Things You Should Know

  1. The biggest difference between Baptists and Christians is the Baptist practice of believer’s baptism by immersion (a full-body baptism for those who accept Jesus).
  2. Other notable differences include a belief in the supreme authority of the Bible and the autonomy of the local church.
  3. Baptists and Christians have much in common, too. They both believe in the Holy Trinity, salvation through Jesus, and worship through Communion.
Section 1 of 6:

Baptists vs. Other Christians at a Glance

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      There’s no one thing that makes Baptists unique compared to other denominations of Christianity.Instead, it’s a combination of beliefs and values (some of which are held by other Christians) that creates a distinctive Baptist spirit.[1] Baptists’ core values include:

      1. Believer’s baptism by immersion: Only professed believers in Jesus Christ can be baptized by submerging their entire body under water. Many other Christian faiths baptize infants by sprinkling or anointing their forehead.
      2. Supreme authority of the Bible: Baptists believe that Scripture is the sole authority of their faith. Other practices, like Roman Catholicism, rely on figureheads like the Pope to interpret the Bible.
      3. Church of believers: Baptist churches consist of those who accept Jesus as their salvation and have been admitted by the congregation, unlike Catholic parishes, where someone’s location determines the church they belong to.
      4. Autonomy of the church: Baptists churches operate independently of other churches or religious authorities. Other Protestants, like Presbyterians, and Catholic churches answer to broader governing bodies.
      5. Equality among the congregation: Baptists believe each member has access to God and is of equal status to their pastor. In Catholicism, for example, members must confess sins to a priest rather than directly to the Lord.
      6. Separation of church and state: Baptists emphasize that religious organizations and governments should have no authority over the other. This differs from national or state Christian churches, like the Armenian Apostolic Church, or countries where the church is the government, like in Vatican City.
Section 2 of 6:

Baptists’ Core Beliefs & Practices in Depth

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      Baptism by immersion is the biggest difference from other Christians.Baptists baptize those who affirm Jesus as their savior by immersing their entire body in water. Baptists don’t baptize infants like many other denominations do since they believe only disciples (those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ) have been properly converted. In other words, they do not think that baptism alone ensures salvation after death. To Baptists, baptism is an expression of an internal conversion that has already taken place.[2]

      1. Full immersion under the baptismal waters symbolizes cleanliness and purity, as well as the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
      2. Some Baptists only recognize baptisms performed in a Baptist church as true baptisms.
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      The Bible is the sole authority over Baptists’ faith and practices.They’re known as “the people of the Book,” and many Baptists believe the Bible is 100% factual and incapable of being wrong. To them, no single person has the right to a “final interpretation” of the Bible (such as the Pope in Roman Catholicism) and no other religious writings are seen as equal to its Scriptures.[3]

      1. However, Baptists have adopted confessions of faith throughout their history to summarize their beliefs about the Bible. These confessions are specific in some areas, but vague in others to allow all individual Baptists churches despite their differences.
      2. Unlike the Bible, these confessions can be revised to update or clarify Baptists’ general understanding of biblical doctrines.
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      Baptists only allow regenerate (reformed or reborn) members.In other words, only those who profess belief in Jesus Christ as their savior can be admitted to a Baptist church. Each church admits members differently—many use an “altar call” at the end of a service (affirming those who come forward), require a personal interview or completion of a new member’s class, or a simple vote from the congregation.[4]

      1. Baptists can also discipline or remove someone from their congregation for perceived immorality.
      2. Anyone with a credible profession of faith can be admitted to a Baptist church, regardless of where they live relative to the physical building. This is unlike the Catholic church, which divides geographic regions into parishes, each with a church representing the local population.
    4. Each Baptist church can govern itself with complete autonomy.The church leadership and membership can decide how to structure their organization, admit members, make a budget, and run their services (although there are many similarities between individual Baptist churches). Baptist churches answer to no higher governing body.[5]

      1. However, many Baptist churches voluntarily cooperate with each other to form associations or conventions to better train missionaries or mobilize for disaster relief since they recognize they can accomplish more together than independently.
      2. Other Protestant denominations, like Presbyterians, have structured governing bodies that unify policy and reinforce common values among member churches.[6]
      3. The most recognizable opposite to this local autonomy is the Catholic church, where the Pope is the absolute leader of the church worldwide.
    5. Baptists believe in “priesthood for all.”This means every individual is responsible for their relationship with God. Everyone from ordained pastors to everyday church members are equal members of the church and have the tools and knowledge to be a priest for themselves and others. However, Baptists recognize the advantage of structured leadership, which is why they vote to elect pastors and other leaders to lead worship and tend to business affairs.[7]

      1. Essentially, every Baptist is a minister who doesn’t need to go through a statused or privileged clergy member (such as a Bishop or Cardinal) to pray or confess their sins. Instead, Jesus and their belief in him is their mediator with God.
      2. Another term for “priesthood for all” is “soul competency.”
    6. Baptists reject the idea of a state church and government roles in church affairs.They believe all people should have the freedom to follow the religion of their choice (or no religion at all) and to practice and spread their faith without state hindrance. Baptists think religion must be voluntary to be genuine, the church is prone to corruption if it’s led by the state, and that popular opinions cannot replace the word of God.[8]

      1. However, some Baptists (and other Christians) do believe the government should be guided by God or the Bible, if not by the church itself.[9] This results in conflicts of interpretation of “separation of church and state” where religious leaders or politicians use their faith to justify pro-Christian legislation or discrimination based on “religious freedom.”
Section 3 of 6:

Baptist & Christians Shared Beliefs

  1. Baptists and Christians believe in the Holy Trinity and salvation through Jesus.Despite their differences, Baptists have a lot in common with other denominations of Christianity. All Christians, including Baptists, believe that there is one God who exists as the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). They also believe that human beings are sinners in need of salvation.[10]

    1. To be saved, Christians and Baptists embrace Jesus Christ and believe he was sent to Earth by God to die for man’s sins. It is through faith in Christ that humans can become the children of God and gain access to Heaven in the afterlife.
    2. Further, both Baptists and other Christians believe that God will bring the world to an end as He sees fit and judge the living and the dead.
Section 4 of 6:

Baptist vs. Christian Worship Style

    1. Both services share prayer, sermons, Bible readings, and Communion.Most if not all Christian and Baptist worship services contain these fundamental elements, although the order and exact execution may be different. Basic Christian worship includes group and individual prayer to God and a sermon where a pastor or priest reads passages from the Bible and speaks about their meaning and implications for daily life.[11]

      1. Baptists and Christians also partake in Holy Communion (sometimes called the Eucharist). This is the ritual of eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice or water) to represent the body and blood of Christ at the Last Supper.
        1. While Catholics believe the Eucharist is a form of transubstantiation (i.e. the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ), Baptists believe they are more symbolic for the atonement of Christ.
    2. Baptist services emphasize simplicity, singing, and believer’s baptism.Baptists reject the many candles, incense, altar cloths, and highly decorated clothing commonly found in Catholic and other Christian services. They believe these ornate signs actually distract from the message of God and prefer to focus on the experience of being in worship. They also deemphasize dogma and sacraments to focus more on faith and practice rather than intellectual ideas.[12]

      1. Like other denominations, Baptists enjoy singing hymns together in worship. However, depending on the church, some Baptists do not allow instruments to accompany the congregation.
      2. Baptists also practice regular baptism during services more often than other denominations. Some Baptists will even get baptized multiple times to reaffirm their commitment to Christ.
Section 5 of 6:

Origins of the Baptist Church

    1. The Baptist movement began in the 16th century post-Reformation period.Two Church of England ministers—John Smyth and Thomas Helwys—left England for Holland in 1607 after being persecuted for wanting to rid the Church of England of all traces of Catholicism. The first true Baptist service was held in Holland in 1609, when Smyth baptized himself by pouring water over his own head (a radical idea for the time).[13]

      1. Smyth returned to England in 1612 and founded the first Baptist church in England. Baptists were ridiculed throughout the 17th century as “dissidents” for not conforming to the Church of England and accepting the Monarch as the head of the church.
      2. However, the Baptist following experienced huge growth throughout the 18th century as it spread in England and around the world.
      3. The Reformation began in 1517 and was an effort to reform the Catholic church in Europe. It eventually resulted in the split and formation of the Protestant denominations of Christianity.
    2. The first US Baptist church was founded in Providence, RI in 1638.It was formed by Roger Williams, a former Church of England member who split from religious officials in the Massachusetts Bay colony. By 1790, it’s estimated there were 750 Baptist churches and over 60,000 practicing Baptists throughout the United States.[14]

      1. Some historians have proposed that the Baptist belief in separation of church and state helped shape the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution.
      2. The largest concentration of Baptists today live in the United States.[15]
    3. Today, there are about 35-40 million Baptists worldwide.The majority of these Baptists live in the United States, with Baptists making up one of the largest denominations of Protestantism in the country. The Southern Baptist Convention (one of the 5 major Baptist groups in the country) alone has about 16 million members.[16]

      1. Baptists form the fifth largest Christian church in the world.[17]
Section 6 of 6:

Major Baptist Groups

  1. Baptists organize themselves into conventions while maintaining their autonomy.In the United States, there are 5 major Baptist groups, with the Southern Baptist Convention being the largest and most well known by far. In order of size, the groups are:[18]

    1. The Southern Baptist Convention (16 million members)
    2. The National Baptist Convention, USA (5 million members)
    3. The National Baptist Convention of America (3.5 million members)
    4. The American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. (1.4 million members)
    5. The Baptist Bible Fellowship International (1.2 million members)
    6. There are also at least a dozen smaller groups including the American Baptist Association, the Baptist General Conference, the Baptist Missionary Association of America, the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the Free Will Baptists, and more.
    7. Many churches that identify as Fundamentalist or Bible churches follow many of the beliefs and practices of Baptists, too.