The Baptist Question
The exact date of the origin of the Baptist Church has never been set; even Baptists themselves have debated the question for years. Present day Baptist authorities have set the date all the way from 1609 to 1689. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge says, "The use of the term Baptist as a denominational designation is of comparatively recent origin, first appearing about the year 1644." (Vol. 1, page 426) The first church ever known as 'Baptist' is generally believed to have been organized in Holland by John Smyth. There is some difficulty, however, in applying the term 'Baptist' to this group, even though infant baptism was rejected and the position taken that a scriptural church should be composed only of those baptized upon a personal confession of faith in Christ. The difficulty arises in no small measure from the fact that John Smyth "re-baptized" himself and several others (who had been sprinkled as infants) by effusion rather than immersion. While rejecting infant baptism, Smyth and his followers did nevertheless still accept sprinkling.
The first "Baptist Church" in England was organized by Thomas Helwys in 1611. They were called "General Baptists." The "Particular Baptists" were organized about a score of years later (1633) and began the practice of immersion in 1641. These people suffered many persecutions, and were derisively called "Anabaptists" and "Kantabaptists." In 1689 the Act of Toleration was passed by Parliament giving religious freedom to all, and allowing some measure of relief to these persecuted groups.
In America the first Baptist Church on the new continent was organized by Roger Williams and Ezekiel Holliman at what is now Providence, Rhode Island, in the year 1639. Various changes and divisions have taken place through the years, until at the present, there are at least fourteen distinct Baptist sects in the United States.
Away From Creeds
Baptists are congregational and democratic in their form of government. Although strongly "doctrinal" in their teachings, they are tending at the present to break away from their traditional accepted formal written creeds. In their earlier history they freely formulated creeds, and demanded submission to them. The London Confession of Faith was written in 1677, and was accepted by the Particular Baptists in 1689. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith was adopted in 1742. This creed was strongly Calvinistic in its teachings, and although generally accepted by the Baptists, there was a feeling of rebellion by many against its strong Calvinistic tenets. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith, only mildly Calvinistic, was adopted in 1833. This is the most widely accepted confession or creed used by Baptist people today.
Vigorous and aggressive in the propagation of their faith, the Baptists have become one of the greatest denominations in the land. It numbers some of the most zealous and conscientious people to be found anywhere among its membership. Generally speaking, Baptists are much more inclined to seek justification for their practices by an appeal to the Scriptures than are the members of most large denominations.
Several serious objections have been urged against the Baptist denomination. For one thing, the name "Baptist" is not found in any way connected with any church in the Scriptures. Congregations of disciples in the New Testament were called "churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16) in the plural, and "church of God" (Acts 20:28) in reference to the whole body. Local congregations were called simply "the church," or "the church of God." (1 Cor. 1:1) Christ said, "I will build my church." (Matt. 16:18) He did not build a "Baptist" church; he built "the church of the Lord."
A second objection to the Baptist Church is that its members call themselves, and want to be called, "Baptists." It is very clear in the New Testament that this name was never applied to any of the followers of Christ. On the contrary, his disciples were called "Christians," (Acts 11:26) and were told specifically that they were to glorify God in this name. (1 Peter 4:16)
A third objection is found in that Baptists teach the wrong plan of salvation. It is basic Baptist doctrine that "faith only" brings salvation. But the teaching of Christ is, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16) Both repentance and baptism are "unto the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38) Saul was told to "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." (Acts 22:16) And Paul later taught that it is by baptism that a man is brought INTO Christ. (Gal. 3:27) That man is not saved "by faith alone" is taught in so many words by James. (James 2:24)
A fourth error of Baptist teaching has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. It is commonly held by Baptist people that some direct operation, separate and apart from the Word of God, is necessary to save the sinner. But Paul teaches that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. (Rom. 1:16) Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 10:17) And further, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Cor. 1:21) And, as Paul so logically asks, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" (Rom. 10:14)
Finally, Baptists teach that a man should be baptized upon some testimony given by him of an experience of his feelings. They take the "feelings" as an evidence of pardon, and will not baptize a man until he has convinced them that he has had some special, miraculous manifestation of the grace of God in his life. Contrary to this mistaken idea is the clear Bible teaching that the subject of baptism is a man (1) who has believed in Christ with all his heart, (Acts 8:37) and (2) who has repented of his past sins, (Acts 17:30; 2:38), and (3) who has confessed not some miraculous experience, but his faith in Christ. (Matt. 10:32; Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:9, 10) Thus there is a clear difference between Baptist teaching and Bible teaching on this point. The former teaches that Baptism is administered on the relation of an experience of grace; the latter teaches that baptism is to a penitent believer who has confessed his faith in Christ.