I just believe in being a ChristianI don't want to be part
of a denomination."
ave you ever heard a statement suchas this? It seems very pious, but itmakes it sound like there is
something wrong with being part of adenomination of Christians.
What Is a "Denomination"?Sometimes people do not distinguishbetween a "denomination" and a"religious organization." "Denomination"describes a set of beliefs and practicesheld in common by a group of persons.Denominations usually develop variousorganizations to help fulfill the values andbeliefs of the denomination, but theorganizations are not the denomination,they are just an expression of it. Forexample, the Baptist General Conventionof Texas, the Southern BaptistConvention and the Baptist WorldAlliance are not separate denominations;they are organizations within the Baptistdenomination.
Although some people feel that it wouldbe ideal if all Christians held exactly thesame beliefs and followed the samepractices, that is not the way it isandnever has been. From the beginning ofthe Christian movement, various opinionshave existed about different matterssuch as the nature of the church, theway of salvation and the meaning ofbaptism.
Denominations are a fact. They existand they are not vanishing. In fact,some, such as the Baptist denomination,
are growing throughout the world. Anddenominations are important. Theymake a big difference in the lives ofpersons and in the world. Thedenomination a person is part ofcertainly has an impact on that person'slife. So it is important to know whatdenominations believe and practice.
What Makes BaptistsDistinctive?If someone were to ask you, "What isthe one thing that makes the Baptistdenomination different from otherChristian denominations?" what wouldyou say? Is it baptism by immersion ofpersons who have believed in JesusChrist as Lord and Savior? Is it a strongcommitment to the concept of thepriesthood of the believer? Is it anenduring belief in religious freedom?
Each of these is certainly held by BaptistChristians. But Christians of otherdenominations also hold them, althoughin some cases with a bit of a differentinterpretation.
The fact is that there is no single beliefor practice that makes Baptistsdistinctive from other Christians. Sowhat makes a Baptist a Baptist?
A combination of beliefs and practicessets Baptists apart from other Christiangroups. There is a distinctive group ofdoctrines and polities for Baptists, a sortof Baptist recipe. Like most recipes,each of the ingredients is not unique toBaptists, but the total mix is distinctivelyBaptist. Although some of thoseingredients are part of the recipe for
other Christian groups, no otherChristian group has the samecombination of beliefs and practices asBaptists do.
Baptists come in a variety of "flavors."They hold different interpretations andviews on certain issues, such as theSecond Coming of Christ, worship stylesand denominational organization. But allBaptists have the same basic ingredients.There are certain ingredients that mustbe included, or the recipe does notproduce a Baptist. Leave the cornmealout of cornbread and substitute whiteflour, and you do not get cornbread.Similarly, leave out a key ingredient of theBaptist recipe, and you do not get aBaptist.
What Difference Does ItMake?What difference does a person'sdenomination make? It makes a lot ofdifference. There are wonderfullydedicated Christians in variousdenominations, but there are distinctivebeliefs which we hold dear as Baptiststhat are compelling reasons to be part ofthe Baptist denomination. For example,Baptists hold that salvation is by gracethrough faith alone and not grace/faithplus baptism, or sacrament, or churchmembership. Baptists insist that a churchought to determine who its pastor willbe rather than having a pastor assignedby a person or a group outside of thelocal congregation.
Does the Baptist denomination matter?Yes, most definitely! The Baptistdenomination has made and continues
to make a difference in the world. Forexample, we are free to worship in ourcountry due in large measure to thesacrificial and unselfish efforts of personswho were part of the Baptistdenomination. Baptists have championedreligious freedom for all to worshipaccording to the dictate of consciencewithout interference of government orreligious organizations. They have donethis in spite of persecution. Baptistscontinue to work for religious freedomfor all persons throughout the world.
In the coming weeks, this series ofarticles will explore each of the beliefs,practices, emphases and organizationalapproaches that make up the Baptistrecipe. The articles will point outsimilarities and differences with otherChristian denominations as well asamong Baptists. In addition, each articlewill direct persons to a website wheremore information on each topic can befound at www.baptistdistinctives.org.
"As Baptist principlesare peculiar to Baptists,every Baptist church,
with all itsappointments, frompreacher to Sunday
school teacher, ought tostand, in the communitywhere it holds forth the
word, for somethingdifferent from any other
congregation."J. B. Gambrell (b. 1841-d.1921)
Baptist pastor, university president,editor, seminary professor,
Wanting to share information about Baptist distinctives, Noble Hurley, shortly before his death in 2004, established the Jane and Noble Hurley Baptist Identity Fund for thepurpose of publishing this series and asked William M. Pinson Jr. and Doris A. Tinker to prepare the articles .(Article 2)
What are these key ingredients in the Baptist recipe? Someof them we have in common with Christians of most alldenominations, such as belief in God and in Jesus Christ asSavior. However, Baptist beliefs about some major mattersdiffer from those held by certain other groups. For example,although practically all Christian groups declare that baptismis significant for Christians, Baptists hold a different view ofbaptism than most. In the weeks to come, this series willdiscuss what that difference is and why it is important.
The Baptist recipe includes several key beliefs ordoctrines:
the Lordship of Jesus Christ
the Bible as the sole written authority for faith andpractice
salvation from sin and eternal death to forgiveness andeternal life only by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord andSavior who is the grace gift of God
the priesthood of each believer and of all believers inChrist
baptism and the Lord's Supper as wonderfullysymbolic but not essential for salvation
church membership composed only ofpersons who have been born again
religious freedom and its corollary, theseparation of church and state
Built upon the foundation of these beliefs are certainpractices or polities that are part of the Baptist recipe:
congregational church governance under the lordshipof Christ
the autonomy of churches
voluntary cooperation for various causes
Closely related to these beliefs and practices are a numberof emphases that characterize most Baptists:
In order to carry these out, Baptists have organized invarious ways beyond local congregations, such asassociations of churches, societies, conventions, fellowships,unions and alliances. Baptists also have establishednumerous institutions such as those for education, missionsand the care of children, the aged and the ill. The commoningredient in all of these is voluntary cooperation.
Baptists endeavor to base each belief, practice, emphasisand organization on the teachings of the Bible. The desireof Baptists is to be as close to the New Testament modelfor an individual Christian and for a church that is humanlypossible with God's help through the instruction andempowering of the Holy Spirit.
The Baptist Recipe
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