Dr. Dan Nelson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Camarillo, CA
The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch by people who saw their lives. They assumed they were like Jesus by how they lived. All of us have been confronted by people who think they know what Baptists believe and practice. If these practices have not been associated with Baptists, however, they are wrong assumptions.
Today people have formed wrong assumptions based on misinformation and wrong conclusions. What are these wrong assumptions?
1. . . . that the Church is a Denomination (Acts 14:23)1.
Baptists believe every church is an independent autonomous body of baptized believers. We have no such thing as the Baptist church. We are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention for purposes of missions and fellowship. Other groups refer to themselves as a universal entity. Yet, the Bible makes the distinction in Acts 14:23 where Paul was assisting in the ordination of leaders in every church.
This is important because what any cooperating Baptist does is not top down but from the local church on up. We are not controlled by other higher bodies. We think the local church has the authority to decide in matters of faith and practice. Therefore, we think every believer ought to be in a local church. Paul explains that we need to do more than just profess our faith in Christ, more than just participate in a universal fellowship of believers known as the kingdom of God; we need to take an active role in our communities because the church is local.
2. . . . that believer’s baptism by immersion is just another form of baptism.
Infant or adult sprinkling is never taught in the Bible. Instead, the word transliterated baptism (baptizo) always means immerse or dunking in water.2 That is how Jesus was baptized, and that is how the early church baptized. (Matt. 3:15-17, Rom. 6:4). They did not sprinkle.
We do not accept any other mode of baptism as a valid form of New Testament baptism. It may have been meaningful to you; but we ask you to be immersed as a believer in order to show that you follow Christ, that you believe in the gospel, that you have died to life without Christ, that you are raised to walk in Him, and how we will be resurrected. No other method pictures this.
My Mom and Dad decided to go back to Church when I was a young boy. They went to the Methodist Church near where we lived in Memphis. My Mother had gone to a Methodist Church part of the time as a girl, and the other part of the time, she went to the Pentecostal Church. That was back in the day when Churches only had part time Preachers, who would preach twice a month for a Church. So, she went where there was preaching. My Dad went to a Baptist Church, when he went to Church. So, they settled on a Methodist Church in Memphis. God was doing a work in my Mother’s heart at that time thru the radio preaching of Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Oliver B. Green, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and some others. But, the Methodist Church we had joined was turning liberal; and more liberal with each passing year.
Well, I was sprinkled on top of the head with water from the Jordan River in this, liberal, Methodist Church. I was probably 11 or 12 at the time. I was truly under deep conviction at that time, but our Pastor was as liberal as they come. When I went forward to be saved, it shocked him that someone had actually came forward during the invitation. He asked me if I believed in Jesus. I said yes, and I thought who doesnt. At that time, I thought everyone believed in Jesus. Then, he asked me if I wanted to join the Church. I again answered yes. I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to get right with God. But, he sprinkled me on top of the head, and I went home that day as lost as ever.
Later, my family left the Methodist Church when we realized that every Pastor they sent us was liberal to the core. So, we went to that Church in Memphis that had this new, young Pastor that really preached the Bible like he believed it. We went to Bellevue Baptist Church. The fiery, young, Bible preacher was Dr. Adrian Rogers. Well, my family decided to join this Church. And, I got immersed there after answering the questions of the counselor down front. The questions went sort of like: Are you a Christian? I said yea, and I thought I was…I went to Church. After all, I’d gone forward in a church service, and I believed in God. And, they told us that we’d need to be immersed in order to be a member. We agreed, and we were immersed. But, I was still as lost as I could be. But, there, in that Church, my family heard the Gospel. We heard the Bible taught and preached. The truth of God was permeating my soul. But, I was a teenager, and I wanted to fit in with the crowd. So, I started living to fit in; to be a part of the crowd. Then, we moved to a little town called Hornsby, TN in Hardeman County.
Well, at Hornsby, I kept trying to be a part of the crowd; to fit in. And, after a life of sin and hedonism and rebellion against all that was holy, the Lord truly saved me one night after I had gotten drunk on Jack Daniels.I really got saved one night at the age of 19 yrs old. I had been partying all night…running from God. My Mother had told me before leaving the house that she was gonna be praying for me. Her sweet words were like a knife that stuck deep in my heart. God used those words, and all that I had heard growing up from the radio preachers and Dr. Rogers and my Sunday School teachers, to bring deep conviction to my soul. The conviction was heavy. I wanted to escape it. So, I did what I always did; I partied. I really partied. I was so drunk that night, that I had fallen out in a parking lot of a cafe in the little, Tennessee town where I went to high school, near Hornsby. And, I looked up into the sky that night, and I told God that I was truly ready to surrender my heart to Him. I was tired of my sins, and the guilt, and the shame. I told Him that I wanted Him to forgive my sins. And, I surrendered to the Lord Jesus that night in faith. Even though I’d been drinking heavy that night, at that moment, I was sober…like I’ve never been sober before. And, I had peace…sweet, sweet peace. That night, the Lord saved me, and I never was so sober in all of my life….full of love and joy and peace…real peace. I knew that I’d finally found peace with God. Now, I went to my buddy’s house and threw up the rest of the night…but, praise the Lord, I was never so content and peaceful, there in that bathroom…as I lay there on the floor all night. I had joy in my heart. I felt the love of God. And, something else, I felt that God was with me. I’d always felt lonely in a crowd before; even though I had lots of friends, and family. But, not anymore. God was with me…in me. I was changed.
So, after a period of growth and thinking on all of it, I realized that I was truly saved at the age of 19. I knew that I needed to be baptised for real…a baptism that meant something. So, I got baptised. I got baptised for real after growing in my faith and realizing that I really got saved that night in Bolivar, TN, as a 19 year old, young man…not as a child at the Methodist Church. I realized that my baptism at Bellevue Baptist was not a true baptism, either; because I wasn’t saved at that time. Thus, I truly got baptised.
So, why am I a Southern Baptist? After growing up in the Methodist Church? After living a life of hedonism and rebellion? I am a Southern Baptist kind of Christian, because the Lord saved me out of my lost, rebellious, hedonistic life. I’m a Southern Baptist Christian, because the Lord led me to a Church and a denomination that preaches the Bible. I’m a Southern Baptist Christian, because the Lord delivered me from the liberalism and heresy of the Methodist Church. He placed me in a Church with good, sound doctrine; one that preaches the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why am I a Southern Baptist Christian? Because the Lord Jesus, in all of His mercy and grace, has provided a place for people like me to serve Him and worship Him with other Believers, who love the Lord and believe the Book. I’m so, so, so glad that the Lord Jesus called out to a lost, rebellious young redneck; and gave this angry, young man life. And, I thank Him and praise Him; I lift my hands in praise to Him; for leading me to a group of Believers, who value God’s word, who believe the Gospel. Please excuse me for a second. I want to shout. Glory, glory, hallelujah! Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, Jesus. You saved a worthless, vile sinner named David Worley, and You put His feet on solid ground. I will rejoice and praise You, forever, for Your great kindness towards me.
J. R. Graves, who was such a major influence for Landmarkism in W. TN and Western Kentucky, was also a major player in the development of Union University in Jackson, TN. Dr. James Pendleton was also a major influence for Landmarkism in Southern Baptist life, and he was a former President of Union University. These two men probably did more to influence the Mid South in the area of Landmarkism than anyone else. Of course, there are many others in SB history, who were real Landmarkists. Men like B.H. Carroll and J. M. Carroll, and many other, influential leaders in SB life held to this view of ecclesiology. Landmarkism slowly died in SB life, and sadly, its departure also meant that SB seemed to slowly ignore ecclesiology; began to look upon it as seemingly unimportant; or started to give it just a passing glance. That’s the way it almost appears, anyway. So, a group of people out there began to talk about good, sound ecclesiology. And, it seems in this day and age, that there are some people, who claim that Landmarkism is not dead in SB life; due to this group known as the BI(Baptist Identity) fellas stressing sound ecclesiology. They say that Landmarkism is being promoted by a group of SBC purifiers, who want the SBC to be a Landmark fortress. And, these decriers of Landmarkism claim that the so called “BI” fellas, or the “Bapstist Identity” crowd, are the ones, who are promoting this ecclesiological view. And, there have been all kinds of accusations and misconceptions floating around about what the “BI” crowd is promoting; what they actually believe. But, are the “BI” fellas really Landmarkists? Could they really be classified as Landmarkists, or do they just believe in good ecclesiology? I want us to take a look at how some of these fellas believe about doctrines that surrounds the basic beliefs of Landmarkism, and compare it to real Landmarkism. I’m going to ask a series of questions, and I’m going to ask each, so-called, “BI” fella to respond to the Landmark belief, or to the misconceptions of some people out there, with his view of these things. Then, let’s compare that to true, real Landmarkism. Answering these questions are: Robin Foster; Matt Brady; Wes Kenney; and David Worley(Me).
Question #1: Do you believe that a Southern Baptist Church can trace it’s beginning to the Lord Jesus Christ? that there’s been a trail of blood? that a true, SB Church has been in existence from Jesus until now; as the Landmarkists believed?
Robin: I don’t believe that JM Carroll’s trail of blood is correct in its theory. I do believe there has been a “free church” tradition witness throughout history, whether or not one can call it a “Baptist” tradition as we see it today I question. Baptist churches, as we know them today, I believe got their start from Smyth and Helwys, while we have a spiritual connection with the Anabaptist of the reformation.
Matt: True churches have existed from the time of Christ and will exist until He returns. I believe my Southern Baptist church to be one of those true churches. I am not so concerned with the ability to list the particular name of every true church that has ever existed in historical and geographical order back to the church at Jerusalem as the Roman church tries to do with popes back to Peter.
Wes: If by that do you mean that the baptism of everyone in my church can be traced back through churches authorized to baptize in an unbroken line all the way back to the Apostles, then no, I don’t believe that. I believe that there have always been, since the time of the Apostles, faithful New Testament churches in existence, and I base this belief on Jesus’ promise that He would build His church, and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18).
David: I agree with the others that the trail of blood idea of J.M. Carroll is not correct. I do believe that there has always been NT churches in existence thru out history. I don’t believe that they were Baptist churches, and I know that they weren’t Southern Baptist churches. But, they were NT churches, which preached the Gospel.
Question #2: Do you believe in closed communion? that only the members of a local Church should take the LS together, as Landmarkists believe?
Robin: No. We practice “close” communion which to our understanding is inviting anyone to the table who has received Jesus as their Lord and Savior and has participated in believers baptism by immersion. With this, I do believe that communion is a church ordinance and should only be practiced among the gathered local church.
Matt: Our church follows close communion. Just as a family gathers together around the meal table, it is the church family that should gather together around the Lord’s table. If we have others of like faith and practice in attendance, we do not forbid them as I suspect that the believers at Troas did not forbid the Apostle Paul when he met with them on the day they celebrated the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). Occasionally we will have guests that will be invited to eat with us at the table.
Wes: While I am sympathetic to this view based on Paul’s warning against partaking without “discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29), I am also in harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message on this point, and have no problem serving in churches which admit anyone who has been scripturally baptized to fellowship around the Lord’s table.
David: I believe in a modified close communion view. I do believe that the LS is a Church ordinance. I do believe that it should be observed by the Church, with others of like faith being welcomed to participate. I do believe that baptised Believers should participate in it. I do not believe in being so rigid that we’d have the LS police making sure that only baptised Believers of like faith are taking the LS with us. I would not make a big deal out of who should, and who should not be taking it. But, when I preached on it, and when we begin the LS; I would gently remind everyone about these things.
Question #3: Do you believe that SB Churches are the only true Churches out there in our world today, as Landmarkists believe that Baptist churches are the only true churches?
Matt: By definition a Southern Baptist church is one that gives money to missions through the Southern Baptist Convention. Giving through the SBC cannot possibly be the measure of a true church as true churches existed long before 1845.
Question #4: Do you think that only SB’s are going to Heaven? that they’re the only ones that are really saved? (This is a misconception that I continue to hear from people concerning the BI fellas)
Robin: That is just simply ridiculous. Salvation is by grace through faith and is lived out among the saints in a local New Testament Church.
Matt: Had the Conservative Resurgence not taken place, I probably would not be a Southern Baptist today, but I would still be a Christian. Salvation is determined by grace through faith and not by any organization of man.
David: I have to agree with Robin that it’s absolutely ridiculous that we’d even have to respond to this kind of a question, yet I keep hearing it from people. My answer is “NO.”
Question #5: What baptisms would you accept? In other words, what would be the bare, basic things that would have to be true before you would consider it a true baptism? that you would accept without asking the person to be baptised? (Landmarkists would accept only Baptist baptisms; baptisms done by another Baptist church)
Robin: Baptism by a local church, by immersion, as a symbolic representation of union to Christ, death to sin, and resurrection to eternal life, “never to die again.” Romans 6:3-11
Matt: A member of our church must be baptized by immersion after conversion by a church whose baptism is an ordinance of symbolism and obedience to our Lord’s command and not a means of grace.
Wes: I agree with the Baptist Faith and Message, which defines scriptural baptism as “the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the beliefer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.” The BF&M also identifies baptism as a church ordinance. So as long as someone’s baptismal experience fits this definition, and took place under the authority of a local church, then I believe it to be biblical and would encourage my church to accept it as such.
David: I agree with the Baptist Faith and Message, as well.
So, hopefully this will clear things up just a little bit about who these “BI” guys are, and what they really believe. Maybe? I hope so.