Baptist Affirmations

Since the rise of the Baptist denomination during the early 1600s in England, Baptists have consistently affirmed a number of core beliefs. Below we list eight affirmations commonly held by Baptists throughout history.[1]

(1) Biblical Authority

Scripture alone is the final source of authority for a believer’s faith and practice. This affirmation views the Bible as God-breathed, completely trustworthy, without error (inerrant) and infallible. Human experience, reason, church councils, the Roman Catholic Church, the pope or other sources of authority are not superior to biblical authority.

(2) Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, Messiah and Savior. He died on the cross as the substitute for sinners and His death made full atonement for sin. God raised Christ from the dead three days after His death. Salvation is found in Him alone, and He is Lord over all.

(3) Evangelism

Baptists have placed a strong emphasis on the worldwide proclamation of the gospel in order to make disciples who obey Jesus’ teaching.

(4) Regenerate Church Membership

According to Baptist doctrine, the only legitimate candidate for church membership is one who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.[2] Regeneration refers to the Spirit’s work of bringing life to those who are spiritually dead (e.g., John 3:3-8).

(5) Believer’s Baptism

Baptists have taught that baptism is only for those who have consciously responded to Christ’s free gift of salvation with repentance and faith. Baptists’ affirmation of believer’s baptism stands in contrast with the views of Presbyterians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians who practice various forms of infant baptism. Baptism is how one testifies of his or her identification with Christ (Rom 6:1-7).

(6) Congregational Church Government

Baptists have historically affirmed a form of church government called “congregationalism,” government by a local congregation’s own membership rather than an external authority. Congregationalism differs from Presbyterian church government (assemblies of presbyters or elders exercise authority) and Episcopalian church government (bishop has oversight over congregations in an area called a diocese).[3] Congregationalism is tied to the Reformation principle (from Luther) of the priesthood of all believers (Exod 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9), which teaches that all believers are to minister and serve other Christians and the world.

(7) Local Church Autonomy

Local church autonomy is the idea that each local congregation is free to make decisions apart from an external ecclesiastical group. This means that no local association or larger denominational body can tell a local church what to do. This does not mean that each local church is completely free to do as it pleases and remain in good standing with local, state or national denominational bodies, however. If a local church strays significantly from Scripture or Baptist beliefs, its local association, state convention or national convention may choose to withdraw fellowship from it. Autonomy does not mean “no accountability.”

(8) Religious Freedom/Liberty of Conscience

Throughout history, Baptists have consistently advocated for religious freedom or liberty of conscious. Other terms used by Baptists to reference this foundational conviction include “soul competency,” “soul freedom” and “soul liberty.” Religious freedom denotes the conviction that a believer should not be coerced by others, especially the state, to violate his or her religious beliefs. Baptists have argued that the best way to ensure religious liberty is through the separation of the church and state.[4]


[1] This survey of Baptist affirmations follows John Hammett’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology; Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn and Michael Haykin’s The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement and Stan Norman’s The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church.

[2] Every major Baptist confession of faith has affirmed regenerate church membership.

[3] The Presbyterian form of church government is followed by various Christian traditions, most notably Presbyterian congregations (e.g., PCUSA). Christian traditions that follow the Episcopalian form of church government in various forms include Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and Episcopalianism.

[4] The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message articulates well this historic Baptist conviction: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God.”

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