Baptists: The Beliefs and History of the Fifth Largest Christian Denomination
You may have heard about Baptists if you have spent just a little time researching different Christian denominations. Baptists are one of the very large Christian denominations, internationally. Here, we will talk about the beliefs of Baptists, touch on a few of the more important points of their history, as well as where you can learn more about this Christian protestant denomination.
What Do Baptists Believe?
The same thing that all Baptists believe is the tenant of believer’s baptism. Some protestant churches, as well as the Catholic Church, believe in infant baptism. Baptists, however, believe that only those that are saved should be baptized, publically, as a testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ. They also believe that this process should include complete immersion of the believer, not just a sprinkling of water. Some trace this belief back to the tale of John the Baptist in the Bible, who baptized Jesus himself through the process of immersion in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 3.
The Origins of the Baptist Church
Even the origins of the Baptist Church are hotly disputed among Baptist congregations. Some believe Baptists beliefs have always been practiced since the period of Christ’s life. However, largely, most agree that the origins of the Baptist Church can be traced back to England, specifically to the English Separatist groups in the one hundred years (17th century) after the protestant break from the Catholic Church, spearheaded by Martin Luther. John Smyth is often cited as leading the first Baptist congregation in Amsterdam. It is believed that the doctrine of even this first church was influenced by Dutch Mennonites, also known as Anabaptists.
General versus Particular
There were two groups of early Baptists, and both of these thoughts still exist in modern congregations of Baptists. Firstly, there is the group known as General Baptists, who believe that any person who is willing to believe on Jesus Christ, ask him for salvation through prayer, and then be publically baptized, will be saved. Most Baptist churches still believe in this way. Particular Baptists borrowed doctrine from John Calvin, who believed that only those chosen by God could actually be saved (a group known as the elect). This belief among Baptists is not as widespread today, although some sects, like Primitive Baptists (Hard Shell Baptists) still believe like Particular Baptists.
Where Are Baptists Located?
Baptists have churches located on every inhabited continent in the world. The largest organized body of them is located in the US, known as the Southern Baptist Convention. They are the largest Christian church in the US. The largest member numbers in the world are found in Africa in both Nigeria and the Congo, as well as in India, Brazil, and Myanmar. The number of members can differ from congregation to congregation, as well as what the congregation believes qualifies members as actual members of the church.
Autonomy among Baptist Congregations
One of the reason that beliefs are so widespread and different from Baptist congregation to Baptist congregation is because Baptists believe in autonomy for churches. This means that many of them, even if they do report to a larger convention or body, are fiercely independent. Churches are allowed to govern themselves as they see fit, appoint preachers or deacons as they see fit, and mostly believe what they would like to. Some churches reserve the ultimate autonomy by not affiliating themselves at all with a convention, set doctrine, or even a mother church. Instead, they are totally independent in their beliefs and governance.
Disagreements within the Church
Although many enjoy this autonomy within the Baptist Church, it has led to conflicts among believers. Even today, there are particular things that Baptists disagree on. This includes the origins of their church, as well as their belief or unbelief in “The Elect,” as John Calvin put it. Other disagreements within the Church include whether or not to accept homosexual members, whether or not to let women preach, how women should behave in marriage, whether or not to support missionary work, and more. They also disagree about speaking in tongues, which translation of the Bible to read from, and how to interpret scripture.
Where to Learn More
If you would like to learn more about Baptists, feel free to attend services at your local Baptist church. There, you can ask the pastor, deacons, or congregation members more about their beliefs. You may also be able to find more helpful information in books, scholarly journal articles, or specific conventions of Baptists. Anyone from the Baptist Church would be, more than likely, happy to tell you more about their beliefs. You can also find helpful articles, blog posts, and more about the history of Baptists, their beliefs, and how that these differ throughout the Baptist Church.