What We Believe
Welcome to the
First Baptist Church of Philadelphia!
We are a community of Christ-followers dedicated to joining God in the unfolding narrative of human history, making God's reign known "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). We boldly proclaim and believe that "Jesus Christ is Lord", having lived, died, and lived again (Romans 10:9).
That's the short of it. We join with the billions of believers before-and-ahead of us in affirming the divinity and Lordship of Jesus Christ. That's what makes us a Christian church.
In their desire to act as authentic disciples of Christ, Christians throughout the ages have relied on a plurality of beliefs, practices, and traditions. Our community finds our beliefs best expressed in the tradition of the American Baptist Churches, USA (to learn more about First Baptist's historic role in this denomination, click here).
"Baptist" can mean a lot of things to different people. Here's a little primer on our distinctive beliefs:
For millenia, God has chosen to reveal Godself to humanity in a variety of ways. None of these has been as special as God revealed in Jesus Christ. While we can know God in a variety of ways (personal experience, tradition, reason, nature, etc.), we uphold that the Bible is the primary tool on which we rely for spiritual guidance: not only because it is a primary means by which we learn of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, but because we believe the Holy Spirit accompanies in the reading process.
Since our founding, religious freedom has been at the core of baptist belief and principles. Baptists believe that authentic relationship can never be achieved through coercion, and that every individual ultimately has the right to discern for themselves what they will believe.
Because of this, each Baptist church functions autonomously (Matt 18:15-18:17; 1Cor 6:1-6:3). While we may belong to groupings or clusters of other churches who share a sense of mission (for instance, we are members of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, a regional affiliation within the American Baptist Churches, USA), each church is responsible for governing itself.
We believe in Individual Soul Liberty (Rom 14:5-14:12). This means that the individual is accountable to God alone. We also believe in the priesthood of all believers (1Pet 2:5-2:9; 1Tim 2:5), which is the belief that the individual doesn't require an intercessor (such as a priest/pastor/bishop etc.) to connect with God.
Because of our belief in religious freedom, it shouldn't be surprising that Baptists are some of the strongest and most historic advocates for religious freedom and the separation of church and state (check out the work of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Freedom). The expression of religious freedom is a major contributor to the diversity in Baptist traditions!
Founder of Rhode Island, Baptist pioneer, advocated for separation of church and state to preserve the purity of the church. Williams's arguments for religious liberty no doubt influenced the writers of the First Amendment.
(Image of the Naragansett Native Americans receiving Roger Williams via New York Public Library, public domain)
While Baptists' aren't the first "dunkers" in Christian history, we might be some of the most famous! Indeed, we are named for our practice of immersing new believers in water (baptizing). This is generally understood as an "outward expression of an inward change." It is expected that those who undergo baptism do so understanding the profound significance of their decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord--a change that we believe results in new life. Because we believe that this decision needs to be made by the individual of their own volition, Baptists do not (typically) baptize infants.
***If you would like to be baptized, send a message here. Typically, one meets with the pastor over a period of several weeks, writing a paper along the way that will be presented to the congregation, before being immersed. However, we're open to how you feel God is moving in your life.
An important event in our worship is communion (sometimes referred to as "the Eucharist"). For Baptists, communion serves as a symbolic reminder of the broken body and shed blood offered by Christ on the eve of his crucifixion. This event helps us to encounter God and experience God's love and grace. At First Baptist, we invite all who are present to participate in communion, recognizing that Jesus never made exclusive distinctions at the Last Supper nor in his ministry.
First Baptist Distinctives
There are certain beliefs that we hold that separate us from some of our Baptist siblings. These include:
God's Kingdom is diverse. Because of this, we strive to be a multicultural, multiethnic group of believers dedicated to celebrating the diversity of God's creation! We are deliberate in our efforts to honor other voices in worship and in the life of the church through a variety of expressions, including music, art, and liturgy.
We are an inclusive community, recognizing that "we will never look into the eyes of another not wholly beloved by God." We affirm all peoples as children of God, and include members of the LGBT+ community in the full life of the church, including in positions of leadership. We are proud to be a Welcoming and Affirming Congregation and a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. Remember, YOU ARE LOVED!
In 1845, a group of Baptists from around the country agreed at the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia that faithful Christians "can never be a party to any arrangement which would imply approbation of slavery," resulting in the separation of the Baptists into Southern (Southern Baptist Churches) and Northern (American Baptist Churches, USA) churches along the lines of slavery. Since this time, we have continued our efforts in “learn[ing] to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, [and] plead the widow’s cause” (ESV Isaiah 1:17) all the while honoring Christ’s call to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (NRSV Mark 16:15). We strive to make God's reign a reality "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10), even if this has us operate against the grain of society.