Difference Between Baptist and Evangelical Churches?

Ok, from what I can gather, it seems like a Baptist church is a denomination and the term evangelical is much broader and is not a specific denomination…Is this correct? I don’t understand how a church could be Baptist but NOT evangelical and I don’t really understand why an evangelical church would not want to be in a Baptist convention; they seem like they allow a lot of diversity within conventions. Further, how can you have independent Baptist churches? If it’s independent, doesn’t that make it non-denominational or something? It would be great if someone who understands the nuance between the groups could explain it. Thanks in advance as always.


Baptist is a denominational family of Protestants. Evangelicalism (not “evangelical” which is an adjective) is a pan-denominational movement within Protestantism. Evangelicals run the spectrum from Baptist to Episcopalian.

Baptists historically have always been evangelical. I suppose today it would be possible to have a Baptist Christian or Baptist church embrace non-evangelical doctrines and still claim the title of Baptist. However, such a development would be a departure from what Baptists have historically believed.

Hmm . . . because they are not Baptists. :ehh:

Well, I don’t know about that. Baptists are congregationalists, meaning that congregations are autonomous. Yes, there can be variety, but congregations that depart from Baptist belief and practice too much will be kicked out of their convention.

You can have independent Baptist churches because one of the distinctive qualities of Baptist churches is that congregations are autonomous. A Baptist church is a Baptist church because it embraces the historic Baptist principles. A church does not have to be a part of a Baptist convention to be a Baptist church.

First, lets talk about what makes a Baptist church a Baptist church. Baptists subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers (believer’s baptism), and that it must be done by immersion. Other tenets of Baptist churches include soul competency (liberty, in America Baptists were strong advocates of separation of church and state), salvation through faith alone, scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice, and the autonomy of the local congregation. Baptists recognize two ministerial offices, pastors and deacons.

Baptists and Methodists were the most successful evangelical denominations in America.

What is evangelicalism? Evangelicalism is a movement within Protestantism that began in the 18th century from a fusion of Pietism, Presbyterianism, and the remnants of Puritanism. What resulted was a spirituality that stressed the necessity of some kind of conversion that was followed by a warm hearted and experiential piety. This contrasted with the cold, rationalistic religion that characterized the upper classes and the ecclesiastical establishment.

Methodism was a leading force in evangelicalism. Methodism itself emerged from Anglican evangelicalism. Later on, the holiness movement emerged out of Methodism. And out of the holiness movement emerged Pentecostalism. Therefore, there was and still is a very strong evangelical movement within Anglicanism (however, not all Anglicans are evangelicals). Furthermore, Methodism, Wesleyan-Holiness, and Pentecostal churches are mainly evangelical. (In Western countries, many Methodists have evolved into non-evangelical liberal Protestants; however, in Africa Methodism is still essentially evangelical).

Presbyterians and Reformed Christians were also essentially evangelicals for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. In the early 20th century, many Presbyterians embraced modernism and liberal Protestantism, and the evangelical Presbyterians split and began their own fundamentalist and evangelical churches.

I say all of this to show that evangelicalism is much broader than Baptist churches.

As a protestant, I wondered about this, but never got the information, I’m looking foward to more posts.

I forgot to add. Another defining feature of evangelicalism is revivalism. If you’ve ever studied the Great Awakenings, you will see that Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians (and at times even the Episcopalians got in on the action) in the 1700s and 1800s loved having revivals to call people to conversion and repentance. Baptist and Methodist camp meetings became huge community events, especially out on the frontier.

I know Baptists still have revivals. They are also called Gospel Meetings in some places.

…a well done reply

Thanks, Itwin…your post was a great help! My son in law is evangelical but went to a Baptist college in the South, but I knew he did not call himself a Baptist.

Yes, there is a lot of crossover within evangelicalism. I identify as Pentecostal, but when I was considering graduate schools, among my choices of secular and Pentecostal institutions I also considered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Obviously, being from a Pentecostal church is a lot different that most Baptist churches, but we agree on enough that I would not have ruled it out simply because it had Baptist in its name.

Come to think of it, all the vacation Bible schools my parents took me to as a child were operated by Baptist churches, except one year we went to the one sponsored by the Nazarene Church. So, it can be pretty easy to crossover. There can be a very strong ecumenical spirit and ethos between different evangelical churches.


Great questions. I’m afraid the answers are not always simple.

I started a thread on christianforums.com asking: Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals? to help with a CAF discussion. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, but was out of touch and wanted a clarification on their current beliefs.

**christianforums.com: **Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals?
**"The last time I checked, Southern Baptists were not listed with the National Association of Evangelicals.

So, are Southern Baptists Evangelicals? This came up on another forum. I searched articles, but I could not find a consistent answer.

Would Southern Baptists shed some light on this issue?"**

There were some interesting responses. Basically, Southern Baptists consider themselves evangelical or evangelistic, but not Evangelicals. They are not part of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Click here for Denominational Members of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

The General Association of General Baptist and North American Baptist Conference are members of the NAE.

To be a Southern Baptist, one must assent to the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Southern Baptists split from other Baptists during the Civil war with a pro-slavery stance, which has since been renounced by RESOLUTION ON RACIAL RECONCILIATION ON THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION June 1995.

Beliefs among Baptists vary considerably.

Hope this is helpful.


Interesting post. I will agree that Southern Baptists have at times not identified as part of evangelicalism. However, we need to recognize the historical context. Evangelicalism originated as a Northern movement that encapsulated many Northern cultural values, like support for abolition. Southern Baptists split from the Northern Baptists specifically to distinguish themselves from the North!

Despite their need to distinguish themselves, they fit the definition of evangelicalism to perfection. They completely fit the definition.

Lacking membership in the National Association of Evangelicals does not mean that Southern Baptists somehow are not evangelicals. The Southern Baptists aren’t even members of the Baptist World Alliance! Does that mean that Southern Baptists aren’t Baptists?

Southern Baptists are Protestants who believe in the necessity of a conversion experience. Furthermore, the history of Southern Baptists is clearly part of the history of evangelicalism. By anyone’s definition, Southern Baptists meet the requirements of being evangelicals.

I think it is instructive to search the SBC’s website for “evangelicalism” and see how many search results come up. Also, “The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals” by Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is insightful:

To address the future of Southern Baptists as evangelicals assumes that Baptists are evangelicals. In the pre-1979 Southern Baptist world, many Southern Baptists understood themselves as evangelical or evangelistic, but not as evangelicals. This attitude was classically expressed by Foy Valentine, then Executive Director of the Christian Life Commission of the SBC, who famously said in an article:

We are not evangelicals. That’s a Yankee word. They want to claim us because we are big and successful and growing every year. But we have our own traditions, our own hymns and more students in our seminaries that they have in all of theirs put together. We don’t share their politics or their fussy fundamentalism, and we don’t want to get involved in their theological witch-hunts.1

It is evident that Southern Baptists are emerging from a regional and separatist identity toward broader engagement with the evangelical world. For example, it is instructive to note the profound involvement and influence that Southern Baptists now have in the Evangelical Theological Society and its sister organizations the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the Evangelical Missiological Society. In 1980, Southern Baptist involvement in ETS was rather sporadic. Fifteen years ago, ETS met on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at the invitation of the President, but few NOBTS faculty or students attended. However, at last year’s ETS annual meeting in San Antonio, almost 100 Southern Baptist seminary and college faculty presented papers or chaired sessions at the meeting, several plenary sessions speakers were Southern Baptists, and the newly elected President was Southern Baptist. About 20 NOBTS faculty members delivered papers, and about 50 NOBTS students attended. It is also instructive to note the increasing number of faculty members at some SBC seminaries whose background and/or training is from an evangelical denomination other than the SBC. In addition, Southern Baptist mission agencies have engaged with entities from other like-minded evangelical Great Commission organizations to perform their work. Our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission partners with other evangelical groups in representing conservative Christian concerns in Washington. **So, taken as a whole, Southern Baptist engagement with evangelicals is greater than it has ever been. **

However, I’m not so sure how long Southern Baptists may feel comfortable in maintaining fellowship with some evangelicals. Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups may be ships passing in the night. Many evangelical institutions seem to be shifting to the left, while Southern Baptists have just made a sharp course correction to the right. These differences are beginning to be reflected regarding issues such as the role of women, the openness of God, biblical inspiration and hermeneutics, and post-conservative openness to pluralism and postmodernism.

If you note the last paragraph, Lemke identifies the main differences between Southern Baptists and other evangelicals is that other evangelicals tend to be moving in a more progressive direction and Southern Baptists are actually getting more conservative!

Many evangelicals (not just Southern Baptists) do find the National Association of Evangelicals as too liberal.

I know.

Yet, evangelicalism/evangelical are terms that have evolved over time.

I’m not claiming otherwise. Southern Baptists will not deny being evangelical or evangelistic.

Not claiming otherwise.

Indeed, Southern Baptists take issue with the liberal trend in the NAE. As I said, Baptists consider themselves evangelical or evangelistic.

Really, I don’t think we disagree. You are concentrating more on the historical aspect and definition of Evangelicalism; while my question posed on the Baptist forum deals with how they see themselves today, given the liberal leanings/developments in the National Association of Evangelicals.

Remember, I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church. :slight_smile:


My point is that the NAE does not determine what authentic evangelicalism is. Most evangelicals in America are not members of the NAE and never have been. Also, I would say that given the fact that the SBC has undergone the conservative resurgence/fundamentalist takeover of 1960-1979, a fundamental change has occurred in the SBC so that today, I’m not sure if the old categories that Southern Baptists used to advocate still apply today.

And I’m certainly not questioning your knowledge. I agree that historically Southern Baptists would not have identified with evangelicalism. I just think that today Southern Baptists for the most part do. I could be wrong about that, but one thing I’m not wrong is that evangelicals see Southern Baptists a co-evangelicals. That is saying something, since evangelicals only see other Christians as evangelicals if they actually are evangelical!

Also, I really get frustrated with religious groups that refuse to acknowledge that they are what they are. This whole “we’re evangelical not evangelicals” to me smells of what Sigmund Freud called “the narcissism of minor differences.”

For anyone else interested in this whole strange discussion over whether the SBC is evangelical or not, there were two books written about the question: Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals? and Southern Baptists and American Evangelicals: The Conversation Continues.

So, like Anna said, it is somewhat open to question among Southern Baptists. It is my view however that much of this is just semantics and an attempt of Southern Baptists to standout and not just be lumped together under this massive movement of evangelicalism.

Evanglical(ism) is a movement more than anything. You have Evangelical Baptist congregations. Many of the “mega churches” are Evangelical Baptist. Evangelical simply means to Evangelize others. They strive to convert people to Christianity and certain denominations within Christianity. Many of the door-knockers are of the evangelical nature. Baptist is a denomination. Evangelical is a movement within Protestantism. A Catholic could also be considered an Evangelical in some sense as we strive to evangelize and spread the Gospel. The Year or Faith could be seen as a evangelical time for Catholics. :slight_smile:

I’d have to take issue with your definition of Evangelicalism. “Evangelicalism” does not mean “evangelism.” We need to make a distinction between “evangelical” that describes “being evangelistic” and “evangelical” that describes “being of Evangelicalism.”

Like you said, Evangelicalism is a movement; however, it is not limited to being “evangelistic.” The core doctrinal emphasis of Evangelicalism is that a conscious conversion experience is necessary. There are other characteristics which have been noted in this thread. The necessity of conversion would be the most important.

The term Evangelicalism is a wide-reaching definitional “canopy” that covers a diverse number of Protestant groups. The term originates in the Greek word evangelion, meaning “the good news,” or, more commonly, the gospel.

Evangelism is the preaching of the Christian Gospel or the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others with the object of conversion.

So Evangelicals seek to evangelize.

I’m waiting for Jon to add evangelical catholics to the discussion.

I know what “evangelism” means. “Evangelicalism” however is a movement that is not primarily about evangelism. Evangelicals, i.e. adherents of Evangelicalism, are Protestant Christians that form a distinct identity. They are not just any Christians that evangelize.

If you want to use “evangelical” in terms of “A Christian that evangelizes”, then you are free to use that definition. However, Evangelicalism is a different thing, and it is ignorant to reduce Evangelicalism to “Christians who make it a point to evangelize.”

Evangelical Protestants are not distinguished from other Protestants and Christians by their fervor to evangelize. They are distinguished by the belief in the necessity of conscious conversion, belief in the primacy of scripture, and a warm hearted, experiential piety, and revivalism.

Indeed, there has been a “conservative resurgence/fundamentalist takeover of 1960-1979” as you noted. I commented on this in several past threads.

Nov. 2012 CAF Thread: ? For past or present baptist osas Post #4
. . .How the SBC Has Changed by Dr. Rick McClatchy & Dr. Bruce Prescott:
The Patterson-Pressler coalition changed the role of the pastor in Baptist church life.
“. . . .The Patterson-Pressler coalition insists that the pastor is the unquestioned ruler of the church. W. A. Criswell said, “Lay leadership of the church is unbiblical when it weakens the pastor’s authority as ruler of the church . . . a laity-led church will be a weak church anywhere on God’s earth. The pastor is ruler of the church.” In 1988 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming that the pastor was the ruler of the church. . . .”

“. . . . .**The Patterson-Pressler coalition expects seminary professors to indoctrinate their students to a very narrow theological viewpoint. **Adrian Rogers (the first SBC president elected by the Patterson- Pressler coalition) said, “If we say pickles have souls, they (seminary professors) better teach that pickles have souls.” Seminary teachers who refused to comply were fired, sought employment elsewhere, or took early retirement. Their replacements are indoctrinators who have usurped the place of the Holy Spirit and now presume to make Southern Baptists accountable for living according to the interpretations and convictions of the Patterson-Pressler coalition. . .”
Copyright © 2001 MAINSTREAM BAPTIST NETWORK P.O. Box 6371 Norman, OK 73070-6371 (405) 329-2266. Last modified: February 19, 2001. Link. . . .

April 2012 CAF Thread: What do Baptists believe? Post #171
The Southern Baptist Convention has taken a sharp conservative swing in the last few decades.

The Baptist Faith and Message was revised in 2000 (BFM2000), and the revision is not without concerns, as expressed by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University, 1400 Coleman Avenue, Macon, GA:

"Some have built-in suspicions of BFM200 because it was crafted by the “party” who succeeded in a two-decade effort to take control of the SBC. One Baptist editor describes the implied scenario behind this distrust:

Twenty-one years ago a master plan for the repositioning of the SBC would have looked something like this. Elect SBC presidents sympathetic to fiercely conservative principles. Appoint like-minded trustees to govern SBC institutions. Hire to the staffs of convention agencies employees who buy into the SBC’s rightward shift. Create a new SBC infrastructure that reflects a more conservative direction. Rewrite the history of this era with the victor’s spin. Revise the SBC theological statement, the 1963 BFM, to codify the new, more fundamental, direction of the SBC. With the release of the report of the Committee on the BFM last week the final stage of this reimaging is set in motion (Religious Herald, May 25, 2000, p.8)." Link

See also: Link

Yet, we have the religious freedom to describe our beliefs and accept or reject labels. I call myself Anglo Catholic/Anglican Catholic. Yet, Catholics may argue that I am not Catholic.

Southern Baptists have the same rights when it comes to the Evangelical label, and their responses will vary. Some will say unequivocally they are “Evangelicals.” Others will say, we are “evangelical, but not Evangelicals.”

The variation in the way Baptists see themselves was clearly demonstrated on the christianforums.com Baptist thread "Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals:

In Post #7, BrookGF mentioned Foy Valentine, and quoted from The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals: “In the pre-1979 Southern Baptist world, many Southern Baptists understood themselves as evangelical or evangelistic, but not as evangelicals.”

In Post # 10, WinBySurrender expressed serious offense by my reference to Baptists being “evangelical to a degree,” even though I was asking for clarification of the issue.

So, two Baptists on the same thread expressed sharp differences in how they see themselves when it comes to the Evangelical label.

Interesting discussion. :slight_smile:


Correct. Southern Baptists can call themselves whatever they want.

I was Evangelical Protestant for 47 years before converting to Catholicism. The churches I was associated with (or held membership in) were: Conference Baptist, Christian church, Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Evangelical Free Church in America. For brief periods, I was also involved with the United Brethren Church and with the Reformed Church in America. My daughter graduated from Calvin College, which I believe is Christian Reformed.

My mother’s family was from the South, and they were all Baptists, but they were part of a Pentecostal Baptist church, which incorporated a lot of African American music. My dad grew up in the Reformed Church and the United Methodist Church (back before either of these was “modernized”). Up until his dying day, he did not believe in drinking alcohol, and actually boycotted his favorite restaurant (less than a year ago) because the restaurant acquired a liquor license. Boy, the Methodists sure have changed, haven’t they?!

Anyway, I think a lot of Baptist churches, along with a lot of the non-denominational Protestant churches, do not “join” organizations like the NAE because they don’t want to be part of anything bigger than themselves. They don’t want to have to pay any dues or make financial donations, they don’t want to attend conferences and meetings, they don’t want to feel obligated to use the association’s literature–they just don’t want to have the extra distraction and work of yet another involvement in something outside of their own neighborhood and city.

One thing that many Evangelical Protestant churches are good at is focusing on a few ministries that they are particularly well-equipped for. E.g., if a church has a good music ministry, they go with it all the way, and do amazing things with their music.

There’s a lot of good sense in this approach to “church.” Sometimes, churches try to do and be everything to everyone, and it just doesn’t work because the church doesn’t have the resources (time, people, money, talent, experience, etc.) to do everything for everyone.

Also, a lot of churches stay away from involvements in big organizations outside of themselves becaues of fear of being associated with the scandals that often rock the big organizations. Just a few years ago, a high-ranking NAE leader was caught up in a homosexual scandal (he was soliciting male prostitutes), and there was a huge public scandal in the media. Even though a thinking person would not associate a little church in Podunk, USA with that man’s scandal–well, a lot people aren’t thinking people, and yes, they WILL associate the little Podunk church with the big, bad man who did naughty things.

I think this follows a general trend that has been growing in the U.S. for the last decade–a hesitation to make any kind of commitment. We see this across the boards in American culture. Many people don’t get married, they just co-habit. People wait and wait to have children because they don’t want to commit the time and money to raising a family. People don’t join clubs or lodges anymore (many lodge are closed and shuttered up); we are even experiencing a reluctance by skating families to join the local figure skating clubs, even though this is the way the sport is administered in the U.S.A. (it’s been this way for over a century). People don’t even commit to a job anymore–there’s a general feeling that we want to be free to quit our job and move around if we aren’t “happy.”