What is a Baptist?
If I said I was a musician, you may still have many questions. What instruments? What style of music? With whom and where do you play?
To say “I am a Christian” in this day, is very ambiguous. That could mean anything from a White supremacist, to an American, to a Jesuit priest, to devout Bible believer. What kind of Christian are you? There is a need for labels.
We wouldn’t go back to the supermarket whose soup aisle was full of cans but no labels. Just knowing it is soup is nice, but hardly enough to inspire confidence. So it is with a church. A label may still be misleading, but it is a place to start.
Baptists were the original non-denominationals in the sense that each assembly was independent of the next. But labels they had, they were known under many names. Paulicians, Donatists, Waldensians, Ana Baptists, etc. They were rarely self-imposed titles, but rather given by their enemies and onlookers.
The modern non-denominational movement is often proud of their ambiguity, as though labels are wrong. As Bible Believers, we don’t shy away from labels, they happen when you follow the Scriptures. It is an opportunity to engage on biblical matters. Labels are a product of transparency, the clarity of the Scriptures, and a dogged determination to live in the light of Its teachings.
The Baptist label is not a statement of pride or supremacy. It is a statement as to the content and characteristics of the church.
Modern Non-denominational churches will sometimes have solid doctrine and can be rich in biblical practices, but will fall for the oft repeated line that every denomination is corrupt therefore we must start over and build a right church or rebuild the church that Jesus built.
It sound like a righteous statement, but it puts one in questionable company.
Catholics will say that the primitive church was in such disarray that it barely existed and that it all had to be brought under a single authority in order for it to survive. But this claim is not supported by history.
The reformers all looked at the Catholic Church and said it is so bad that the true church doesn’t exist therefore we must start our own. Methodist, Congregational, Lutheran, etc… all go back to a human founder.
Mormonism and other cults say the same thing. Religion is such a mess and we are here to straighten it all out and restore the true church.
But this thought breaks down in light of Scripture and fails to explain what Jesus said in Mat 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
There is a promised perpetuity given to the church that Christ started.
Church perpetuity means there will always be a remnant of churches that in faith and practice resemble the New Testament church.
This is the how Charles Spurgeon described this perpetuity:
"We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel underground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents…”
Baptist Churches individually don’t last forever, but there is a long and unbroken line of doctrine that can be traced back to the time of Christ.
Here are other voices that confirm Spurgeon’s understanding of Baptist perpetuity.
Two famous historians of the Dutch Reformed Church, Ypeij and Dermout, said, “The Baptists may be considered as the only Christian community that has stood since the days of the apostles, and as a Christian society has preserved pure the doctrine of the gospel through all the ages.”
Noted Quaker historian, Robert Barclay, says of Baptists, “We shall afterward show that the rise of the Anabaptists took place prior to the Reformation of the Church of England, and there are also reasons for believing that on the continent of Europe, small hidden Christian societies, who have held many of the opinions of the Anabaptists, have existed from the times of the apostles. In the sense of the direct transmission of divine truth, and the true nature of spiritual religion, it seems probable that these churches have a lineage or succession more ancient than that of the Roman church.”
The founder of the Campbellites, Alexander Campbell, who vehemently resisted Baptists during the nineteenth century, wrote, “The sentiments of Baptists and their practice of baptism from the apostolic age to the present, have had a continued chain of advocates, and public monuments of their existence in every century can be produced.”
Lutheran historian, Mosheim, said, “Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay secreted in almost all the countries of Europe, persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of the modern Dutch Baptists... the origin of Baptists is lost in the remote depths of antiquity...the first century was a history of Baptists.”
John Clark Ridpath, a Methodist by denomination, and considered by some to be the greatest historian the religious world has known, said, “I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist Church as far back as 100 A.D., although without doubt there were Baptist churches then, as all Christians were then Baptists.”
Ulrich Zwingli, a Presbyterian contemporary with John Calvin, said, “The institution of the Anabaptists is no novelty, but for 1300 years has caused great trouble in the church.”
Catholic Cardinal Hosius, president of the Council of Trent from 1545 to 1564, said, “Were it not for the fact that the Baptists have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past 1,200 years, they would swarm greater than all the reformers... If the truth of religion were to be judged by the readiness and boldness of which a man or any sect shows in suffering, then the opinions and persuasions of no sect can be truer and surer than those of the Anabaptist, since there have been none for the 1200 years past that have been more generally punished or that have been more cheerfully and steadfastly undergone, and have offered themselves to the most cruel sort of punishment than these people.”
In conclusion, Baptists have not persevered because of a man. Christ’s promise of perpetuity is His promise to fulfill. What is ours is to do our best to follow Him. Individual churches that sin or apostasize will eventually die, or to use the Bible term from Revelation, Christ will remove the candlestick. It ceases to be a spiritual entity in God’s eyes. But while churches die, new ones are born. You might look around and see a dead church with the name Baptist on the sign. Do not judge all Baptist churches by one bad apple. Jesus Christ was the first Pastor of the first church. And from that time through the work of the Holy Spirit, that church has multiplied and they (under different labels) have persevered through many dark trials. No where do we see a Scriptural admonition to rebuild the “Christian Church”. We are not here because a man rebuilt the Christian church, we are here because God has promised that the church that Christ built would always be victorious over the very gates of Hell.
Am I proud of being a Baptist? No, I am deeply humbled.