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Other Churches: 4     The Baptist Church1

Baptists would claim that they go back to New Testament Christianity and that throughout history there have always been groups in the Christian Church with “Baptist” tendencies - the Waldensians2 in the Middle Ages, for example.

Modern Baptists in Britain, however, trace their history back to John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.  Smyth was amongst a group of English religious exiles in Amsterdam. In 1607 he came to the conclusion, from the study of the New Testament, that baptism was meant for adult believers. At the same time groups of Anabaptists3 were appearing all over Europe and challenging religious and political authorities. The extent to which English Baptists were influenced by them is hotly debated.

Helwys founded a Baptist church in London in 1612. Other Baptist churches spread from this one.  Baptists tended to be radical in politics and religion and many supported Cromwell in the Civil War.  The Baptist movement was particularly strong in the East Midlands and it was from here that William Carey went out as the first missionary to India. There are roughly 30 million Baptists in the world today4; there are about a quarter of a million in Britain(and growing apparently).

Believers’ Baptism5 is the famous distinguishing mark of the Baptist Church. Baptists normally take the Scriptures as the final authority in faith and morals.

The local congregation runs its own affairs and there is no strong central authority. The ruling body of the church is the Church Meeting6. There is no separated priesthood7.

There is a Yorkshire Baptist Association and a Baptist Union of Great Britain but membership of these is entirely voluntary8. It is possible to leave the Union and still call the church by the name “Baptist”9. All Baptist churches, in or out of the Union, have their own individual constitutions so it is very hard to generalise. Because some Baptist churches are totally independent, it is hard to give exact figures for the number of Baptists in the country but there are 3,000 churches in the Baptist Union.