This statement on Baptist identity was produced by the Commission on Baptist Heritage as a working document for the 1986-90 Quinquennium and arises out of a brain-storming exercise at their Singapore meeting. It is deliberately intended to be a descriptive rather than a credal statement, and it is recognized that there may well need to be flexibility in translation for use in particular local situations.
Adopted Zagreb July 1989
Baptists start with the Scriptures, which afford us God's self-revelation, first in the unfolding of a concern for His People, but supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures, as related by the Holy Spirit to our contemporary situation, are our authority in all matters of faith and practice.
What is the Gospel?
Men and women everywhere are alienated from God and from the world as God designed it. The Biblical word for this is Sin, which the Bible says is so serious that we cannot remedy this condition ourselves: there must be a radical new start which, in John 3, Jesus calls the "new birth." The first word of the Christian gospel must always be Grace: not what we aspire to do but what God has done for us without any claim or work on our part. The grace of God, expressed in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, makes possible the restoration of the relationship with God that sin has spoiled. But this grace which is God's free gift to all of us, like every other gift, has to be received or accepted for its purpose to be secured. This is the response that the Scriptures call Faith: a free, total and unconditional entrusting of our lives to Almighty God. We are invited to put our trust in Jesus Christ because, in Him, God has reached out to touch our sinful humanity.
Clearly this is an action that no one can take for anyone else - each individual must make a free and unfettered response for him/herself. Equally clearly, that act of trust must involve an intention to obey God's declared will, for unless this be so, the word trust is evacuated of all possible meaning and effectiveness.
What is the Church?
Unlike many others, Baptists do not define the church in terms of structures of ministry or by the regular celebration of the ordinances. Rather, they believe that as individuals come to put their trust in God and confess Christ as Savior and Lord, (which they believe to be the scriptural conditions for baptism) so the church is created. This is why they have been advocates of what has been called the Believers' Church or the Gathered Community (of believers gathered out of the world). From this conviction as to the nature of the church as constituted by believers covenanting together in common confession of the name of Jesus, it is seen that their practice of confining baptism (by immersion) to believers only, is entirely logical.
A local church so constituted represents in any place the church in that locality; it is fully the church, not a branch of some national or wider institution. Under the Lordship of Christ and before the open Scriptures, it is competent, when properly summoned, in church meeting to govern itself, to determine a strategy for mission in its locality, and to appoint its ministers (deacons and pastors) and other officers. These officers will serve its interests and execute its will in matters pastoral, educational and practical, but the first authority for all decision-making in a Baptist church must remain in whole church meeting.
Baptist churches reject all state interference in their activities. Each local church is free, and indeed duty-bound by the concerns of the gospel, to enter into covenant relationship with other Christians, both nationally and locally. In Baptist life, relationships have traditionally been in associations, conventions and unions, in support of missionary work at home and abroad, and internationally through the Baptist World Alliance.
Baptists ordain men, and in some, but not all parts of the family, women to the Ministry of the Word, and expect their ministries to be respected for their sacred calling. The witness and service of the church is not seen by Baptists, however, as exclusively the work of the ordained ministry but as inclusively the responsibility of the whole membership.
Most Baptists find no difficulty in a lay person celebrating at the Lord's Table or in the Baptismal Pool, ordinances which are seen by Baptists as symbolic of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and of each believer's identification, by faith, with Him, in both dying to sin and rising to new life in Him. This same Christocentric gospel is preached from Baptist pulpits Sunday by Sunday, for proclamation retains a central place in Baptist worship.
What is Discipleship?
Personal commitment is the starting point for every Christian, yet all need to discover the corporate dimension of the church: in common worship, in generous giving to fellowship needs, and in loyal participation in the mission of the local church.
Baptists are an evangelistic people who have always been committed to sharing their faith, to the extension of the church, and for the last two hundred years to overseas mission as well. In the name of their Lord they have given themselves to the care of the needy and oppressed. Increasingly in the twentieth century (although also in earlier times), they have seen the need to speak and act prophetically, denouncing structural evil wherever it puts God's "Shalom" at risk. Opposed to everything that denies the rule of Christ, some even suffer imprisonment and martyrdom for their steadfast witness, imposing an obligation on all the family to support them in both prayer and action.
Recognizing the vast demands of Christian witness and discipleship, Baptists have always been a praying people, in both corporate prayer and in encouraging a pattern of individual spirituality that requires each church member to engage in regular prayer and Bible study, for the whole of Scripture rather than abstracted creed is for Baptists the determinant alike of corporate belief and individual action.
Because Baptists delay baptism until an individual has made a personal confession of faith, they are especially concerned for the Christian nurture of children and young people until they come to acknowledge Christ as Savior for themselves, thus fulfilling promises made at services of thanksgiving and blessing that they have become a common celebration of the gift of children among Baptists.
Baptists were among the first to campaign for liberation of opinion and religious practice, not only for themselves but for all people, including the unbeliever, for they believed that each individual needed to be free to make choices about faith and commitment unfettered by any outside agency. Such freedom has led the Baptists to be a diverse people with no over-arching rule demanding common thought or practice among them. But amidst that diversity there is a unity because freedom from the state or from ecclesiastical hierarchies has also meant freedom to develop in each situation a style of churchmanship which, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they believe best serves the interests of the kingdom.
Many of the characteristics described here, if not all, are held by other Christian groups. Baptist distinctiveness is best seen in holding all these attitudes together in a way that is at once loyal to the traditions of Reformed Christianity without being sectarian. They are aware that they are but one part of the whole family of Christ's church here on earth, and seek in different ways (some within and others outside formal ecumenical structures) to lend support to the whole of the Church's work at the witness to the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.
- members of the whole Christian family who
stress the experience of personal salvation through faith in
Jesus, symbolized both in baptism and the Lord's Supper;
Birmingham, United Kingdom, July 2005
(Based on a fuller declaration prepared for study after the Congress)
To Baptist believers throughout the world
with love and joy from those assembled together in Birmingham,
UK, at the Centenary Congress of the BWA:
THE HOPE OF A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH
OUR TRIUNE GOD
THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM
THE WORK OF CHRIST: ATONEMENT AND REDEMPTION
STEWARDSHIP OF GOD'S CREATION
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND JUSTICE
Now, at this centenary gathering these things we declare, affirm and covenant to the Lord Jesus Christ and to each other, believing the truth found in Him and revealed in the Scriptures. We, recognising that this is a partial and incomplete confession of faith, boldly declare that we believe the truth is found in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Because we have faith and trust in Him so we resolve to proclaim and demonstrate that faith to all the world.
Amen and Amen. Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus, come.
1. We are part of the whole, world-wide Christian Church and we confess faith in One God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2. We affirm the need for personal faith in Jesus Christ and for discipleship in his likeness.
3. Our final authority in faith and practice is Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Scriptures and present among his people through the Holy Spirit.
4. We recognise the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the primary authority for knowing God's revelation in Christ.
5. We understand the Church to be a fellowship of believers, sharing the table of the Lord.
6. We practice baptism, for believers only, into the Body of Christ.
7. We affirm the freedom and responsibility of each local congregation to discover the purpose of Christ for its own life and work.
8. We affirm the "priesthood of all believers", in which all members of the church are called to ministry; but some are called to exercise spiritual leadership, which is always to be understood as serving.
9. We believe that the mutual commitment expressed in baptism and in membership of the local church should lead to wider partnerships between churches wherever possible.
10. We believe that every Christian disciple is called to witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and that the Church as a part of God's Kingdom is to share in the whole mission of God in the world.
11. We affirm the need to preserve freedom of conscience, and so we accept differences among us.
12. We stand for the separation of church and state, rooted in the sole lordship of Christ and concern for religious liberty.
13. As Christian believers, we live in hope of the final appearing of Christ in glory, and the transforming of all creation.
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