Baptist is a term describing individuals belonging to a Baptist church or a Baptist denomination. The name is derived from a conviction that followers of Jesus Christ are commanded to be immersed in water as a public display of their faith, and thus most adherents reject infant baptism. While the term "Baptist" has its origins with the Anabaptists, and was sometimes viewed as pejorative, the denomination itself is historically linked to the English Separatist movement of the 16th century.
Baptists are typically considered Protestants. Some Baptists reject that association (see Origins and Questions of labeling subsections below). Most Baptist churches choose to associate with denominational groups that provide support without control. Examples of such denominations are the Southern Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention USA, Conservative Baptist Association of America, American Baptist Churches USA, American Baptist Association (Landmark Baptists), among others.
Both Roger Williams and his compatriot in working for religious freedom, Dr. John Clarke, are variously credited as founding the earliest Baptist church in America. In 1639, Williams established a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island, and Clarke began a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island. According to a Baptist historian who has researched the matter extensively, "There is much debate over the centuries as to whether the Providence or Newport church deserved the place of 'first' Baptist congregation in America. Exact records for both congregations are lacking."
The Baptists number over 110 million worldwide in more than 170,000 congregations, and considered the largest world communion of evangelical Protestants, with an estimated 22 million members in the North America. Other large populations of Baptists also exist in Asia, Africa and Latin America, notably in India (2.4 million)Nigeria (2.5 million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (1.9 million) and Brazil (1.7 million).
According to a poll in the 1990s, about one in five Christians in the United States claims to be a Baptist. U.S. Baptists are represented in more than fifty separate groups. Ninety-two percent of Baptists are found in five of those bodies—the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC); National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.; (NBCA); American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABC); and Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI).
Only those people who are baptized members of a local Baptist church are included in the total number of Baptists. Most Baptist churches do not have an age restriction on membership, but will not accept as a member a child who is considered too young to fully understand and make a profession of faith of their own volition and comprehension. In such cases, the pastor and parents usually meet together with the child to verify the child's comprehension of the decision to follow Jesus. There are instances where persons make a profession of faith but fail to follow through with believers' baptism. In such cases they are considered "saved" but not church members until baptized. If children and unbaptized congregants were counted, world Baptists might number over 150 million.
Some churches, especially in the UK, do not require members to have been baptised as a believer, as long as they have made an adult declaration of faith - for example, been confirmed in the Anglican church, or become communicant members as Presbyterians. In these cases, believers would usually transfer their memberships from their previous churches. This allows people who have grown up in one tradition, but now feel settled in their local Baptist church, to fully take part in the day to day life of the church, voting at meetings, etc. It is also possible, but unusual, to be baptised without becoming a church member immediately.
Baptist beliefs and principles
Baptist churches do not have a central governing authority. Therefore, beliefs are not totally consistent from one Baptist church to another, especially beliefs that may be considered minor. However, on major theological issues, Baptist distinctive beliefs are held in common among almost all Baptist churches.
Baptists share so-called "orthodox" Christian beliefs with most other moderate or conservative Christian denominations. These would include beliefs about one God; the virgin birth; miracles; atonement through the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus; the Trinity (the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, together with God the Father); the need for salvation (through belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God, his death and resurrection, and confession of Christ as Lord); grace; the Kingdom of God; last things (Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth, the dead will be raised, and Christ will judge everyone in righteousness); and evangelism and missions. Some historically significant Baptist doctrinal documents include the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1742 Philadelphia Baptist Confession, the 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message, and written church "covenants" which some individual Baptist churches adopt as a statement of their faith and beliefs.
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 Revelation 20:11) and Christ will sit in judgment of the believers (the Judgment Seat of Christ 2 Corinthians), rewarding them for things done while alive. Beliefs among Baptists regarding the "end times" include amillennialism, dispensationalism, and historic premillennialism, with views such as postmillennialism and preterism receiving some support.
Most Baptist traditions believe in the "Four Freedoms" articulated by Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden
The polity of autonomy is closely related to the polity of congregational governance. Just as each Baptist priest with soul competency is equal to all other Baptists in a church, so each church is equal to every other church. No church or ecclesiastical organization has authority over a Baptist church. Churches can properly relate to each other under this polity only through voluntary cooperation, never by any sort of coercion. Furthermore, this Baptist polity calls for freedom from governmental control.
Beliefs that vary among Baptists
Because of the importance of the priesthood of every believer, the centrality of the freedom of conscience and thought in Baptist theology, and due to the congregational style of church governance, doctrine varies greatly between one Baptist church and another (and among individual Baptists) especially on the following issues:
The Sabbath Debate
As would be expected amongst any people who hold to freedom of conscience, there have historically been a small number of Baptists who have held to some form of Sabbatarian doctrine.
A majority of Baptists believe that the Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday. Most Baptists who attend worship services on Sunday do so in memory of Christ's resurrection or due to some form of "eighth day" theology.
There is a small but influential group known as the Seventh Day Baptists. Some attempt to trace their origins to earlier Anabaptist or pre-Reformation sects however most acknowledge that the denomination was established in the early seventeenth century in England. Seventh Day Baptists may be either General or Particular Baptists but they are united in their observance of the Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Although the degree to which they observe the Sabbath varies from person to person, from congregation to congregation, there is a consensus within their circles that none should judge the spirituality of another's personal practices.
In the mid-nineteenth century a Seventh Day Baptist tract eventually led to a large portion of the Adventist movement to adopt Sabbatarian teachings.
Theological, cultural and political controversies
As with all major denominational groups, Baptists have not escaped theological, cultural and political controversy. Baptists have historically been sensitive to the introduction of theological error (from their perspective) into their groups.
The focus of Baptist church worship services is the proclamation of the Word of God through the weekly sermon. Printed Orders of Service often are distributed to worshipers at Sunday morning services, especially in larger congregations. Contemporary services are less likely to have printed bulletins that outline the service.
The worship service generally consists of a sermon preceded by a time of worship through singing. Prayers are offered intermittently throughout the service and an offering is usually taken sometime during the service. An "invitation" is usually offered after the sermon to allow public response to the message by confession of faith, request for baptism or church membership, or the expression of an intention to walk more closely with the Lord. The music in Baptist churches varies from traditional hymns, to southern gospel, to the more contemporary modern worship styles.
Baptist churches are careful to emphasize that worship is not limited to the Sunday gathering, but is a lifestyle of love and service to Christ and dedication to God's truth as revealed in the Scriptures. Most Baptist churches expect the members to carry the message of the gospel into the world among their family and friends.
There are two main views about the origins of the Baptists: Baptist Perpetuity and Baptist Origins in the 17th century.
Viewpoint: Baptist origins in the 17th century
According to Baptist historian H. Leon McBeth, Baptists, as a distinct denomination, originated in England in a time of intense religious reform. McBeth writes, “Our best historical evidence says that Baptists came into existence in England in the early seventeenth century. They apparently emerged out of the Puritan-Separatist movement in the Church of England.”
Some see the Baptists as the descendants of the 16th century Anabaptists (which some view as a product of the Protestant Reformation and others view as a continuation of the older pre-Reformation non-Catholic churches) and others see them as a separation from the Church of England in the 1600s.
Viewpoint: Baptist perpetuity
The Baptist perpetuity view (also known as Baptist succession) holds that the church founded by Christ in Jerusalem was Baptist in character and that like churches have had perpetual existence from the days of Christ to the present. This view is theologically based on Matthew 16:18 (See English (Authorized Version) and Greek (textus receptus) translation thereof, in this passage Jesus is speaking to Petros translated Peter, meaning "rock") "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.," as well as Jesus' commission and promise to be with His followers as they carried on his ministry, "even unto the end of the world."
The popular, though originally Catholic view of Jesus building his church upon Peter rather than himself, is rejected by Baptists for the simple fact that the Catholic interpretation of this scripture points to Peter being the first Pope. The other interpretation true to Baptists of the scripture states that Jesus was saying that Peter was similar to Christ in character, hence the play on words with "Petros", a proper noun, and "petra", not a proper noun, meaning rock. [[Authorized Version]]
The Baptist perpetuity view sees Baptists as separate from Catholicism and other religious denominations and considers that the Baptist movement predates the Catholic church and is therefore not part of the Protestant Reformation.
Baptist historian John T. Christian states the Baptist perpetuity view in the introduction to his "History of the Baptists": "I have throughout pursued the scientific method of investigation, and I have let the facts speak for themselves. I have no question in my own mind that there has been a historical succession of Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time."
Those holding the perpetuity view of Baptist history can be basically divided into two categories: those who hold that there is a direct succession from one church to the next (most commonly identified with Landmarkism), and those who hold that while the Baptist practices and churches continued, they may have originated independently of any previously existing church.
J. M. Carroll's The Trail of Blood booklet, written in 1931, has been a popular writing presenting the successionist view, pointing to groups such as the Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, Paulicians, Albigensians, Catharists, Waldenses, and Anabaptists, as predecessors to contemporary Baptists.John T. Christian published a more scholarly history of the Baptists from a perpetuity perspective Other Baptist historians holding the perpetuity view are Thomas Armitage, G.H. Orchard, and David Benedict.
However, there can be no doubt that the early English Baptist movement found some its theological influences from the earlier "Frei Kirche" movement as embodied in the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, an early Anabaptist theologian, who was martyred for his beliefs on the rite of baptism in the early days of the Protestant Reformation (Believer's Baptism, Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, 2007, pages 189-206). No doubt, the various beliefs of Baptists can be "discovered" through independent study; however, church history does not seem to support the notion that movements began ad hoc or in a vacuum. While the Southern Baptist Convention's stand (as articulated by McBeth) is that the modern Baptist movement is apart of the larger Protestant movement, that does not automatically delete the earlier influences of others who published and advocated some or all of the distinctive views that identify modern Baptists.
The larger Baptist movement is in the larger context of theological movements of dissent since the offical birth of the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Nicea. It must be remembered that even Martin Luther acknowledged the existance of "baptizers" long before his nailing of the 95 Theses at Wittenburg. While there is no direct evidence to support "Landmarkism, Successionism" in church history, the modern Baptist movment owes its theological heritage to those who were branded as "heretics" by the Roman Catholics for their stand on the Bible, Salvation, the nature and practice of baptism and communion, etc, as outlined in their detailed anals of their refutations of dissenters.
Etymology of "Baptist"
Baptist comes from the Greek word βαπτιστής (baptistés, "baptist," also 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 has been used in Europe from the twelfth century also as Baptiste, Jan-Baptiste, Jean-Baptiste, John-Baptist; and in the Netherlands at least since the seventeenth century, often in combinations like Jan Baptist or Johannes Baptist. As a last name it has been used since the thirteenth century. Other variations also commonly used are Baptiste, Baptista, Battiste, Battista. The Anabaptists in England were called Baptists as early as 1569.
Questions of labeling
Some who reject the label Baptist prefer to be labeled as Christians who attend Baptist churches. Also, a recent trend (most common among mega churches and those embracing the "seeker movement") is to eliminate "Baptist" from the church name, as it is perceived to be a "barrier" to reaching persons who have negative views of Baptists, whether they be of a different church background or none. These churches typically include the word "Community" or other non-religious or denominational terms in their church name.
Conversely, others accept the label Baptist because they identify with the distinctives they consider to be uniquely Baptist. They believe those who are removing the name "Baptist" from their churches are "compromising with the world" to attract more members. However, there are other church groups that hold to the beliefs listed above, that have never been known by the label Baptist, and also believe that these beliefs are not exclusive to the Baptist denomination.
The label Protestant is rejected by some Baptists (primarily those in the Landmark movement) because in their view Baptists have existed separately since the early church days. Those holding this view maintain that Baptists have never been a part of the Roman Catholic Church, and as such are not "protesting" against Catholicism. Further, they point out that Baptists have no direct connection to any of the Reformationists like Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli. 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 other 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 by them as having a hierarchy that substitutes for 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 in their view is not fundamentalist enough, and conversely is also rejected by some liberal Baptists who consider the term to describe a theological position that in their view 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, some Evangelicals reject the label fundamentalist, believing it to describe a theological position that they consider too extreme and legalistic.
Baptists by country
Main article: Baptist Union of Australia
Main article: Baptists in Canada
There are several major groupings of Baptists in Canada.
Main article: Baptist Union of New Zealand
Main article: Baptist Union of Romania
Main article: Baptist Union of Sweden
Main article: Baptists in the United States
The largest national community of Baptists worldwide is that of the United States, with 38.8 million members. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the USA. Although Baptist churches are located throughout the USA, the great majority of Baptists live in the Southern United States, and the Baptist faith has historically exerted a powerful influence in that region of the country.
Major Baptist organizations in the United States include: