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Who are Baptists?

This article is part of our "Distinctly Baptist" Text-Driven Podcast and article series.

Denominations are aplenty. Some say that denominations are a problem. Others see denominations as a statement of identity and rich heritage. At the church where I pastor in southwest Florida, my congregation has people from literally every denomination on record. We have those who have joined our church that are Pentecostal, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, non-denominational, Church of Christ, and I am sure there are others that I am missing. If you were wondering, the church I pastor would be classified as Baptist.

Fellowship Church is a Baptist church. In 1916, the church was founded in Immokalee, FL, which is about 30 minutes outside the city of Naples in southwest Florida. In 1916, the church was called First Baptist Church of Immokalee. It was not until 2018 that the church renamed herself Fellowship Church. The reason for the rename was to bring uniformity between our satellite Campus in Ave Maria with our Campus in Immokalee. When our satellite campus was launched, we used the name Fellowship Church.

Pastoring in such an eclectic geographical area for denominations causes some varied responses when a first-time guest or prospective member asks, “What kind of church are you?” Normally, when I receive that particular question, I give an answer that causes a puzzling face for the person who asked the question. I will normally respond by saying, “We are a text-driven church.” My response is received as insufficient so I have to elaborate.

I explain that Fellowship Church is text-driven, which means that we follow Scripture. Everything we do is driven by the text. We let it shape our ministries, message, and mission. Therefore, we believe that would mean that our church is distinctly Baptist.

Before you crucify me for saying that Baptists are the only text-driven people, give me a moment to describe what I mean by the term “distinctly Baptist.” Over the next several articles, I am going to define the term “distinctly Baptist.” However, for the sake of this introduction, let me go ahead and give you the acronym that I will be using to define “distinctly Baptist.”

  • B. Biblical Authority

  • A. Autonomy of Local Churches

  • P. Priesthood of the Believer

  • T. Two Ordinances

  • I. Individual Soul Liberty

  • S. Saved Regenerate Membership

  • T. Two Offices

A separate article will be devoted to each letter of the acronym. For the remainder of this particular article, I want to answer two questions: 1) What is a Baptist? and 2) Who are the Baptists?

What is a Baptist?

Normally, when you think about the term “Baptist” you think about a denomination. For that is the typical usage of the word. Our normal vernacular is to speak of Baptist churches just like we would talk about Methodist churches or Presbyterian churches. However, being Baptist is not about identifying with a denominational structure. There is a sense in which the essence of Baptist is distorted the moment organizational structure is applied to a set number of churches. What I want to advocate is that the term “Baptist” has more to do with a fixed landmark of doctrine concerning the essence of a church than it does a denominational identity. Being Baptist is a biblical paradigm for determining what is and what is not a church.

In some manner, you could interchange the terms “text-driven” and “baptist” when referencing the essence of a church. To be text-driven is to be baptist and to be baptist is to be text-driven. At the moment a church departs from the text of Scripture, it has departed from being Baptist, and at the moment a church departs from being Baptist, it has departed from the text of Scripture. You could say such a church has forfeited her right to even use the nomenclature of church to define herself.

Now, I have probably offended some of my friends who would not call themselves “Baptist.” To claim that only Baptists are text-driven and thus actually churches is quite audacious and borders on prideful. However, before you pick up your stones to cast them at me, let me ask some questions and explain some presuppositions. Here are some questions that I want you to consider:

  • Does God have a particular design in mind when He said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16)? If so, then we have an obligation to follow God’s design for the church.

  • Do the similar instructions in each of Paul’s epistles provide any uniformity for how a church ought to be structured? If so, then we have a structural framework by which to define a church.

These provocative questions are tied to the presupposition that God has revealed His will for the design and order of a church in His Word. Because of this presupposition, man has to submit to God’s design in order to be in right fellowship with God. We will discuss more of what is a baptist in the subsequent articles where we will define each letter of the acrostic Baptist.

Who is a Baptist?

Our attention turns from asking the “what” question to asking the “who” question. Who is a Baptist? You might think that such a question is absurd to even ask. The entire previous section advocated that the term “baptist” be seen as a biblical paradigm for defining the essence of a church. However, it is still necessary to answer the question, who is a Baptist? The reason why it is necessary to answer the question, of who is a Baptist, is because a church is not about an edifice. A church is not a structure, but a people who are faithful to God.

The first Baptist church that existed is described in Acts 2:41-47. While the congregation did not use the moniker “baptist” for their existence, they nonetheless exhibited the landmarks of doctrine necessary to be classified as such. Each letter of the acrostic “Baptist” is represented by the Jerusalem church.

  • B. Biblical Authority (Acts 2:42 - “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching”)

  • A. Autonomy of Local Church (Acts 2:47 - “the Lord added to their number”)

  • P. Priesthood of the Believer (Acts 2:42-43a - “… and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul.)

  • T. Two Ordinances (Acts 2:41 - “those who received his word were baptized” and Acts 2:42 - “to the breaking of bread”)

  • I. Individual Soul Liberty (Acts 2:44-45 - “had all things in common..they were selling their possessions)

  • S. Saved, Regenerate Church Membership (Acts 2:47 - “added to their number day by day those who were being saved).

  • T. Two Offices (Acts 6:3 - “pick out from among you seven men…whom we will appoint to this duty” and Acts 15:6 - “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter”)

Following the pattern designed by Christ as demonstrated through the Jerusalem church, baptist churches have existed for centuries. Unfortunately, much of their history is bloodstained due to the continued onslaught of persecution Satan has brought against God’s church.

For instance, let's journey forward several centuries from the Jerusalem church to a group of people in Germany. These simple followers of Jesus in Germany were deemed by their detractors with the name Anabaptists (i.e. re-baptizers). This small group of Baptists broke from the mighty Roman Catholic Church because they were convinced, through studying Scripture alone, that their church practice was not in agreement with the Word. You could say that the Anabaptists recognized that the Roman Catholic Church was not text-driven. Their decision to break ties with Rome and uphold Christ’s design for a church led many to be killed by the sword of the Roman Catholic Church. It has been stated that the average life expectancy of an Anabaptist was 18 months following his conversion and believer’s baptism.

Consider this gruesome story as recorded by William Estep in his book, The Anabaptist Story. Estep said:

“Martyrdom became an anabaptist hallmark. among those who died at the hands of the authorities for their faith were countless worthy, often unknown, unforgettable witnesses. However, there were none who surpassed Michael Sattler in the hour of death. His superlative witness became a symbol of Anabaptist fidelity in the eyes of the sixteenth-century world wherever the story of his heroic martyrdom found an audience. On a spring day in May 1527, Michael Sattler was sentenced to death at the imperial city of Rottenburg on the Neckar River. The sentence read: Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner. The latter shall take him to the square and there first cut out his tongue, and then forge him fast to a wagon and there with glowing iron tongs twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the site of execution five times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic.”

Why was Sattler brutally humiliated and killed? Simple, he believed the Bible was the sole authority for Christian practice concerning baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Moving past the 16th Century era of the Anabaptists, we journey ahead another several centuries where we find ourselves sitting next to a young pastor talking on the phone to the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC president is attempting to restructure this young pastor’s preaching conference by asking him to disinvite one of his speakers. While sitting next to the young pastor we heard him quip, “I did not know the Vatican had relocated to Raleigh-Durham.” Evidently, the overreach of the SBC president had violated the autonomy of the young pastor’s local congregation.

You see, my friend, it does not matter what century you are in, Satan does not want Baptist churches. Why? He does not want a Baptist church because when you have a Baptist church, you have a biblical church. And Jesus has already declared that the “gates of Hell will not prevail against the church” (Matthew 16:18).

In conclusion, does the term Baptist matter? I think we have to say, yes it does matter. Christ died for His church. Therefore, it is important that we distinctly follow what God defines as a church. I hope you will remain with me on this seven-week journey as we define what it means to be “Distinctly Baptist.”


The "Distinctly Baptist" series will also be on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at


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