Note: this entry has yet to be fully expanded.
A Christian denomination
. Due to the Baptist belief in the autonomy of the local church, beliefs and practices can and do vary from church to church. Most Baptists are fundamentalists
- in the original sense of the term.
Protestant Christians who accept
the basic tenets of the 16th-century Reformation (justification by faith, the authority of the Scriptures, and the priesthood of the believer) but have added other beliefs and practices, including baptism
of believers by immersion only, the separation of church and state, and the autonomy of the local church.
Source: Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia
What Distinguishes Baptists From Other Christian Denominations?
Baptists, although a distinct denomination of Christians for four hundred years, are clearly part of the larger Christian communion. Baptists do have, however, a core group of spiritual convictions, which, if taken together, distinguishes them as a unique group.
One core Baptist conviction is the concept of a believer's church. The basis of membership in a Baptist church is a voluntary and conscious commitment to Christ as Lord. Because the church should be composed only of believers, Baptists have opposed infant baptism, affirmed baptism by immersion for believers only, and utilized evangelism energetically as a means of encouraging belief in Christ.
A second core Baptist conviction has to do with the local church. While affirming the universal Church of Christ, Baptists believe that each local church is competent under Christ to shape is own life and ministry. Therefore, Baptists believe the affairs of each local church are in the hands of that congregation, allowing no outside ecclesiastical interference, civil intervention, or clergy domination. Most Baptist churches practice two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and these are interpreted usually as symbols rather than sacraments.
Freedom of conscience is a third cardinal Baptist conviction. The promotion of "soul liberty" has meant that Baptists have been champions of religious liberty and separation of church and state.
Finally, authority in Baptist life is rooted in the Lordship of Christ as interpreted by the local congregation and manifested explicitly in Holy Scripture, especially the New Testament. Baptists generally take a non-creedal approach to scripture.
Baptists believe in a church composed only of regenerated or converted individuals, that is, persons who have had a personal experience of the Christian religion. The theological term is "a gathered church". Individuals join voluntarily following repentance for sin and affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. This is in contrast to a state church, in which all who are born within a given geographical territory and receive the sacraments automatically become members, or a church in which infants who are baptized are considered members. Baptists' conviction regarding regenerate membership, even more than their belief in believer's baptism by immersion, led to their early persecution.
The Baptist emphasis on believer's baptism, by immersion rather than by sprinkling or affusion, implies sufficient maturity to make a religious decision and is a specific rejection of infant baptism. Baptists feel that infants have no comprehension of repentance and faith; consequently, they reserve the ordinance until a time of understanding (usually early teenage years and after), when joining the church will be by personal choice and therefore more meaningful. Furthermore, Baptists believe that no biblical precedent exists for the baptism of infants. The mode of immersion is employed because it most closely follows the example of Jesus when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan and because it corresponds symbolically with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as well as with the Pauline symbolism of the "death" of the old, selfish nature and the "resurrection" of the new, unselfish individual. Baptists do not, however, consider baptism a sacrament through which special grace is received, but rather an ordinance whereby one makes public confession of a faith already received. In addition to the ordinance of baptism, Baptists also observe the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, or communion; many congregations do so on the first Sunday of each month. They interpret this as a memorial experience. See Eucharist.
The Bible, interpreted by the individual, is regarded as the ultimate religious authority in matters of faith and practice. This is in contrast to other possible authorities, such as tradition, reason, and human experience. Infrequently, Baptists have adopted creeds to give expression to their faith and to clarify their beliefs, but they have not elevated these to a place of equal or superior authority to the Scriptures. Individual biblical interpretation, in terms of theology, has resulted in a variety of Baptists.
Baptists follow the doctrine of separation of church and state , with a corresponding emphasis on religious liberty. In both England and America, Baptists were among the forerunners protesting an established church or a union between church and state. This was based on the conviction that religion is a personal relationship between the human soul and God, a relationship with which no one may interfere. Early in the 17th century, as advocates of such religious liberty, the Baptists led in the founding (in what is now Rhode Island) of the first civil government in the world to be based on a separation of church and state (see Church and State). Although Baptists have opposed an official tie between the state and any religious organization, nevertheless they feel a responsibility to exert moral and spiritual influence on the state.
Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church, which is the key unit in Baptist polity. The local church ordains and calls its own clergy and theoretically may dismiss its own clergy. No power - ecclesiastical or secular - may dictate to a local Baptist congregation. Voluntarily, however, most Baptist churches unite with other Baptist churches in associations, state conventions, national denominations, and the Baptist World Alliance for the purposes of fellowship, mutual assistance, and the support of common educational, evangelistic, and missionary goals. Baptists argue that the self-government of the local church preserves the spirit of democracy, encourages the participation of lay persons in the church, and permits a wide range of theological expression.
Baptists have never adopted a universal creed, although on occasion they have adopted confessions of faith (Philadelphia, 1742; New Hampshire, 1832). More frequently they have adhered to church covenants that are not doctrinally oriented but set forth general ethical standards by which Baptists are expected to live.
Source: Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia
Associations and Conventions
While Baptist churches are independent, they generally are part of local and/or national denominational organizations. Most are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest nationwide Baptist organization. Baptist churches also belong to local or statewide Associations and/or Conventions.
The Southern Baptist Convention began in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia for the expressed purpose of "organizing a plan for eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel…." Many other factors contributed to the formation of this new denomination, but that purpose was the focal point and continues to be the one unifying force that transcends everything else.
The Convention immediately formed a foreign missions board, now called the International Missions Board (IMB), and a home missions board, now called the North American Mission Board (NAMB), to help accomplish this task. Over the years, many other institutions and organizations have been added to this team such as six seminaries, the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU), the LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board) and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is charged with keeping Southern Baptists informed about ethical issues.
Today, there are more than 15.8 million Southern Baptists in over 40,000 churches nationwide. That makes the Southern Baptist Convention the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. In addition to that, Southern Baptists support about 9000 (5000 home and 4000 foreign) missionaries in more than 126 countries.
Before the formation of this national body, however, local groups of Baptist Churches formed what were called Associations to cooperate with one another in ministry. The first such association arose as early as 1707 in Philadelphia. Today there are more than 1200 associations of Southern Baptist churches across the United States.
Largely as a result of infighting several conventions have been formed:
Baptist churches also belong to state organizations. These operate much as the SBC does. In Texas, the group is known as the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In Louisiana, it is called the Louisiana Baptist Convention. While the state groups cooperate with the national group, they are independent of the national group, just as Baptist churches are independent despite "belonging" to these groups.
In the late 1970s a group of more-conservative Baptists decided to use political methods to gain control of the convention. Their stated goal was to gain the presidency of the SBC enough times to fill the boards and agencies with their supporters, thus controlling the convention.They achieved this and then began to consolidate that power, giving the Executive Committee more power to act on its own. While the conservatives were able to implement their plan, their views represent approximately half of the members of SBC churches. The other half felt increasingly frustrated and sought alternatives. Several groups have formed on both sides of the dispute.
On the national level, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed to provide a place for the moderates to support mission work. This organization will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2001, when its annual meeting is held in Atlanta. Many states have formed state CBF groups. The CBF has actively tried to avoid becoming a denomination or a political group.
Because some moderate Baptists wanted to take a more political role in denominational politics, groups such as Mainstream Louisiana Baptists and Texas Baptists Committed have formed. From its Web site, Texas Baptists Committed says, "TBC exists in Texas as an organized, educational effort to resist any takeover of the Baptist General Convention of Texas by those who do not adhere to our historic Baptist roots." Mainstream Louisiana Baptists on its Web site says it exists in part to "encourage the participation of laypersons and ministers from the diversity of churches associated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention, to work in behalf of representation by such diversity on the boards, committees and programs of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and to oppose attempts by any group to control the leadership of the LBC by, or limit service to, persons representing one viewpoint only."
In Texas, the state convention has remained moderate, causing many conservative churches to break away in 1998 and form a group called the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. More than 400 churches are affiliated with the new group. About 40 percent of these churches are dually aligned with the BGCT and the SBTC.
Other groups form from time to time, supporting special interests in Baptist life.
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