QUITMAN, Ark. -- So we're driving through this little town in northern Arkansas on Sunday morning and I am noticing churches.
Mostly Baptist churches.
The first is Howard General Baptist Church. And I'm thinking, there sure are lots of Baptist branches. Which is true. In fact, today I'm going to give you an incomplete list of Baptist branches. I'm not sure anyone can compile a complete list, given how many independent Baptist churches there are and how often others change affiliations with this or that group.
But what connects all these Baptists is that they are Protestant Christians who hold that only believers (which means someone old enough to make an informed and free commitment) should be baptized and then only by immersion (as pictured here). In other words, they oppose infant baptism and baptism that requires just the sprinkling or dabbing of water on the person's head.
But because of the Quitman church, let's begin with the General Association of General Baptists. General Baptists were one of two groups to emerge in England during the Puritan reform movement of the 17th century. As Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions reports: "While sharing the view that only believers should be baptized, the two groups differed with respect to the nature of the atonement of Jesus. Those who regarded the atonement as general (i.e., for all persons) came to be called General Baptists. Those who interpreted it as applying only to the particular body of the elect acquired the name Particular Baptists."
Roger Williams, the great religious freedom advocate, is given credit for helping to found Baptist churches in what became the United States. The first national body of Baptists, however, did not come together until 1814, and a few decades later the Southern Baptist Convention set itself up as a separate body, while the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Church) was established in 1907.
At any rate, today the Southern Baptist Convention represents the largest group of Baptists in the United States, reporting it has some 16 million members in 42,000 churches. But recent reports suggest the Southern Baptists also face declining numbers, as do many Protestant churches in the U.S.
But you also have:
* The National Baptist Convention, founded in 1886, a historically black denomination.
* The Primitive Baptist Church. (You can surf around on this site and see how you would classify this church. Most would say fundamentalist or quite theologically conservative.)
* Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. (This is the group that includes Jimmy Carter and his church. These folks moved away from the Southern Baptist Convention over various issues.)
* There's even an Independent Baptist Network, which sort of connects Baptist churches that don't want to be connected in any formal way.
Well, there is much, much more to know about Baptists in this country. If you want a good rundown that places Baptists in context with other religions in this country, I recommend the third edition of the book America's Religions by Peter W. Williams.
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AND DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT OVERTIME
A city council candidate in a town in Michigan says if city workers don't agree to work for $1 a year they are going against the "holy will of God." Is he saying God is a cheapskate employer? What exactly is the message here?