Chapter 1 – Origins Of “Baptists”
At the outset, we wish to clarify our historical record below by pointing out that we are not presenting a “church succession” of modern churches from earlier churches in a lineal history. Such cannot be done, and those who attempt it are intellectually dishonest, or have too much faith in such that are.
Protestants can trace their origins from Constantine’s religious enterprise at Rome, which in turn can “claim” that the church at Rome is its own origin; and those who have splintered off from Protestant churches can equally trace their history through the Protestants back to the Catholics and to the church at Rome.
Many Missionary and Primitive Baptists can trace their history back through the Separate Baptists of the Great Awakening, their rise from among the Congregational (Puritans), Presbyterians, and Episcopalians through the Church of England (Anglican) and on through the Roman Catholics to Rome.
Few would dare attempt to claim they trace their history back to Jerusalem!
True churches exist for a time, become lax, then corrupt, then metamorphoses into something altogether different from their previous historical faith and structure.
The church is the Lord’s, and thus a New Testament Church, if it is sustained by the presence of the Holy Spirit, with experimental members having been called to life and salvation by the Holy Spirit, and abides in the doctrine of Christ and the gospel order of the New Testament faith and practice. If, however, the Holy Spirit withdraws from it; if they “abide not in the doctrine of Christ, they are none of His;” if the membership is filled with lifeless and nominal believers; and if they depart from the order of the gospel as recorded in the New Testament by the inspiration of God; then they have become “synagogues of Satan” (Revelation 2:9; and 3:9).
Now to proceed:
During the heated debates of The Netherlands Reformed Church at Dort over the doctrines of the Reformation, there arose a gifted heretic named James Jacobus Arminius who contended that Christ’s death was universal for all mankind; that men in nature had sufficient ability to close with Christ for salvation; that election was conditioned on foreseen faith in believers; and that believers could finally fall away and be lost eternally.
A convert to Arminianism, John Smyth, gathered together an assembly of Congregational dissenters from the Anglican Church [Church of England] and baptized himself (called “Se-baptism) and the assembly, and constituted the first “baptized church of Christ” in England in 1609. John Spilsbery in 1633 gathered together an assembly of believers, baptized them, and constituted the first “baptized church of Christ” holding to the New Testament doctrine of free and sovereign grace. In the same year, Mr. Richard Blount went to The Netherlands and was rebaptized by a congregation of Anabaptists, and returned administering the ordinance to his congregation. It too, was “Particular Baptist.”
John Smyth’s group became known as General Baptists, and John Spilsbery’s and Richard Blunts’ group became known as Particular Baptists. Because of the vast differences between the doctrines held by the two groups, the names were identifying of their doctrinal positions. One was Arminian, and the other Calvinistic. However, they did not call themselves this. Historians called them such. Both of them referred to themselves as a “baptized church of Jesus Christ.” Both of these groups faced a seemly impossible task. During the Dark Ages, baptism by immersion of believers in England had ceased. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth the baptismal fonts were removed from Anglican “Churches.”
These dissenting ministers, churches, and congregations were faced with this problem: “Where do we go to find the ordinance that we find in the New Testament?” There were three things that they could do, and each of these was done.
First, they could baptize themselves by immersion, and then baptize the church. This is known as “Se-baptism,” and was the steps taken by John Smyth, and later by many of the Separate Baptists in the English colonies of North America.
Second, they could form a church, and the church could then authorize the scriptural mode of baptism by immersion. In this case, one male member baptized another, who in turn baptized the next, etc. This was the course Roger Williams took in Rhode Island.
Third, they could send to some foreign country, and if they could find a church baptizing by immersion of believers (not infants), receive baptism at their hand and return and baptize the church. This was the course pursued by Richard Blount.
All three parties planted churches and congregations in the English colonies in North America. Mr. John Smith’s General Baptists grew mostly in the Carolinas, whereas the Particular Baptists churches of John Spilsbury and Richard Blount were firmly established in New England colonies. Both groups were made up of independent congregations until 1707. We are counting from 1643 to 1707, a period of sixty-four years, during which time baptized churches of Christ spread down the eastern seaboard. Most were collected in the Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Prior to 1707 there were no associations in America, and prior to 1769, there were no corresponding associations in the United States.
In that year, the appellative “Baptist” was first added to the “baptized churches of Jesus Christ” in the Philadelphia Association.
A very significant historical development commenced in 1701-1707. A church in Pembrokeshire, in South Wales, in Europe, sold their property, purchased a sailing vessel and sailed to Pennsylvania and settled near Pennepek. In 1703, they moved to the Welsh Tract of land deeded to them by William Penn. The Welsh, as most churches in Europe, did not sing in church worship. But just prior to this, singing of the Psalms had been introduced among the English Baptists by Benjamin Keach, William Kiffin, and later, John Gill. In 1707, the Welsh and English gained fellowship together by organizing the first “association of baptized congregations.” In time, it became known as the Philadelphia Association, and later, The Philadelphia Baptist Association (1769).
These churches referred to themselves in after-years doctrinally as “Six Principle Baptists.” Peculiarly to them, they laid hands on all candidates for baptism following their immersion in water; and they did the same upon constituting themselves into a “Church”. They adopted the Confession of Faith of 1689 [See Appendix A], and Keach’s Catechism.
The greatest “negatives” we would report of them is (1) the unscriptural introduction of an organized ecclesiastical institution which rapidly introduced error into the church, enslaving them in corresponding orders; (2) gained control of ordained ministers, and often set the bounds of their endeavors; and (3) set themselves up to be taken over by the skillful maneuvers of a determined group of New Divinity “doctors” in 1800; and (4) thereby launched the Modern Missionary frenzy beginning in 1813-1820.
Positive remarks are:
(1) They maintained the doctrines of free grace throughout their history until the association was destroyed by the Modern Missionary Movement;
(2) Contributed greatly to the publication of sound literature, bearing the expense thereof;
(3) And wrote an Exposition of the doctrines of the Old London Confession of Faith of 1689, and other sound writings, and published the same in their annual Minutes for widespread distribution throughout the colonies and the young nation.