Baptist Member of various Protestant and Evangelical sects who practise baptism of believers and regard immersion as the only legitimate form sanctioned by the New Testament. Like the Anabaptists, to whom they have an affinity but no formal links, they generally reject the practice of infant baptism, insisting that initiates must have freedom of thought and expression and must already be believers. Baptists originated among English dissenters of the 17th century, but have spread worldwide through emigration and missionary work. They uphold the principle of religious liberty. There is no official creed nor hierarchy and individual churches are autonomous. Baptists traditionally advocate the separation of Church and State. The Baptist World Alliance (founded 1905) holds regular international congresses. Today, the number of Baptists worldwide is estimated at more than 31 million.
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