Baptists are a variety of Evangelical Protestantism. Baptists claim 90 million members worldwide, approximately seventy percent of which reside in the United States. It should be noted that Baptist members are those who have reached the "age of reason" and been baptized. Baptists do not count infants and young children as members. The primary theological differences between Baptists and Orthodox Christianity are the autonomy of each individual church, with no supervisory episcopal authority, a rejection of the sacramental nature of all seven Orthodox sacraments (Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, the Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders and Unction (and indeed, neither Chrismation nor Confession nor Unction are practiced by the Baptists even symbolically), and furthermore by their adherence to the heresy of "Believers Baptism", in which only adults (and children who have reached the "age of reason) are baptized, as a symbol, but in most Baptist conventions, also a prerequisite to partaking of the "Lord's Supper" (the also purely symbolic and non-Sacramental imitation of the Eucharist). These views will be expounded upon in the article.
Baptists cannot trace their denomination's beginnings to any one founder. Most reputable historians teach that John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, two Englishmen connected to the separatist movement from the Church of England, gave this group its general ideas, though. Smyth and Helwys disagreed with the Church of England on doctrines such as infant baptism (hence the name Baptist), ecclesiastical authority, and church-state relations, among other things. Since the separatist movement was persecuted by the English government, Smyth exiled himself to the Netherlands and established the first Baptist church there in 1609. Helwys, however, stayed in England and started the first English Baptist church two years later. Today, this schismatic group is referred to as the General Baptists. Years later, though, the Particular Baptists, who shared a more Calvinist theology, arose. They offically emerged in 1644 with their London Confession of Faith.
Some also believe the Baptists got their start from the Anabaptists. However, this is unlikely, due to the fact that Baptists and Anabaptists disagree on many issues (such as practices and doctrines relating to church discipline and pacifism).
Another view known as Landmarkism teaches that the first Baptists were the discples of St. John the Baptist. This, however, is extremely unlikely as Baptism espouses many doctrines that developed either in post-schism Catholicism or in other Protestant sects, more than a millennium after Christ. The most notable denomination that holds this view is the American Baptists.
Since there are at least sixty-five Baptist bodies with no structured ecclesiology, it's hard to precisely define their doctrines. Nevertheless, there are some points common to all Baptists. For example, most adherents place strong emphasis on the independence of the individual person ("individual soul liberty"), independence of each church, affirmation of believer's baptism, and distinctively American concepts such as freedom of religion and separation of church and state.
Baptist services are substantially less formal than the Orthodox Divine Liturgy; at traditional Baptist churches, one may sing hymns, accompanied by an organ, there may be a traditional choir, and this might be followed by The Lord's Supper, as they refer to the Eucharist, Bible readings, and as the main event, a long sermon. At less traditional Baptist churches, the traditional hymns, choir and organ are disposed of and replaced by a "Praise Band", which performs blasphemous "Christian Rock" music and other acts of impiety. Another feature of less traditional Baptist churches is the Altar Call, a blasphemy in which worshippers are called to the front of the church to confess their sins and proclaim their faith. Churches where this occurs usually lack a traditional "Lord's Table" as it is referred to in Baptist parlance.
Incompatibility with Orthodox Christianity
Baptists are part of the "congregationalist" heresy, meaning that they don't have bishops or any traditional ecclesiological structures. Instead, Congregationalist church governance gives autonomy to individual local churches in areas of policy, polity and doctrine. Baptist churches are not under the direct administrative control of any other body, such as a national council, or a leader such as a bishop or pope. Administration, leadership and doctrine are usually decided democratically by the lay members of each individual church, which accounts for the variation of beliefs from one Baptist church to another. Such a system allows for each person to decide independently to believe whatever they wish, making it effectively impossible for a single Tradition or the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church to be preserved. The various Baptist conferences set guidelines for membership, which include systems of belief, and other requirements, that member churches must maintain, however, since each individual congregation is independent, the only penalty the conference can impose on a congregation that drifts from its official doctrine is to expel it, which is not a very compelling ecclesiastic penalty given that no one owns the rights to the word "Baptist", and thus, a Baptist church that is separated from its former conference can continue operating as before, without any substantially visible changes. One interesting fact that one might observe, would be that if Baptists were in fact, the true form of the ancient Church, as is claimed, the Council of Nicea would never have occurred, and Arius would have been completely unrestrained in spreading his heresy, as there would have been no Pope Alexander of Alexandria to take action against him.
The Baptists also have an anti-sacerdotal interpretation of "The Priesthood of All Believers", and in theory grant each individual the right to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, without reference to Church tradition. In fact, the majority of Baptists in a given congregation typically accept without criticism the Biblical interpretation posited by "the Preacher", essentially admitting an inability to interpret the scriptures on their own. The danger, from an Orthodox perspective, of Baptism, compared to Orthodoxy, is that, especially in light of the fact that Baptist services center around the Sermon, which can be up to an hour in length, as the main event, it is easy and possible for the congregation to be led radically astray by a rogue pastor, who is not kept in check by any form of episcopal supervision. In contrast to an Orthodox Priest, whose primary responsibility is to lead the congregation in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, of which the Eucharist is the main event, while at the same time, guiding the Orthodox life of the congregation through the hearing of confessions, and other forms of pastoral care, the role of a Baptist Pastor or Preacher, as they are usually called, is primarily to preach an interesting or elucididating Sermon; these tend to be substantially longer than the Orthodox homilies, and are generally unregulated by any fixed lectionary; some Baptist preachers engage in "expositional preaching", where they offer their own hermeneutical interpretation of each book of the Bible, whereas others take a different approach, condemning what they perceive to be the moral failings of modern society, or indeed their own congregants.
Baptists firmly believe in sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Properly understood, this is the concept of Scripture as a unified whole, utilizing literary criticism called "historical Biblical scholarship," which was pioneered in the late 19th century, while rejecting the previous two millennia of commentaries by the Holy Fathers. Orthodoxy, however, knows Holy Tradition to hold and interpret the Bible within itself. Like all Protestants, Baptists reject the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, considering them to be less than divinely inspired. Biblical inerrancy is yet another common heresy among fundamentalist Baptists. This has lead, in various Baptist communities, to the proliferation of unpleasant heresies that stem from a literal and uneducated interpretation of selective bible passages, most prominently, Pre-Millenial Dispensationalism, which is popular in the Baptist community. Because each Baptist church is independent, however, the particular heretical interpretations vary from church to church.
Baptism, commonly referred to as "believer's baptism" among Baptists, is an ordinance that according to Baptist doctrine plays no role in salvation. That is, the act of baptism does not actually save a person or cleanse him from all his sins. Instead, it is merely an outward observance, properly performed only after salvation, which occurs when a person professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This completely opposes Orthodoxy, which regards baptism as a real supernatural transformation, through which the believer dies and rises again with Christ in a very real manner.
Through Anabaptist influence, Baptists reject the practice of pedobaptism, or infant baptism, because they believe parents cannot make a decision of salvation for an infant. Related to this doctrine is the disputed concept of an "age of accountability" when God determines that a mentally capable person is accountable for their sins and eligible for baptism. In contrast, reason and mental capacity are not essential factors in either Orthodox baptism or Holy Communion. This "tradition" arose from the legalistic, overly rationalistic theology of the Roman Catholic Church, which puts the rational intellect above all else, whereas Orthodoxy places the noetic faculty above all.
While denying the sacramental nature of the Eucharist, the Baptists do consider it to be one of two quasi-sacraments, referred to as Ordinances in Baptist terminology (the other being Baptism itself). Referring to it as the Lord's Supper (and likewise, the Altar or Holy Table becomes the Lord's Table, in the more formal congregations), Baptists deny the transubstantiation of the elements into the very body and blood of Christ, instead interpreting it as a purely symbolic act, one which is nonetheless reserved for believers.
Baptists, like nearly all Protestants, hold a sola fide soteriology. This is an interpretation contrary to the Fathers, placing central emphasis of a Calvinist reading of Ephesians 2:8 ("For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God"). Their interpretation states that a person must only willfully repent of sin, accept the substitutionary payment of his own sin by faith in Christ's death, and declares that Jesus is Lord in order to attain salvation. Like most Western Christians, there is a dichotomy placed between "faith" and "works." Thus, any mention of the necessity of "works" such as fasting, prayer, or charity being necessary or even helpful for the soul are anathema. However, it should be noted that most Baptists, like other evangelical Christians, believe that a reformed life and continued spiritual growth following conversion are important proofs that one's conversion was genuine. When an individual claims to have placed faith in Christ but does not show spiritual and moral growth, the sincerity of that individual's conversion is doubted. Baptists, like other Western Christians, do not speak of theosis like the Orthodox. Like other evangelical Christians, most Baptists do speak of sanctification, a process whereby the saved individual is gradually reformed by the interior action of the Holy Spirit to become more and more like Christ.
The Risk and Benefit of Ecumenical Relations
Having occupied an extreme theological position largely driven by anti-Catholicism, the Baptists have made themselves, from a theological and ecclesiological perspective, the denomination most removed from Orthodox Christianity. Their church polity, their views on the nature of the Sacraments, and their views on the interpretation of Scripture, are completely incompatible with Orthodox theology; the Baptist churches do not recognize the validity of baptisms other than the "believer's baptism", and thus while a Baptist baptized using the trinitarian formula might be accepted into some Orthodox churches via chrismation, a cradle Orthodox could not be accepted into membership or communion at a Baptist church without rebaptism. This fundamental incompatibility is difficult to resolve, and ecumenical discussions of any theological nature are thus most likely fruitless, however, an individual Baptist church could in theory vote to disassociate itself from its membership, ascribe to all Orthodox doctrines, submit itself to the jurisdiction of an Orthodox Bishop, and be received into Orthodoxy in that manner; stranger things have happened, such as the epic Journey to Orthodoxy of the New Covenant Apostolic Order, see Evangelical Orthodox Church.
That being said, there is possible ground for cooperation between some Baptist groups and the Orthodox on social issues. The Southern Baptist Convention in the United States is the largest non-Catholic denomination to forbid the ordination of women, oppose homosexual marriage, abortion, and other practices that are anathema to Orthodox Christians. Thus, political cooperation between that convention and the Orthodox churches could be highly fruitful. However, it is important that such cooperation be coordinated purely between the Orthodox episcopacy and the Baptist leadership, and that co-mingling of any sort between the congregations be avoided.
It should be noted that some aggressive, modern, Evangelical Baptist or ex-Baptist churches (of the "praise band and altar call" variety) are known for actively proselytizing against traditional "ethnic Churches", including all of the various Eastern and Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions, and the Assyrian Church of the East, as well as various ethnic Catholic congregations. Their strategy typically involves sending congregants who have a particular ethnicity, who grew up in an "ethnic church", back to that church, to attempt to recruit away from that church its parishioners. In the use of this strategy, they are following similarly aggressive and reprehensible tactics also used by the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, and other Heretics.