This is a short, six-session course of studies designed for the local church on Baptist History and Principles. All Baptist ministers are required to take a course on Baptist history, and another on Baptist Principles prior to their accreditation. But most of us have never heard of them, and to be honest our immediate response to studying Baptist history and principles might be less than enthusiastic. However, over the years I have found it helpful to be able to understand why we do what we do as Baptists, how did we get to this point, and how can we further encourage each other in our journey of faith together? There have been several times when I have been asked by non-Christians, ‘why are there so many churches, what makes you different from all the rest?’ This short course will help us answer such questions.
- Why do we come to this particular, church?
- What makes this church different to other churches that we know?
- We call ourselves a ‘Baptist’ church, but what do we think a Baptist is?
The Declaration of Principle is the major unifying document of the Baptist Union. It starts with:
‘The basis of this union’… We talk about the Baptist Union.
- How much unity to we see?
- Does being in unity mean that we have to all be the same?
Read: John 17:20-23.
Jesus prayed that we would be one…yet when we read the gospel story, we see that the 12 apostles were not very unified, they were constantly bickering.
- Is Jesus’ prayer still to be answered, or are we in some ways ‘one’?
- What things make us ‘one’?
Read: Romans 16
Paul mentions lots of people in lots of different churches in his letters. How were these Christians ‘one’? Priscilla and Aquilla had to leave Rome shortly after Romans was written, because the emperor expelled all the Jews from Rome. (They were Jewish Christians). We next see them in Corinth. Despite their leaving Rome, they were still part of the one body, just in a different place.
- How can we be in union with others who are geographically separated from us?
- Does being in a different culture, or even having slightly different beliefs and experiences of God make any difference to being in union with each other?
Read: Acts 11:19-30
- Where do we see unity in the scattered and persecuted church?
Sometimes we think of church as a family: we have our immediate family, but then we also have our wider family: aunts, uncles, cousins, and then an even wider family; second cousins, great grandchildren, in-laws. The Baptist Union is like this.
Our association has Regional Ministers, (who have specific responsibility to care for larger areas and concerns of the association) and District Ministers, who care for a small number of local churches in their area, encouraging the church ministers. The Union is responsible for accrediting new ministers and ensuring that they are well trained for the task. They are also involved in all the legal stuff and provide a voice for the whole union: Lynn Green is the General Secretary of the Baptist Union, the public face of all the Baptist churches, and each year there is a President whose role is to encourage the Baptist churches.
- What is a church? Note: it is not a building!
- If the church is not a building, how would we describe it?
‘There is no ‘Baptist church’ that is not a local congregation: associations, conventions and unions are just that – associations and conventions and unions of local churches.’
A Baptist definition of what a local church is runs:
‘A Christian congregation is a gathering of those who have turned to God in Christ, confessed this in baptism and devoted themselves as a priority to learning, sharing in fellowship, breaking bread together and prayer.’
Just as in any ordinary family, there are differences of opinion, we might want to do things differently, but we are still a family. That is the same with the Baptist Union. We are a diverse collection of individual churches, held together with a common bond of being part of the Baptist family.