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Baptists

History of the Baptist Churches

In Holland a group of English separatists, led by John Smyth, came under Mennonite influence and formed c.1608 in Amsterdam the first English Baptist congregation. Smyth baptized first himself, then the others. In 1611 certain members of this congregation returned to London and established a church there. This was the first of the churches afterward known as General Baptists, since they held the Arminian belief that the atonement of Jesus is not limited to the elect only but is general.

In 1633 the Particular Baptists were founded. They were a group whose Calvinistic doctrine taught that atonement is particular or individual. Immersion was not yet insisted upon in these churches, but in 1644 seven Particular Baptist churches issued a confession of faith requiring that form of baptism, and Baptist was thenceforth the name given to those who practiced it. In 1891, General and Particular Baptists united into a single body called the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

In America it was Baptists of the Particular type that first gained influence among the Puritans and Calvinists, when Roger Williams and his companions in Rhode Island rejected infant baptism and established a church in 1639 based on the individual profession of faith. Baptists were later persecuted in New England for opposing infant baptism, and one group emigrated c.1684 from Maine to Charleston, S.C. A group of Separate Congregationalists from New England under Shubael Stearns and Daniel Marshall established (1755) the Separate Baptists in Sandy Creek, N.C.

In the Southeast the General Baptist views found acceptance, but the stricter Calvinistic ideas suited the pioneers who settled the southern mountains after the Revolution. Their opposition to mission work gave them the name Anti-Mission. They were also called Hard Shell or Primitive Baptists.

Early missionary activity extended the Baptist movement to the Continent and elsewhere. In the United States the American Baptist Missionary Union (under a longer title) was formed in 1814 to support workers in foreign lands. In 1832 the American Baptist Home Mission Society was organized. When the question of slavery became a dividing wall, the Southern Baptist Convention was established (1845).

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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