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John Smyth

How did the Baptist movement begin?

The earliest Baptist Church is thought to have been founded in Holland around 1608 or 1609. Its chief founder was John Smyth, an ordained Anglican priest. Soon after his ordination, his zeal landed him in prison for refusal to conform to the teachings and practices of the Church of England. He was an outspoken man who was quick to challenge others about their beliefs. Smyth continually argued with the Church of England until it became obvious that he could no longer stay a member of it. He finally broke totally from them and became a “Separatist”.

In 1609, Smyth, along with a group in Holland, came to believe in the importance of believer’s baptism rather than infant baptism that was the norm for the time. They came together to form the first “Baptist” church. 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. Prayer, singing and preaching had to be completely spontaneous. He went so far with this that he would not allow the reading of the Bible during worship “since he regarded English translations of Scripture as something less than the direct word of God.”

Smyth also introduced a twofold church leadership, that of Pastor and Deacon.  With his new-found position on baptism a problem arose for these “Baptists”. Having been baptized as infants, they all realised that they would have to be re-baptized. Since there was no other minister to perform these baptisms, Smyth first baptised himself and then went on to baptise the members of his church.

Before his death, Smyth abandoned 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.

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