There are several views of the history of the Baptist church. One is that there has been a group of people who have held views identified with those of Baptists since the time of Christ's walk on Earth. Note, this is not the same concept as that of Apostolic Succession seen in other Christian denominations. Many Baptist theologians reject this claim for lack of evidence. Another view is that Baptists derived from the 16th century movement called 'the Anabaptists'; however the Baptists and Anabaptists disagreed on significant theological issues, as well as views about involvement in politics. The majority view of American historians of religion is that the Baptist church is a specific combination of beliefs and doctrines that have become successively more precisely enumerated and elaborated over the centuries. Notable influences include the Puritans, the Waldenses, John Bunyan, the Separatists, and more. According to this view, the first identifiable Baptist congregrations came into existence on the early 1600s.
A thorough and careful understanding of the Bible is an essential part of Baptist belief, and underlies much of the Baptist world view and theology. Any view that cannot be directly tied to a scriptural reference holds less importance and is generally considered to be based on personal opinion rather than God's leading.
Since one of the distinctives of the Baptist church is the idea of Priesthood of the Believer, Baptists reject the concept that there is authority flowing down from previous church leaders which can be traced to the apostles in Apostolic succession. Each person is responsible before God for his/her own understanding of God's word (the Bible), and is encouraged to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Another distinctive is the idea of Autonomy of the Local Church, which encourages Baptist churches to not be under the direct administrative control of any other body, such as a national council or a leader such as a bishop or pope. Zwingli was a strong influence on the expression of the idea of autonomy as well as Believer's Baptism. However, there have developed many cooperative associations of Baptists. The best known of these in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention.
Pacifism is a common trait with the followers of Menno (the Mennonites), as well as the Quakers). While pacifism is not an ideal held by all Baptists, it is common enough to be mentioned as an emphasis that exists within the movement.
Believer's Baptism is commonly contrasted with "Baptism of infants" or PedoBaptism. It is the belief that only a person who has reached the "Age of Accountability" is eligible for baptism into a local church of believers. The age of accountability is not a specific age, but rather is the age at which a person is capable of making a well-informed decision to believe in Jesus Christ and his saving grace. A person who is not mentally or emotionally capable of weighing the evidence and concluding if they wish to become a believer is generally believed to be in a state of grace, and thus, not subject to separation from God and Heaven.
It is a common, though largely mistaken, belief that Baptists strictly oppose gambling, alcohol, tobacco, dancing and movies. Generally, Baptist people realize the harmful effects that can occur if one isn't wise and careful about them, but few Baptist people will claim that they are specifically prohibited by any biblical passages.
- American Baptist Churches USA
- American Baptist Historical Society
- [General Association of Regular Baptist Churches]
- [Southern Baptist Convention]
- [Baptist World Alliance]