Baptists are grass-roots people, with a particular emphasis on the local church. These local churches are self-governing and self-supporting, ranging in size from twenty or so members to several thousands. Although each Baptist church is an independent entity, Baptists nonetheless have always believed in associating with one another – and so churches come together in regional, national and international spheres to promote and support the fellowship of Baptists everywhere.
As a local church, we are part of the Baptist Union of Victoria.
The Baptist Union of Victoria is made up of over 230 churches and congregations throughout the state of Victoria. Churches of all size and in all corners of our state make up the Baptist Union as a whole, as well as the Union Council, Baptist Union of Victoria Coordinating Office and other Baptist agencies and affiliates.
To call ourselves ‘Baptist’, means we stand within an historic tradition whose most obvious distinguishing mark is believers baptism. These roots go back to Holland and to England in the 1600’s, during debates about the reform of the church and the separation between church and state. A group of people asserted, among other others, that baptism for believers should be the only basis on which the church is founded. This group grew out of the English separatist movement and came to be known as the ‘Baptists’.
In a booklet entitled ‘Who are the Baptists?’, Dr Ken Manley outlines the basic distinctives of Baptist beliefs. A summary of these is provided below.
1. The Lordship of Christ and the authority of the scriptures
We believe that to be a Christian one must confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus reveals himself through the Bible, which is the authority for us on matters of faith and practice. For this reason Baptists have not normally been required to accept formal creeds or statements of faith.The Lordship of Christ and the authority of the scriptures
2. The church is a fellowship of believers, or a company of committed disciples
Baptists have always stressed that the church can only consist of believers who have been born again by God’s spirit. Baptism is an expression of the believer’s repentance and faith and so is generally a requirement of membership in a Baptist church.
Ultimate authority in a Baptist church resides, under God, in the church meeting, when members meet together to discern the mind of Christ on all matters related to the work of the church.
3. The priesthood of all believers
Because the church is a fellowship of believers, each member has a living relationship with Christ, therefore each member, regardless of gender or office, is equal and has a share in the ministry of the church.
4. The ministry
While everyone is equal and shares in the ministry of the church, different gifts and functions are recognized by the church. Pastors are appointed to lead the church in worship and in mission and to administer the sacraments. They are seen as the equippers of the local body of believers. Ordination is the recognition by the church of these leadership gifts and responsibilities.
5. Churches together
While the local church is the essential part of the Baptist concept of the church, they have always emphasised the importance of fellowship between churches. Associations and Baptist Unions are the expression of this concern. Sharing in the support of missionary work, the training of pastors and leaders, social services and support for new and struggling churches.
6. Baptism and church membership
We believe the New Testament teaches that belief is confessed through baptism. Accordingly, Baptists insist that only believers may be baptised and believe that it should also be the basis of membership in a local church. The meaning of Baptism is expressed in many ways in the Bible:
- It is a sign of the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2.38; 22.16)
- It portrays death to the old life of sin and resurrection to the new life that comes through faith in Christ. (Romans 6.3, 4)
- It is a symbol of participation in the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12.13)
- It is a confession of faith in Christ as Lord, and of the desire to obey the Lord’s specific command. (Romans 10.9, Matt 28.19, 20)
- It is a dramatic presentation of Christ’s death burial and resurrection. (Romans 6.3–4, Colossians 2.12)
- Full immersion of the body is the appropriate mode of baptism since it best signifies the believer’s death, burial and resurrection. (Romans 6.3, 4)
- It is linked with the blessing of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2.38, 1 Corinthians 12.13)
There have often been differences over “open” and “closed” membership in our churches. “Open Membership” churches teach and practise the baptism of believers but accept Christians from other traditions into membership upon profession of their faith. “Closed Membership” churches will only accept into membership those who have been baptised as believers.
7. Religious freedom
Baptists have been enthusiastic supporters of religious freedom. They have opposed all forms of religious coercion and affirm the rights of all people to follow their conscience on matters of faith. We seek to affirm diversity even among our own churches.
8. Other denominations
Most Baptists have always maintained fellowship and communion with other denominations and seek to find cooperative ways to work beside them. While many are willing to share in the more formal ecumenical activities others fear this may lead them to a compromise of their basic beliefs and witness.