Believer Baptism–A Break From Tradition

In1608, a small group of English “non-conformists” went to the Netherlands to spend time discerning God’s will for their lives. After searching the scriptures, debating key issues, and discussing with other believers, this group, now led by Thomas Helwys, determined a list of basic beliefs. These were compiled into the Helwys Confession of 1611. One point addressed Baptism.

That baptism or washing with water is the outward manifestation of dying unto sin, and walking in newness of life. And therefore in to wise appertains to infants.

To state that Baptism was only to be performed on believers was a BIG break from tradition. And then, as a further affront to the establishment, the mode soon changed from sprinkling to immersion. Baptism, being the most outwardly visible manifestation of their new beliefs, became the focal point for persecution. Roger Richards in his book The History of Southern Baptists, mentions that “Baptists felt the heavy hand of persecution, not only from Anglicans but from other groups as well…” [p 20, ebook] In England, in the 1640’s, Colonel John Hutchinson and his wife Lucy, after reading Baptist literature, began to question infant baptism. The fact that she was with pregnant at the time raised the importance of that issue in her mind. Ultimately, they turned from tradition, choosing to follow Baptist teachings. They were rejected by friends; he lost his position and died in prison.

Baptists and the Pilgrims Were “Related”

In early 17th century England, the “Non-Conformists” of Scrooby and Gainsborough met together; the towns are separated by only about 13 miles. Partly because of persecution, the two groups eventually met separately. In 1608, the Gainsborough dissenters left for the Netherlands to avoid the continual harassment by English officials…their goal was to discern the Lord’s will in their lives. Many left family in England since they planned to return. A short time later, the Scrooby dissenters joined their “brothers and sisters” in the Netherlands. Having come to different views on a number of issues, including baptism, the Scrooby group, led by John Robinson, eventually moved on to Leiden, leaving the Gainsborough believers in Amsterdam led by Thomas Helwys. John Robinson and his followers became the Pilgrims. Thomas Helwys and some 11 or 12 of his followers returned to England and started what was arguably the first Baptist church–Ye Baptist Church in Spitalfield.