Baptist History Homepage

Why Baptists Cannot Unionize With Others
By Buell H. Kazee
The name "Baptist" is used here to represent a religious people who in history have been identified with certain beliefs and who were impelled by these beliefs to remain separate from other religious groups or denominations. If they could have accepted the teachings of other denominations, there was never any good reason for their separate identification. Furthermore, if at this time there is nothing unique about their faith and practice, they should, in all honesty, admit that they have been wrong and end their part of the confusion by uniting with some other body whose faith they can endorse.

For instance, if Baptists have been right about how lost men are saved, then all who disagree with them are wrong on this vital point. If Baptists are right on this doctrine, then all who have ever been saved have been saved exactly as Baptists teach. If Baptists have been right about the church in its local, visible concept and about baptism and the Lord's supper -- that is, how, why, to whom and by whom these ordinances should be administered -- then all who disagree with them are wrong. But if Baptists are wrong about these things, they should give up their contentions and join those who believe otherwise. The maintaining of a separate denomination is not only confusing, but sinful, if there are no convictions which demand that separation.

Baptists are constantly being urged, by people outside their denomination and by some inside, to join with other denominations in organic union or at least in programs of work. These programs of work usually center in evangelism. Baptists are asked to join with others in "saving souls."

But it is on this point that Baptists have historically been in conflict with others. They have been in conflict of views with others, not only on the saving experience itself but also upon the doctrinal message of that experience. In I Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 1:6-9, perhaps in Acts 19:1-7 and likely in other places, the Bible seems very insistent on agreement in how we preach the message of salvation. Surely, on this important doctrine, the Lord did not ordain the confusion so obvious in modern denominations.

For example, if one group preaches that we are saved by "repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," which we commonly call "salvation by grace;" if another group preaches that we are saved wholly or in part by water baptism; if still another group preaches that we are saved by faith in Christ, but that we may be lost if we do not live a faithful, obedient life with much good works; if still another group adds to faith or substitutes for faith ceremonial obedience, church membership or any other act of merit on the part of the sinner; how can we all preach together in good conscience to save the lost? On such a vital matter, how can Baptists join with those who deny their faith and yet be true to their own convictions?

Furthermore, how can a Baptist be true to his faith and advise new converts to unite with any church other than that kind which preaches his own faith? The following account may serve to give us light on this matter.

Once a pastor in another denomination was urging all of "us pastors" in our town to "get together" in our evangelistic meetings, to attend and help each other.

I addressed this question to him: "Would you accept me, just as I am, as a member of your church?

"Certainly," he replied.

"Would you accept all the members of our church on the same basis," I asked.

"Yes, siree!" he replied with emphasis.

"Well, what is wrong with us?" I asked.

"Why, nothing," he replied, "except that you people hold yourselves aloof and will not join with the rest of us in the work of the Lord."

Then I asked, "If there is nothing wrong with us as we are, why don't you and your people join with us and make one good congregation of us all?"

"But you would insist on our being baptized again," he replied.

"Yet," I said, "you say you would accept us even though we hold to that belief." He was embarrassed, but I continued: "We claim to have been here long before you were. Your denomination is rather young in history. Our people claim to be identified with groups reaching back to the apostles, yet, you say you would accept us. Why, then, could you not join with us?"

He became a bit heated as he said, "But you are unfair; you are trying to shut us out."

"Not on your life," I replied. "The door of our church is open to all who will come by repentance and faith and who will accept a baptism which declares that faith."

Then he said, "But why can't we take the Lord's Supper with you? We are Christians, too, you know."

I pleaded for patience while I explained. "You agree with me that one should be scripturally baptized, before taking the Lord's Supper, do you not?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied cautiously. "Do you also agree," I continued, "that your church preaches that sinners are saved by faith in Christ plus an obedient life with good works; that is, he could not be saved without good works?"

"Yes, of course," he replied, "we believe that a man must live a good life and work for the Lord, or he will be lost. I believe in good works as necessary to salvation, and the Bible teaches it."

"I, too, believe in good works," I said, "but not as a means of salvation. We preach that sinners are saved by grace through faith alone, as Ephesians 2:8 tells us, 'not of works.' Do you agree that we differ vitally on how a man is saved?"

"Well, yes," he replied, "but that should not keep us from having fellowship at the Lord's table."

"But that is not Paul's teaching," I continued. "In the first Corinithian letter he deplores the divisions in that church. In 1:10 he says: 'I would that ye all speak the same things, and that there be no divisions among you.' Did you ever hear that? Speak the same things! And in I Coronthians 11:18-28, he teaches that we cannot eat the Lord's Supper if there be divisions among us. Surely we cannot be in scriptural fellowship if we are divided on the question of how sinners are saved. If we are truly born again, we may have the fellowship of experience, by which we become brothers in the family of God, but a church is a preaching institution. Our church fellowship centers not only in our saving experience but also in the substance of our message about that experience. Church fellowship is a different thing from family fellowship. So, we could not properly join in the ordinances which symbolically declare our salvation if we differ in our preaching on how we are saved."

From this conversation, it would seem clear that scriptural churches must be judged by what they preach about salvation, the main subject on which denominations are divided. Furthermore, they are divided either on the experience of salvation or on the message which declares it.

A believer is justified before God by his faith in Jesus Christ; he is qualified for church membership by the proper confession and demonstration of his experience through baptism; but a church is qualified as scriptural both by its spiritual experience in Christ and the proper declaration of that experience. This declaration is given not only through the preaching of the gospel but also by the proper demonstration of the message through the administration of the ordinances. On this there must be unity.

Baptists have no right to endorse a heresy, either in the experience of saving faith or in the declaration of the faith that saves. There is no such thing as being in fellowship in the Spirit if we are not in fellowship in the Word which the Spirit breathed. Especially is this true on the vital subject of the salvation of sinners.

So, my concluding words to my pastor friend were these: "You see, because your church teaches a different doctrine of salvation, your baptism declares that message to the world. Such a baptism would not fit in our church because it is identified with your message on salvation. Many of you may be saved, but if you are, you are saved as we preach it. If I helped you propagate your error, I would not only violate my conscience but also what I believe the Word of God teaches."

In the light of this logic, how can we unionize with others without compromising our message?

[From a tract. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More on Buell Kazee
Baptist History Homepage