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Session 1—Why I Am A Baptist

Published on 01/18/11

By Dr. Larry Oats; delivered during the MRBF Bible Conference October 2, 2008

A summary of Baptist distinctives

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Message Notes

Baptists have a heritage, both historically and more importantly theologically.

The removal of a denominational marker from our church names is like McDonalds, Hardies, and Wendy’s all agreeing to rename their stores “Fast Food Outlets.” Branding is important in the business world; why should it not be for us who have much more to offer and much more at stake?

There are eight distinctives which have been agreed upon historically by Baptists to identify Baptists.

I am a Baptist because:

I believe the Bible is the only rule for faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:15-17; Acts 17:11; 2 Peter 3:1, 2; Rev. 22:18, 19; 1 Thes. 2:13; Gal. 1:8)

Tradition, Reason, Experience are not a basis for faith or practice

I believe church members must be born again (Mt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:41, 47)

Qualifications for church membership as given in Scripture: Regeneration and Immersion

I believe the local church is autonomous (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:4-5, 13; Acts 5:29; 15:25-26)

The local church is complete within itself and has no governing agency over it

Three elements

Self-governing —no oversight by any other body

Independent —no obligations produced by denominational, associational, or fellowship alignments

Democratic —members are the ultimate authority, in accord with the Word of God I believe in the priesthood of every believer (1 Peter 2:9)

The right of every believer to interpret Scripture privately and to have direct access to God

I believe that every person has liberty of conscience—Soul Liberty (Romans 14; 2 Cor 5:11)

Freedom to worship according to the dictates of one’s heart and allowing anyone of any faith the liberty to worship whom and how they please

I believe there are only two ordinances—immersion and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:41; 8:36-38; 1 Cor. 11:23-29)

These are ordinances, not sacraments

These have reference to the atonement

I believe in the practice of separation

I believe in the separation of church and state (Acts 5:29, Matt. 22:17-22)

I believe in ethical separation (2 Cor. 6:17; 1 John 2:15-17; Eph. 5:11)

I believe in ecclesiastical separation (Rom. 16:17, 18; 2 Thes. 3:6, 14)

Each of these, independently, does not make me a Baptist. All of these, taken in union with each other, have historically set Baptists apart from other denominations. They are “brand markers,” core elements which define what we are and which identify us to others.

Why We should Teach our Distinctiveness

(Our Duty to Make Baptists)

We owe it to ourselves.

If we believe our distinctives, we should teach them. If our distinctives are important enough for separation, they should be important enough to teach.


We owe it to our fellow (non-Baptist) Christians.

We recognize that non-Baptists can be saved.

We refuse, however, to join ecclesiastical forces with those who reject our distinctives.


We owe it to the unsaved.

We want people to become Christians.

We want people to adopt a biblically consistent Christianity and become a part of a church that is biblically consistent.


We owe it to Jesus Christ.

We desire complete obedience to His Word.

We refuse to pick and choose commandments to obey.

How We can Teach our Distinctiveness

Thorough Instruction of our own People

We need to teach our people what it means to be a Baptist.

We need to help them understand the truth and strength of our position.


Practical Confirmation of our Words by our Actions

Our Sunday Schools, Christian Schools, youth groups, and children’s programs should have a focus on teaching biblical truth.

These teaching elements of our churches should have as their goal the producing of obedient believers who understand their Baptist heritage.


Wise Treatment of Controversies

We should be able to produce a solid defense of the truth.

We should also be able to deliver a truthful condemnation of error.
 Cultivated Unity among Ourselves

We tend to focus on Separation – from whom should I separate?

Perhaps we should place our focus on Fellowship – with whom can I fellowship?

There was a voluntary fellowship between the churches of the New Testament period.

A doctrinal or scriptural unity (Col. 4:16)

A separation unity (2 John 9-11)

A common practice unity (1 Cor. 11:16; 14:34; 16:1)

A fraternal unity (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:19)

A spiritual service unity (2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:15, 16)

A counsel unity (Acts 15)

A member exchange unity (Acts 18:24-28)

Our Distinctives as Baptists

The distinctives discussed in this study are not the traditions of men which have become distinctive of Baptists. They are, rather, biblical truths that distinguished the local churches in the New Testament era and are distinctive of all true New Testament local churches, regardless of the name they use. Baptists have historically espoused all these distinctives, thus they have become known as the Baptist Distinctives. Some other denominational groups accept various of these biblical truths, but not all of them.

The Baptist Distinctives need to be emphasized to every generation of Christians. This is especially true as many Baptists and Baptist organizations have moved away from their biblical foundations, convictions, and distinctives in recent years. Modernism and new-evangelicalism masquerade under the name “Baptist,” as they do under many other names today.

If these truths are not biblically grounded, they should be rejected. If they are taught in Scripture, then they should be believed, defended, and obeyed.

Dr. Richard Weeks, Maranatha’s first academic dean, was an avid bibliophile and Baptist historian. Well educated, he pastored for several years in Chicago before going to Pillsbury and then Maranatha to teach Baptist Polity and Baptist History, among other classes. Not content with the usual BAPTIST acrostic for the Baptist distinctives, he began a study of the various lists of distinctives identified by a wide variety of Baptist writers—old and new, northern and southern, American and European, and especially Fundamental Baptists of the early 20th century. From this study he created a list of what he thought the key Baptist distinctives were, without trying to force them into an acrostic grid. He also established an order to these distinctives, considering not so much that some distinctives are more important than others, but rather that some distinctives tend to flow out of other distinctives. The result was BRAPSIS2.

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