Baptist churches tend to be evangelical in doctrine, but they do not have a central governing authority so a wide range of beliefs can be seen between one Baptist church and another. Some Baptist churches use the following acronym as a summary of the common distinctives of Baptists:
Biblical authority Autonomy of the local church Priesthood of the believer Two ordinances (Believer's Baptism and Communion) Individual soul liberty Separation of Church and State Two offices of the church (Pastor and Deacon)
Authority of the Scriptures or sola scriptura states that the Bible is the only authoritative source of God's truth and any view that cannot be directly tied to a scriptural reference is generally considered to be based on human traditions rather than God's leading. Each person is responsible before God for his or her own understanding of the bible and is encouraged to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Biblical inerrancy is also a common position held by Baptists in addition to literal interpretations of the bible and fundamentalist theologies. However, because of the variety allowed under congregational governance, many Baptist churches are neither literalist nor fundamentalist, although most do believe in biblical inerrancy. Even though it is only the Bible that is authoritative, Baptists also cite other works as illustrative of doctrine. One work which is commonly read by Baptists is the allegory Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. This is a position shared by almost all post-Reformation Christian groups, with only a few exceptions (such as Quakers).
Priesthood of All Believers
The Baptist position of the priesthood of believers is one column that upholds their belief in religious liberty. Priesthood of all believers removes the hierarchical layers of priests, traditions and authority so that all Christians have equal access to God's revelation of truth through the careful study of the Bible. This is a position shared by all post-reformational Christian groups.
Justification by Faith
The doctrine of justification by faith states that it is by faith alone that we receive salvation and not through any works of our own. Baptists place a strong emphasis on the concept of salvation. Baptist theology teaches that humans have been contaminated by the sin of Adam and Eve's rebellion against God and that for this sin we are condemned to damnation. The theology holds that Christ died on the cross to give humans the promise of everlasting life, but that this requires that each individual accept Christ into his life and ask for forgiveness. Nevertheless, the Baptist view of soteriology runs the gamut from Calvinism to Arminianism. Justification by faith is a position shared by all post-reformational Christian groups.
Baptists generally believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ at which time God will sit in judgment and divide humanity between the saved and the lost (the Great White Throne judgment Book of Revelation 20:11) and Christ will sit in judgment of the believers (the Judgment Seat of Christ Second Epistle to the Corinthians 5:10), rewarding them for things done while alive. Amillennialism, dispensationalism, and historic premillennialism stand as the main eschatological views of Baptists, with views such as postmillennialism and preterism receiving only scant support.
Variations in Baptist Beliefs
Because of the congregational style of church governance on doctrine, doctrine often varies significantly between one Baptist church and another, especially in the following areas:
- Calvinism vs. Arminianism
- nature of Law and Gospel
- ordination of women
- eschatology (end times)