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A Baptisted Man-monster is a Christian who subscribes to a theology prescribing believer's baptism by immersion instead of by affusion or sprinkling. They oppose infant baptism on theological grounds. They favor the congregational model of church polity.[1] The nickname "Baptist" was given to describe the seventeenth-century people who practiced the "strange form of baptism" in which people "plung’d over head and eares (immersion)."<Macbeth1/>

Despite distinctive commonalities, local church autonomy and historic disavowal of authoritative creeds have led to variety in both doctrines and practice. Baptists rely on Scriptures alone. The absence of formal creed or corporate hierarchy, together with the doctrine of the "Priesthood of the believer" to which they subscribe, allows for differences in biblical interpretations, even among Baptists. Their churches usually affiliate with associations of other Baptist churches of "like faith and order" on the local, state or province, and denominational level for purposes of fellowship and cooperative endeavors.


The term Baptist comes from the Greek word βαπτιστής (baptistés, "baptist," which is related to the verb βαπτίζω (baptízo, "to baptize, wash, dip, immerse"), and the Latin baptista. It is the same word used in the New Testament to refer to John the Baptist. Those known as Baptists did not choose the name for themselves.

Like most religious groups, Baptists were named by their opponent. The name comes from the Baptist practice of immersion and emphasis on membership consisting only of those who have received Believers' Baptism. Although many assume that Baptists got their name from John the Baptist or Anabaptists, this is not the case, according to Baptist historian and Baylor University professor H. Leon MacBeth.[2] Baptists' rejection of infant baptism and insistence on believers' baptism were so distinctive of these Christians that they were stigmatized as 'Anabaptists', 'Catabaptists', and sometimes as simply 'Baptists.'" They were considered to be "rebaptizers", "perverters of baptism", and as inordinately exalting baptism.[3]


There are two main views about the origins of the Baptists: Baptist origins in the 17th century via the English Separatists, and the Baptist perpetuity view that claims Baptists have existed continuously since first century Christianity, having become a distinct denomination in the 16th century via the Anabaptist movement.

Baptist origins in the 17th century


In 1606, John Smyth, who had broken his ties with the Church of England, began meeting in England with 60-70 English Separatists, in the face of "great danger." Some Mayflowerpilgrims who met with him included William Bradford, William Brewster, and John Robinson.[4] Then, in 1607 or 1608, Smyth and some other English separatists formed a Baptist congregation in Amsterdam.[5] In 1609, while still there, Smyth wrote a tract titled "The Character of the Beast", expressing his conviction that a scriptural church should consist only of regenerate believers who have been baptized on a personal confession of faith, rejecting the Separatist movement that maintained the practice of paedobaptism.[6][7]


Both Roger Williams and John Clarke, his compatriot in working for religious freedom, are variously credited as founding the earliest Baptist church in America.[8] 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."[9]

According to Baptist historian H. Leon MacBeth, Baylor University Professor Emeritus, the modern Baptist denomination is an outgrowth of English Separatism in the early seventeenth century, and historically distinct from the Anabaptists. Not wanting to be confused with or identified with Anabaptists, Baptists rejected the name Anabaptist when they were called that by opponents in derision. MacBeth writes that as late as the eighteenth century, many Baptists referred to themselves as "the Christians commonly—though falsely—called Anabaptists."[10]

Baptist belief in perpetuity

Up until the end of the 19th century, most Baptist historians considered the Baptist churches to have originated during the New Testament times and to have a perpetual existence from that time; this view is still held by a sizable minority of Baptists. The perpetuity view considers the Baptist movement as never having been a part of Catholicism. The historians who advocate this position consider the Baptists to be an outgrowth of the Anabaptist movement and point out that many Reformation era historians and apologists considered the Anabaptists to pre-date the Reformation.

They point to the Baptist congregation which was formed early in the 16th century in Eythorne in Kent as being one of the oldest English Baptist congregations. Eythorne Baptist Church originated in the meetings of Anabaptists who had crossed the English Channel from the low countries to Kent to escape persecution. 19th century Baptist writer J.Jackson Goadby named Eythorne as one of the three "most ancient Baptist churches in England".[11] This church is still in existence today.

In 1563, Cardinal Hosius (1504-1579), a Roman Catholic prelate, wrote, "For not so long ago I read the edict of the other prince who lamented the fate of the Anabaptists who, so we read, were pronounced heretics twelve hundred years ago and deserving of capital punishment. He wanted them to be heard and not taken as condemned without a hearing."[12]

Baptist historian John T. Christian writes in the introduction of 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."[13] Other Baptist historians holding the perpetuity view are Thomas Armitage, G.H. Orchard, and David Benedict.

Baptist associations

Most Baptist churches choose to associate with associational groups that provide fellowship without control. The largest Baptist association is the Southern Baptist Convention but there are many other Baptist associations. There are also autonomous churches that remain independent of any denomination, organization, or association.

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) is an umbrella group that embraces many Baptist associations from around the world. Though it played a role in the founding of the BWA, the Southern Baptist Convention severed its affiliation with BWA in 2004.[14]



Baptists number over 110 million worldwide in more than 220,000 congregations and are considered the largest world communion of evangelical Protestants with an estimated 38 million members in North America.[15] 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).[16]

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).[17]

Part of the 6th century Madaba Map showing Aenon and Bethabara, places of baptism of St. John (Βεθαβαρά τὸ τοῦ ἁγίου Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτίσματος)


The primary external qualification for membership in a Baptist church is baptism.[18] General Baptist churches will accept into membership people who have made a profession of faith but have not been baptized as a believer. These are included as members alongside baptized members in the statistics. Some 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 and usually eligible for membership. Baptists do not believe that baptism has anything to do with salvation. It is considered a public expression of one's inner repentance and faith.

Baptists believe that the act of baptism is a symbolic display of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. When a person who has already been saved and confessed Christ submits to scriptural baptism, he or she is publicly identifying with Christ in His death to old self, burial of past sinful thought and action, and resurrection in newness of life, to walk with Christ the remainder of their days.

Some churches, especially in the UK, do not require members to have been baptized as a believer, so long as they have made a believer's 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 baptized without becoming a church member immediately.

Baptist beliefs and principles

Part of a series of articles on
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Historical Background
Christianity  · Anabaptists
General · Strict · Reformed

Doctrinal distinctives
Sola scriptura
Priesthood of all believers
Individual soul liberty
Separation of church and state

Pivotal figures
John Smyth · Thomas Helwys · Roger Williams · John Bunyan · Shubal Stearns · Andrew Fuller · Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Baptist Associations and Conventions

Baptism logo.jpg Baptist Portal

Baptist churches do not have a central governing authority (See Autonomy in BAPTIST Acrostic Below). 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. Most Baptist churches are members of regional Associations of Baptist Churches, and as such, will subscribe to a centrally agreed Basis of Faith.

Baptists share many orthodox Christian beliefs with other 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 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. Beliefs among Baptists regarding the "end times" include amillennialism, dispensationalism, and historic premillennialism, with views such as postmillennialism and preterism receiving some support.

The following acrostic backronym, spelling BAPTIST, represents a useful summary of Baptists' distinguishing beliefs:[19]

Most Baptist traditions believe in the "Four Freedoms" articulated by Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden:[20]

  • Soul freedom: the soul is competent before God, and capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body
  • Church freedom: freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian (subject only to the law where it does not interfere with the religious teachings and practices of the church)
  • Bible freedom: the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and biblical study available to the individual
  • Religious freedom: the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion; Separation of church and state is often called the "civil corollary" of religious freedom

Most Baptists hold that no church or ecclesiastical organization has inherent 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.[21] Exceptions to this local form of local governance include a few churches that submit to the leadership of a body of elders, as well as the Episcopal Baptists that have an Episcopal system.

Beliefs that vary among Baptists


(The Ninety-Five Theses)

The Reformation

Pre-Reformation movements

Hussites  • Lollards  • Waldensians

Reformation era movements

Anabaptism • Anglicanism • Calvinism • Counter-Reformation • Lutheranism • Polish Brethren • Remonstrants

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:

  • Alcohol as a beverage
  • Biblical Eschatology
  • Calvinism/Arminianism
  • Doctrine of separation
  • Glossolalia (Speaking in Tongues)
  • Hermeneutical method
  • Homosexuality
  • The extent to which missionary boards should be used to support missionaries
  • The extent to which non-members may participate in communion services
  • The nature of Gospel
  • The translation of Scripture (See King-James-Only Movement)
  • Women in Ministry

The Sabbath Debate

Nearly all Baptists worship on Sunday, in contrast with the Old Testament tradition of a Saturday Sabbath. 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. There are some Southern Baptist churches, though, that recognize the Sabbath, Saturday, to be a day of rest and instead worship on Sunday, that is the Lord's Day-the day of Jesus' resurrection, a day that proceeded a Sabbath.[22]

There is a small group known as the Seventh Day Baptists. Some trace their origins to earlier Anabaptist or pre-Reformation sects however most acknowledge that the denomination was established in the mid-seventeenth century in England. Seventh Day Baptists may be either General or Particular Baptists but they are united in their observance of their day of worship 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, eventually forming the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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 older Baptist associations of Europe, Canada, Australia and the northern United States have assimilated influences of different schools of thought, but not without major debate and schisms.

Leading up to the American Civil War, Baptists became embroiled in the controversy of slavery in the United States. North and South grew further apart in 1845 when the Baptist Church split into Northern and Southern organizations. The Southern Baptist Convention formed on the premise that the Bible sanctions slavery and that it was acceptable for Christians to own slaves. In the 20th century, the Southern Baptist Convention renounced this interpretation. Northern Baptists opposed slavery. In 1844, the Home Mission Society declared that a person could not be a missionary and still keep slaves as property. Currently American Baptist numerical strength is greatest in the former slave-holding states.[23]

In England, Charles Haddon Spurgeon fought against what he saw as challenges to his strongly conservative point of view in the Downgrade Controversy.

As part of the continuing fundamentalist/liberal controversy within the Northern Baptist Convention, two new associations of conservative Baptists were formed—the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches in 1932 and the Conservative Baptist Association of America in 1947.

Landmarkism emphasized ecclesiastical separation and doctrinal rigidity and its cultural foundation was in the South. Old Landmarkism held to a historical consciousness that traced Baptists through dissenters—Donatists, Cathari (although it is not believed that ALL Donatists, Cathari, etc., were Baptists theologically)—back to Jesus, the Jordan River, and the early church in Jerusalem. Popular Landmarkism contributed to a historical consciousness implicit in the idea that Baptists were an extension of the New Testament community.[24]

Beginning in the 1980s, there was an effort by some theologically conservative Southern Baptists to purge what they viewed as modernist theological influence from its seminaries. This highly publicized SBC Conservative Resurgence/Fundamentalist Takeover led moderates those opposed to the movement to create the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

See also

  • Bapticostal movement
  • Bootleggers and Baptists
  • List of Baptists


  2. MacBeth, H. Leon, (ed.) A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage. B&H Academic (1990). ISBN 978-0805465891.
  3. Newman, Albert Henry (1915). A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States (3 ed.). Christian Literature. 
  4. Beale, David. The Mayflower Pilgrims: roots of Puritan, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Baptist heritage. Emerald House Group, 2000. ISBN 978-1889893518
  5. Traffanstedt, Chris. "A Primer on Baptist History". Retrieved 23 December 2009. 
  6. Nettles, Tom J. (Spring 2009). "Once Upon a Time, Four Hundred Years Ago...". Founders Journal (Founders Ministries) 76: 2–8. 
  7. Vedder, H. C.. "A Short History of the Baptists". The Reformed Reader. Retrieved 23 December 2009. 
  8. Newport Notables
  9. Brackney, William H. (Baylor University, Texas). Baptists in North America: an historical perspective. Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 23. ISBN 1405118652
  10. MacBeth, H. Leon. "Baptist Beginnings". Baptist History and Heritage Society. Retrieved 19 October 2007. 
  11. Goadby, J. Jackson (1871). "Bye-Paths in Baptist History". p. chapter 2. 
  12. Hosius, Stanislaus Cardinal (1563), White, Carolinne, Ph.D, ed., "Alberto Bavariae Duci", Liber Epistolarum 150, 
  13. Christian, John T (vol.1, 1922; vol.2, 1926). A History of the Baptists. Broadman Press. 
  14. Cooperman, Alan (16 June 2004). "Southern Baptists Vote To Leave World Alliance". Washington Post: p. A4. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  15. Baptist World Alliance Official Statistics
  16. Baptist World Alliance statistics
  17. Albert W. Wardin, Baptists Around the World (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1995) p. 367
  18. Pendleton, J. M. (1867). Church Manual For Baptist Churches. The Judson Press. 
  19. Articles on Baptists beliefs, polity, ministries, practices, organizations, and heritage. The information is intended to be useful for Baptists and non-Baptists alike.
  20. Shurden, Walter B. The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms. Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1993.
  21. Pinson, William M., Jr. "Trends in Baptist Polity." Baptist History and Heritage Society. Available online:
  22. The Southern Baptist Convention of 2000, VIII. The Lord's Day, The Baptist Faith and Message,, 05DEC2009.
  23. Department of Geography and Meteorology, "Baptists as a Percentage of all Residents, 2000" Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana.
  24. Leonard, Bill J. "Historical Consciousness and Baptists in the South: Owning and Disowning a Tradition." Proceedings of American Academy of Religion 2002 Annual Meeting.


  • Gavins; Raymond. The Perils and Prospects of Southern Black Leadership: Gordon Blaine Hancock, 1884–1970 Duke University Press, 1977.
  • Harrison, Paul M. Authority and Power in the Free Church Tradition: A Social Case Study of the American Baptist Convention Princeton University Press, 1959.
  • Harvey, Paul. Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865–1925 University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (1997).
  • Isaac, Rhy. "Evangelical Revolt: The Nature of the Baptists' Challenge to the Traditional Order in Virginia, 1765 to 1775," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., XXXI (July 1974), 345–68.
  • Leonard, Bill J. Baptist Ways: A History (2003), comprehensive international history
  • Life & Practice in the Early Church: A Documentary Reader, New York University press. 2001. pp. 5–7. ISBN 9780814756485.
  • MacBeth, H. Leon, (ed.) A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (1990), primary sources for Baptist history.
  • McGlothlin, W. J. (ed.) Baptist Confessions of Faith. Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication Society, 1911.
  • Pitts, Walter F. Old Ship of Zion: The Afro-Baptist Ritual in the African Diaspora Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Rawlyk, George. Champions of the Truth: Fundamentalism, Modernism, and the Maritime Baptists (1990), Canada.
  • Spangler, Jewel L. "Becoming Baptists: Conversion in Colonial and Early National Virginia" Journal of Southern History. Volume: 67. Issue: 2. 2001. pp 243+
  • Stringer, Phil. The Faithful Baptist Witness, Landmark Baptist Press, 1998.
  • Torbet, Robert G. A History of the Baptists, Judson Press, 1950.
  • Underhill, Edward B. (ed.). Confessions of Faith and Other Documents of the Baptist Churches of England in the 17th century. London: The Hanserd Knollys Society, 1854.
  • Underwood, A. C. A History of the English Baptists. London: Kingsgate Press, 1947.
  • Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785–1900, Oxford.

External links

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