Where Did Modern Day Baptists Originate?
Baptists: Their Historical Relation to the Protestant Reformation And the Roman Catholic Church
by Fred G. Zaspel, 1985
PURPOSE OF PAPER
The purpose of this paper is to determine the historical roots of the Baptists, to answer the question concerning any historical association or connection with the Protestant Reformation or the Roman Catholic Church, and to only briefly identify and examine the supposed succession from the Anabaptists and other ancient religious groups. A thorough discussion of all the questions involved with this subject will not be given. A brief outline of the people and events involved is all that is intended.
The study of the history of Baptists is plagued by many difficult questions on the one hand and very bold assertions on the other. This paper, although written from the standpoint of an independent Baptist, is an attempt to challenge the assertion that Baptists have absolutely no historical ties to either the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Reformation. The great differences which divide Baptists from Romanism and from Protestantism is no doubt the cause for this type of claim, but, as will be shown, the claim is not founded on a knowledge of the facts of history. This in no way is a weakness in Baptist beliefs, for history, tradition, and ancestry are not the standard of truth nor the basis of faith; Scripture alone is the norm. The question of historical origins, however, is one of value, for it does give explanation to many of the beliefs and practices of the group in question. This brief study, then, will seek to trace the background of Baptists, beginning with those in America and working backwards from there.
THE DESCENT OF MODERN BAPTISTS
Baptists In America
Skipping over the great names of Baptists such as Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, John Leland, Isaac Backus, etc., and looking back to their fathers in Colonial America, the familiar names of men such as Roger Williams, John Clarke, and Henry Dunster shine brightly. Their struggle for freedom to practice according to the dictates of conscience and the Word of God was long and difficult. They bore the persecutions of whipping, imprisonment, excommunication, banishment, ridicule, and starvation--all for believing and practicing principles which Baptists hold dear. The story of Roger Williams (1600-1685), founder of the first Baptist Church organized on American soil, and his banishment from Massachusetts into the wilderness because of his opposition to the Church of England and championing of the principles of individual soul liberty and religious freedom, is well known. From his church in Providence, Rhode Island, came one John Clarke, close associate of Williams and probably the most prestigious Baptist leader of his time. The church he established in Newport, 1641 (Quaker?), became the second Baptist church in America, Clarke being its teaching elder from the beginning. Henry Dunster (1612-1659), first president of Harvard, began to preach against infant baptism and in 1653 refused the rite to his fourth child. For this he was forced to resign and that after twelve years of impressive service to the college. Even after earnest pleading he was refused the use of his home any longer, was cast out into the winter, and died within five weeks.
These are just a couple examples of the struggles for the rise of Baptist convictions in America. The purpose here, however, is to investigate the historical background of these early Baptists.
Roger Williams, a Welshman, began an Anglican, educated at Cambridge and was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England. He became, in turn, a Puritan (Congregationalist, still within the Church of England), a Separatist, a Baptist, and finally a Seeker. There is some evidence that he had also been a follower of George Fox's Quakerism. By the time he reached America, he was convinced of Separatist views and refused the offer to assume the pastorate of the Boston church because it was unwilling to officially sever all ties with the Church of England. Having been banished from Massechusetts, he founded the settlement of Providence in June of 1636. In 1638 a church was organized, and by 1639 it was practicing believer's baptism, Williams having been baptized by a church member.
John Clarke fled England's persecution of Puritans under Archbishop Laud. After arriving in Boston, he saw problems with Congregationalism, and moving south to Newport established a church (1641?) which became Particular Baptist, Clarke being the teaching elder.