Baptists are a Protestant denomination that has its roots in the Reformation of the 16th century. Initially, Baptists were theologically characterized by a strong to moderate Calvinism. However, by the 19th century, this ancient tradition was beginning to be replaced by evangelical doctrines designed by the leaders of the evangelical revival in England and the Great Awakening in the United States. By 1900, old Calvinism had almost completely disappeared and evangelicalism was dominant.
Modernism, an attempt to adjust the Christian faith to the new intellectual climate, made great strides among Baptists in England and the United States during the early years of the 20th century. This caused a counterreaction known as fundamentalism, which emphasized biblical literalism. As a result of this controversy, many Baptists developed a dislike for theology and were content to find their unity as Baptists in promoting denominational enterprises. In 1950, outside the South, both modernists and fundamentalists were becoming disenchanted with their positions in the controversy, and it was among the followers of both sides that a more creative theological encounter began to take place. While most Baptists remained non-theological in their interests and concerns, there were many signs that Baptist leadership was increasingly recognizing the need for renewed theological research. The pattern of local church organization has changed since the 20th century.
Traditionally, the pastor was the leader and moderator of the congregation, but there has been a tendency to regard the pastor as an employee agent of the congregation and to elect a lay member to serve as moderator in corporate church meetings. Traditionally, decisions were made by the congregation at a church meeting, but there has been a tendency to delegate decision-making to several meetings. The relationship of local churches with cooperative bodies has undergone a similar change, leading to an ongoing debate among all Baptist groups. Baptists believe that Jesus Christ is at the head of their church and that they should follow what is written in The Bible. They also believe in His virgin birth, His death for our sins and His resurrection.
The communion and footwashing service is regularly practiced by members of various Baptist denominations. Baptists reject the idea of a territorial or parochial church and insist that a church is composed only of those who have been brought together by Christ and who have placed their trust in Him. Baptists were at the forefront of the fight for religious freedom in both England and America. With the exception of Southern Baptists, most Baptists cooperate fully in interdenominational and ecumenical bodies, including the World Council of Churches. By their doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, Baptists not only understand that individual Christians can serve as ministers to other members but also that each member of the church has equal rights and privileges when it comes to determining its affairs. Baptist beliefs are not completely consistent from church to church since they have no central governing authority.
However, they do share six distinctive convictions: Christ is head of the Church; The Bible is authoritative; The Virgin Birth; Christ's death for our sins; Christ's resurrection; The Priesthood of all believers.