There is no one distinctive Baptist belief! Although probably most people think of believer's baptism as the distinguishing feature of Baptists, they are not the only Christians to practise it. Nor are they the only Christians to believe in congregational church government, the priesthood of all believers, or the separation of church and state. It is the combination of these various beliefs which make Baptists distinctive.
The Lordship of Christ
Jesus is Lord is the distinctive confession of faith. As individuals and as churches, Baptists seek to make Jesus Lord of every aspect of their lives.
The authority of the Bible
Baptists believe that the Bible shows us God's way for living. As radical believers, Baptists seek to root their lives in the revelation of God's truth.
Baptism for believers
On the basis of the New Testament, Baptists claim that baptism is for believers only. Baptism is only for those who are able to declare Jesus is Lord. As a symbol of Jesus claim on their lives, Baptists practice baptism by immersion, in which candidates symbolize their desire to die to self and to live for Christ. As individuals and as churches, Baptists seek to make Jesus Lord of every aspect of their lives. Baptists believe that the Bible shows us God's way for living.
The local church
Baptists understand the church as a community of believers who gather together for worship, witness and service. In the Baptist model of a believer's church every member has a role to play, whether in teaching, faith-sharing, evangelism, social action, pastoring, guiding, serving, prophetic insight, praying, healing, administration or hospitality.
The priesthood of all believers
In a Baptist church, an illustration of the priesthood of all believers is the church meeting. This is the occasion when members come together to understand in prayer God's will for their life together. In Baptist churches the final authority rests not with the ministers or deacons but with the members gathered together in church meetings. It is the church meeting which, for instance, appoints ministers, elders, deacons, and others who exercise various forms of leadership within a local congregation, decides financial policy and determines mission strategy. Church meetings tend to take place mid-week, normally on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Local churches will usually call a minister to serve among them. The minister functions as a church member with special responsibilities in caring for the members and leading in the church's mission. Their authority is in the affirmation of the congregation acting under God's guidance. They are almost invariably recognized by the wider family of churches.
Baptist churches have always come together in regional, national and international associations for support and fellowship. On the basis of the New Testament, Baptists believe that churches should not live in isolation from one another but rather be inter-dependent.
Sharing the faith
Baptists believe that each Christian has a duty to share their faith with others. William Carey was a Baptist who is known as the father of the modern missionary movement. Along with this emphasis on evangelism, however, Baptists recognize that missions include social action and involve promoting justice, social welfare, healing, education and peace in the world.
Religious freedom for all has always been a keystone of the Baptist way. Within Baptist churches, tolerance for differences of outlook and diversity of practice is encouraged.
How are Baptists different from other Christians?
In other Christian traditions, church membership is not always clearly defined. In a Baptist context, baptism involves not only commitment to Christ, but also commitment to Christ's Church. For Baptists, church membership involves a commitment not only to work together to extend Christ's Kingdom, but also to love one another and stand by one another whatever the cost.