The Baptist story is one of a group of believers who desired to have churches based on the authority of the New Testament. These kinds of churches required a certain belief about and commitment to biblical authority. Baptists originated as a people who were unswervingly dedicated to the belief that the Bible is the authoritative, written revelation of God. The Scriptures served as the foundation for our Baptist ancestors on which they built New Testament churches.
In their distinctive and other theological writings, Baptists have always traced their origin and existence to the prominent place they give to the Bible for their faith and practice. Baptists do not adhere to a belief of biblical inspiration that formally differs from other Christian denominations. In other words, there is not a “Baptist view” of how the Bible came to be or a “Baptist view” of biblical authority. But Baptists do argue that our consistent and absolute adherence to biblical authority is different from non-Baptist Christians.
Baptists insist that our consistent and exclusive adherence to the Scriptures for matters of faith and practice distinguishes us from other Christians. Baptists further contend and often strive to prove that other Christian denominations elevate other types of religious expression to the same level as the Bible. Baptists assert that any perspective, practice, experience, or tradition that does not have biblical support or is not subordinated to biblical authority must be rejected.
Non-Christians and many Christians have always and still do regard traditions, philosophies, experiences, or other realities as viable sources for religious authority. In the following discussion, I will briefly identify and critique these other sources of religious authority. I will then examine the Baptist conviction about biblical authority and the prominent place of the New Testament in shaping our faith and practice.
The Roman Catholic Church states that Jesus Christ founded a visible society to which he gave his truth in the form of Scripture and tradition. The Catholic Church further affirms that Christ empowered that society to rule itself by the bishopric and to interpret the revelation of Scripture and tradition to all Christians. The Roman Catholic Church claims that it is the sole society in which the rights of biblical and theological interpretation are vested. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it neither adds to existing revelation nor receives new revelation. Although the church claims that it does not discover new truth, it does make explicit what is implicit within the revelatory tradition.
Rome claims to have an interpretation of the written revelation in its tradition carried on within the church as secret, unwritten, and apostolic. The church, as God’s representative on earth, maintains that it is infallible in its interpretation of the written revelation. Therefore, when the church speaks, it speaks with the same authority as if the Lord himself were speaking. The church controls all definitions of truth, and all doctrinal formulations have been delegated to the apostles and their successors. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church bestows great authority upon church councils, creeds, and the writings of church fathers.
Baptists reject this particular understanding of religious authority. We typically agree that the early church lived in submission to the Old Testament and apostolic teaching. But the completion of the New Testament as the apostolic witness and revelation to Jesus Christ abrogated any reliance on any traditions or teachings not contained within the canon.
Baptists recognize that we do not live as disciples of Christ in a historical or theological vacuum. We cannot skip over the centuries to the first century and read the New Testament independent of our own prejudices and heritage. We also do not desire to be arrogant or to be ignorant of the insights and theological developments of others. Baptists have and continue to hear the voices of other Christians on matters of faith and practice. Baptists do believe, however, that the Bible is its own best interpreter. We therefore reject the belief that any church council or ecclesiastical leader can claim to be the sole, authoritative interpreter of the revelation of God.
Protestant liberalism asserts that the religious experience of the individual with the divine Spirit constitutes religious authority. Protestant liberalism contends that a divine Spirit pervades the entire creation and is potentially present in all human beings. As a person worships or prays with the right attitude, he encounters the divine Spirit, producing some type of religious experience. Although these events are often described as “indefinable” or “inexplicable,” they are considered authoritative for the person who experiences them. Each individual is left to his own devices to interpret the significance and define the nature of the experience for his understanding of the identity of God and the purpose and meaning of life.
Generally speaking, adherents of this position regard the Bible as a great book of religious insight, on the same level as other great religious literature. Proponents of this perspective do not believe the Bible is the written revelation of God.
Another school of thought that views experience as religiously authoritative is neoorthodoxy. It perceives the Bible as the medium through which a person existentially encounters God. In this paradigm, neoorthodoxy does not view the Bible as the objective and authoritative revelation from God. Rather, revelation is the presence of God himself and occurs when the believer meets God. Scripture is not revelation itself but rather bears witness to and is a promise of revelation. The Bible becomes the Word of God when the individual encounters God’s presence through its message.
The “revelatory encounter” of neoorthodoxy is what Baptists have classically considered illumination. That is, the moment a person understands religious truth is considered to be the reception of revelation (inspiration) by neoorthodoxy, while Baptists (and other evangelicals) view this event as the reception of understanding of written revelation (illumination), not revelation. For neoorthodoxy, when the revelation encounter ceases, the Bible is once again simply the words of the men who wrote it. The neoorthodox theologian does not regard the Bible in and of itself as revelatory or authoritative.
Other groups also place authoritative value on religious experience. Enthusiastics, Quakers, and certain mystics claim that the primary religious authority is the Holy Spirit speaking in the heart. This perspective is also found among certain charismatics and Pentecostals. As is the case with any experiential paradigm, the individual is left to his own devices to interpret the nature and meaning of what the Holy Spirit has said to him. Those who adhere to this position regard the authority of the Bible, at best, of secondary importance or, at worst, of no importance at all.
Numerous problems abound with those positions that advocate the authority of religious experience. For example, the foundations of theological liberalism are found in German idealistic philosophy, particularly the philosophy of identity. At its heart, this position rests upon panentheism and therefore confuses the human with the divine.The roots of this theory do not rest on Christian revelation but upon a philosophy influenced by realism, pragmatism, positivism, naturalism, and existentialism.
The neoorthodox position does not fare much better. In neoorthodoxy, there are no revealed truths, only truths of revelation. As such, the truths that one person gleans from a revelatory encounter could be different or even contradictory from the truths discovered by another person. Neoorthodox theologians do not even regard the interpretations of events given by biblical authors to be authoritative. Despite the claims of the adherents of neoorthodoxy, no objective basis for truth claims beyond the existential, revelatory encounters are credibly established. In addition, neoorthodoxy lacks adequate rationale for the Spirit’s continued witness through the Bible. Why is the Bible the medium for the divine-human encounter? Why not other religiously oriented literature? Neoorthodoxy does not adequately establish why the Bible is central for this existential encounter.
Few contemporary theologians are prepared to assert that the Holy Spirit alone is the primary authority in religion. There are several reasons for this.
First, this theory in actuality is an experience-based theory, and it suffers from many of the problems inherent in the other experience-based theories.
Second, if this position contends that all inward promptings are from the Spirit, then it must admit that evil and immoral deeds are inspired by the Spirit. If only some of the inward promptings are from the Spirit, then some method of differentiating between what is from the Spirit and what is not must be developed. This would in turn introduce two primary authorities: the Spirit and the method of differentiation.
Finally, what Baptists (and other Protestant Christians) have historically affirmed is that both the written Word and the Holy Spirit are needed.
The philosophers of the Enlightenment, the Deists, and the Unitarians claim that human reason is the sole authority for all truth. This assertion encompasses all matters of truth, including religion and faith. Others argue that, since reason is the means by which the meaning of the Bible is interpreted, reason must be the superior authority.
There are several reasons we as Baptists must reject the belief that reason is an authority superior to the Bible.
First, reason in many ways defies definition. Reason is not a set of axioms that are equally possessed by all human beings. Appeals to reasonableness are typically pleas for comprehensibility, apprehensibility, coherence, and/or consistency. These are not traits that can be known but are rather ways of knowing.
Second, reason is a mode of apprehending truth. The means of knowing should not be confused with what is to be known. In the language of the old theologians, reason has a “ministerial use” (method of apprehension) and not a “magisterial use” (decreeing what is possible and impossible). Reason thus understood may be used “ministerially” for religious truth. The revelation of God is known through the ministerial use of reason, but that does not make reason superior to God’s revelation.
Finally, we must remember that reason, like all other human faculties, is affected by human sin. If the human faculty of reason is damaged by sin, then all formulations developed by reason must be judged by another objective authority. Christians have historically contended that all rational claims must be assessed by the objective, written revelation of God.
As Baptists, we have from our beginning believed that both the Old Testament and New Testament are the inspired and inerrant written revelation of the living God. The Scriptures are the ultimate authority for all matters of faith and practice. We have also believed in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. The Bible reveals what God intended for us to have at each stage of redemptive history. Therefore, it contains all we need for salvation as well as for serving, obeying, and worshipping God. As Baptists, we have also believed that any departure from the teachings of God’s Word is evil and sinful. The Bible is our standard for faith and practice in Christianity. It is sufficient in its scope and supreme in its authority.
From our beginning, we have contended that our existence as Baptists is the result of this unwavering commitment to biblical authority. Our Baptist forefathers viewed themselves as the logical outcome to the Reformation principle of sola scriptura (the idea that Bible alone is the sole authority for faith and practice). These Baptists made this assertion because they believed that no other Christian denomination was as consistent or as committed in their appeal to and application of the teachings of the Bible for ecclesiastical practice as the Baptists were. Although the majority of Christian denominations theoretically acknowledge that the “Bible alone” is the Word of God, most groups recognize other forms of religious authority, such as religious tradition, reason, or experience. Baptists have historically rejected these other forms of religious authority.
Instead, Baptists have sought to maintain a strict adherence and submission to biblical teaching. This is what distinguishes us and our churches from other Christian denominations. Baptists have historically maintained that our existence arises from our attempt to apply biblical teaching to all realms of life, particularly the church.
The authority of Scripture is a belief that Baptists share generally with other Protestants. As Baptists, however, we contend that we are much more thoroughgoing in this conviction. Other Christians not only affirm biblical authority, but they also regard the decisions of church councils, synods, conferences, or the pronouncements of popes, bishops, and other church leaders as religiously authoritative.
For example, Episcopalians believe in a hermeneutical method commonly called “the three-legged stool.” Episcopalians believe that the “three legs of the stool” (Scripture, tradition, and reason) carry equal weight and authority and that this interpretative approach is how Episcopalians determine what is true and good. Episcopal bishop Paul Zahl (who does not endorse this position) succinctly describes this approach as follows: “Ideally, truth, so goes this argument of the ‘three-legged stool,’ must match with the Bible, the legacy of the church, and the human mind.” All three are viewed as equally authoritative for Christian faith and practice.
Baptists categorically reject the view that Scripture, tradition, and reason are of equal weight and authority. This is not to say that Baptists reject a place for tradition and reason in doctrinal development. If the issue under consideration is that we should study church history to guide and direct our biblical interpretations, or if the issue is that human reason assists us to establish coherence and consistency of thought in our understanding of Scripture, Baptists heartily agree. If the issue under consideration, however, is that we must consider church tradition or a certain philosophical system as authoritative as the Bible itself, Baptists emphatically dissent. The Bible stands over and judges church tradition and human reason.
We may highly esteem a certain Christian leader, cherish a particular tradition, or value a specific philosophy. But no leader, tradition, or philosophy can have for Baptists the authority that belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ as he is revealed to us in his Word. We may respect the judgments and insights of other believers, but we as Baptists believe that we have the right to disagree with the teachings of another if we are convinced from Scripture that such are in error. “Our final authority in matters of faith is the Scriptures, and for us no other authority is final.”
Our existence as Baptists is therefore the logical and practical outcome of our belief in the absolute authority of the Bible. As one Baptist theologian has stated, the all-sufficient and authoritative Bible is the “cardinal principle with Baptists.” With regard to matters of the Christian faith or practice, the first question we as Baptists must always ask is, “What does the Bible say?” Certain theological ideas, religious institutions, or ministry programs and methods may have a novel attraction about them and may even enjoy initial success among and support of the majority of Christians. But we as Baptists determine the validity of our beliefs, practices, and institutions based upon biblical fidelity.
For example, if a belief or practice is clearly taught in the Bible, then we are bound to accept and adopt that belief or practice. On the other hand, if a belief or practice is contradictory to the meaning of Scripture, we are obligated to reject and oppose the belief or practice. In those instances where there is not a clear or unequivocal teaching on a subject, we as Baptists are free to use our best judgment and follow the convictions of our consciences.
I would argue, however, that even our judgments or convictions should be created and shaped by biblical teaching. “For Baptists, the authority of Scripture is always supreme, and it is this fact more than any other that determines” our belief and practices as well as shapes our judgments and consciences.
We therefore confess as Baptists that the written Word of God stands superior to all other constructs of religious authority found in Christendom, the most common of which are church tradition, religious experience, and human reason. As already noted, the Roman Catholic Church believes that it is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ and that it is gifted with infallibility. The Catholic Church perceives itself as the custodian of the Scriptures and the authoritative interpreter of those Scriptures. For the Roman Catholic, the voice of the church is the voice of Christ. Contrary to this view, Baptists contend that church tradition and pronouncements are under biblical authority. The Word of God constitutes the church, not vice versa. The Bible therefore guides, nourishes, informs, judges, purifies, strengthens, and edifies the church.
The Scriptures are also authoritative over religious experience. The experience of faith in Christ is crucial for the eternal life and spiritual well-being of the individual. The voice of the living God speaking to the individual within the recesses of his soul is life altering. But these faith experiences point us to the reality and need for the objective authority of the Bible. Our experiential encounters with God are correctly understood only when interpreted by the written revelation of God. Religious experience must therefore be guided by and anchored to the Scriptures.
The Bible is also authoritative over culture. Some theologians knowingly or unknowingly derive the content of theology from extrabiblical sources, such as cultural norms or current philosophical trends. As Baptists, we reject such approaches to religious authority. Culture and philosophical insights can assist us in the structure and communication of our beliefs. But the content of our theology must be derived from the Bible alone.
The Bible is authoritative because it is the inspired, inerrant revelation of the living Word of God—Jesus Christ. The resurrected, ascended Christ is revealed to us through the words of Scripture. The living Word has bound himself to the written Word so that the Bible speaks with the authority of the Lord. The words of Scripture are the words of Christ himself. The Bible is not merely a record of revelation; it is revelation itself. We as Baptists believe and proclaim that the Bible is our authority for all realms of life in general and for matters of Christian faith and practice in particular.
Although written by men, the Bible has God as its ultimate and supreme author. When we read it, we must realize that God is speaking to us from its text. When we refuse to read the Scriptures, we neglect God’s Word and refuse to hear his voice. The authority of the Bible is the authority of God himself. The nineteenth-century Baptist theologian, John Leadley Dagg, reminds us of three important truths about the authority of the Bible.
First, the authority of the Bible is supreme. Its promises and precepts are certain and trustworthy. We may rely on the wisdom and instruction of other human beings, but these are fallible and prone to error. We may trust in the authority of governing authorities and societal institutions, but governments can command what is wrong and institutions can lead us astray. God never deceives us or leads us awry. “When the Bible speaks, all else may be silent, and its decisions leave no room for doubt and admit no appeal.”
Second, the authority of the Bible is independent. No church, no matter how pure or holy, can infuse the Scriptures with authority. The inspired men who authored the biblical texts did not confer authority upon it; in fact, the biblical authors point to the supernatural, inspiring work of God bringing the Scriptures into being and investing them with his authority. The Bible possesses its authority because it is the Word of God.
Finally, the authority of the Bible is immediate. Its witness is directly from God. We have no mediator but Jesus Christ and no infallible interpreter of the biblical message except the Holy Spirit. We may receive guidance and instruction from human teachers, but only God can illumine our minds and hearts to understand its message.
For Baptists to equate or follow any other standard for the Christian faith is, in a sense, to follow the creature rather than the Creator. To regard our experiences, traditions, or philosophies as equal in authority to the Bible is to regard the thoughts of human beings as equal or superior to the wisdom of God. “Other standards are composed of men’s guesses, while in the Bible the great truths of God burn and glow with all the eloquence of heaven. And facing a gainsaying world it becomes us to plant ourselves squarely on God’s Word—for we can not do otherwise, God help us—and to point a sin-sick and guilt-blinded race to the open Bible and to the open heaven it reveals.”
Baptists classically affirm the inspiration and authority of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Doctrines such as the nature and personhood of God, creation, and sin require the authoritative and inspired voice of the Old Testament for theological development. No credible Baptist, past or present, would discount the value and status of the Old Testament as the revelation of God, its vital place in the canon, and its necessity for theological development. The Old Testament has been and must continue to be included for many of the beliefs that are crucial to the Christian faith.
Our distinctive theological identity as Baptists, however, is derived from the New Testament. As Baptists, we recognize the progressive nature of revelation. Progressive revelation is the belief that later revelation builds upon and expands previous revelation. The New Testament provides revelation on the distinctive traits of Baptists (i.e., our ecclesiology) not revealed in the Old Testament. In this regard, the New Testament supplies and fulfills what is lacking in the Old Testament. Doctrines such as a regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, and congregational polity can only be developed from the New Testament. Our doctrine of the Baptist church must therefore be constructed from the New Testament.
As was the case with the “Bible alone” emphasis, we believe that Baptists, as New Testament believers, distinguish ourselves from other Christian denominations by constructing our belief and practice on the New Testament. In fact, Baptists have classically believed that applying Old Testament laws to New Testament believers results in deviant and harmful doctrines. B. H. Carroll asserted, “But right here may I state as my firm conviction, that applying Old Testament laws to New Testament times is one of the most fruitful sources of such dark blotches as have marred the record of many professed followers of Christ.This perilous course the Baptists have seen and avoided.” Among the deviant and harmful doctrines that we as Baptists consider unbiblical and hurtful to the church are infant baptism, a special priesthood, and state-established churches.
As New Testament believers, Baptists believe that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. Christ is now the lawgiver for Christians. The New Testament regulates our convictions and conduct, and from it we are to seek direction and instruction for our churches. Baptist leader and statesman B. H. Carroll affirmed that the Old Testament is inspired by God and is profitable for faith and instruction. But he stated that the Old Testament as a “typical, educational, and transitory system” is fulfilled in Christ. According to Carroll, Christ has nailed the Old Testament to the cross, so that “as a standard of law and a way of life” it is “taken out of the way.”
New Testament Christians must not look to the Old Testament to find Christian law or Christian institutions because the New Testament has now become the “law” for them. In his classic statement, Carroll strongly asserted this position when he declared, “The New Testament is the law of Christianity. All the New Testament is the law of Christianity. The New Testament is all the law of Christianity. The New Testament will always be all the law of Christianity.” This singular emphasis upon the New Testament for faith and practice is a distinguishing conviction between Baptists and other Protestants. “When Baptists say that the New Testament is the only law for Christian institutions they part company, if not theoretically at least practically, with most of the Protestant world, as well as from the Greeks and Romanists.”
The New Testament is for Baptists the sole authority and preeminent standard. This conviction serves as the essential distinctive for our theological identity. The ultimate test for any teaching in Christianity is its agreement with the revelation of the New Testament because in it Christ’s authority is most clearly revealed. The promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the Son of God, “whose majestic person swallowed up all ceremonial law; whose authoritative words, ‘but I say unto you,’ put new meaning into moral law; and who, as both Builder and Foundation, established his church in history.” The ongoing quest for Baptists is to conform all aspects of faith and practice to the teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
The authority of the New Testament is the starting point from which we develop all matters related to church life. Our unyielding commitment to this fundamental principle is what distinguishes our churches from those of other Christian denominations. Our continued vitality and theological distinctiveness is tied to our continued adherence to this tenet. The foundation of our denominational existence and the center of our union as Baptists is influenced by and developed from our singular commitment to the authority of the New Testament.
As one Baptist leader has stated, “Baptists are united in their conviction that the only ultimate standard for Christian faith and practice must be found in conformity to the mind and will of Christ as revealed to us in the New Testament. It is from this fundamental fact that Baptists always start, and with the New Testament in their hands they are ready to deal with every problem of doctrine and conduct that comes.”
Our conviction about the primacy of the New Testament impacts and shapes our ecclesiological beliefs and practices. Because this is our core theological conviction, other doctrinal distinctives flow from this basic premise. Following are some of the beliefs that shape the Baptist understanding of the nature and purpose of the church.
First, God is a holy and loving God. As such, he has provided atonement for our sin in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Second, as the God-man, Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord.
Third, human beings are responsible to God for the life they live on this earth.
Fourth, sin is both an inheritance and a choice.
Fifth, salvation is the regeneration of the person through a divine, gracious act of God.
Sixth, salvation comes through faith in Christ and repentance of sin. As such, the membership of Baptist churches should be comprised only of those persons who have been regenerated and who have professed their faith in believer’s baptism by immersion.
Seventh, the redemptive activity of God in the world is manifested through the church. The mission of the church is to proclaim the glory of God as manifested in the gospel of the Son of God.
Eighth, Baptist churches practice congregational church polity and church discipline.
Ninth, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper commemorate and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tenth, civil government has a good and providential place in the economy of God. Human governments are, however, limited in their authority.
Eleventh, religious freedom and liberty of conscience are means to ensure the unadulterated proclamation of the gospel, the freedom of individuals to accept or reject the gospel free of coercion, and the integrity of the membership and ministry of the church.
Although several of these doctrinal beliefs are not peculiar to Baptists, the unique combination of these tenets is theologically distinctive to Baptists. We will examine several of these tenets in more detail later.
Baptists formally share with all Protestant Christians the belief that the Bible is the basis for belief and practice. But Baptists contend that we are much more consistent in this principle, especially with regard to the role the New Testament plays in shaping our theological identity. We attempt to develop all ecclesiological aspects from the New Testament. This conviction is our core distinctive. Although Baptists may disagree about other matters, our commitment to the authoritative role of the New Testament for the development of our understanding of the doctrine of the church has historically been our unifying conviction. As one Baptist leader noted a century ago:
The all-sufficiency of the Scriptures as a guide in religion is a cardinal principle with Baptists. This eliminates the authority of councils, popes, synods, conferences, bishops, etc. It gives no place to history as a supplement to the teaching of the Bible. It shuts the world up to take the law from the mouth of God. Here we stand, and on this principle we settle all questions.... The world wants and sorely needs a centre of unity. That centre is the Word of God. The more it is preached in its fullness, the quicker Christian union will be realized.
As Baptists, we have always been concerned about “doing church” the right way. More importantly, we have been diligent to establish churches that are built upon the biblical pattern. Any assessment of the health of our Baptist churches must first be in terms of its fidelity to the teachings of the New Testament. With regard to church life, we always start with the question, Do our churches accurately and faithfully reflect what is taught in the New Testament? Our reliance on the New Testament for faith and practice is what safeguards and ensures the proper function of a New Testament church. The Baptist understanding of the church is the attempt of Baptists to reflect their obedience and submission to biblical authority in general and the teachings of the New Testament in particular.
To state it another way, a Baptist church is the visible manifestation of the Baptist commitment to sola scriptura. Loyalty to the New Testament is for Baptists the essential expression of a rightly grounded faith and a rightly constituted church.
Our commitment to biblical authority means that we should evaluate all aspects of church life in the light of Scripture. All ministries, programs, ideas, and events must be scrutinized in the light of the revelation of the Bible. This desire to be biblically faithful in all things has always been a part of our theological identity. I have cited the following quotation from R. M. Dudley in another place. It bears repeating because it best illustrates our historical commitment to biblical fidelity in all matters of faith and practice.
And let me show you how it is that this fundamental principle has led to the separate existence of the Baptists and to the peculiarities that mark their denominational life.... Take for example, the question of baptism. Luther said that the primitive baptism was immersion and that the primitive practice should be restored. The Baptists said the same thing and following out of their belief immersed all who came to them even though they had been sprinkled before. Strange to say, for this Luther hated the Baptists hardly less than he hated the Catholics. Calvin said that the word baptize means to immerse and that it is certain that immersion was the practice of the primitive churches, but that in this matter the churches ought to have liberty. Here now are the points of agreement and the points of difference between the Reformers on the one hand and the Baptists on the other. They all agreed that immersion was the practice of the primitive churches. Luther and Calvin thought that they were at liberty to practice another form, the Baptists said that we ought to do what the Master commands; and that we have no liberty to change a positive ordinance which he has ordained. Here the work of separation begins. The issue was not as to what the act of baptism is, but whether we have the right to change it. Before the court of the highest scholarship of the world it has never been an open question as to what the true baptism is. It really is not now, as it was not in the time of Luther and Calvin. The question is about the right to change it; and it is not that Baptists think too much of one form above another. I am frank to say for myself, that if it were a matter left to our choice whether we should immerse or sprinkle, while immersion is a beautiful and significant ordinance and sprinkling is a meaningless ceremony, still I would give up immersion rather than divide Christendom on a mere rite:—I say if it were left to our choice. But it has never been left to our choice: And when others say that they will change the ordinance, the question between them and us is, not what is the true baptism but whether there is any right or authority to change it. Baptists do not yield their position about baptism because it is the surface indication of a great underlying principle. Principles are of use to us because of the guidance they afford us in practical life. What honor or consistency is there in avowing a principle and then denying it in our daily conduct? We see how it is then that the peculiarity of Baptists upon immersion results from their fundamental position. They must be peculiar or they must give up the principle that the Word of God is our supreme and all-sufficient rule.
Dudley also notes that the Baptists reject infant baptism and advocate a memorial view of the Lord’s Supper because the New Testament teaches that only professing Christians should be baptized and that grace comes through faith, not the sacraments.
Baptists today must be as committed and faithful to biblical authority as our Baptist ancestors. They modeled for us the practice of assessing all matters of church life in light of the apostolic teaching. If we are to have healthy churches, they must be New Testament churches. In order for our churches to conform to the New Testament, we must know and understand what the New Testament says and be able to apply its teachings consistently and appropriately to our churches.
Church health begins with a commitment to have churches that follow and imbibe the New Testament pattern. If the New Testament is the rule for church life, and if Baptists are right in their ecclesiastical beliefs and practices, then a healthy New Testament church is a Baptist church. To be a Baptist is to be committed to the inspired authority of the New Testament for faith and practice.
Baptists have historically regarded the Bible as the ultimate authority generally for all truth in general and specifically for matters of faith and practice. The authority of the Bible is a dynamic and vibrant authority, not static or dead. The Scriptures are our source for the historical revelation of God in Christ. As Baptists, we have affirmed that biblical authority regulates and evaluates our Christian experience and is the source for our theological formulations. The objective nature of the revelation of the Bible protects us from complete subjectivism on the one hand and a sterile rationalism on the other.
The Scriptures are the instrument of the Holy Spirit in his regenerative and sanctifying work. The Bible reveals to us the person of the Savior and the power of his saving deeds. The Bible is the final and absolute authority for our Christian faith and practice.