AskDefine | Define baptist

Dictionary Definition

Baptist adj : of or pertaining to or characteristic of the Baptist church; "Baptist baptismal practices"; "a Baptist minister" [syn: Baptistic] n : follower of Baptistic doctrines

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A Protestant denomination of Christianity, which believes in the baptism of believers, as opposed to the baptism of infants.
  2. An adherent of this denomination.
  3. (Archaic) One who performs baptism.


  1. Of, relating to, or adhering to the Baptist religious denomination.

Extensive Definition

Baptist is a term describing individuals belonging to a Baptist church or a Baptist denomination. The name is derived from a conviction that followers of Jesus Christ are commanded to be baptized (most commonly by being immersed in water) as a public display of their faith, and thus most adherents reject infant baptism. While the term "Baptist" has its origins with the Anabaptists, and was sometimes viewed as pejorative, the denomination itself is historically linked to the English Dissenter or Separatist or Nonconformism movements of the 16th century.
Baptists are typically considered Protestants. Some Baptists reject that association (see Origins and Questions of labeling subsections below). Most Baptist churches choose to associate with denominational groups that provide support without control. Examples of such denominations are the Southern Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention USA, Conservative Baptist Association of America, American Baptist Churches USA, American Baptist Association (Landmark Baptists), Baptist Missionary Association of America, among others.
Both Roger Williams and his compatriot in working for religious freedom, Dr. John Clarke, are variously credited as founding the earliest Baptist church in America. 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."



The Baptists number over 110 million worldwide in more than 220,000 congregations, and considered the largest world communion of evangelical Protestants, with an estimated 32 million members in the North America. Other 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).
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).


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 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" but not church members until baptized. If children and unbaptized congregants were counted, world Baptists might number over 150 million.
Some churches, especially in the UK, do not require members to have been baptised as a believer, as long as they have made an adult 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 baptised without becoming a church member immediately.

Baptist beliefs and principles

Baptist churches do not have a central governing authority. 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.
Baptists share so-called "orthodox" Christian beliefs with most other moderate or conservative 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 divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, together with God the Father); 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 at which time God will sit in judgment and divide humanity between the saved and the lost (the Great White Throne judgment ) and Christ will sit in judgment of the believers (the Judgment Seat of Christ ), rewarding them for things done while alive. 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 BAPTISTS, represents a useful summary of Baptists' distinguishing beliefs:
  • Biblical authority (; ; )
  • Autonomy of the local church (; )
  • Priesthood of all believers (; )
  • Two ordinances (believer's baptism and the Lord's Supper) (; )
  • Individual soul liberty ()
  • Separation of Church and State ()
  • Two offices of the church (pastor-elder and deacon) (; )
  • Saved church membership (; ; )
Most Baptist traditions believe in 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
The polity of autonomy is closely related to the polity of congregational governance. Just as each Baptist priest with soul competency is equal to all other Baptists in a church, so each church is equal to every other church. No church or ecclesiastical organization has 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.

Beliefs that vary among Baptists

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:

The Sabbath Debate

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.
A majority of Baptists believe that the Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday. Most Baptists who attend worship services on Sunday do so in memory of Christ's resurrection or due to some form of "eighth day" theology.
There is a small but influential group known as the Seventh Day Baptists. Some attempt to trace their origins to earlier Anabaptist or pre-Reformation sects however most acknowledge that the denomination was established in the early seventeenth century in England. Seventh Day Baptists may be either General or Particular Baptists but they are united in their observance of the Sabbath 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.

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.
  • 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, with its emphasis on ecclesiastical separation and doctrinal rigidity and its cultural foundation in the South, deterred Southern Baptists from being influenced as strongly by aberrant points of view as were the Baptists in the northern United States and other countries. Old Landmarkism held to the traditional Baptist historical consciousness that traced Baptists through dissenters—Donatists, Cathari—back to Jesus, Jordan(although it is not believed that ALL Donatists, Cathari, etc.were Baptist theologically) and the "First Baptist Church" of Jerusalem. Popular Landmarkism contributed to a historical consciousness implicit in the idea that Baptists were an extension of the New Testament community, perpetuating the true church in every age.
  • Beginning in the 1980s, there was a concerted effort among a determined group of theologically orthodox Southern Baptists to purge modernist theological influence from its seminaries. This highly publicized SBC Conservative Resurgence/Fundamentalist Takeover occasioned two schisms of theologically modernist Baptist churches: the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists.

Worship style

Baptist comes from the Greek word βαπτιστής (baptistés, "baptist," also used to describe John the Baptist), which is related to the verb βαπτίζω (baptízo, "to baptize, wash, dip, immerse"), and the Latin baptista, and is in direct connection to "the baptizer," John the Baptist.
As a first name it has been used in Europe from the twelfth century also as Baptiste, Jan-Baptiste, Jean-Baptiste, John-Baptist; and in the Netherlands at least since the seventeenth century, often in combinations like Jan Baptist or Johannes Baptist. As a last name it has been used since the thirteenth century. Other variations also commonly used are Baptiste, Baptista, Battiste, Battista.
The Anabaptists in England were called Baptists as early as 1569.

Questions of labeling

Some Baptists object to the application of the labels Protestant, denomination, Evangelical and even Baptist to themselves or their churches, while others accept those labels.
Some who reject the label Baptist prefer to be labeled as Christians who attend Baptist churches. Also, a recent trend (most common among megachurches and those embracing the "seeker movement") is to eliminate "Baptist" from the church name, as it is perceived to be a "barrier" to reaching persons who have negative views of Baptists, whether they be of a different church background or none. These churches typically include the word "Community" or other non-religious or denominational terms in their church name.
Conversely, others accept the label Baptist because they identify with the distinctives they consider to be uniquely Baptist. They believe those who are removing the name "Baptist" from their churches are "compromising with the world" to attract more members. However, there are other church groups that hold to the beliefs listed above, that have never been known by the label Baptist, and also believe that these beliefs are not exclusive to the Baptist denomination.
The label Protestant is rejected by some Baptists (primarily those in the Landmark movement) because in their view Baptists have existed separately since the early church days. Those holding this view maintain that Baptists have never been a part of the Roman Catholic Church, and as such are not "protesting" against Catholicism. Further, they point out that Baptists have no direct connection to any of the Reformationists like Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli. Other Baptists accept the Protestant label as a demographic concept that describes churches who share similar theologies of sola scriptura, sola fide, the priesthood of all believers and other positions that Luther, Calvin and other traditional reformers held in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s.
The label denomination is rejected by some because of the local autonomous governance system used by Baptist churches. Being a denomination is viewed by them as having a hierarchy that substitutes for the Roman Catholic Church. Another reason for the rejection of the label is the influence of the Restoration period on Baptist churches, which emphasized a tearing down of denominational barriers. Other Baptists accept the label, feeling that it does not carry a negative connotation but rather is merely a synonym for a Christian or religious group with common beliefs, organized in a cooperative manner to spread its beliefs worldwide.
The label Evangelical is rejected by some fundamentalist Baptists who consider the term to describe a theological position that in their view is not fundamentalist enough, and conversely is also rejected by some liberal Baptists who consider the term to describe a theological position that in their view is too conservative. It is accepted by moderate Baptists who identify with the revival in the United States in the 1700s known as the First Great Awakening. Conversely, some Evangelicals reject the label fundamentalist, believing it to describe a theological position that they consider too extreme and legalistic.

Baptists by country




There are several major groupings of Baptists in Canada.


  • The Baptist Union of Denmark is the oldest "free church" in Denmark (founded in 1839), and is a member of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) as well as the European Baptist Federation (EBF). The Baptist Church has 50 congregations and 5260 members.



New Zealand


  • The Baptist Union of Sweden (BUS) is the oldest "free church" in Sweden, founded 1848, when a group of people committed the first known baptism in Sweden. At the time this was a crime, and the new movements leader F O Nilsson was deported. Others were fined or jailed.
  • A few years later, the Swedish laws changed, and religious groups other than the official state church were allowed to work. In 1934 the Swedish baptism had its peak, with 68 000 members.
  • In 2006 it had 17,000 members in 223 parishes, some of them also connected to another communion.
  • BUS was the first Swedish church to appoint a woman as head of the assembly.
  • BUS is a member of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) a European Baptist Federation (EBF).



United Kingdom

United States

The largest national community of Baptists worldwide is that of the United States, with 38.8 million members. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the USA. Although Baptist churches are located throughout the USA, the great majority of Baptists live in the Southern United States, and the Baptist faith has historically exerted a powerful influence in that region of the country.



  • 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
  • McBeth, 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.

See also

baptist in Arabic: الكنيسة المعمدانية
baptist in Aragonese: Ilesia baltista
baptist in Franco-Provençal: Baptismo
baptist in Bulgarian: Баптизъм
baptist in Catalan: Església Baptista
baptist in Czech: Baptisté
baptist in Danish: Baptistkirken
baptist in German: Baptisten
baptist in Estonian: Baptism
baptist in Spanish: Iglesias bautistas
baptist in Esperanto: Baptismo
baptist in Persian: باپتیست
baptist in French: Baptisme
baptist in Western Frisian: Baptisme
baptist in Scottish Gaelic: Baisteach
baptist in Hakka Chinese: Chim-sin-fi
baptist in Korean: 침례교
baptist in Croatian: Baptisti
baptist in Indonesian: Gereja Baptis
baptist in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Baptistas
baptist in Italian: Battismo
baptist in Hebrew: בפטיזם
baptist in Georgian: ბაპტისტები
baptist in Lithuanian: Baptistai
baptist in Hungarian: Baptizmus
baptist in Dutch: Baptisme
baptist in Japanese: バプテスト教会
baptist in Norwegian: Baptisme
baptist in Norwegian Nynorsk: Baptisme
baptist in Low German: Baptisten
baptist in Polish: Baptyzm
baptist in Portuguese: Igreja Batista
baptist in Romanian: Bisericile Baptiste
baptist in Russian: Баптизм
baptist in Sicilian: Chiesa Battista
baptist in Simple English: Baptist
baptist in Slovak: Baptizmus
baptist in Serbian: Баптиста
baptist in Serbo-Croatian: Baptisti
baptist in Finnish: Baptismi
baptist in Swedish: Baptism
baptist in Vietnamese: Baptist
baptist in Ukrainian: Баптизм
baptist in Chinese: 浸信会
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