General Information

The Baptists form one of the largest Protestant denominations, with worldwide membership of nearly 35 million. The following distinguish the Baptists from other Protestant communions:

The forerunners of present day Baptists were the Anabaptists of the Reformation period. Some Anabaptist congregations were settled in Holland in the early 17th century when groups of Puritan Independents, or Congregationalists, fled from England to Holland. Influenced by the Anabaptists, some of these Independents were persuaded that Christian baptism was appropriate only for adults with a personal faith and commitment. Returning to England, this group formed the first Baptist congregation in 1611. Shortly thereafter, Roger Williams formed (1639) the first Baptist congregation in Providence, RI. The Baptists grew rapidly in the United States. The democratic, informal, Scripture centered, relatively untheological mode of Baptist service was ideal for any unsettled, rural, or frontier situation. Thus the South, the Midwest, and the Far West were heavily populated - more than were the Northeast or the Middle Atlantic - by Baptists, a pattern that remains true to this day.

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Baptists view the Christian life as one of personal faith and of serious dedication to live according to the highest Christian precepts. Each person is thus to be born again, converted into a new life, and gathered into the church community. For Baptists, the church is essentially the result of conversion and of Grace, a gathered community of committed believers; it is not the mother of Christian experience or the source (rather than the effect) of grace, as in the Catholic tradition. The church is, therefore, holy only because the faith and life of its people are holy; conceptually, the church has in itself (at least in principle) no authority over its members, over their freedom of conscience, or over their churchly affairs.

More than most church groups, Baptists have manifested startlingly opposite characteristics in their history. Because of their emphasis on the Bible, on a strict puritan, or Victorian, ethic, and on the absolute necessity of personal faith and personal holiness, most Baptists around the world have remained conservative, even fundamentalist, in matters of both faith and morals. They have been impatient with theological compromises with science, with modern philosophy, and with liberal politics. The pure gospel, that is, the Bible interpreted literally, traditional Baptist principles, and a pure Christian ethic are fundamentals that many Baptist groups will not relinquish. For this reason, many Baptist conventions still refuse to join the Ecumenical Movement in any official way; they have largely ignored the social gospel (a concern for establishing social justice in political, social, and economic life) while retaining a deep loyalty to the efficacy of individualistic Revivalism.

On the other hand, because of their emphasis on freedom of conscience and of personal believing, on the importance of Christian life and works rather than on ritual, on their distaste for creeds, dogmas, and ecclesiastical authority, Baptists have also been leaders in theological and social liberalism. Many Baptist seminaries and churches are known for their liberal theology, style of worship, and social attitudes; and Baptists were consistently important leaders in establishing the ecumenical movement of the early 20th century. In those controversies that have dominated 20th century American religion - the modernist - fundamentalist, the social gospel - individualist, and the ecumenical - exclusivist controversies - Baptists have appeared in leading roles on both sides.

Langdon Gilkey

J Barnhart, The Southern Baptist Holy War (1986); S Hill, Baptists North and South (1964); R G Torbet, A History of the Baptists (1966); J E Tull, Shapers of Baptist Thought (1972).

The Baptist Tradition

Advanced Information

It is a popular misunderstanding about Baptists to think that their chief concern is with the administration of baptism. The convictions of Baptists are based primarily on the spiritual nature of the church, and the practice of believers' baptism arises only as a corollary of this and in the light of the NT teaching. The theological position taken up by Baptists may be presented as follows.

Membership of the Church

According to Baptist belief the church is composed of those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and who have been brought to personal and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A living and direct acquaintance with Christ is, therefore, held to be basic to church membership. Negatively, this involves a rejection of the concept that equates a church with a nation. Membership in the church of Christ is not based on the accident or privilege of birth, either in a Christian country or in a Christian family. Baptists therefore repudiate the Anglican and Presbyterian view by deleting the phrase "together with their children" from the definition of the church. Positively, this view of church is membership indicates that the church is entered voluntarily and that only believers may participate in its ordinance. All members are equal in status although they vary in gifts.

Nature of the Church

In distinction from churches of the institutional or territorial kind, the Baptist conviction is expressed in the concept of the "gathered church." The members of the church are joined together by God into a fellowship of life and service under the lordship of Christ. Its members are pledged to live together under his laws and to enter into the fellowship created and maintained by the Holy Spirit. The church conceived of in this way is perceived the most clearly in its local manifestation. Thus, although the church invisible consists of all the redeemed, in heaven and in earth, past, present, and future, it may be truly said that wherever believers are living together in the fellowship of the gospel and under the sovereignty of Christ there is the church.

Government of the Church

Christ is the only head of the church, and the early Baptist pioneers earnestly contended for what they called "the crown rights of the Redeemer." The local church is autonomous, and this principle of government is sometimes described as the "congregational order of the churches." Baptists believe in the competence of the local fellowship to govern its own affairs, and because of the theological importance of the local church in contradistinction to connectional systems (episcopal, presbyterian) of church government, Baptists do not speak of the denomination as "the Baptist Church," but as "the Baptist churches" in any given area. The congregational order of the churches, i.e., the government of the church through the mind of the local congregation, is not to be equated with the humanistic concept of democracy. Democracy is too low and too small a word.

The Baptist belief is that the church is to be governed not by an order of priests, nor through higher or central courts, but through the voice of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the members in each local assembly. Whereas in a strictly democratic order of church government there would be a government of the church by the church, the Baptist position makes recognition of Christ's rule in the church through the church. From the equality of status of every church member and the recognition of the diversity of gifts, two things follow. First of all, it is acknowledged that each member has a right and duty in the government of the local church, and secondly, that the church gladly accepts the guidance of its chosen leaders.

Baptist churches are usually regarded as independent in their government, but they do not glory in independence for its own sake. The independence of a Baptist church relates to state control, and the Baptists of the seventeenth century in England were in the foremost rank of those who fought for this freedom. Baptists have always recognized the great value of association between churches, and associations of Baptist churches have been characteristic of Baptist life down the centuries. All such association is voluntary, however, and the mistake must not be made of assuming that the Baptist Union or the Baptist World Alliance is coextensive with the Baptist community.

Ordinances of the Church

These are normally spoken of as two, namely, believers' baptism and the Lord's Supper, though it would be more proper to speak of three and to include the ordinance of preaching.

Baptists have normally preferred to use the word "ordinance" rather than "sacrament" because of certain sacerdotal ideas that the word "sacrament" has gathered to itself. The word "ordinance" points to the ordaining authority of Christ which lies behind the practice. Baptists regard the Lord's Supper somewhat after the Zwinglian manner. The bread and the wine are the divinely given tokens of the Lord's saving grace, "but the value of the service lies far more in the symbolism of the whole than in the actual elements" (Dakin). Henry Cook writes: "Being symbolic of facts that constitute the heart of the Gospel, they (the ordinances) arouse in the believing soul such feelings of awe and love and prayer that God is able by His Spirit to communicate Himself in a vitalizing and enriching experience of His grace and power." Baptists acknowledge that the ordinances are thus a means of grace, but not otherwise than is also the preaching of the gospel.

The position has been epitomized by saying that the ordinances are a special means of grace but not a means of special grace. It is also part of the Baptist position on this subject that believers' baptism and the Lord's Supper are church ordinances, that is to say, they are congregational rather than individual acts. Priestly mediation is abhorrent to Baptists and derogatory to the glory of Christ, who is the only priest.

Ministry of the Church

The ministry is as broad as the fellowship of the church, yet for the purposes of leadership the term "ministry" has been reserved for those who have the responsibility of oversight and instruction. Baptists do not believe in a ministerial order in the sense of a priestly caste. The Baptist minister has no "more" grace than the one who is not a minister; he does not stand any nearer to God by virtue of his official position than does the humblest member of the church. There are diverse gifts, however, and it is recognized that the gift of ministry is by the grace of God, as Paul himself intimated in Eph. 3:8. Pastors and deacons are chosen and appointed by the local church, though their appointment is frequently made in the wider context of the fellowship of Baptist churches.

A Baptist minister becomes so by virtue of an inward call of God which, in turn, receives confirmation in the outward call of a church. Public acknowledgment of this call of God is given in a service of ordination, which ordination, when it is held, does not confer any kind of superior or ministerial grace but merely recognizes and regularizes the ministry within the church itself. The importance of ordination lies in the fact that the church itself preaches through the minister; and, though ordination is not intended to imprison the activity of the Holy Spirit within the bounds of ecclesiastically ordained preachers, there is, nevertheless, considerable importance attached to the due authorization of those who are to speak in the name of the church.

Ecumenicity of the Church

It might seem that the idea of unity would be foreign to Baptists, given their strong views on independence and their doctrine of the autonomy of the church, but such is not the case. It all depends on what is meant by unity. For Baptists unity can mean one of three things: organic union, which is generally looked on unfavorably; cooperation with other denominations, which is encouraged within limits; and cooperation with other Baptists, which is almost unqualifiedly acceptable. Let us look briefly at each of these.

Baptist organizations are largely voluntary, cooperative ventures that have no legal binding force over their members. This is part of the Baptist ethos, allowing for freedom and concerted action to exist at the same time. Hence the denominations (and there are many) do not exist as units, but are simply collections of individual Baptist churches. It came as no surprise then that when the Consultation on Church Union was inaugurated in the 1960s, Baptists were cool to the idea of joining, especially since some form of episcopacy and recognition of apostolic succession (i.e., authoritative ecclesiastical structure) would be required of them. Only the American Baptists showed any interest, but when a general survey showed that fewer than 20 percent were interested in full participation, any plans of union were effectively scrapped. Organic union with other denominations, if it requires giving up Baptist distinctives, is simply out of the question.

Cooperation with other groups is a different matter. As early as the American colonial period Baptists cooperated with Quakers and Roman Catholics in the protection of religious freedom. In 1908 the Northern Baptist Convention was one of the founding members of the Federal Council of Churches; it has actively supported both the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches. Baptists are also active in the American Bible Society, various mission boards, and numerous civic and social organizations. It should be noted, however, that not all Baptists favor this form of cooperation; Baptists in the North are more inclined to cooperate than those in the South. In fact, this has been a source of tension among various Baptist groups. But most Baptists consider cooperation with non Baptists appropriate.

Cooperation with other Baptists is strongly encouraged. Among the various Baptist groups exists a deep sense of comradeship that has historical, theological, and psychological roots. Although rather striking differences of style and expression exist among them, Baptists have managed to cooperate in supraregional groups (such as the American Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention) and in the international Baptist World Alliance, which claims over 33 million members in 138 countries. What unites them all is the express purpose of the alliance, to express "the essential oneness of the Baptist people in the Lord Jesus Christ, to impart inspiration to the brotherhood, and to promote the spirit of fellowship, service, and cooperation among its members."

E F Kavan
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

A C Underwood, History of English Baptists; H W Robinson, Baptist Principles; H Cook, What Baptists Stand For; A Dakin, The Baptist View of the Church and Ministry; O K and M Armstrong, The Baptists in America; R G Torbet, A History of the Baptists; S L Stealey, ed., A Baptist Treasury; W S Hudson, Baptists in Transition; T Crosby, The History of the English Baptists.


Catholic Information

(Greek, baptizein, to baptize).

A Protestant denomination which exists chiefly in English speaking countries and owes its name to its characteristic doctrine and practice regarding baptism.


The Baptists consider the Scriptures to be the sufficient and exclusive rule of faith and practice. In the interpretation of them, every individual enjoys unrestricted freedom. No non-Scriptural scheme of doctrines and duty is recognized as authoritative.

General creeds are mere declarations of prevalent doctrinal views, to which no assent beyond one's personal conviction need be given. The two principal Baptist confessions of faith are the Confession of 1688, or Philadelphia Confession, and the New Hampshire Confession. The Philadelphia Confession is the Westminster (Presbyterian) Confession (1646) revised in a Baptist sense. It first appeared in 1677, was reprinted in 1688, approved by the English Baptist Assembly of 1689, and adopted by the Baptist Association at Philadelphia in 1742, a circumstance which accounts for its usual name. It is generally accepted by the Baptists of England and the Southern States of the Union, whereas the Northern States are more attached to the New Hampshire Confession. The latter was adopted by the New Hampshire State Convention in 1833. Its slight doctrinal difference from the Philadelphia Confession consists in a milder presentation of the Calvinistic system.

Baptists hold that those only are members of the Church of Christ who have been baptized upon making a personal profession of faith.

They agree in the rejection of infant baptism as contrary to the Scriptures, and in the acceptance of immersion as the sole valid mode of baptism. All children who die before the age of responsibility will nevertheless be saved. Baptism and the Eucharist, the only two sacraments, or ordinances as they call them, which Baptists generally admit, are not productive of grace, but are mere symbols. Baptism does not bestow, but symbolizes, regeneration, which has already taken place.

In the Eucharist Jesus Christ is not really present; the Lord's Supper merely sets forth the death of Christ as the sustaining power of the believer's life. It was instituted for the followers of Christ alone; hence Baptists, in theory, commonly admit to it only their own church members and exclude outsiders (closed communion). Open communion, however, has been practised extensively in England and is gaining ground today among American Baptists.

In church polity, the Baptists are congregational; i.e. each church enjoys absolute autonomy. Its officers are the elders or bishops and the deacons. The elder exercises the different pastoral functions and the deacon is his assistant in both spiritual and temporal concerns. These officers are chosen by common suffrage and ordained by councils consisting of ministers and representatives of neighbouring churches. A church may, in case of need, appeal for help to another church; it may, in difficulty, consult other churches; but never, even in such cases, can members of one congregation acquire authority over another congregation. Much less can a secular power interfere in spiritual affairs; a state church is an absurdity.


(1) The Baptists in the British Isles

Persons rejecting infant baptism are frequently mentioned in English history in the sixteenth century. We learn of their presence in the island through the persecutions they endured. As early as 1535 ten Anabaptists were put to death, and the persecution continued throughout that century. The victims seem to have been mostly Dutch and German refugees. What influence they exerted in spreading their views is not known; but, as a necessary result, Baptist principles became, through them, less of an unacceptable novelty in the eyes of Englishmen. The first Baptist congregations were organized in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Almost at the very start, the denomination was divided into "Arminian", or "General" Baptists, so named because of their belief in the universal character of Christ's redemption, and "Calvinistic" or "Particular" Baptists, who maintained that Christ's redemption was intended for the elect alone. The origin of the General Baptists is connected with the name of John Smyth (d. 1612), pastor of a church at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, which had separated from the Church of England. About 1606, pastor and flock, to escape persecution, emigrated to Amsterdam, where they formed the second English congregation. In 1609, Smyth, owing possibly in some measure to Mennonite influence, rejected infant baptism, although he retained affusion. In this he was supported by his church. Some members of the congregation returned to England (1611 or 1612) under the leadership of Helwys (c. 1550-1616) and formed in London the nucleus of the first Baptist community. Persecution had abated, and they do not seem to have been molested. By 1626 there were in different parts of England five General Baptist churches; by 1644, they had increased, it is said, to forty-seven; and by 1660 the membership of the body had reached about 20,000. It was between 1640 and 1660 that the General Baptists began to claim that immersion was the only valid mode of baptism. They were persecuted by Charles II (1660-85); but the Act of Toleration (1689) brought relief and recognized the Baptists as the third dissenting denomination (Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists). In the eighteenth century, Anti-Trinitarian ideas spread among the General Baptists, and by 1750, many, perhaps the majority of them, had become Unitarians. As a result of the great Wesleyan revival of the second half of the eighteenth century, new religious activity manifested itself among the General Baptists.

Dan Taylor (1738-1816) organized the orthodox portion of them into the New Connection of the General Baptists. The latter appellative soon disappeared, as the "Old Connection", or unorthodox party, gradually merged into the Unitarian denomination. In 1816, the General Baptists established a missionary society. Their doctrinal differences with the Particular Baptists gradually disappeared in the course of the nineteenth century, and the two bodies united in 1891. The Particular Baptists originated shortly after the General Baptists. Their first congregation was organized in 1633 by former members of a London "Separatist Church", who seceded and were re-baptized. Mr. John Spillsbury became their minister. In 1638 a second secession from the original church occurred, and in 1640 another Particular Congregation was formed. The opinion now began to be held that immersion alone was real Baptism. Richard Blunt was sent to the Netherlands to be duly immersed. On his return he baptized the others, and thus the first Baptist church in the full meaning of the term was constituted in 1641. In 1644 there were seven Particular Baptist churches in London. They drew up a confession of faith (1644), which was republished in 1646. The Particular Baptists now rapidly increased in numbers and influence. Some of them held prominent positions under Cromwell. With the latter's army Baptists came to Ireland, where the denomination never flourished, and to Scotland, where it took firm root only after 1750 and adopted some peculiar practices. Wales proved a more fruitful soil. A church was founded at or near Swansea in 1649. In the time of the Commonwealth (1649-60), churches multiplied owing to the successful preaching of Vavasour Powell (1617-70); and the number of Baptists, all Calvinistic, is today comparatively large in Wales and Monmouthshire. One of the prominent men who suffered persecution for the Baptist cause under Charles II was John Bunyan (1628-88), the author of "The Pilgrim's Progress". In the first part of the eighteenth century the Particular Baptists injured their own cause by their excessive emphasis of the Calvinistic element in their teaching, which made them condemn missionary activity and bordered on fatalism. The Wesleyan revival brought about a reaction against the deadening influence of ultra-Calvinism. Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) and Robert Hall (1764-1831) propounded milder theological views. The Baptist Home Mission Society was formed in 1779. In 1792 the foundation of the Baptist Missionary Society at Kettering, Northamptonshire, inaugurated the work of missions to the heathen. In this undertaking William Carey (1761-1834) was the prime mover. Perhaps the most eminent Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century in England was C. H. Spurgeon (1834-92), whose sermons were published weekly and had a large circulation. In recent years, the Baptists created a "Twentieth Century Fund," to be expended in furthering the interests of the denomination.

(2) The Baptists in the United States

The first Baptist Church in the United States did not spring historically from the English Baptist churches, but had an independent origin. It was established by Roger Williams (c. 1600-83). Williams was a minister of the Church of England, who, owing to his separatist views, fled to America in search of religious freedom. He landed at Boston (February, 1631), and shortly after his arrival was called to be minister at Salem. Certain opinions, e.g. his denial of the right of the secular power to publish purely religious offences and his denunciation of the charter of the Massachusetts Colony as worthless, brought him into conflict with the civil authorities. He was summoned before the General Court in Boston and refusing to retract, was banished (October, 1635). He left the colony and purchased from the Narrangansett Indians a tract of land. Other colonists soon joined him, and the settlement, which was one of the first in the United States to be established on the principle of complete religious liberty, became the city of Providence. In 1639 Williams repudiated the value of the baptism he had received in infancy, and was baptized by Ezekiel Holliman, a former member of the Salem church. Williams then baptized Holliman with ten others, thus constituting the first Baptist church in the New World. A second church was founded shortly after (c. 1644) at Newport, Rhode Island, of which John Clarke (1609-76) became the pastor. In the Massachusetts Colony, from 1642 onward, Baptists, because of their religious views, came into conflict with the local authorities. A law was passed against them in 1644. In spite of this, we find at Rehoboth, in 1649, Baptists who began to hold regular meetings. In 1663, John Myles, who had emigrated with his Baptist church from Swansea, Wales, settled in the same place and most writers date the establishment of the first Baptist church in Massachusetts from the time of his arrival. The community removed in 1667 to a new site near the Rhode Island frontier, which they called Swansea. The first Baptist church in Boston was established in 1665, and the organization of the first one in Maine, then part of Massachusetts, was completed in 1682. The members of the latter, on account of the persecution to which they were still subjected, removed in 1684 to Charleston, South Carolina, and founded the first Baptist church in the South. The church of Groton (1705) was the first in Connecticut, where there were four in existence at the beginning of the religious revival known as the Great Awakening (1740).

During the period of these foundations in New England, Baptists appeared also in New York State, at least as early as 1656. The exact date of the establishment of the first church there is not ascertainable, but it was very probably at the beginning of the eighteenth century. From 1684 on, churches also appeared in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Cold Spring, Bucks Co., had the first one in Pennsylvania (1684); and Middletown heads the list in New Jersey (1688). A congregation was organized also in 1688 at Pennepek, or Lower Dublin, now part of Philadelphia. The latter churches were to exert very considerable influence in shaping the doctrinal system of the largest part of American Baptists.

Philadelphia became a centre of Baptist activity and organization. Down to about the year 1700 it seemed as if the majority of American Baptists would belong to the General or Arminian branch. Many of the earliest churches were of that type. But only Particular Baptist congregations were established in and about Philadelphia, and these through the foundation of the Philadelphia Association in 1707, which fostered mutual intercourse among them, became a strong central organization about which other Baptist churches rallied. As a result, we see today the large number of Particular (Regular) Baptists. Until the Great Awakening, however, which gave new impetus to their activity, they increased but slowly. Since that time their progress has not been seriously checked, not even by the Revolution. True, the academy of Hopewell, New Jersey, their first educational institution, established in 1756, disappeared during the war; but Rhode Island College, chartered in 1764, survived it and became Brown University in 1804. Other educational institutions, to mention only the earlier ones, were founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century: Waterville (now Colby) College, Maine, in 1818; Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, in 1820; and in 1821, Columbian College at Washington (now the undenominational George Washington University).

Organized mission work was also undertaken at about the same time. In 1814 "The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions" was established at Philadelphia. It split in 1845 and formed the "American Baptist Missionary Union" for the North, with present head-quarters at Boston, and the "Southern Baptist Convention", with head-quarters at Richmond (Virginia), and Atlanta (Georgia), for foreign and home missions respectively. In 1832, the "American Baptist Home Mission Society", intended primarily for the Western States, was organized in New York where it still has its headquarters. In 1824, the "Baptist General Tract Society" was formed at Washington, removed to Philadelphia in 1826, and in 1840 became the "American Baptist Publication Society". The Regular Baptists divided in 1845, not indeed doctrinally, but organically, on the question of slavery. Since that time, attempts at reunion having remained fruitless; they exist in three bodies: Northern, Southern, and Coloured. The Northern Baptists constituted, 17 May, 1907, at Washington, a representative body, called the "Northern Baptist Convention", whose object is "to give expression to the sentiment of its constituency upon matters of denominational importance and of general religious and moral interest." Governor Hughes of New York was elected president of the new organization.

(3) The Baptists in Other Countries

(a) America

The earliest Baptist church in the Dominion of Canada was organized at Horton, Nova Scotia, in 1763, by the Rev. Ebenezer Moulton of New England. This church, like many of the earlier ones, was composed of Baptists and Congregationalists. The influx of settlers from New England and Scotland and the work of zealous evangelists, such as Theodore Seth Harding, who laboured in the Maritime Provinces from 1795 to 1855, soon increased the number of Baptists in the country. The end of the eighteenth century was marked by a period of revivals, which prepared the formation of the "Association of the Baptist churches of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick" in 1800. In 1815, a missionary society was formed, and the work of organization in every line was continued throughout the nineteenth century, growing apace with Baptist influence and numbers. In 1889 some previously existing societies were consolidated in the "Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec", whose various departments of work are: home missions, foreign missions, publications, church edifices, etc. Among the educational institutions of the Canadian Baptists may be mentioned Acadia College (founded 1838), Woodstock College (founded 1860), and McMaster University at Toronto (chartered 1887). Moulton College for women (opened 1888) is affiliated to the last mentioned institution. In other parts of America the Baptists are chiefly represented in the countries colonized by England. Thus we find a Baptist church in Jamaica as early as 1816. In Latin America the Baptist churches are not numerous and are of missionary origin. Recently, the Northern Baptists have taken Porto Rico as their special field, while the Southern Baptist Convention has chosen Cuba.

(b) European Continent

The founder of the Baptist churches in Germany was Johann Gerhard Oncken, whose independent study of the Scriptures led him to adopt Baptist views several years before he had an opportunity of receiving "believers' baptism". Having incidentally heard that an American Baptist, B. Sears, was pursuing his studies at Berlin, he communicated with him and was with six others baptized by him at Hamburg in 1834. His activity as an evangelist drew new adherents to the movement. The number of the Baptists increased, in spite of the opposition of the German state churches. In Prussia alone relative toleration was extended to them until the foundation of the Empire brought to them almost everywhere freedom in the exercise of their religion. A Baptist theological school was founded in 1881 at Hamburg-Horn. From Germany the Baptists spread to the neighbouring countries, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Russia. Nowhere on the Continent of Europe has the success of the Baptists been so marked as in Sweden, where their number is larger today than even in Germany. The Swedish Baptists date from the year 1848, when five persons were baptized near Gothenburg by a Baptist minister from Denmark. Andreas Wiberg became their great leader (1855-87). They have had a seminary at Stockholm since 1866. Among the Latin nations the Baptists never gained a firm foothold, although a Particular Baptist church seems to have existed in France by 1646, and a theological school was established in that country in 1879.

(c) Asia, Australasia, and Africa

William Carey first preached the Baptist doctrine in India in 1793. India and the neighbouring countries have ever since remained a favourite field for Baptist missionary work and have flourishing missions. Missions exist also in China, Japan, and several other Asiatic countries. The first Baptist churches in Australasia were organized between 1830 and 1840 in different places. Immigration from England, whence the leading Baptist ministers were until very recently drawn, increased, though not rapidly, the numbers of the denomination. During the period which elapsed between 1860 and 1870, a new impulse was given to Baptist activity. Churches were organized in rapid succession in Australia, and missionary work was taken up in India. The two chief hindrances complained of by Baptists in that part of the world, are State Socialism, i.e. excessive concentration of power in the executive, and want of loyalty to strictly denominational principles and practices. The Baptist churches of the African continent are, if we except South Africa, of missionary origin. The Negro Baptists of the United States had at an early date missionaries in this field. Two coloured men, Lott Carey, a former slave, and Colin Teague, set sail in 1820 for Liberia; where the first church was organized in 1821. Today we find Baptist missions in various parts of Africa.


Side by side with the larger body of Baptists, several sects exist. They are found chiefly in the United States.

(1) The Baptist Church of Christ originated in Tennessee, about 1808, and spread to several other Southern States. Its doctrine is a mild form of Calvinism, with belief in a general atonement and admission of feet-washing as religious ordinance. [Communicants, 8,254 according to Dr. H. K. Carroll, the acknowledged authority, whose statistics, published in "The Christian Advocate" (New York, 17 January 1907, p. 98), we shall quote for these sects.]

(2) The Campbellites, Disciples of Christ, or Christians, date back as a distinct religious body to the early part of the nineteenth century. They are the outgrowth of that movement which manifested itself simultaneously in some of the religious denominations in the United States in favour of the Bible alone without creeds. Thomas Campbell (1763-1854) and Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), father and son, became the leaders of the movement. (Communicants, 1,264,758).

(3) The Dunkards (from the German tunken, to dip), German Baptists, or Brethren, were founded about 1708 in Germany by Alexander Mack. Between 1719 and 1729 they all emigrated to the United States and settled mostly in Pennsylvania. They are found today in many parts of the Union, but divisions have taken place among them. They practise threefold immersion, hold their communion service, which is preceded by the agape, in the evening, and seek to be excessively simple and unostentatious in their social intercourse, dress, etc. (Membership 121,194.)

(4) The Freewill Baptists correspond in doctrine and practice to the English General Baptists, but originated in the United States. They exist in two distinct bodies. The older was founded in North Carolina and constituted an association in 1729. Many of its members subsequently joined the Regular Baptists. Those who did not unite became known as the "Free Willers" and later as the "Original Freewill Baptists", and are found in the two Carolinas. The larger body of the "Freewill Baptists" was founded in New Hampshire. Benjamin Randall organized the first church at New Durham in 1780. The denomination spread throughout New England and the West, and was joined in 1841 by the "Free-Communion Baptists" of New York (increase, 55 churches and 2500 members). It maintains several colleges and academies, and has changed its official name to "Free Baptists". The American General Baptists are in substantial doctrinal agreement with the Freewill Baptists. (Membership: Original Freewill Baptists, 12000; Freewill Baptists, 82,303; General Baptists, 29,347.)

(5) The Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists are Manichaean in doctrine, holding that there are two seeds, one of good and one of evil. The doctrine is credited to Daniel Parker, who laboured in different parts of the Union in the first half of the nineteenth century (12,851 communicants).

(6) The Primitive Baptists, also called Old-School, Anti-Mission, and Hard-Shell, Baptists constitute a sect which is opposed to missions, Sunday schools, and in general to human religious institutions. They arose about 1835 (126,000 communicants).

(7) The foundation of the Separate and of the United Baptists was the result, either immediate or mediate, of the attitude taken by some Baptists toward the Whitefield revival movement of the eighteenth century (Separate Baptist, 6,479; United Baptists, 13,209).

(8) The Seventh-Day Baptists differ from the tenets of the Baptists generally only in their observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath of the Lord. They appeared in England in the latter part of the sixteenth century under the name of "Sabbatarian Baptists". Their first church in this country was organized at Newport, R. I. in 1671. In 1818 the name Seventh Day Baptists was adopted (Communicants, 8493).

(9) The Six-principle Baptists are a small body and date from the seventeenth century. They are so called from the six doctrines of their creed, contained in Heb., vi, 1-2: (a) Repentance from dead works; (b) Faith toward God; (c) The doctrine of Baptism; (d) The imposition of hands; (e) The resurrection of the dead; (f) Eternal judgment. (858 communicants).

(10) The Winebrennerians or Church of God were founded by John Winebrenner (1797-1860) in Pennsylvania, where their chief strength still lies. The first congregation was established in 1829. The Winebrennerians admit three Divine ordinances: baptism, feet-washing, and the Lord's Supper (41,475 communicants).


According to the American Baptist Year-Book, published annually at Philadelphia, there were in 1907, not including the minor Baptist sects, 5,736,263 Baptists in the world. They had 55,505 churches and 38,216 ordained ministers. The denomination counted 4,974,014 members in North America; 4,812,653 in the United States with church property worth $109,960,610; and 117,842 in Canada. South America has but 4,465 Baptists; Europe 564,670 (434,751 in Great Britain, 44,656 in Sweden 33,790 in Germany, 24,132 in Russia); Asia, 155,969; Australasia, 24,402; and Africa, 12,743. The statistic statement of Dr. H. K. Carroll, already referred to above, credits the Regular Baptists together with eleven branch denominations in the United States for 1906 with a membership of 5,140,770, 54,566 churches and, 38,010 ministers; Regular Baptists, North, 1,113,222; South, 1,939,563; Coloured, 1,779,969. The divisions in the bibliography correspond to the divisions of the article.

Publication information Written by N.A. Weber. Transcribed by Robert H. Sarkissian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


I. STRONG, Systematic Theology (3d ed., New York, 1890); SCHAFF, The Creeds of Christendom (New York, 1877), I, 845-859; III, 738-756; MCCLINTOCK AND STRONG, Cyclopedia of Bibl., Theol., and Eccl. Lit. (New York, 1871), I, 653-660; CATHCART. The Baptist Encyclopedia (Philadelphia, 1881). II.--(1) CROSBY, The History of the English Baptists (London, 1738-40); IVIMEY, A History of the English Baptists (London, 1811-30); TAYLOR, The History of the English General Baptists (London, 1818); ARMITAGE, A History of the Baptists (New York, 1887); VEDDER, The Baptists (New York, 1903) in the Story of the Churches Series. (2) NEWMAN, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States (4th ed., New York, 1902) in Am. Church Hist. Ser., II, bibliog., xi-xv; BURRAGE, A History of the Baptists in New England (Philadelphia, 1894); VEDDER, History of the Baptists in the Middle States (Philadelphia, 1898); SMITH, A History of the Baptists in the Western States (Philadelphia, 1900); RILEY, A History of the Baptists in the Southern States (Philadelphia, 1899). (3) NEWMAN, A century of Baptist Achievement (Philadelphia, 1901); LEHMAN, Geschichte der deutsch. Baptisten (Hamburg, 1896); SCHROEDER, History of the Swedish Baptists, (New York, 1898). III. CARROLL, The Religious Forces of the United States (New York, 1893) in Amer. Church Hist. Series, I; TYLER, The Disciples of Christ (New York, 1894) in same Series, XII, 1-162; STEWART, History of the Freewill Baptists (Dover, New Hampshire, 1862).


Jewish Viewpoint Information

A Christian denomination or sect denying the validity of infant-baptism or of any baptism not preceded by a confession of faith. Baptists and their spiritual progenitors, the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century (including the Mennonites), have always made liberty of conscience a cardinal doctrine. Balthasar Hubmaier, the Anabaptist leader, in his tract on "Heretics and Their Burners" (1524), insisted that not only heretical Christians but also Turks and Jews were to be won to the truth by moral suasion alone, not by fire or sword; yet as a Catholic, but a few years before, he had cooperated in the destruction of a Jewish synagogue in Regensburg and in the expulsion of the Jews from the city. Hans Denck and Ludwig Hetzer-among the most scholarly of the Anti-Pedobaptists of the sixteenth century, who had devoted much time to learning Hebrew and Aramaic-made, in 1527, a highly meritorious translation of the Prophets from the Hebrew text, and contemplated a mission to the Jews. Their early death prevented the execution of this purpose. The Mennonites of the Netherlands, who became wealthy during the seventeenth century, were so broad-minded and philanthropic that they made large contributions for the relief of persecuted Jews. In England, Henry Jessey, one of the most learned of the Baptist ministers of the middle decades of the seventeenth century (1645 onward), was an enthusiastic student of Hebrew and Aramaic, and an ardent friend of the oppressed Hebrews of his time.

The Seventh-Day Baptists of England and America, from the seventeenth century onward, have insisted on the perpetual obligation of Christians to observe the Jewish Sabbath, and have made this obligation the distinctive feature of their creed. Many of the Seventh-Day Adventists, especially those that practise believers' baptism, have still more in common with Judaism than have the Seventh-Day Baptists proper, and their ideas of the Messianic Kingdom are in many respects Jewish. The colony of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams and John Clarke-the former for a time and the latter throughout his life connected with the Baptists-on the principle of liberty of conscience for all. Jews early availed themselves of the privileges thus offered, and became influential citizens. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, Baptists were foremost in the struggle for civil and religious liberty throughout the British colonies (United States); and to Baptists was due, in large measure, the provision in the United States Constitution against religious tests of any kind.

Joseph Jacobs, A. H. Newman
Jewish Encyclopedia

Bibliography: Newman, A History of Anti-Pedobaptism, 1897; Brons, Ursprung, Entwickelung, und Schicksale der Taufgesinnten oder Mennoniten, 1884; Keller, Ein Apostel der Wiedertäufer (Joh. Denck), 1882; Müller, Gesch. der Bernishen Täufer, 1895; Ivimey, Hist. of the English Baptists, 1811-18; Oscar S. Straus, Roger Williams, 1894; A. H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, 2d ed., 1898.J. A. H. N.

Also, see:

London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
Westminster Confession of Faith text. London Confession - Text
Westminster Confession of Faith
New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833

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