The following beliefs are called the Baptist Distinctive’s, the beliefs which distinguish Baptists. Baptists have historically believed these things, although today many who call themselves Baptist have departed from these distinctive beliefs.
BIBLICAL AUTHORITY -- The Bible is our authority. Although Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox were not Baptist, their position of "sola Scriptura" (the Scriptures are our sole authority) is also the Baptist position.
AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH -- The individual (local) church is autonomous. It is not "independent", for it is dependent upon God and answers to Him, but it is autonomous, in that it does not answer to any denomination, any other churches, or any human structure. Ephesians 1:22,23 says that Christ is the head of the church. Baptists have not historically believed in a union of churches, a General Assembly, a Pope, or an episcopacy.
PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER -- In I Peter, the Apostle Peter was writing to a widely scattered group of Christians, which included both ministers and laymen. Yet, he called them "a royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). Baptists believe that every true Christian is a priest before God. Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." We can pray directly to God, without going through a priest or any other intermediary. We are also directly accountable to God as priests before Him.
TWO ORDINANCES -- Baptists do not believe in sacraments, but do believe in two ordinances or commandments. Christ commanded that believers be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The Greek word "baptizo" means to immerse, and Baptists believe that the first step of obedience for a new believer in Christ is baptism by immersion. The second ordinance is the Lord's Supper, or Communion. Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me" (I Corinthians 12:24). The Lord's Supper has nothing magical about it, but is a memorial service remembering Christ's death for us and looking forward to His return.
INDIVIDUAL SOUL LIBERTY -- Baptists do not believe in forcing anyone to accept our beliefs. Rather, we are "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15). We believe that all true Christians are responsible to "search the Scriptures" and have the Holy Spirit to help them understand the Bible. Thus, every individual, whether a Christian or not, decides what to believe, and answers to God for that decision.
SAVED AND BAPTISED CHURCH MEMBERSHIP -- A Baptist church will only accept into membership those who profess to have been saved and have been baptised. Church membership is for those who are true believers and are obedient to God. Acts 2:41 says, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Baptists believe that those who receive Christ and obey Him by being baptised are then ready to become members of the church.
TWO CHURCH OFFICES -- Baptists believe in two church offices. The office of minister in the Scripture is at times called elder, pastor, or bishop, but these all refer to a single office. Acts 20:17 says that Paul "called the elders of the church" at Ephesus to meet with him. In his discussion with them, in verse 28, he calls these elders "overseers". The Greek word is "episkopos", or bishop. He then tells them to "feed the church", which he previously called "the flock". The Greek word for feed is "poimaino", or shepherd, which through translation into Latin became "pastor". An elder is to be a bishop and a pastor. The second church office described in Scripture is a deacon, one who aids in the ministry.
SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE -- God has established the institutions of human government and the church, and He intended each to have its own sphere of influence. Government is responsible for punishing lawbreakers, collecting taxes, etc. (Romans 13:1-7). The church is responsible for watching over the spiritual well-being of believers and instructing them in God’s truth (Hebrews 13:17). This separation is implicit in Jesus’ command to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The church should not have power over the government, though individual Christians (including ministers) have both the responsibility to speak out on moral issues and the right to speak out as individuals on other issues. Similarly, the government should have no power over the church in matters of worship and faith, but has the responsibility to act if a church breaks the law in other matters.