Baptists are a fellowship of Christians who…
Hold certain beliefs
Cherish practices based on these beliefs
Champion causes based on these beliefs and practices
Establish organizations to help carry out these beliefs, practices, and causes
Of all the beliefs what then is THE Baptist distinctive?
Baptism by immersion? Many people think this is THE Baptist distinctive, setting Baptists apart from other members of the Christian family of faith. That is understandable. Baptists are zealously committed to immersion of believers as the Biblical method of baptism. Baptists cherish baptism dearly regardless of the circumstances.
It was a bitterly cold winter in Virginia in the 1700s and the rivers were covered in a thick layer of ice. Baptists normally used rivers for their baptisms, and ice did not deter them. John Leland, a Baptist pastor, reported, "I have seen ice cut more than a foot thick and people baptized in the water, and yet I have never heard of any person taking cold or any kind of sickness."
In Galveston, Texas, during February of 1840, Gail Borden, of Borden milk fame, and his wife Penelope, sought membership in the First Baptist Church by profession of faith and baptism. Pastor James Huckins led them into the jellyfish and shark infested waters of the Gulf of Mexico and immersed them.
At Independence, Texas, in 1854, Sam Houston, former President of the Republic of Texas and now a United States Senator, made a public profession of his faith in Christ and sought baptism by immersion. Mischievous youth had filled the outdoor baptistery with debris. That did not hinder the baptism. Pastor Rufus Burleson and the distinguished senator journeyed to nearby Little Rocky Creek where Houston was immersed
(In early Texas, church minutes indicate one of the duties of the deacons was to clear the rivers and streams of alligators or water moccasins before baptisms took place. The records indicate no fatalities–deacons, pastors, candidates!)
While most Christian denominations practice baptism by sprinkling or pouring, Baptists totally immerse … and that only of persons who have professed faith in God's grace gift of Christ for salvation. Early Baptists had no baptisteries inside church buildings and usually baptized outdoors in nearby rivers, lakes and creeks.
Onlookers sometimes gathered at these baptisms to make fun. They hurled the name "baptizers" at those involved in this unusual practice. The term "baptize" in Greek, the original language of the New Testament, means to dip or immerse. But Baptists took what was a taunt and wore the name as a badge of honor because they believed immersion of believers was the only way to be true to the teaching of the Bible. The desire of Baptists is to be as close to the New Testament model for an individual Christian and a church that is possible with God's help through the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Historical accounts such as these and the fact that this worldwide Christian fellowship is known as Baptist cause many people to think that baptism by immersion is THE Baptist distinctive. But it is not the Baptist distinctive. So what is?
The fact is there is no single belief or practice which distinguishes a Baptist from other members of the Christian family of faith—rather it is a combination of beliefs, practices, emphases and organizations. These form a kind of recipe for "Baptistness"—that is THE Baptist Distinctive!
Some of the ingredients Baptists have in common with Christians of most all denominations, such as a belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And Baptists share with certain other denominations some of the ingredients, such as congregational church governance. But taken as a whole, the ingredients in the Baptist recipe make Baptists a distinct family of Christians.
Indeed, Baptists hold various interpretations and views on certain issues, such as the Second Coming of Christ, worship styles, and denominational organization. And Baptists differ culturally, racially, economically, politically and other ways. However, Baptists worldwide hold in common the key ingredients of what makes a Baptist a Baptist.
Baptists of the past held steadfastly to those beliefs and practices in the face of severe persecution—torture, imprisonment, fines, public beatings, death. They did so, not because they wanted to be distinct or different, but because they were convinced that they were true to God's Word.
Now it is up to us to stand firm and pass to the generations to follow these precious Biblically-based beliefs and practices.
For scripture references and more complete discussions please see the website www.baptistdistinctives.org.