Baptist Distinctives

Who are we? Our church is taking time this summer to walk through the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Some truths make us Christian, like the deity of Christ and salvation by grace through faith. But what makes us Baptist? Many years ago, I asked my mom what made us Baptist. She quickly said, “The Priesthood of the Believer and the Competency of the Soul.” If you were to ask me, I’d list the following six tenets as Baptist distinctives.

  1. Autonomy of the Local Church – The local church is an independent body accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church. By autonomous, I mean self-governing. No hierarchy outside the local church dictates a church’s beliefs, actions, or practices. Colossian 1:18, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, 19, 23
  2. The Priesthood of the Believer – Every believer is a priest of God and may enter into His presence directly through our High Priest, Jesus Christ. We have a shared responsibility to minister to each other. This belief does not support individualism, but a corporate reality that the believer needs the church, and the church needs the believer. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Therefore, every Christian can read Scripture, pray, worship, and share the gospel. We all have equal access to God. 1 Peter 2:5,9; 1 Tim 2:5; Revelation 5:9-10
  3. Competency of the Soul – E.Y Mullins calls this the “Freedom of the Soul.” Others call it “Individual Soul Liberty” or even “Soul Competency.” No matter what you call it, the idea is that whether a believer or unbeliever,[1] each person has the right to choose what they believe is right in the realm of religion, and they are responsible to God. Baptists have always opposed religious persecution. We believe that every person, believer, and unbeliever alike, is created in the image of God and accountable to God; each person will give an account to God. Unlike the Priesthood of the Believer, this belief is true for every person who has been created. Hershel Hobbs writes on the competency of the soul, “Thus man is a person endowed with understanding and the privilege of choice. He is a person, not a puppet. God does not coerce man against his will.”[2] Romans 14:5, 12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Titus 1:9
  4. Believers’ Baptism leading to a Believers’ Church – Baptism is reserved for those who have confessed their faith in Jesus. Therefore, the church is made up of regenerated members. In the Great Commission, Jesus tells the people to make disciples and to baptize “them” (Matthew 28:19). Who are the “them?” They are the disciples of all nations. There is no example in the New Testament of anyone but a regenerative person being baptized. Therefore, membership is reserved for those who are regenerated and believe. As taught in the New Testament and modeled in the early church, baptism is by immersion. Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:41-47; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 4:13
  5. Separation of Church and State – God has established the church and the civil government. God gave each its individual sphere of influence and operation. The government’s purpose is outlined in Romans 13:1-7, and the church’s purpose is in Matthew 28:19-20. The government should not control the church, and the church should not control the government. The church is not building a Theocracy. As Baptists, we believe the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power and influence given to the church to affect change and hope in our society. Matthew 22:15-22; Acts 15:17-29
  6. Religious Freedom or Liberty – Every person can exercise their faith and religion without the government’s interference. Current SBC President, Bart Barber, says, “A person enjoys religious liberty if he may change his religious beliefs or religious affiliation without changing his relationship with the governing authorities over him.”[3] I agree with Barber when he says, the “religious liberty is a Baptist distinctive.” In the article cited, Barber gives a good historical account of why Baptists hold to this distinctive. This belief goes hand in hand with the competency of the soul. Matthew 13:24-43; Romans 14:12; Matthew 12:36

I didn’t mention things like the Cooperative Program and our mission agencies. All of these have a very distinct Baptist feel. How about you? What do you think are Baptist distinctives? In conclusion, consider the words of Timothy George “Yes, by all means, let us maintain, undergird, and strengthen our precious Baptist distinctives…but let us do this not so that people will say how great the Baptists are but rather what a great Savior the Baptists have, what a great God they serve.” I wholeheartedly agree with his words. May Christ be exalted, the gospel proclaimed and may God be praised.

[1] As you consider the Priesthood of the Believer and Soul Freedom, note the Priesthood is only for the believer, but soul freedom is directed to all people created in the image of God. The sphere of influence is the biggest difference between the two.  

[2] Herschel H. Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message, (Convention Press, 1994), 8.



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