The Baptists: Did You Know?
Baptists were at first erroneously called the “Anabaptists” because they called for believer’s baptism. and their enemies wanted to associate them with the behavior of the sixteenth-century Münster radicals.
As of 1985 there are over 45 million Baptists in over 175 groups worldwide. In the United States alone there are over 30 recognized groups claiming the name “Baptist.” Together they form the largest category outside of the Roman Catholics.
One of the reasons why King James I called for a new version of the Bible was to put an end to the use of the Geneva Bible, which the king felt contained translations that led to political criticisms of his authority by the Baptists and Independents!
The first Baptist college was founded at Bristol, England in 1679. Graduates of Bristol helped to found the College of Rhode Island (now Brown University), in 1764, the oldest Baptist college in the United States.
Harvard College president, Henry Dunster, was fired from his position in 1654 and his house confiscated because of his Baptist beliefs!
Baptists do not celebrate the sacraments as many other Christians do. Instead, the two ordinances, the Lord’s Supper and believer’s baptism, are administered. Many Baptists also practice a service of infant dedication but without the use of water.
Most early Baptists preferred to be baptized in “living waters,” that is, water that flows in a river or stream as opposed to water in a pond or baptistry.
In the Baptist tradition each church has a preacher. There are no bishops or superintendents. The leader is bishop, shepherd, elder, and pastor. The congregation calls the leader and may terminate the leader’s services.
Some churches may form groups or clusters for fellowship, service, and/or advice. Baptists call these associations conventions, connections, or fellowships. Such groups have no power over individual congregations.
Baptists helped in the founding of the colony of Liberia. Lott Carey, a Virginia Baptist and a former slave, was the first missionary there. A century and a half later, Liberian president William Tolbert was elected the first Black president of the Baptist World Alliance. He was assassinated in 1982.
It is impossible to generalize about Baptists. Some hold to the doctrine of general atonement; others to a limited view. Some practice open Communion; othersclosed. Some are ecumenical; others are not. Some ordain ministers; others do not. Some allow musical instruments in worship services; others only singing.
The largest group of Black Christians in the United States are Baptist. In three major groups, Black Baptists total almost 15 million!
By the Editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #6 in 1985]
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The Baptists were born out of a century of turmoil in Englandthe Editors
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Believer's baptism by immersion was no insignificant step.the Editors
John Bunyan, one of the most famous Baptists of them all.the Editors
Five key convictions that have been essential to Baptists from their beginnings.the Editors