This post will, of course, have less to do with the academy than the two preceding, but this is also an important Baptist Freedom, so we will still give it an overview in the spirit of determining what kind of people Baptists are.
As I said in the last post on soul freedom, Baptists are individualistic, but that is not the whole story. These individuals are always individuals in community. When choosing to follow Jesus, we also choose to be a part of a community filled with others who have also chosen this path.
Baptists have always been a part of the free church tradition. This means a few things. The local congregation is autonomous. This church is a "gathered church" of those who have joined freely and voluntarily. This depends heavily on the concept of soul freedom-- as each person is both free and responsible to make their own faith decision, it is a decision of each person to be baptized and join the community.
But as Shurden says, this choice of faith should not be equated "with mere intellectual assent to doctrinal ideas... Baptists have been interested in far more than a nod of the head to a certain theology. Baptists want a personal commitment to the Jesus way of living."
Baptists emphasize the local church, but they do not fail to see the importance of the universal church, which encompasses all believers, not only Baptists. For Baptists, these Christians are just as much Christians as we are.
As a "statement of the equality of all believers in determining the mind of Christ," Baptist churches follow congregational government. This means that power is placed in the hands of all members instead of one person or a smaller group of people.
These autonomous churches are free to work together and organize together into conventions, but there is no institution which holds power over the local church.
Baptist churches are free to structure their worship in whatever way they see fit.
Along with freedom of each church comes the recognition of the priesthood of every believer. Baptist's have long affirmed that all ministry belongs to the laity because we are each priests of God's people.
Again, we see that Baptists are people who affirm giving every person the freedom and responsibility to control the most important part of their own lives. In this way, we should be people who affirm education-- allowing each person to become more fully human. We should be people who affirm the difference and importance of difference not only between Baptists but also between the various denominations of Christians.
Never has it been the place of the Baptist to be controlling or authoritarian. These are the kinds of political strangleholds which we must continue to resist.