Baptists have three points of origin: The New Testament, the Protestant Reformation, and Puritan and Separatist congregations. Being over 400 years old, Baptists have always been first and foremost people of the Book, Christological in focus, passionate about religious liberty and with sharing the faith. It is because of this that Carey Theological College is named after one of the great missionaries of the 18th century, William Carey.
The first Baptists were known as general atonement Baptists, due to their belief that Christ’s death on the cross was for whosoever believed in it. Yet 30 years later the Separatists would arise, placing themselves alongside more Calvinist beliefs. Then there came the Sabbatarian Baptists, who believed in strict Sabbath laws, and the Leg of Mutton Baptists, who celebrated the Passover rituals. Though different, each group kept the Bible close, and read it closely. Baptists would grow at an exponential rate, numbering over 10,000 only 75 years after the rise of the first Baptists, and yet they all were a part of an identifiable group known as Baptists.
It is true that Baptists’ origins lie in Great Britain, but they would quickly spread beyond the border of Britain. The rise of religious persecution in England inspired many Baptists to leave for North America, seen as a place to find land, liberty, and the safety to raise a family.
The first Baptists to come to North America were English speaking, and organized on English principles. Not all Baptists were English based: Welsh congregations soon arrived in North America and were the first ethnically oriented congregation.Then German Baptist settlers arrived, followed by settlers from all over Europe and Asia. As North America became a garden of variety, so too did Baptist congregations.
How do Baptist churches come into being? What do Baptists mean when they use terms such as “meeting” or “gathering”? And who establishes these meetings: an elder, or God? This video
helps to navigate why Baptists might use different terms, and their particular historical
developments. And keep an ear out for the more interesting particulars of some early Baptist
What is the life cycle of a baptist congregation? Most Baptist congregations move through five
stages: a beginning, growth, maximum effectiveness, uncertainty, and finally to plateau, close, or blend with another congregation. But these congregations are always voluntary, never coercive. Where do Baptists stand on the Kingdom? It is a thing here, but also coming.
Imagine a contemporary Baptist congregation. What do you see? Pews, chairs, platform for
lectern, a choir, a glass partition for baptism. But these were not always the standard. Early
Baptist meetings were intimate, with everyone sharing and talking. Yet, these is consistency.
Preaching the Word, the Lord’s Supper, and Believer’s baptism are central to the life of the
congregation. These congregations would be led by a strong pastoral office, but supported by
deacons, as well as the priesthood of all believers.
How do Baptists interact beyond the local congregation? It is through association with one another (not a scriptural term, but a practical term by practical people) that Baptists form Associations, Conventions, Unions, and even the Baptist World Alliance. But none of these are superior bodies, but cooperative. They are not held together by coercion, but voluntarily.
Synonymous with the word “Baptist” is the word “Missions.” At first, Baptist mission meant sharing the gospel by an elder or pastor, and growing a congregation where a congregation had
not existed yet, usually nearby. But as the world opened up, places like Africa, China, India, and North and South America became new fields for mission work.
What relationship do Baptists have with other Christians? Baptists initially were dissenters, much like Quakers, desiring to establish religious toleration in their societies. Baptists were willing to join with other Christians in schools, mission fields, social projects, and evangelism.