Baptist History Homepage
The People Called Baptists
By George W. McDaniel


      "It seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order . . . that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed." Luke 1:3, 4, R.V.

      "But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord; being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you." 1 Peter 3:15.

      Baptists are glad to hold many doctrines in common with other Christians. Among these are the Inspiration of the Scriptures; the Doctrine of the Trinity; the Ruin Wrought by Sin; Salvation Through Christ, and the Future Rewards of the Righteous and Punish- ment of the Wicked. These are equally dear to us and to Christian friends of other denominations.

      But our separate existence is to be explained and justified by our belief in certain importan

principles which are either not held, or not held so tenaciously and consistently by others. Dr. J. L. M. Curry, with peculiar clearness says: "No religious denomination has a moral right to a separate existence unless it differs essentially from others. Ecclesiastical differences ought always to spring from profound doctrinal differences. To divide Christians, except for reasons of great import, is criminal schism. Sects are justified only for matters of conscience growing out of clear Scriptural precepts or inevitable logical inference. Hu- man speculation, tradition, authority of pope, or council, or synod, or conference, or legislature, is no proper basis for an organization of Christians. Nothing short of the truth of revelation, the authoritative force of God's word, rising above mere prejudice, or passion, or caprice, can justify a distinct church organization."

      By distinctive principles is meant those tenets which distinguish us from other people. Let me prepare the way for a statement of these principles by disclaiming as distinctive the three doctrines which others consider as constituting our distinctness. Two of these

doctrines are held by us and one sometimes erroneously charged to us. (1) Immersion only is baptism. This is held by Baptists, but not by them alone. The Disciples so believe and practice. The Greek, or Eastern Church, has always practiced immersion and its present communion numbering over 70,000,000 is immersed. Furthermore, immersion is not uncommon among Protestants. (2) Baptism is necessary to salvation. This has never been a tenet of the Baptists. They are the only people in the world who hold exactly the opposite, namely, that salvation must precede baptism. (3) "Close communion." Far from being a distinguishing doctrine of the Baptists, the principle underlying "close communion" and out of which it grows is held by all denominations. All agree that baptism comes before communion in the New Testament order. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists baptize their babes directly after they are born, but do not give them the communion for years. Why do they always baptize first if baptism does not come before the communion? To be exact, we should say,
"participation" and "Lord's Supper" instead of "communion."

      Having cleared the way by disclaiming number two as a doctrine of the Baptists and by saying numbers one and three are held in common with certain other Christians, those doctrines that are distinctive with us may now be stated.

      1. We believe that the New Testament is the sole and sufficient rule of faith and practice.

      2. We believe in individual responsibility to God for the performance of duty.

      3. We believe that a church is a body of baptized believers, equal in rank and privilege, administering its own affairs under the headship of Jesus Christ.

      Perhaps some of my Baptist brethren will think I have omitted something. Wait until these statements are developed and you will find that every tenet which characterizes us is included in these three statements. Perhaps some one of my fellow Christians among other denominations will think that I have stated principles which they hold as well as ourselves. Await the expansion of the

thought and you will see that no people interpret and practice these principles as we do. We will consider them in the order of their statement.

The New Testament the Only Authority.

      The New Testament is the only law of Christianity. The Old Testament is equally the word of God, but it was typical and is fulfilled in the New. It was the schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. Now we have Christ, who is our only law-giver and the only Lord of the conscience.

      Baptists do not go to the Old but to the New Testament to find the laws of the church and its institutions. Circumcision was practiced in the Old Testament, but had no substitute in the New. We deny that the Christian Church should baptize infants because they were circumcised under the old law. Circumcision is too broad for baptism in that it included servants and too narrow in that it excluded females. If baptism was typified by circumcision it must be administered either to the actual or the spiritual seed of Abraham. It could not be his actual

seed, since females are excluded. It could not be his spiritual seed, since all other nations are excluded. Therefore circumcision could not typify baptism. Such was Dr. B. H. Carroll's unanswerable argument on this point. Paul could have settled the annoying circumcision controversy by saying "Baptism has taken the place of circumcision." He never said it. We believe that the New Testament is a sufficient rule for the Christian life. Creeds and decrees of councils have no binding authority. The believer has his supreme and absolute guide in the New Testament illumined by the Holy Spirit.

      Someone will say, for example, that he believes immersion was practiced and commanded by Jesus, but he thinks the church has a right to change the mode. Here is where the Baptist's position on the place and purpose of the New Testament makes him part company with all who so hold. Jesus is absolute Lord. The church has no right to undo what Christ has done. Its mission is to carry out what he has commanded. When the Presbyterians tell us that this is a principle of their denomination as well as of the Baptists,

we ask them for the authority in the Scriptures for sprinkling and for infant baptism. By practicing both or either they invaHdate their claim.

      Furthermore, it is a serious matter to add to the things commanded. To those who keep more than two sacraments, or teach sacerdotalism, or observe an elaborate ritual, or possess an intricate and extensive form of government we say, "You have added to the law which is sole and sufficient. You have done that which is distinctly forbidden." "I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book." You dare not subtract from by changing the mode of baptism. You dare not add to by multiplying the rites or ritual. As my beloved Bible teacher at Baylor University used to say, "All the New Testament is the Law of Christianity. The New Testament is all the Law of Christianity. The New Testament will always be the Law of Christianity.


Individual Responsibility.

      This separates the individual from family, friends, government and all, and brings him face to face with his Maker. "To his own Master he standeth or falleth." "So, then, every one of us must give account of himself to God." The first preacher in the New Testament proclaimed the blessed doctrine of individualism. If we listen we may hear the clarion voice of John the Baptist ringing from the regions of Jordan - breaking the silence of four hundred years - crying, "Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father. Behold the axe is laid at the root of the tree and every tree that bringeth not forth fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire."

      Individual responsibility means freedom of choice. Freedom to read the Bible; freedom to interpret the Bible; freedom to approach God; freedom to serve God. The Baptists would have a Bible within the possession of every one who wants it. They would say, "Read, interpret, and decide for yourself." They would not, for any consideration,

bapize unconscious infants or force their own children into their churches. Yea, they say to their most dearly beloved, "Go where the New Testament leads you." Therefore every member of a Baptist church secured that membership upon his own initiative. Not one was brought in unconsciously or unwillingly.

      Nor do we believe in the intervention of priests between the soul and God. According to our belief, all believers are priests and may directly confess their sins, express their praise, and ask for guidance. By reason of their belief in individualism, Baptists have ever been the opponents of the union of Church and State and the champions of Religious Liberty. They were such not by accident, but by the necessity of their principles. Freedom of conscience is a corollary of individualism. Considered historically, this tenet belongs to us alone.

      At the beginning of the struggle we stood against the world with nothing but the word of God on our side. Our contention is based upon such Scriptures as, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king,

O, Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Daniel 3:16, 18.

      "Tell us therefore. What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said. Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him a penny. And He saith unto them. Whose is this image and superscription? They said unto him, Caesar's. Then saith He unto them. Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left Him, and went their way." Matthew 22:17-22.

      "And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and

said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Acts 4:18-20.

      "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said. We ought to obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29.

      Baptists contend that there can be no coercion in matters pertaining to conscience. God Himself does not force men. Religion is purely voluntary. The civil power can make a nation of hypocrites and infidels, but not one Christian. What havoc has been wrought by a disregard of this principle! Calvin burned Servetus at the stake near Geneva and Melancthon approved the crime. Luther persecuted the Baptists of Germany. Louis XIV. revoked the Edict of Nantes, closed all the Protestant churches, and outlawed the Huguenots. No sooner had the Netherlands repelled Philip II. and the Catholic persecution than the Protestants turned upon each other. The Calvinists, led by Prince Maurice, executed the venerable John Barneveldt; and condemned to life imprisonment

her greatest historian, Hugo Grotius, upon the charge that he supported religious toleration. England kept John Bunyan twelve years in prison because he would not conform to the established worship. The most shame- ful chapter of American history is that which records the persecution of Baptists for con- science's sake. In Massachusetts, Obadiah Holmes was whipped on Boston Common. Clark was imprisoned and Roger Williams was banished. In Connecticut the choicest lands of the Baptists were sold to build a church and support a ministry in which they did not believe. In Virginia they imprisoned Lewis Craig in Spotsylvania, William Webber in Chesterfield, James Greenwood in King and Queen, John Shackleford in Essex, John Waller in Middlesex, and John Ireland at Culpeper for preaching the gospel. Yea, they confiscated the property of Baptists to support a worldly and profligate ministry of the establishment. The Baptists have ever fearlessly denounced the unholy union of Church and State and proclaimed the right of every man to worship God as he chooses. Their principles will not allow them to
persecute. They have never shed any blood but their own, nor can they ever shed blood if they have the power. The moment one began to persecute, that moment he would cease to be a Baptist.

A New Testament Church.

      It is certain that Christ and his apostles baptized. It is equally certain that they baptized only believers. The church is for saved people. John the Baptist and Jesus made disciples before they baptized them. John 4:1. Jesus commanded us to be made disciples before we baptize. "The Lord added to them day by day those that were saved." Acts 2:47. "Believers were the more added unto the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." Acts 5:14. The churches are addressed thus, "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus." 1 Corinthians 6:11. "And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." Ephesians 2:1. They are also called, "beloved of God," "sanctified in Christ Jesus," "saints and faithful brethren in Christ." There is absolutely no evidence

that baptism was administered except upon a voluntary profession of faith. If it is permissible to take into the church one unconverted, then it is permissible to take into the church all unconverted and thereby to have churches composed entirely of unbelieving sinners. We demand repentance and faith before baptism.

      The household baptisms furnish no evidence that any but believers were baptized. There are five of these households mentioned in the Acts and Epistles. Examine them. (1) Cornelius - Acts 10:44-48, 11:14. His household evidently consisted of believers, for it is written that he "feared God with all his house." Moreover, the record states, "the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word" and that they began to "speak with tongues and magnify God." Surely infants could not have performed any of these four functions. (2) Crispus - Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:14. It reads like the account of Cornelius: "Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house." (3) Stephanas - 1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15f. His household are described as "the first fruits of Achaia"; that

is, they were the earliest converts. Furthermore, five years after their baptism Paul wrote of them: "They have set themselves to minister unto the saints," and he exhorted the Corinthians to "be in subjection unto such." Could children six years old be spoken of in such language? (4) The jailer - Acts 16:31-34. We are informed that Paul and Silas "spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house." Infants could not be included among the auditors, and it is guess work to suppose they were afterwards baptized. (5) Lydia - Acts 16:13-15, 40. To get infants baptized here one must assume three things: (1) Lydia had a husband; (2) she had infant children; (3) these infants were baptized. Those are bold assumptions without a scintilla of proof. "My house" would indicate that she did not have a husband. She was a business woman with servants. Before leaving Philippi, the Apostles paid her a farewell visit; the account reads, "when they had seen the brethren they comforted them and departed." The "brethren" were members of her household and they were old enough to be "comforted" or exhorted.
They must have been persons of intelligence. A close reading of the Scriptures will disclose that acts and functions are described in every household of which infants are incapable. The Holy Spirit superintended the record so as to preserve believers' baptism. Dr. Archibald Alexander, distinguished Presbyterian scholar and president of Hampden-Sidney College, in 1796 communicated to the Presbytery his determination to give up infant baptism and avowed that only two considerations kept him back from joining the Baptists. The first was an argument from the "universal prevalence of infant baptism as early as the fourth and fifth centuries"; and the second was, "that if the Baptists are right, they are the only Christian church on earth." The Romanists object to the Baptists on similar grounds

      Infant baptism does not appear in Scripture at all and is not mentioned in history until shortly before the close of the second century, when TertuUian at Carthage opposed it as an innovation. The belief that baptism was essential to salvation and that infants dying unbaptized were lost facilitated the growth

of infant baptism; but no one advocated it before Augustine (354-430). The heresy spread and became the prolific parent of an unregenerated church membership, of the servitude of the individual to an institution, of the union of Church and State and of persecution for conscience sake. It remains the bulwark of Romanism and the most insurmountable barrier to Christian union.

      The New Testament churches were independent and self-governing. The highest court was the church. Matthew 18:15-18. Its decisions were final. Each church is a court and there is none higher. No general body can dictate to the local church. Such general bodies are composed of messengers from co-operating churches and are purely advisory. The churches of the New Testament were certainly independent organizations recognizing Jesus as their law-giver. The only earthly bond of union was a common faith and life and work. They were the only ecclesiastical bodies. That each church governed its own affairs is evident from Matthew 18:17. "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the

church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Acts 15 :22. "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas." 2 Corinthians 8:19. "And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind."

      To particularize: each church had absolute control over its own membership. The church received members. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." Romans 14:1. One joins a church for fellowship, worship and service. The members have a right to say whether or not

they think he will promote that fellowship, worship and service. Otherwise, inharmonious and discordant elements may get into the same church.

      The church withdrew fellowship from members for cause. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." 2 Thessalonians 3:6. It is absurd to vote one out if you do not vote him in. Once more, if the pastor, or any certain class, has a right to take a member in, he has a right to turn him out. Under the Baptist polity the whole church receives him and the same church excludes, for cause.

      It restored to fellowship upon repentance. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness: considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Gal. 6:1. The general congregation votes to receive back into the fellowship the erring member who has been reclaimed.

      Baptists find no authority in the Bible for

one man being the head of an ecclesiastical organization. Peter never knew he was a pope, nor did the other apostles. He was a fallible, married man. He did not appoint the successor to Judas. He spoke to the Christians as to his equals and they nominated. James was pastor and presided over the Jerusalem council and exerted the greatest influence. Paul withstood Peter to his face. Papal aggression began with Leo about the middle of the fifth century, culminated with Hildebrand about the middle of the eleventh century, and reached its climax of absurdity at the Vatican Council in 1870 by the formal declaration of papal infallibility. Our Saviour condemned the custom of giving one su-periority over others. "And he said unto them. The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." Luke 22:25, 26. "But be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man
our Father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." Matthew 23:8, 9. Even in the local church no one lords it over God's heritage. Bishops were not "over" but among them as the Revised Version correctly translates Acts 20:28, and the same translation should be made of 1 Thessalonians 5:12. The only one over the church was the Lord Jesus.

      We understand that elder, bishop and pastor were terms designating those having care of the local churches and were used interchangeably, the same person being called elder, bishop or pastor, according to the view taken of his office. "Elders" is the term used in Acts 20:17 to designate the Ephesian presbyters, and in Acts 20:28 they are called "bishops." Now, "bishop" means overseer or pastor. So we have the words used interchangeably in one chapter referring to the same persons. Elder and bishop are also used interchangeably in Titus 1:5, 7. See also 1 Peter 2:25 and 5:5. The words describe different functions of the same office; three departments of work in one office. Viewing the church as a force of laborers, they

have an "episcopos," overseer, to superintend their activities; viewing the church as a flock, they have a shepherd, pastor, to shepherd the sheep; viewing the church as an assembly, they have an elder, a ruler, to preside.

      New Testament churches selected their own officers and messengers. This appears from Acts 1:21-26, where Matthias was selected by all of the remaining apostles and the women and the brothers of Jesus as the successor of Judas. The "multitude of the disciples" selected the seven (Acts 6:2f) who served as deacons. In commenting upon Acts 14:23, Meyer says, "Paul and Barnabas chose by vote presbyters for them, i.e., they conducted their selection by vote in the churches." The verb used here is to extend the hand and signifies properly to elect or vote by extending the hand. The choice of companions to attend the apostles in the name of the communities was left to the churches themselves. We read "Who was appointed by the churches to travel with us" (2 Corinthians 8:19). The local church, then, chose its officers who were of but two classes, viz.,

Bishops and Deacons. See Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothhy 3:1, 8, where the deacons are named immediately after the bishops, "which excludes the idea of any intermediate order."

      To-day, Baptist churches have absolute control over their affairs and elect their own officers as did those in the days of the apostles. If we were to admit that we had no form of church government laid down in the New Testament we should still believe in our form of local government, because it accords with our sense of freedom and justice. As a minister, it seems, I should not like for the place and time of my pastorate to be determined by another man. As a layman, I should want some voice and vote in determining who was to be my pastor and how long he was to remain.

      Baptist principles are founded upon God's word and are in accord with the innate sense of freedom in the human heart. Our success is conditioned upon our loyalty to these principles in the spirit of the Master.


[From George W. McDaniel, The People Called Baptists, 1919, pp. 39-61. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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