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The Baptist Church

Baptists can trace their history as a Protestant denomination to a seventeenth-century congregation of English Puritan separatists who had taken refuge in Holland. John Smyth, a former Anglican clergyman, became convinced in 1609 that only adult believers should be baptized. He baptized himself, then a group of his followers. Although Smyth soon left his own church, Thomas Helwys led the congregation back to England, where it became the first permanent Baptist church on English soil.

About thirty years later, another Baptist group arose and split off from a Puritan Independent congregation. Unlike the first group of Baptists, which often are compared to moderate Calvinists and called, “General Baptists,” the new group was more strict in their Calvinism and were called, “Particular Baptists.” This latter group believed in baptism through immersion, a practice later followed by all Baptists.

Baptist beginnings in America date from about 1639, when Particular Baptist churches were founded in Rhode Island. The development of the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1707 furthered the church cause as the influence of this association extended from Rhode Island to South Carolina. This cause was deepened further by the Great Awakening revival during the eighteenth century. However, during this time, Baptists became less Calvinist and more evangelistic and pietistic.

Former New England Congregationalists split from their church around this time to follow Shubal Stearns to Sandy Creek, North Carolina in 1755. He had developed a following large enough to develop the Sandy Creek Association with boundaries that extended from Virginia into South Carolina within three years. The Separates, as they were known, merged with Regular or Calvinist Baptists to spread both community and religion into the west to Kentucky and beyond in 1787.

The last time that Baptists achieved any type of recognized overall national organization in the U.S. was in 1814, when the “General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions” was established. By 1845, Baptists were split over the slavery issue, and that was when the Southern Baptist Convention was developed. This organization today is comprised of over sixteen million members who worship in over 42,000 U.S. churches. While this association remains the largest Baptist group, many other Baptist associations also exist.

Represented by a wide range of practice and belief systems, the Baptist religion is represented by a small set of principles that distinguish them as one body:

1. Baptists stress the authority of the Bible, seeking to follow the New Testament as their guide in matters of faith and practice. Some members hold to the Bible as being verbally inspired by God, while others understand the Bible in the light of historical and critical study. 2. Baptists practice baptism of believers only, insisting that the one to be baptized be mature enough to understand and confess belief in salvation through personal faith in Jesus Christ. 3. Baptists believe in a “gathered” church. churches are organized congregationally, with each church independent of all others. They all affirm that Christ is the true head of each local church, which is therefore autonomous under Him; however, they also affirm the associational principle, by which the independent congregations of similar faith and order form associations and national conventions for mutual support and inspiration, for mission and evangelistic work. 4. Baptists have put considerable emphasis on the Reformation doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers.” They have provided prominent place to laymen and laywomen in the life of the church. 5. Baptists historically have believed strongly in religious liberty and in the separation of church and state. Today, however, while Baptists believe that church should be under the authority of the Bible only and resist governmental control of churches, many churches have become involved with politics through elections, holding political office and through advocacy of religious agendas.

Many followers are taught the “Baptist Acrostic Backronym” to help summarize Baptist beliefs as follows:

B – Biblical authority (Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) A – Autonomy of the local church (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 6:1-3) P – Priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5-9; 1 Timothy 5) T – Two ordinances (believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper) (Acts 2:41-47; 1 Cor. 11:23-32) I – Individual soul liberty (Romans 14:5-12) S – Separation of Church and State (Matthew 22:15-22) T – Two offices of the church (pastor-elder and deacon) (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1-2)

Want to find out more about Baptist, then visit Max Kofoed’s site on how to choose the best Church for your needs.

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