Houston Baptist University is considering dropping "Baptist" from its institutional name. Houston is doing what several Baptist churches have already chosen to do. The church I pastor is legally constituted as Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, Oklahoma, but in publications, advertising and web-based information our church is known as Emmanuel Enid. It is to be expected that most Baptists, both young and old, have no idea why churches and institutions carry the name Baptist. A few Landmark Baptists will try to tell you that John the Baptist started the FIRST Baptist Church, and all true Baptist churches succeed from those early Christians who met with their first pastor. Several years ago I warned Southern Baptists about the growing implications of allowing Landmark Baptists to provide leadership in our missions agencies. Landmarkers believe that since Baptists form the only true church, then baptism in a Baptist church is the only true baptism. I got censured for calling out my Landmark friends on their error while serving on the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. But, that's another story.
Some Baptists will try to tell you that the name Baptist is distinctive because it identifies those Christians who practice baptism through full water immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring. To believe that the full-orbed distictiveness for being Baptist is simply the mode of baptism is far too simplistic. Don't misunderstand me: The word baptizō means to completely “immerse" an object into another substance. That is the very definition of the word. Any parent who says, "We baptized our baby this Sunday" and refers to the pouring or sprinkling of water on their child is mispeaking. I have volumes and volumes of books in my library, written by eminent scholars, who conclusively show that the ancient Jews and the 1st and 2nd century Christian Gentiles all practiced baptism by full immersion. Even pagans understood in the early years that Christians were immersed in water, professing their faith in Christ' death, burial and resurrection from the dead. The Roman Emperor Constantine, after allegedly converting to Christianity in the 4th century, falsely believed that the Christian rite of baptism washed away one's personal sins. Because of this belief, Constantine waited until shortly before his death to be baptized in order to avoid dying with any unwashed sin. He was baptized by immersion (Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, Chapter 62). A disagreement arose in the Roman Catholic Church after Constantine's death over the timing of baptism. Many Roman Catholic theologians argued that infants needed baptism to wash away original sin lest they die in their infancy unbaptized. Infant baptism became a widespread occurance in the Roman Catholic church throughout the middle ages (AD 500 to AD 1500). Even AFTER the Reformation in 1517, Christians in those groups that split from Roman Catholicism (i.e. Anglicans, Puritans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc...) continued the practice of infant baptism.
There are some Christians who have always resisted infant baptism, even throughout the Middle Ages. These Christians were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church for being traitors to the state. Likewise, after the Reformation, Christians who resisted infant baptism were persecuted by Protestant AND Catholics and were given the epitath "ana-baptists" for being traitors to the state! The Holy Roman Empire throughout the Middle Ages had kings who came to Rome to receive God's blessings to rule a portion of the empire. Church and state were united. When the Reformation came, England split from Rome, but England still kept a state church--the Anglican Church. Germany split from Rome and still kept a state church--the Lutheran Church. Scotland split from Rome and still kept a state church--the Presbyterian Church. I could go on and on. Taxes paid pastors salaries in Protestant and Catholic countries. Kings appointed the pastors (bishops) in Protestant countries and served as head of both the church and the state. The Pope continued to appoint bishops and kings in Catholic countries. Those Christians in Protestant England, Protestant Europe states and Roman Catholic states who refused to baptize their children in infancy eventually became known as Baptists. The Baptists in England and Europe, like their ana-baptist forefathers, were persecuted for being traitors to the states in which they lived. For over a millenia, Christian names and state citizenship had been bestowed on children at their baptisms--the rite which came to be called christening. Baptists refusing to baptize their infant children were deemed traitors to their respective states. Some Baptists were tortured and others were put to death by their governments. Some sought to escape persecution by coming to the newly discovered land of America. But what is important to understand is that Baptists have historically lived by a deep conviction that the Kingdom of God is separate from any kingdom of this world.
Jesus Christ told his disciples, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Baptists are Christians who have a deep conviction that the church of Jesus Christ will always be separate from any political kingdom in this world. Our King is not an earthly king, He is a heavenly King. Our Country is not of this world, it is a heavenly one. Our allegience is to a Sovereign over the universe, not any sovereign who reigns over a specific country. Because Baptists have always had this as a deep conviction, there are a few things for which Baptists will be willing to die for in this life:
(1). Freedom of religion--because allegiance to Christ can never be forced.
(2). Separation of church and state--because our kingdom is not of this world.
(3). Freedom of speech--because eternal Truth is never afraid of spoken error.
(4). The sanctity of all human life--because all human life comes from the Creator and is meaningful because of Him and not because of one's class, race, gender, religion, political affiliation, or one's country.
(5). States must protect the individual's rights--and when the state abdicates her role as protector of the individual, then individuals have the right to overthrow the government by ballot, or when necesssary, by force (see Baptist John Gano, Chaplain for George Washington and the Revolutionary Continental Army and the pastor who baptized the father of our country during the Revolutionary War, as an example for when a Baptist believes war is justified).
America's Bill of Rights was attached to the United State's Constitution as a direct result of the efforts of Baptists in America. These Baptists came from England and Europe and had seen the damage church/state governance does to individual rights. Soon, throughout America, First Baptist Church's began to dot the landscape. Convictional Baptist Christians were now proud to be identified as Baptists, and no longer had to hide for their lives. They were living in freedom in a country that understood the necessity of protecting the rights of the individuals in the state. Unfortunately, over the past 200 years, we Baptists have lost sight of our foundational convictions and have become far too political, far to ideological, and far too egotistical for our own good.
To the good people of Houston Baptist University and any other church considering dropping Baptist from your name, but particulary to those who condemn HBU and others for making this decision: I urge you to remember the title of this post and by God's grace have it seared into your conscience:
Being a convictional Baptist is far more important than being called a Baptist.