American Baptists and:
We are guided by God's word. Foremost among beliefs firmly held by American Baptists is the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer and our Lord, and that through belief in Him we are assured of eternal fellowship with a loving God. For us, the foundation of Christian belief–and the greatest event in all history–is the drama of the first Easter week: the death of Christ, in which He took upon Himself all the sins of the world, and the Resurrection, which offers glorious proof of His teaching and His triumph over sin and death.
Holy Scripture always has been for us the most authoritative guide to knowing and serving the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer). As the divinely-inspired word of God, the Bible for us reveals our faith and its mandated practice.
Our affirmation of the priesthood of all believers arises from a conviction that all who truly seek God are competent to approach God directly. We cherish the freedom Christ has granted us as individual believers and distinctive congregations. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Galatia and in other writings, emphasizes that freedom. Because of that, we have tended to avoid embracing prepared creeds or other statements that might compromise our obligation to interpret Scripture as individuals within the community of faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Cherishing our own God-given gift of freedom has motivated us to support religious freedom for all to seek God’s will. Although this has allowed for distinctive opinions within our congregations both on aspects of our faith and their application within society, most of us would admit that dialog is a healthy means of spiritual growth. As it encourages its members to seek continually the mind of Christ in all matters, American Baptist Churches USA respects the variety of theological understandings that its members, and other Christians, have embraced.
American Baptists partake of two ordinances exemplifying obedience to our Lord’s commands: believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We insist that baptism be administered only to those who have the maturity to understand its profound significance: resurrection to new life in Christ. And we follow the biblical example set by Christ when we fully immerse in water, a beautiful symbolic statement of that new life. The Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, commemorates the sacrifice of our Lord. The bread and cup that symbolize the broken body and shed blood offered by Christ remind us today of God’s great love for us–just as they did for the disciples 2,000 years ago on the eve of the crucifixion
We have taken to heart the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–the call to evangelism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (NRSV). Since 1814, American Baptist churches and the mission societies they created have been committed to mission: to see the glory of God revealed in all the earth; to see Jesus Christ proclaimed as Savior and Lord to all people and nations; to see churches started and growing; to see the renewal of God’s creation; and to see God’s justice and peace reign in all the world.
We take seriously all that Christ did during His brief but momentous years of teaching and nurturing disciples and followers. We accept the ministries Christ modeled as our ministries. In sincere imitation of our Savior’s work, we have attempted to be holistic. Understanding God’s word as revealed in Scripture is of great importance to us, and our churches have emphasized learning and teaching as vital responsibilities. And because Christ ministered to the physical needs of persons and acted as an advocate for those who had been mistreated, we hold that seeking justice is an important component of ministry. We accept the wisdom of the New Testament writer James, who maintained that those who truly have faith in Christ necessarily live out that faith expressing compassion for others for whom He died.
We celebrate the special gifts of all believers, testifying that God can use each of us in the overall outreach of ministry. Paul states that “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” all work for “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11,12). The affirmation of lay leaders as integral to church vitality and the ordination of women, practiced in our denomination for more than a century, underscore the belief that many have been called by God to serve.
We are committed to our churches. We American Baptists passionately celebrate our churches. We exist as a denomination to serve those about 5,000 congregations, to provide them with resources that enable them to minister effectively.
Generation after generation of believers has seen the local church as a tremendous source of immeasurable spiritual strength: preaching that inspires, education that enlightens, worship that draws one closer to God, fellowship that encourages respect and service. The church at its best is an exemplary community of faith, a home for individuals to express, and mature in, their relationship to God and to one another.
“Mission” is a wide-ranging concept. It implies all the varied work we undertake as individuals, churches and organizations in applying our faith and in sharing the Gospel message with others. Mission is an awesome invitation and responsibility, and an endeavor that can never be exhausted. We undertake it realizing that only with God’s help can the immense task of Christian mission be accomplished.
The local congregations and regional and national organizations that form our denominational family see opportunities for mission every day, and we live out ministries in the name of Christ with many people in many places.
Prominent among them are:
Evangelism is the joyous witness of the People of God to the redeeming love of God urging all to repent and to be reconciled to God and each other through faith in Jesus Christ who lived, died, and was raised from the dead, so that being made new and empowered by the Holy Spirit believers are incorporated as disciples into the church for worship, fellowship, nurture and engagement in God’s mission of evangelization and liberation within society and creation, signifying the Kingdom which is present and yet to come.
In 1984, the General Board of American Baptist Churches USA issued a call “for a vigorous denominational program of evangelization”–a “joyous witness” that brings believers “into the church for worship, fellowship, nurture and engagement in God’s mission.”
Evangelism is a challenge and an opportunity. Even after 2,000 years of Christian ministry, tens of millions of persons throughout the world have not yet heard the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. The world is as much a mission field “ripe unto harvest” now as it was when Christ sent forth his earliest followers to reconcile a fallen creation to its Creator. Evangelism is the mission of sharing Christ and the truths He proclaimed with people who need to receive them.
And among those who have heard the Gospel message, there still is much to be done. While six out of seven adults in the United States claim to be Christians, only four in ten of those same adults can be found in church pews on any given Sunday. National surveys on biblical literacy continue to reveal a disturbing ignorance of basic Christian beliefs among many adults and youth.
The women, men and youth in congregations that accept God’s call to be inviting people are led to share with others how Christ has changed them and what Christ offers to everyone. Evangelism takes place at home, at school, at work, and in neighborhoods through door-to-door visitation. This personal sharing of our faith is the most important way American Baptists tell others about Christ. Preaching and teaching also are essential forms of evangelism taking place in our churches as well as in thousands of American Baptist-related schools, hospitals, community centers, camps, retirement homes and other institutions in the United States and around the globe.
While evangelism is done by individuals and single congregations, American Baptist regional and national mission boards are important resources in the endeavor. Each of the denomination’s 34 regions offers evangelism workshops and other training in the art of winning persons to Christ. The American Baptist Evangelism Team and American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Office of Evangelism develop strategies to help persons share their faith. Denominational evangelism programs have included ABC-Find, which seeks to find ABC church homes for American Baptists who move, and Inviting New Neighbors, which helps churches use local newspapers, advertisements and other media to invite persons to worship with them. Regional Christian education workshops teach Christians how to teach others about Jesus Christ.
For American Baptists, evangelism is a worldwide endeavor. Overseas, American Baptist missionaries and volunteers aid in evangelistic efforts and support the work of evangelists ministering in their own countries.
Resources for evangelism have strengthened the effectiveness of that outreach. In 1824, American Baptists founded a publication society to produce books, tracts, and Sunday school curricula to spread the Good News about Christ. Educational Ministries, through Judson Press and a variety of biblically-oriented curricula, continues in this evangelical and educational tradition.