By Ronny Milliner
The largest Protestant group in the United States is composed of those who take the name Baptist. Their total membership in 1971 was estimated to be 27,527,471.
The Bible tells us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn. 4:1). Jesus warned us that there would be some who come to us “in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt. 7:15). It is our purpose in this study to “test” the Baptist Church in light of the Scriptures as the Bereans put Paul’s teaching to the test of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). We do so with no hatred in our hearts toward those who may be Baptists, but sincerely seek to compare their teaching and practice with the teaching of the Word of God.
When talking with some Baptists about when their denomination started, they affirm that it had its beginning with John the Baptist. Yet if this fact was so, it would be established before Jesus had built it. It was after John’s death (Mt. 14:1-12) that Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Mt. 16:18). The church here was still future. It had its establishment on the first Pentecost after the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2).
Historians tell us that the Baptist Church arose out of the Anabaptist branch of the Reformation movement. The first Baptist church was started in Holland by John Smyth in 1609. Frank S. Mead, in his book Handbook of Denominations, wrote on page 36, “John Smyth, was completely captured by the Mennonite argument (Anabaptists were called Mennonites in Holland after their leader Menno Simons, RM). He rebaptized himself and his followers in the Anabaptist, or Baptist, faith and with them organized the first English Baptist Church in 1609.” Robert Baker, a Baptist historian, wrote concerning the beginning of the Baptist, “The group of New Testament Christians which emerged in England was given the name `Baptist’ by 1644. Before this time they had called themselves `baptized churches of Christ’ and `baptized congregations gathered according to the primitive pattern.’ Their enemies first called them Anabaptists, but that name they vehemently rejected . . . . The first step toward the formation of a New Testament church in England was taken by John Smyth, a well-educated and deeply spiritual minister of the Church of England . . . . Renouncing the baptism of infants, Smyth, in 1609, baptized himself and the rest of the company and organized what is believed to be the first English-speaking church that stood for the baptism of believes only” (The Baptist March in History, pp. 41, 43-44). Even one of their own manuals agrees with this fact. “During the period of the Reformation (1520-1555), there sprang up all over Central and Western Europe in great numbers Christians who were called Anabaptists, because they rejected both the baptism of the Roman Church and infant baptism, and insisted that all who came into the fellowship of their churches should be scripturally baptized . . . . Anabaptists held to the complete separation of church and state, liberty of the individual conscience, and the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice . . . . The Baptists of the last three hundred years are the direct descendants of the true Anabaptists of the period of the Reformation” (A New Baptist Church Manual, pp. 17-18). Generally, Roger Williams is credited for founding the Baptist Church in this country at Providence, Rhode Island in 1639. (Some, however, suggest John Clarke started the Baptist Church in the U.S. at Newport, RI, but this effort was probably a year or two later.)
The church of the New Testament was built by Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:18) on the first Pentecost after His death in Jerusalem (Acts 2). Thus, the Baptist Church was established by the wrong person, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place to be the church of the New Testament.
As stated previously, the Baptist denominations make up the largest Protestant group in the United States, yet it is divided into many different associations or conventions. There are at least 27 different Baptist groups in the U.S. with many independent Baptist churches. Among the larger and more well-known groups are: American Baptist Association (founded in 1905), American Baptist Convention (1907), Baptist General Conference (1879), Conservative Baptist Association of America (1947), General Association of Regular America (1932), General Baptists (1907), National Association of Free Will Baptists (1727), National Baptist Convention of America (1880), National Baptist Convention of U.S.A., Inc., National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the U.S.A. (1921), National Primitive Baptist Convention of the U.S.A. (1907), North American Baptist Association (1950), North American Baptist General Conference, Primitive Baptists, Southern Baptist Convention (1845), United Baptists (1801), and The United Free Will Baptist Church (1870).
Commenting on the organization of Baptist churches, Mr. Mead wrote, “Baptists have insisted upon freedom of thought and expression in pulpit and pew. This has made them one of the most democratic religious bodies in America – and one in which liberal and conservative doctrine is preached freely. They have insisted, too, upon the absolute autonomy of the local congregation; each church arranges its own worship, examines and baptizes its own members . . . . Baptist churches are commonly found grouped into associations, local and state, for purposes, of fellowship. National conventions are established among many of them to carry on educational and missionary work and to make pension plans. Most state conventions meet annually, with delegates representing all Baptist churches in the given area. They receive reports and make recommendations, but they have no authority to enforce their decisions” (Handbook of Denominations, pp. 38-39).
This democracy also is found in the local churches. The Baptist Church Manual states that in the government of the local congregation there is “the right of a majority of the members of a church to rule, in accordance with the law of Christ. The will of the majority having been expressed, it becomes the minority to submit” (p. 102). Another Baptist creed book agrees, “This church is an autonomous body, operating through democratic processes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ” (Broadman Church Manual, p. 45).
But the Lord’s church is not a democracy; it is a monarchy. The church is a kingdom with Jesus as its absolute Ruler (Col. 1:13; 1 Tim. 6:16). In exercising His authority in local congregations, Jesus has designed that there be a plurality of elders or overseers to rule and shepherd the flock of God (Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Baptists confuse the work of the elder and the work of the preacher. The New Baptist Church Manual states, “In the organization of a church, Baptists recognize only two church officers as required by the New Testament, viz: Pastor (called also Bishop, Evangelist, Overseer, Elder, Presbyter) and Deacon” (pp. 28-29). It is true that pastor, bishop, overseer, elder, and presbyter all refer to the same man as these terms are used interchangeably (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). But a pastor and an evangelist are distinguished by Paul in Eph. 4:11, “And He gave some apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” While a pastor can be an evangelist, a man can be an evangelist yet not be qualified to be a pastor. Baptists confuse the terms and often refer to the preacher as the “pastor.” But pastors or elders had to meet certain qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). One of these qualifications is that he be the husband of one wife, yet the Baptist “pastor” that moved to Middlebourne after I did was unmarried. There was also a plurality of pastors in New Testament churches but not always so in modern-day Baptist churches (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1).
Since there are so many different Baptist groups one can expect to find some variance in their teaching. But there are, of course, many things on which about all Baptist churches agree. It is to two of these doctrines that we want to limit ourselves in this study.
Baptists generally teach that one is saved by faith only. The Baptist Church Manual reads, “We believe . . . that justification . . . is bestowed . . . solely through faith” (p. 48). On the preceding page (p. 47), we find the statement, “We believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace.” We would wonder how something could be “solely through faith” and yet at the same time “wholly of grace.” But this problem is common to those who leave the plain teaching of Scripture to write or establish their own beliefs. James clearly tells us, “You see that a man is just by works, and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). Those who deny works in salvation confuse the works of man and the works of perfect obedience with the works of God. Paul did say, “For-by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9); but, he went on to say, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should ‘walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
By teaching salvation by faith alone, Baptists deny the necessity of baptism for forgiveness of sin. According to their own Baptist-Church Manual, “Regeneration is the spiritual process by which we become new creatures in Christ – are born again – born of the Spirit – born of God – quickened together, with Christ – renewed after the image of God, etc., etc. . : . This being the case, regeneration does not occur in baptism” (p. 11). Yet, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:5). A tract entitled “When You Join the Church,” published by the Southern Baptist Convention, states on page four, “Baptism does not help a person to be saved or to become a Christian.” However, Jesus told His apostles, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). In another tract called “What Is a Baptist Church?”, the Southern Baptist Convention would have us believe, “It is utter irony to baptize a person in order that he may be saved – in other words, before he is saved” (p. 5). But, Peter told lost sinners, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The Baptists make it harder for people to get into the Baptist Church than to get into Heaven for they say, “To become a church member you must be baptized” (“When You Join the Church,” p. 4). By accepting a false position, Baptist doctrine infers that there will be disobedient people saved in heaven, for it teaches, “Baptism may not be essential to salvation, but it is essential to obedience” (The Hiscox Guide for Baptist Churches, p. 87). Despite all the arguments and objections raised by Baptists to the necessity of baptism for salvation, 1 Pet. 3:21 still reads, “baptism now saves you.”
The other doctrine to which we want to give brief attention is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints or the impossibility of apostasy. This doctrine is that once one is saved he is always saved, or as stated by one of the Baptist creeds, “All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end” (Broadman Church Manual, pp. 44-45). Though not all Baptist churches accept this doctrine, a good many do. This doctrine, like salvation by faith only, is in plain opposition to the statement of Scripture. Gal. 5:4 reads, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”
Our continuance in God’s grace and final salvation is conditional. Peter teaches that we “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). We are protected or kept by God’s power, and certainly God will not fail us. But we are also kept through our faith. We can make shipwreck of the faith (1 Tim. 1:19), we can fall away from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1), we can deny the faith (1 Tim. 5:8), and we can wander away from the faith (1 Tim. 6:10). Baptist doctrine would have us believe that there will be disbelievers in Heaven. The only time the Bible says that we “will never stumble,” is when it also adds “as long as you practice these things” (2 Pet. 1:10). The doctrine “once saved, always saved” is not of God.
If space permitted we could consider Baptists’ use of instrumental music in worship to God (Baptist Church Manual, p. 39, compared with Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), their voting to receive candidates for baptism (Baptist Church Manual, pp. 17-18, compared with Acts 2:38-41, 47), their quarterly observances of the Lord’s Supper (Broadman Church Manual, p. 81, compared with Acts 2:42; 20:7), and other unauthorized practices. But we believe that if our readers will consider these things already presented, they will see that they are sufficient to convince the honest and good heart of the errors of the Baptist Church. Good friends, remember that if you follow a false teacher you will be eternally condemned in hell with them. “And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Mt. 15:14).
- Who is claimed by some Baptists to be the founder of the Baptist Church? Why is this claim false?
- Who actually is credited with founding the first Baptist church? When and where?
- Who were the Anabaptists and what were some of their beliefs?
- What kind of organizations do the Baptist denominations have?
- What kind of government is found in local Baptist churches?
- What two works in the church do Baptists confuse?
- Why is the doctrine of justification by with only unscriptural?
- How do Baptists confuse what the Bible says about works?
- What is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and why is it unscriptural?
- List other errors of the Baptist Church of which you may be aware.
Baker, Robert A. The Baptist March in History. Nashville, Tennessee: Convention Press, 1958.
Foshee, Howard B. Broadman Church Manual. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press; 1973.
Head, E.D. “What Is a Baptist Church?” Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Baptist Convention, 1951.
Hiscox, Edward T. The Hiscox Guide for Baptist Churches. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: The Judson Press, 1964.
Mead, Frank S. Handbook of Denominations. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1975.
A New Baptist Church Manual. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: The Judson Press, 1895.
Pendleton, J.M. Baptist Church Manual. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1966.
“When You Join the Church.” Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Baptist Convention.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 36, pp. 582-582
September 11, 1980