“So, you guys are a Baptist church. What makes Baptists different from other churches?” At Emmanuel Baptist Church we hear this question a lot. In fact, just last Saturday at our 2014 Back2School Block Party, several people asked that question. When someone is unfamiliar with who Baptists are and what Baptists believe, it can be a barrier to building a relationship with them, so we need to understand how to answer their question with accuracy and brevity.
Before we can answer that question, however, we must consider what people are asking and what they are not asking when they ask what makes Baptists different. Generally, they are not asking for a complete explanation of our understanding of orthodox doctrine, nor are they asking what makes someone a Christian. They are probably not seeking an acrostic or a diatribe against the Catholics or Lutherans or any other denomination. What they want to know is what beliefs are distinctive to Baptists and separate our church from every other one in town. This is a good question, and frankly, I wish more of the people who attend Baptist churches would ask this question themselves. We need to know what we believe, but more to the point, we need to know why we are Baptists. If there is no real, substantial difference, then why does our church even exist?
My new favorite answer to the question came from Pastor Dave Baughan who said that a man was once asked how he became a Baptist and he replied, “Well, someone carelessly left a Bible lying about and I picked it up and read it.” Truly, the most basic argument for Baptist beliefs as opposed to any other set of beliefs is that they are wholly dependent on the Scriptures. David Potter said something very similar when he wrote:
The strongest, and indeed the only valid argument for the Baptist position, is the following. If suddenly today all religious traditions were somehow to vanish from the earth and all that were left was a New Testament, tomorrow there would be Baptists. Succession of New Testament doctrine is the only true apostolic succession.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to take a look at several key New Testament texts which establish the basic doctrines which make Baptists different from every other church or denomination. These articles will not be exhaustive, but hopefully they will enable us to more easily answer those who ask about what makes Baptist churches different. Hopefully, with careful and accurate teaching, we can dispel some of the false impressions people may have about Baptists, and indeed about NT Christianity as a whole, and open up a conversation with our friends and neighbors about who we are and what we believe.