We are Open Bible Church. We are Baptistic in our beliefs. But what does that really mean? If someone were to ask you, “What makes the Baptist churches different from other Christian churches?” what would you say? Is it baptism by immersion of persons who have believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Is it a strong commitment to the concept of the priesthood of the believer? Is it an enduring belief in religious freedom?
Each of these is certainly held by Baptist Christians. But Christians of other denominations also hold them, although in some cases with a bit of a different interpretation.
The fact is that there is no single belief or practice that makes Baptists distinctive from other Christians. So what makes a Baptist a Baptist?
A combination of beliefs and practices sets Baptists apart from other Christian groups. There is a distinctive group of doctrines and polities for Baptists, a sort of Baptist “recipe.” Like most recipes, each of the ingredients is not unique to Baptists, but the total mix is distinctively Baptist. Although some of those ingredients are part of the recipe for other Christian groups, no other Christian group has the same combination of beliefs and practices as Baptists do.
Baptists come in a variety of “flavors.” They hold different interpretations and views on certain issues, such as the Second Coming of Christ, worship styles and denominational organization. But all Baptists have the same basic ingredients. There are certain ingredients that must be included, or the recipe does not produce a Baptist. Leave the cornmeal out of cornbread and substitute white flour, and you do not get cornbread. Similarly, leave out a key ingredient of the Baptist recipe, and you do not get a Baptist.
The Baptist Recipe
What are these key ingredients in the Baptist recipe? Some of them we have in common with Christians of most all denominations, such as belief in God and in Jesus Christ as Savior. However, Baptist beliefs about some major matters differ from those held by certain other groups. For example, although practically all Christian groups declare that baptism is significant for Christians, Baptists hold a different view of baptism than most, i.e. it comes after salvation as a public testimony of a private decision.
The Baptist recipe includes several key beliefs or doctrines:
–the Divinity and Lordship of Jesus Christ
–the Bible as the sole written authority for faith and practice
- a biblical hermeneutic (i.e. a way of interpreting and understanding Scripture)
–soul accountability, (i.e. neither one's family relationships, church membership, or ecclesiastical or religious authorities can affect the salvation of one's soul from damnation. Salvation must be a personal choice.)
–salvation from sin and eternal death through forgiveness and eternal life only by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior who is the grace gift of God completely devoid of works
–the priesthood of each believer and of all believers in Christ
–believer’s baptism by immersion, i.e. baptism which occurs after salvation, not prior, and is accomplished by full immersion under the water to symbolize the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord.
–baptism and the Lord’s Supper as wonderfully symbolic but not essential for salvation
- the cessation of certain “sign gifts” that were in use during the infancy of the early church (e.g. speaking in tongues, the gift of healing, etc.)
–church membership composed only of persons who have been born again
- the autonomy of the local church. Though we call ourselves “Baptist,” we are not under the authority of any Baptist board, association or organization.
–religious freedom and its corollary, the separation of church and state
What is missing from this recipe is just as important as what is included. If you add an ingredient to a recipe, it can change the outcome. What we do not include in the “Baptist recipe” are things of a more preferential nature, like:
- which translation of Scripture you use,
-whether you use traditional music or contemporary music or some blend thereof,
-what kind of dress code may or may not exist for a church,
-whether you have various programs like children’s church, Awana, Word of Life, etc.
There are many things that a church may do as a Baptist church, and there are things that can be done that would distinguish a church as not being Baptist. In our church, we strive for unity on the essentials, and love in the preferential.
As a point of reference, Open Bible Church of Chesterton specifically chooses not to identify with the Baptist faith in the way that it is practiced by such churches as Westboro Baptist Church, Fairhaven Baptist Church, and Hammond Baptist Church.