What is a Baptist?
One of my favorite quotes, which I believe is attributed to Rush Limbaugh, is this: "Words have meaning". We could similarly say: "Names have meaning". Though many today dodge monikers and terms of any kind, the fact is that if you fit the definition of the term then that term may be applied to you. It's really not that difficult to understand.
Even worse in my opinion is that we have people who want terms applied to them when the terms do not apply. We have many churches, church members, and church leaders who want to be called Baptist when they are not Baptist. We have many churches that were Baptist who are no longer Baptist but still have it out on their sign. This is dangerous and deceptive.
With this strange atmosphere all around us, let's look at what the term "Baptist" means and who can be properly called a "Baptist"...
I. The Meaning of "Baptist"
The term "Baptist" could be simply defined as "one who baptizes". It is used in the Bible to describe John "the Baptist". He was so called because of his practice of baptizing converts who had accepted his message of repentance.
The Baptists have be so named because of their emphasis on believer's baptism, that is that a person is to be baptized upon their testimony of salvation. "Baptist" is also most likely a shortened form of "Anabaptist", which means "re-baptizer". Both terms show the emphasis on believer's baptism. When a person comes to join a Baptist congregation, they were required to be (1) saved, and (2) baptized by a church of like faith. If a person came to a Baptist church who had been "baptized" as an infant, Baptist required them to be re-baptized according to Baptist beliefs.
This is strictly a brief history and meaning of the term itself. However, not every group that practices believer's baptism is called "Baptist". There is more to being a Baptist than just believer's baptism. This brings us to:
II. Who is a Baptist?
Essentially, the key differences between Baptists and other groups have been defined as these, which are usually called "Baptist Distinctives"*:
1. Bible as Sole Authority for Faith and Practice
2. Autonomy of the Local Church
3. Priesthood of the Believer
4. Two Ordinances in Church - Baptism and the Lord's Supper
5. Individual Soul Liberty
6. Separation of Church and State
7. Two Offices in Church Government - Pastor and Deacon
8. Salvation by Grace Through Faith
Other groups of Christians may hold to one or more of these beliefs, but to be properly called a Baptist one most hold all of these beliefs. There are also various other beliefs that separate various types and groups of Baptists. We shall leave that for another time.
* This list varies somewhat between various people, but is essentially the same with some minor changes to wording. I wish I could credit whoever alliterated the list, but I have been unable to find the name of the person who did so even though this list with slight variations is found all over the internet.