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Baptist Church History

QUESTION: Baptist church history - Why did the Baptist church begin?


Why and when did the Baptist church begin? It may surprise you to learn that there has been some confusion among Baptists concerning their origin. There are several theories from the past two hundred years or so.

The first theory related to why and when the Baptist church began is entitled the secessionist theory. Some Baptist historians from the 1730s to the 1920s adhered to this theory. It refers to the succession of baptism (beginning with John the Baptist) by those properly baptized and the succession of principles common to the beliefs of Baptists throughout history.

The second theory is the Anabaptist spiritual kinship theory. Several historians (David Benedict, Richard B. Cook, Albert Newman, and Walter Rauschenbusch) made a spiritual connection to the Anabaptist sects (German, Dutch, Swiss Anabaptists, Waldensians, Petrobrusians, the Henricians, The Novatians, and the Donatists) that also included regenerated baptized believers.

The third theory is the English Separatist descent theory. In this theory, Baptists began with certain English Separatists who had congregational polity and considered believers' baptism alone to be valid according to scripture. Several Baptist historians have held this position in various forms. One variety of the theory states that the beginning of Baptists would be in 1641 when a few Separatists from Jacob Church at Southwark, London, convinced that the biblical practice of dipping under water was the true form of baptism, renewed the practice of immersion in England.

William H. Whitsett set forth this view amid some controversy in his book, Question in Baptist History: Whether the Anabaptists in England Practiced Immersion before the Year 1641? Augustus H. Strong of Rochester Baptist Theological Seminary agreed with Whitsett. He stated in a historical address in 1904 that Baptist origins began in the 1640's, when Particular or Calvinistic Baptist and later General or Arminian Baptists began to practice immersion as the true way of baptism.

Another form of this theory comes from John Shakespeare, noted British clergyman and Evangelical Free Church leader in England around 1900. He stated that the Particular Baptists represent an unbroken Baptist witness. He did not include the old General Baptist churches because those churches which were begun with Helwys' congregation outside London around 1612 had, for the most part, became Unitarian, and had had no dealings with the main body of Baptists since 1770. This is when the General Baptist New Connexion was organized out of the General Assembly of General Baptists to protest the Unitarian trend. The New Connexion joined with the Particular Baptists in 1891.

Henry C. Vedder, well-known church historian at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from 1894 to 1927, concluded that after 1610 there was an unbroken succession of Baptist churches. He stated that from the year 1641, at the latest, Baptist practice and doctrine had the essential features that they have today.

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