Theology And Baptist Belief

The Baptist are a cantankerous and contentious religious group.  To understand that you need to appreciate the differences between Baptist “belief” and most other Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church.  The Catholics, Methodists,
Anglicans, Episcopalians, and most others have a central creed that all members are expected to avow and affirm.  That creed comes from a central authority and is handed down to the local churches.   A Pope or Bishop or other some such authority has the right to control the “message” of the local church.   There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach or belief.  It is just not what the Baptists are about and something they have actively opposed for generations.   Typically some central authority for these churches has the power to assign preachers or priest to individual churches.  Nothing is more sacred to Baptist than choosing their own preachers.  The individual church does that with no outside interference from anyone.

Commentators who usually know nothing of Baptist beliefs talk all the time about Christian and especially so called right wing Christian doctrine and beliefs.  When any social issue comes to the fore these comments will gush forth and often “Baptist” belief will be lumped in as though all Baptist follow a common belief system or dogma.   From the inception of the Baptist churches in the US they have opposed having a creed or dogma dictated from any authority other than the Bible.  No man has power over another man’s beliefs.  This is called the “priesthood of the believer” and it is the very core of Baptist doctrine. 

The Baptist churches are all independent bodies with each free to establish its own views of Christian doctrine and church management.   All the other churches have an established creed that all members are expected to adhere to and affirm.  News organizations often speak of the Southern Baptist Convention but have no understanding of what that means.  Since all Baptist churches are independent they don’t dictate to one another but they have joined over the years in various groups to support mutually held beliefs, such as for mission work around the world.   Those conventions have no authority over the churches other than to exclude them if they so choose.   The Baptist have only a Statement of Belief that they have adopted over the decades.  It is not a creed.  It is approved by each church locally if they so choose.  It is a statement for the individual member of the church, not the church as such.  That is a big difference.    Even that Statement is not a requirement for membership in a Baptist Church.  Also there were many Baptist who were opposed to even that idea of a Statement of Belief and some still  oppose the notion.  The Statement is really just a recognition of a common purpose and basic belief but it is pretty broad and never asked in any Baptist church of anyone.  No one signs the dotted line saying they believe everything exactly as set out in the Statement.

In almost all Baptist churches new members are asked only two questions for membership–Do you believe Jesus was the Son of God and do you believe that He died for your sins.   Under the doctrine of priesthood of the believer it is then the responsibility and duty of the Baptist to read the Bible and make his own interpretation of the Word.  Yes, preachers do preach and offer guidance and persuasion but they can not demand any particular doctrine.  Baptist believe it is the Bible that is the only authority and not any one man.   This of course makes the Baptists a very liberal group of folks, almost Libertarian in nature.   If you are a Baptist you are your own priest and each church in turn establishes its own rules for organization and membership.

All you have to do is look to the earliest founding of the Baptists in the 17th century and see their independent streak.   The State of Rhode Island was created because the Baptists didn’t like the pressure to conform under the religious beliefs and doctrines of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.   Williams up and moved them to what became RI.   They started with a dispute and have them continuing today. 

Some may find that constant disputation disturbing but some of us find it refreshing and cleansing.  That cauldron of conflicting views lends itself to sifting through the various points of view and allows  the individual to reach the best  relationship with God for himself.  It is about individual responsibility, freedom to succeed or fail in your search for god.   Just like I don’t need a Senator from Vermont to tell me what the Constitution says, I don’t need a preacher to dictate a specific interpretation of the Bible.  Yes, listen to both but then be responsible for you own conclusion, don’t be lazy or cowardly and say you just relied on what someone else told you.  Do your own reading and your own analysis.  You do your part and I guarantee God will do His as you wend your way down the road to salvation. 

Interesting that the media no longer says anything about the weather in Moscow after all the alarm bells a few weeks ago when they had record heat.  It lasted about 3 weeks and things changed.  Yesterday the high in Moscow was 55 degrees, pretty chilly.


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