Baptist History goes back to 1612 when John Smythe, with some other English Puritans, formed the first Baptist church, including an Arminian Theology. A few years later Henry Jacob led a group of Puritans in England in creating a congregational church with a Calvinist Theology.
Baptists firmly believe that baptism, to be valid, must be a conscious adult choice that accompanies full acceptance of Jesus Christ as one's personal savior. Baptism is meant to be full immersion of believers as a symbol of their faith in Christ. In the Baptist denomination, baptism plays no role in salvation; it is rather an outward expression of the inward change that has taken place.
Baptists believe that scripture is inspired and without error, the sole, final, totally trustworthy rule of faith. The standard Protestant canon is accepted. (The mainline churches vary in the extent they continue to view Scripture as without error).
Baptists believe in one Creator and Lord of all, existing eternally as the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). They believe in the eternal Son incarnate, fully God and fully human, conceived and born of the virgin Mary, died on the Cross for our sins, rose bodily from the grave, ascended into heaven and will come again in glory to judge us all.
In early American history, Baptist history was very instrumental in the development of separation of church and state. Along with the Anabaptists and Quakers, their collective efforts played an important role in the struggle for freedom of religion.
The movements concerns were addressed at the presidential level when Thomas Jefferson concurred with the views on the matter of Religious liberty, with his response; "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
Most Baptist churches emphasize evangelism and missions. Baptists include both Calvinists, dominant in the Southern Baptist Churches and the Arminians, dominant in the mainline and free-will bodies.
Beliefs that vary among Baptists
Because Baptists do not have hierarchical authority, each Baptist church is autonomous. Therfore, there is no official set of Baptist theological beliefs. Baptists are comprised of different divisions, sects, and groups. Even though they agree on many things, there are many beliefs and practices which vary from church to church and among associations, that are enough to keep them apart.
Some doctrinal issues on which there is widespread difference are eschatology, Calvinism and Arminianism, the doctrine of separation from "the world" and whether to associate with those who are "of the world", glossolalia (speaking in tongues), how the Bible should be interpreted (hermeneutics), the extent to which missionary boards should be used to support missionaries, the extent to which non-members may participate in the Lord's Supper services, which translation of Scripture to use from the pulpit and in Bible classes (see King-James-Only movement), the very nature of Gospel, the role of women in marriage, and the ordination of women as deacons or pastors.
Some principles that are distinctive to Baptists
The supremacy of the canonical Scriptures as a norm of faith and practice. For something to become a matter of faith and practice, it must be something explicitly ordained through command or example in the Bible. For instance, this is why Baptists do not practice infant baptism—they say the Bible neither commands nor exemplifies infant baptism as a Christian practice, even though nowhere does the Bible forbid it. More than any other Baptist principle, this one when applied to infant baptism is said to separate Baptists from other evangelical Christians.
Baptists believe that faith is a matter between God and the individual. To them it means the advocacy of absolute liberty of conscience.
Insistence on immersion as the only mode of baptism. Baptists do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Therefore, they do not consider it to be a sacrament, since it imparts no saving grace.
Most Baptist traditions believe in these "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.
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.
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