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.