Baptist Bodies of Today
Beginnings.--"Baptists- acknowledge no human founder, recognize no human authority, and subscribe to no human creed. For all these things, Baptists of every name and order go back to the New Testament. . . . Most of them are of one accord in believing that if we could secure the records, there would be found groups of believers in every age who upheld the great outstanding and distinctive principles of the Baptist churches of today."
History.-Groups holding Baptist principles which emerged during the Reformation were known as Anabaptists (rebaptizers), because they insisted that persons baptized in infancy, must be rebaptized to gain church membership. Because of persecution, some of these were driven from Germany and found refuge in the Low Countries. Here they were gathered into groups of Mennonites and later passed over to England. These doubtless played an important part in giving currency to Baptist principles. "To their influence, in all probability, the English Baptists owe their first churches, established in Amsterdam in 16o8 and in London in 1611."
Due to the Mennonite influence, "the early Baptist churches in England were Arminian rather than Calvinistic in type, and were termed General Baptists, indicating a belief in a universal atonement, in distinction from Particular Baptists, indicating a limited atonement. The first Calvinistic, or Particular, Baptist church was formed in London in 1638."
In 1641 there was another secession from the same Separatist body, and this new group became convinced that the apostolic baptism was immersion. They accordingly sent one of their ministers, Richard Blunt, to Holland, where he was immersed by a Mennonite minister at Rhynsburg. On his return he baptized the other members. "Gradually this practice was adopted by all the Baptist churches and became in the popular mind their, distinguishing feature. The General and Particular Baptists were united in 1891.
"The first Baptist Church in America was probably established by Roger Williams . . . in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1639."
Early Branches of Baptists:
1. General Six Principle Baptists (1652)
2. Seventh Day Baptists (1671).
3. Separate Baptists (Whitefield, 1740).
4. Free Baptists (1779)-
5. Predestinarian Baptists.
6. Primitive Baptists.
Present-Day Branches (1936):
I. Northern Baptist Convention.
2. Southern Baptist Convention.
3. Negro Baptists.
4. General Six Principle Baptists.
5. Seventh Day Baptists.
6. Freewill Baptists.
7. United American Freewill Baptists (Colored).
8. General Baptists.
9. Separate Baptists.
10. Regular Baptists.
11. United Baptists.
12. Duck River and Kindred Associations of Baptists (Baptist Church of Christ).
13. Primitive Baptists.
14. Colored Primitive Baptists.
15. Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists.
16. Independent Baptist Church of America.
17. American Baptist Association.
18. Christian Unity Baptist Association.
19. General Association of Regular Baptist Churches in the United States of America.
20. Seventh Day Baptist (German).
21. National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the United States of America.
Organization. The largest body, not only in the United States, but in the whole world, is known simply as Baptist, and is usually referred to as Northern, Southern, and Colored Baptists. No divergence in doctrine is inferred, but it is rather a distinction made for administrative purposes, based on certain local or racial characteristics and conditions. Other bodies, as Freewill Baptists and Primitive Baptists, differ widely.
Since Baptist bodies are not united, they have no general headquarters.
"Baptist Church polity is congregational, or independent. Each church is sovereign so far as its discipline and worship are concerned." For missionary and educational purposes they usually form themselves into associations and State conventions.
"Applicants for the ministry are licensed to preach by the church in which they hold membership. If, after a period of service as licentiate, ordination is desired, a council of sister churches is called by the chufch in which membership is held, and on the recommendation of this council the church arranges for the ordination. In both cases the right to license and the right to ordain are held by the individual church."
Doctrines.-The "cardinal principle is in 1945 explicit obedience to the plain teachings of the Word of God. Under this principle .. . they hold:
"1. That the churches are independent in their local affairs.
"2. That there should be an entire separation of church and state.
"3. That religious liberty, or freedom in matters of religion, is an inherent right of the human soul.
"4. That a church is a body of regenerated people who have been baptized on profession of personal faith in Christ, and have associated themselves in the fellowship of the gospel.
"5. That infant baptism is not only not taught in the Scriptures, but is fatal to the spirituality of the church.
"6. That from the meaning of the word used in the Greek text of the Scriptures, the symbolism of the ordinance, and the practice of the early church, immersion in water only constitutes baptism. .
"7. That the Scriptural officers of a church are pastors and deacons. . . .
"8. That the Lord's Supper is an ordinance within the church, observed in commemoration of the sufferings and death of Christ.
"The beliefs of Baptists have been incorporated in confessions of faith. Of these, the Philadelphia Confession, originally issued by the London Baptist churches in 1689, and adopted with some enlargements by the Philadelphia Association in 1742, and the New Hampshire Confession, adopted by the New Hampshire State Convention in 1832, are recognized as the most important. The Philadelphia Confession is strongly Calvinistic. The New Hampshire Confession modifies some of the statements of the earlier documents, and may be characterized as moderately Calvinistic. But while these confessions are recognized as fair expressions of the faith of Baptists, there is nothing binding in them, and they are not regarded as having any special authority."
Baptists are firm in their stand for temperance as far as strong drink is concerned. This is evident from the following quotation from the Baptist Encyclopedia, article, "Temperance" : "Let Christians live in the practice of total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, discountenancing their use on wedding, and other private or public occasions."
Word.—"The organized activities of the Baptist churches are, for the most part, conducted by societies whose membership includes individuals and delegates from churches or associations, membership in most cases being based on contributions." Chief of these societies are the American Baptist Publication Society, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society.
Baptist churches have felt the need for centralization of administration, in the interest both of economy and efficiency. They "began to consider whether their benevolent societies, hitherto in some respects distinct from each other, might not be brought into some form of general organization. . . . After considerable discussion a move in this direction was made in 1907, which has been darned out quite successfully. . .
"Educational work among the Baptists in the United States has made great strides in recent years, but the same general independence of ecclesiastical control is manifest in this department as in the government of the local churches. . . . The same is true in the management of Baptist philanthropic institutions. In most cases, however, the membership of the boards is limited to persons connected with Baptist churches.
"In addition to the work done by the denominational societies, a large amount of missionary work and educational is carried on by individual churches, which is not included in any denominational statement."
The Baptist Church (in 1936) was the second largest Protestant denomination, the Methodists holding first place. In that year the total membership was 8,440,922.—Extract from Religious Bodies (1936), by U.S. Department of Commerce. Arranged by Lucille Wursnant, Bible Instructor, Arkansas-Louisiana Conference.