In 1608, John Smyth baptized himself in Amsterdam. He had been a fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, but as a Separatist fled from the harsh rule of James I’s England. After his death one of his associates, Thomas Helwys, led back to England a group that had split from Smyth’s former congregation. They formed the first General or Arminian Baptist congregation in England at Spitalfields, London, in 1612.
By 1638 at the latest there were also congregations holding a Calvinistic theology in London who practiced believers’ baptism ("Particular Baptists"). These Baptists grew out of the first congregation of English Independents; although it is not know exactly when they adopted full Baptist views. A radical look at church principles, in the Puritan manner, led first to the understanding of the church as a gathered community, and then to a realization that only the baptism of believers fitted such a view.
Early Baptist’s links with the Dutch Mennonites in the very earliest days are clear. But it is equally clear that the English Baptist movement came out of a conscientious search among the English Separatists for the pattern of apostolic churches. They believed this could be discovered from the pages of the New Testament, and that it was the only pattern of church organization for all succeeding generations.
These youthful Baptist churches were hurled into the current debate about the relationship between Church and State. They championed their own particular answers to that controversy at great personal cost. They soon also became involved, to varying degrees, in the millenarian speculation of the mid-seventeenth century. Like many others, the Baptists eagerly thumbed through the pages of Daniel and Revelation, seeking the signs of the times and looking for guidance about their proper Christian obedience.
At the same time parliamentary opposition to King Charles I hardened and led on relentlessly to the outbreak of the Civil War, or "English Revolution". Cromwell’s victorious New Model Army held religious opinions which differed from the State-Presbyterianism of Parliament. Independents and Baptists were dominant in the army’s leadership and amongst the rank and file. Cromwell allowed an established church to continue but allowed Baptists, Independents, Presbyterians and non-royalists Anglicans to act as ministers in it. Those who wanted to worship apart from a state church were permitted to continue a separate existence as long as they did not disturb the peace. Some Baptists accepted office in the state church, but the majority chose to continue independently.
[tags]Baptists, BlogRodent, Charles-I, church-history, ChurchRodent, history, James, John-Smyth, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Thomas[/tags]