Evangelical Baptist Catholicity: A Manifesto*
By R. Lucas Stamps and Matthew Y. Emerson
1. We affirm the ontological priority of the Triune God and the epistemological priority of his inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word. Christian faith begins, is carried forth, and ends in God—in his being and works—and is made known to us in Holy Scripture.
2. We affirm the centrality of the gospel—the good news of salvation through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God—for Christian faith, life, and worship.
3. We affirm the distinctive contributions of the Baptist tradition as a renewal movement within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. These distinctives include the necessity of personal conversion, a regenerate church, believers’ baptism, congregational governance, and religious liberty.
4. We affirm the fundamentals of reformational theology, especially as they are expressed in the great solae of the Reformation: fallen humanity can be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone on the basis of Scripture alone to the glory of God alone.
5. We encourage a critical but charitable engagement with the whole church of the Lord Jesus Christ, both past and present. We believe that Baptists have much to contribute as well as much to receive in the great collection of traditions that constitute the holy catholic church. We believe that we are “traditioned” creatures and that we should move beyond the false polarities of an individualistic modernity and a relativistic postmodernity.
6. We affirm that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, are created in God's image and, if they have repented and believed in Christ, are brothers and sisters together in the one body of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Because of this shared imago dei and because of Christ's saving work among all nations, peoples, and tongues, we believe that one major task of Baptist catholicity is to promote racial unity, especially within the body of Christ.
7. We encourage the ongoing affirmation, confession, and catechetical use of the three ecumenical creeds and the scriptural insights of the seven ecumenical councils. We believe these confessional documents express well what Thomas Oden called the “consensual tradition”—the deposit of faith taught in Holy Scripture and received by the church throughout space and time.
8. We believe that Baptist worship should be anchored in Holy Scripture and informed by the liturgical practices of the historic church. We believe that Christian worship should be Word-centered. In worship, we read, preach, sing, pray, and show forth (through the ordinances) the Word of God. We further believe that Baptist worship could benefit from incorporating historic practices such as lectionary readings, the liturgical calendar, corporate confession of sin, the assurance of pardon, the recitation of scriptural and historic prayers (especially the Lord’s Prayer), and the corporate confession of the faith (expressed in the ecumenical creeds and other confessional documents).
9. We affirm the two ordinances or sacraments** instituted by Christ, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and believe that they function as signs and seals of God’s grace, expressions of individual faith, and bonds of the church’s covenantal unity in Christ. As such, these ordinances are not empty signs or mere symbols but tangibly demonstrate our union with the risen Christ and with his body, the church. Other Christian practices, such as confession of sin, confirmation in the faith, the ordination of church officers, Christian marriage, and the prayerful anointing of the sick may also frame a life of Christian faithfulness, but should not be considered sacraments.
10. We affirm the continuity of God’s works of creation and redemption. Therefore, we affirm the goodness of all honorable vocations, the importance of embodied habits and rituals, and the value of aesthetic beauty for Christian life and worship.
11. We believe that all Christians should pray for and seek Christian unity across ecclesial and denominational lines and that Baptists should not reflexively reject principled, ecumenical dialogue with other Christian traditions.
*By catholicity, we mean universality and wholeness. It is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. Other Baptist groups and theologians have utilized the notion of “Baptist Catholicity” or “Bapto-Catholicity" (see, for example, the manifesto for Re-Envisioning Baptist Identity), but we are seeking to stake a claim for a particularly evangelical expression of this impulse.
**The earliest Baptists, among both the General Baptists and the Particular Baptists, used the language of “sacrament” to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In doing so, they meant to communicate that these ordinances are means of grace utilized by the risen Christ to strengthen and confirm the faith of believers. They did not mean to convey that the sacraments are automatically effective, that baptism is regenerative, or that the elements of the Lord’s Supper become the physical body and blood of Christ.