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Authentic Baptists

Russell Dilday, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was honored on April 25, 2003 by the online publication Baptists Today, being presented with the Judson-Rice Award for leadership and integrity. The following is excerpted from his remarks on that occasion.

We admire persons who with courage tempered by a Christ-like spirit do what they can to correctly define and defend authentic Baptist principles today. That’s what the Baptists Today organization is trying to do and all of us here are grateful.

What about "Baptists Yesterday?" No one wants to get bogged down in a nostalgic reflection that dwells in the past. But the Bible says: "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith."

We must never forget our spiritual birthright — the Baptist heritage — because our history informs us who we are. What are the distinctive historical marks of Baptists yesterday — Baptistus Authenticus?

Traditional Baptists share with most other evangelicals those core biblical beliefs of Creation, Trinitarian, Christology, Redemption, and those great Reformation doctrines Sola Scriptura and Justification by Faith. But there are other convictions that taken together are unique to true Baptists:

1. No Creed but the Bible (Some call us non-creedal but we’re not. We are one-creedal)
2. Believer’s baptism by immersion, a regenerate church membership
3. Symbolic ordinances
4. Security of the believer
5. Voluntary cooperation
6. Soul competency and the priesthood of each believer
7. Religious freedom, liberty of conscience and the separation of church & state

This individual freedom to respond to God through Christ without coercion is so central. Baptists treasure their freedom. Paul said, "I was born free." Baptists were born free too. Individual liberty of conscience is deep in the genetic DNA of Baptistus Authenticus.

E. Y. Mullins, one of Southern Baptists’ most respected theologians and a former president of Southern Seminary, was a definer and defender of traditional Baptist distinctives in the early 1900s. He named "soul competency" as the basic Baptist distinctive on which most other distinctives were grounded.

For Mullins, soul competency is not human self-sufficiency. It is the idea that every human being is free to respond to God directly through Christ without human mediators — a priest, a church, a creed, or a civil authority. It is indeed a priceless concept, distinctive to Baptist thought and practice.

Mullins strongly repudiated creedalism. "No creed can be set up as final and authoritative apart from the scriptures," he said. "For Baptists, there is one authoritative source of religious truth and knowledge. It is to that source they look to in all matters relating to doctrine, to policy, to the ordinances, to worship, and to Christian living. That source is the Bible."

But Mullins made it clear that the Bible is authoritative only because it leads persons to God through Christ. "The Scriptures do not and cannot take the place of Jesus Christ," he said. "We are not saved by belief in the Scriptures, but by a living faith in Christ. The authority of Scripture is that simply of an inspired literature which interprets a life. Christ as the Revealer of God and Redeemer of men is the seat of authority in religion and above and underneath and before the Bible. The Bible is the authoritative literature which leads us to Christ."