There is no one distinctive Baptist belief! Although probably most people think of believers' baptism as the primary Baptist distinctive, Baptists are not the only Christians to practise believers' baptism. Nor are they the only church to believe in congregational church government, the priesthood of all believers, or the separation of church and state. It is the combination of these various beliefs which makes Baptists distinctive. Baptist church distinctives may be likened to a set of genes which, because of their particular arrangement, produce a family likeness wherever they are found. The following provides explnation of distinctive traits:
1. The Lordship of Christ - 'Jesus is Lord' is the distinctive confession of faith. As individuals and as churches, Baptists seek to make Jesus Lord of every aspect of their lives.
2. The authority of the Bible - Baptists believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that the Holy Spirit through the scriptures shows us God's way of living. As radical believers Baptists seek to root their lives in the revelation of God's truth.
3. Believers' baptism - On the basis of the New Testament, Baptists claim that baptism is for believers only. Baptism is only for those who are able to declare 'Jesus is Lord'. As a symbol of Jesus' claim on their lives, Baptists practice baptism by 'immersion', in which candidates symbolises their desire to 'die for self' and to live for Christ.
4. A believers' church - Baptists understand the church as a community of believers gathered by the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ for worship, witness and service. Central to Baptist worship is prayer and praise, listening to God's word in preaching and a gathering around the Lord's Table.
5. The priesthood of all believers - In the Baptist model of a believer's church every member has a role to play, whether in teaching, faith-sharing, evangelism, social action, pastoring, guiding, serving, prophetic insight, praying, healing, administration or hospitality.
6. The church meeting - In a Baptist church, one expression of the 'priesthood of all believers' is the church meeting. This is the occasion when members come together to prayerfully discern God's will for their life together. In Baptist churches the final authority rests not with the ministers or deacons but with the members gathered together in church meetings. It is the church meeting which, for instance, appoints leaders, agrees financial policy and determines mission strategy. Church meetings tend to take place mid-week, bi-monthly or quarterly.
7. Associating together - Baptist churches have always come together in regional, national and international 'associations' for support and fellowship. On the basis of the New Testament, Baptists believe that churches should not live in isolation from one another but rather be 'interdependent', both as Baptists and as part of the Church Universal.
8. The missionary task - Compelled by the Holy Spirit, Baptists seek to be missionary communities. Baptists believe that each Christian has a duty to share their faith with others. William Carey was a Baptist who is known as the father of the modern missionary movement. Along with this emphasis on evangelism however, Baptists recognise that mission includes social action and involves promoting justice, social welfare, healing, education and peace in the world.
9. Religious freedom - Religious freedom for all has always been a keystone of the Baptist way. Within Baptist churches, tolerance for differences of outlook and diversity of practice is encouraged.