|SERMONS, ESSAYS AND OPINIONS||
Baptist churches are a Protestant denomination originating from the English Puritan movement with Anabaptist influences. There are about 100 million world-wide members, mostly in the USA. Theologically, Baptists teach a believer's baptism where adults who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are baptised as a symbol of their salvation. The churches tend to be conservative and evangelic, with a strong focus on the authority of the Bible. Each church has autonomy with a congregational governance system, however churches often associate in organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention.
Beliefs and Theology
Like other Christians, Baptists have the same core beliefs about God as the creator, the dual nature of Jesus Christ, and forgiveness of sins through Jesus' death and resurrection. Like other Protestant denomations, Baptists believe in justification through faith alone.
The following acrostic backronym (spelling BAPTIST) is used by some Baptist churches as a summary of Baptists' distinguishing beliefs:
- Biblical authority (Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- Autonomy of the local church (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 6:1-3)
- Priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5-9; 1 Timothy 5)
- Two ordinances (baptism and the Lord's Supper) (Acts 2:41-47; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32)
- Individual soul liberty (Romans 14:5-12)
- Separation of Church and State (Matthew 22:15-22)
- Two offices of the church (pastor and deacon) (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1-2)
Some Baptist traditions adhere to the "Four Freedoms" articulated by Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden.
- 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
Theologically, most Baptists emphasize a believer's baptism by full immersion, which is performed on non-infants after a public profession of faith in Jesus as Saviour. Baptists traditionally do not baptize infants, as do most Christian denominations, due to their belief that a person must be old enough to make a public profession of faith in order to be baptized.
Baptism is thus seen as a symbolic event that plays no role in salvation, being properly performed only after salvation, and is performed after a person professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is an outward expression that is symbolic of the inward cleansing or remission of their sins that has already taken place. It is also a public identification of that person with Christianity and with that particular local church. Most Baptist churches consider baptism by full immersion, subsequent to salvation, a criterion for membership.
Through Anabaptist influence, Baptists reject the practice of pedobaptism or infant baptism because they believe parents cannot make a decision of salvation for an infant. Related to this doctrine is the disputed concept of an "age of accountability" when God determines that a mentally capable person is accountable for their sins and eligible for baptism. This is not necessarily a specific age, but is based on whether or not the person is mentally capable of knowing right from wrong. Thus, a person with severe mental retardation may never reach this age, and therefore would not be held accountable for sins. The book of Isaiah mentions an age at which a child "shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good" but does not specify what that age is.
Baptists practice full immersion baptism. This consists of lowering the candidate in water backwards while the baptizer (a pastor or any baptised believer) says words professing the faith. This mode is also preferred for its parallel imagery to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Recognition of baptisms by other modes and Christian groups vary. Some Baptist churches only recognize baptism by full immersion as being valid, while some will recognize sprinkling.
Another feature of most Baptist churches is that they operate on the congregational governance system, which gives autonomy to individual local Baptist churches. Baptists have traditionally avoided the "top-down" hierarchy which is found in many Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches. However, Baptist churches will often associate in organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States, which is the largest Baptist association in the world, and the second-largest Christian denomination in the USA, after the Roman Catholic church.
Because of the congregationalist church governance system, Baptist churches are not under the direct administrative control of any other body, such as a national council, or a leader such as a bishop. Administration, leadership and doctrine are usually decided democratically by the lay members of each individual church, which accounts for the variation of beliefs from one Baptist church to another. There are some exceptions, such as Reformed Baptists, who are organized in a Presbyterian system. Some Baptist megachurches lean towards a strong clergy-led style, whereby the membership has little or no oversight into the affairs of the church leadership; though this does not strictly follow the practice of congregationalist church governance it is consistent with the principles of church autonomy.
In a manner typical of other congregationalists, many cooperative associations or conventions of Baptists have arisen. These associations were formed for missionary and other charitable work and have no authority over the operations of individual local churches. Local churches decide at what level they will participate in these associations.
Pastors and deacons
Generally Baptists only recognize two Scriptural offices, those of pastor-teacher and deacon. The office of elder, common in some evangelical churches, is usually considered by Baptists to be the same as that of pastor, and not a separate office; however, some churches, especially those in other countries such as Australia, acknowledge the position of elder, and others even dispose of the position of deacon altogether. The office of overseer or bishop is always considered to be the same as that of pastor or presbyter.
The prevalent view among Baptists is that these offices are limited to men only, following the model of Christ and His apostles and interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:12-14. However, the issue of women pastors and deacons has surfaced as controversy in some churches.
Another controversial issue is whether divorced individuals may serve as pastors and deacons. Of note was the controversy surrounding Charles Stanley's highly publicized divorce. One extreme view is that a divorced individual cannot serve under any circumstances. The other extreme is that divorced individuals can serve under all circumstances. There are also many views in between these two extremes.
In the Baptist Church, the primary role of the pastor is to deliver the weekly sermon. In smaller churches, the pastor will often visit homes and hospitals to call on ill members, as well as homes of prospective members (especially those who have not professed faith). The pastor will also perform weddings and funerals for members, and at business meetings serve as the moderator. In very small churches the pastor may also be required to find outside work to supplement his income.
Larger churches will usually have one or more "associate" pastors, each with a specific area of responsibility, whereby the overall pastor is considered the "senior" pastor. Some examples are:
- Administration (in the larger churches)
In the majority of instances, the pastor will be married with children. Many Baptist churches will make a point of interviewing the whole familly when considering a new pastor.
The main role of the deacon is to assist the pastor with members' needs. Deacons also assist during communion. However, in many more modern Baptist churches, deacons have become administrators or the governing body of the church. In many churches, the pastor takes on the role of spiritual leadership, while a deacon serves as moderator of board meetings. Deacons are usually chosen from members who have demonstrated exceptional Christian piety (1 Timothy 3:8-12), and serve without pay.
A common practice is for each family to be assigned a specific deacon, to be the primary point of contact whenever a need arises. Some larger mega churches which use cell groups have the cell group leaders serve the role of deacon.
Baptists emphasize authority of the Scriptures, or sola scriptura, and therefore believe that the Bible is the authoritative source of God's truth. This view contrasts with the role of Apostolic tradition in the Roman Catholic Church and personal revelation in charismatic circles. Any view that cannot be tied to scriptural exposition is generally considered to be based on human traditions rather than God's leading, and though they may be accurate, such views are never to be elevated to or above the authority of Scripture. Each person is responsible before God for his or her own understanding of the Bible. A common "proof text" for this idea is found in Philippians 2:12.
Biblical inerrancy is also a common position held by many Baptists. Many Baptists are not literalists however, although most believe in biblical authority. Moderate Baptists prefer the term inspired or God-breathed rather than inerrant to describe scripture, referring to the term Paul uses in 2 Timothy 3:16.
Baptists generally consider historic Christian creeds to be on lower footing in comparison to Scripture, even though they may in essence agree with them. However, a group or local church may have a general statement of faith such as the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists also cite other works as illustrative of doctrine. One work commonly read by Baptists is the allegory Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.
Priesthood of all believers
The doctrine of "priesthood of all believers" states that every Christian has direct access to God and the truths found in the Bible, without the help of a priests. This doctrine is based on the passage found in 1 Peter 2:9 and was popularized by Martin Luther during the Reformation.
There are over 90 million Baptists worldwide in nearly 300,000 congregations, with an estimated 47 million members in the United States. Other large populations of Baptists also exist in Asia, Africa and Latin America, notably in India (2.4 million), Nigeria (2.3 million), Zaïre (1.9 million) and Brazil (1.2 million). Only those people who are baptized members of a local Baptist church are included in the total number of Baptists. Most Baptist churches do not have an age restriction on membership, but will not accept as a member a child that is too young to make a profession of faith. If children and unbaptized congregants are included in the total number of Baptists then the number may be more than 100 million.
- An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.