Baptist Dissenters from Error— Champions of Truth
Dr. Dan Nelson | Pastor
First Baptist Church, Camarillo, CA
The right to express dissent was what our country was founded on in the American Revolution. This is why the recent trend to quell dissenting opinions to the immorality being celebrated by the government has been disturbing and dangerous. That is not the spirit of our country. Baptist arose as a group during the reformation although there had been groups before then that practiced believer’s baptism by immersion. They saw how the Protestant churches were not going far enough concerning the issue of believer’s baptism by immersion, the church and religious liberty. Those were the three cornerstones that led to the Anabaptist movement as well as the Baptist movement in England and America. Although Baptists were given a colony in Rhode Island they dissented against the Congregational/Puritan church in Massachusetts and were harassed and oppressed for not having infants sprinkled and wanting to start another church rather than the State church.
This is here in America. Baptists have been persecuted here and can be again if we are not careful. Baptists have continued with the right of dissent and we find that what we dissent against are those practices against the truth of God’s word regarding these matters. Some will say, “I just want to be Christian.” Well first and foremost we are believers. But many do not know what our church stands for and why they are in a Baptist church. So from time to time it is good to preach a sermon like this. Baptists were given the name by their enemies. They just started out as local independent groups of believers. The distinguishing mark of believer’s baptism by immersion was most notable to us because we baptized like John the Baptist and the way Jesus and the early church were baptized and did baptize.
Baptists are dissenters against anything that contradicts the scripture and the truth. These important statements share what we are against and what we are for:
We are not for mixing tradition and present cultural trends with the Bible. (Col. 2:7)
We believe in biblical authority solely. Whatever contradicts God’s word can never be made right by government edict. It does not matter how many people believe in it. We are to be a light to those in darkness. But many in darkness don’t want the light (John 3:19-21). We are to hold the light as a standard (Phil. 2:15). We are sinners saved by grace and people should find the love of Christ here, even though they may disagree with us. We don’t go by the historic practice of a church. We go back to the historic faith of the Bible. Baptism, church structure, salvation, etc. must be rooted in God’s word and not in what we have always believed. We do not subscribe to creeds or traditions as equal to scripture. We have a common statement of faith that is a consensus of what fellow churches believe.
We are not for government controlling religion. We are for a free church in a free society. (Matthew 22:21)
Anytime the state has tried to control religion they have made a miserable failure of it. Look at Constantine, the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, Bloody Mary, the persecution of the Anabaptist. Obadiah Holmes was whipped by the Puritans in Boston Common for preaching the gospel in 1651. Baptist preachers were jailed in Virginia in 1769 for preaching the gospel. Many of the churches started in the South like First Baptist Charleston and the Sandy Creek Baptist church in North Carolina were started by pastors and congregations leaving New England because of persecution there. Even Shubal Sterns had to leave Virginia because of his views being too radical for the predominantly Anglican colony. He settled in North Carolina where his church and movement became a powerhouse for God.
As the Anabaptists arose calling for a free church in a free state, they were slammed down, particularly by Ulrich Zwingli and his determination to imprison Anabaptist leaders, enforce infant sprinkling, and even actually execute leaders like Felix Manz. Michael Sattler died in Germany by burning. Balthazar Hubmaier was executed by the Catholic regime in Austria. Baptists were given no freedom to practice their faith. Baptists scattered and some came to the New World. Although religious freedom is sought, a familiar trend continued in the colonies. Roger Williams’ establishment of Rhode Island granted pure religious freedom while the other colonies were provincial at best in their control of religion in their respective colonies. Baptists were scattered but hardly silent in their protest of religious favoritism. For instance, Isaac Backus became a vocal critic in Massachusetts of the partial taxes in the colony going for the support of Congregational ministers, churches, and parsonages there. Baptists have always been forerunners of religious liberty. They have never insisted on special favoritism. They only want freedom.
We are not for accepting an invisible church or denominations called the church—the church is a local assembly of baptized believers. (Ephesians 5:29)
It becomes easier to be in the invisible church that never meets and holds no one accountable instead of the kind the Bible teaches. The church is also referred to as the redeemed of all ages in our confession and in Hebrews 12:23 but that will be formed when all believers get to heaven which has not happened yet. So the one we deal with now is on earth. If you are not participating in a local church you are not following the New Testament pattern. The church is a visible, assembled, local body practicing New Testament doctrine. I do enjoy universal fellowship with all true believers in Christ who have trusted Him as Savior. Yet this fellowship is with those in the kingdom of God or heaven that Jesus referred to with Nicodemus (John 3:3, 5). The great tragedy of this confusion in Evangelical Christian circles are that people are more loyal to the “invisible group” than they are the local body of believers.
We are not for any human mediator between God and man—every believer has complete access to God and the priesthood of believers. (I Timothy 2:5)
No believer has a higher standing before God when it comes to approaching God. We do have spiritual leaders but they do not interpret the Bible without you studying it yourself and they do not minister in your place. They are not the only ones that can pray to God in your place. They certainly are not one you have to confess your sins to in order to be forgiven of them. We do not shut our members or individuals out of the decision-making process. But when the church governance is restricted to one or a few that is exactly what happens. What is the purpose of having the correct view of the church and rejoicing in the freedom it allows from outside control if it is not practiced?
The Congregational form of church governance is in accord with the definition of the church being local bodies of baptized believers joined together for the faith of the gospel and practicing New Testament doctrine. Total freedom is granted to believers to come at designated times, voice their opinion and churches do not act without local church consent. The church calls leaders and votes on major issues. Some cases result in a representative body making minor decisions. The church is responsible for its governance and work with the leadership in truly being the body of Christ. The congregational governing church accepts members, practices church disciplines, grants and can refuse letters. The church is never in the dark if members will come and participate in called business sessions. No one makes decisions for the church. Just as we are equal in salvation and coming to Christ, so we have equal participation in church governance and practice. The congregational form of church government is the Baptist way and has led to revolutionary cooperation with churches unparalleled in their participation.
We are not for keeping anyone from coming to Christ—the gospel call is for everyone. (I Timothy 2:4, 6)
I don’t have time to try to figure out who the elect are and who aren’t. Traditional Baptists and non-Reformed believe we have a free will to come to Christ. The invitations Christ gave and the fact that people resisted His offer of salvation proves this. To think that God would restrict anyone from salvation is unthinkable to me. This either intentionally or unintentionally removes a sense of urgency to lead people to faith in Christ. After all if God has it all worked out what do I have to do? As Whitefield said, who was a Calvinist, “God uses the preaching of the gospel and people’s response to it to confirm who the elect are.” The reformed movement started under Luther who broke with Catholicism. John Calvin delineated the technology of the Protestant Reformation in his book Institutes of the Christian Religion and his writing. These featured adherence to five basic points. Baptists did not believe the Reformed went far enough since they were still sprinkling infants and having Catholic Church structure plus oppression of those who did not agree with them. The reformed movement is not only defined by their view of salvation but by other practices which are not Baptist.
We are not for any other form of baptism. Baptism is by immersion of believers in Christ. (Romans 6:3-4)
There is not one shred of evidence for infant sprinkling in the Bible whereas we have much evidence for immersion in the scripture. The attempt to equate infant sprinkling with a covenant sign such as circumcision is woefully inadequate. Each instance in the New Testament of believer’s baptism is a clear teaching immersion, if for no other reason than it proclaiming the gospel and your faith in Christ. Sprinkling can never do that.
We get some glimpses into the practice of baptism in Tunisia, a hotspot of Christianity in the first three centuries. Carthage and Hippo served as the theological centers of northern Africa. Recent archaeological digs in Tunisia have revealed ancient baptismal pools at the lowest level of strata dating to the first five centuries since Christ. In the higher strata the baptismal pools change to founts. What brought the change in the mode of baptism about and why didn’t the early Christian movement retain the practice? Baptists have rescued believer’s baptism by immersion from the ash heap. They correctly assert it is important as the only mode in demonstrating our faith in Christ and being a part of the church.
Much of the history of the switch in baptism is centered in Constantine joining church and state together after he came to power in Rome. The practice of baptism seems to have changed with the entire population “going Christian”. It appears this practice was happening and was accompanied by sprinkling of adults and infants to assure everyone being Christian. This may have been the most massive and easiest way of doing this. Henceforth, with government sponsorship of religion, sprinkling became the initiatory rite of infants and adults into the church. The practice of believer’s baptism by immersion fades into the background except for certain groups and individuals after state sponsored religion.
We are not for sponsorship salvation or ceremonial religion that leaves out a personal relationship with Christ. We believe individual accountability for our salvation. (Romans 10:12)
A person cannot be sponsored to be saved. What this means is that people get a false-assurance of salvation by thinking their parents sponsored them and that since, for instance, they are in the Church of England as a state church they are Christians. A person is not a Christian by who their parents were or what church they are in but by their faith and trust in Christ’s full-payment for their sins on the cross. I am only saying that no one can decide for someone else, in the most important decision of their life, salvation. We are saying God does not teach group salvation which is why one of the most dangerous declarations against the concept of “soul competency” was Constantine’s “Edict of Milan” in which, by edict, everyone was now called “Christian”. The Bible teaches what John McArthur calls “turnstile salvation”. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, to enter the straight gate. This is a call to do so individually. Again, in John 10:1-3, Jesus calls Himself the door of the sheepfold, meaning we go through as an individual. You go through a door one person at a time. Going through a turnstile at a stadium means we may have come as a group and go through entrances together. When you get through the turnstile to the stadium you show your ticket and go through one at a time. You can’t go through the turnstile for someone else. You don’t go through on the basis of someone else having a ticket, which you don’t have. My disagreement with sponsorship salvation is so crucial. It is not that Catholicism or other groups don’t believe in some basic Christian truths such as the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, and biblical morality. It is that they may trust in the wrong object to be saved or are trusting in someone else’s decision for them to be saved. Everyone must decide for themselves. All these things lead people down the wrong path if they do not decide individually what they will do in Christ’s sacrifice for this.8 Satan exchanges the truth of God for a lie in Rom. 1:25. He has many deceptions but the greatest one I can imagine is to confuse how someone gets salvation and comes to Christ.
Individual accountability or soul competency taken in this light is an obligation and not an emphasis. May we always give the gospel to people so they individually trust Christ as Savior and don’t have others decide for them. You say isn’t it enough to be a true believer in Christ and know you are going to heaven. Believe me that is the number one desire we should have. But the Bible says we will give an account before God (Romans 14:12) for our obedience to Him. Had you rather be somewhat obedient but not obedient in all things? When someone cooks a meal do you think it is important to put some of the ingredients in, or all of them? Had you rather have a child who was somewhat obedient or totally obedient? I am talking about the correct form of baptism, the right church structure, independence from any ecclesiastical authority over you in a church. These are the 7 statements we have expressed dissent over.
Someone may say this is legalism. I say it is doing the right thing and being in the right so we may be obedient to the Lord. Legalism is really adding to God’s plan of salvation by doing stuff. I am talking about pleasing the Lord by following his leading into the truth. What will you do? Will you love the truth or continue to stay in error? The choice is up to you.