Expert Answer Forum
Baptist history QUESTION from Kim May 28, 1999 You did such an outstanding job on the Jehovah's Witness question . . . I have been curious about the history of the Baptist church, especially in America. I can't locate the right information on the internet, although it may be here somewhere. My sis-in-law is a Baptist and she's not telling. She refuses to talk about issues of faith for fear of arguing, etc. I'm firm in my Catholic Faith, but intellectually curious about their origins. Can you help?
Thanks and God Bless.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on June 2, 1999 Dear Miss Kim:
Thanks for the compliment. Not everyone was pleased about what I said about Jehovah’s Witness, but then the truth is hard to take sometimes.
I used to be a Baptist myself. I was saved right after attending a David Wilkerson Evangelistic Crusade and was baptized in a congregation of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. The GARBC is an ultra-conservative flavor of Baptist. The Baptist Bible Fellowship, however, is probably the most fundamentalist and intense of the various Baptist denominations, with the GARBC running a close second.
I later became a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and was a candidate for ordination. That didn’t work out with the SBC and I ended up in the so-called non-denominational churches. While technically ordained a non-denominational minister, my theology was Baptist.
There are many flavors of Baptist from the most fanatic and fundamentalist of the Baptist Bible Fellowship to the mainstream and liberal American Baptist. There is even a Baptist group like the 7th Day Adventist called Seventh Day Baptist General Conference.
In all there are at least 30 Baptist denominations and at around 40,000,000 Baptist in the United States. The Baptists (as a group) are second only to the Catholics in numbers. The Southern Baptists are the largest single Baptist denomination with more than 20,000,000 members I think. (I do not have the recent figures in front of me).
If you read some of the history printed by Baptist they will use language very similar to the Catholic. They believe that are an apostolic church that can be traced back to the Apostles, and sometimes you read where they trace themselves back to St. John the Baptist (hence, the title Baptist).
This assertion that Baptists can be traced back to the first century is total nonsense, but that is what many of them will say. In order to prove that Baptist existed throughout the centuries they will often align themselves with various groups that were called heretics by the Catholics. They alleged that the mean ‘ol Catholic Church oppressed these groups and caused the REAL Christians, Baptists, to go underground until the 16th Century.
What these Baptist fail to mention is that these self-same groups that they align themselves with would be considered heretics by the Baptists too. Some of these oppressed groups believed in open sexuality for example. Even Baptist would say that believe is heresy. But it is a case of selective perception, seeing only want they want to see to assert their position that the Catholic Church is evil and only the Baptists are the true First Century Christians who have maintained that First Century fidelity over the centuries.
This is all delusion, but that is what is said. My common refrain when confronted with this delusionary history is, Nice theory, prove it! I ask them, Show me a single letter, sermon, speech, history essay, anything from the first, second, or third centuries that shows that Christians believe as Baptists do. They cannot produce any such documents. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, can produce tons of documents to prove its assertion that the Catholic Church is the Church of the First Century.
So, if the Baptists really don’t go back to the First Century, when did they start?
Baptists were a part of the third generation Reformation development appearing first in England in 1610. These devout people wanted to take Protestantism to its logical conclusion.
Thus, taking Puritanism a step further, this group began to teach that only self-professed believers were eligible for membership in the Church and that AFTER conversion as an act of obedience in following the steps of Christ, the self-proclaimed believer would be baptized in water by total immersion.
This group was intensely Biblical and evangelistic and helped to found the modern missionary movement among Protestants.
There are flavors of Baptists in the early days in Germany and Switzerland who baptized infants and children. They were called Pedobaptists. Then there were the Anti-Pedobaptist who were opposed to infant baptism. The Anti-Pedobaptist won out. As far as I know there are no Baptist today who baptize infants.
John Symth who organized the first Baptist Church in 1609 in England basically started this movement.
Roger Williams in 1631 is considered to be the father of Baptist in the Americas.
Baptist in general tend to fiercely independent, strong proponents of the separation of Church and State, Calvinistic to one degree or another (though few are the full five-point Calvinist), enthusiastically evangelistic, staunch supporters of the freedom of though and expression, and one of the most democratic religious bodies in America. They believe in the absolute local autonomy of the local Church and reject all hierarchical structures – hence one of the several reasons Baptist distrust Catholics.
The Baptist do not have a central creed so there can be many variances in thought from Baptist denomination to Baptist denomination, and even from church to church within the same denomination.
They do tend to group themselves into associations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, the General Baptist Conference, etc. Churches within an association will generally agree with one another on the essentials at least.
I could go on. The description of Baptist can vary a lot depending on which group we are talking about. I have tried to provide some overall commonalties in this narrative, but that does risk misrepresenting one particular group of Baptists or another.
The bottom line is that minor details might differ, the following items are generally agreed upon among Baptists: sola Scriptura (the Bible alone as the sole rule of faith); the Lordship of Jesus Christ; the inherent freedom of individuals to approach God for themselves directly and without any mediator; and with that idea comes the value of personal opinions and private interpretation of Scripture of which each believer is equipped to discern seeking guidance from authorities only if they wish and only as advisors of interpretation and faith; salvation by faith alone and often a legal positional salvation that cannot be lost giving the belief in once-saved-always-saved; all people without the born-again personal conversion experience will go to hell; two ordinances (not sacraments) of the Lord’s Supper (which is symbolic) and a believers’ Baptism by total immersion in water; local Church government without any higher authority than Christ; democratic in governmental style; complete separation of Church and State; infant baptism is unscriptural; the immortality of the soul; the unity of mankind; the royal law of God; the need of redemption from sin; and the ultimate triumph of God’s kingdom.
In this litany there is much in common with Catholic, but there is much at odds with the historic faith taught by Christ and His apostles.
This you give you a little bit of idea about Baptist anyway.
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