Baptists You Should Know
I. Early Shapers of Baptist Tradition
A. England (Home of Baptists)
1. John Smyth (1570 – c. August 28, 1612) was an early Baptist minister of England and a defender of the principle of religious liberty. Many historians consider John Smyth as a founder of the modern Baptist denomination Smyth was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1594 in England. Soon after his ordination, he broke with the Church of England and left for Holland where he and his small congregation began to study the Bible ardently. He briefly returned to England and Baptists become known as Separatists.
First, Smyth insisted that true worship was from the heart and that any form of reading from a book in worship was an invention of sinful man. Second, Smyth introduced a twofold church leadership, that of pastor and deacon. Third, with his newfound position on baptism, a whole new concern arose for these “Baptists”. Having been baptized as infants, they all realized that they would have to be re-baptized. Since there was no other minister to administer baptism, Smyth baptized himself and then proceeded to baptize his flock.
Before his death, Smyth moved away from his Baptist views and began trying to bring his flock into the Mennonite church. Although he died before this happened, most of his congregation did join themselves with the Mennonite church after his death. This brought about a separation between Smyth and a group led by Thomas Helwys. The churches that descended from Smyth and Helwys were of the General Baptist persuasion.
2. Thomas Helwys, (c. 1575 – c. 1616), was one of the joint founders of the Baptist denomination. In the early 17th century, Helwys was principal formulator of that distinctively Baptist request: that the church and the state be kept separate in matters of law, so that individuals might have a freedom of religious conscience.
Thomas Helwys was an advocate of religious liberty at a time when to hold to such views could be dangerous. He died in prison, a consequence the religious persecution of Protestant dissenters under King James I.
Thomas Helwys (c.1570-c.1616). In 1609, while living in Amsterdam, Holland, Helwys helped found the first Baptist church after he and John Smyth embraced the principle of believer’s baptism. In 1611, Helwys returned to his native England and formed the first Baptist church on English soil. He then wrote A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity, considered by many historians to be one of the earliest pleas for liberty of conscience to be published in English. Soon after the book’s publication, he was imprisoned in Newgate Prison, where he died sometime around 1616.
B. UNITED STATES
Roger Williams (c.1603-1684). A Separatist minister who arrived in America in 1631, Williams clashed early and often with Puritan leaders. He was forced to flee to an area outside the Massachusetts Bay colony, where he founded the settlement of Providence. In 1638, Williams embraced Baptist beliefs and founded the first Baptist church in America. A few short months later, Williams abandoned his Baptist convictions, but he continues to be heralded as the founder of the Baptist movement in America.
Roger Williams (December 21, 1603–April 1, 1683) was an English theologian, a notable proponent of religious toleration and the separation of church and state, and an advocate for fair dealings with Native Americans. In 1644, he received a charter creating the colony of Rhode Island, named for the principal island in Narragansett Bay. He is credited for originating either the first or second Baptist church established in America.
The first idea—that the magistrate should not punish religious infractions—meant that the civil authority should not be the same as the ecclesiastical authority. The second idea—that people should have freedom of opinion on religious matters—he called “soul-liberty.” Toward the close of his ministry at Plymouth, Williams’ views began to place him in conflict with other members of the colony.
In June 1636, Williams arrived at the present site of Providence, Rhode Island. Friends and neighbors” (several settlers had joined him from Massachusetts since the beginning of spring). Williams’ settlement was based on a principle of equality. Thus a government unique in its day was created—a government expressly providing for religious liberty and a separation between civil and ecclesiastical authority (church and state). It should be noted that Roger Williams was only briefly a part of the Baptist faith.
About March 1639, Williams was baptized by Holliman and immediately proceeded to baptize Holliman and eleven others. Thus was constituted a Baptist church which still survives as the First Baptist Church in America. At about the same time, John Clarke, Williams’ compatriot in the cause of religious freedom in the New World, established a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island. “There is much debate over the centuries as to whether the Providence or Newport church deserved the place of ‘first’ Baptist congregation in America. Exact records for both congregations are lacking.”
II. Defenders of Freedom (other than Mr. Roger Williams)
A. John Leland (1754-1841). For nearly seventy years, Leland pastored and preached in Baptist churches, but his most remarkable contribution was as a spokesman for religious liberty. Through his preaching, writing, and advocacy work, Leland worked tirelessly to ensure that religious freedom would be guaranteed to all Americans. Spokesman for Religious liberty. Argues that every man should be free and accountable to God. Wanted written guarantees for religious liberty in the constitution. It is said that after discussing this with James Madison he supported Madison. Madison introduced the Bill of Rights.
B. John Waller-
imprisoned for preaching in VA. First recorded imprisonment of Baptists in VA. Citizens gathered around cell to hear him preach and this embarrassed authorities so they let him go.
C. Isaac Backus-
Some regard him as the best spokesperson for religious freedom. Applied Roger Williams arguments to the freedom struggle in the 18th century. He argued that government should leave religion alone. He was against taxes collected for churches. He also was arrested.
D. Obadiah Holmes-
arrested for preaching in MA in 1651 and found guilty and whipped for it.
III. Baptist Missionaries
William Carey (August 17, 1761 – June 9, 1834) was an English Protestant missionary and Baptist minister, known as the “father of modern missions.” Carey was one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society. As a missionary in the Danish colony, Serampore, India, he translated the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages and dialects. He also has at least three colleges named after him, Carey Theological College, Carey Baptist College, and William Carey University (Hattiesburg, Mississippi).
He taught himself Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and French, often reading while working on his shoes. Somehow he managed to retain information while working.
- Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon (December 12, 1840 – December 24, 1912) was a Southern Baptist missionary to China with the Foreign Mission Board who spent nearly forty years (1873-1912) helping the Chinese. As a teacher and evangelist she laid a foundation for traditionally solid support for missions among Baptists in America. She spoke numerous languages: Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish. She was also fluent in reading Hebrew. Later, she would become expert at Chinese.
Lottie Moon has come to personify the missionary spirit for Southern Baptists and many other Christians, as well. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Missions has raised a total of $1.5 billion for missions since 1888, and finances half the entire Southern Baptist missions budget every year.
C. Annie Armstrong (1850-1938). In 1888, Armstrong helped to found the Woman’s Missionary Union, an organization that helped to support and encourage Southern Baptist mission work. She was elected as the WMU’s first corresponding secretary and continued in that position until 1906. Throughout her life, Armstrong served as a strong advocate for missions, mission funding, and mission education. Annie Armstrong died in 1938, and her tombstone reads, “She hath done what she could.”
D. Alma Hunt (1909-2008), was a Virginia born world renown Baptist leader, having served 26 years as WMU National Executive Director and in retirement she was a national and international missions advocate. Her sacrificial service continued to be an example for all Virginia Baptists to emulate. Thus, the State Missions Offering of Virginia was named in her honor in 1998.
E. Lott Carey, when the former slave, Lott Carey, announced that he was going to Africa as a missionary, his employers at a Virginia tobacco warehouse offered him a $200 a year annual increase if he would stay on his job. In the 1820s that was good money. But Lott turned it down; he wanted to go where his color would not hamper his service, and was eager to preach the Gospel in Africa.
F. Adoniram (1788-1850) and Ann Judson (1789-1826), in 1812, the Judsons sailed to India to serve as foreign missionaries for the Congregational denominational. En route, the Judsons adopted the Baptist interpretation of believer’s baptism. Their new convictions forced them to break ties with the Congregationalists and to seek the endorsement of Baptists in America, who quickly pledged their support. Thus, the Judsons became the first American Baptist foreign missionaries. In late 1812, the Judsons traveled to Burma, where they produced a Burmese dictionary, began translating scripture into Burmese, and sought to win converts. Ann died in 1826, but because of her letters and great courage, she attracted the attention of American Baptists and gained much support for mission work. Adoniram continued the work, and at his death, he left a flourishing Burmese church of 7,000 members with more than 100 national ministers.
IV. Baptist Preachers
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, commonly C.H. Spurgeon, (June 19, 1834 – January 31, 1892) was a British Reformed Baptist preacher who remains highly influential amongst Christians of different denominations, among whom he is still known as the “Prince of Preachers.” He also founded the charity organization now known as Spurgeon’s, that works worldwide with families and children, as well as a famous theological college which after his death was called after him: Spurgeon’s College. His sermons were translated into many languages in his lifetime.
- Billy Graham (1918- ), during the 1940s, Graham began his long career as an evangelist, preaching on the radio, touring the country, and conducting crusades. In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association with a team of evangelists and musicians. Graham never emphasized his denominational affiliation, but he holds membership in a Baptist church and has been a frequent speaker at Baptist convention meetings and the Baptist World Alliance. His passion for evangelism and his preaching style have influenced numerous Baptists around the world.
V. Other Interesting Baptists
A. Clarence Jordan (July 29, 1912 – October 29, 1969), a farmer and New Testament Greek scholar, was the founder of Koinonia Farm, a small but influential religious community in southwest Georgia and the author of the Cotton Patch translations of the New Testament. He was also instrumental in the founding of Habitat for Humanity. He be gone now,” reflected a neighbor in 1980, “but his footprint still here”.
B. E. Y. Mullins (1860-1928), during the early twentieth century when Baptists struggled with controversies over evolution and fundamentalism, Mullins served as a denominational leader and a statesman. He became the principal theologian of Southern Baptists and published numerous books on Baptist doctrines. During his career, Mullins pastored both Northern and Southern Baptist churches and taught systematic theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for thirty years. He also served as the president of Southern Seminary (1899-1928), as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1921-1924), and as president of the Baptist World Alliance (1923-1928).
C. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), an American German Baptist educator and pastor, Rauschenbusch served as the theologian of the Social Gospel movement. He provided a biblical and theological defense of Christian social responsibility and challenged Christians to deal with the social problems of the day—poverty, unemployment, crime, urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. Throughout his life, Rauschenbusch advocated a gospel that did not separate the personal and social dimensions of faith.
D. Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934), a social activist and pioneering reformer, Montgomery served as the first woman member of school board in Rochester, New York, and as the first president of the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union. As a Baptist, Montgomery was elected in 1920 as the first woman to serve as president of the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Churches, USA). In 1924, she became the first woman to prepare an English translation of the Greek New Testament, which was published by the American Baptist Publication Society.
E. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), as a Civil Rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s, King worked for desegregation of public accommodations and voter education and registration of African Americans. As a Baptist, he served as pastor of two influential Baptist churches, was the first African American minister to address a meeting of the American Baptist Convention, was active in the Northern Baptist Convention, and assisted in 1961 in the founding of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.