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Baptist Churches and Baptist Beliefs

Divisions Among Baptist Churches

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Baptists have traditionally been suspicious any ecumenical movements designed to mediate theological differences between denominations, even when it comes to other Baptists. Because of this Baptists have fractured into numerous divisions, sects, and groups. They may agree on many things, but their differences are enough to keep them apart.

Southern Baptist Convention: Established in 1845 in order to preserve a religious foundation for human slavery, it has grown to be among the most theologically conservative Baptist groups and, because of that, has also begun to move away from the tradition of individual authority by abrogating the power of individual churches in an attempt to maintain orthodoxy in the beliefs of members.

American Baptist Church: Originally known as the Northern Baptist Convention, it was established in 1907. It is currently the fourth largest group of Baptists in the United States and it is also the most liberal. It consists of a federated body of otherwise independent churches which are united in their belief in adult baptism (by immersion) and the independence of local congregations.

Although it originally consisted of around three-quarters the number of churches as the Southern Baptist Convention, through the 20th century the American Baptist Church was afflicted by divisions and schisms. Today, the Southern Baptist Convention outnumbers the American Baptist Church by at least ten-to-one. Other Protestant denominations which divided over slavery, but the Baptits have not and the current theological divide suggests that this won’t likely change any time soon.

National Baptist Convention: established in 1895 it is currently the largest black denomination in the United States. It, along with other independent African-American Baptist churches, was created by free slaves after the Civil War and have long played an important role in the political and social lives of African-Americans. Freed slaves were attracted to Baptist churches because of their evangelistic zeal, accessible theology, and an ecclesiology that emphasized individual freedom (political and spiritual) from white authority.

Independent Baptist Churches: There are several million Baptists in America who are “unaccounted for.” This means that they are not members of a known Baptist organization. Baptists have traditionally been suspicious any ecumenical movements designed to mediate theological differences between denominations, even when it comes to other Baptists, so it’s only to be expected that there will be Baptist churches who continue to be under the radar of religious surveys.

International Baptist Churches: Although Baptist churches can be found all over the world, in most places they are not as well organized as they are in America. For the most part the individual churches are scattered widely — so much so, in fact, that it often makes more sense to talk about continent-wide Baptist organizations rather than national or regional organizations. Even in England, where modern Baptists got their start, their numbers have been reduced to a few tens of thousands.

The one country outside of the United States where Baptists play a very public role is Russia, but that is also the country where their position is the most vulnerable. Baptists believe in evangelization but the Russian Orthodox Church objects strongly to “outsiders” who take away adherents.

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