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First Thoughts

Why Are We Baptists?

Names mean something. They help you identify what you are looking for. I don’t go into Chick-Fil-A looking to eat a hamburger, because they clearly communicate in their name that they serve chicken. Churches also identify what kind of church they are by their names. Some churches don’t use the word “church” in their name, but identify as a “chapel” or a “fellowship” or simply “ministries.” Other church names have become so creative at times, that it’s hard to even tell they are a church. Some church plants or rebranding efforts have resulted in church names like “Reality”, “Refuge”, “Catalyst”, or “Oasis”. Our church, on the other hand, is unmistakable in identifying who we are with our name. We are the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. However, there are lots of other churches that clearly identify who they are, but are part of other denominations. They have in their names descriptions like “Presbyterian”, “Methodist”, “Pentecostal”, “Lutheran”, “Alliance”, or even “Catholic” instead of “Baptist”. With so many church options, perhaps at times you’ve wondered: Why We Are Baptists. In this blog, I want to offer three reasons why people identify with being a Baptist.[1]

1. Baptist by Conditioning

Altogether, I’ve been a member of four different churches in my life, and all four of them have been Baptist churches. On top of all that, I have degrees from two different institutions of higher education, and both of them have “Baptist” in the title! So, if I was lacking in my Baptist credentials, I’m not sure what else I could present to convince someone that I was a Baptist.

All of these Baptist bona fides are another way of saying, “I’ve always been a Baptist, and I’ll always be a Baptist.” It’s really more of a family heritage than it is strictly a theological rationale. My parents and grandparents (and probably a few more generations before them) were all Baptists, so that’s why I’m a Baptist. I’ve always been a Baptist, so it’s hard to imagine not being a Baptist. This type of answer is a way of saying that I’ve been conditioned as a Baptist my whole life. I’m thankful for that personal family heritage as a Baptist, but I’d suggest that it’s not actually the best reason to be a Baptist.

2. Baptist by Convenience

For many in churches like ours, they are a member of a Baptist church, so (I suppose) that makes them a Baptist. But really, they could just as easily be members of plenty of other churches. They are Baptists by convenience because this is where they happen to go to church currently. They don’t have any strong feelings about specifically being a Baptist, but they were drawn here for other reasons. Maybe what drew them to our church was the kid’s ministry, a specific pastor, or some friends who attend here. But if any of those factors change, they could just as easily attend a Methodist, Presbyterian, or Pentecostal church. When it’s no longer convenient to be a member of a Baptist church, they would be just as satisfied in a church that wasn’t a Baptist church. In this category, there’s no particular allegiance or theological rationale for claiming a Baptist identity; it’s just the type of church they happen to be in at the moment. I’d like to suggest that a better approach than being Baptist by conditioning or convenience is to be a Baptist by conviction.

3. Baptist by Conviction

At times I’ve heard people associate things like wearing suits, holding potlucks, or avoiding dancing and movies as defining characteristics for membership in a Baptist church. But none of those things have anything to do with being a Baptist. A Baptist by conviction is a Baptist because of what he believes the Bible teaches. Someone’s heritage or preferences for church are not unimportant, but ultimately you should select a church that aligns with what you believe the Bible teaches. Our beliefs about God, the Bible, salvation, and the church should be the most critical factor in choosing a church. Baptist churches, like every other evangelical church, do (or at least should) preach the same message about God, the Bible, and salvation. But how we conduct our lives together as Christians in the local church is where our differences will be most apparent.

Baptists have a specific set of convictions about what constitutes the church and how the church should operate. In short, the essence of being a Baptist means that we believe in a regenerate church membership, that is, we believe that only Christians can be members of a church. This conviction might seem obvious to some, but the implications for what this means for how we “do church” are extensive. A regenerate church membership is why someone must be biblically baptized by immersion before they can join our church; it’s why you must be baptized to participate in the Lord’s supper; it’s why our whole congregation can vote on important matters like calling a pastor, selecting officers, and approving the budget; it’s why we must practice church discipline to restore or (sadly if necessary) to remove from membership those who persist in obvious unrepentant sin. It’s our conviction about the nature and practice of the church that makes us Baptists.


In this Midweek class, I want to deepen our conviction for Why We Are Baptists. Baptists have a rich history and heritage that we should learn about and celebrate. As we study the Bible and learn from our past, we will better appreciate all that it means to proudly bear the name “Baptist.”

[1] These three reasons for Baptist Identity are described in Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael A. G. Haykin, The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), 325-26.

To learn more about Midweek, visit our website here. 

Listen to Pastor Richard’s midweek class on our website or download the First Baptist App

Richard Lucas (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Pastor of Teaching and He is the co-editor of Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture.

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