Church History Forum: History of Baptist
History of Baptist QUESTION from J.P September 18, 2001 When and how the term Baptist orginated.
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on September 17, 2001
The origin of the name is from the early 17th century. Modern day Baptists claim St. John the Baptist as their prototype, a man sent from God to baptize. Baptists of today reject all forms of baptism except immersion of adults, yet this was not the practise of the early Baptists.
The first Baptist congregations sects appeared at the start of the seventeenth century. From an early stage, the sect was divided into General (Arminian) and Particular (Calvinist) sects, the General Baptists believing in a general atonement (i.e. Christ died not only for the elect, but for everyone),and the Particular Baptists who claimed that Christ's redemption applied only to the elect (i.e. a Calvinist outlook). The general Baptists merged with the Particular Baptists in 1891. The General Baptist movement was first to appear.
The founder of the General Baptist movement was John Smyth (1570-1612). About 1606, he emigrated to Amsterdam, and in 1609, first rejected infant baptism, although he retained affusion (pouring). Of course at this point the sect decided they would all have to be re-baptized. Smith re-baptized himself, then the rest of his congregation. (Note that it is impossible to administer the sacrament of Baptism to oneself; however, Baptists do not view baptism as a sacrament.) The method used was pouring, immersion not becoming the required practise until about 1650.
A common mistake to make is thinking that the Baptists are direct descendants of the Anabapist movement of the 1530s in Germany (especially the Munster area of Germany) This was a totally separate sect. In fact, one of the claims one often hears from Baptist apologists is how they trace their descent to the time of the Apostles. This idea is totally without any foundation, but the claim is still made, with references to anabaptists in earlier centuries being the main claim. In actual fact however, this term anabaptist, which simply means rebaptizer in Greek, was used in the writings of the early Church for any sect that practised rebaptism, for example the Donatists of St. Augustine's time. (A useful document to read might be the file I have written at Cardinal Hosius and the Baptist quote which effectively refutes the idea of descent from Apostolic times.)
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