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Saturday, January 10, 2009

John Smyth & How the Baptists came to be

This is about the Baptists. They came from "English Separatists", in which was a form of "puritanism" that came out of the "Church of "England".

"A Separatist movement of far-reaching ultimate consequences had its beginnings early in the origin of James I when John Smyth(1570?-1612), a former clergyman of the establishment, adopted separatist principles and became pastor of a gathered congregation at Gainsborough. Soon adherents were secured in the adjacent rural districts, and a second congregation gathered in the home of William Brewster(1560?-1644) at Scrooby. Of this Scrooby body, William Bradford Bradford (1590-1657) was a youthful member. It enjoyed the leadership of the learned and sweet-tempered John Robinson (1575?-1625), like Smyth a former clergyman of the Church of England and like him led to believe separatism the only logical step. The hand of opposition being heavy upon them, the members of the Gainsborough congregation, led by Smyth, exiled themselves to Amsterdam, probably in 1608. The Scrooby Congregation, under Robinson's and Brewster's leadership, followed the same road to Holland, settling finally in Leyden in 1609.

At Amsterdam, Smyth engaged in controvrsy with Francis Johnson, and on the basis of his own study of the New Testament became convinced that the apostolic method of admitting members to church fellowship was by baptism on profession of repentance toward God and faith in Christ. In 1608 or 1609, he therefore baptized himself by pouring, and then the others of his church, forming the first English Baptist church, though on Dutch soil. Smyth also became an Arminian, believing that Christ died not only for the elect but for all mankind. His new emphases brought him close to the Anabaptist position, and some of his congregation finally did affiliate with the Dutch Mennonites, though Smyth himself died of tuberculosis in 1612 before the transfer had been completed. A remnant of his congregation, howeverm clung to the English Baptist position under the leadership of Thomas Helwys (1550? -1616) and John Murton (?-1625?). They returned to England in 1611 or 1612, becoming the first permanent Baptist congregation on English soil. Arminian in viewpoint, they were known as "General Baptists." They were ardent champions of religious toleration.

In these same years, a new Puritan position was shaped by Henry Jacob (1563-1624), who had been a member of Robinson's congregation in Leyden; William Ames (1576-1633), prominent theologian exiled to Holland; and William Bradshaw (1571-1618), leading Puritan writer. These men enunciated the Independent, or nonseparatist, Congregational, from which modern Congregation has directly stemmed. Striving to avoid separation from the Church of England, they worked toward a nationwide system of established Congregational churches. Henry Jacob founded a church in Southwark in 1616, the first Congregational church to remain in continuous existence.

In 1630s, however, a small group from Jacob's church became convinced that believers' baptism was the scriptural norm. Separating from Jacob's congregation, they started a second Baptist line in England, called the "Particular" or Calvinistic Baptists because they believed in particular or restricted atonement, confined to the elect. In about 1641, they adopted immersion as the proper mode of baptism, and it thence spread to all English Baptists.

The chief event in the history of the congregation at Leyden was the decision to send its more active minority to America. Robinson, who had been almost won to the nonseparatist congregational position by Jacob and Ames, reluctantly stayed with the majority. In 1620, after much tiresome negotiation, the pilgrim Fathers" crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower, under the spiritual leadership of their "elder," William Brewster." [1]

Baptist Churches

The Baptists comprise one of the largest and most diverse groupings of Christians in the United States. Technically, there are no such things as Baptist denominations, because Baptists are strongly congregational in polity: Each local congregation is independent of the others. However, Baptist churches are commonly grouped into larger associations for purpose of felowship. National conventions have been established to carry on educational and missionary work and to administer pension plans. For the purposes of this Handbook, these national conventions will be considered denominations.

Most state and regional conventions meet annually with delegates from all Baptist churches in a given area. These conventions receive reports, make recommendations, and help to raise national mission budgets; but they have no authority to enforce their decisions. Baptists have insisted on freedom of thought and expression in pulpit andpew. They have insisted, too, on the absolute autonomy of the local congregation; each church arranges its own worship and examines and baptizes its own members. There is no age requirement for membership, but the candidate is usually of an age to understand and accept the teachings of Christ. Candidates for the ministry are licensed by local churches and are ordained upon recommendation of a group of sister churches.

Doctrine and Polity. Despite their emphasis on independence and individualism, Baptists are bound together by an amazingly strong "rope of sand" in allegiance to certain principles and doctrines based generally on the competency of each individual in matters of faith. While they differ in certain minor details, Baptists generally agree on the following principles of faith: the inspiration of scripture and trustworthiness of the Bible as the sole rule of life; the lordship of Jesus Christ; the inherent freedom of persons to approach God for themselves; the granting of salvation through faith by way of grace and contact with the Holy Spirit; two ordinances (rather than sacraments), the Lord's Supper and baptism of believers by immersion; the independence of the local church; the church as a group of regenerated believers who are baptized upon confession of faith; infant baptism as unscriptural and not to be practiced; complete separation of Church and state; life after death; the unity of humankind; the royal law of God; the need of redemption from sin; and the ultimate triumph of God's Kingdom.

These overall doctrines never have been written into official Baptist creed for all the churches, but they have been incorporated into two important confessions of faith. The Baptist churches of London wrote a Philadelphia Confession in the year 1689 that was enlarged by the Philadelphia Confession in the year 1689 that was enlarged by the Philadelphia Association in 1743. The New Hampshire State Baptist Convention drew up another confession in 1832. The Philadelphia Confession is strongly Calvinist, the New Hampshire Confession only moderately so.

Baptists in the United States. The Baptist movement in the United States grew out of English Puritanism in the early seventhteenth century. Convinced that Puritanism needed further reform, Separatists began to teach that only self-professed believers were eligible for membership in the church. That is, the church is properly made up of only regenerated people. Fleeing persecution under James I, some of the English Separatists settled in Holland, where they encountered the Mennonites principles agreed with their own convictions, including the beliefs that the scriptures are the sole authority for faith and practice, that church and state should be completely and forever separated, and that church discipline should be rigidly enforced in business, family, and personal affairs. Before long the congregation of John Smyth (ca. 1570-1612) accepted another bedrock Mennonite principle and adopted the practice of “believer’s baptism”- that is, baptism only of adults who make a profession of faith. Smyth rebaptized himself and his followers in 1609. When he tried to make Mennonites of his people, however, he was rejected by his own congregation. Baptist they would be, but not Mennonire, because that meant a threat to their British heritage. Smyth’s people eventually moved back acrosse the channel and established a Baptist church in London.

The first churches were General Baptist churches, which means that they believed in a general atonement for all persons. In the course of time there arose a Particular Baptist church, which held to the doctrine of predestination associated with the teachings of John Calvin (1509-64). The first British Particular Baptist Church dates back to 1638.

In 1631, Roger Williams (ca. 1603-83) came to America and was soon the first great champion of freedom for faith and conscience in North America. Williams was not a Baptist but a Separatist minister when he arrived. Preaching new and dangerous opinions against the authority of the Puritan magistrates, Williams organized a Baptist church at Providence, Rhode Island. John Clarke (1609-76) established another Baptist church at Newport at about the same time. Many scholars date the Providence church to 1639, and the Newport church to 1641. The Baptist movement grew rapidly during the First Great Awakening (a revival of religious interest) of the 1740s, but a dispute soon arose among Baptists over the question of emotionalism. The Old Lights, or Regulars, distrusted revivals, while the New Lights insisted on an experience of rebirth as a condition for membership in their churches. Despite internal disagreements Baptists continued to agitate for religious freedom in the new land and played a significant role in the adoption of the First Amendment.

Many Baptists hold to the belief that the Baptist Church has existed since the days of John the Baptist. Of particular interest in this regard are the Landmark Baptists. The name originated with the writings of James Madison Pendleton (1811-91) and James Robinson Graves (1820-93) in Kentucky and Tennessee in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The four distinguishing tenets of Landmarkism are the following: (1) The church is always local and visible. While members of Protestant churches may be saved, they are not members of true churches. (2) The commission was given to the church; consequently, all matters covered by it must be administered under church authority. Clergy of other denominations are not accepted in Landmark Baptist pulpits. (3) Baptism, to be valid, must be administered by the authority of a New Testament (Baptist) church. Baptisms administered by any other authority are not accepted. (4) There is a direct historic succession of Baptist churches from New Testament times. Baptist churches have existed in practice, though not in name, in every century. These principles are held primarily by the churches of the American Baptist Association, though an estimated one and a half million members of different Baptist churches hold to the Landmark position and doctrine, the largest concentration being in the South and the Southwest. More than fifteen Bible institutes and seminaries are supported by these churches.
Baptist preachers had been particularly effective in converting African Americans to Christianty before emancipation. The great majority of blacks in pre-Civil War days were either Baptist or Methodist. In 1793 there were 73,471 Baptists in the U.S., one fourth of them black. When the Battle of Bull Run was fought in 1861, there were 200,000 black members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and 150,000 black Baptists. Usually, slaves sat in the galleries of white churches, identifying with the faith of their owners. White preachers, sometimes assisted by black helpers, moved from one plantation to another, holding services more or less reglarly. Occasionally a black preacher was liberated to give full time to religious work among blacks, and these ministers had great influence. The first black Baptist church was organized at Silver Bluff, across the Savannah River, near Augusta, Georgia, in 1773. Other church followed in Petersburgh, Virginia, 1776; Richmond, Virginia, 1780; Williamsburgh, Virginia, 1776; Richmond, Virginia, 1780; Williamsburgh, Virginia, 1785; Savannah, Georgia, 1785; and Lexington, Kentucky, 1790. The slave rebellion led by Nat Turner (ca. 1800-31) in 1831 appears to have been fueled by Christian rhetoric of freedom and divine justice. Whites were so frightened that laws were passed in some sections of the South prohibiting blacks from becoming Christian or building meetinghouses. Almost everywhere slave meetings were monitored by owners, lest unrest be formented. However, slaves continued to conduct their own meetings hidden from sight and sound of the masters in “the invisible institution.” After the Civil War, numerous black Baptist congregations emerged and organized their own conventions. Aided by the Freedman’s Aid Society and various Baptist organizations, nearly one million black Baptists were worshiping in their own churches by 1880.

Strongly evangelical in theology, the Baptists were early participants in foreign missions. The English Baptist William Carey (1761-1834) went to India in 1793 and became the pioneer of modern missions. In 1814, Baptists in the U.S. organized their own General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions. This convention, representing a national Baptist fellowship, marked the first real denominational consciousness. It was followed eventually by other organizations that welded them firmly together: a general Baptist Publication Society; various missionary societies societies for work at home and abroad; an education society; and the Baptist Young People’s Union. These organizations were on a national scale. Their unity was disrupted first by a feeling that home-missions agencies within the body had failed to evangelize Southern territory and later by arguments over Slavery. The great division occurred in 1845, when Southerns formed their own Southern Baptist Convention. From that point forward there both Northern and Southern conventions.

The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs supported by the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., sectors of theSouthern Baptist Convention, and some other bodies, is housed in Washington, D.C. This committee serves mainly to spread Baptist convictions on public morals and to safeguard the principle of separation of church and state. The Baptist World Alliance, organized in 1905. now includes more 40 million Baptists in 170 members. The Alliance meets every five years to discuss common themes and problems and is purely an advisory body. Its headquarters are located in McLean, Virginia. [2]


[1] pages 549-551 from the book "A History of the christian Church" by walker

[2] Pages 42-46 from the book “Handbook of Denominations in the United States” 11nth edition by Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill & 11nth edition edited by Craig D. Artwood; Nashville press


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