The Name Baptist
INDIVIDUALS and societies are usually passive in receiving a name, "The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." They did not select it. It was given to them by their enemies.
However lightly we may ask "What's in a name?" we know for certain that the Lord God considered a name worthy of his attention as both important and significant. He gave Adam his name, "man," He named Eve, "life." He changed the name of Abram, "father of altitude," to Abraham, "the father of a multitude." And so Jacob, "supplanter," to Israel, "a prince of God." Indeed all the angelic beings whose persons appear in the divine record have significant names; as Michael, "who is like unto God"; Uriel, "God is my light": and Gabriel, "hero of God"; each name ending in el, "God."
We might mention the long list of prophets and fathers having the word el prefixed or affixed, showing the significance of their names. But turn we to the New Testament. In its opening we read: "And the angel said unto him, Fear not
Zacharias, thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shall call his name John," whose Hebrew is "Johanan," meaning "Jehovah is gracious." Was there nothing in a name, when such care, such precision, was used by the Lord himself in giving men for whom he had a special mission, a significant and distinguishing appellation?
But now comes the fact that John is named the Baptist, or Baptizer, so named by the inspired word when it announces the first promulgation of the gospel of the Lord. "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea."
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. John did baptize in the wilderness and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The name John, "Jehovah is gracious," was most significant of the gospel he announced. The distinguished appellation, Baptist, must have signified the basis on which that graciousness of Jehovah rested. For Baptist, of course, implied not only baptizer, but baptism. And baptism implied and showed forth the atoning work of Christ; that Christ would die and rise again was the foundation of the gospel. "Therefore," says the inspired apostle, "we are buried with him by baptism, . . . that like as Christ was raised up from the dead." Baptism is a sign, the sign of Christ's atoning work. John showed forth Christ's
atoning work by voice and ordinance. "Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world." How? By his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism declares in living picture this wonderous fact and he who showed forth this fact by baptizing was called by divine direction, not simply baptizer, but Baptist.
Of the reasons for calling the first proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Baptist, we shall speak farther on. At present we simply state the unquestionable fact that his appellation was by divine arrangement, and we turn to the question: Is there any scriptural significance in the names assumed, not given, by the various religious bodies?
Passing the Oriental establishments let us ask what is the meaning of Roman Catholic, or Catholic without the prefix Roman? Catholic simply means universal or general. That any institution can be Roman and yet universal is solecism. It would be as incorrect to say the London catholic (or universal) church, or the New York world-wide church. But suppose it were universal, which it is not, and never was or will be, does that give any intimation of its scripturalness, or of the principles on which it is founded? Mohammedism might be universal, that is catholic - and it is about as much so as Romanism - and yet be the same imposture. There is nothing, we affirm, in the boastful name of "Catholic" but the ambitious desire for universal
clerical rule. It implies no gospel principles and has no spiritual significance.
The Lutheran church takes the name of a man and suggests nothing more than his alliance with kings and governments on its foundation.
Episcopal simply means the rule of bishops. It is office and government. According to the New Testament every gospel assembly or church had its pastor or overseer, not as ruler but as teacher and pastor. But even if that word did show that such pastor were the governing power of the church, why should this fact be given such importance as to name the whole institution by it and call it the Episcopal Church? It only signifies discipline, or polity. It involves no eternal principle. Nothing of Christ or his atoning work.
Presbyterian is one of the same nature. It means government by an eldership. Now, every gospel assembly when properly organized has, as did the apostolic churches, its elder, overseer, pastor or bishop: for these words are used interchangeably in the New Testament, and mean the same thing or office. Whether this elder, or these elders, are to govern the assembly, or the whole church is to do it, each member being equal with the other, has its importance. But there is no blood in the question. There is nothing that bears on the heart, or points to Christ's redemptive work. To call a church of Christ's disciples by the name of its
church government or governors, is to leave out all that is essential and saving in the gospel.
Methodist originated in the peculiar forms or methods of earnest people who belonged to the Episcopal institution. Those methods originated with them. They were expediencies, changeable and transient. They belonged to men on earth. Every church has its methods. But they imply no essential fact or truth. They take no hold on eternity. Why should we or any church of the Lord, select a name originating with themselves and having no bearing on the foundational principles of the gospel?
Congregational comes under the same form of questioning. It is polity, church government.
We as Baptists are Episcopalians, every church has its episcopos, bishop or pastor. We are Methodist in this, that we have methods, of raising means to support the gospel and send it abroad. We are Presbyterians in the fact that every ordained minister among us is a presbyter or elder. But we decline being known by any of these names. None of them bears reference to the facts of the gospel. None of them points to the atoning work of Christ. None of them is based on essential and eternal principles. None of them points to a glorious resurrection life. None of them anchors on the eternal shore. They have each and all originated with men and are about men and their church
polity. They belong to earth and will end with time.
We have said nothing of the venerable and much misused named Christian. But it is so indefinite, so almost meaningless, that we wonder how any intelligent people can make it their distinguishing name.
We too might be called by the venerable name Christian. But this is indefinite. Christian means, properly, one who believes in Christ. There is a church in the city where I live whose teaching is, that Jesus was the Christ - but a human, mortal, fallible Christ - a mere man. Yet they call themselves Christians, and have a right to this name in a primary sense. Christian has been indiscriminately applied to all who have acknowledged the claims of Jesus to the Messiahship, without respect to their faith in what this claim involves in regard to his person or his work. Christian, in current language, includes those who deny the deity of Jesus and the atonement of Jesus as much as it does those who approve those truths. Socinian Christians and Arian Christian are distinguished from Orthodox Christians as equally believing in the Messiahship, but denying the divinity and atonement of Jesus. And further, in the language of the nations, Christian is a classifying term, distinguishing the Mohammedan and the Pagan from the Christian nations of the world.
The mad crusaders who swept down on Asia like a torrent of fire and death; who, after cruelties as heartless as ever sickened humanity, massacred, without respect to age or sex, the population of Jerusalem, and burned the synagogues crowded with inoffensive Jews, offered their black and bloody sacrifice as a Christian oblation amid Christian songs and prayers. They were Christian warriors. Such is the current meaning of the indefinite term, and though an experimental theology gives it another and characteristic meaning, yet this is defeated in the fact that ever and anon sects spring into existence which appropriate the word as a party symbol. Doubtful in origin, indefinite in meaning, the Christian name does not answer the momentous question, What think ye of Christ? What is the person, and what is his work?
The Apostle Paul tells all those who have publicly taken the name of Christ upon him in baptism, "Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you," or, as the Revised version, more correctly, "Ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered" (Romans 6:17). The doctrine is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This he says is the gospel he declared unto the Corinthians. Now, what is the form of that teaching? Where is the doctrine embodied, pictured, voiced in an action?
The form of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection is found in baptism alone. It alone stands forth as a commemorative monument speaking to all hearts and in all tongues the wonderous facts of the atonement; and he who obeys from the heart this form and is delivered into "this" mold of doctrine, proclaims it by the act and by the name he bears.
The reaches of the Rhine, as the shining waters flow by terraced banks, clad in vineyards and orchards, mirror the green swards and russet fruits and purple grapes and turreted castles which adorn the enchanting scenery. They catch the color and throw back by reflection the beauties through which they glide. Baptism may be said to flow by the cross and the tomb. It seems to catch their color and their outline. It reflects as a mirror the greatest facts and truths in all God's universe - the atoning work of the Son of God. You and I, brethren, and all who obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine, expressed and confessed (not covenants of circumcision or Jewish ceremonials) but Christ's death and our own death with him and our triumph in him. "Therefore we are buried with him in baptism that like as Christ was raised from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
I repeat it. My name, Baptist, expresses, confesses signifies this, and I wear it, not as a sectarian
appelation nor as a party shibboleth, not as a denominational distinction, but as the open, fearless avowal of my faith in what baptism teaches - the atoning work of my crucified, buried, risen, triumphant Lord. Is there nothing in a name?
The name Baptist implies great principles - the atonement of Christ by death, burial, and resurrection.
The name Baptist implies great hopes - glorious resurrection from the grave and an endless life of joy.
The name Baptist implies great obligation - a new life of consecration to him whom we have put on as a garment in his ordinance - "risen with Christ." To live for Christ. Thank God for this name. It is from him, not from man.
It is true that these Doopsgezinde, or dipped people, have been known by various names, generally opprobrious and originating in the hate of their persecutors - "Anabaptists, "Katabaptists," Arnoldists, Petrobrussians, Paulicians. They called themselves simply "The baptized churches of Jesus Christ." They are satisfied with this appelation still. But in the providence of God they are now known without their seeking it, as Baptists - the very name given by God himself to the first proclaimer of the gospel dispensation. So let it be.
[Samuel H. Ford, Baptist Waymarks, ABPS, 1903. The document was provided by Pastor Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Transcribed from the original document by my wife, Linda; formatted by Jim Duvall. ]
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