First and foremost the church you choose should hold to the fundamentals of the Christian faith: the inspiration and authority of the Bible, Jesus' virgin birth, eternal deity, subsituationary death, bodily resurrection and literal return; and salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Bible-teaching churches of all varieties hold these primary beliefs as essential truths. But beyond these fundamentas, specific teachings set one church apart from all the others.
Baptists are distinguished from other Christian groups by specific Biblical distinctives. The name "Baptist" identifies people who hold those distinctives. To illustrate this point it would be like a person going down the canned vegetable isle and trying to pick out a specific can of vegetable that did not have a label on it and hoping they got the vegetable they were trying to get. You don't know for sure until you open the can and then you may want to return the can because it was the wrong vegetable.
Why is it important to know Biblical distinctives of Baptists?
Such knowledge enables one to select a church that is faithful to these Biblical truths.
It demonstrates the meaning, worth and significance of the name "Baptist."
General titles lack identification, such as "community" or "nondenominational," leave much room for ambiguities and misunderstandings. The name "Baptist" is understood through its distinctives. Baptist should be confident when their name is heard, no ambiguities are left in defining what they stand for. Certain Biblical distinctives have distinguished their doctrinal position.
Baptists arrived at these distinctives through careful study of the Bible. That is why these teachings are more precisely called the Biblical distinctives of Baptist rather than Baptist distinctives.
These teachings emerged as Baptist distinctives because individual Baptist churches have consistently and independently held to them, not because some group of Baptist leaders composed the list and then imposed the distinctives on local churches.
Church groups other than Baptists have held some Baptist distinctives, and one may even find churches that hold all of the distinctives but do not call themselves Baptist. Such groups are "baptistic," but for some reason they choose not to be identified as Baptists. On the other hand, some churches naming themselves "Baptist" are not truly Baptist because they no longer hold the historic Baptist beliefs or even the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
Baptists are people of the Bible above all else. And Baptists enjoy a priceless heritage of generations who have exalted God's Son our Saviour and have proclaimed God's inspired Word.
It was Charles Hadden Spurgeon that said, "We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the Reformation; we were Reformers before Luther or Calvin were born. We never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes underground and forgotten, like a river which may travel underground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the state, to prostitute the purity of the bride of Christ to any alliance with the government, and we will never make the church, although the queen, the despot over the consciences of men."
The EIGHT Bible distinctives of Baptists!
B - Biblical Authority (the Bible is the final authority in all matters of belief and practice because the Bible is inspired by God and bears the absolute authority of God Himself) - 2Tim 3:15-17; 1Thess 2:13; 2Pe 1:20-21; Acts 17:11; Heb 4:12
A - Autonomy of the Local Church (the local church is an independent body accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church and cannot be controlled by any board, hierarchical system, or other church; autonomy means: independent, self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating; all human authority for governing the local church resides within the local church itself; this does not mean isolationism but participation with other churches of like faith and practice) - Col 1:18; 2Cor 8:1-5, 19, 23; Acts 20:19-30; Eph 1:22-23
P - Priesthood of the Believer (every believer today is a priest of God and may enter into His presence in prayer directly through our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ; we can study God's Word, pray for others and offer spiritual worship to God; we each have equal access to God) - 1Pe 2:5, 9; 1Tim 2:5-8; Rev 1:6; 5:9, 10
T - Two Ordinances (an ordinance is an outward rite appointed by Christ to be administered in the church as a visible sign of the saving truth of the Christian faith; baptism of believers by immersion in water being the first ordinance, identifying the individual with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection; the second ordinance being the Lord's Supper, or communion, commemorating His death for our sins until He comes again) - Matt 28:19-20; 1Cor 11:23-32; Acts 2:38-43; 8:36-38
I - Individual Soul Liberty (every individual saved and unsaved has the liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience and to choose what he or she believes is right in the religious realm; no one should be forced to assent to any belief against his or her will; however, this liberty does not exempt one from responsibility to the Word of God or from accountability to God Himself) - Joh 3:7, 16, 38; Ro 10:9-17; 14:1-23 (vv. 5, 12); 2Cor 4:2; Tit 1:9
S - Saved, Baptized Church Membership (local church membership is restricted to individuals who give a believable testimony of personal faith in Christ and have publicly identified themselves with Him in believer?s baptism. When the members of a local church are believers, a oneness in Christ exists, and the members can endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace) - Acts 2:41-47; 1Cor 12:12; 2Cor 6:14; Gal 4:5-6; Eph 2:19-22; 4:3; 1Tim 3:14-15
T - Two Offices (two ordained offices in the local church are pastors and deacons; there are three other terms that refer to the office of a pastor: elder, bishop and overseer; the two offices of pastor and deacon exist within the local church, not as a hierarchy outside or over the local church) - 1Tim 3:1-13; Acts 6:1-7; 20:17-38; Php 1:1; 1Pet 5:1-4: Tit 1:6-9
S - Separation [Political, Ecclesiastical and Personal] (under political separation every believer should respect, sustain and obey civil authority, that is, as long as it does not violate Scriptural conviction, God established both the church and civil government and they have each its own distinct sphere of operation, the state should not control the church but the church should be an influence in the state - not establishing a state religion but being the salt of the earth and light of the world; under ecclesiastical separation we believe that as a church we must separate from apostasy, not everything that calls itself "Christian" is "Christian" and we must weigh the evidence against the Word of God; under personal separation we believe the Christians is to be personally separated from the world unto Christ - abstaining from all appearance of evil and keeping oneself unspotted from the world) - Acts 5:29-31; Ro 13:1-7; 2Cor 6:14-17; Ro 12:1-2