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A Baptist is a member of a Baptist church. Baptist churches are often regarded as an Evangelical Protestant denomination, though they were not necessarily started in protest to anything. Baptists emphasize a believer's baptism by full immersion, which is performed after a profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. A congregational governance system gives autonomy to individual local Baptist churches, which are sometimes associated in organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the late 1990s, there were about 43 million Baptists worldwide, 33 million of them living in the United States. Other large populations of Baptists exist in Africa, especially in Nigeria, Ghana and in Sierra Leone.

Beliefs Edit

Baptist churches do not have a central governing authority, resulting in the wide range of beliefs from one Baptist church to another. Baptist distinctives are beliefs that are common among Baptist churches, some of which are also shared with many other post-reformational denominations. Some historically significant Baptist doctrinal documents include the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, the 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, and the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message, which are often used as the "official" doctrinal statements of individual local Baptist churches or the starting point for an official statement.

See also : List of Baptist Confessions or Doctrinal Statements

The following acrostic backronym, spelling BAPTIST, is used by some Baptist churches as a summary of Baptists' distinguishing beliefs:

  • Biblical authority
  • Autonomy of the local church
  • Priesthood of all believers
  • Two ordinances (baptism and communion)
  • Individual soul liberty
  • Separation of Church and State
  • Two offices of the church (pastor and deacon)

Biblical authority Edit

Authority of the Scriptures or sola scriptura states that the Bible is the only authoritative source of God's truth in contrast to the role of Apostolic tradition in the Roman Catholic Church, or personal revelation in charismatic circles. Any view that cannot be directly tied to a scriptural reference is generally considered to be based on human traditions rather than God's leading, and though they may be accurate, such views are never to be elevated to or above the authority of Scripture. Each person is responsible before God for his or her own understanding of the Bible and is encouraged to work out their own salvation as stated in Philipians 2:12[1].

Biblical inerrancy is also a common position held by fundamentalist Baptists in addition to contextually literal interpretations of the Bible and other fundamentalist theologies. However, because of the variety allowed under congregational governance, many Baptist churches are neither literalist nor fundamentalist, although most do believe in biblical authority. Most moderate or non-fundamentalist Baptists prefer the term inspired or God-breathed rather than inerrant to describe scripture, referring to the term Paul uses in 2 Timothy 3:16.

Baptists generally consider historic Christian creeds to be on lower footing in comparison to Scripture even though they may in essence agree with them. However, a group or local church may have a general "Statement of Faith" such as the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists also cite other works as illustrative of doctrine. One work which is commonly read by Baptists is the allegory Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.

Autonomy of the local church (Congregationalism) Edit

Calvary baptist church lex ky

Calvary Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky

Congregationalist church governance gives autonomy to individual local churches in areas of policy, polity and doctrine. Baptist churches are not under the direct administrative control of any other body, such as a national council, or a leader such as a bishop or pope. Administration, leadership and doctrine are usually decided democratically by the lay members of each individual church, which accounts for the variation of beliefs from one Baptist church to another.

Exceptions are some Reformed Baptists, who are organized in a Presbyterian system, the Congolese Episcopal Baptists that has an Episcopal system, and some Baptist megachurches who lean towards a strong clergy-led style, in some instances abandoning congregational governance altogether.

In a manner typical of other congregationalists, many cooperative associations or conventions of Baptists have arisen. These associations were formed for missionary and other charitable work and have no authority over the operations of individual local churches. Local churches decide at what level they will participate in these associations. The largest association in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention. The second largest is the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., which is also America's largest predominantly African-American denomination. There are hundreds of Baptist conventions and many Independent Baptist churches do not fall into any of them, believing such associations to be unscriptural. In addition, there are sometimes very strong disputes within conventions which are often divided between Christian fundamentalists and moderates.

Priesthood of all believers Edit

The doctrine of "priesthood of all believers" states that every Christian has direct access to God and the truths found in the Bible, without the help of an aristocracy or hierarchy of priests. This doctrine is based on the passage found in 1 Peter 2:9 and was popularized by Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation and John Wycliff's Lollards before Luther.

Baptists are encouraged to discuss scriptural issues with their minister and other Christians when appropriate. Ultimately the individual Christian is responsible for understanding the Bible and its application to the individual. The Baptist position of the priesthood of all believers is one column that upholds their belief in religious liberty.

Two ordinances (Baptism and Communion) Edit

Generally, Baptist churches recognize only two ordinances that are to be performed on a regular basis by churches: baptism and communion. Some churches, including Primitive Baptists and some Free Will Baptists, also practice foot washing as a third ordinance.

Believer's baptism Edit

Baptism, commonly referred to as believer's baptism, is an ordinance that according to Baptist doctrine plays no role in salvation, being properly performed only after salvation, and is performed after a person professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is an outward expression that is symbolic of the inward cleansing or remission of their sins that has already taken place. It is also a public identification of that person with Christianity and with that particular local church. Most Baptist churches consider baptism by full immersion, subsequent to salvation, a criterion for membership.

Through Anabaptist influence, Baptists reject the practice of pedobaptism or infant baptism because they believe parents cannot make a decision of salvation for an infant. Related to this doctrine is the disputed concept of an "age of accountability" when God determines that a mentally capable person is accountable for their sins and eligible for baptism. This is not necessarily a specific age, but is based on whether or not the person is mentally capable of knowing right from wrong. Thus, a person with severe mental retardation may never reach this age, and therefore would not be held accountable for sins. The book of Isaiah mentions an age at which a child "shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good" but does not specify what that age is.

Baptists emphasize baptism by full immersion, the mode presumed to have been used by John the Baptist. This consists of lowering the candidate in water backwards while the baptizer (a pastor or any baptised believer) invokes the Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28:19 or other words concerning a profession of faith. This mode is also preferred for its parallel imagery to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Recognition of baptisms by other modes and Christian groups vary. Many Baptist churches only recognize baptism by full immersion as being valid, while a few will baptise by sprinkling as a practical alternative for the disabled or elderly or in times of drought. Some Baptist churches will recognize adult baptisms performed in other orthodox Christian churches, while others only recognize baptisms performed in Baptist churches. In rare instances, a church may recognize only its own baptisms as valid.

Communion Edit

Communion, which is alternatively called "The Lord's Supper", is an ordinance patterned after the Last Supper recorded in the Gospels in which Jesus says to "this do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). Participants communally eat the bread and drink the cup that are representative of the body and blood of Jesus. Baptists emphasize that the remembrance is symbolic of Christ's body and reject literal views of communion such as transubstantiation and consubstantiation held by other Christian groups based on their interpretation of John 6. The passage 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 is also commonly cited as instructional for the practice of Communion. Many Baptists avoid referring to this ordinance as Communion due to its prominent use by the Roman Catholic Church and instead use the alternative name "The Lord's Supper".

The bread used in the service may be cubes of unleavened bread, wafers or small crackers, generally of an unleavened variety which is thought to be the type used at the Last Supper. The general Baptist embracing of the Temperance movement, prohibition, and teetotalism in the U.S. led to the practice of using non-alcoholic grape juice for the cup but some Baptists do use wine. The grape juice is typically served in small individual glasses, though some churches use one large cup for the entire congregation. Many church buildings are equipped with round receptacles on the rear of the pews for depositing the empty glasses after the service. Both elements of the bread and the cup are usually served by the pastor to the deacons, and by the deacons to the congregation. A deacon will serve the pastor. The general practice is for the elements to be taken by the congregation as a whole as a symbol of unity, first the bread and then the cup separately, although sometimes both elements are taken together.

Communion services may be held weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even annually. It usually takes place at the end of a normal service, but may take place at any time during the service. Participation may be either "closed" where only members of that church can participate, "cracked" where members of other Baptist churches may participate, but not of other denominations, or "open" where anyone professing to be a Christian may participate.

Individual soul liberty Edit

The basic concept of individual soul liberty is that, in matters of religion, each person has the liberty to choose what his/her conscience or soul dictates is right, and is responsible to no one but God for the decision that is made. A person may then choose to be a Baptist, a member of another Christian denomination, an adherent to another world religion, or to choose no religious belief system, and neither the church, nor the government, nor family or friends may either make the decision or compel the person to choose otherwise. And, a person may change his/her mind over time.

Separation of church and state Edit

Main article: Baptists in the history of separation of church and state

Baptists who were imprisoned or died for their beliefs have played an important role in the historical struggle for freedom of religion and separation of church and state in England, the United States, and other countries. In 1612 John Smyth wrote, "the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience". That same year, Thomas Helwys wrote that the King of England could "command what of man he will, and we are to obey it," but, concerning the church, "with this Kingdom, our lord the King hath nothing to do." In 1614, Leonard Busher wrote what is believed to be the earliest Baptist treatise dealing exclusively with the subject of religious liberty. Baptists were influential in the formation of the first civil government based on the separation of church and state in what is now Rhode Island. Anabaptists and Quakers also share a strong history in the development of separation of church and state.

The original objection was opposition of the monarchy or government setting religious agenda for churches or a "National Church" and did not imply a retreat by Christians from the political realm or involvement in the political process. Modern debates about church and state separation involve disagreements about the extent to which Christian groups are able to, or should, set the legal and moral agenda for the government, and conversely whether government is preventing Christians and Christian groups from equal access to public forums.

Currently in the United States, Baptist involvement in politics often involves controversies concerning gambling, alcohol, abortion, same-sex marriage, the teaching of evolution, and state-sanctioned public prayer in public high schools. In parts of the Southern United States Baptists form a majority of the population and have successfully banned alcohol sales and prevented the legalization of certain kinds of gambling.

Two offices (Pastor and Deacon) Edit

Generally Baptists only recognize two Scriptural offices, those of pastor and deacon. The office of elder, common in some evangelical churches, is usually considered by Baptists to be the same as that of pastor, and not a separate office. The office of overseer or bishop is always considered to be the same as that of pastor or presbyter.

The prevalent view among Baptists is that these offices are limited to men only, following the model of Christ and His apostles and interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12-14. However, the issue of women pastors/deacons has surfaced as controversy in some churches and denominations.

Pastor Edit

In the Baptist Church, the primary role of the pastor is to deliver the weekly sermon.

In smaller churches, the pastor will often visit homes and hospitals to call on ill members, as well as homes of prospective members (especially those who have not professed faith). The pastor will also perform weddings and funerals for members, and at business meetings serve as the moderator. The pastor may also be required to find outside work to supplement his income.

Larger churches will usually have one or more "associate" pastors, each with a specific area of responsibility, whereby the overall pastor is considered the "senior" pastor. Some examples are:

  • music (the most common)
  • youth (in smaller churches, often combined with music)
  • children
  • administration (in the larger churches)

In the majority of instances, the pastor will be married with children. Associate pastors may or may not be married, but if not married, they may find it difficult to be considered for a senior pastor position.

Some Baptists, especially Reformed Baptists, believe in a plurality of elders. In that case usually only full-time paid elders will be called Pastor, while part-time volunteer pastors are more often called Elder, but these are regarded as the same office.

Deacon Edit

The main role of the deacon is to assist the pastor with members' needs. Deacons also assist during communion. However, in many more modern Baptist churches, deacons have become administrators or governing body of the church. In many churches, the pastor takes on the role of spiritual leadership, while a deacon serves as moderator of board meetings. Deacons are usually chosen from members who have demonstrated exceptional Christian piety (see 1 Timothy 3:8-12), and serve without pay.

A common practice is for each family to be assigned a specific deacon, to be the primary point of contact whenever a need arises. Some larger megachurches which use cell groups have the cell group leaders serve the role of deacon.

Justification by faith Edit

Justification by faith alone (sola fide) states that it is by grace through faith alone that Christians receive salvation and not through any works of their own (see Ephesians 2:8). Baptists have a strong emphasis on the concept of salvation. Baptist theology teaches that the consequence of human sin (lying, stealing, adultery, etc., see also Ten Commandments) is condemnation to eternal death in hell. Christ's death on the cross paid sin's penalty and his resurrection is evidence that eternal life is available to any who will have it. The only requirements being that each individual willfully repents of sin, accepts the substitutionary payment of his own sin by faith in Christ's death and declares that Jesus is Lord (see John 3:14-18 and Acts 10:34-43). Nevertheless, the Baptist view of soteriology runs the gamut from Calvinism to Arminianism.

Beliefs that vary among Baptists Edit

Because of the congregational style of church governance on doctrine, doctrine on the following issues often varies greatly between one Baptist church and another.

Baptists generally believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ at which time God will sit in judgment and divide humanity between the saved and the lost (the Great White Throne judgment Book of Revelation 20:11) and Christ will sit in judgment of the believers (the Judgment Seat of Christ Second Epistle to the Corinthians 5:10), rewarding them for things done while alive. Amillennialism, dispensationalism, and historic premillennialism stand as the main eschatological views of Baptists, with views such as postmillennialism and preterism receiving only scant support.

Comparisons with other denominations Edit

Baptists share certain emphasis with other groups such as evangelism and missions. While the general flavor of any denomination changes from city to city, this aspect of Baptist churches is much more prominent than in most Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches.

The Pacifism of the Anabaptists and the Quakers is not an ideal held by most Baptists. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America was organized in 1984 to promote peace, justice, and non-violence, but it does not speak for all Baptists that accept the ideal of pacifism.

In Australia, the Baptist Union is very close to the Campbell-Stone Church of Christ. The two groups share similar theology, even sharing a Bible college.

Worship style Edit

The focus of Baptist church services is the sermon. This can be seen in traditional Baptist church architecture. The pulpit representative of the proclamation of the Word of God, is the largest piece of furniture and centered on the platform, while the communion table placed below it in a symbolically "subservient" position. This is in sharp contrast to Roman Catholic layout which places the communion table at the center of the platform, since communion is the focus of the Mass, while the pulpit is off to one side.

Sermons often range in time from twenty to sixty minutes. They range in style from expository sermons that focus on one biblical passage and interpret its meaning, to topical sermons which address an issue of concern and investigate several biblical passages related to that topic. Sermons often vary in solemnity.

The sermon is often surrounded by periods of musical worship lead by a song leader, choir, or band. Musical style varies between hymns and contemporary Christian music with many churches choosing a blend of the two. The choice in music style is often correlated to the predominant age of the members, with older congregations preferring traditional hymns played with piano and/or organ and featuring a choir. Younger congregations prefer contemporary music with modern instruments and no choir. Larger churches may have a full orchestra along with the choir. Some fundamentalist Baptists will only sing hymns found in their hymnals written between the 1700s and the 1950s and generally oppose the use of drums and/or electric guitar in their services because they associate those instruments with rock music.

Other common features in a Baptist church service include the collection of an offering, an altar call, a period of announcements, and Communion. Most Baptist congregations are small in number with membership under 200 people while other congregations are megachurches with membership in the tens of thousands.

Origins Edit

There are several views about the origins of Baptists within the Baptist church.

Separatist Edit

This view suggests that Baptists were originally separatists in the Puritan reaction to perceived corruptions in the Church of England in the 1600s. In 1609, John Smyth led a group of separatists to the Netherlands to start the General Baptist church with an Arminian theology. In 1616, Henry Jacob led a group of Puritans in England with a Calvinist theology to form a congregational church that would eventually become the Particular Baptists in 1638 under John Spilsbury. Both groups had members who sailed to America as pilgrims to avoid religious persecution in England and Europe and who started Baptist churches in the early colonies. The Particular and General Baptists would disagree over Arminianism and Calvinism until the formation of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in the 1800s under Andrew Fuller and William Carey for the purpose of missions. American Baptists soon followed suit.

This is the most common view held by modern Baptists, which is found represented in the works of H. Leon McBeth and many others.

Landmarkist Edit

Landmarkism is the belief that Baptist churches and traditions have preceded the Catholic Church and have been around since the time of John the Baptist and Christ. Proponents believe that Baptist traditions have been passed down through a succession of visible congregations of Christians that were Baptist in doctrine and practice, but not necessarily in name. This view is theologically based on Matthew 16:18 , "...and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." and a rejection of Catholicism as part of the historical origins of Baptists.

This lineage grants Baptist churches the status of being unstained and separate from what they see as the corruptions of Catholicism and other denominations. It also allows for the view that Baptists predate the Catholic church and is therefore not part of the Reformation or the Protestant movement. Alexander Campbell of the Restoration Movement was a strong promoter of this idea.

J. M. Carroll's The Trail of Blood, written in 1931, is commonly presented to defend this origin's view. Several groups considered to be part of this Baptist succession were groups persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church throughout history including Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, Paulicians, Albigensians, Catharists, Waldenses, and Anabaptists. While some of these groups shared a few theological positions with current Baptists, many held positions that would now be considered heretical by current Baptists. It is also difficult to show historical connections between those groups which were often separated by large gaps in geography and time.

The works of John T. Christian offer the best presentation of this viewpoint.

Anabaptist Edit

Anabaptists (Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites) were a group in the 1500s that rejected infant baptism and "rebaptized" members as adults. They share many teachings of the early Baptists, such as the believer's baptism and religious freedom and were probably influential in the development of many Baptist characteristics. While their names suggest some connection, some Anabaptists differed from the Baptists on many other issues such as pacifism and the communal sharing of material goods.

It is difficult to say how much influence the Anabaptists had on the actual formation of Baptist churches. One of the strongest relationships between the two groups happened when John Smyth's General Baptists attempted but failed to merge with the Mennonites.

The works of William Roscoe Estep offer the best presentation of this viewpoint.

The name "Baptist" Edit

Baptist comes from the Greek word βαπτιστής (baptistés, "baptist", used to describe John the Baptist), which is related to the verb βαπτίζω (baptízo, "to baptize, wash, dip, immerse"), and the Latin baptista, and is in direct connection to "the baptizer", John the Baptist.

As a first name it is used in Europe from the twelfth century also as Baptiste, Jan-Baptiste, Jean-Baptiste, John-Baptist. In the Netherlands as of the seventeenth century, but mainly as of the eighteenth century as a combination like Jan Baptist or Johannes Baptist. As last name it is used as of the thirteenth century. Also commonly used as Baptiste, Baptista, Batiste, Battista.

Questions of labeling Edit

Some Baptists object to the application of the labels Protestant, denomination, Evangelical and even Baptist to themselves or their churches, while others accept those labels.

Those who reject the label Baptist prefer to be labeled as Christians who attend Baptist churches. Also, a recent trend is to eliminate the name "Baptist" from the church name, as it is perceived to be a "barrier" to reaching persons of no church background who have negative views of Baptists. Conversely, others accept the label Baptist because they identify with the distinctives they consider to be uniquely Baptist, and believe those who are removing the name "Baptist" from their churches are "compromising with the world" in order to attract more members.

The name Protestant is rejected by some Baptists because some Baptists believe they do not have a direct connection to Luther, Calvin or the Roman Catholic Church. They do not feel that they are protesting anything. Landmark Baptists believe they actually pre-date the Roman Catholic Church. Other Baptists accept the Protestant label as a demographic concept that describes churches who share similar theologies of sola scriptura, sola fide, the priesthood of all believers and other positions that Luther, Calvin and traditional reformers held in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s.

The label denomination is rejected by some because of the local autonomous governance system used by Baptist churches. Being a denomination is viewed as having a hierarchy that substitutes for the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Another reason for the rejection of the label is the influence of the Restoration period on Baptist churches, which emphasized a tearing down of denominational barriers. Other Baptists accept the label, feeling that it does not carry a negative connotation but rather is merely a synonym for a Christian or religious group with common beliefs, organized in a cooperative manner to spread its beliefs worldwide.

The label Evangelical is rejected by some fundamentalist Baptists who consider the term to describe a theological position that is not fundamentalist enough. It is rejected by some liberal Baptists who consider the term to describe a theological position that is too conservative. It is accepted by moderate Baptists who identify with the revival in the United States in the 1700s known as the First Great Awakening. Conversely, Evangelicals reject the label fundamentalist, believing it to describe a theological position that they consider too extreme and legalistic.

See also Edit

External links Edit

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