What is in a name?
(Especially the Baptist name)
by David R. Cox
INTRODUCTION: We use names to distinguish between people, groups, churches, organizations, and things. This is the normal use of names. At the heart of it all, a general name or term is supposed to be a descriptor of the thing that has that name.
THE PROBLEM: When we call people “Christians”, that is supposed to mean something. In reality it is frustrating to call yourself a “Christian”, when everybody you run into has “personally known many Christians in the life”, and none of them with a testimony of a Christian. In reality, if people wish to live and believe in a way different from their names and labels that they apply to themselves, then the best thing is for them to do is to drop the use of that name. This is very important with the name of “Christian”, but it is none the less important with other names, such as “Fundamentalist”, “Separatist”, or “Baptist”. The problem is complicated because there is most often no one authoritative entity that defines the name for everybody the same. Therefore, some people grab a hold of the name and define it one way, while others define it differently.
DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS: People react to this problem with different solutions. Some hold on to the name no matter what, others hold on to the name until it becomes unbearable, others drop the name and look for another more descriptive name for their beliefs, positions, and practices. It is most probable that this situation will never totally clear up, and we who hold to the true Bible position of things will have to move from one name to another.
Through the years, “orthodox” meant the true Bible position until some (many) began calling themselves by that name and not holding that position. We have gone through “orthodox”, “evangelical”, “fundamental”, etc. Ultimately we have to take a position of not just using a name, but defining what WE MEAN by that name. In this website I explain in detail my stand as a missionary and minister of the gospel, and what terms I see as identifying me, and what they mean to me.
WHAT IS IN A NAME? When we use the name “Baptist”, that should mean that that person, church or group should hold to the normal traditional beliefs and practices of the Baptists. That is not always the case. I personally have run across Baptist churches that spoke in tongues, were dead (not evangelistic), had women preachers, divorced preachers, etc. Perhaps these things are not specifically spelled out in the Baptist distinctive, but nonetheless, traditional Baptist churches have not held these positions in the past (today sadly that is changing).
One of the most disturbing trends among Baptist churches is the total refutation of traditional Baptist church polity, where a man is chosen as the pastor who ministers to and serves the church membership, and decisions are made by the church through the leadership of the pastor. Today we are being taught that traditional Baptist church polity is that “the pastor is not a dictator, he is the ONLY TATOR!” Meaning, that Baptist pastors commonly tread all over the soul liberty of their people, disregard the extremely important element of leading people by being a personal example, and convincing everyone to their position by sound Bible exposition, and most importantly of all, being silent in matters that are not explicitly stated clearly in Scriptures. Issues that may be valid for a personal conviction are being equated with “Thus saith the Lord” as though they were as clear as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are clear issues and principles, and there are unclear issues which need interpretation and application, and there enters the possibility of fallacy. God allows us to make these “convictions” and encourages us to do so, but to also respect the thought processes and “convictions” of others as though they have equal right to exercise their spiritual discernment, exposition, and understanding (soul liberty). Those “Baptist” Churches that have strayed on this point have begun to make all Baptist churches to seem run in a rough-shod way that is truly unscriptural.
Some pastors and churches have taken a position they correctly want to distance themselves from such abuses in the ministry. They have begun using other terms for their churches and themselves, a common one being “Bible Church”. Many will clearly say that they are “baptistic”, even though they are not in name “Baptist”. They would hold to these principles of the Baptist distinctive, but they want to distance themselves from abuses, false doctrine, erroneous conduct, and other things that happen commonly but shouldn’t.
I see no problem with these people. I know a number of them are good people, and they hold to extremely strong positions on separation, the Fundamentals of the Christian faith, and take a balanced approach on many difficult issues.
FAULTY LOGIC – The bottom line is that putting the label “Baptist” on a church or person will not make him right in any sense. We so often miss that. I would like to make a great point also that just because a person “identifies” with you and your church by some form, (the most common form today is graduating from the same school that the pastor did or that the church sends their kids to study at), does not make that person correct in their doctrines and practices. Each and every individual must be questioned and individually investigated as to what they believe and practice.
OUR POSITION: At this point in time, I feel that the group, name, or label that best identifies me is “Baptist”. I believe that the traditional Baptist position on things (usually) is closest to my position, although at times I wonder about that statement when I fellowship with some “Baptists”. I do not feel that we are big “B” Baptist, in that we see some sacred holiness communicated through the label “Baptist”. We travel greatly visiting new churches, and my overview of this is that most Baptists don’t have a clue what “Baptist” means, or at least meant in the past, perhaps not even I. But nonetheless, we must use some term to correctly identify ourselves and I feel that “Baptist” is it for me.
FINDING SOME BIBLICAL MOORING IN THIS FLOOD OF FOOLISHNESS – It would seem to me that we as biblical, obedient Christian need a name to identify ourselves to the world and those other Christians we come across. The most important element of this name is that it has to be based on a biblical principle. So the question would be how does“Baptist” square up as a biblical term for Christians. I would mention briefly some other labels. “Methodist” is named after John Wesley’s method of evangelism, which to me is questionable as far as being biblical. “Presbyterian” is taken from the form of church polity, which is by elder rule instead of by a pastor. First of all, I do not think any Baptist pastor in his right mind would admit that he wants to lead the church BY HIMSELF. That is ridiculous and stupid. What the issue is at the heart of this is what is the relationship, rights, privileges, and responsibilities of those elders to the church, the church to those elders, and moreover, most elder boards still gravitate to one “chairman” or “head elder” that is usually paid and treated in essence like pastor, but called “elder”. Most Baptist churches have pastors and assistant pastors, and other ministers in that church that have a lot of input into the guidance of that local church. So the issue is not that there is a plurality of leadership but the relationship in that leadership.
What does “Baptist” mean in the Bible? This is where we get off of denominational politics and begin to authoritatively define the meaning of the word “Baptist”. I once heard a Baptist Bride pastor tell me that he is “only, exclusively Baptist”. If Jesus saw fit to be baptized by a Baptist preacher, then Jesus was Baptist, and therefore it is good enough for him. I think he misses the point. It was not the name that John the Baptist carried that meant so much, but rather it was the character of the man that is at issue here. What he taught, what he personally lived, and what he stood for. (By the way, that argument about Jesus being baptized by a Baptist preacher is a good one. But it fails when we fail to see the believers in the rest of the Bible using the term to identify themselves. So they did not so quickly use that term, but rather preferred the term “Christian” apparently Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16).
Why can’t we just use the term “Christian”? This is because the term has been adulterated. Catholics call themselves “Christians”. People who have never darkened the door of a church, and have no idea of what true salvation is all about call themselves Christians also. A large majority of Americans call themselves Christians but are not any way saved as per the Bible definition. We must use more explicit terms to define what we are then.
WHAT IS A “BAPTIST”?
What “Baptist” is identified with in the New Testament.
I. The Example of John the Baptist.
KJV Matthew 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
KJV Mark 1:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
KJV Luke 7:28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. 29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
KJV John 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, butwas sent to bear witness of that Light.
A. The Personal Testimony of John the Baptist. We see that John came with a purpose, and this was to serve God in the form of a preacher of the Messiah to everyone that would listen. He was a signpost pointing to the Savior. In John’s concept (and God’s), to serve God, the servant himself must be clean. John the Baptist did not live like the rest of the believers of his day, but rather he had a life that was set apart and separated from the common, vulgar, and sinful of this world. Even though this rigid standard is not a requirement of all Christians (John separated himself from the people, and Jesus came eating and drinking with the lowest levels of society, yet not becoming like them), but we see that John saw a great spiritual value with “putting space” between his personal life and that of the world and its system. John did not enjoy the pleasures of normal people because he sacrificed in order to achieve his ministry before God. The unsaved and organized religion of his day could not fault John in any thing, especially the excesses and luxuries that his life was void of, and which was common among religious leaders of his day. His mission was clear in his own mind, and he sacrificed anything and everything in order to accomplish that mission.
B. The ministry of John the Baptist is very notable. His ministry was to give a clear testimony to the Messiah, to preach repentance to the people of Israel in preparation of the coming of the Messiah. In fulfilling this, John preached and taught the Holy Scriptures as an authority over them, including the organized religion of the Jews of that day. With Baptists, we also demand that the authority of the Scriptures must be uplifted in our understanding of things and in our practice.
John the Baptist was opposed by established religion of his day, and he opposed the putrefied established religion in his ministry. They did not receive his message (that of public repentance from and abandonment of sin and the sinful life, and belief in Jesus Christ for salvation). In the end, by his personal testimony and public pressure as a result of his strong “no holds barred” against sin preaching style, they eventually killed him.
John did not accommodate himself and his message to the people, but the people had to accommodate themselves to God. Glory for himself, his ministry, nor “the Lord” through his ministry never entered John’s mind. We note that John demanded that the people go to him (in the desert, not a comfortable air conditioned, 10 million dollar complex) and that John did not make their decision to follow Christ “easy”. Those that wanted to make a decision for Christ had to physically “get wet” in the muddy dirty water. Water baptism was humiliating for most people. They had to hear his long sermons, and strong preaching. They had to show repentance and John prohibited those who would have been baptized by him in hypocrisy even if it caused a scandal by doing so. The Pharisees wanted to be identified with the movement John the Baptist was causing (“making accounts with God” and “putting in order your life”), but John refused their patronage and participation because of their personal (still) sinful lifestyle. In the end result, they did not reject sin for the Savior, but played the religion game, and John would have nothing to do with them. People like Evangelist Billy Graham could learn a lot from meditating on John’s biblical methodology.
The people’s opinion was not supreme with John the Baptist, but rather the pleasing of the Lord. John did not have any priority of being popular with the people, but rather he had a principle of being biblical and following the authority of God in what God has commanded ministers to do in the work of the Lord.
In the end result, many people came to the Savior through the ministry of John the Baptist. We also note that John did nothing to promote his own personal fame, or that of his ministry, but directed all the fame, glory, and honor to Jesus Christ. There were no great monuments of great buildings with his name, or even to the Lord through his ministry. He left no great religious organization except the numerous saved individuals which he left at the Savior’s feet instead of making them his own disciples (compare Acts 20:30). The only purpose John had, and in this he was extremely successful was the monument of many people saved, lives turned over to the Savior, and Christian servants serving God. It is remarkable how John did this without money, without “infrastructure”, without secular (Madison Avenue) promotion, without buildings, without accommodating himself or his message to the public he was trying to reach (he “offended” them by telling them their lives were full of sin that they HAVE to give up if they are to find God and salvation See Hebrews 12:14).
C. The Significance of the Baptism of John, why they repented of their sins. This is the primary point, that the focus of the ministry of John was not externals, not even external changes of cleanliness (as the Jews of his day were preaching), but rather an internal change of heart resulting in a totally change life. This goes in the face of Christianity today as it did in John’s day. Salvation and holiness is not a list of things to do and not do, but rather the real life working out of the principles of God because the individual understands them, believes them, and applies them to the situations of his own life. This alone is “real” Christianity. “Established Christianity” cannot understand nor duplicate the reality of this individual, personal relationship with Christ. They copy what they see (externals) and never touch the internal of a truly holy life before God (with outside inspection or even if a person is totally alone). Someone once said, what you do when nobody else will know is what you really are.
BAPTISM IS AN INITIATION – Perhaps history and practice in the Old Testament will enlighten us here. In the Old Testament, when a Gentile (non-Jew) wanted to be saved, he had to give his heart over to God (Jehovah), and believe in the provision of God for the salvation from his sins. For those who were not native born Jews, the practice was that they entered society as normal Israelites. But before they entered, they had an initiation. This consisted of a training time (memorizing key parts of the Old Testament), and then an examination by Jewish leaders, and then a baptism in water as a show of their spiritual washing by God of their sins. The act of baptism was spiritual declaration by the person repenting of his sins and his pagan life and conduct. This apparently was the same idea of John’s Baptism, it was a public reckoning with God, whereby a statement was made before others of a person’s sincerity of heart with God. We note that from John’s Baptism, Jesus did the same, and this is carried on throughout the New Testament.
We also note that John was the only New Testament character that had a name identified with him (John “the Baptist”) which reflected his character, life, and ministry. From this we would gather that the name “Baptist” meant a firm and strong stand against sin and for the Lord.
We also note . . .
- The Baptism of John the Baptist is not the same as the baptism in the New Testament church.
- The Baptism of John was for repentance of sins (to recognize personal sins, repent of them, and abandon them).
- We cannot be either saved nor serving God without renouncing (personally giving up) and denouncing (publicly decrying it as wrong) sin.
II. The New Testament Significance of “Baptism”
A. Salvation is the act of God in baptizing us in his Spirit of Holiness. The Pentecostales and Charismatics seek in vain and error for a post-salvation baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible presents that the baptism in the Spirit happens at the moment of salvation. We are submerged and saturated with the Spirit of God in the moment of salvation. This is not manifested by speaking in tongues nor any other visible external thing. If we are saturated in a liquid, then we normally take on the color and characteristics of that liquid that covers us. Equally, when we are saturated (baptized) in the Holy Spirit, we take on the characteristic of the Spirit of God, Holiness. We leave off sinning. Simply put, the person that has been baptized in the Holy Spirit simples stops his sinning. This is the only real evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
B. Baptism in Water is a post-salvation ceremony of initiation, witnessing to that moment of salvation (spiritual baptism). When a person is baptized in water, this is a testimony to the act that he has already done when he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. This is very soon after that person’s actual repentance from his sins, saving faith, and acceptance of Jesus as his Savior.
KJV Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. 8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: 9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he called attention to the purpose behind their baptism, the identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of this baptism, we have new life (or at least we should have a life very different from our previous life of sin). In the act of Paul bringing to their remembrance their baptism and its significance, Paul put a tremendous importance on baptism. This “getting wet” never saved anybody. We see in 1 Corinthians 10:2 Paul uses the imagery of the children of Israel being baptized in passing through the Red Sea. Those saved really didn’t get wet at all, and those who did get wet (Pharaoh’s army) died and went to hell. Peter also makes an illustration to baptism in 1 Peter 3:21 where he uses the term baptism in reference to Noah. Again those who were baptized did not get wet were saved (speaking of spiritual kind of thing where we are placed in water, but something more than getting wet is in mind). Noah and his family did not get wet, and the rest of the world did get wet, and died and apparently went to hell. This reinforces the fact that true baptism represents a spiritual (internal) thing, not just getting wet (a physical external thing).
Paul in Romans speaks of baptism as being a marking point where after this, the person turns from his sin to do righteousness and justice in service of God. This is his initiation for service before God, and his incorporation into the body of Christ, being made one of the people of God, serving and doing the work of God.
When one looks for a biblical meaning of the word “Baptist” – we then see a picture of (1) repentance of sin as a precursor of salvation, including abandonment of sin, and choosing the path that God marks for us, (2) the very salvation of God (the death of Jesus in payment for our sins in order to placate the wrath of God, and the resurrection of Christ to new life, and our resurrection to a life of victory over sin (free from the slavery and power of sin as seen by a constant defeat by sin). (3) the holiness of the person as an essential step in spiritual service before God. (Note EVERY CHRISTIAN is a believer priest before God, and EVERY CHRISTIAN is to be servicing God.)
- Baptism means victory over sin so that we can serve God.
- Jesus died and we are dead to our sins (the power of sin to dominate our life).
- Jesus was buried and our sins are buried from the all seeing eyes of the justice of God.
- Jesus was resurrected and we have a totally new life in Jesus Christ. (New in contrast to our old sinful life.)
- Faith in Jesus means dead to the influence, power, and destruction of sin in our earthly lives.
III. The Baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist.
KJV Matthew 3:13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
We finally note that we conclude that baptism is a step of public identification with the redeemed, the body of Christ. This is always is a local church, a local group of believers which have united to do the work of the Lord. This means that through water baptism (testifying of that spiritual baptism or salvation) a person becomes a member of a local church.
- Baptism of novices in Judaism – was representative of their faith, their initiation, and the beginning of their life of service.
- New Testament Baptism – it is a dedication of the life of the believer so that he may begin a life of service before God through his life. There is no such thing as a Christian who is not occupied in the service and work of God.