Southern as applied to Baptists describes a religious denomination, not a geographical area. At first, Southern Baptists occupied the southern region of the United States; they now live in all fifty states. With mission work all over the world, they are truly a global people.
Southern Baptists make up the largest non-Catholic denomination in America. They claim over 41,000 churches and more than 15,000,000 members. Church members differ in cultural, economic and educational backgrounds. And they do not always agree on some biblical or doctrinal matters. Still, Southern Baptists hold in common certain beliefs that shape their identity.
Southern Baptists, as a denomination, began in May 1845, in Augusta, Georgia. Yet their faith roots deeply in English and early American religious life.
In 1609, John Smyth formed the first Baptist church in Holland. Two years later, Thomas Helwys organized the first English Baptist church. In 1639, Roger Williams founded the first Baptist church in America. This church, in Providence, Rhode Island, still exists.
The Baptist zeal for evangelism led to a strong commitment to missions. In the early 1790's, an English cobbler named William Carey became a pioneer Baptist missionary. Luther Rice and Adoniram Judson set in motion the American Baptist missions movement in the early 1800's.
Baptist in the United States formed the Triennial Convention in 1814 to support foreign missions. Delegates from missionary societies and other Baptist bodies met every three years for this purpose.
As Baptists migrated into the South, they brought their doctrines and styles of worship. In the late seventeenth century, one group settled in Charleston, South Carolina. In the mid-1700's another group came to Sandy Creek, North Carolina.
The Charleston group stressed an educated ministry and structured worship. The Sandy Creek Baptists emphasized evangelism, revival and freedom to express feelings in worship. All these elements can be found among Southern Baptists today.
American Baptists split in May 1845. Northern Baptist leaders resisted the appointment of slaveholders as missionaries. Baptist leaders of the South disagreed and resented what they called unfair control over their life. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) grew out of this rift.
But the young convention still showed a commitment to missions and evangelism. Its constitution called for cooperation from the churches to spread the gospel. This concern remains at the heart of the denomination. And the Home and Foreign Mission Boards, formed in 1845, still send missionaries today.
Throughout their history, Southern Baptists have carried out diverse ministries. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, founded in 1859, and five other seminaries train ministers. Since 1891, the Sunday School Board (now called the Lifeway Christian Resources) has produced materials for Bible study and spiritual development.
Where major doctrines are concerned, Southern Baptists share many of the great essentials of the Christian faith with other Christian bodies. However, some beliefs are especially important to them:
1. Southern Baptists believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. For them it is authoritative, reliable and never misleading. It is the guide for faith and practice. In the Scriptures, God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and has declared His purpose for all creation.
2. Each person is able to come to God for himself or herself. There is no need for a third party to tell a person how to pray, how to interpret the Scriptures, or how to vote in church. All believers are ministers or servants of God. This is called the priesthood of believers.
3. Southern Baptists insist that for one to be baptized into a church's fellowship, he or she must claim Jesus as Savior and Lord of life. Thus, only believers may be baptized. Baptists practice baptism by immersion. They hold that baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It also symbolizes the fact that the new believer has died to his or her old life and has been raised to live a new life with Christ.
4. Southern Baptists believe in the right of each church to manage its affairs with no central authority except that of Christ Himself. Freedom does not rule out cooperation. The Southern Baptist Convention enables churches to pool and distribute their money for supporting ministries at home and around the world. This plan is called the Cooperative Program. Churches also support Southern Baptist causes through special offerings, designated gifts and other channels.
5. Southern Baptists affirm that God has assigned specific duties to the state and to the church. The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message states: "Church and state should be separate." Baptists object to government interfering with the church.
Report of the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee
to the Southern Baptist Convention - June 14, 2000
The 1999 session of the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, adopted the following motion addressed to the President of the Convention:
"I move that in your capacity as Southern Baptist Convention chairman, you appoint a blue ribbon committee to review the Baptist Faith and Message statement with the responsibility to report and bring any recommendations to this meeting next June in Orlando"
President Paige Patterson appointed the committee as follows: Max Barnett (OK), Steve Gaines (AL), Susie Hawkins (TX), Rudy A. Hernandez (TX), Charles S. Kelley, Jr. (LA), Heather King (IN), Richard D. Land (TN), Fred Luter (LA), R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (KY), T. C. Pinckney (VA), Nelson Price (GA), Adrian Rogers (TN), Roger Spradlin (CA), Simon Tsoi (AZ), Jerry Vines (FL). Adrian Rogers (TN) was appointed chairman. Your committee thus constituted begs leave to present its report as follows:
Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.
Our confessions of faith are rooted in historical precedent, as the church in every age has been called upon to define and defend its beliefs. Each generation of Christians bears the responsibility of guarding the treasury of truth that has been entrusted to us [II Timothy 1:14]. Facing a new century, Southern Baptists must meet the demands and duties of the present hour.
New challenges to faith appear in every age. A pervasive anti-supernaturalism in the culture was answered by Southern Baptists in 1925, when the Baptist Faith and Message was first adopted by this Convention.
In 1963, Southern Baptists responded to assaults upon the authority and truthfulness of the Bible by adopting revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message. The Convention added an article on "The Family" in 1998, thus answering cultural confusion with the clear teachings of Scripture. Now, faced with a culture hostile to the very notion of truth, this generation of Baptists must claim anew the eternal truths of the Christian faith.
Your committee respects and celebrates the heritage of the Baptist Faith and Message, and affirms the decision of the Convention in 1925 to adopt the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, "revised at certain points and with some additional articles growing out of certain needs … " We also respect the important contributions of the 1925 and 1963 editions of the Baptist Faith and Message.
With the 1963 committee, we have been guided in our work by the 1925 "statement of the historic Baptist conception of the nature and function of confessions of faith in our religious and denominational life … " It is, therefore, quoted in full as a part of this report to the Convention:
1. That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
2. That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
3. That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.
4. That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.
5. That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.
Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.
Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice. As a committee, we have been charged to address the "certain needs" of our own generation. In an age increasingly hostile to Christian truth, our challenge is to express the truth as revealed in Scripture, and to bear witness to Jesus Christ, who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
The 1963 committee rightly sought to identify and affirm "certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish, and with which they have been and are now closely identified." Our living faith is established upon eternal truths. "Thus this generation of Southern Baptists is in historic succession of intent and purpose as it endeavors to state for its time and theological climate those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us."
It is the purpose of this statement of faith and message to set forth certain teachings which we believe.