A Christian’s lifestyle constantly reflects either positively or negatively upon his or her Savior, Jesus. Actions and lifestyles matter. They affect Jesus’ message to humanity and either reinforce or discredit a believer’s doctrinal identity (like being a Baptist). That is why Christlike living must precede doctrinal identities and their theological debates.
The biblical writer Paul explained behavior’s influence. He described how New-Testament-era Christians, ones who were slaves, should submit to their masters – how their behavior affected Jesus’ message. He wrote: “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well pleasing … showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:10).
Through life-encompassing faithfulness, honesty and hard work, Titus said those slaves could “adorn” or decorate Jesus’ teachings. His use of the term “adorn” is a metaphor that means to “embellish with honor.” Those believers, in the way they conducted themselves, either embellished Jesus’ teachings with honor and respect or tarnished it with dishonor. Basically, the right lifestyle glorified and validated Jesus and His teachings.
With Paul’s principle in mind, I positioned the following description of a Baptist New Mexican just before the last item, not first: He embraces Baptist beliefs and practices. The placement may seem odd for a Baptist New Mexican. Since a particular collection of doctrines defines a believer as a Baptist Christian, why would that description come so late in the list. Paul left a clue.
People do not become Baptists when they believe in Jesus and accept His forgiveness. Instead, they first take on His name, Christian. Likewise, in the list of descriptions of a Baptist New Mexican, I placed Baptist doctrine late in the list. Biblically, basic Christian life comes first, not denominational life or doctrinal identity.
Both biblically and naturally, new Christians ask, “What do I do next?” They learn how to read the Bible, gather with other saints, worship God, etc. They learn Christian truth and the Christian lifestyle. They learn how to be a Christian and how to integrate Christianity into their daily lives. Only later, they realize that they are Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans or such.
Learning to live as a Christian before embracing a doctrinal label allows a person to glorify and validate Jesus and His teachings. That explains why so much comes before Baptist doctrine in our list of Baptist New Mexican descriptions.
Only after achieving a measure of spiritual maturity, should a believer embrace Baptist beliefs, support Baptist work and causes and participate in Baptist denominational life. Changing that order can weaken doctrine and devalue core, biblical concepts of Christianity.
So, what do established Christians, who are Baptists, believe? All Baptists share certain beliefs; Southern Baptists comprise a subset of Baptists. Below are some historical Baptist beliefs. Of course, some Baptists share other beliefs not listed here, too. Baptists’ derive their beliefs from Scripture, not from tradition or denominational edicts.
God. Baptists believe in a single, undivided, eternal, trinitarian God revealed as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – three persons who are each fully God, yet fully distinct. Baptists also believe that God possesses absolute, infinite power and authority, making Him both sovereign and capable in all matters at all times.
The Bible. Baptists believe that the whole Bible is true and error-free. They also believe that, as God’s instructions for humanity, it has ultimate authority in life, supreme over all other instructions or authorities.
The Gospel. God the Father sent His virgin-born Son, Jesus, to earth to live a sinless life, to proclaim the Good News of salvation for all people, to die on the cross as a substitute payment for humanity’s sins and to be resurrected, effecting victory over death and judgement. Those who choose to believe in Jesus and accept His death for sins - on their behalf - receive eternal life and the hope of living forever in heaven in God’s presence.
Humanity, Sin & Salvation. Baptists believe every person possesses a free will that can embrace or reject God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. They believe that people possess both the ability and the competency to make that choice. The offer to choose salvation is a gracious act of God that can only be accepted by faith. Along with free will, Baptists believe every person is born sinful at birth, needing salvation. Believing these things, Baptists prioritize local evangelism and world missions to offer everyone an opportunity hear God’s offer and a chance to accept it.
Heaven, Hell and Judgement. Baptists believe in a literal heaven and hell, places of eternal reward or punishment, respectively. They also believe that Jesus will return to earth personally and bodily to gather the church to Himself. Nonbelievers will face God’s judgement and separation from Him forever in hell.
The Ordinances. Baptists believe and practice two symbolic ordinances: believers’ baptism by immersion after salvation and the Lord’s Supper. Neither has an eternal, spiritual effect. Ordinances serve as opportunities for obedience, remembrance, proclamation and public testimony. They are not necessary for salvation, which precedes them both.
Local Churches. Baptist congregations gather for worship on the first day of the week, Sunday. They also tenaciously practice local church autonomy, meaning the local congregation, not a denomination or outside entity, governs and decides on matters regarding their church. Practicing that autonomy, Baptist church members make decisions together as a group. For Baptists, only immersion-baptized believers can be church members. Nonbelievers may attend activities of the church, but are not church members (nor may they participate in its governance) until they accept salvation and receive immersion baptism.
Access to God. Baptists believe that every Christian has direct access to God relationally and conversationally for prayer. Forgiveness is a transaction directly between him or her and God. No intermediary, like a priest is needed. Baptist pastors shepherd, lead, teach and guide believers, but have no greater access to God than any other believer.
Civil Government. Three beliefs guide Baptists’ interaction with civil government. First, Baptists reject government-imposed or government-favored religion – a state religion. They believe in religious freedom for all people, considering it a basic human right. Second, Baptists reject government intrusion into or interference with church decisions, operations and activities. Third, Baptists decry any kind of persecution – based upon person’s religious beliefs - by governments, other groups or individuals.
Baptists apply their views on government and religion to all religious groups. Also, Baptists reject notions (1) that religious people cannot hold public offices or governmental roles or (2) that religious in public and governmental offices or roles cannot practice or voice their religious views in their workplace or in the course of their work. They simply must not force others to favor or to practice a particular religion.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2000 Statement of the Baptist Faith and Message includes additional items beyond those historically held beliefs (bfm.sbc.net). Some churches under the label “Baptist” hold most of those beliefs, but diverge on one or two. So, variations do exist. No oversight organization exists to “police” Baptist doctrine claims or prevent gradual changes to Baptist identity and beliefs. That is the Baptist way.
Individuals desiring to know more about traditional Baptist beliefs should visit BaptistDistinctives.org.