Who We Are
Australian Baptists are a multi-cultural and multi-generational movement of people serving communities in metropolitan, regional, coastal, rural and remote Australia through a network of almost 1000 churches.
We declare that Jesus Christ is Lord! This confession is the foundation of our unity as a movement of churches, supplemented by our shared Biblical beliefs and practices for congregational life, Christian living, and outreach.
While we celebrate our unity as a movement of God’s people, we also celebrate our diversity. Each local Baptist church in our movement is autonomous, and responsible for setting its own vision, budget, programs, activities, and decision-making processes. Local churches choose to affiliate together as part of State Unions for fellowship, encouragement, equipping, accountability, mutual ministry and administrative support.
The key policy, organisational and administrative functions within the Australian Baptist movement take place at a State and Territory Union level. There is a Baptist Union in each Australian State and the Northern Territory. Our Canberra churches are part of the Baptist Union of NSW.
The State and Territory Unions are affiliated with the national body, Australian Baptist Ministries. Through Australian Baptist Ministries, State Unions and local churches partner together in support of key national and international ministries. These ministries are governed by National Council and managed by a National Director. The National Council meets two to three times a year and comprises representatives from each State and Territory Union and the ministries themselves.
What We Value
Baptist Churches have existed since 1609, and one of the primary reasons our movement developed as a distinctive group among other Protestant Churches is our strong and enduring commitment to the principle of religious liberty for all.
We believe every individual believer is free to access God and serve Him in his or her own way (within biblical lines). For this reason Baptist churches are often very different from each other. Some are very traditional, others very contemporary, and others are somewhere between. We have no prayer book, no bishops, and no hierarchies. We are committed to each church being free to shape its own style, language and ministry. At the same time, there are many things we share in common.
Becoming a Christian
A full statement of belief is available from all Baptist churches or from the Baptist Union in each State.
The organisation of the church
Therefore Baptist churches organise themselves with the following points in mind:
Christ, not any particular individual, is the head of the church. Church meetings are an opportunity for everyone to express where they believe God is leading. God’s leading is ultimately tested in the concensus of a church meeting. The church does not try to tell anybody exactly what they should believe, but each individual seeks the truth of God personally.
Leading the church
So while the church members themselves run the affairs of the church, they empower certain types of leadership. Pastors are responsible for the overall direction and biblical teaching in the church. The deacons usually deal with matters of administration. Elders become involved with the personal and spiritual concerns of the church members.
Leadership is not a right to authority or personal power, but rather an individual using his or her skills for the good of the church. Leaders are elected by and accountable to the church itself.
For this reason, we baptise believers who are free to choose faith in Christ and we prefer baptism by full immersion.
Baptism does not make a person right with God, but is an expression of an inner spiritual commitment. Any Christian wanting to make this commitment should speak to their pastor.
It is usually celebrated once or twice a month and we use small pieces of bread and grape juice to follow Jesus’ example. Usually stewards serve the members of the congregation in their seats.
The world we live in
Becoming a Baptist Church member
Each church has the right to decide who is able to become a member. All church members have equal rights and personal liberty.
Where We’ve Come From
The first Baptists came into being in Europe as part of the Reformation.
The first Baptist service of worship in Australia was held in Sydney on 24 April 1831, more than four decades after the British penal colony had begun in 1788. The first preacher was Rev John McKaeg who conducted the first baptisms in Woolloomooloo Bay in 1832. Under the subsequent leadership of Rev John Saunders, a chapel was built in Bathurst Street and a church formed in 1836. A Baptist Association was formed in 1868, known as the Baptist Union from 1870.
The first Australian Baptist church was actually been formed in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania from 1853). Rev Henry Dowling, a strict Calvinist, had led a small group to form a church in Hobart Town in 1835. The work begun under Dowling was later to be strengthened by the generosity of William and Mary Ann Gibson who built fifteen chapels, many manses and brought out young men from Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College. The Baptist Union of Tasmania was formed in 1884.
In South Australia, church services were held from 1837 but the coming of Rev Silas Mead in 1861 marked a new and enlarged identity for Baptists in Adelaide. He established the Flinders Street church, which was a model for many others and numerous suburban churches were commenced by his people. The Baptist Union in this state was formed in 1863.
The first Baptist services in Melbourne (in what was to become Victoria after its independence from New South Wales in 1851) were in 1837. With the coming of Rev John Ham in 1843 and the formation of the Collins Street Church the work in Victoria assumed a more stable identity. The discovery of gold in Victoria during the 1850s brought a boom growth to Victoria. Baptists shared in this growth, forming a Baptist Union in 1862.
Baptists are known to have been present in Queensland since 1849 and active in a ‘United Evangelical Church’ until the first Baptist church was formed in 1855. The pioneering leader here was Rev B G Wilson who from 1858 until 1878 led what later became known as the City Tabernacle Church and was influential in the public life of the colony. A Baptist Union was established in 1877.
Although Western Australia had been settled since 1826 the first Baptist church was not commenced until 1895 under the leadership of Rev J H Cole. The fledgling WA Union was established in 1896. A notable pioneer was Rev William Kennedy who helped found many rural churches.
The new century saw Baptists envisioning a federal character to their work but it was not until 1926 that the Baptist Union of Australia was formed by representatives of the individual State Unions. Each state body remains an independent authority and the national body has an advisory function. It has coordinated work in Christian education and publication, home missions and various evangelistic movements. It is largely dependant upon the states for finance and leadership. It also helped commence Baptist work in the national capital Canberra in 1927. A national paper The Australian Baptist functioned from 1913 until 1991 but has been replaced by various state monthly publications.
At the last census (2016) Baptists were 1.5% of the population although the census figure of 345,142 has to be compared with the official denominational membership figures (2018) of 74,942 and attendance figures (2018) 189,741 with 1012 church communities. Baptists also have numerous ‘ethnic’ churches, which reflect the multicultural nature of modern Australia.
What We Believe
At Australian Baptist Ministries we do not have a separate statement of belief but rather affirm each of the State Associations statements. Please refer to the relevant state’s statement of belief, as linked below.
Statements of Belief
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