It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)
At a time when the term “Baptist” can carry with it multiple preconceptions and connotations, many churches have chosen to remove the identifier from their name altogether. Yet, for the people of Second-Ponce de Leon, we find it important to identify with the historic and distinctive freedoms of the Baptist tradition: Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, and Religious Freedom.
These Baptist distinctives have served as the foundational tenets for Second-Ponce de Leon throughout its 160-year history, and they continue to guide us as we seek to live out our faith as community into the future.
Bible freedom is based on the belief that the scriptures as contained in the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, and that they reveal Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Therefore, each believer has the freedom and responsibility to study and interpret the Bible through the life, teachings, and Lordship of Jesus. This freedom defines our purpose of continuing obedience to God’s word in faith and in practice. Because of the power of the Bible to make God’s will known to us, the Bible can transform lives when it is interpreted and applied under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Bible freedom in the Baptist tradition also frees believers from earthly authorities, as we affirm that no person or institution can hold more power than Jesus. Therefore, Baptists do not strictly adhere to creeds, and Baptists have no hierarchy to hand down correct biblical interpretation or teaching. Every Christian, as a member of the “Priesthood of Believers,” must be free to interpret the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the lens of Jesus Christ. Since each believer has the freedom under God to shape and form their own beliefs according to their own conscience, differences over nuances of faith statements exist in Baptist congregations. It is a true strength that Baptists can agree to disagree on many issues and yet remain united by a common purpose and faith.
Soul freedom affirms our core belief in individual choice. Each person, having been created in the image of God, is able and responsible to make moral, spiritual, and religious decisions. Our belief that every person stands as a competent individual before God and is responsible to determine what his or her conscience dictates is referred to as “Soul Competency.”
Since faith is personal, relational, and direct, everyone has the right to choose to follow Christ (or to choose not to). This has led to the Baptist practice of believer’s baptism as a sign or a symbol that we have chosen to believe and follow Christ.
Baptists insist on voluntary communities of faith, made up of people who have made a conscious and voluntary decision to believe in Christ and to dedicate their lives to following Him.
Church freedom is also important as it is the obligation of the local congregation to determine the will of God for their own church. No state, regional or national group has authority over a Baptist Church. Therefore, Baptist churches are free, under the Lordship of Jesus and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whoever they perceive to be gifted for ministry, and to participate as they deem appropriate within the larger Body of Christ.
Religious freedom is based on belief that God is the ultimate liberator of humanity. In both the Old and New Testaments, God worked against people or power structures that limited the freedom of His people. Jesus is our ultimate model of one who freed us from all that keeps us from fulfilling our potential under God. Therefore, God, not government, courts, or laws, is the source of our religious liberty.
Baptists have historically believed that religious liberty is best protected when church and state are institutionally separated and neither tries to perform or interfere with the essential mission and work of the other. This is evidenced by the history of Baptist in making major contributions to the recognition of religious liberty in the formative days of this country, and mainline Baptists remain defenders of the ideal of a separation between church and state. It is a distinctive Baptist contribution to religion in this country that all persons of faith, Christian or non-Christian, should be protected from government intrusion.