Who Are the Baptists?
Most people in Ireland have heard of John the Baptist! Beyond that not many 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.
Where does the name “Baptist” come from?
Answer: John the Baptist! He baptised people who knew they needed a big change in their life. He baptised Jesus.
What age was Jesus when he was baptised?
Answer: 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.
What is the point of Baptism?
People in the New Testament were baptised to demonstrate that they had become followers of Jesus. Remember the River Jordan? Well, 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 happened on the inside! But what has happened on the inside?
What should happen before a person is baptised?
Many people who belong to Baptist churches in Ireland today were brought up in faith communities that taught that baptising infants brought them into God’s family and 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 the only 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. We need to put our trust personally in him.
What is the Big Issue?
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 unto the Father except through me”. In Baptist churches this would be the central message that we would wish to communicate. Is Jesus Christ your Saviour? Has He forgiven you for all your sins? Have you put your trust in what He did on the Cross, when He took the punishment for your sins? These are the questions that matter.
Is there a hierarchy or governing body?
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 many have families of their own. They would usually be directly employed by the local church and they would be responsible for the spiritual well being of the church. They would generally be the person preaching each Sunday, but other members would take part too. We make no distinction between pastors and other church members, they don’t dress up in garments and they would see themselves as being “sinners” who have also 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 therefore everyone is involved in one way or another.
Where do you get your Authority from?
Our authority comes from the Bible alone. 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 v 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. A church therefore was a gathering of ordinary people who had come into a personal relationship with God – a community of believers. As Baptists we do not believe that the 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.
What is the Church?
Religion is all about externals! Who sees us in the pew on Saturday night/Sunday morning, 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.
What happens when we meet together?
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. We believe that the bread is bread and the wine is wine. We believe that Jesus died “once for all” when He died upon the Cross. The Lord’s table (the Eucharist) is a very special visual aid to remind us of what He has done. We also believe that there is coming a Day when we will no longer eat the bread or drink the wine, 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.
How long have Baptist been in Ireland?
We have been around in Ireland for over 300 years. We were badly hit by the Famine in the 19th century and did what we could to help. For example, the pastor of Waterford Baptist Church died from a disease he caught while giving aid. At one time we ran Irish language schools with up to 10,000 pupils on the role. We would also believe that people like St. Patrick, although not a Baptist came to many of the same conclusions that we find in the Scriptures.
Do Baptist Churches co-operate together at all?
In Ireland there is an Association of Baptist Churches. This is made up of local churches who have voluntarily decided to work together in matters of common interest. Organising activities between approximately 110 churches on the whole island naturally leads to the need for organisation and administration and therefore there is 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 passing down dogmas from individuals on a Council or governing body.
We want to keep the main thing the main thing!
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”.