A major division of Christianity. In the United States there are more than 70 distinct Baptist denominations or associations. Baptists practice baptism by immersion of persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ. They do not practice infant baptism and generally reject the notion of sacraments. They describe baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances carried out in obedience to Jesus’ commands in Scripture. Baptists are noted for their emphasis on personal religious experience and the authority of Scripture, which individuals are free to interpret according to conscience. Some Baptists do not like to be called Protestant because they trace their tradition’s origins to John the Baptist, but most historians say the Baptist tradition began with several early 17th-century breaks from English congregationalism.
The local congregation is the highest church authority for Baptists. No leader from a regional or national headquarters can tell a congregation what to do, and it is incorrect to refer to any body other than a congregation as the Baptist church. Baptists refer to their church connections as voluntary “ropes of sand.” The most tangible link between a local church and any convention or association is money: Local churches contribute to the state or national organizations and are considered “members” of the organizations they donate to.
There are dozens of associations of Baptist churches. The largest in the United States by far is the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. The smaller and more liberal American Baptist Churches USA is based in the northern United States. Prominant black Baptist associations include the National Baptist Convention of America, the National Baptist Convention USA and the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. Other major U.S. Baptist organizations include the Baptist General Conference, the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, the General Association of General Baptists and the North American Baptist Conference. The Baptist World Alliance, made up of more than 200 Baptist bodies throughout the world, organizes the Baptist World Congress, which generally meets every five years. The Southern Baptist Convention, a founder of the BWA, left the alliance in 2004 when the SBC leaders accused the BWA of becoming too liberal.
All members of the Baptist clergy may be referred to as ministers. Pastor applies if a minister leads a congregation. Use the Rev. on first reference before a clergy’s name. On second reference use only the last name.