The Baptist Church is the third largest Protestant denomination in the world. It began about the same time as the major Reformation that occurred in Europe in the 1500’s. The first ancestors of the Baptist Church of today were called Anabaptists. Ana- means re-and these Christians believed that in order to be baptized a person needed to be old enough to choose baptism into a particular faith. This made the Baptist Church highly unpopular even among the other Protestant religions of the day and they were persecuted and even killed for their beliefs.
In 1637, Roger Williams established the first Baptist Church in the United States in Rhode Island. Then, during the religious “Awakening” which occurred in the following 200 years or so, the Church really began to gain a following and people felt free to join. People were feeling more independent about their religious freedoms and did not necessarily feel that they should belong to the church they were born into.
Early on, when the Baptist Church first began, there were two divisions in it. The General Baptists believed that anyone could have claim on the Atonement of Jesus Christ if they followed his example and were baptized. The Particular Baptists believed that only a select group of a few chosen followers would be able to benefit from the Atonement-they were the stricter of the two groups.
Now the Baptist Church has a few main divisions. Part of this division stems from the basic belief of Baptists that each person has the power to believe and choose as the feel is right. This means that when an individual is presented with an idea or doctrine they can choose to follow it or not. Thus, it follows that each Baptist Church congregation can also choose what they will preach and teach there. There is no Baptist hierarchy like you would find in both the Catholic Church and other Protestant religions as well.
There are 5 basic divisions in the Baptist faith today:
The Southern Baptist Conference is based in the southern U.S. and began when the South wanted to justify human slavery as a way of life.
The American Baptist Convention is a much smaller more liberal group of Baptists.
The National Baptist Convention is the single largest denomination of African Americans in the U.S.
The Independent Baptists are those who have not chosen another group to belong to.
The International Baptists are a small group of congregations throughout the world.