“What sort of church is Miller Avenue Baptist Church anyway?” is a question I am commonly asked. Let me try to answer this question, which is more complex than you might imagine.
One, we are located on Miller Avenue almost exactly between Tam High School and the downtown section of Mill Valley.
Two, we are Baptists, and within all that is Baptist, there are around 100 different denominations or affiliations. Baptists originated in Europe toward the ending of the sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries. For some decades prior to the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther (1517) in Germany and assisted by the printing of the Bible in languages of the people, many began to see a sharp contrast between what the dominant church taught and what the Bible actually said. Baptists then were early protestors and insisted that the Scripture taught what is called “Believer’s Baptism,” in that only those who understood Christian teaching and trusted in Jesus as Savior were to be baptized. Those Baptists, as today, did not believe the reigning Church had the authority or power to forgive sin on the basis of infant baptism or giving communion.
The early German Baptists baptized each other and suffered a great deal of persecution in Germany as a result. Many fled to England. Amongst these were George Blaurock, Conrad Grable, and Feliz Manz. In England, however, they did not fare much better, especially under “Bloody” Mary, queen of England. After the opening of America to immigration, many Baptists did so, and some of them were on board the Mayflower that docked at Plymouth.
Not being a recognized church in England, the Baptists had no charter granted to them. One of these early pioneers was Roger Williams, who was hounded from one place to another, ending up in a wilderness area that later became Providence, Rhode Island. Another group without a charter were the Jews, and they joined the early Baptists in Providence. The oldest Jewish synagogue in America was built in Providence.
Three, over time Baptists became the largest Protestant denomination, which is still the case today. Miller Avenue Church (MAC) is affiliated with two Baptist groups. Originally, we were aligned with the American Baptists, which is the oldest Baptist body in America, but added Southern Baptist, the second oldest body in America.
Baptists are self-governed; each congregation is independent. Baptists identify with all Christians of whatever branch or denomination. Baptists do not think they have all the truth and right doctrines. Probably no two Baptists agree on all points. Among Baptists are liberals and conservatives, both concerning faith doctrines and practices, and politics.
The word “Baptist” has an interesting history. When King James commissioned a new English version of the Bible in 1611, (it became the “Authorized” King James Version of the Bible), he sent a note to the translators and requested that the Greek term transliterated ekklesia (meaning gathering, or assembly, or congregation) should be translated as “church,” since their church title was Church of England. Then baptizo (meaning to dunk, immerse, plunge under, or submerge) would have to be transliterated to “baptize” rather than translated, in order to obscure its meaning. After all, the Church of England sprinkled water on the foreheads of infants to obtain the forgiveness of the condemning sin of Adam. Since Baptists do not agree with this, they full-immersion dunk those who want to follow Jesus in baptism.
What it Means: “Evangelical and Reformed”
We have a reformed theology in that we hold that no one, however righteous they may be, can earn a right relationship with God. We do not believe anyone can be awarded salvation of the basis of anything they do. Perhaps our position, which is shared with tens of millions around the world, is summed up in Romans 8:29-30:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
To explain: God chose us and not the other way around, and this was before He created the universe. Then those chosen, elected, or predestined, were called to Jesus to acknowledge Him as Lord and Messiah. This is referred to in John chapter 3 as the new birth. Then, indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, we grow up into Christ, desiring to be like Him and live for Him.