“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” [Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii]. Shakespeare proposed that a name means little in the description of something. What does a name mean? Is a name relevant? When comparing churches, a name means a lot! The very first thing we need to look at is the name of the church. It should be distinctively BAPTIST! There are some clear distinctives to being a Baptist. These distinctives are very important and we must look for a church which is distinctively Baptist. The first distinctive of the Baptist church is its history. Contrary to popular claims, Baptists are the only ones who can trace their heritage back to Christ. The Catholic Church cannot, nor can the myriad of Protestant churches which were birthed out of the Catholic church. Why is this important? First, as a Baptist, I have a pure heritage. Second, as a Baptist with a pure heritage, I am not subject to the abominable teachings of the Catholic church. We could exhaust many books speaking about what a Baptist is not. It is more expedient to explain the basics of what a Baptist is. As the name implies, one of the key tenants of the Baptist faith is regarding baptism. According to the Word of God, a person is not saved by baptism. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Apart from a saving faith in Jesus, one cannot be saved no matter how many times they are sprinkled or immersed.
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.
Yes, as we will see, baptism is important, but it does not affect one’s salvation. Salvation is a gift of God. If we had to be baptized, salvation would be the result of one’s ability to be baptized, it would be the result of a work. Salvation is a gift! Consider the thief on the cross who hung beside Jesus: when was he baptized? He was not. He died on the cross, yet Jesus promised to see him in paradise. To be saved, one must understand that he is a sinner. He must also understand that there must be a payment for his sins. The unsaved must believe that Jesus is God and that Jesus paid the price for the sins of all mankind. The sinner must ask Jesus to save him. Apart from salvation by grace through faith, one cannot be saved. When a church teaches that one may be baptized to cleanse them from their sins, that church is in opposition to the Word of God. In fact, that church is in opposition to God, Himself and is teaching heresy. The Bible teaches that water baptism is always by immersion (you go completely under the water), after one is saved. Without salvation, baptism is meaningless. Baptism is, however, an ordinance of the church. That is, one must be baptized to be in obedience to the Word of God. When one is baptized, the baptism is not to cleanse one from sins or as an act of salvation, baptism is symbolic. When we are baptized, we are identifying ourselves as a Christian. We are also using the symbolism of baptism to show the world we have been buried in sin and raised to walk in newness of life.
Rom 6:1-5 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (2) God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (3) Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (4) Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (5) For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Baptism is about identifying oneself with Christ. When we go under the water in baptism, we symbolize our death to sin. When we are brought out of the water, we symbolize our coming resurrection. Baptism is purely symbolic. Baptism is also an act which takes place after salvation.
Acts 8:36-37 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? (37) And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
This eunuch wanted to be baptized and was asking what prevented him from being baptized. Philip replied by basically asking the eunuch was saved – he believed. The eunuch could only be saved if he had already believed, if he had already been saved. Baptism is one of the many traits which make us distinctly BAPTIST. In the next article, we will look at some more of the traits which make us distinctively BAPTIST.
Over the years, many people have asked the question, “What should I look for in a church?” This is actually an excellent question. There are a lot of things we should look for in a church – things which, sadly, are not found in many of the churches we all pass by every day. Yes, there are many buildings which are labeled “Church.” However, many of these churches are hardly places where one can truly find peace and a place to worship. So, pay attention over the next few weeks to see what you should look for in a church. If you are in a church already, this guide may open your eyes to some interesting flaws in many churches. We promise this will be an informative series!