A simple glance at the headlines of the newspaper will reveal Baptists often make news. Among presidential contenders five candidates are Baptist; former presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are Baptist; Baptist ministers are often quoted on religious, political or social issues; Baptists are in the news because of their involvement in the local community, disaster relief and around the world. Baptists are the second to the Catholic church in attendance and membership in the United States, and the largest faith group in Charlotte, NC.
If random people were asked in a poll “What is a Baptist,” multiple answers would be given. Some would answer holy rollers, others say “born again” Christians, some would say they are the group who doesn’t drink, dance, or play cards. Many people know Baptists because they are the church down the road or from their work in the community, others have attended Vacation Bible School, ridden a bus to church, or have received assistance through disaster relief ministry, food pantries, or some other benevolent program.
The word Baptist comes from a Greek word βαπτιστής which means one who immerses or submerges in water. This word describes Baptists because they immerse those who desire to join the church by dunking them in a pool of water according to scriptural examples in Mt 3:16, Mark 1:5, and Acts 8:36-38 where we see people going into and coming out of the water. Baptism is believed to be an outgrowth from the Jewish custom of cleansing in a mikvah pool. The word also describes Baptists because as in Mark 10:38 many jump into their faith and service to God through the church with both feet.
While there are many similarities in Baptist Churches, there are differences also. Baptist Churches are congregational, non-liturgical, Christians who hold the Bible in high regard, hold to salvation by faith alone, believer’s baptism by immersion, and partake the Lord’s Supper as a memorial.
But with these principles, commonality among Baptists ends. A book by Albert Wardin lists twelve baptist tribes in the United States, although if the denominations are counted there are as many as forty different Baptist denominations. Wardin lists the twelve tribes as: Ecumenical Mainline (such as the American Baptists), National (African American), Conservative Evangelical (Southern Baptists), Fundamental (Southern) Landmark, General/Freewill, Old Time, Primitive, Progressive Primitive, and Neo-Calvinists. In addition, Wardin includes an additional sub-category on Ethnic Baptists.
Congregations of Baptists found in Charlotte, NC include: Southern Baptists (161 Congregations), Cooperative Baptists, American Baptists (9), Independent Baptists, National Baptists USA (12), National Missionary Baptists (2), Baptist General Conference (1), Freewill Baptists (1), North American Baptists (1), Full Gospel Baptists (4), Reformed Baptist, Alliance Baptists (1), and Primitive Baptists. Some churches are large, others small, some are Calvinistic, others are Armenian, and most are a blend. Because churches are congregational, each is different, made up of the current personalities of the Pastor and members.
Some of the largest churches in Charlotte including Elevation Church, Hickory Grove and Calvary are Southern Baptist, as well as many of the smaller churches. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States, and is the largest faith group in both North Carolina and Charlotte. This group organized in 1845 is identified by their passion for missions both locally and globally.
A splinter group which arose in 1994 is called the Cooperative Baptist Convention. Member churches in Charlotte include: Grace Crossing, Park Road, Pritchard Memorial, Providence, St. John’s, and Together in Christ Intl. Ministries. Some of these churches continue to associate with the SBC, and because they arise out of the same tradition these churches are also deeply involved in missions.
Baptists in North Carolina originate out of two traditions: General Baptists, who believe in general atonement (Armenian), and Particular Baptists who believe in particular atonement (Calvinistic). Particular Baptists grew out of the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations in North Carolina. These churches were Calvinistic and believed in particular atonement. General Baptist churches organized through Sandy Creek Association calling themselves “New Lights” and were opposed to Particular Calvinism; they believed anyone could be saved. Today, many churches are a blend between these two theologies.
Baptist churches are congregational, which means they do not take orders from a denomination, but govern themselves. Each church has their own personality so worship and organizations will vary between churches. Some churches will be contemporary, others traditional. Some churches are mission oriented, others only meet on Sunday. Some churches have Sunday Schools, others Small Groups which meet regularly, others only meet for worship.
Baptists do not believe that a person is born into the Christian faith. The desire to become a Christian is a matter of choice for the individual. When a person chooses salvation Baptists call this a Profession of Faith. Perhaps the best way to understand this is through messages preached by Billy Graham, a Baptist who grew up in Charlotte, NC.
Baptism for Baptists follows a profession of faith, and is by immersion. Baptists base this on verses in the New Testament which describe people as coming out of the water following this ordinance. The Greek word for Baptism is βαπτίζω which means to plunge or immerse.
Baptists hold to two ordinances or special ceremonies performed within the church, the first is Baptism (explained above), the second is the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper can also be called Communion and in some denominations is referred to as the Eucharist. Baptist churches usually participate in Communion on a quarterly or monthly basis depending on the church. The feast is a memorial, meaning the literal body of Christ is neither present in the elements nor do the elements become the literal body and blood of Christ.