Text: Acts 17:1-15
Today, we will talk about our identity as Baptist. I consider this topic essential for us to narrow down our identity in the broad Christian community.
BAPTISTS: (B) Biblical Authority, (A) Autonomy of the Local Church, (P) Priesthood of all Believers, (T) Two Ordinances: Baptism and Lord’s Supper, (I) Individual Soul Liberty, (S) Saved (or Baptized) Church Membership, (T) Two Offices: Pastor (or Elders) and Deacon, and (S) Separation of Church and State (or Religious Freedom).
Walter Shurden summarizes it into four distinctives: (1) Bible Freedom, (2) Soul Freedom, (3) Church Freedom, (4) and Religious Freedom.
Bible freedom pertains to the freedom to have a personal Bible and to interpret it. Because during the Ancient to Medieval times, the interpretation of the Scriptures was monopolized by the Bishops, Pope, or those who sit on the throne of the cathedrals. Soul liberty also known as the priesthood of all believers pertains to our right and responsibility to deal with God without the imposition of anyone or anything. We have direct access to God alone also known as our privilege of access. Church freedom is local autonomy or self-governance. Lastly, religious freedom is the biggest contribution of the Baptists to the New World, America, the British Isles, and part of my research, the Philippines.
Moreover, for today, I want to expose three characteristics of the Early Church specifically during Paul’s missionary journey in Macedonia. As you can see on the PowerPoint, this map shows the second missionary journey of Paul and Silas. They both met Timothy in that first arrow there in Lystra.
When they were at Troas, Paul had a vision from God to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel. And there, in the second arrow, where they met Lydia and other converted believers to Christianity. But they had some conflicts and were imprisoned. After being released, they went to Thessalonica which is where our passage starts.
- People of the Book
In verse 11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
In here, we can clearly read that when Paul, Silas, and later with Timothy, preached the good news about Jesus Christ in Berea, these believers responded by devotionally examining the Scriptures. How? Receiving it with all eagerness. How often? Daily.
This thorough examination of the Bible happened at the Gainsborough Church, Trent Valley—where John Smyth studied the Bible with some Puritan ministers for nine months where they agreed to become a Separatist Church by 1607. This eagerness was termed as “Gainsborough Principle” in seeking for the truth, “…to walk in all his ways, made known, or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavors…the Lord assisting them.” The italicized phrase means that it is an ongoing retrieval or exploration of the truth even up to this day.
- Persevered Persecutions
In verse 5, some Jews and other people formed a mob to tried to persecute Paul and his companions. They did not see him, so they just dragged Jason (who was helping Paul) to the city court and made him pay for the disturbance. The same mob also followed them at Berea, but Paul was able to go to Athens before they arrived (vv 13-15). This kind of persecution also happened before they arrived in Thessalonica, in Acts 16:22-24 they were beaten and imprisoned.
This kind of suffering is what Christ described as sharing His suffering with us. That when we preached the gospel, not all will believe, some will listen, but at the same time, many will persecute us and disagree with us. These arguments against Christianity are evident in our school system, frowning upon those students who are coming from the Christian worldview.
- Pursuer of Missions
It is in the context of missions that are passage is found. Paul was doing missionary work together with Silas and Timothy. This journey was not the first one, but the second one for Paul. Yet, as seen on the map I presented a while ago, we can see that Paul planted churches in each city where he landed. He devoted himself to the Word of God and wrestled with the people by proclaiming to them the gospel of Christ. And despite the persecutions they experienced, they never stopped proclaiming the gospel to all people. They were pursuers of missions—the Great Commission which we ought to obey.
Personal evangelism, church missions, and outreach are not only for those who are talented or gifted in evangelism. We, the followers of Christ, have the duty to evangelize. It is not a separate ministry nor a department of the church. Each one must do it.
I love what Ptr. Adrian Rogers said, “No matter how faithfully you attend church, how generously you give, how circumspectly you walk, how eloquently you teach, or how beautifully you sing, if you are not endeavoring to bring people to Jesus Christ you are not right with God.” Ministries are important, but evangelism is vital.
Indeed, the Baptist wanted to conform to how the New Testament describes the early church. Though we know that these characteristics that we learned are not exclusively evident only in the Baptist churches, but also with other denominations. But in here, the Baptists went beyond the Reformed Tradition, the Puritans, and other Protestants that dissented from the state church. They sought the true church as seen in the Bible; by just exploring a short passage in Acts 17, we saw the characteristics that are evident in being a Baptist.
We are known as the People of the Book, the early Baptist by devoting their time studying the Scriptures together concluded that the only Lord and King that they should follow is Christ. And Christ’s word, which is the Bible, is the only authoritative revelation of God for our faith and practices. From there, the Baptist movement realized what a true church is; a true church is composed of regenerated members who confessed their faith through baptism and are covenanted with each other. Furthermore, despite many persecutions, the Baptists are known for being missional.
I hope and pray, as a Baptist church, may we also reflect and exemplify the early church at Berea, “who examined the Scriptures daily with great eagerness” (v. 11). As well as the early Baptist church that had the Gainsborough Principle, who studied the Scriptures devotedly together for nine months and continuously examining it for the pursuit of truth.
I urge you, church, to be serious in our Bible studies, participate in it; likewise, in listening to the Word during Sundays, and in your personal moment with God. Not just because we are Baptists, but because Jesus is our King!
Ptr. John Paul Arceno
February 21, 2021
*This section is an excerpt only; download the full manuscript above.