What is a Baptist?

Perhaps you’re not familiar with the term ‘Baptist’. Why do we call ourselves ‘Baptists’? What makes someone a ‘Baptist’? How is a Baptist Church different from any other Church? We hope the questions and answers below will help shed some light on the subject! You can also find out more on our “What We Believe” page.

Adapted from an article originally written by Pastor Jonny Grant, and used here with permission of Carrigaline Baptist Church, Co. Cork.

Most people in Northern Ireland have heard of John the Baptist, but perhaps fewer may have come across people who would call themselves “Baptists”. What are our main beliefs and practices? We hope we can answer some of your questions!

John the Baptist! He baptised people who knew they needed a big change in their life. He baptised Jesus.

About 30. One of the main things that distinguishes Baptists from other churches is that we do NOT baptise babies. We only baptise individuals who, by their own choice, have entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have come to know Him as their Lord and Saviour – so we practice “believer’s baptism”.

People in the New Testament were baptised to demonstrate that they had become followers of Jesus. Remember the River Jordan? Back then, baptisms usually took place in a river, in the sea, or a large pool. Today, some Baptist churches have indoor pools or tanks. There is nothing holy or magical about the water, nothing happens to the person getting baptised, it is simply an outward way of demonstrating what has already happened on the inside!

We believe in the necessity of personal faith in Christ. Many people who now belong to Baptist churches were brought up in faith communities where they were taught that baptising infants brought them into God’s family – and that therefore “we are all Christians”. As you read the Bible, it becomes very clear that God never said that! All of us are born into this world on the wrong side. The Bible says we are rebels, cut off from God. All religions are man’s attempts to get onto the right side of God. But God has provided a way back to Himself. God became a man born of the virgin Mary – Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, came down to this earth as a baby.

It is NOT “Are you a Baptist?” – or any other religious label for that matter! What matters is: have you made Jesus Christ the Lord and King of your life? Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. In Baptist churches, this is the central message that we seek to communicate: is Jesus Christ your Saviour? Have you repented for (turned away from) your sins and asked Him for forgiveness? Have you put your trust in what He did on the cross, when He took the punishment for your sins? If a person has had this experience of personal faith in Christ, we believe that the Scriptures teach that such a person should be baptised. This is why we practice what we call ‘believer’s baptism’.

Do Baptists have a governing body or hierarchy of people who tell all the churches what to believe? No. We believe that the words and traditions of men while interesting, have no binding authority! Rather, we believe that God’s Word, the Bible is the ‘final authority in all matters of faith and practice’.

No. Because of our understanding of the church, every Baptist church in a town or city is directly responsible to God through our living Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our ministers (we usually call them ‘pastors’) are ordinary men, who are free to marry, and most have families of their own. They are usually directly employed by the local church and are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the church. They are generally the person to preach each Sunday, but other church members can take part too. We make no distinction between pastors and other church members, pastors don’t dress up in special garments and, like everyone else, they see themselves as being “sinners” who have come to Jesus for forgiveness. We believe that every member of a local church has something to contribute to the life of the church, and encourage everyone to be involved in one way or another. We recognise the Bible as our only source of authority.

When you read the book of Acts in the New Testament, you will discover several things about the early Church. They met together to listen to the Scriptures being explained, for prayer, and to remember Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 2:42). These people came voluntarily – not because they had to, or out of a sense of duty or guilt, but because they wanted to. Something had happened in their lives that made them want to meet to worship the Risen Christ together. Churches, therefore, were gatherings of ordinary people who had come into a personal relationship with God. A community of believers.

As Baptists, we do not believe that a building is a church, neither do we believe that everyone who goes to a church necessarily has come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way.

Religion is all about externals – who sees us in the pew, what we wear, making sure we are seen to be doing what is right. The Gospel (or ‘good news’) as taught by Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the early Church was that it is the internal that really matters! We need a change of heart! Therefore, the true church of Jesus Christ is made up of individuals who have trusted in Jesus Christ and who are following Him. It is impossible to mark these people out externally, but as Baptists we believe that such people will want to meet with others who believe the same things and gather together to hear God’s Word being read and explained, to pray and to sing God’s praise.

We come together to hear God’s Word, the Bible, being read and explained, and to encourage each other in our faith. We sing songs and hymns of praise to God and pray for the needs of our world. We remember our Saviour’s death on the Cross, and welcome all who are trusting in Jesus Christ to take the bread and the wine around ‘the Lord’s Table’.  Also known as ‘Communion’ or ‘Breaking of Bread’, this is simply a visual aid to remind us of what Christ has done. We believe that the bread is simply bread and the wine is simply wine – physical reminders of a spiritual truth.

We believe that Jesus died “once for all” when He died upon the Cross. We also believe that there is coming a day when we will no longer need to eat the bread or drink the wine as a remembrance, because Jesus will have come back to take us to heaven to be with Himself. The Bible clearly states that there is a huge crowd there which no one can number. Not all of them will be Baptist – and not all who call themselves Baptists will be there either! All who are there will be individuals who, while alive on this earth, came to experience God’s complete forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Portadown Baptist Church belongs to the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland, which was established in 1895. Their offices are located together with the Baptist College and Baptist Missions on the Hillsborough Road, Moira. There are approximately 116 Baptist Churches in Ireland with a membership of 8,500, representing a Baptist community of over 20,000 attendees.

This Association of Baptist Churches is made up of local churches who have voluntarily decided to work together in matters of common interest. Organising activities between so many churches on the whole island naturally leads to the need for organisation and administration and therefore requires an office, secretaries and administrative staff jointly employed by the churches to do this work. They have no power over any of the individual churches and are servants of the churches rather than a Council or governing body.

Our mandate comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. He told His first disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). That is what we, as a Baptist church, are seeking to do today. If we can be of any further help to you as you investigate these things for yourself, then please be assured of a warm welcome at our Sunday Services, or take a moment to contact the Baptist Church nearest to you.