Baptists (not as scary as you think)
One of the great things about Baptists is that there are all different kinds: conservatives, liberals, funny people, serious people, black folk, white folk and brown folk. Some are hand clappers and some are silent “ameners.” Some are old and some are young. Some are straight and some are gay. Some are really sure about their faith and some find it to be a constant struggle.
What ties us together is our belief in the love of God, especially as Jesus talked about it and embodied it. Jesus taught us that God's deepest hope for us is that we would love God and love our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40).
Q. What does the Baptist Church believe? (Heads up: this is a trick question.)
A. Unlike the Episcopal Church, the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, etc.—there’s no such thing as “the Baptist Church.” This is because Baptists participate in a way of being church known as "congregationalism" or the "free-church" tradition of Protestant Christianity. This means that every single Baptist church is free to organize itself, design its worship and call its leaders according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This is why some Baptist churches worship with a band and others worship with choir and organ. This is why some Baptist pastors wear a robe and stole, some wear a suit or dress, and others wear jeans and flip-flops. On a biblical and theological level—because every church is responsible for interpreting the Bible according to the Spirit’s leading, this is why in some Baptist churches you’ll hear an emphasis on grace and love, while in others you'll hear more about sin and hell. It's why some churches honor the leadership and pastoral gifts of women while others limit the role of pastor to men only. It's why some churches welcome the full participation of LGBTQ believers while others believe that God first requires a turning away from such a “lifestyle.”
Q. Okay then, so what does YOUR church believe?
A. Fair question. However, just as all Baptist churches are different, every believer within these churches is also free and responsible for following God and interpreting Scripture according to the Holy Spirit’s leading. For that reason, no Baptist claims to speak for another on matters of belief. First Baptist Church does not require its members to sign or recite a creed or specific statement of faith. Following the earliest Christian confession of faith, we unite around the simple affirmation that "Jesus Christ is Lord." While First Baptist is a theologically diverse congregation, most would likely describe our church as a community characterized by love, grace and inclusion of all people.
Q. Does your church read the Bible?
A. We sure do. We read the Bible aloud in church every Sunday, and if you come for three years straight, you will have heard almost the entire Bible. Many of our prayers and hymns are filled with Scripture. Some Baptists read the Bible literally while others see it as something that requires new interpretation with the passage of time (see the paragraphs above on Baptist beliefs). Either way, we take the Bible very seriously, and we believe that it has much to tell us about who God is, who we are, and how God wants us to live.
Q. Does your church acknowledge sin?
A. Yep, which is why we're grateful to belong to a forgiving God. "Sin" is a churchy word for "missing the mark" or "turning away." God knows that we won't always get everything right, and God is always waiting for us when our greed, busy-ness, and self-centeredness get us off on the wrong track.
Q. Does your church believe in Jesus?
A. Absolutely we do. Jesus is the clearest picture God has ever given us of who God is. God loves us so much that God came to be one of us, and when we turned against him, crucified, and killed him, God used it as a way to conquer death forever...not just for Jesus, but for all of us.
Historic Core Baptist Values
Soul Freedom. Each person is responsible for her or his own relationship with God. Only in freedom can a person give one’s heart and life to Christ. Through soul freedom we recognize the importance that God places on the free will given to humanity. Through soul freedom we recognize that no one else can answer for us—not the church, not a creed, not the denomination, not the clergy.
Religious Liberty for All. Because each person is responsible for his or her own relationship with God, it is essential that no person or human institution, particularly government, be a coercive influence either in support of or in opposition to the faith practices of people. Each individual must be afforded the right to define her or his own relationship with God (or non-relationship with God). This right should be guaranteed in both law and practice. Preventing the government from involvement in matters of faith protects society from the tyranny of the majority, individual liberty from coercion, and religion itself from corruption by powerful but sinful, finite individuals. For these reasons, church and state should be separate. Read more about religious liberty in this paper by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
Priesthood of All Believers. Through the saving work of Jesus Christ, each person has been given direct access to God. No woman or man needs an intermediary to commune with God, interpret Scripture or minister on her or his behalf. Pastors and full-time clergy are called by God to ministry as a vocation. Although they inhabit a leadership position by virtue of their vocation, their role does not place them in a theologically superior position to the laity.
Autonomy of the Local Church. Each Baptist church is intended to be a fellowship of like-minded believers, autonomous in its governance and affiliations. All affiliations with local associations, or state or national conventions are voluntary. In affiliating with an association or convention, a Baptist church does not relinquish any of its autonomy or independence regarding either theology or governance.
Sufficiency of Scripture with Christ as the Lens for Interpretation. The Bible is the supreme theological determinant of our beliefs. All creeds or statements of belief, including this one, are secondary to, and should be examined in light of, Scripture. The appropriate lens through which we understand Scripture is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Scripture cannot be interpreted independently of either Jesus Christ or the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Believer’s Baptism by Immersion. While First Baptist receives into membership all Christians who have professed faith in Jesus Christ and have been baptized, by any method, as a sign of their faith, our normative practice for new believers is rooted in our Baptist heritage. In that tradition, baptism follows a voluntary profession of faith. Believer's baptism is a symbol of the death and burial of the individual’s “old life” and the resurrection of the person to their “new life” bestowed through the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Consistent with the koiné Greek word on which the word “baptize” is based, baptism is performed by full immersion of the individual.