Baptist is a term referring to churches and denominations within Protestant Christianity that emphasize a believer's baptism by full immersion which is performed after a profession of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. A congregational governance system gives autonomy to individual local Baptist churches. Groups of Baptist churches are sometimes associated in organizations for purposes of missions and other common goals while retaining their local autonomy.
Notable Baptist organizations include:
- Southern Baptist Convention
- General Association of Regular Baptist Churches
- American Baptist Association
While Baptist churches are generally regarded as being within Protestant Christianity, many see the origin of Baptist distinctives predating the 16th century Protestant Reformation. There is scholarly disagreement about the particulars of various histories of the Baptist faith, but they generally fall into four categories:^ ^
- An outgrowth of English Separatism. The earliest Baptist church is traced back to 1609 in Amsterdam, with John Smyth as pastor and Thomas Helwys as a key lay leader. Representative Baptist scholars include late 19th through early 21st century Baptist historians such as William H. Whitsitt, Robert G. Torbet, Winthrop S. Hudson, William G. McLoughlin, Robert A. Baker, Leon McBeth, Douglas Weaver, Walter Shurden, and Bill Leonard.
- An outgrowth of English Separatism related to the Anabaptists. According to this view, early Baptists were influenced by Anabaptists, e.g. the Dutch Mennonites. Representative Baptist historians include A. C. Underwood and William R. Estep.
- A continuity of Baptist forms of faith through the centuries (though not a succession of organized Baptist churches). This view is represented by some historians of earlier generations such as Thomas Crosby (one of the earliest Baptist historians, he wrote in the early 1700s), A.H. Newman and David Benedict.
- An unbroken chain of Baptist churches back to N.T times. Commonly referred to as "Landmarkism" (Baptist Successionism is a major component of "Landmark" views) or the "Trail of Blood" theory (J.M.Carroll authored a booklet by this name), this view declares that some churches that stood outside the influence of the Roman Catholic Church at various times in early and medieval history were, in actuality although not in name, Baptist churches.
- A Very Brief Introduction to Baptist History, Then and Now by Bruce Gourley.
- American Baptist Historical Society
- Map of USA showing Percentage of Baptist Population in each county
- Baptist Theology