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Thursday, May 23, 2019

The B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. Acrostic

“It has to be that way,” he said, arguing for a specific phrase as necessary and scriptural because it is that way “in every listing of the eight (8) Baptist Distinctives.”[i] Not only did this insistence violate the first of the distinctives, which teaches that the Bible is the authority in all matters of faith and practice – it also did not consider that “every listing” has it because they are copied one from the other, and also that this particular way of listing the distinctives likely cannot be found before 60 years ago. Because of this insistence, I searched for the origin of the “8 Baptist Distinctives” as most commonly presented. The common list is below; there are some with slight variations.
B          Biblical Authority
A         Autonomy of the Local Church
P          Priesthood of the Believer
T          Two Ordinances
I           Individual Soul Liberty
S          Saved Church Membership
T          Two Officers
S          Separation of Church and State
L. Duane Brown constructed the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. Acrostic” in the early 1960s,[ii] while he was the pastor of Pine Valley Baptist Church in Pine Valley (Millport), New York.[iii] He describes its origin this way:
“While pastoring at Pine Valley Baptist Church, I prepared a systematic lesson plan about the Baptist distinctives designed for thirteen lessons (a Sunday School quarterly). One of the dear ladies in the church, Esther Munson, suggested I set up these Baptist distinctives in an acrostic of the word BAPTISTS. It was mimeographed for Sunday School. I eventually set the acrostic on the plural BAPTISTS as I settled on eight distinctives (doctrine) that historically all Baptists held. A teacher at Baptist Bible Seminary requested copies for his class. Soon requests came from all over.”[iv]
The editor of Baptist Bulletin suggests Brown’s acrostic “has roots in Paul Jackson’s summary of the Baptist distinctives, published in Doctrine of the Church (1956) and his later full length book, The Doctrine and Administration of the Church (1968). Jackson’s outline is quite similar to what became Brown’s acrostic, but interestingly, Jackson never used the BAPTISTS acrostic in print.” It is certainly not unusual that Brown’s idea finds antecedents in his mentors, and quite obviously the distinctives of Baptists are of as long standing as Baptists themselves! After providing numerous mimeographs of the study, Brown put it in book format in 1969 – Biblical Basis for Baptists: A Bible Study Course on Baptist Distinctives. Later, Regular Baptist Press published the book, and recently Brown and his son revised and enlarged it in 2009.

The “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. Acrostic” is a nice mnemonic device. When thinking of the distinctives one can remember that they “spell” Baptists. However, we also have to consider whether it is helping us memorize information accurately and its most logical form. The acrostic will generally not be too objectionable to most Baptists. Most Baptists now living have probably seen it at one time or another. They likely consider it representative of Baptist beliefs. Nevertheless, some things in the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. acrostic” are not true of Baptists across the board. Were it conceived by a Free Will Baptist, Old Regular Baptist, or Primitive Baptist, the first “T” might be “three ordinances” rather than two.[v] The popular Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742 called “singing of Psalms” and “laying on of hands” ordinances.[vi] The old Separate Baptists often referred to nine rites as ordinances – baptism, Lord’s Supper, love feast, laying on of hands, feet washing, anointing the sick, right hand of fellowship, kiss of charity, and child dedication.[vii]

Were the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. acrostic” compiled in more recent times, the last “S” might be revised into something other than “Separation of Church and State.” I grew up with this terminology, and most Baptists know what they mean by it. On the other hand, its use has fallen in to some disfavor because of its recent use as a club to beat Christian thought out of the public square. We have separation of church and state, they say, you cannot erect a cross in a public place. Strike “In God We Trust” from our money. Purge “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Public schools must expel Christmas programs. All this in the name of “Separation of Church and State.”

Others have seen the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. acrostic” as weak. Some have tweaked it, as follows:
B          Bible is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice
A         Autonomy of the local church
P          Priority of Regenerative Church Membership
T          Two Ordinances: Lord's Supper & Baptism
I           Individual Separation
S          Soul Liberty
T          Two Offices: Pastor and Deacon
S          Separation of Church and State
Richard Weeks of Maranatha Baptist Bible College (now Maranatha Baptist University) dispensed with the acrostic altogether for the acronym BRAPSIS2, recognizing the need for a logical order – since some distinctives logically flow from other distinctives.[viii]
B          Bible, the sole authority of faith and practice
R          Regenerated and immersed church membership
A         Autonomy of the local church
P          Priesthood of the believer
S          Soul liberty
I           Immersion and the Lord’s Supper, the only two ordinances
S          Separation 1, Separation of Church and State; 2 Separation: ethically and ecclesiastically
In “Where’s the “C” in the Baptist Distinctives?” Colin Smith stresses the need of a “C” for congregational church government – a very distinct Baptist doctrine and practice that is absent from the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. acrostic.” Smith writes, “There is no way of looking at these alliterated points as formal theology. Instead, the usual outline is simply a group of things that are kind of true about the church…” and even calls the acrostic “dangerous because people who use it don’t have to think logically.” He outlines six main points: Biblical authority; Regenerate church membership; Priesthood of the believer; Congregational church government; Two ordinances; Individual soul liberty.

I am not as critical of the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. acrostic” as Colin Smith and some others. I recognize it as an attempt to put together some things that Baptists believe in a form that may be easily remembered. Obviously, the acrostic is not exhaustive in detailing Baptist faith and practice. At best, it is a beginning, not an end. My experience with a dogmatic assertion that a Baptist doctrine (distinctive) must be stated as found in “the eight (8) Baptist Distinctives”[ix] revealed another weakness – the tendency of the wording of a human document – a recent one at that – to become entrenched in the mind in contradiction of the primacy of biblical authority!

May we wisely use tools such as the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. acrostic” as well as the corrections that have been suggested for it – always bringing every thought into subjection to the word of God.


[i] Specifically, the assertion was that Baptists believe “the priesthood of the believer” rather than “the priesthood of believers” or “the priesthood of all believers.”
[ii] acrostic, noun. “a series of lines or verses in which the first, last, or other particular letters when taken in order spell out a word, phrase, etc.”
[iii] L. Duane Brown graduated from the Baptist Bible Seminary in Johnson City, New York “where he studied theology with Paul R. Jackson.” Other churches pastored by Brown include Southwest Calvary Baptist Church in Houston, Texas and Parsippany Baptist Church in Parsippany, New Jersey. He also served as president of Denver Baptist Bible College (which merged with Faith Baptist Bible College in 1986). I determined he was still living in Ankeny, Iowa in September 2016, and have found no death notice since that time.
[iv]Who Invented the B.A.P.T.I.S.T. Distinctives?,” Baptist Bulletin, October 28, 2010
[v] Footwashing is or has been considered an ordinance by many Baptists.
[vi] See chapter 23 and chapter 31 of The Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith.
[vii] In Customs of Primitive Churches (1768) Morgan Edwards, long-time clerk of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, advocated several more ordinances than listed in his association’s confession of faith – so that his list greatly resembled the Separate Baptists view.
[ix] By which he meant the “B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S. acrostic.”

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