I used to be a Baptist. I was saved in a Baptist church when I was five. I was baptized in that same Baptist church when I was seven. I went to a Baptist bible college and, after I graduated from that Baptist bible college, I went to a Baptist seminary. I was ordained in a Baptist church. My first sermon was to a Baptist congregation. I baptized both of my children in a Baptist church. I even married the daughter of a Baptist preacher. If Paul can describe himself as the Jew of all Jews in Philippians 3 then I think it’s fair for me to describe myself as the Baptist of all Baptists. Everything about me is Baptistic. I preach like a Baptist. I hold to Baptist theology. In fact, I really don’t know how to be anything but Baptist. However, sadly, that is a title I will no longer claim. Now, when I’m asked what denomination I belong to, I usually just respond by saying I’m an evangelical Christian – which I am. I am a Bible-Bounded-Theologically-Conservative-Evangelical-Christian, but you will no longer hear me call myself a Baptist.
This journey began about six years ago when I was interviewed by a Phoenix radio station while pastoring at a Baptist church. The interviewer questioned me – a Baptist pastor and so called Baptist expert – about the lack of denominational accountability within Baptist churches, e.g. presbytery, diocese, synod, or some type of governing authority empowered to thump-on misbehaving preachers and churches. The interviewer wanted to know why so many Baptist preachers are allowed to preach and promote outlandish convictions without repercussion. I always knew there was a minority of hate-filled-crackpots, masquerading as Baptists. I knew that groups like Westboro Baptist Church existed, but I always assumed they were outliers. Well, my assumptions were about to be disproven. I had been invited to share my thoughts over the radio after a local Arizona preacher, named Stephen Anderson, gained national notoriety for ordering his congregation to pray for President Obama to die of brain cancer. Anderson was, and still is, the pastor of Living Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona and he is, every bit, a hate-filled-crackpot. In fact, just recently he publicly advocated killing homosexuals as the cure for AIDS. So, in the interview six years ago, I tried to describe the gaping differences between historic Baptists – like Spurgeon, Smyth and Holmes – and those who, I then believed, represented the Baptist fringe. However, since that time, I’ve complied a great deal of research which contradicts the assumptions I held to six years ago – specifically, that this hate-filled-crackpot-fringe of Baptists is actually much larger and more organized than I ever imagined.
In Galatians 1 Paul writes these words,
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Many believe Paul’s letter to the Galatians was addressed to a group of first-century churches scattered throughout a large geopolitical area in Asia minor known as Galatia. These home-churches, of 20 or 30 people, were comprised, mostly, of new converts from Paul’s first missionary trip with Barnabas. Now, two or three years after their face-to-face with Paul and Barnabas, these infant Believers were being “troubled” by a group of legalists. This was an organized group of heretics who had defected from Judaism and had infiltrated the fellowships of Galatia. Once inside, they began exploiting the immature faith of the Galatians by attaching Jewish additives – namely, the rite of circumcision – to the Gospel, and targeted the population of Galatian Believers with a Judaist pedigree. Word of this heretical insurgence eventually reached Paul, who was en route to Jerusalem to participate in an ecumenical council convened to address the very same issue. When Paul hears about what’s happening to the disciples throughout Galatia, the Holy Spirit moved-in him to pen a letter to those Believers. He begins by delicately admonishing them for their gullibility when he tells them that he is, “astonished” in verses six. This is very gentle language – Paul spoke to the Galatian Believers like a loving and nurturing father. But, he will abruptly change his tone in the verses that follow. Paul morphs-into a new role as he directs – what Luther refers to, in his commentary on Galatians, as – an elemental fury toward those individuals spreading the heresy. He focuses the full weight of his righteous-indignation on the apostates who were plaguing these baby Believers with their legalism. His fury was scathing and palpable. In fact, this passage is considered, by some scholars, to be some of the most ferocious language in Pauline writing.
The heresy of legalism was the first and is, perhaps, the most enduring heresy to attack the Gospel message of Jesus. Legalism was the first heresy Paul confronted in Galatia and it is still very much alive and well in churches today. The promotion of man-made laws and extra-biblical doctrine has been, and continues to be, one of the most insidious issues within the local church. In fact, today there are countless preachers and religious bodies endorsing a 21st century, Americanized version of the apostasy that Paul addressed more than two thousand years ago. Today we have preachers and religious bodies promoting anti-Semitism and hate-speech, calling modern worship music sinful, and promoting the King James Bible as a higher translation of Scripture. These teachings represent just a fraction of the legalistic heresy present in the local church today and, sadly, most of it can be traced to groups and preachers who call themselves Baptist or something akin.
This is why I am no longer calling myself a Baptist. The Baptist name links me – even if, in name only – to people who are warping the Gospel with their legalism. It’s an “accursed” and filthy practice, and I can no longer have anything to do with it.
To be clear, distancing myself from the Baptist name does not mean that I will ever embrace bad doctrines or succumb to nominal Christianity. My hope is that, in a small yet poignant way, my resolve will demonstrate a fury towards the heresy of legalism. I still hold to the sacred Baptistic doctrines which sparked a cultural awakening in our country 300 years ago. I believe those same doctrines can still be used by God to transform hearts and minds in this generation. I will remain dedicated to preaching the Bible and proclaiming salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. I still admire Baptist history and heritage. For all intents and purposes, I will remain the prototypical Baptist, but I must irrevocably end any association with heretics. I will still walk like a Baptist and quack like a Baptist … but, please don’t call me a Baptist.