many Baptists as being the father of the
modern day Baptist
movement - 1554 to 1612
| The Baptists
owe much to John Smyth. His life was one of objective Bible study which
led him to formalize Baptist theology. In fact, our church polity
and traditions find their roots as a result of Smyth's early influence
on the Anabaptists.
Having earned his masters
from Christ's College inCambridge, England, Smyth's life was one of challenging
the established religion of his day. He was very passionate about
|Biblical truth. As a result, he
could not agree with the Canon of 1604 which resulted in the Bishop of
Lincoln depriving him of being able to preach. Therefore, he was
not able to make a living as a pastor. He made his way to Gainsborough-on-Trent
where he met Richard Clyfton, an ordained clergyman who had also been deprived
of his congregation for the same reason. Clyfton attempted to start
a separatist church in the area and was successful in doing so in 1606.
The congregation experienced
rapid growth and became a security risk due to the incursion of state church
authorities. As a result, the decision was made to segment the church.
Clyfton moved on to Scrooby with the new congregations, leaving the original
group under the charge of an elder. Consequently, Smyth was elected
to be the new minister
In the meantime, the Archbishop
of York was seeking out separatist clergy and congregations. Those
he found would be fined and jailed. By 1607, the two congregations
were forced to make a decision to relocate in Holland where they would
come together again as a single organization under other leadership than
Smyth's. This country was a major refuge for English Separatists.
It's capital, Amsterdam, was the home of several dissidant congregations.
However, by the end of 1609,
Smyth than proceeded to establish the Second English Exiled Church in Amsterdam
under his own leadership. By then, he was much appreciated
for his Bible-centered preaching. The congregation experienced exceptional
growth and became well established in that city.
In the meantime, Smyth was
theologically challenged by a major Separatist concern of that day.
The question of what constituted valid baptism prompted him to perform
his own baptism due to his rejection of infant baptism still practiced
by the Church of England. Upon coming into contact with a local group
of Anabaptists which baptized professing adults only by immersion, his
search for the Scriptural form was over. As a result, he was baptized
and then led his congregation to do the same.
The Anabaptists also influenced
Smyth and his followers to shed their Calvinistic predestination views
in favor of a more Armeniasitic theology that favored universal salvation
to all who believe. However, his new beliefs distanced him from some
of his brethren who refused to fellowship with him any longer.
In a relatively short period
of time (1607-1612), John Smyth was used of God to establish what would
become the foundational distinctives for Baptist congregations. His
influence is still felt to this day in that all Baptists can trace themselves
back to his ministry; a single man who stood in the gap of church history
and formulated what would become a moving force for centuries to come.