Why the most important Baptist Distinctive is “The Believers’ Church”

 For four days in 2008 I took part in a
conference at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg on
“Congregationalism, Denominationalism and the Believers’ Church”. This brought
together mostly academics but also pastors from the Baptist, Mennonite and
other Brethren traditions from Canada and the Northern USA. I then spent ten
days experiencing the life of First Baptist Church, Penticton. Throughout I
enjoyed fellowship with my old friend Rev Callum Jones, formerly Minister of
North Bushey Free Church but now Senior Pastor there, who is approaching
completion of his PhD studies on Baptist Identity in the Baptist Union of Western
Canada, together with his wife Catherine who is also a graduate of London Bible
College. As well as discussing his PhD thesis, we enjoyed many fruitful
discussions. Like me, Callum was a member and sent into ministry from Bushey
Baptist Church under Tony Mason and Peter Hicks. Having been converted in our
teens from non-Christian backgrounds, we are both Baptists by conviction rather
than upbringing. The whole time there reminded me most helpfully that my
theological understanding is not merely broadly “evangelical” but specifically
Baptist. And there are at least three beliefs at the core of Baptist identity
which I want to defend and affirm: the central authority of Scripture, what it
means to be a Christian, and what it means to be the true church, “the
Believers’ Church”.

The supreme authority for faith and practice in the
Christian life is the Bible, God’s inspired Word as received by the Churches
and correctly interpreted. Christians are “the people of the Book”. Whatever
the relativising Post-Modern Post-Christendom world around may say, we Baptists
are committed to the authority, reliability and sufficiency of Scripture. And
on two matters, Scripture is very clear.

Firstly, every person either is a Christian or they are not.
A Christian is somebody who has been born again to a living hope, they have
passed from death to life and from darkness into light. They are in Christ and
there has been a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. Either a
person is a Christian or they are not. 
Just as either they are in England or they are not in England, but they
cannot be in some strange place in between. They are either alive or dead. They
cannot be “on the way to being alive.” Either they are saved or they are not
saved. Either Christ is in them and their destiny is to spend eternity with
Christ in glory, or it is not. 

Secondly, the Bible makes clear that the true church is the
gathered community of all true believers, those who are “called out” of the
world to be the Body of Christ which is made up of all who are truly saved. The
church is the Living Temple, the Family of God and the Household of faith. The
true church is the fellowship of true Christians. It is “the Believers’

In this life, we may not be able to tell who actually is
saved and who is not, who is a true believer and who is not. The Parable of the
Wheat and the Weeds tells us that we will not know for certain who is saved
until the final judgment. The Parable of the Sower tells us that some who
initially seem to be strong Christians actually will prove not to be so.
Nevertheless, the true Church is defined and delimited by the company of true

In Anglican churches, decision-making authority rests with
the hierarchy and locally with the Parochial Church Council. Generalising, in Brethren,
Pentecostal and consequently many of the New Church streams, control rests with
Elders or equivalents. In contrast to all these others, each Baptist Church is
are governed by the Church Meeting, which itself makes a judgment about the person
faith of the members. So the whole fellowship of believers shares in the responsibility
of directing the church. Our supreme Baptist distinctive is “the Believer’s Church.”

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