The first thing we do when we meet a new person is tell them our name. Our name is our identity. Names are unique to the individual (That is unless you're me. I personally know two other "Jessica Brooks" :P. Then I searched my name on facebook and there were HUNDREDS of "Jessica Brooks"). Without a name we're unknown... a nobody. As Christians in an ever changing post-modern society in which terms are constantly being redefined, we often struggle to "name" ourselves in a way that accurately identifies who we are. Well, maybe others don't struggle with this, but I certainly do.
For instance, I am a Christian, but what does that mean? Literally, it means "little Christ." More descriptively it means a follower of Christ or an imitator of Christ. Generically, it can mean anyone from a saved born-again believer, to a Roman Catholic, to a Mormon, to an Emergent/Liberal who denies sin and a literal hell. (By the way, Jesus did teach a literal hell and punishment for sin, just in case anyone is wondering: Mark 9:43-48, Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30, Romans 6:23). Even though the term "Christian" has been so maligned today, I think all true Bible-believers would agree that we should never drop the name "Christian" just because some groups and individuals misuse and misrepresent it. I will always be first and foremost a Christian!
I find though that I often have to give A LOT of explanation when speaking with people (both saved and un-saved) about what "kind" of Christian I am. To do so, I use some other names. Baptist, Conservative, Fundamental, Independent, Bible-believing, Born-again, Saved, and so on. The truth is that these names identify me almost as much as the name Christian. They assist in painting a clearer picture of who I am and what my beliefs are. Again, many of these names have also been mis-represented and mis-used. They have be defined and re-defined by various denominations and religious groups and even some non-religous groups. I've even heard Roman Catholics use the term Born Again, but it means something COMPLETELY different to them than it does to me. Fundamentalist almost always has a negative connotation, especially when used by the media. So the question returns. Should I, or we as Christians drop these names because someone else has mis-used them? Should we try to find new names that more accurately describe what we are and what we believe?
These are difficult questions, and it's something I've been thinking about for a while. I read about a church the other day who is dropping the label "Baptist" from it's name. That saddens me. Not because I think only Baptists are saved and going to heaven, but because there's meaning in the name Baptist that many are neglecting and shunning for very unbiblical and selfish reasons. On the other hand, I'm almost happy this church is dropping Baptist from it's name because it no longer holds to what a Baptist church truly is. It scorned traditional doctrines and teachings of Baptists all over it's website, and there was also some severe twisting of Scripture done to defend the name change. I couldn't even find a simple presentation of the gospel on this church's website! Personally, Baptist churches like these annoy me because they despise what Baptists historically have stood for (biblical truth and purity), and I think we're better off not having them using the name Baptist.
One of the reasons this church gave for taking Baptist out of it's name was that there's a perception among both Christians and non-Christians that Baptists are judgemental, legalists, and overall too strict. I'm not going to deny that some of this exists in Baptist circles. It exists in other circles too. However, it comes back to the question I started with. Are we going to let a few extremists dictate our decisions when it comes to things like a name change? Personally, I've never run across anyone who was turned off by me telling them I'm a Baptist, but I have met people who don't like the fact I'm a Christian. Think about it. An unbeliever most often has no interest in Christ no matter what denomination the Christian is. Overall, they've rejected God, and because they reject Him, they're going to reject His children. I expect unbelievers to treat me with some animosity, and it doesn't surprise me when they don't want to hear my message. However, I'm not going to go and change what I believe and what I do just because a non-Christian is offended by my faith! Jesus said the world hated Him and it would hate us too (John 15:18-19). I've met people who know that Baptists are the "strict" Christians. I take that as a complement. I want to be known as someone who lives an orderly and disciplined life because that's what the Bible says Christians are supposed to do. Romans 12:2 for example and I John 2:15. If an unbeliever perceives me as strict because they know I'm a Baptist, I say Praise the Lord! Obviously, they see a difference in my life, and that difference is Christ.
What is a Baptist anyways? Someone once accused my church of preaching too much "Baptist doctrine." By calling ourselves Baptist or Fundamentalist or Evangelical, are we elevating our own traditions and philosophies to equal authority with Scripture? I think this can be a danger. One time when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees He said, "... Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." Sometimes attached to a name there are traditions that are simply "our own." They are not biblical truths. They are man made customs. The Bible calls them the "traditions of men" in other places. The Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and even Non-denominational are ALL susceptible to elevate their own traditions to equality with Scripture. However, there are many historical and traditional characteristics of Baptists (and perhaps other groups as well: I can really only speak for Baptists because that's what I know), that while they may well be traditions they are not wrong. II Thessalonians 2:5 says, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." Why would Paul admonish the believers to hold fast to traditions, if Jesus said traditions were bad? Is this a contradiction in the Bible? No, the answer is simple. The traditions Paul are referring to are not doctrines of men, but truths of God. Such traditions as these are not to be forsaken by the church.
Historically, Baptists have interpreted the Bible literally. They sought to teach, preach, and live wholeheartedly by the Bible. Why so much emphasis on the Bible? Simply because it is God's revelation of Himself to us... His Word. Many statements of faith in Baptist churches read that the Bible (not Baptist tradition or doctrine or some other creed or document) is the FINAL authority in matters of faith and practice. If this is true, then every Baptist teaching, doctrine, and tradition, is nothing more than Bible teaching, doctrine, and tradition. Doubtless, there are churches who will elevate traditions above their rightful place. Then the Christian must make the choice of who or what his final authority will be: what the church says or what God's infallible Word says? I don't know about you, but I'd much rather take God's Word over the word of men. God cannot fail. He is perfect. A church made up of men and traditions is prone to error because no man is perfect or infallible. If the Bible is the final authority, as it should be, then the Christian church member should be able to weigh every teaching of that church against the Scripture to determine whether or not that teaching is from God regardless of the connotations of a denominational label.
Back to the statement about too much "Baptist" doctrine. Really it's a ridiculous accusation. Pentecostal churches preach "Pentecostal" doctrine. Catholic churches preach "Catholic" doctrine. Reformed churches preach "Reformed" doctrine. Anglican churches preach "Anglican" doctrine. I think you see my point. This kind of statement would apply to every church because every church name implies a doctrine. What's important is not the name or the church, but whose doctrine matches the Scripture. I really don't care about Baptist doctrine, but if what the Baptists are preaching is what is in the Bible then I'm all for "Baptist" doctrine!
In case you haven't figured it out yet, I attend a Baptist church. I would even go so far as to say I am a Baptist. That doesn't cancel out the fact that I am first and foremost a Christian. The Pastor of the Baptist church I attend preaches nothing but the Bible. In every service the Bible is read, explained, and expounded. My Pastor often says you can't go wrong when you stick to preaching just what is in the Bible. Over the years of attending my church many practices have changed, but one thing that hasn't changed is the doctrine that is preached. I am a Baptist by choice because what my Pastor stands for and preaches lines up with what I read in God's Word. If my Baptist church and Pastor ever stopped preaching God's Word I would have no hesitation in leaving. Please don't take this the wrong way. While I am one hundred percent supportive of my pastor and church, my loyalty is not solely to them. My loyalty is to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I follow Him!
Matthew 6:33, But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness...
Galatians 6:14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.