Founders Journal


Founders Journal 76 · Spring 2009 · p. 1

Four Hundred Years of Baptists

Tom Ascol

The popular, twentieth-century evangelist, Vance Havner used to say, "We Southern Baptists may be many, but we're not much." He had a point. Four hundred years ago things were just the opposite. Baptists were not very numerous, but they were substantive.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the origins of modern Baptists. The questions of how and when Baptists got started have provided enough fodder to sustain family feuds across all of our history no matter when you mark our beginnings. This issue of the Founders Journal not only acknowledges but celebrates the beginnings of modern Baptists in England in 1609.

John Smyth was the pastor of that first Baptist Church. His conviction about the proper subjects of baptism led him to reject paedobaptism as an error and to separate from the Puritan movement that maintained that practice. John Clarke pastored the second Baptist Church in America. His life epitomizes the Baptist convictions of liberty of conscience and proper separation of church and state. The testimonies of these two Baptist leaders are reviewed in the article by Tom Nettles.

Tom Hicks writes about Benjamin Keach, who lived and served as a Particular Baptist pastor in the latter part of the 17th century. Though Baptists have been a separate people, as Keach demonstrates, they have been far from cultic. Embedded into the Baptist DNA is a solid commitment to evangelical essentials. Those who renounce such essentials in the name of being Baptist are in reality denying the very heritage to which they unjustly lay claim.

The issue concludes with an article by Ben Mitchell that provides an overview of the life of Patrick Hues Mell. Mell was a 19th-century Southern Baptist leader who was so highly esteemed by his fellow Southern Baptists that he was elected to serve as president of the convention for 17 years. He typifies the kind of leaders to which the SBC looked in her formative years.

In North America, especially in the South, the people known as Baptist are experiencing something of a theological and spiritual renewal. In His grace God is rekindling biblical convictions and concerns that once clearly defined the Baptists. As we move into the 5th century of our existence may luminaries from the past help point the way forward into healthy streams of apostolic Christianity.