Baptist is a Christian church denomination noted for emphasizing the separation of church and state, a highly democratic form of church government, and an individual, personal relationship to God. English and American Baptists derive from European "Anabaptist" Protestant Christians, and their ideals of religious freedom and liberty of conscience greatly affected political and religious life in Britain and America. Jefferson's Virginia statute for religious freedom and later U.S. constitutional freedom of religious belief embodied Baptist ideals for liberty of individual conscience and church independence from state control.
Baptists now constitute the largest Protestant church in the United States of America. Each Baptist church is independent but usually is a voluntarily part of an association. The individual church is run democratically, with each member having a vote, and ministers are elected by the congregation. This democratic kind of church government helped the Baptists grow rapidly in America. During the Second Great Awakening (1790-1830), a Christian revival that spread across the new Western frontier, the Baptist church grew to be the largest denomination in America. Its democratic church structure and reliance on uneducated lay ministers allowed it to spread rapidly. With a simple Christianity based in the Bible (rather than creeds), Baptists historically have been theological and political conservatives. As an evangelical church, Baptists have emphasized spreading Christianity through foreign missionaries.
Prominent Baptists include the Englishman John Bunyan (author of the classic book Pilgrim's Progress); colonial American Roger Williams (who built the first Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island); the first president of Harvard University, Henry Dunster; London preacher Charles Spurgeon; and U.S. evangelist Billy Graham.
The theological roots of Baptists rest on the belief that only adult Christians (who can make a personal confession of faith in Christ) should be baptized. They reject the baptism of infants on that basis. This caused persecution of Baptists in Europe by both Catholic and Calvinist Protestant churches. Only in the United States did the Baptist view enjoy widespread acceptance and influence. American Baptists are almost evenly divided between white and African-American believers, though most churches are not racially integrated. Baptists now exist in almost every nation in the world; in Russian and Eastern European countries, most Protestants are Baptists. Latin America and China have increasing Baptist populations. Often associated with political democracy and economic capitalism, this church often flourishes in areas experiencing those developments.
Although still theologically distant from the Catholic Church, Baptists in the United States have shared positions on many political issues (such as opposing abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc.) and have been united in being strongly anti-communist.
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