Baptist heritage—it’s as much a part of Maranatha as oxygen is to the air we breathe. In fact, each student who earns a four-year degree from the College takes a class covering the Baptist tenets. Dr. Saxon, church historian and Maranatha Bible professor, has taught the class every semester since the fall of 2004 (the class is also available online three times a year). According to the syllabus, the class, fittingly named Baptist Heritage, covers a study of the doctrine and history of Baptists and baptistic peoples, emphasizing the development of the Baptists and Baptist Fundamentalism over the last four hundred years.
Dr. Saxon shared, “We want students to be able to identify the distinctive Baptist doctrines and ultimately to adhere to the biblical baptistic position on the church.”
A Baptist label
“The purpose of a label is to capture a set of theological truths that are biblical,” Dr. David Saxon said as he described some of his standard opening remarks to students in Baptist Heritage at Maranatha.
The label “Baptist” has been a key part of Maranatha’s heritage for 45 years. Stated most obviously in its name, the set of principles the label represents has been securely woven into the teaching and preaching on campus since the founding of the College. The Baptist imperative first came to life with the teaching of BRAPSIS in Dr. Weeks’ Baptist Polity course and chapel messages on Matthew 16:18 from the founder, Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm.
A logical flow
Unique to Maranatha, the word BRAPSIS is a slightly modified acrostic for the Baptist distinctives developed by Dr. Richard Weeks, Maranatha’s first academic dean. While most Baptist historians have used the word BAPTIST or BAPTISTS to teach the distinctives, Dr. Weeks felt the acrostics did not reflect the logical flow of one distinctive into another.
“We do not apologize for our forefathers’ declaration of those truths which were designated Baptist distinctives and we courageously and proudly declare them now by the grace of God to the glory of God.”– Dr. Weeks
“He created a list of what he thought the key Baptist distinctives were, without trying to force them into the acrostic grid,” Dr. Saxon commented. “He also established an order to these distinctives, considering not so much that some distinctives are more important than others, but rather that some distinctives tend to flow out of other distinctives.”
“From the foundational beliefs—the Bible as the sole authority of faith and practice, and a regenerated and immersed church membership—flow the autonomy of the local church, the priesthood of the believer, and soul liberty,” Dr. Saxon explained. “In essence, these become the pillars for the two ordinances and finally, the two separations (separation of church and state and separation ethically and ecclesiastically).”
B—Bible, the sole authority of faith and practice
R—a regenerated and immersed church membership
A—the autonomy of the local church
P—the priesthood of the believer
I—immersion and the Lord’s Supper
S1—separation of church and state
S2—separation: ethically and ecclesiastically
A shared loyalty
Dr. Weeks’ BRAPSIS acrostic complemented the preaching from the chapel pulpit by Dr. Cedarholm.
“Dr. Cedarholm would tell the students, ‘Let your Bibles fall open to Matthew 16:18,’” Dr. Oats remembered. “And he would preach these messages on the local church and on the primacy of the local church,” Oats said—and students were beginning to understand.
“Because you join a certain church, that doesn’t make you a Baptist. Because you come to Maranatha, that doesn’t make you a Baptist. Coming here, I trust that you’ll learn the truths of God’s Word and history, so that you will be a Baptist by conviction and be able to go out and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Dr. Cedarholm
Pastors recounted the faithfulness of Maranatha graduates to their local Baptist churches. Their belief in the primacy of the local church, coupled with a New Testament understanding of how a church should be structured—Baptist principles—were driving their actions.
When asked, “What is a Baptist?” Maranatha Baptist Seminary Professor Dr. Fred Moritz answered, “We are folks who insist that our doctrine of the church and our church practice come from Scripture, just like any other doctrine that we embrace.”
Both he and Dr. Saxon insist that it is the collection of New Testament principles embraced by Baptists, specifically applied to the church, rather than any single belief, which set Baptists apart in church history, assertions echoed by Dr. Larry Oats.
A full understanding
“When it comes to how we live out our lives in the community of believers—the Church—that’s where there are several other pieces of theology that separate us from the rest of the world,” Oats explained.
“Yes, true Baptists are different! We are different because of certain important beliefs and certain important doctrinal emphases.” – Dr. Weeks
“Take any one of the Baptist distinctives and you will find somebody else who’s not a Baptist who believes that distinctive,” according to Oats. “But when you take all of those distinctives and put them all together and see how they are related to each other and then compare that with other denominations, Baptists are unique.”
This uniqueness in principle has marked Maranatha graduates as they have traveled all over the world to work and minister for Christ.
“Each of these teachings has just enormous ramifications for how you live your life both inside and outside the church,” Dr. Saxon noted.
As alumni plant churches in the United States, carry the gospel to mission fields around the world, teach in Christian schools, or serve in other ministries, their convictions are displayed.
A committed faculty
In a 2011 survey of Bible and Church Ministries Department alumni, over 80 percent of respondents described their continuing involvement in a Baptist church. Nearly 80 percent agreed that their Maranatha education instilled Baptist convictions that still remain. When asked how he has seen a continuing commitment to Baptist principles in the lives of students and Maranatha faculty, Dr. Fred Moritz responded, “You see what the graduates have done, and are doing.”
He added, “As I sit here and I look at this faculty with whom I am privileged to work and these men with whom I am privileged to teach, I know what their convictions are, and I know that this is the very thing that is being taught from Scripture in the classrooms here.”
“The Baptist distinctives need to be emphasized to every generation of Baptists. If these truths are not biblically grounded, they should be rejected. If they are taught in Scripture, then they should be believed, defended, and obeyed.” – Dr. Oats
Dr. Saxon called the Baptist label a directional arrow. “Baptist as part of our name is not going to change, because ‘Baptist’ describes a central commitment that we want every student to grab hold of.” For a detailed look at Maranatha’s Baptist history, read Dr. Saxon’s Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal article or his Sunesis article.
Who was Dr. Richard Weeks?
Dr. Richard Weeks, the first academic dean at Maranatha, was an avid Baptist historian. He donated his own collection of 3,000 books to help Maranatha establish its first library. Well educated, he pastored for several years in Chicago before going to Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Owatonna, Minnesota, and then to Maranatha to teach Baptist Polity and Baptist History, among other classes. Not content with the usual BAPTIST acrostic for the Baptist distinctives, he began a study of the various lists of distinctives identified by a wide variety of Baptist writers—old and new, northern and southern, American and European, and especially fundamental Baptists of the early 20th century. From this study he created a list of what he thought were the key Baptist distinctives, without trying to force them into an acrostic grid. He also established an order to these distinctives, considering not so much that some distinctives are more important than others, but rather that some distinctives tend to flow out of other distinctives. The result was BRAPSIS2.