Who are the Baptists?

Who are the Baptists?

Baptists are in the mainstream of Christianity, and share with all the main denominations the major doctrines of the faith. The most noticeable distinction is that baptism follows a conscious commitment to Christ, rather than being applied to babies. Baptists believe this was the practise of the early church, but that it became lost in the following centuries. It was recovered in the sixteenth century in Europe by the Anabaptists, who were the most radical wing of the Reformation, and who suffered much from both Catholics and Protestants for their views.

Anabaptists did not gain a strong foothold in Britain, but in the following century the first British baptist churches, distinct from the continental Anabaptists, were founded. They suffered a great deal of persecution during the remaining years of the century, apart from during the period of the English Civil War and Cromwell's Protectorate. From the eighteenth century, persecution of, though not all restrictions on, "Dissenters" was ended, and they were able to flourish, achieving phenomenal growth in the nineteenth century.

The practise of believer's baptism is arises from the conviction that the church of Christ comprises only those who have personally repented and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, it is a church of converted people, born again of the Spirit of God.

Most Baptists believe in a trained, ordained ministry, but also in the "priesthood of all believers" (see 1 Peter 2.5 & 9), meaning that every Christian has direct access to God through Jesus Christ, needing no human intermediary either to hear his confession or to convey God's forgiveness. Baptists also believe in freedom of religion, for if the church is comprised of those with personal faith, no one can or should be forced to join it. As the man who founded the first Baptist church on British soil (1612), Thomas Helwys, wrote: "the magistrate not to meddle with religion or matters of conscience, nor compel men to this or that form of religion".

Nowadays, Baptists are one of the larger denominations (particularly in the USA), but most are happy to be in fellowship with Christians of many denominations, recognising that God's truth is far too big to be contained by any one group, and that none of us is infallible, except God alone.