are several key commonalities within these groups of heretics. Whatever these cell groups were called by their contemporaries, we know them today as Baptists.
A simplified set of these commonalities have been condensed to an acrostic. Basically, if you believe all of these, you may just be a Baptist.
B – Biblical Authority. No one, repeat no one trumps the Word of God. A Baptist believes in a literal interpretation of Scripture, and if the Bible says it, a Baptist believes it. Your choice of belief? Irrelevant. Papal supremacy? Whatevah. What the rest of the sincerely religious people in the world are doing has no effect. Only what the Bible says will stand.
A – Autonomy of the local church. There’s that “no-denominational-head” again. The independent Baptist local church is self-funded, self-propagated, and self-governed.
P – Priesthood of the believers. Every believer has the right to come before God himself, without need for a go-between who “might be closer to God”. We stand equal before Him.
T – Two church offices: pastors and deacons. The pastor is a shepherd who leads the congregation to a better understanding of the Scripture. The deacon holds no church authority, but lightens the burden of the pastor by being active in ministry.
I – Individual soul liberty. Simply put, your religion is between you and God. You do answer to God for how you choose to believe (back to “Biblical Authority”), but you – nor anyone else – have no right to force your beliefs on another person. This eliminates the idea of state religions, and underscores the concept of separation of church and state, preventing the government from interfering in matters of religion. It also means that a Baptist does not persecute others for their beliefs or lack thereof. In a world plagued with religious sects battering each other with hate and fear and “why-don’t-you-do-it-OUR-way?!”, that’s saying something.
S – Saved church members. According to the Bible, unsaved people do not have the same spiritual perception as believers. It’s not an insult to their intelligence – it’s the lack of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. So in an independent Baptist church, unsaved people are welcome to attend, but they can’t become members or church workers.
T – Two church ordinances: The Lord’s Supper, and baptism by immersion. These are the only “rites” or observances contained in the New Testament, and only saved people should participate. The Lord’s Supper (also known as Communion) varies church to church in frequency, and reminds us of what Jesus endured in going to the cross. Baptism is a one-time deal, a public acknowledgment that you’re identifying yourself with Jesus Christ and His resurrection.
S – Sanctification of the believer. So now I’m saved and baptized; now what? Baptists haven’t historically been known as quiet, ineffective church-goers. Sanctification means “being set apart for God’s purposes”. A Christian who’s sanctified is one who wins souls, grows in the knowledge of the Lord, loves people, takes a stand against sin, and much more. Sanctification, like baptism, is NOT a requirement for salvation – it’s the next logical step, acting upon the wonderful gift we’ve been given.
If you’ve already heard all of this, kudos for reading to the bottom, and I hope the refresher was helpful. If this makes some sense but is all brand new to you, take some time to study it out, read the verses, and and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.