English Beginnings of the Baptist Faith

Baptists in England had strong roots in the Westminster Confession of Faith dating to 1640. These dissenting Englishmen were decidedly liberal, however, and parted ways with traditional Puritan beliefs. Some early Baptists were Calvinist in their beliefs, especially concerning the issues of limited atonement and special or particular election of God’s chosen saints; accordingly, this group came to be known as Particular Baptists. Other, more radical, Baptists were decidedly Arminian in their beliefs concerning the exercise of the individual’s free will and in their belief in the unlimited atonement for sinners provided by Christ’s redeeming death. This group became known as General Baptists. Both Particular and General Baptists, however, agreed on the necessity of the individual’s conversion experience as a manifestation of his or her right relationship with God. Accordingly, Baptists parted from the usual Puritan practice of infant baptism, arguing that without this personal conversion, a believer was in fact unfit to receive the Holy Spirit via the ritual of baptism. Further, Baptists posited that only baptism by immersion was acceptable, as it was necessary to wash away one’s sins to begin a new spiritual life a task that simple sprinkling could not accomplish. The particulars of how each group of English Baptists approached their mission of correcting the errors they perceived in Puritanism are significant, and both groups’ activities have a bearing on the spread of the Baptist church to America. Particular Baptists shared many of their Anglican brethren’s beliefs, especially the Calvinist tenet of God’s special election of the saints. While they disagreed with the Church of England’s practice of infant baptism, this group felt it was possible to correct the church’s errors from within. Accordingly, Henry Jacob founded a Baptist congregation in Southwark near London in 1616. By 1622, however, Jacob decided to relocate to Jamestown in the new Virginia colony, and he was replaced at Southwark by John Lathrop. As time went on, Lathrop’s group came under increasing persecution for their beliefs; in 1634, the minister led thirty of his parishioners to the New World in search of religious tolerance. The group went first to Scituate, in Plymouth Colony,
and then relocated to the Barnstable area of Cape Cod. Jacob’s Southwark congregation remained a vital and dynamic group after his departure. Part of the group split off in 1633, troubled by the reluctance of the entire group to separate from the Church of England; by 1638, more congregants joined them, and this group declared publicly that infant baptism was wrong, refining this belief in 1640 to state that only baptism by immersion (rather than sprinkling) was sufficient to seal the relationship between man and the Holy Spirit. Other Particular Baptists in London remained more closely Calvinist and thus were more in agreement with Congregationalists and Anglicans. Through the mid-seventeenth century, Particular Baptists remained a strong presence in and around London and even spread to Wales. As the century progressed, Particular Baptists from Wales created a strong presence in the middle colonies and in the Philadelphia Association, which was formed in 1707. Early General Baptists were led by John Smyth, a Cambridge-educated minister. Smyth came to believe that a personal profession of faith was necessary for the individual to have a personal relationship with God. As a result, he saw the tenets of the Church of England as being in error; consequently, because the Anglican views on man’s ability to be in direct communion with God were wrong, Smyth concluded that the Anglican baptism must also be in error. As a result, the General Baptists under Smyth felt it necessary to separate themselves from the Anglican faith, believing that it was impossible to reform the church from within. By 1608, the Separatist congregation established by Smyth at Gainesboro had fled to Amsterdam to escape English persecution for its heresy. In 1609 Smyth declared the need for a new start for himself and his congregation, and he baptized himself and his followers anew. Soon Smyth became increasingly interested in merging with local Dutch Mennonites. A number of parishioners, led by Thomas Helwys, became convinced that they had erred in leaving England. In 1612, this group returned and formed the first Baptist congregation in England in Spitafields, near London. General Baptists enjoyed a period of quick yet sustained growth under the rule of Cromwell that even continued under the Stuart Restoration after 1660. General Baptists eventually spread to western counties of England, with many of these believers eventually migrating to the American colonies of Rhode Island, Virginia, and North Carolina. General Baptist vs. Missionary Baptist People – Opposing Views John the Baptist – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia John the Baptist – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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