Baptist Churches

views updated May 23 2018


BAPTIST CHURCHES . As with most denominational names, the term Baptist began as a pejorative nickname. It first appeared as Anabaptist, or "rebaptizer," because in the sixteenth century, when this group arose in Western Christendom, virtually all persons had already been baptized as infants. Thus, these rebaptizers were scandalously denying the validity of that first baptism, setting themselves up as a truer church, if not indeed as the true church. Gradually, as infant baptism became less prevalent and as alternative modes of worship grew more widespread, this still young denomination adopted the shortened form of Baptist, both as a convenient distinction and as a point of honor. (New England churches in the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century gradually progressed from simply "the Church of Christ" to "the Church of Christ in Gospel Order" to "the Church of Christ Baptized upon Profession of Their Faith" to "the Baptized Church of Christ" to, finally, the Baptist Church.) To be sure, the new subject of the baptism (namely the adult, or "believer") and not originally the mode of baptism (whether by sprinkling, pouring, or immersing) stood out as the most glaring liturgical innovation of this politically powerless and socially suspect group. Although not preserved in the denominational designation, the other feature of the early Baptist movement that most alarmed contemporaries was the Baptists' novel notion that civil government had no responsibility, and indeed no right, to enforce a religious conformity. As one of their seventeenth-century opponents wrote, Anabaptists "deny Civil Government to be proved of Christ" (Featley, 1646).


As used by their enemies, the word Anabaptist was calculated to have an unnerving effect upon all who believed in a well-ordered society, for the term suggested that English rebaptizers of the seventeenth century were of a piece with the most radical continental rebaptizers of the century before. Thus every fanaticism, every antinomianism, every vagary of the Reformation's bloodiest days could be laid at the doorstep of those English Separatists opposing infant baptism. History, to say nothing of the specific individuals involved, was by this indiscriminate name-calling badly served, for modern Baptists have only the most tenuous connection with the radical reformers of the sixteenth century. (Modern Mennonites may be more accurately seen as lineal descendants of the Reformation's left wing.) English and American Baptists, who in the twentieth century accounted for nearly 90 percent of all Baptists worldwide, emerged from the Puritan agitations of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

Sharing many of the Puritan concerns about a Church of England still too papist, still too engrossed with civil enforcement and ecclesiastical preferment, these separating Puritans early distinguished themselves by insisting that the church be a voluntary society. That voluntarism had two critical components: (1) the insistence that members choose their church rather than be born into it; this voluntary act was testified to by the act of baptism, which was both obedient to Christ's command and declarative of one's personal, uncoerced confession of faith; and (2) the conviction that the covenant of believers to work and worship together was a private agreement with which the state had nothing to do, for conscience must be left free. As Thomas Helwys (c. 1550c. 1616), one of that first generation of English Baptists, wrote, "the King is a mortal man and not God, therefore [he] hath no power over the immortal souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual lords over them."

The leadership of Helwys and two others, John Smyth (d. 1612) and John Murton, proved decisive in the first two decades of the seventeenth century as the English General Baptists (that is, non-Calvinist, affirming an unrestricted or general atonement for humankind) grew from a scarcely visible knot of believers in 1609 to around twenty thousand members by 1660. Despite this impressive showing, however, the major strength of the modern Baptist churches came from a somewhat later development of the 1630s: the rise of the Particular Baptists (of Calvinist orientation, affirming a limited or particular redemption for humankind). Under the leadership of John Spilsbury in the decade following 1633, a single church became mother to six more. By the time seven such churches existed in and around London, these Calvinist Baptists had also reintroduced the ancient Christian practice of baptism by immersion, this mode being preferred as a more suitable symbol of one's burial with Christ followed by one's new birth or resurrection from that death to walk in a wholly new life. One of the members of Spilsbury's group, Mark Lucar (d. 1676), immigrated to America, settling in Newport, Rhode Island. There he introduced the "new baptism" to New England's scattered Anabaptists, as they were still called. Lucar, arriving sometime before 1648, also helped strengthen ties between American and English Baptists as the two groups together labored to make clear the unfairness of the broad application of the "Anabaptist" label. (New England continued to legislate against Anabaptists.) In this endeavor they were much assisted by the moderate, well-reasoned, properly Calvinist London Confession of 1644.

Baptist growth in America lagged behind that of England in the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. Roger Williams (1603?1683) gave the infant denomination both a geographical base and a theological thrust when in 1636, as an exile from Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, he made his way on foot to a territory at the head of the Narragansett Bay. After a careful and conscientious purchase of land from the Indians, he named the first settlement Providence in gratitude to God for having delivered him safely from the Puritans, the Indians, and the rigors of his fourteen-week exposure to the New England winter. The colony of Rhode Island, founded on the principle of a "full liberty in religious concernments," as well as on a hot hatred of the "Bloudy Tenent of Persecution" (the title of Williams's 1644 London publication), received into its midst all manner of religious pariahs: Baptists, Quakers, Ranters, Fifth Monarchists, Gortonists, and many others. Yet only in a limited sense did Rhode Island become a Baptist stronghold. By the end of the seventeenth century, Quakers dominated the colony politically, while Baptists had separated into Calvinist, Arminian (Six Principle), and Seventh-day factions. Williams, moreover, had remained within the Baptist fold only briefly; the leadership of the Providence church quickly passed into other hands. In Newport, on the other hand, the more enduring leadership of John Clarke (16091676; assisted by Lucar, Obadiah Holmes [16071650], and Joseph Torrey) gave the infant denomination a firm if tiny base in the New World.

Expansion in North America

The great growth of Baptists in North America (and by extension in the world) followed the eighteenth century's Great Awakening, that Calvinist explosion of evangelical zeal and intense religious experience. Even though Baptists were not prime leaders in the movement, they were the prime beneficiaries of it. Churches separating from the Congregational establishments in New England often moved from a halfway house called "Separatist" to a new denominational home called "Baptist." For example, the eminent pastor, theologian, historian, and civil libertarian Isaac Backus (17241806) followed this path. Moreover, the Awakening, even if it did not make an itinerant ministry respectable, did make such traveling evangelism both popular and pervasive. John Leland (17541841), a New Englander transplanted to Virginia, is an instructive example of such a ministry: irregular, unauthorized, ill-supported, and enormously effective. The names of Backus and Leland also point to a rhetoric that during the Revolutionary period served to identify Baptists with the cause of liberty, both civil and ecclesiastical. In the South, where the Church of England had for so long enjoyed a legal monopoly, Baptists seized upon the discomfort of a church so swiftly disestablished and so widely under suspicion to make major conquests among farmers, artisans, and even gentry.

After the American Revolution, Baptists also made phenomenal advances among the nation's blacks. Using a persuasive preaching style, an accessible theology, an appealing baptismal ritual, and an ecclesiology that granted freedom from white rule, the Baptist message found ready hearers among both enslaved and free blacks. By the end of the nineteenth century, black Baptists had formed their own national organizations, publishing boards, and mission societies. By the mid-twentieth century, approximately two-thirds of America's black Christians were Baptists, and one-third or more of all of America's Baptists were black. Like their white counterparts, however, blacks found it difficult to maintain organizational or theological unity.

The pattern of increasing diversity had been set by the white Baptists. Even before the nineteenth century began, some Baptists, disturbed by the prevailing Calvinist orientation of their denomination, chose to emphasize people's free will: Free Will Baptists thus maintained a separate identity until early in the twentieth century. Others in the new nation, fearing that Baptists would aspire to national status with all the evils that bureaucracy and hierarchy implied, resisted the creation of national societies and boards, preferring to remain in smaller, more local, more nearly autonomous units. In the bitter conflict over slavery, more specifically over the appointment of a slaveholding missionary, white Baptists split along geographical lines in 1845, and the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in Augusta, Georgia. (A national organization of Baptists dated back only to 1814, so denominational unity in the United States enjoyed but a brief life.) The Southern Baptist Convention, with its base initially in the states of the southern Confederacy, moved aggressively to the West, to the North, and to "foreign fields," becoming the largest single Baptist entity in the world. By the mid-twentieth century it had also become the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The northern group (originally the Northern Baptist Convention, now the American Baptist Churches, USA), with about three-fourths the number of churches as the southern group at the time of separation, found itself repeatedly depleted in the twentieth century by separations and schismsmost of them related to the conflict between modernists and fundamentalists. As a consequence, by the late twentieth century the Southern Baptist Convention outnumbered its northern counterpart by about ten to one. Although the other major Protestant groups that divided over slavery reunitedthe Methodists in 1939 and the Presbyterians in 1983the Baptists have shown little sign of returning to a single fold. In fact they continued to divide and subdivide into the twenty-first century. Southern Baptists divided over questions of theology and denominational control, with moderates forming such new groups as the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Baptists Committed.

In 2000 the northern and southern "halves" had an aggregate membership of around nineteen million, while the two oldest black denominations had a combined membership of eight to ten million. This leaves uncounted some four or five million Baptists in the United States who are scattered among a wide variety of other organizations. Most of these groups affirm a strict congregational polity (eschewing any national superstructure or headquarters), a rigid biblical theology (rejecting all critical study of the biblical text itself), and their own special hold on "the faith once delivered to the saints" (opposing all ecumenical ventures, even with other Baptist bodies). The Baptist family in the United States is largeProtestantism's largest by far in the nation, as it approaches thirty millionbut as in many another large family, some members do not speak to other members.


Outside the United States, the Baptist churches are unevenly, and often sparsely, scattered. One may speak most conveniently in terms of continents rather than individual nations in offering estimates of membership: in Africa and Europe, about 1 million in each; in Asia, about 1.5 million; and in Central and South America, something less than 1 million. In Canada, to which New England Baptists began to migrate in the late eighteenth century, there are between 100,000 and 200,000 Baptists. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Baptists worldwide numbered over forty million, with over thirty million in the United States.

The former Soviet Union (counted in the European total) constitutes something of a special case as the Baptist presence there is both highly visible and highly vulnerable. Baptists entered Russia from several points of departure in the late nineteenth century, but they encountered severe opposition from the czars and the Russian Orthodox Church. In the USSR that opposition intensified as Baptists, true to an ancient heritage, found any interference or regulation by the state intolerable. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, new Baptist groups were established in a variety of newly formed eastern European countries. These groups included the Baptist Unions of Lithuania, Georgia, Romania, and Latvia. New churches and seminaries were formed, and many of the unions affiliated with the European Baptist Federation and the Baptist World Alliance. The latter is the primary international fellowship of Baptists, funding programs and promoting church interaction throughout the world.

In England the General Baptists of the seventeenth century lost either zeal or identity or both, and many of that number merged with the Universalists. The Calvinist or Particular Baptists maintained both zeal and identity, but in the face of a powerful and sometimes repressive national church, the numbers of these dissenters never approached that of their coreligionists in the United States. In 2000, Baptists in the British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) numbered a little over 200,000.

Because of their belief in a threefold immersion (separately in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), German Baptists received the nickname of "Dunkers" (or "Dunkards"). Known officially since 1908 as the Church of the Brethren, these Baptists originated in Germany early in the eighteenth century. Fleeing from persecution there, however, they immigrated virtually en masse to America, settling in Pennsylvania, the Virginia backcountry, and the Midwest. Although distinguished by liturgical emphases on the Love Feast and the ceremonial washing of each other's feet, these German Baptists attract most public attention by their consistent witness for peace and their choice of alternative service rather than military enlistment. Their membership in 2000 neared 200,000. One other sizable group of distinctive ethnic heritage, the (Swedish) Baptist General Conference, dropped its ethnic label in 1945; in 2000 its membership in the United States exceeded 130,000.

Across nearly four centuries and six continents, the Baptist churches have multiplied in variety nearly as much as in number. Yet it is possible to point to broad features generally characteristic of the entire group. The first broad feature is voluntarism, which places Baptists squarely in the free-church tradition. Membership is by choice; creeds are to emerge from below and not to be handed down from above; covenants are ideally arrived at by the local congregations and periodically revised; and worship follows no fixed form, without service books or a canon of prayers. That voluntarism also sees its integrity and spontaneity as fatally compromised whenever the state intrudes into the realm of religious conscience. Voluntarism has its weaker side in becoming the passive reflection of a surrounding culture, in surrendering slowly and unthinkingly to what one author has called the "cultural captivity of the churches" (Eighmy, 1972). The second broad feature is Pietism, which places its first priority on the personal and direct encounter with God. Such individualism protects against an autocratic or coldly impersonal structure, but it can also lead to a chaotic splintering where, as Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882) said, every man is his own church. Pietism ensures a zeal; it does not always carry with it a corresponding bounty of knowledge and public responsibility.

The Baptist movement's third broad feature is evangelism, which in some times and places has been seen as the totality of the Baptist effort. Special classes and techniques in "soul winning" have been developed, and the revival meeting became standard fare in most Baptist churches, whether large or small, urban or rural. This evangelistic emphasis has also been responsible for a heavy investment in missions, both at home and abroad. In the opening of the American West, such men as Isaac McCoy (17841846) and John Mason Peck (17891858) played major roles. Abroad, the path cut in the early nineteenth century by Adoniram Judson (17881850) and Luther Rice (17831836) was traveled by thousands, both male and female, in succeeding decades. Yet there is also a strong antimission strain in Baptist history, institutionalized in several Primitive Baptist bodies, both black and white.

The fourth broad feature is sectarianism, which has kept most Baptists on the fringes of the ecumenical movement. The transition from sect to denomination is uneven and to some degree unpredictable. A mid-nineteenth-century movement known as Landmarkism represents the sectarian extreme; it held that true Baptist churches have existed from the apostolic age and only the true local church has a valid ministry, valid sacraments, and biblical authenticity. The American Baptist Association, with about one million members in the 1980s, constitutes the contemporary manifestation of a sectarianism that rejects all ecumenical endeavors, is strongly suspicious of Roman Catholicism, and deeply resents those Baptist churches that behave in a more "denominational" way.

See Also

Anabaptism; Williams, Roger.


Two books on English Baptists that provide not only good historical background but excellent insight into contemporary life and thought are H. Wheeler Robinson's The Life and Faith of the Baptists, rev. ed. (London, 1946), and Ernest A. Payne's The Fellowship of Believers: Baptist Thought and Practice Yesterday and Today, rev. ed. (London, 1952). These two works have been reprinted together under the title British Baptists (New York, 1980). A worldview is provided in Bill J. Leonard's Baptist Ways: A History (Valley Forge, Pa., 2003), whereas Samuel S. Hill Jr. and Robert G. Torbet reviewed the American scene in Baptists North and South (Valley Forge, Pa., 1964). On the Southern Baptist Convention specifically, see Jesse C. Fletcher, The Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville, Tenn., 1994). Two works on Baptist development in early America made giant historiographical strides over most previous efforts. William G. McLoughlin's New England Dissent, 16301833, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), and C. C. Goen's Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 17401800 (New Haven, Conn., 1962). Finally, for an informed view of alternative ecclesiological styles among Baptists, see Winthrop Still Hudson, ed., Baptist Concepts of the Church (Chicago, 1959).

Other sources cited in the article include John Lee Eighmy, Churches in Cultural Captivity: A History of the Social Attitudes of Southern Baptists (Knoxville, Tenn., 1972), and Daniel Featley, The Dippers Dipt, or the Anabaptists Duck'd and Plung'd over head and eares, at a disputation in Southwark (London, 1646).

Edwin S. Gaustad (1987)

Bill Leonard (2005)

Baptist Churches

views updated Jun 11 2018


BAPTIST CHURCHES. The distinguishing feature of Baptist churches is their belief that a true church is a local community of faithful believers. This belief led the Baptist founders to reject infant baptism, for which they found no biblical warrant, and to insist that local congregations were subject to no supra-local ecclesiastical agency.


Baptists originated in the puritan reforming movements in the seventeenth-century Church of England that attempted to restore the primitive worship and organization of the churches described in the New Testament. A few of these reformers withdrew into small independent congregations, and in 1608 the English separatist John Smyth led one of them to Amsterdam, where he soon decided that the Bible offered no precedent for the baptism of infants and that infant baptism contradicted a true view of the church as a community of the faithful. In conversation with Dutch Anabaptists, whose origins could be traced to similar efforts at restoration in sixteenth-century Switzerland, Smyth's group also made known its dislike of the Calvinist theology held by many of its allies in re-form. In 1612 some in the congregation, under Thomas Helwys, returned to England, where their anti-Calvinist belief that Christ died for all persons (a "general" atonement) gave them the name General Baptists. In 1638, however, defectors from an independent Southwark (London) separatist congregation initiated, under the leadership of John Spilsbury, a Calvinistic Baptist church. Because of their belief that Christ died only for the elect, they became known as Particular Baptists.

Both traditions found supporters in colonial America. The Baptist congregations established by Roger Williams in 1639 in Providence, Rhode Island, and John Clarke between 1638 and 1648 in Newport, Rhode Island, adhered to a Calvinist theology. By 1652, however, General Baptist theology had a foothold in Rhode Island, and by the end of the century it had spread to the South. Often subjected to restriction and persecution by colonial authorities, both strands of the movement expanded slowly, with only about thirty-five congregations between them in 1700. In 1707, however, five Calvinist churches in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania formed the

Philadelphia Baptist Association to help coordinate the spread of the Baptist message. In 1751, Oliver Hart led the formation of a second association in Charleston, South Carolina, and others soon followed in New England and Virginia.

In 1742 the Philadelphia Association adopted what became known as the Philadelphia Confession, a statement of belief modeled after the Calvinist London Confession of 1689, which affirmed that a sovereign God granted the gift of faith and salvation only to the elect, who were foreordained to eternal life. While many Baptists objected to creeds, insisting on the sole sufficiency of Scripture, these confessional statements influenced local congregations and associations throughout the colonies.

After a surge of religious revivals that began around 1738, a Baptist theology of the church attracted adherents among former Congregationalists whose insistence on the necessity for an experience of conversion or "rebirth" led them to separate from less demanding Congregational churches. When some of these Separate Baptists migrated from New England, they carried their revivalist form of Calvinist piety into the Middle Colonies and the South. After 1755, led especially by Shubael Stearns in North Carolina, they gradually began to outnumber earlier Calvinistic Baptists, who adopted the name Regular Baptists to distinguish themselves. A smaller number of anti-Calvinist, or "free-will," Baptists established themselves in North Carolina in 1727 through the leadership of Paul Palmer and in northern New England through the preaching of the lay exhorter Benjamin Randall, who inspired the formation in New Hampshire of a Free Will Baptist Association in 1782. By 1780 the various Baptist groups had formed around 450 churches, a number exceeded only by Congregationalists with about 750 and Presbyterians with some 490.

Vigorously opposed to the colonial church establishments, eighteenth-century Baptists struggled for the separation of church and state. Prominent Baptists like John Leland in Virginia spoke out for religious freedom and "soul liberty," a term derived from Roger Williams to designate the rights of individual conscience. The gradual collapse of state religious establishments after ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789 served Baptist purposes, and by 1800 they had become for a while the largest denomination in the nation, with almost twice as many adherents as the second-ranked Congregationalists.


In his Fifty Years Among the Baptists (1860), the denominational historian David Benedict recalled that in 1800 the Baptists remained a "poor and despised" people, "denounced" by more fashionable churches as "the dregs of Christendom," but that the denomination also had its share of educated leaders, who supported the creation of colleges, seminaries, tract societies, and missionary agencies. Educated leaders provided the impetus for the creation in 1814 of a General Missionary Convention, soon called the Triennial Convention, to sponsor home and foreign missions. Before long, it had allied itself with other agencies to promote publication and education.

Other Baptists, often expressing cultural resentment of the educated, opposed this organized missionary movement on the grounds that it lacked biblical warrants and that God would save the elect without the aid of human agencies. These critics had coalesced by 1832 into the Primitive (or Hard-Shell, or Anti-Missionary) Baptist movement, but their numbers remained small. Most of the Calvinistic Baptist churches preferred a moderate Calvinism of the sort promoted in the New Hampshire Confession (1833), emphasizing that belief in God's sovereignty and the doctrine of election was compatible with a proper understanding of human free agency. The majority gave strong encouragement to home and foreign missions while also supporting colleges like Brown (1764), Furman (1826), and Baylor (1845) and theological seminaries including Newton (1825) and Southern Baptist (1859).

Far more serious were divisions over slavery, racial difference, and region. When the Executive Board of the Home Mission Society of the Triennial Convention refused to appoint slaveholding missionaries, southerners created the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. White discrimination had long intensified the desire of African Americans to form their own congregations—like the church at Silver Bluff across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia, founded around 1773—and by 1865 black Baptists had created more than 200 churches. After an influx of new members following the Civil War, the black churches organized the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention in 1880 and the National Baptist Convention in 1895. In 1907, moreover, the predominantly white churches of the North combined several independent agencies to form the Northern Baptist Convention (renamed in 1973 as the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.). These divisions endured into the twenty-first century.

One further nineteenth-century division helped shape the ethos of Baptist churches in the South. In 1851, James R. Graves in Tennessee began to argue that Baptists represented an unbroken succession of visible churches since the time of John the Baptist and Christ, that they were the only true churches, that they alone administered baptism properly, and that their members could not join in church fellowship with other Christians, including other Baptists who did not accept these truths. This Landmark Baptist movement (so named from the title of a book promoting it) influenced many local churches in the South and helped give rise in 1905 to the Baptist General Association, enlarged and reorganized in 1924 into a group that became known as the American Baptist Association, which also represented a protest by several church leaders in the Southwest against the authority of the Southern Baptist Convention.

By the early twentieth century, however, influential Baptists in the North, like William Newton Clarke at Colgate Theological Seminary, joined in the effort to re-state Protestant theology in the light of modern thought, while others, like Walter Rauschenbusch of Rochester Theological Seminary, promoted a "social gospel" that called for justice for the poor. These revisionist currents gradually influenced some of the churches of the Northern Baptist Convention, but they also evoked reactions by fundamentalists, who formed such counter organizations as the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (1932) and the Conservative Baptist Association (1947), along with thousands of independent Baptist congregations. The mood of reaction eventually shook even the conservative Southern Baptist Convention when fundamentalists, claiming to find liberalism in Baptist colleges, seminaries, and agencies, and also disturbed by the ordination of women, began in 1979 a successful takeover of the convention, which had led by 1987 to a gradual withdrawal of many moderates.

Although few in the Baptist churches accepted the social gospel, by 1908 Baptist denominations began to create new agencies and commissions to address public affairs. The effort proved divisive. Baptists could agree about the evils of alcohol abuse, gambling, and other vices, but they moved in different directions on social policies. When the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention affirmed the Supreme Court's rulings on racial integration and school prayer, southern social conservatives objected, and when the CLC refused to condemn the Court's 1973 ruling on abortion, the conservatives organized a movement that by 1987 had transformed the CLC into an agency dedicated to a legal ban on all abortion. The civil rights movement also divided Baptists, even in the black churches, which provided strong lay and clerical leadership in the battle for racial equality. The opposition of the leaders of the National Baptist Convention to the social activism of the Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. led in 1961 to the formation of a separate Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Despite the internal ferment, Baptists remained the largest Protestant grouping in the nation. By 2001, the twenty-seven largest Baptist denominations reported an approximate membership of 28 million, but by then Baptists had organized themselves into more than sixty supra-local entities and close to 95,000 independent congregations, so the total membership was undoubtedly larger. The largest group was the Southern Baptist Convention, which claimed more than 15 million members and set much of the tone for southern Protestantism. As a whole, however, Baptists represent a diversity of theological and social views. Few generalizations can apply to all of them. They generally prefer simplicity in worship, with no fixed ritual formularies. They insist on the authority of Scripture as the source of their norms, and most do not regard the historic confessional statements as compulsory. And although in practice they grant considerable authority to centralized agencies, including the state and national convention organizations, they continue to affirm an ideal of the church as a local autonomous congregation of faithful Christians.


Benedict, David. Fifty Years Among the Baptists. New York: Sheldon, 1860.

Brackney, William Henry. The Baptists. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Leonard, Bill J. God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990.

Lumpkin, William L., ed. Baptist Confessions of Faith. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1959. Contains documents and commentary.

McBeth, H. Leon, ed. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1987.

McLoughlin, William G. New England Dissent, 1630–1833: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Sobel, Mechal. Trabelin' On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. "The Antimission Movement in the Jacksonian South: A Study in Regional Folk Culture." Journal of Southern History 36 (1970): 501–529.

E. BrooksHolifield

See alsoAfrican American Religions and Sects ; Creationism ; Fundamentalism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Social Gospel .

Baptist Churches

views updated May 18 2018

Baptist Churches. Christian denomination. Baptists form one of the largest Protestant bodies with a worldwide membership of over 40 million, plus a greater number of adherents. Its beginnings can be traced among the Anabaptists, and to the ministry of the English Puritan John Smyth (c.1554–1612), and his fellow separatist exiles, who made believers’ baptism the basis of their gathered church fellowship in Amsterdam. In England a Baptist ‘General Union’, formed in 1813, was gradually transformed into the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland (1873).

Concerned, since the publication of Helwys's Mystery of Iniquity (1612), about religious liberty, some early 17th-cent. Baptists sought freedom in America. Roger Williams began Baptist work at Rhode Island in 1639 which, after early difficulties, spread rapidly throughout the USA, largely inspired by the mid-18th-cent. Great Awakening in New England. The majority of their present congregations belong to either the ‘American Baptist Churches in the USA’ with 1.6 million members in 1983, the Southern Baptist Convention with 13.9 million, and two (largely black) National Conventions with a combined membership of 10.3 million. Additional smaller bodies provide a total Baptist membership in the USA of 26.7 million.

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Baptist churches