By Gene McKinley and Stephen Finley
Many people feel that the Baptist Movement is a cult that probably started in America over the last few hundred years. However, did you know that Baptist beliefs started with Jesus Christ? The Apostles and early Christians took these beliefs across Europe; and there is much evidence that these beliefs were in the British Isles by the second century.
Does History Support the Claims of the Baptists?
1557 – The Catholic Cardinal Hosius writes, “Were it not for the fact that the Anabaptists [“re-baptizers”] have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past 1200 years, they would swarm greater than all the Reformers” (Hosius, Letters Apud Opera, pp. 112—3).
The above quote shows a distinct Baptist existence that goes back to the second century, in this Catholic historian’s estimation. It also shows that the Baptist beliefs did not begin during the Reformation. Throughout the centuries, people with Baptist beliefs have been called “re-baptizers” because they refused to accept infant baptism, and insisted that a person be baptized the Scriptural way after he had truly received Christ as Saviour. The old label “Ana-baptist,” which was originally meant to be an insult, was later changed to “Baptist.” True Baptists embrace this name, for it is biblical. There is only one true baptism—believer’s baptism, by immersion.
Consider these other quotes, from other honest historians:
1726 – The Lutheran J. L. von Mosheim, writes, “…the origin of… the Anabaptists… is lost in the remote depths of antiquity… Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay concealed in almost all the countries of Europe, persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of the modem Baptists” (Institute of Ecclesiastical History, II, pp. 119—20).
1819 – Reformed historians A. Ypeij and J.J. Dermout state, “We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists… were the original Waldenses, and who have long in history received the honour of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered as the only Christian community which has stood since the days of the Apostles, and as a Christian society which has preserved pure the doctrine of the Gospel through all ages” (Gescbiedenis der Netherlandsehe Hervomke Kerk, I, p. 148).
1896 – The Methodist scholar, John Clark Ridpath, wrote to W. A. Jarrell, “I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist church as far back as 100 AD, though without doubt there were Baptists then, as all Christians were then Baptists” (W. A. Jarrell, Baptist Church Perpetuity, p. 59).
1862 – The Baptist, C. H. Spurgeon, declares, “We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the Reformation; we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born. We never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it: but we have an unbroken line up to the Apostles themselves” (CHS, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1861, p. 225).
What Is A Baptist?
Being a Baptist does not save anyone. Salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, not through membership in any church (not even a Baptist church). Those churches that call themselves “Baptist” do so because of the Scripturally-based beliefs that have long been associated with the name.
A Baptist is a Christian who subscribes to a distinct Scriptural theology that can be traced back to Jesus Christ and His Apostles. These theological beliefs have often been called the “Baptist Distinctives.” One of the most prominent of these beliefs is that of believer’s baptism by immersion (as opposed to infant baptism and affusion [pouring] or sprinkling). Baptists also believe in the congregational model of church polity.
What are the “Baptist Distinctives” (beliefs)?
As Baptists, we believe:
- The Bible is God’s holy, inerrant Word
The Bible alone is what we look to for instruction as to how to live our lives. The Bible is our only Authority concerning what we believe and how we are to worship God—not tradition. (Matthew 7:24-27; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 1 Peter 1:23-25)
- The Priesthood of all Believers
We believe that each person has the right to approach God on his own, without the help of a human intercessor (no need to confess to a human priest). Every true Christian is a “king and priest” before God. Jesus Christ alone is our High Priest—the only Mediator between God and Man. (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation1:5-6)
- Freedom of Soul
While we firmly hold that Jesus Christ is the only Way to heaven, we do not believe that anyone can be forced to receive Christ. We persuade men through the preaching of the Gospel. We believe each person has a FREE will to worship as he chooses, without fear of persecution from any group, party, church, or government. This belief set the Baptist people apart from all other professing Christian groups for nearly a millennium and a half before the idea even began to take root in Western society. The first society in which true freedom of religion was granted to all was the colony of Rhode Island, founded by a Baptist named Roger Williams in 1635. (2 Corinthians 5:11; Acts 5:27-29; Revelation 22:17)
- The finished work of Jesus Christ
We believe that through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, He conquered sin, death, and Hell. Every individual who will receive the FREE gift of Jesus’ atoning death on his behalf has eternal life. Since we believe that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ was enough to pay for our sins in full, we believe baptism and communion are only symbols of our trust in Christ, and not ways of obtaining saving grace (they are not sacramental). (John 1:12; 1 Corinthians 11:14,15; Hebrews 10:10-18)
- Baptism is by immersion (not sprinkling or pouring), and is only for believers
Only a person who has believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ to save him from sin and Hell is eligible for baptism. (This person must be old enough to understand and make a choice of trust.) This excludes infants and young children from baptism. According to the Bible, infants are safe from God’s judgment until they reach an age of understanding and accountability—at which time they must choose whether to receive God’s way of salvation, or reject it. (2 Samuel 12:21-23; Acts 8:35-39; Romans 6:1-5; Romans 7:9)
- The Local Church is God’s instrument of worship
One enters into membership in a local church by Scriptural baptism. The Local Church should not be ruled by a hierarchal system. Each local assembly (church) has its own autonomous, congregational government, and answers to no higher “ecclesiastical” authority—only to Jesus Christ. The Local Church should have a biblically qualified pastor (the same as bishop/elder), and biblically qualified deacons where necessary. (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:12,13; Ephesians 5:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 1 Peter 5:1-3)
- Separation of church and state
All Christians are to pray for, support, and obey civil authority as long as the civil authority does not command one to violate God’s Word. We also believe that no government has any authority over the religious practices, administrations, and teachings of the Local Church. Nor is there any such thing as a “state church.” This belief radically sets Baptists apart from the Catholic Church and the Reformation Protestant churches, which often forced people, on pain of fines, imprisonment, confiscation of goods, and even torture and death, to belong to their “church.” (John 18:36-37; Acts 5:27-29; Romans 13:1-7)
These “Baptist Distinctives” were recorded not only by the Baptist peoples, but by those who persecuted them. The record cannot be denied. It is estimated that as many as 50 million people of Baptist belief were martyred by the end of the Dark Ages.
As Baptists, we believe that the Church (founded by Jesus Christ in Jerusalem) was Baptist in character and doctrine, and that separate, yet similar churches have had perpetual existence from the days of Christ to the present. This view is not only demonstrated through history, but is also based on Jesus’ commission and promise that He would be with His followers as they carried on His ministry, “even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The history of the Baptists shows that Baptists have always been separate from the Catholic Church and the Protestant religious denominations. The Baptist movement predates the Catholic Church, and is therefore not part of the Protestant Reformation. J.M. Carroll’s booklet The Trail of Blood, published in 1931, has been a popular writing presenting the historical view. It points to ancient groups such as the Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, Paulicians, Albigensians, Waldenses, and Anabaptists, as predecessors to contemporary Baptists. Baptist historian John T. Christian writes in the introduction to his book History of the Baptists: “I have…pursued the scientific method of investigation, and I have let the facts speak for themselves. I have no question in my own mind that there has been a historical succession of Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time.”
What Is The Baptist Desire?
The desire of all true Baptists is the same desire our God and Saviour has. That is, we long for all people to know, understand, and experience the love of Jesus Christ, “who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
You can experience this love through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Here is how:
First, realize that God loves you.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Second, realize that you are a sinner.
Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
Third, realize that sin has a price that must be paid.
Romans 6:23a “For the wages of sin is death.”
Revelation 20:14-15 “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Fourth, realize you cannot be good enough to earn God’s love or eternal life.
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Fifth, believe that Jesus Christ (and only Jesus) died to pay your price.
Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Hebrews 1:3 “…when he (Jesus Christ) had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Finally, believing these things in your heart, ask Jesus Christ to be your Saviour, and claim His promise of eternal life.
Romans 10:13 “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
1 John 5:11-12 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”