Baptists: First Known

The First Known Baptist Congregations

The first known Baptist Congregation was formed by a number of these fleeing separatists in Amsterdam, Holland in 1608. It was largely made up of British persons led by John Smyth who along with Thomas Helwys, sought to set up the group according to New Testament patterns. As they saw it, it was important to ‘reconstitute’ and not just ‘reform’ the Church. There was emphasis placed on personal conversion and on baptism, which was to be given to individuals who had personally professed faith in Jesus Christ, that is, to believers only and on mutual covenanting between and among believers. Though taking some years to crystallize, the reconstituting efforts of Smyth, Helwys and others gave distinctive shape not only to the group’s belief and practice, but the various others which emerged from it. Some affiliated groups started when members of the Amsterdam group went back to Britain and took the name ‘Baptist’ to identify themselves. This had to do with the distinctive approach to the meaning and mode of baptism.  With the continuing religious and civil disturbances, and with the new awareness in Europe of North America, many persons, including those influenced by Baptists and related beliefs, practices and groups, crossed the Atlantic to build a ‘New World’.

They sought not only to establish dwellings, but their faith as well. In time the entire continent, but particularly the Eastern section, was affected, Baptist Churches, being among the many institutions, which sprang up in the seventeenth century. All these shaped not only the new American Environment, but eventually impacted beyond it as well.  The American Baptists deny that they owe their origin to Roger Williams. The English Baptists will not grant that John Smyth or Thomas Helwys was their founder. The Welsh Baptists strenuously contend that they received their creed in the first century, from those who obtained it, direct, from the apostles themselves. The Dutch Baptists trace their spiritual pedigree up to the same source. German Baptists maintained that they were older than the reformation, older than the corrupt hierarchy which it sought to reform. The Waldensian Baptists boasted an ancestry far older than Waldo, older than the most ancient of their predecessors in the Vales of Piedmont. All these maintain that it ultimately reappears, and reveals their source in Christ and His apostles.

(pp. 34-35 – The Testimony of the Baptists, by Curtis A. Pugh quoting William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881, pp. 620-621.) William Cathcart, Baptist Historian/Author

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