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Ann Cooper, 2002
History of The Baptist Church

John The Baptist.

The primary sources of information on John the Baptist are in the Bible, New Testament, the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the Acts of the Apostles.

All four gospels recognise John as the start of the Christian Era, and each in its own way tries to reconcile John's precedence in time and Jesus' acceptance of his message and of a baptism of repentance from his hands. (Suggesting Jesus' subordination to John.)

Mark presents Jesus as the hidden Messiah and John as the prophet Elijah returned.

John was born in Judea to Zachariah, a priest of the order of Abijah and his wife Elizabeth, who may have been related to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

His early life was spent in the desert and in 27/28 or 28/29 AD he attracted public notice, not as a priest but as a prophet. He was active in the region of the lower Jordan Valley, from Aenon, near Salim to a point east of Jericho. He fed on locusts and wild honey.

His mission was addressed to all ranks of Jewish society. His message was that God's wrathful judgement on the world was imminent and that, to prepare for this judgement the people should repent of their sins, be baptised and produce appropriate fruits of repentance. Scholars have had problems with the meaning of John's message, whether God was to come himself or whether a human messiah or a transcendent divine being.

John had an inner circle of disciples, as most of the prophets of the time did and baptism was not an admission rite into the group. It was a rite (immersion in running water) that symbolised repentance in preparation for the coming world of judgement and was to be accompanied, before and afterwards by a righteous life. It was hardly conceived as a sacrament, in the Christian sense of conveying forgiveness.

John baptised Jesus and soon after was imprisoned and executed by Herod of Antipas, ruler of Galilee and central Transjordan. His crime was that he denounced Herods illegal marriage to Herodias, the divorced wife of his half brother, afterdivorcing his first wife.

British Baptist History

Some Baptists believe that there has been an unbroken succession of Baptist Churches from the days of John the Baptist and the Apostles of Christ. Others trace their origins to the Anabaptists, a 16th Century Protestant movement. Most scholars however argue that Baptists as an English speaking denomination originated within the 17th Century Puritanism as an offshoot of Congregationalism.

There were two groups in early Baptist life, the Particular Baptists and the General Baptists.

The difference in belief was that the Particulars adhered to the doctrine of a particular atonement - that Christ died only for an elect - and they were strongly Calvinistic in orientation. Whilst the Generals held the doctrine of a general atonement - that Christ died for all people and not for an elect - and represented a more moderate view.

Although the Particular Baptists were to represent the major continuing Baptist tradition, the General Baptists were first to appear. In 1608, religious persecution induced a group of Lincolnshire Separatists, who had broken away from the Church of England, to seek asylum in Holland. One contingent settled in Amsterdam with John Smyth, a Cambridge graduate as their Minister and another group moved to Leiden under John Robinson.

The General Baptists trace their beginnings in Britain to the Baptist Church founded in London in about 1611, by Thomas Helwys and his followers. This group had returned from Amsterdam and followed the beliefs of their original leader John Smyth, who, by studying the New Testament decided that only believers should be baptised. Eventually this branch became, in 1770, The New Connection General Baptists, who had been influenced by the Methodist revival, led by John Wesley.

The Particular Baptists Church, established in 1638 by two groups, who, in 1633 and 1638, left an independent church (Established by Henry Jacob in Southwark.) in London, under the leadership of John Spilsbury. These people followed the doctrine that only believers (not infants) should be baptised, but still held the belief of particular atonement - that Christ died only for the elect. They grew more rapidly to start with but subsequently slowed as they emphasised their doctrine of salvation only for the elect, and did not work to gain new members.

After 1750 they were influenced by the Methodist movement and new interest in evangelism, through the leadership of William Carey, the English Baptist Missionary Society was organised in 1792.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland was organised originally in 1813 by the Particular Baptists and in 1891 the New Connection General Baptist merged into the Baptist Union.

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