The Baptist Branch of the Christian Family Tree
Guests gathered at the Holiday Inn on Tuesday, September 16 to hear Dr. Loyd Allen speak about Christianity and what it means to be a Baptist. We learned that Baptist churches are very diverse in their practice and beliefs from other branches within Christianity and even within Baptist churches themselves. Their history is filled with separatist movements that date back to the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation and breaking away from the Catholic Church led by Martin Luther.
Luther had many problems with the Catholic Church; one being the ruling King’s (King James) ability to dictate what beliefs or practices the church should follow. The Protestant Reformation led to the separation between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants. These Protestants were the first Pilgrims to land in Massachusetts on the Mayflower. The Protestant Reformation led to the rise in different Christian branches – for example: Lutherans, the Reformed, Radicals and the Anglicans. Between 1609 and 1612, the first Baptists separated from the Anglicans unsatisfied with the parallel role of church and state. In the early 1630’s, Roger William broke away from Massachusetts and built the first Baptist church in Rhode Island because he believed that religion should not play a role in the governance of a state.
Fundamentally, Baptists are anti-hierarchical and advocates of consciousness - which results in their freedom from creedal uniformity. This means that every Baptist member is to interpret the Bible and obey God according to his or her individual conscience. This also means that each Baptist church is its own autonomous entity. If you ask a Baptist what he or she believes, their response would differ greatly from another Baptist’s perspective depending on which church they attend. In 1845 during the Civil War, there was a division among the Baptist tradition in the north and the south over the morality of slavery. This led to the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1990 there was yet another division where Progressive Baptists broke away from the Ultra-Conservatives. In the south, the Conservative Baptists accrued more support.
The triumph of the Conservative Baptists led to a perception that all Baptists were conservative; however, as Dr. Allen said, no single Baptist church can speak for the entirety of the Baptist tradition. Today there are over 170,000 Baptist Churches within the Baptist World Alliance with almost 40 million members – all of which vary greatly in their beliefs, ways of worship and practices.
Dr. Loyd Allen:
Dr. Loyd Allen holds the Sylvan Hills Baptist Church Chair of Baptist History at Mercer University’s James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Allen holds the M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught in higher education for over twenty years and is the author of numerous publications, including the books You are a Great People and Crossroads in Christian Growth. He has a particular interest in Christian spirituality, which he teaches at McAfee. He serves as faculty for the Academy of Spiritual Formation and often leads retreats.