In my novel The Secret Side of Jaya, she learns a lot about Baptists while living in the Ozarks.
For starters, within their shared identity, they come in all varieties of theological nuance and group practice – and the lines within them can be drawn sharply. And they don’t handle snakes as part of their worship.
Here are a few facts:
- Baptism is reserved for believing “born again” adults and is usually by water immersion only. Jesus is accepted as Lord and Savior.
- Church authority, with few exceptions, is placed in the local congregation, which can voluntarily affiliate with other like-minded fellowships. Beliefs can vary by congregation, historically along Calvinist versus Arminian lines. Far more than I want to get into here, other than say I’m in the Arminian camp.
- The major affiliations in the U.S. are the Southern Baptist Convention, American Baptist Association, National Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention of America, American Baptist Churches USA, and Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Far from the only ones.
- There are also Independent Baptist churches that refuse to affiliate with others.
- Faith is a matter between God and the individual. Thus, absolute liberty of conscience is essential.
- The Bible is asserted as the only norm of faith and practice. So start flipping pages.
- Baptist membership is roughly 100 million worldwide – half of them in the USA, where they constitute a third of American Protestants, especially in the South.
- They make up more than 40 percent of the population in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.
- Forty-five percent of African-Americans identify themselves as Baptists.
- The Lord’s Supper, or communion, is considered symbolic and not necessary for salvation. There is no set calendar for its observance.
Does this make their identity any clearer? We haven’t even touched on some of the key theological language.