Southern Baptists represent a strong strain of Christianity in the West. They share many core religious beliefs with all Christians, but they have their own distinctive beliefs as well. Shared beliefs center around historic Christian doctrines, including the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, while their more unique beliefs have to do with the Bible, salvation, baptism and the nature of the local church.
Traditional Christian Beliefs
Southern Baptists don't recognize any of the early church creeds as authoritative. Yet Southern Baptist beliefs do include most of the theological positions articulated in those early creeds. For example, the Apostles' Creed expresses belief in the virgin birth, the resurrection and the Second Coming. Baptists embrace all of those beliefs. The Nicene Creed describes the doctrine of the Trinity as one God manifested in three distinct and equal persons. Southern Baptists also believe these doctrines, but they stop short of officially embracing the creeds and instead focus on individual faith.
For Southern Baptists, salvation is intensely personal. They believe all human beings are born sinful and deserve eternal punishment in hell. Southern Baptists teach that people must accept Christ as their savior and Lord and ask Him to forgive their sins in order to be saved from hell. This salvation is forever; when a Southern Baptist's sins are forgiven, all past, present and future sins are forgiven.
Full-immersion baptism is central to Southern Baptist religious beliefs. Once a person is saved, the next step is baptism. Many Southern Baptist churches practice baptism weekly, while others may hold special baptismal services on a scheduled basis. Southern Baptists don't baptize infants. They believe that only an adult who is capable of accepting Jesus and being saved should be baptized. They don't practice infant dedication ceremonies, either, unlike some other denominations that reject infant baptism.
The Christian church has always held Scripture in high regard, referring to it as the "Word of God" and believing it to be authoritative in matters of faith and salvation. Southern Baptists take this a step further. They teach that the Bible is entirely without error in all matters, including historical and scientific matters. Southern Baptists also advocate a literal approach to the Bible and reject allegorical meanings in Scripture.
The Local Church
Southern Baptists believe in local church autonomy. Acceptance of the Baptist Faith and Message -- the Southern Baptist statement of faith -- isn't required of members. It's up to individual churches to determine membership requirements. The Southern Baptist Convention acts as more of a resource for local churches, giving local churches the means to do things they couldn't do on their own, such as support missionary work. The Southern Baptist Convention also helps local churches with the ministerial ordination process, although all ordination still occurs at the local church level.
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