The Baptist family of churches arose out of the Protestant Reformation and Anabaptist movements of the 16th century. The first Baptist churches were founded in Holland (1609) and England (1611). In the United States, the First Baptist Church in America was established in Providence, Rhode Island by Roger Williams in 1638-1639. In the first decade of the 21st century, Baptist denominations have more than 37 million adherents who live throughout the world.
Although a noncreedal and individualistic people, Baptists have nevertheless upheld certain defining values, including separation of church and state (religious liberty), soul freedom (the right and obligation of the individual to express his/her own understanding of the Christian life), the autonomy or self-governance of the local church, a commitment to live according to the standards of the New Testament, regenerate church membership (only those who can testify to a personal saving experience may join the church as a member), and believer's baptism by immersion. These defining features have influenced how Baptists have sought to promote the spiritual formation and development of children under their care.
Translating these concepts to the arena of childhood spiritual formation, Baptists have developed and practiced four core principles that facilitate the spiritual development of youth. Baptist spiritual formation encourages the individual child to seek and encounter God for himself/herself, to read and learn from the Scriptures, and apply its insights on a personal level, to join with others in order to journey faithfully, and to accept God's call as expressed through Christian service.
THE INDIVIDUAL'S ENCOUNTER AND JOURNEY WITH GOD
The Baptist adherence to the principles of separation of church and state, autonomy of the local church, and soul freedom create a religious environment that encourages the individual person to take responsibility for his/her spiritual development. Coercion from governmental (secular), ecclesiastical (denominational), or even familial sources is vehemently opposed by Baptists. In terms of spiritual formation in youth, Baptists therefore seek to provide maximum freedom for children to grow in their understanding of the Christian life. Specifically, this entails a tension between being encouraged to commit one's life to Christ on one hand, and being protected from premature commitments to God or the church on the other.
The Baptist faith emphasizes the need to confront one's sinfulness and to accept forgiveness of those sins by acknowledging Jesus Christ as one's Savior and Lord. Baptists do not speak in terms of original sin (an innate sinfulness passed down through generations), but instead emphasize that each person inevitably succumbs to temptation and falls short of God's standards of holiness. Once children reach "the age of accountability" (defined as knowing the difference between right and wrong, or the beginnings of conscience), they are considered morally responsible for their behavior. This is a psychospiritual awakening or development, and thus not strictly chronological. In practice, most Baptists would say this transition takes place between the ages of 4 to 6. Prior to reaching the age of accountability, children are considered innocents, and are not held liable, in spiritual terms, for their actions.