Baptist is a term describing
a tradition within Christianity and may also refer to individuals
belonging to a Baptist church or a Baptist denomination. The tradition
takes its name from the conviction that followers of Jesus Christ
should be immersed in water as a visible and public display of
their faith. Baptists do not practice infant baptism.
Organizationally, Baptist churches operate on the Congregational
governance system, which gives autonomy to individual local Baptist
churches. Baptists traditionally have avoided the "top-down"
hierarchy of episcopalianism which is found in the Roman Catholic,
Anglican, and many other churches. However, Baptist churches will
often associate in denominational groups such as the Southern
Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention, USA, Conservative
Baptist Association of America, American Baptist Churches USA,
American Baptist Association (Landmark Baptists), among others.
Both Roger Williams and his compatriot in working for religious
freedom, Dr. John Clarke, are variously credited as being the
founder of the Baptist faith in America.In 1639, Williams established
a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island and Clarke began
a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island. According to a Baptist
historian who has researched the matter extensively, "There
is much debate over the centuries as to whether the Providence
or Newport church deserved the place of 'first' Baptist congregation
in America. Exact records for both congregations are lacking."