Things To Look For In A Church
As we look at what kind of church to consider, we must look more deeply into the reasons why we are distinctly Baptist. What does it mean to be a Baptist? The names we often ascribe to different religious groups (Baptists, Presbyterian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Mormons, etc.) are clear indicators of what we believe and why. I have said this before, but I will say it again: I am a Baptist. That begs the question, “Why am I a Baptist?” I am a Baptist because I believe the Bible. It really is that simple! As I examine the Bible, and compare it to other sects and religions, I cannot see any other cult, sect, religion or practice that honors and adheres to the Word of God. In class, I was given a simple acrostic which clearly defines some of the major differences between a true Baptist and some of the other religions out there (later in the series, we will look at some of the differences between a true Baptist and others who claim to be Baptist). That acrostic spells BAPTIST. In this article, we will look at the first letter: B, for Biblical Authority. As we examine the authority of the Bible, must realize that the Bible is the very Word of God. Yes, there are many books which claim to be The Bible, which are not. You cannot be a Bible believer if you do not hold the Bible in your hand. We will discuss which is actually the Bible in a future article.
1 Thes 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
There is a clear proclamation that the Bible is the very Word of God. Yes, it was received through the hands of men, but it is still the Word of God. Imagine someone taking transcription. That is very much like what the penmen of the Bible did: they were transcribing for the Lord. Understanding that the Bible is the Word of God, and likewise understanding that God is sovereign, then we must logically assume that the Word of God is our authority. We must also assume that the Word of God is truth since God cannot lie.
2 Pet 1:20-21 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. (21) For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
If the Bible is true and is the Word of God (and it is), then we must accept all of it as it applies to us. This verse explains to us that there cannot be any private interpretation of the Bible. So, the Bible simply says what it says.
2 Tim 3:15-17 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (16) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (17) That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Finally, Paul wrote to Timothy under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and admonished him that all Scripture is good to be used for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness. The Bible is the ultimate authority for all matters of faith, practice of worship, and lifestyle of the believer. Regardless of what any single person or group of people may believe to be true, the Bible must be considered the final authority. If the opinions of any person or group of people disagree with the Bible, those opinions should be discarded. We can accept the Bible (KJV for the English-speaking people) as our ultimate authority because of the nature of the Scripture. The Scripture is the very WORD of GOD to man. We know that God simply cannot lie, and the Bible has proven itself to be the Word of God! Men have tried to elevate creeds and traditions to be equal to the Word of God. Most notable of these are the Mormon Church with their Book of Mormon and the Roman Church (aka Catholic) with their various creeds, councils and the ramblings of their pope – all of which seem to change the truth of the Word of God to suit the leaders of the church at the moment. However, as a BAPTIST, one must accept and rely upon the Bible as their sole and final authority. If some doctrine or practice contradicts the Bible, it must be discarded in favor of the Biblical truth.
“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.