There is no one distinctive Baptist belief! Although probably most people think of believers’ baptism as the primary Baptist distinctive, Baptists are not the only Christians to practise believers’ baptism. Nor are they the only Christians to believe in Congregational church government, the priesthood of all believers, or the separation of church and state.
It is the combination of these various beliefs which make Baptists distinctive. Baptist distinctives may be likened to a set of genes which, because of their particular arrangement, produce a family likeness wherever they are found.
The Lordship of Christ
Jesus is Lord is the distinctive confession of faith. As individuals and as churches, Baptists seek to make Jesus Lord of every aspect of their lives.
The Authority of the Bible
The Bible is described as the ‘Word of God’ because Baptists believe that its writers were inspired by God’s Spirit.Baptists believe that the Bible shows us God’s way for living. As such, it has authority to guide both what we believe and how we live our lives.
Baptism for Believers
From the example of the New Testament, Baptists claim that baptism is for those who believe and able to declare that Jesus is Lord. As a symbol of Jesus’ claim on our lives, baptism by immersion is practised, representing a desire to die to self and to live for Christ.
A Believers’ Church
Baptists understand the church as a community of believers who gather together for worship, witness and service. There is no set Baptist liturgy. Each local church and community is free to determine its own pattern, though prayer and praise, listening and reflecting on scripture, and sharing Holy Communion will always be central.
The priesthood of all believers
Baptists believe that everyone that attends a Baptist church has a role to play and can use their God-given skills and talents for the good of the church and the community. These gifts include teaching, evangelism, social action, pastoral care, prayer, healing, taking part in worship, administration or hospitality.
Church members and church meetings
When a person is baptised in a Baptist church, they normally become a church member. In a Baptist church, an illustration of the priesthood of all believers is the church meeting. This is an occasion when the Church members come together to understand in prayer God’s will for their life together.
Final authority does not rest with the ministers, deacons or any other local, national or international body, but with the members meeting together under God’s guidance. Church meetings will make appointments, ministers, and agree financial policy and mission strategy. Local churches will usually call a minister to serve among them. The minister functions as a church member with special responsibilities in caring for the members and leading in the church’s mission. Their authority is in the affirmation of the congregation acting under God’s guidance. They are almost invariably recognised by the wider family of churches.
On the basis of the New Testament, Baptist believe that churches should not live in isolation from one another but rather be inter-dependent. Baptist churches have always come together in regional, national and international ‘associations’ for support and fellowship whilst remaining autonomous in their decision making.
Sharing the Faith
Baptists believe that each Christian has a duty to share their faith with others. William Carey was a Baptist who is known as the father of the modern missionary movement. Along with this emphasis on evangelism, however, Baptists recognise that mission includes social action and involves promoting justice, social welfare, healing, education and peace in the world.
Religious freedom for all has always been a keystone of Baptist understanding. Acceptance of differences of outlook and diversity of practice is encouraged within Baptist churches, as well as in our wider world.
How are Baptists different from other Christians?
In other Christian traditions, church membership is not always clearly defined. In a Baptist context, baptism involves not only commitment to Christ, but also commitment to Christ’s Church. For Baptists, church membership involves a commitment not only to work together to extend Christ’s Kingdom, but also to love one another and stand by one another whatever the cost.
The Baptist Family
Individual Church Member
For Baptists, Christian faith begins with a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. This personal commitment, dramatised in a service of believer’s baptism, works itself out in a life of service to God. Currently there are some 150,000 members of Baptist churches associated with the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
Local Baptist Churches
With their emphasis on the grass roots, local churches form the front-line of Baptist mission. Around 2,150 churches belong to the Baptist Union of Great Britain, each of them self-funding and the majority of them financially independent.
Baptist churches have always linked together in regional associations to support one another in their task of reaching out with the Good News of Jesus. Associations today provide a vital link between the churches and the Baptist Union.
Fellowship of British Baptists
The Fellowship brings together all those Baptist churches in the British Isles, in membership with the Baptist Union of Scotland, the Baptist Union of Wales and the Baptist Union of Great Britain. The Fellowship also includes the BMS World Mission which relates to all three Unions.
The Worldwide Family
The Baptist vision of the church is not constrained by national borders. Baptists see themselves as part of the World Church with a mission, through the gospel, to bring people everywhere into God’s family. Baptists live and work in every corner of the globe and various regional associations exist to help them in their mission. The Baptist Union of Great Britain is one of the founder members of the European Baptist Federation (1948) and the Baptist World Alliance (1905) which represents nearly 150,000 churches and more than 40 million members.
Based on information from the Baptist Union of Great Britain web site