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Chapter 2 — Why The Name "Baptist"
By The Late S. E. Anderson

Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois
      The name "Baptist" is a Scriptural name. It is found first of all in Matthew 3:1 which, like all Bible verses, is given by inspiration of God. John the Baptist is referred to immediately after "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). In Luke his story begins with verse five and in John with verse six. Thus the Baptist stands at the very threshold of the New Testament.

      The name of Christ’s great forerunner is found no less than fourteen times in the New Testament. The more honored name "Christian" is found only three times, and two of these are apparently used with scorn. Strange as it may seem, the name Baptist is always used with evident respect.

      John the Baptist won a great many converts to Christ. These were soundly converted, baptized and trained, even before Christ began His own brief ministry on earth. Thus when Christ called for disciples He found them already prepared for Him (Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9). We do not read that John’s converts were called Baptists, for there were no denominations in those days, but they must have been Baptistic, for they believed what John the Baptist preached; they accepted the Baptist’s baptism, and they in turn won converts and baptized them. Moreover, Jesus Himself was baptized by John the Baptist and endorsed him with lavish praise.

      Again, the name Baptist is a Christ-centered name. John baptized in order "to make Christ manifest" (John 1:31). Since Christ’s greatest work on earth was His death, burial and resurrection on our behalf, John’s baptism - immersion - pointed clearly to the Atonement. John pointed to Christ as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. John always pointed to Christ, saying, "He must increase, but I must decrease." When we do likewise we are Christ-centered.

      John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make His paths straight (Matthew 3:3). When we prepare the way for our children, and Sunday School pupils, and those who listen to our witness—all for our Lord—then we are doing what the Baptist did. And when our paths are straight by Christian standards, then they will lead our followers directly to Christ.

      The name Baptist is also a descriptive name. Since baptism symbolizes our death to all sinful ways, our burial of all bad habits, and our rising to walk in newness of life, then baptism symbolizes our conversion as well as our entire Christian life. Perhaps that is why the word "baptized" is used in several places to describe the entire work of John the Baptist (John 1:28, 31, 33; 3:23; 10:40) and of Christ Himself (John 3:22, 26; 4:1, 2).

      Logically, then, each Baptist is one who has "killed" all sinful ways, buried them in the baptistery, and ever since lives as one who is "risen with Christ" (Colossians 3:1), who has "put off the old man" and has "put on the new man" (Colossians 3:8-14). Thus it seems that Baptists have a deeper obligation to live a consistent Christian life than non-immersed Christians! But do we?

      Further, the name Baptist is an ideal name. It is the name the Lord gave to the first preacher of the Christian Gospel, the one who baptized the Son of God, the one in whom the Holy Spirit dwelt from his infancy, the one who was "great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:15), the one whom Christ praised so profusely, the one whom "all men" counted as a prophet indeed, and the one who had the honor of being the first martyr for Christ. Notice that everything John did and said brought honor to Christ. His name was not an object of praise or glory; rather, it was a signboard pointing to his Lord. Would that all modern Baptists were faithful signboards, not seekers for glory.

      Again, the name Baptist could be what it was at first, non-sectarian. John, the first Baptist, was not a narrow denominationalist; he was all out for his Lord. If every Christian now could forget all divisive influence, all divisive teachers or leaders, and go back to the original source of the Christian Gospel in the New Testament, he would take his stand with the Lord Jesus and His apostles, all of them endorsed John the Baptist (Acts 1:22). This endorsement would magnify Christ as Lord and Savior, not any lesser cult or leader.

      Then the name Baptist could be a unifying name. "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5) is our ideal. If we all had one faith we would have only one baptism. Conversely, if all Christians held to one baptism - the one Christ approved - that baptism would point to only one faith, the faith symbolized and portrayed by the original baptism. Then if all had that one faith, we would all have one Lord and only one. We would declare our independence of all popes, bishops, priests, traditions, superstitions, and extra-Biblical customs which now confuse multitudes of people.

      How did Christians ever become so divided, especially on baptism? Within a century of Christ’s resurrection, some influential leaders got the idea that baptism was necessary for salvation. This heresy led to baptizing babies, and sick people, thus making sprinkling seem to be more convenient. After a few more centuries, the majority of Christendom held to sprinkling babies, making the Roman hierarchy the arbiter of disputes. However, God had preserved for Himself a remnant through the ages, those who never yielded to Rome or to infant baptism. They were called various names, and since 1644 the name Baptist has gained increasing respect.

      Every Baptist has the great privilege of witnessing for his Lord by means of explaining the meaning of his baptism and of his name Baptist. For when baptism is explained, the Gospel of Christ is explained. Baptists, then, should be both bold and courteous in explaining their name, and thereby glorifying their Lord.


[From M. L. Moser, editor, The Case for Independent Baptist Churches, 1977. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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