Baptists INTRO

The Baptist religion is a Protestant denomination which exists chiefly in English speaking countries and owes its name to its characteristic doctrine and practice regarding baptism.

The two principal Baptist confessions of faith are the Confession of 1688, or Philadelphia Confession, and the New Hampshire Confession. The Philadelphia Confession is the Westminster (Presbyterian) Confession (1646) revised in a Baptist sense. It first appeared in 1677, was reprinted in 1688, approved by the English Baptist Assembly of 1689, and adopted by the Baptist Association at Philadelphia in 1742, a circumstance which accounts for its usual name. It is generally accepted by the Baptists of England and the Southern States of the Union, whereas the Northern States are more attached to the New Hampshire Confession. The latter was adopted by the New Hampshire State Convention in 1833. Its slight doctrinal difference from the Philadelphia Confession consists in a milder presentation of the Calvinistic system.

Baptists hold that those only are members of the Church of Christ who have been baptized upon making a personal profession of faith.

They agree in the rejection of infant baptism as contrary to the Scriptures, and in the acceptance of immersion as the sole valid mode of baptism. All children who die before the age of responsibility will nevertheless be saved. Baptism and the Eucharist, the only two sacraments, or ordinances as they call them, which Baptists generally admit, are not productive of grace, but are mere symbols. Baptism does not bestow, but symbolizes, regeneration, which has already taken place.

HISTORY

The roots of the Baptist movement date back to the sixteenth century and the post-Reformation period, although the first Baptist congregation appeared in 1609 in Holland. It was here that the Church of England minister, John Smyth, performed a radical and scandalous act of baptising himself by pouring water on his head. He than baptised his fellow reformer, Thomas Helwys and other members of the congregation.

Smyth and Helwys had left England for Holland in 1607 after being persecuted for wanting to purify the Church of England of all traces of Roman Catholicism. Both Smyth and Helwys had joined a group of "Separatists" in Gainsborough in 1606. Their three core beliefs went on to shape later Baptists. They were:

1. The Bible, not church tradition or religious creed, was the guide in all matters of faith and practice.

2. The church should be made up of believers only, not all people born in the local parish.

3.  The church should be governed by those believers, not by hierarchical figures like bishops.
Eventually Smyth and Helwys parted company in Holland as Smyth questioned the authenticity of his self-administered baptism. In 1612 Helwys and others returned to England to establish the first Baptist Church on English soil.

Baptists initially developed in two streams of theological thought:

1- General Baptists believed that when Christ died on the cross he died for everyone in general.

2- Particular Baptists followed the Calvinist tradition of believing that Christ died for a particular group or elect.

These two groups eventually came together in 1813 to form a General Union which eventually became the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland in the late nineteenth century.

Throughout the seventeenth century Baptists were persecuted for their beliefs being known as non-conformists or Dissenters. They refused to become members of the Church of England, saying Christ and not the monarch was head of the Church.

The nineteenth century saw a period of significant growth for the Baptist movement. Great preachers such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon in London and Alexander Maclaren in Manchester drew crowds in their thousands.

Today, Baptists are represented globally by the Baptist World Alliance which was founded in 1905. It provides an international forum for the exchange of Baptist thought paying special attention to matters concerning Christian education, religious freedom, human rights and missions.
In 2009, Baptists will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the Baptist Church.

BELIEFS

Baptists share the Trinitarian tradition of all the major Christian denominations. However, there are several features that mark them out from other traditions, although none of them is exclusive to Baptists alone:

Baptism: This is perhaps the most obvious difference between Baptists and other denominations. Baptists reject infant baptism, thinking instead that baptism is for believers only - those who can personally declare Jesus as Lord. Some churches will re-baptise those who were baptised as infants in another Christian tradition, others respect that various denominations do things differently.
The baptism is carried out by full immersion. Most Baptist Churches have a baptistery which is basically a pool (about 4m by 3m) in the church. During a baptismal service the minister and the person being baptised enter the water. The minister, holding the person, will lay them back in the water so they are totally immersed, and then bring them back up again. Baptists believe this practice is in line with the New Testament practice of baptism, as carried out by John the Baptist.

Priesthood of all: Baptists believe everyone, ordained or lay, is responsible before God for his/her own understanding of God's word and what it means to them. They believe God created every individual as competent, with the skills to be a priest for themselves and others. That means in Baptist churches which appoint a minister, he or she is an equal member in the church meeting but with special responsibilities as outlined by the congregation.

Congregational: Baptists believe in congregational church government. That is, each church can govern itself with absolute autonomy.

Separation of Church and State: As each Baptist church is autonomous there can be no outside interference in decision making. This applies to any secular power, such as the state, being involved in church matters. Therefore Baptists reject the idea of an established or state church.

Current issues: In 2004, the world's largest group of Baptists, the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA split from the Baptist World Alliance. The South Baptist Convention accounts for a third of the entire Baptist membership and is the wealthiest grouping. It cited liberalism, anti-Americanism and excessive sympathy towards homosexuals as its reasons for leaving the Alliance.

BAPTISM TODAY

Baptists form the fifth largest Christian church in the world. Baptist churches are found in almost every country in the world and have about 40 million members worldwide. In Britain 2,150 churches belong to the Baptist Union of Great Britain, between them having 150,000 members.

Source: BBC, Catholic Encyclopaedia 

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