A Brief History of the Baptists

When someone says, “I am a member of a Baptist church,” they are saying more than that they belong to some local church. It ought to mean that they have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, that their sins have been forgiven, and they have peace in their soul. It also means they have been obedient to the commands of Christ in following Him in scriptural baptism and uniting with His church. It also means they have found a new relationship and fellowship with other believers. Church membership should be taken very seriously and looked upon as sacred.
— Dr. Edward Watke Jr.

The “tenets” of our faith are laid squarely at the feet of the one who laid the foundation for Jesus Christ to build His church upon (Matthew 16: 18). The “tenets” or doctrines of our faith did not come from John Smyth in 1607, but rather came from the first Baptist preacher whose name was also John. The first Baptist, John the Baptist, had a name given to him by God Himself (Matthew 3:1). This very first of the Christian preachers taught the deity of Christ (John 1:29). He taught the pre-existence of Jesus (John 1:15). This NT. Baptist’s first public words were the warning of repentance (Matthew 3:1-2). John the Baptist taught the Sovereignty of God (Matthew 3:9). He taught about the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). John stressed the confession of sin (Matthew 3:6). He refused to baptize unbelievers (Matthew 3:7-8). And this great man’s baptism was by immersion, not sprinkling, and this baptism was not for salvation, but rather to “make Christ manifest” (John 1:31). John the Baptist also preached the absolute certainty of judgment (Matthew 3:12). He taught individual responsibility in the matter of salvation, rather than a salvation by proxy (Matthew 3:9). He emphasized clean living and Christian conduct (Luke 3:8). He held to the substitutionary atonement( John 1:29,36). He believed in the total depravity and helplessness of man (John 3:27). He had a close fellowship with God and walked with Him (John 1:33). And the world’s first Baptist preacher believed in witnessing and winning the lost to Christ (John 5:33,35).

In 1894, Edward T. Hiscox wrote the New Directory for Baptist Churches. In this book, which for over 100 years has been a standard among Baptists, on pages 492-493, Mr. Hiscox wrote, “Baptists have a history of which they need not be ashamed–a history of noble names and noble deeds, extending back through many ages, in which the present generation well may glory. From the days of John the Baptist until now, a great army of these witnesses for the truth, and martyrs for its sake, has illumined and honoured the march of Christian history. The ages since Christ have known no purer, nobler lives, no braver, more faithful witnesses for the Gospel of Christ, no more glorious martyrs for its sake, than many of those who honour us by being called our “fathers in the faith”.

In 1880, the great Baptist historian, author, lecturer, theologian and preacher, J. R. Graves, wrote in the foreword and dedication to his monumental work, Old Landmarkism, “This little work is dedicated and it’s dissemination throughout the denomination committed to every Baptist brother and sister and especially my brethren in the ministry and of the press in America, who love those principles for which our Baptist Fathers for 18 centuries suffered cruel mockings, bloody stripes, imprisonment, and martyrdoms. . .” Dr. Graves edited a denominational paper, The Tennessee Baptist for many years. He at one time was pastor of the First Baptist Church in New Orleans. He authored eleven books and was generally considered the most eloquent preacher in the entire South at that time.

Even the principal Lutheran historian, Johann Laurenz von Mosheim, wrote, “Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay secreted in almost all of the countries of Europe persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of modern Dutch Baptists.” and “The first century was a history of the Baptist.

And the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, a Presbyterian publication, states, “It must have already occurred to our readers that the Baptists are the same sect of Christians that were formerly described as Ana-Baptists. Indeed this seems to have been their leading principle from the time of Tertullian to the present time.” Tertullian was born just fifty years after the death of the Apostle John.

Other renowned scholars and writers, some knowingly, some cluelessly, have lent their support to the notion that the original church of Christendom was a Baptist church. Such men as Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), the aide and successor to the reformer Zwingli admitted that as contrary as the doctrine was, this doctrine of the Baptists persisted from the days of the Apostles.

Even famed English scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, wrote, “The modern Baptists formerly called Anabaptists are the only people that never symbolized with the Papacy.” He thus admits that the beginning of this illustrious group of Christians began sometime before the Roman Catholic system itself.

Testimonies to this fact can also be extracted from the writings of such great minds as those of Professor David Masson of Edinburgh University (1822-1907); William C. King, editor of Crossing the Centuries; Robert Barclay the Quaker theologian (1648-1690); Alexander Campbell, founder of the Churches of Christ; and respected American educator and historian, John Clarke Ridpath, a Methodist. Mr. Ridpath, professor for sixteen years of what is now known as De Pauw University said, “I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist Church as far back as A.D. 100, although without doubt there were Baptists then, as all Christians were then Baptists.

Dr. John T. Christian (Baptist): “I have no question in my own mind that there has been an historical succession of the Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time” (History of Baptists, p.5).

Also note that the well-respected Baptist apologist, J. M Carroll, whose book The Trail of Blood has been printed continuously since it was copyrighted in 1931, and whose numbers now reach well into the millions, says simply that it is “The History of Baptist Churches from the Time of Christ, Their Founder, to the Present Day”.

In 1912, D. B. Ray authored the coveted treasure, Baptist Succession, a Handbook of Baptist History and in the preface, Dr. Ray wrote, “Baptists have, with one voice denied any connection with the Roman apostasy, and claimed their origin, as a church, from Jesus Christ and the apostles“.

David Benedict, pastor of the Baptist church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, wrote his classic “A General History of the Baptist Denomination” in 1813. All throughout the over 1200 pages of his monumental work, Mr. Benedict asserts that the Baptist denomination of his day was most assuredly the same as the church started by Jesus Christ Himself while He was on earth. He is most emphatic to state that the original church was a Baptist church.

Yet another author, Charles B. Stovall, in his book, Baptist History and Succession, says, “It will be seen that the Baptists claim the high antiquity of the commencement of the Christian church. They can trace a succession of those who have believed the same doctrine and administered the same ordinances directly, up to the Apostolic Age.”

M. M. Munger, in his book, “Baptist Churches From Jerusalem to North America”, wrote, “The intention of this little work is to show that from the time of Christ, beginning while He was on earth, the church of Christ has not failed to exist down to this present year of 1926. We have chosen this line of history as being the most simple and direct; Jerusalem, Rome, Britain (now Wales), to the North American colonies. Baptist church perpetuity is a proven fact.

And, of course, the testimony of the venerable G. H. Orchard, the great English Baptist wrote prior to 1855, “A Concise History of Baptists from the time of Christ their Founder to the 18th Century. “

Perhaps W. A. Jarrel said it best when he wrote in his book, Baptist Church Perpetuity or History in 1894, “the Baptist movement in history has always been back to the New Testament … then it was about 150 A.D. that the first Baptist protest was raised by the Montanists”.

Alexander Campbell (Founder of the Disciple, or Christian/ Church of Christ): “The Baptists can trace their origin to Apostolic times and can produce unequivocal testimony of their existence in every century down to the present time” (Debate with walker).

“Hence it is, that the Baptist denomination in all ages and in all centuries has been as a body the constant asserters of the rights of man and liberty of conscience” (Baptism, p. 409).

John C. Ripath (Methodist): “I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist church as far back as 100 A.D.; though without a doubt, there were Baptists as all Christians were then Baptists.” (Clarrel’s Church Perpetuity, p. 59) COMMENT: If all Christians were then Baptists, what kind of churches did they form? Baptist churches, of course.

To further prove that the German Baptists sprang from, or rather were, the same people as the Ancient Waldenses, we introduce the statement made by a committee appointed by the King of Holland to write a history of the Dutch Reformed Church. In this history there is a chapter devoted to the Baptists. This history was published at Breda, 1819, by Dr. Ypeig Professor of Theeology at Gronigen, and Rev. I. J. Dermout, Chaplain to the King, learned Pedobaptists. These men had access to all of the libraries and archives of Germany and Holland. After a careful study of the Baptists they made this statement: “We have now seen that the Baptists who were formerly called Anabaptist, and, in latter times, Mennonites, were the original Waldenses; and have long, in the history of the church receive the honor of that origin. On this account Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the days of the Apostles, and as a Christian society, which has preserved the pure doctrines of the gospel through all ages.

They further state that the Reformation was unnecessary, because the Baptists, then known as Anabaptists, Waldenses and other names, were preaching the Gospel in its simplicity, long before Luther; yea, even from the days of the Apostles. They further state that the existence of Baptists through all the ages since Christ “refute the erroneous notion of the Catholics that their communion is the most ancient.” Rel. En., p. 786. This is not the language of narrow Baptists, but of learned Pedobaptists, and is worthy to be embalmed in the memory of every lover of the truth. Baptists have a succession back to Christ!

To the above statement by the learned Pedobaptist historians as to Baptist origin, Newton Brown, editor of the Religious Encyclopedia says: “This testimony from the highest official authority in the Dutch Reformed Church, is certainly a rare instance of liberality toward another denomination, conceding all the Mennonites or Baptists claim.”

Nam & alterius Principis edictum non ita pridem legi, qui vicem Anabaptistarum dolens, quos ante mille ducentos annes haeretisos, capitalique supplicio dignos esse pronunciatos legimus, vult, ut audiantur omnino, nec indicta ca usa pro condemnatis habeantur. (The letters of Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius, Liber Epistolarum 150, titled “Alberto Bavariae Duci” in about 1563 A.D.)
Translation of Quote:
For not so long ago I read the edict of the other prince who lamented the fate of the Anabaptists who, so we read, were pronounced heretics twelve hundred years ago and deserving of capital punishment. He wanted them to be heard and not taken as condemned without a hearing.
(by Carolinne White, Ph.D, Oxford University, Head of Oxford Latin)