Soul competency or freedom is a foundational Baptist distinctive that is essential for our teaching concerning humanity, the church and salvation. It is tied to the Reformation principle of the Priesthood of the Believer. At the heart of this doctrine is that every individual has access to God without the need of a priest or any human mediator. The Bible says, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NIV).
Each individual is responsible before God to accept or reject salvation. Therefore Baptism and church membership are for those who make a personal decision to accept God's gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
A further understanding comes from 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (NIV)
There is no special clergy class. The church is composed of a “royal priesthood” chosen to tell people of God's love. The work of the church is not the sole realm of the pastor and a few paid professionals, it belongs to all God's people: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)
Congregational church polity is also tied to soul freedom. Baptist churches are run in a democratic manner. Each member has an equal say and a right to be heard. Born again Christians can be trusted, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to help the church make wise decisions. However, congregational church polity only works if people show up at business meetings. Otherwise, the church is run by a small group of those who show up. The church is at its best when its members faithfully participate in making decisions.
Soul Freedom has both rights and responsibilities. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV)