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Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today
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John Smyth and the Baptist Church
How did the Baptist Church begin?
For many years after Henry VIII's reformation of the Church of England, the people with political power had strong control over religious worship. There were people, however, who wanted to do what they believed God was telling them in the Bible, rather than what the king's officials told them. One such man was John Smyth. Smyth believed that baptism by immersion – having your whole body covered by water - should be the basis of church belief.
He travelled to Amsterdam, where he and his friend Thomas Helwys baptised each other by pouring water over their heads. They founded their church in 1609 and later practiced baptism by full immersion. The first Baptist Church was opened in Spitalfields, London in 1612.
The Baptist Church as we know it today started from the belief that the things taught by the early apostles in the New Testament should be more important than any 'government or established' teaching of the Church. In other words, no king, queen or parliament should rule the Church - only God's word, the Bible could.
Some Baptists paid dearly for holding to this belief and were killed for their beliefs. It was Oliver Cromwell who first allowed Baptists greater freedom and influence. By the 17th century, many Baptist churches had been established, particularly in London.