About Baptists

The Christians who are called Baptist

An introduction to the faith of the people of the Canadian Baptist Ministries

Note: The content of this page was taken from a brochure of the same name, published by the Canadian Baptist Federation, author and date unknown. Information has been updated where appropriate.


"Canadian Baptists" -The words sounds like an easily recognizable section of the church. Yet, in many groups under that name, there lives, worships and ministers a wide variety of people, scattered across three territories and ten provinces.

Baptists have formed several alliances in Canada. This article describes the nearly 200,000 people affiliated with the churches of the Canadian Baptist Ministries-the largest Baptist body in the country.


Baptists emerged historically out of a desire to follow New Testament teaching as they interpreted it. Some "Baptist" convictions are held in common with many Christians. Other beliefs resulted from a fresh understanding of the Word of God that emerged from the ferment of the Protestant Reformation. While none of the beliefs held by Baptists are theirs alone, Baptists hold their beliefs in a combination not found in any other denomination. This unique combination of beliefs, and the way those beliefs are lived out, give Baptists a distinct Christian identity.

Baptist work in Atlantic Canada began as early as 1760, but it was at least 100 years before the first Baptist witness arrived on the West Coast. During that century, strong English and French Baptist witness developed in Ontario and Quebec. By 1910, there had grown three regional conventions of Baptist churches that traced their heritage to British and American Baptist roots.

In 1905, two Baptist groups joined to form the United Baptist Convention of the Maritime (later "Atlantic") Provinces. The Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec was formed in Upper Canada in 1888. The Baptist Union of Western Canada organized in 1909. Though begun in 1837, French Baptist work formally organized in 1969 as l'Union d'Eglises Baptistes Francaises au Canada.

Overseas missionary work predates the organization of conventions and unions with a formal beginning in 1832. The Canadian Baptist Overseas Mission Board (CBOMB) was formed in 1912. In 1995, CBOMB was merged into Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM). CBM typically has about 125 Canadian Baptist missionaries serving in more than ten countries.

In 1944, using a "federal principle", the Canadian Baptist Federation was launched to facilitate national witness and ministry. The operations of the CBF were also merged into CBM in 1995. CBM is responsible for national, international and inter-denominational concerns. Through a geographically representative elected council, the CBM leads by building a consensus among the four regional denominations that are affiliated with it.

Baptist Distinctives

Baptists share many basic biblical convictions with other Christians including the belief in one God, the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ, and the significance of his crucifixion and resurrection for salvation. Though they have many historic "confessions of faith" Baptists are not a "credal people". They prefer simply to affirm the authority of the Scriptures for all matters of faith and practice, and allow each Christian the right to interpret the Bible for himself or herself.

However, the distinctive combination of beliefs held among Baptists can readily be identified and have come to be known as "Baptist Distinctives".

Jesus is Lord. Baptists believe that Jesus Christ, being eternally God, only begotten Son, and the visible expression of the invisible God, effectively procured salvation for all creation through his death, burial and resurrection. He is the one assigned by God the Father to rule with authority over all of creation. Every area of the believer's life and the life of the church is to be subject to the Lord.

The Word of God is the Authoritative Rule of Faith and Practice. Baptists believe that God communicates his will through the inspired Word of God. For Baptists, the Bible is the final authority in matters of faith and practice.

The Priesthood of All Believers. The Bible affirms the value of each person as having been created in the image of God, and also declares each person morally responsible for his/her own nature and behaviour.

Baptists believe that inherent in the worth of each person is also the right and competency of each individual personally to deal directly with God through Jesus Christ. In essence, each person, by faith, becomes his/her own priest before God - hence, the cherished term "priesthood of all believers". This implies that all believers share as equals in Christ's Body, the church, and in turn, have a priestly role toward each other

A further extension of this principle means that Baptists believe that no group or individual has any right to compel others to believe or worship as they do. Baptists ideally are champions of the cause of religious liberty.

A Believers' Church. Baptists believe that Jesus Christ chooses to form his church by bringing together believers for the purpose of worship, witness, fellowship, and ministry (both spiritual and social). Baptists recognize the church universal as all who truly profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. They also profess their understanding of the church as being visibly expressed in local congregations. Each local church must thus be made up of believers who, upon their profession of faith and their baptism (almost always by immersion), are incorporated into the local church through the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Believer's Baptism by Immersion. Baptists believe that baptism is an ordinance required by the New Testament, and is to be administered by the local church. Baptism is intended to represent Jesus' death, burial and resurrection; baptism by completely immersing the candidate in water is seen as the only adequate outward expression for the spiritual faith-union with Jesus Christ. Baptism should be administered only to believers. It is one of the first significant acts through which the believer proclaims personal faith in Christ and is initiated into church life and ministry.

Congregational Government. Government in a local church is controlled by the principles of the priesthood of all believers, the Lordship of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Christ, present in the lives of congregational members, leads them corporately to discover and obey his mind and will. Such "congregational government" calls for and expresses the equality and responsibility of believers under the Lordship of Christ.

Baptists also believe that the principle of the Lordship of Jesus Christ gives each individual congregation a certain degree of autonomy and freedom from coercion by other bodies. Just as a believer must temper his/her doctrinal interpretation and personal behaviour to satisfy the greater needs and unity of the community of believers, however, Baptist churches also recognize the need to temper the exercise of their autonomy in order to "associate" with a larger body of churches.

Separation of Church and State. A further extension of the principle of the Lordship of Christ and the priesthood of believers is to be found in the Baptist conviction that there must exist a separation between the church and civil governments. There is the easy recognition that God has given legitimate roles to both church and state, but also the deep conviction that neither is to encroach upon the rights or obligations of the other. They are, however, under obligation to recognize and reinforce each other as each seeks to fulfill its divine function. The function of individual believers and the church is to become part of the conscience of the community and nation.

Shared Ministries

Through CBM, Canadian Baptists share a wide variety of ministries, including overseas relief and development (The Sharing Way), short-term service assignments (Canadian Baptist Volunteers), publishing, and public affairs.

Regionally, CBM Baptists support four seminaries (one of them French), one liberal arts college, and two lay leadership training centres as a means of equipping professional and lay ministers.

Internationally, Baptists who are affiliated with CBM are also affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance. Through the BWA, more than 35 million Baptists around the world share their faith, vision, and ministries.

Other Baptists in Canada

There are several other major Baptist bodies in Canada as well as some smaller groups. Also, some Baptists belong to churches that remain independent.

The Baptist General Conference of Canada and the North American Baptist Conference have roots in Scandinavia and Germany respectively. Though the distinctions are much less evident now than earlier in this century, both groups still maintain their ethnic denominational identity.

During the 1920s, at a time of considerable theological controversy, there emerged a fellowship of Independent Baptist Churches. In 1953, they were joined by the "Regular" Baptist Churches who had left the BCOQ in 1926. This new group took the name "Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches".

The fourth major group of Baptists is the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, a sister to the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States. An increased emphasis on Canada by the Foreign Mission Board of the SBC led to a surge in Southern Baptist mission ministry in Canada in the 1980s.