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Related to Baptists: Presbyterian, Methodists


denomination of Protestant Christians holding a distinctive belief with regard to the ordinance of baptismbaptism
[Gr., =dipping], in most Christian churches a sacrament. It is a rite of purification by water, a ceremony invoking the grace of God to regenerate the person, free him or her from sin, and make that person a part of the church.
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. Since 1644 the name has been applied to those who maintain that baptism should be administered to none but believers and that immersion is the only mode of administering baptism indicated in the New Testament. The doctrine and practices of some earlier bodies, such as the AnabaptistsAnabaptists
[Gr.,=rebaptizers], name applied, originally in scorn, to certain Protestant sects holding that infant baptism is not authorized in Scripture and that baptism should be administered to believers only.
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 and MennonitesMennonites
, descendants of the Dutch and Swiss evangelical Anabaptists of the 16th cent. Beliefs and Membership

While each congregation is at liberty to decide independently on its form of worship and other matters, Mennonites generally agree on certain
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, were similar.

Organization and Churches

Baptist churches are congregational in matters of government. Such general associations as are formed do not have control over the individual churches. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest body of churches, with about 16 million members. The original national organization of black Baptist churches is the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.; it has about 8.2 million members (1992). Other large Baptist churches in the United States include the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A, the largely black National Baptist Convention of America (separated from the National Baptist Convention), and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. The Baptist World Alliance was formed in 1905 as an alliance of Baptist churches from around the world. Today the convention includes more than 210 unions and conventions with a combined membership of some 110 million (1999). The conservative Southern Baptist Convention withdrew from the Alliance in 2004, accusing it of being too liberal and increasingly anti-American, charges strongly denied by the Alliance and other American churches belonging to it.

History of the Baptist Churches

In Holland a group of English separatistsseparatists,
in religion, those bodies of Christians who withdrew from the Church of England. They desired freedom from church and civil authority, control of each congregation by its membership, and changes in ritual. In the 16th cent.
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, led by John SmythSmyth or Smith, John,
c.1554–1612, English nonconformist clergyman and early believer in adult baptism.
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, came under Mennonite influence and formed c.1608 in Amsterdam the first English Baptist congregation. Smyth baptized first himself, then the others. In 1611 certain members of this congregation returned to London and established a church there. This was the first of the churches afterward known as General Baptists, since they held the Arminian belief that the atonement of Jesus is not limited to the elect only but is general.

In 1633 the Particular Baptists were founded. They were a group whose Calvinistic doctrine taught that atonement is particular or individual. Immersion was not yet insisted upon in these churches, but in 1644 seven Particular Baptist churches issued a confession of faith requiring that form of baptism, and Baptist was thenceforth the name given to those who practiced it. In 1891, General and Particular Baptists united into a single body called the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

In America it was Baptists of the Particular type that first gained influence among the Puritans and Calvinists, when Roger Williams and his companions in Rhode Island rejected infant baptism and established a church in 1639 based on the individual profession of faith. Baptists were later persecuted in New England for opposing infant baptism, and one group emigrated c.1684 from Maine to Charleston, S.C. A group of Separate Congregationalists from New England under Shubael Stearns and Daniel Marshall established (1755) the Separate Baptists in Sandy Creek, N.C.

In the Southeast the General Baptist views found acceptance, but the stricter Calvinistic ideas suited the pioneers who settled the southern mountains after the Revolution. Their opposition to mission work gave them the name Anti-Mission. They were also called Hard Shell or Primitive Baptists.

Early missionary activity extended the Baptist movement to the Continent and elsewhere. In the United States the American Baptist Missionary Union (under a longer title) was formed in 1814 to support workers in foreign lands. In 1832 the American Baptist Home Mission Society was organized. When the question of slavery became a dividing wall, the Southern Baptist Convention was established (1845).


See J. E. Tull, Shapers of Baptist Thought (1972); L. Davis, Immigrants, Baptists, and the Protestant Mind in America (1973); R. G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists (4th ed. 1975); W. H. Brachney, The Baptists (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from the Greek baptizo, “I dip, I christen by way of immersion”), adherents of one of the varieties of Protestantism. At the root of the Baptist movement, which arose as a radical Protestant bourgeois trend, is the principle of individualism. According to the teaching of the Baptists, the salvation of man is possible only through a personal faith in Christ and not through the mediation of a church; their only source of faith is the “Holy Scripture.” They reject ikons, church sacraments, and many Christian holidays. In contrast to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, Baptists do not consider baptism a sacrament—that is, a “means of salvation”—but a rite that symbolically demonstrates a person’s religious conviction, his conscious personal faith; they therefore demand that baptism be received by believers, not as infants but as adults. Baptists reject any church hierarchy; however, among contemporary Baptists the role of the church, the clergy, and centralization is increasing. The Baptists conduct systematic religious propaganda among the vast popular masses, since conversion of those of a different mind is incumbent not only on specially trained preachers but also on Baptist laymen.

The first community of Baptists arose in Holland among emigrant English Independents. Communities appeared in England in 1612 and in North America in 1639. The early Baptists supported democratic liberties and religious tolerance. At the end of the 18th century the Baptist movement began to spread widely; in England there was a network of Sunday schools and missionary work; in the USA a considerable portion of the Western colonizers and the Negroes were converted to the Baptist movement. In the 19th century the Baptist movement spread in most European countries and in the colonial and dependent countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 1905 in London the first Baptist World Congress met, on the basis of which the Baptist World Alliance was formed. In 1966 it included 27 million Baptists in 116 countries with its center in Washington, D. C. In 1966, 90 percent of the Baptists—that is, 24 million people—lived in the USA. The largest American Baptist group is the Southern Baptist Convention with 10 million members, which formed in 1845 as an organization of the Baptists of the South, who were supporters of the preservation of slavery; the oldest (since 1880) and major Baptist organization of American Negroes, the National Baptist Convention of America, had 6 million members in 1966. Among the American Baptists are big capitalists and government and political figures, for example, the Rockefeller brothers. In 1950 the European Federation of Baptists was founded in Paris; it included 21 countries with 1.5 million members in 1966.

The Baptist movement came to Russia from Germany in the 1860’s. In the 1870’s and 1880’s it spread mainly in the Tavrida, Kherson, Kiev and Ekaterinoslav provinces, as well as in the Kuban’, Don, and Transcaucasian and, since the end of the 1880’s, the Volga provinces. In the northern and central provinces one of the various Baptist sects known as Evangelical Christianity spread. After the beginning of the 20th century the Baptists held all-Russian conferences. In 1894–96 they published the journal Beseda in Stockholm and London. In Russia the periodical organs of the Baptists and the Evangelical Christians were the journals Baptist, Slovo istiny, Khristianin, Utrenniaia zvezda, and Molodoi vinogradnik. The Russian Baptist Alliance took part in the Baptist World Congress in London in 1905 and became a member of the international Baptist organization. In 1910 there were up to 37,000 Baptists in Russia, two-thirds of which belonged to the German, Latvian, and Estonian populations.

In its class and political orientation, the Baptist leadership was in favor of a constitutional monarchy. The tsarist regime, protecting the ideological monopoly of the ruling Orthodox Church, persecuted the Baptists; this persecution increased from the 1890’s on. At the head of the Baptists were the big merchants. The great October Socialist Revolution was met with hostility on the part of the Baptist leaders. It was not until 1926 that they “recognized” Soviet rule and resolved in the affirmative the question whether Baptists could serve in the Red Army. During the period of collectivization the Baptist leaders adopted a policy of opposition to the socialist transformation of agriculture and even tried to establish cooperatives based on the principles of petit bourgeois egalitarianism. The number of Baptist communities began to decline.

The Evangelical Christians merged with the Baptists in 1944 and part of the Pentecostals in 1945 to form the one Church of Evangelical Christian Baptists of the USSR. Part of the Mennonites also joined them in 1963. At the head of the Baptists stands the Ail-Union Council, which has been publishing the journal Bratskii vestnik in Moscow since 1945.

Baptist teaching, as a religious variety of bourgeois ideology, is opposed in principle to the socialist world view. It cultivates a disbelief in man’s power and intellect, preaches a nihilistic attitude toward the interests of society and toward science and culture, and tries to limit the Baptists to activity within the bounds of the religious community.


Tikhomirov, B. Baptizm i ego politicheskaia rol’, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929.
Sovremennoe sektantstvo i ego preodolenie. (Voprosy istorii, religii i ateizma, issue 9.) Moscow, 1961.
Mitrokhin, L. N. Baptizm. Moscow, 1966.
Filimonov, E. G. Baptizm i gumanizm. Moscow, 1968.
Kislova, A. A. Ideologiia i politika amerikanskoi baptistskoi tserkvi (1900–1917). Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
'A thousand thanks, my master!' John Baptist said in his own language, and with the quick conciliatory manner of his own countrymen.
John Baptist answered with that peculiar back-handed shake of the right forefinger which is the most expressive negative in the Italian language.
'ALTRO!' returned John Baptist, closing his eyes and giving his head a most vehement toss.
His theatrical air, as he stood with one arm on his hip within the folds of his cloak, together with his manner of disregarding his companion and addressing the opposite wall instead, seemed to intimate that he was rehearsing for the President, whose examination he was shortly to undergo, rather than troubling himself merely to enlighten so small a person as John Baptist Cavalletto.
John Baptist having smoked his cigarette down to his fingers' ends, Monsieur Rigaud had the magnanimity to throw him another.
His eye happening to light upon John Baptist with this inquiry, that little man briskly shook his head in the negative, and repeated in an argumentative tone under his breath, altro, altro, altro, altro--an infinite number of times.
'What do you mean?' John Baptist polished his knife in silence.
'Al-tro!' returned John Baptist. The word was an apology now, and stood for 'Oh, by no means!'
'Truly I think they will,' murmured John Baptist to himself, as he bent his head to put his knife in his sash.
At last, John Baptist, now able to choose his own spot within the compass of those walls for the exercise of his faculty of going to sleep when he would, lay down upon the bench, with his face turned over on his crossed arms, and slumbered.
Fellow Tennessee Baptists James Tauhnan and Ronald Tonks offer a compelling sketch of Wardin's long, scholarly career, including personal glimpses in Wardin's own words.
Given all this paradox and diversity among Baptist groups, it is no surprise that Baptists have held conflicting perspectives on political and social issues.