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English Speaking Protestantism

Baptist Church

Doctrines Baptists do not have any creeds or confessions of faith which have binding authority. However, there are six underlying principles which govern Baptist belief.
  1. The Bible alone is a sufficient and authoritative guide to faith.
  2. Baptism is only undertaken by believers accompanied by a profession of faith.
  3. Only convinced Christians should belong to the church.
  4. Each member of the church has equal say in the running of the church, and, therefore, the minister does not have any special priestly authority.
  5. Each local church is autonomous.
  6. Church and state are separate. Behind this principle lies the belief that the state should guarantee freedom of belief.
History During the final years of the 16th century radical groups emerged in the Anglican church impatient with the church's slow pace of reform. Many of these broke away from the established church and became known as Separatists. One such group was established in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire under the leadership of Thomas Helwys and John Smith, a former Anglican preacher. In 1608 this group moved to Amsterdam in order to escape persecution in England. In Amsterdam Smith became convinced that baptism should be available only to those who are convinced believers. Smith baptised himself and his followers, thus forming the first Baptist church. In 1611 Thomas Helwys and some of his followers returned to London and established the first Baptist church in England. These came to be known as General Baptists because they believed that Christ died for everyone, and not an elect few. In 1638 a Baptist church was formed in Southwark, London whose theology was Calvinistic. Those churches that followed this theology came to be known as Particular Baptists because they believed that only a particular elect group would be saved.
The Baptist church grew steadily during the first half of the17th century. However, the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660 led to renewed persecution of dissenting churches. During this time the Baptist preacher John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, spent 12 years in prison.
The 18th century saw renewed growth in the church. In 1792 the English Baptist Missionary Society was organised under the leadership of William Carey, planting Baptist churches in India and other parts of Asia.
Church membership continued to grow throughout the 19th century. Concomitant with this growth was the quest to establish cooperation among different Baptist churches. In 1891 the General and Particular Baptists were united in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Baptist churches were also set up throughout central and eastern Europe.
The twentieth century has witnessed a growth in international cooperation among Baptist churches. In 1905 the World Baptist Alliance was set up in London. Since then meetings have occurred in different cities roughly every five years. Today there are Baptists in all continents of the world.

Symbols  Baptist churches are simple in design and rarely use symbols. Many churches contain baptistries which provide for baptism through full immersion. Bread and non-alcoholic wine are used to commemorate the last supper.

Adherents There are about 40 million Baptists world wide. By far the largest Baptist community is in the United States, where there are 36.7 million in 16 bodies. (Europa Publications Ltd. Vol. 2 1998, 3618)

Main Centre
 Baptist Union of Great Britain, Baptist House, POB 44, 129 Broadway, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX1 8RT, Great Britain.