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Baptist theology includes many basic beliefs shared by the majority of Christian groups worldwide, such as the lordship of Jesus of Nazareth; his birth, death, and resurrection; and that he will return someday to judge the world. Other beliefs, more specific to the Baptist church include believer’s baptism, salvation by grace through faith, the priesthood of all believers, and autonomy of churches. Since the Baptist church has no governing body or church hierarchy, these beliefs can vary greatly from church to church.
While many members claim that the Baptist church has been around since biblical times, others claim they are a Protestant group, split from the Anabaptists or the Separatists sometime in the 15th century. Either way, Baptist churches were spread across both Europe and colonial America by 1700. Since that time, Baptist theology has split in many directions resulting in groups such as United Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Southern Baptists, and many more.
The Baptists receive their name from one of their most basic beliefs, known as believer’s baptism. Rather than baptizing infants born to church members, churches offer baptism to anyone who believes and confesses that Jesus is Lord. In addition, baptism is done by immersion, rather than sprinkling water on top of the head.
Another aspect of Baptist theology is known as salvation by grace through faith. This means that all humans have sinned and are in need of salvation, but cannot do anything to save themselves. Instead, God saves people through his grace, so long as they have faith in him.
Baptist theology also includes a concept called the priesthood of believers. The Bible is considered the only spiritual authority, and anyone may read the Bible or pray without a priest, preacher, or pastor to help. While pastors and deacons are greatly respected, members are encouraged to study the Bible to see if the pastor’s lesson agrees with the Scriptures.
As a result of the priesthood of believers, Baptist churches are autonomous. There is no church hierarchy that determines how things are to be done; instead, most Baptist churches are governed primarily by a body of elected deacons or by church-wide votes. This localized decision making results in different beliefs and practices at various Baptist churches.
Nevertheless, many churches join together for fellowship and missionary efforts in groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the World Baptist Alliance. Although these groups have no authority over any congregation, the churches within a group tend to be similar. Therefore, churches are often identified by their convention or association.
It has been a very long time since I heard the line about the Baptist faith being around since Biblical times. There was a time when Baptists were so eager to disassociate themselves from the Catholic Church that they wouldn't even admit to being part of a Christian faith that broke off during the Reformation.
Baptists are protestants, pure and simple. Embracing that fact also means embracing the impact that Reformation leaders such as John Calvin have had on the development of Baptist theology. There is a lot to be proud of in that history and understanding it can help Baptists understand how their faith developed.
Although Baptist churches may be members of the same convention or association, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are terribly alike. One of the hallmarks of the Baptist faith is the individuality of the churches. Those churches each have their own, distinct histories and varied customs.
For example, some Southern Baptist churches declare drinking to be an absolute sin. Others have adopted the view that Christ did turn water into wine and believe that drinking in moderation is OK. Those both may be Southern Baptist churches, but they disagree on a key point of doctrine. In the Baptist faith, such disagreements are fine so long as the core set of beliefs are accepted.
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