Baptist Beginnings – 2023

What we know as the Baptist church has been at worship and ministry for over 400 years.   This past week I began a brief series on the fundamental teachings and in our afterward discussions it was felt appropriate that I present a brief overview of our founding as a distinct religious movement in 1609. With funds provided by a wealthy believer named Thomas Helwys (1550-1616?), pastor John Smyth (1554-1612)and other believers traveled to the Netherlands to seek out spiritual counsel. Out of their discussions a statement of beliefs was formulated, and the small band participated in a Believer’s Baptism ceremony. They quickly moved back to England and established a Baptist church. The earliest Baptist leaders, along with Roman Catholics, Separatists and Puritans, were severely persecuted as heretics and imprisoned by King James 1, of King James Bible fame. Thomas Helwys was sent to Newgate Prison in 1616, where he wrote a short book on religious persecution. He was never released from prison and may have been executed.

  The founding Baptists declared five core values: Biblical Authority—the Bible is the infallible word of God. Priesthood of all Believers (also known as Soul Competency)—people are free to act and live according to their own conscience before God. Each believer has full access to God without any human mediator. Believer’s Baptism—opposing infant baptism; baptism is to follow a person’s confession of sins and faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Lord. Church Autonomy—each congregation is to follow its own understanding of Scripture and God’s direction without coercion from other religious leaders or groups. Religious Liberty—the king (governmental authorities) should not direct the affairs of any religion, favor any particular religion, or tax people to support or punish any religious person or group. It is the right of every individual to worship God, or not, as his or her conscience allows. The theme of soul freedom permeates all that Baptists cherish. 

  My concern centers on the fading knowledge of Baptist history in our churches. When the core values of our traditions are forgotten, the name Baptist is hollowed out and creedalism and secularism fill the void. Pastoral authority replaces Biblical authority and soul competency. Conforming to the latest doctrinal mandates and marketing strategies edges out church autonomy. And believer’s baptism becomes an option for some or necessary to salvation for others.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Examine your faith. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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