400 years of Baptists in Europe
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Date: 28th April, 2009


John Bunyan. Image: Wikipedia Common Image Library


'Baptism came from many sources including a South German-Austrian “diluted form of Rhineland mysticism".'

 



 

The Baptist Assembly taking place from May 1st - 4th marks 400 years of the Baptist movement in Europe. Andy Jackson finds out more

400 years ago an historic event took place in Amsterdam with the formation of a Baptist congregation composed of refugees from England.

The term Baptist relates to Christians belonging to a church where the main belief is that the baptism of the believer is more important than the baptism of an infant.

The origins of the word comes from the Anabaptists of 16th century Europe.

Many believe the Anabaptists began with the Radical Reformers in the 16th century, although other notable figures are credited with the start of the movement. Petr Chelčický, the 15th century Bohemian Reformer, taught most of the beliefs considered central to Anabaptist theology.

Other contributing forerunners include the Brethren of the Common Life, the Hussites, Dutch Sacramentists and some orders of monks. The Waldensians also represent a faith similar to the Anabaptists

Mixed beginnings

Various scholars claim Anabaptists came from the Swiss Brethren movement, while others hold a view that Anabaptism had its origins in Zürich, and that the Anabaptism of the Swiss Brethren was transmitted to southern Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and northern Germany.

In 1975, an essay by three scholars disputed the idea that Baptism came from one source but many, including a South German-Austrian “diluted form of Rhineland mysticism,"

The best known Baptist is John Bunyan (1628-1688), the English Christian writer and preacher, famous for writing The Pilgrim's Progress, arguably the most famous published Christian symbolic story besides Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy".

Bunyan was a very popular preacher and a prolific author, though most of his works were expanded sermons. Even though he was a Baptist preacher, in theology he was a Puritan.

His friend Robert White drew a portrait of Bunyan which has often been reproduced and is claimed to show his attractiveness: a tall man with reddish hair, a prominent nose, a large mouth, and sparkling eyes!

He was a scholar of the Bible, and was influenced by Martin Luther's ‘ Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians’, in the translation of 1575.

Persecution

Historic Roman Catholic and Protestant writing represented the Anabaptists as groups who preached false doctrine and led people to give up their religious beliefs, a view that lasted for around 400 years.

The Roman Catholics and Protestants persecuted Anabaptists resorting to torture and other types of physical abuse, in attempts both to curb the movement and bring about the salvation of its ‘heretics’.

The Protestants, under Zwingli, were the first to persecute the Anabaptists. Felix Manz became the first martyr in 1527 and on May 20, 1527, Roman Catholic authorities executed Michael Sattler. King Ferdinand declared drowning (called the third baptism) "the best antidote to Anabaptism.”

Other notable dates and events

1612
The first Baptist church met in Spitalfields, London. Thomas Helwys, a founder of the Baptist denomination, published ‘A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity’, one of the first books to call for religious liberty.

In the 17th century Baptists refused to conform and be members of the Church of England, arguing that Christ, and not the King (or Queen) was head of the church and were again persecuted for their beliefs.

1792
The Baptist Missionary Society founded by William Carey. It is now known as BMS World Mission.

1832
The formation of the Baptist Union was completed.

1891
General Baptists (who believed that when Christ died on the cross he died for everyone in general) and Particular Baptists (who believed that Christ died for the elect i.e. a particular group of people) came together to form the present Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB).

1922
Violet Hedger became the first woman to qualify as a probationer minister.

2005
The Baptist World Centenary Congress celebrated in Birmingham, England. BUGB General Secretary, the Revd David Coffey, became President of the Baptist World Alliance.

2006
The Revd Jonathan Edwards voted in as new BUGB General Secretary. The Revd Kate Coleman became the first black woman to be BUGB President.

Associations

The largest Baptist association is the Southern Baptist Convention with more than 16 million members but there are many other baptist associations including the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

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