The Baptist Denomination
The Baptist denomination is the largest free church denomination in the world with 43 million members. It is one of the largest Protestant Free Church denominations. More than 75 percent of all Baptists - about 33 million - live in America. There are about 216,000 Baptists in Great Britain, 850,000 in South America and 230,000 in Central America and the Caribbean. In the former USSR, Baptists comprise the largest protestant denomination.
The primary Baptist distinctive is their practice of believer's baptism and corresponding rejection of infant baptism. Baptist beliefs can vary due to the congregational governance system that gives autonomy to individual local Baptist churches. Areas of difference include policy, polity and doctrine. There is no central governing authority. Baptist churches tend to be evangelical in doctrine and Reformed in worship. Many conservative Baptists, especially in areas where Southern Baptists are prominent, oppose gambling, alcohol and tobacco. Some Baptists oppose dancing and movies. Historically, Baptists have played a key role in encouraging separation of church and state and religious freedom.
In the United States, the two largest Baptist organizations are the Southern Baptist Churches (SBC) and American Baptist Churches (ABC). Notable Baptists have included Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Jerry Falwell, Rick Warren, Booker T. Washington, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Isaac Backus.
Some Baptist churches use the following as a summary of the common distinctions of Baptists:
- Biblical authority
- Autonomy of the local church
- Individual soul liberty
- Separation of Church and State
- Priesthood of the believer
- Two ordinances (Believer's Baptism and Communion)
- Two offices of the church (Pastor and Deacon)
Areas of difference in Baptist doctrine between one Baptist church and another include:
- Calvinism vs. Arminianism
- Ordination of women
- Nature of Law and Gospel
- Eschatology (end times)