Baptists can officially trace their heritage back to 1609 in Amsterdam, Holland. As a result of a series of meetings of English Separatists John Smyth and Thomas Helwys with the Dutch Anabaptists, the Mennonites, the first English “baptistic” church was started (Baptists and the Bible, p. 12). Since there wasn’t a church sign out front, we don’t know if the church name included the word “Baptist,” but this assembly of believers in Christ was both reformed and baptistic in their doctrine. Initially, these dissenters from the Anglican and Catholic churches baptized by affusion (pouring), but what made them baptistic was their insistence that ONLY those who professed faith in Christ could be baptized. Smyth and Helwys were not the first men to insist upon believer’s baptism. Prior to this group, Christian groups who baptized believers again were often referred to as Anabaptists. (It is important to realize “Anabaptists” included a large group of people over centuries of time many of whom were quite extreme and held heretical beliefs.) “Baptist” was the name given to those who practiced believer’s baptism by others who opposed them in England. In those days, Baptists were divided into two groups particular and general Baptists, but both agreed on believer’s baptism. Today, Berean would not fit into either the particular or general Baptist associations.
In addition to these men, Roger Williams is given credit for forming the first Baptist church in America in 1638 where again the separation of church and state, soul liberty, and believer’s baptism by immersion were hallmarks of this first baptistic church. William’s contribution was short lived. And were it not for men like John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, Thomas Gould, and Isaac Backus, Baptists may not have grown in America like they did. In 1644, the first confession of faith was adopted by multiple churches with the specific name “Baptist” in the confession of faith.
Today, Baptist groups constitute the largest non-Catholic assembly in America. With well over 25 million Baptists of tremendous variety, it is impossible to speak for all of these churches. There are both liberal and conservative Baptist churches with much variety in doctrine and practice. Although there are some exceptions, all Baptists generally hold to the following distinctions which separate them from other Protestant denominations: First and foremost, Baptists are followers of Christ.
The acrostic B-A-P-T-I-S-T-S (seen below) can be used to articulate what makes Berean different from liberal Baptist churches, other mainline denominational churches, and the Catholic tradition. Berean Baptist Church is also committed to each of the five solas of the Reformation because each is clearly taught in the Bible (read more). Christ, Scripture, Faith, Grace, and all to the glory of God alone are all characteristics of true churches.
B is for Bible
Baptists believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and therefore is the supreme and sole basis for faith and practice in the Christian life and church. Confessions of faith may be used to articulate distinctives from other Protestant groups; however, church councils, creeds, and traditions are never presented as authoritative in Baptist churches. Today, there is not one single confession of faith that all Baptists subscribe to collectively. The first baptistic confession was called A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland. Since that first confession of faith, Baptists have used confessions to distinguish themselves one from another. Berean does not subscribe to a particular confession of faith. It has its own covenant and articles of faith.
A is for Autonomy
Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church. Baptists may have para-church organizations or associations assisting the local church, but these organizations do not rule over the local church. Baptist churches govern themselves from within the church. Baptists reject the idea that a presbytery is Biblical. Berean owns its own property and governs itself.
P is for Priesthood
Baptists believe in the individual priesthood of each believer in Jesus Christ. Baptists confess sin one to another and before their Savior—not before a priest. Baptists insist that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. Because of this belief in the priesthood of each believer, Baptists insist upon true congregational government under the leadership of pastors/elders.
T is for Two Offices
Baptists believe that the two offices in the local church are those of pastor and deacon. Baptists do not see a distinction in the office of elder, pastor, or bishop (overseer). Berean insists that those in the office of pastor and deacon be males. Baptist churches do not believe that the office of apostle, pope, cardinal, or any other such position exists for the post-apostolic church age.
I is for Individual Soul Liberty
Baptists respect the differences individuals may have on issues, preferences, standards, and convictions. They extend liberty to each other to disagree on political, theological, and other non-essential matters. Baptists believe that there is no higher law than a God-given conscience.
S is for Saved Church Membership
Baptists insist upon regenerate (converted or born again) church membership. Members must publically profess faith in Christ and be baptized by immersion after salvation before they will be admitted into the voting membership of the church. Those who were baptized as infants must be baptized again.
T is for Two Ordinances
Baptists believe that the church should have only two ordinances: baptism by full immersion in water for believers in Christ only and the memorial observance of the Lord’s Supper. Baptists reject the view that either ordinance is efficacious in a salvific way.
S is for Separation
From the beginning, Baptists have insisted upon the separation of the church and state. Baptists believe the authority of the State should never be used to force conversion, baptism, attendance, or compliance with church ordinances. Baptists believe that Christ is the Lord of the church and reject any suggestion that an earthly king has authority in the church. However, Baptists do not believe this separation prevents church members from involving themselves in the affairs of the state or serving in the defense of their nation. This distinguishes Baptists from those in the Anabaptist heritage.
Berean Baptist Church holds to these distinctives without reservation because we believe each can be found in the teachings of Christ and His Apostles in the New Testament.
Read more about Baptist Beginnings. Cut and paste this URL into your browser if the hyperlink doesn’t work: http://www.baptisthistory.org/bhhs/baptistorigins/baptistbeginnings.html.