Why The Baptist Doctrine
By F. H. Kerfoot, D. D.
Corresponding Secretary Home Mission Board,
Southern Baptist Convention.
Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shall both save thyself, and them that hear thee. - 1 Tim. 4:13, 16.
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye receive the Word of God which ye heard of us ye received it not as word of men, but as it is in truth the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. - I Thess. 2:13.
I UNDERSTAND the above question as asking why one should hold and teach and insist on those peculiar doctrines which are distinctively Baptist doctrines. There is but one satisfactory answer to the question: It is that these doctrines are taught in the Bible, and this being true, we are, in loyalty to God, bound to hold and teach and insist upon them.
To believe as Baptists do and stand aloof from other Christians as Baptists have to do in much of their religious life, would be criminal if they are not bound by loyalty to God so to believe and so to stand. Baptists, however, are sure that the Word of God is the only infallible and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice, and that nothing should be taught for doctrine which is not contained therein; and that all that is taught therein must be believed; and that all that is commanded therein ought to be obeyed as commanded. This is their first and most fundamental principle as individuals and as a denomination. If this principle is not their distinctive and differentiating principle, the emphasis they place upon it is. Other denominations claim to believe that the Bible is their rule of faith and practice, but some of these do not pretend to make it their all-sufficient or only rule. They make a place alongside of the Bible for the traditions of the fathers. And it may, I think, well be questioned if any other religious denomination stands as firm and inflexible as Baptists do upon this article of faith concerning the Bible.
This being true, the answer that any intelligent Baptist has to give to the question, ”Why the Baptist doctrine?” must be, as already intimated, ”Because this is the teaching of the Word of God.” Of course he may be mistaken in his interpretation of the Word, but he can only go by his own understanding of it. And whatever he thinks God’s Word teaches, that he must hold and practice. Not to do so would be to him disloyalty and disobedience to God. There can be no compromises with men or with churches where he thinks he has a plain teaching from God.
This may be illustrated by reference to some or all of the distinctive Baptist doctrines.
1. As a Baptist reads the Bible he finds that religion is altogether a matter of personal responsibility between the soul and God. It must be a matter of individual voluntariness. God requires each one to do his own duties. There is absolutely no recognition in the Bible of the principle of doing religion by proxy.. Hence when the question of baptizing infants, or of standing as sponsor for others is raised, the Baptist can have no part in any such thing. He says, the Bible makes no place for any such practice. Its principles, if not its express teachings, are a denial of such a thing. He must insist that the Bible requires everyone to act for himself and not through a sponsor. He can not accept the principle of compulsory obedience or of proxy. He can not give up his Baptist doctrines on this point without doing violence to his conscience, and so he stands by his Baptist doctrine.
2. Again, as a Baptist reads the Bible, he finds that the first duty required of any soul is that there shall be repentance and faith. This to him is the requirement of God’s Word. He sees another taking an unconscious child, or a person who gives no credible evidence of repentance and faith, and trying to baptize such an one, and trying to bring such an one into some sort of church membership. The Baptist feels compelled in some way, by word or act, to protest and to say that this is not in accordance with the Word of God. Hence he can not possibly be a member of any church that engages in such a practice; neither can he give any sort of sanction to such unscriptural practices. He feels bound by the Baptist doctrine, which, as he understands it, is the Bible doctrine.
3. On the matter of baptism also, a Baptist has some strong convictions which he finds it impossible for him to get away from. To him the Bible teaching is as clear as day that baptism is only to be administered to those who give evidence of regeneration. Hence he can not seek membership in a church that does not make reasonable evidence of regeneration a condition for baptism. He feels that he would be disloyal to God, and would be practicing a dangerous wrong upon his fellow beings, to encourage anyone to enter into Christian profession who has not been born of the Holy Spirit. As he reads further concerning baptism, he is perfectly sure that the Bible means by baptism immersion in water, and so nothing else but immersion in water can possibly be considered by him as baptism.
He learns also concerning baptism that it carries with it a very solemn and sacred symbolism. It is to him a God-given means for confessing Christ and the Holy Trinity; an act of obedience, an answer of a good conscience toward God; it is the symbol, by the washing of water, of our inward cleansing; the symbol also of a burial to sin, and a resurrection to newness of life; the symbol of having died with Christ, and of the resurrection yet to come, ”when they that are in their graves shall come forth.” All of this the Baptist sees plainly taught in the Word of God, his all-sufficient and absolutely obligatory rule of faith and practice, and when sprinkling or pouring is suggested as baptism, he naturally asks: ”Where is the warrant for that? And what does it mean? What becomes of obedience to Christ if I, understanding the Bible as I do, should practice or support that? And what becomes of all the meaning and signification of the ordinance.”* When he sees sprinkling or pouring administered for baptism, he has a feeling almost akin to that of the devoted follower of Jesus who said: ”They have taken away my lord and I know not where they have laid him.” Realizing that baptism means immersion, and that it has been positively commanded by Christ, and that it signifies so much of sacred truth, he sings:
”In all my Lord’s appointed ways My journey I’ll pursue.”
A Baptist feels simply bound to hold the Baptist doctrine, and to support the Baptist doctrine, and not to support anything else in the matter of baptism. His Bible, as he understands it, compels him to do so. This is not bigotry or intolerance on his part; it is simply his sense of what God requires at his hands. The intolerance is in finding fault with him for being loyal to his convictions.
5. So too as to church organization. A Baptist is hardly less sure concerning this than he is concerning baptism. He is perfectly sure that the Bible teaches that only those who have been regenerated should be members of a Christian church. He sees very plainly that, when such persons organize a church, it must be a voluntary association for observing and carrying out the teachings of the New Testament. He finds in the New Testament no recognition of any officers except pastors and deacons. It is entirely clear to him that ”bishop” and ”elder” are only other names for ”pastor.” He is sure that he sees also that the Bible mode of church government is entirely congregational. He is sure also, that every local church is absolutely independent. However they may, for practical purposes, unite into associations and conventions, he knows that, according to the Bible, there is no authority on earth that can control or dictate to a local church as to the management of its own affairs. He is sure also that no man or hierarchy of men has any right to lord it over God’s heritage; and that, so long as Christians behave themselves as citizens, no civil government has any right to assume or to exercise control in religious matters. These are the views which every intelligent Baptist believes to be in accordance with the teachings of God’s Word; and, believing this, he is bound to govern himself accordingly. He can not do other than hold to the Baptist doctrine on this point.
6. Once more. A Baptist when he reads his Bible concerning the Lord’s Supper, finds that his Lord left to his disciples the supper as a simple memorial ordinance. Whatever ideas of ”fellowship” or ”participation with each other” may be seen in it, if any such really exist, are incidental. The Saviour said simply: ”Do this in remembrance of me.” The Apostle said: ”As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.”
It is also clear that this ordinance was not intended to precede scriptural baptism. It is clear, too, that there is no qualification or condition of church membership which must not be equally a qualification or condition for this ordinance. The Baptists, believing this to be the teaching of the Bible, feel bound to practice accordingly. Consequently when they find other denominations using the ordinance for other purposes-Lutherans using it to set forth consubstantiation; Presbyterians making it a sign and seal of some strange sort; Methodists, and all open communionists,using it as a love feast-Baptists have to say, ”Excuse us brethren. We love you. We do not doubt your piety. We do not profess to have all knowledge. But as we understand the Bible, this sacred ordinance was not given for any such purpose. We could not partake of it even with Baptists if they could so far forget its real nature as to try to use it for such a purpose. Do not charge us with narrowness or sectarianism for not uniting with you. It is not that. We do not love to be apart. We simply feel bound to keep the ordinances as we think they were delivered. If we are wrong may God help us. But may He keep us also from yielding to mere sentimental ideas; and from changing the order of His Word, and ministering to the confusion and obscurity of nis truth. May He help us and you to have principles and to stand by them.”
”Why then the Baptist doctrine?” Simply this:• We think the Bible teaches it, and demands of us that we hold it. And principle may not be sacrificed to sentiment.
*Mr. Moody once said to the writer: ”There is no doubt of the fact that Baptists have in their mode of baptism the real symbolism of the ordinance.”