Churches come in many varieties. Ours at 52 North Main St. in Mansfield happens to be Baptist. We’ve been here since 1838, and in our current building since 1988, but quite likely you’ve never been inside it. It just might be that you have wondered: What do Baptists believe? If so, read on.
Baptists believe, along with mainstream historic Christianity, in all the doctrines of the Bible, such as the Trinity and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But we have a set of emphases which we have distinctively held, and which can be expressed conveniently in the form of an acrostic:
Believer’s baptism – We maintain that baptism is only for believers—that is, for those who have come to believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. We believe that the ceremony of baptism is symbolic. It does not automatically change the people who are baptized. That change takes place within them when they open their lives to Christ and follow him. Baptism outwardly symbolizes that inward faith.
Authority of the scriptures – The Bible is our authority and guide for daily living. Each believer is responsible for reading the scriptures to find guidance and meaning for life. Baptists have no formal creed to which all must conform, but individual churches have formulated covenants and articles of faith which summarize their best understanding of scriptural teaching.
Priesthood of all believers – Anyone can approach God directly through Christ, our great high priest. Without aid of human intermediary or ritual, anyone who desires may go directly to God through Christ. Furthermore, we are all ministers (i.e., servants) of God. Most churches are led by a pastor who has had special training, but he or she differs from lay people only in degree, not in kind.
Type of baptism – Immersion was the type of baptism practiced in the New Testament. It was the form used by the early church, and it most effectively symbolizes dying to the old way of life, being washed clean, and rising to new life in Christ. Therefore Baptists do not usually just sprinkle or pour water at baptism, but actually immerse. (That’s where we get our name. “Baptist” means “dunker.”) Our church’s first baptisms were conducted in Mansfield’s Fultons Pond. Nowadays we use a tank of heated water in the back of our sanctuary so that baptisms can be done in any season.
Independence of the local church – Each church is self-governing, and all members’ votes are of equal value. However, the Baptist churches in a region voluntarily associate to accomplish tasks which they could not do individually, so we are more inter-dependent than totally independent.
Separation of church and state – Because of our early history of being persecuted by the state church, Baptists have always stressed the separation of church and state. Everyone should have the right to worship God according to conscience. The state should protect all religious groups, but favor none.
“Twice-born” (regenerate) membership – A church’s membership is restricted to those who have committed themselves to Christ as their Lord and Savior. Everyone is certainly welcome to participate fully in church services, programs and activities, of course, but official church membership is reserved for those who give evidence of personal faith is Christ.
I trust that you’ll understand that none of the foregoing is meant in any way to denigrate any other religious group, but only to lift up what I believe are some of the major contributions of our branch of the Christian tree. Thanks for this opportunity to showcase a few of its leaves.
The Rev. Peter A. Brown is interim pastor of the First Baptist Church of Mansfield.