My beliefs are Baptist, but my identity is in Christ. Please don’t confuse these two distinctions. My identity is not in a denomination. People and organizations may alter their beliefs and practices, but Christ never changes (cf. Heb. 13:8). Although I am proud to say that I am a Baptist, being a Baptist is not about loyalty to a brand or a group but instead is about declaring what I believe. So long as Baptists believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that salvation is by the grace of God then I will remain among their tribe (see below for an overview of my Baptist beliefs).
I’m not a Baptist by birth, which is, in and of itself, an impossible claim. Historically, Baptists have believed that a person must make a conscious profession of faith in Jesus Christ before becoming a Christian (i.e., being born again). Thus, it would be theologically impossible (biblically-speaking) to have been a Baptist by birth. I became a Baptist when I was converted to Christ in a Baptist church. However, my earliest memories of church were at First Baptist Church of Dayton, Kentucky. Moreover, the most influential people in my life (theologically-speaking) were Baptists. Thus, my heritage is truly Baptist but my identity is and will always be in Christ.
My Diverse Childhood
Denominations/Churches I attended growing up:
- Southern Baptist (First Baptist Church of Dayton, KY): My grandfather and great-uncle both served as deacons at FBC. My paternal grandmother, who I never met, was a passionate soul-winner and a respected member of the church. However, I attended with my great-aunt, Judy Robinson, and my great-grandmother, Lillith Francis. My fondest memories of church were formed during these years, which included the three-block walk to church, listening to my Aunt Judy sing in the choir, and watching my grandfather serving as a deacon.
Childhood takeaway: I loved the choir, but the pastor always seemed angry! In retrospect, I think he was a “fire and brimstone” preacher. The church was committed to local and foreign missions, a position that continues to influence me to this day. Sunday school, according to my great aunt, was absolutely essential!
- Church of Christ (Alexandria Church of Christ): On some weekends, my father’s wife would take my sister and me to church. Like most kids, I loved Sunday school but was bored in worship. The pastor was a kind-hearted and loving man who genuinely cared about our family.
Childhood takeaway: The prayers were long and communion was really, really important to the pastor and the church. Although I did not adopt his theological views, I realize that the influence of a pastor goes well beyond the pulpit. The pastor genuinely loved our family and it showed in the way he interacted with us outside of the church.
- Holiness-Apostolic-Pentecostal: Although I can’t remember the name of the church, I will never forget watching my maternal grandmother running and shouting throughout the sanctuary. She was not alone, of course. At times, the lights would be turned off and everyone started praying aloud. As a young child, this behavior was both frightening and entertaining. I am certainly not making fun of the practices and beliefs of other Christians. However, as a young and mischievous boy, I found it delightfully hilarious and, along with the other children in attendance, would mock the worshipers.
Childhood takeaway: Dancing, shouting, and speaking in unknown languages are the ways some people express themselves in worship. However, I’m not convinced that this is the biblical approach to corporate worship. This disorder both confused and distracted me from learning more about Christ.
- Catholic Mass: My (adopted) paternal grandmother, Sally Francis, was a devout Catholic who expected faithful and systematic church attendance, even on vacation. Although I was generally confused throughout the Mass, I knew one thing: I was bored out of my mind. Years later, my mother decided that our family needed religion. Since she had been baptized as a Catholic, she thought it would be best for us to attend Catholic Mass. After a few months, my mother’s new-found interest in religion compelled her to attend alleged “appearings” of the Virgin Mary. Such claims piqued my teenage interest and I joined her on one such journey. Was God sending the mother of Jesus to tell us something? It only took one “appearing” before I became completely skeptical of the entire venture. Frankly, it was a hoax and, in many ways, drove me away from religion during my high school years.
Childhood takeaway: Catholic worship is very technical and based more on tradition than Scripture. Furthermore, there is a great gulf between the clergy and the people. I am completely convinced that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is NOT appearing to anyone. On a positive note, Catholics are some of the most generous and loving people that I’ve ever met. In fact, my Catholic grandmother is the one who insisted that I attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She was so convinced that I attend that she financially underwrote two graduate degrees from SBTS. God used a Catholic to ensure that I was grounded in baptist theology!
- Random Churches (Life as a bus kid): Because my parents were divorced, I visited my mother on the weekends. At this time in my life, my mother was not interested in going to church and instead would permit my sister and me to ride the church bus/van. During a five-year period, my mother moved a lot, which meant I would have to find a new church to attend. On the first Sunday at a new place, I’d look for church vans or buses to drive by the house/apartment. Additionally, I would interview the neighborhood kids to see if anyone knew of a church that would pick my sister and me up on Sundays. These efforts were relatively successful. This approach, however, meant that I was going to be exposed to a litany of denominations. You name the denomination and I was likely exposed to it. Some experiences were good, while others were terrifying.
Childhood takeaway: Church services are very confusing to outsiders. Why are we standing? Why are you shouting? Why am I not allowed to take communion? When do we get to leave? Do you have snacks? What must a person do to become a Christian?
Becoming a baptist was more than just joining a church or growing up in a denomination. For me, it was about theology and doctrine.
Why I’m a Baptist
Throughout my adult years, I attended Baptist churches. In fact, I became a Christian (“was saved”) at the age of 21 in a Baptist church. Additionally, I was called to ministry in a Baptist church. After several years of researching the Southern Baptist Convention’s history and interviewing other Southern Baptist pastors, I was convinced that I was being called to pastor a Southern Baptist church. It was one of the most important ministerial decisions I’ve made. After seventeen years as a Southern Baptist Pastor, I’m convinced that the following are the real reasons that I am a Baptist.
- A high view of Scripture – I believe that the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. Thus, the Bible is both sufficient and authoritative in the life of the believer, as well as the beliefs and practices of the church.
- A trinitarian view of God – I believe that God is one being and exists as three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Moreover, I believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who died, was buried, rose again, ascended into heaven, intercedes for believers, and is returning for His church.
- A congregational view of the church – I don’t believe in a hierarchical approach to church government. The Bible establishes two offices, pastor/elder and deacon (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5; cf. Acts 19-20). Pastors & deacons are not biblically permitted to rule over the church. Instead, Pastors are instructed to lead like shepherds (servant-leaders) and deacons are called to be leading servants.
- A baptistic view of the ordinances (Believer’s Baptism & Lord’s Supper) — I am convinced that only those who have professed faith in Christ should be baptized, which is known as a “credobaptist” position, and that the mode of baptism should be total immersion in water. In baptism, the person (symbolically) testifies that he or she has died to self and has been raised to a new life in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a time to celebrate the grace and mercy of God that has been provided through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the table, the church gathers as one family. Thus, we also celebrate the doctrine of adoption in the Lord’s supper. Those who were once alienated from God have been invited to sit at His table as His adopted children.
- A cooperative view of missions – No single church possesses enough resources or people to take the gospel to seven billion people. Thus, we must work together to reach the world. This is done through a multitude of partnerships and mission organizations. Churches should send members on both short and long-term mission trips, support church-planting organizations, give sacrificially to the support of career missionaries, partner with other churches to reach their communities, and support as many other gospel-centered groups and organizations as feasibly possible. Simply said, I’m a Great Commission Christian!
Baptists Are Far From Perfect.
Although some Baptists believe that they are the one-true-church (i.e., the bride of Christ), I believe the Church is much broader than one denomination. I have great admiration for other Christians who profess the Bible is the Word of God, salvation is only by the grace of God, that Jesus is the one and only Son of God who died for our sins, and take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Likewise, I find a lot of doctrinal overlap within different Christian denominations. After considering the doctrinal positions of every major denomination, I’ve concluded that I am a Baptist. While I’m certain that they are far from perfect, Baptists are still my tribe!
My doctrinal position is the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.