In his work The Baptist Heritage, H. Leon McBeth lists the outgrowth of English separatism, influence of biblical Anabaptists, continuation of biblical teaching throughout the age, and organized Baptist churches throughout the ages as the four views of Baptist origin . These four origins will be briefly summarized.
In the separatism there were groups who did not think tat the church of England was a true church. Their desire for reform was a logical conclusion for separatism. They sought reasons for what they believe in the scriptures. In regards to this H. Leon McBeth writes, “one must not look to the Anabaptists but to the scriptures available in English and the desire for reform among English Christians .” There are some scholars who say that they sprang from the Anabaptists movement, but this was hotly contested by those in the Separatist movement.
Secondly, there are those who believe Baptists rose out of he influence of the Anabaptists. Anabaptist, or rebaptizers, as the term means arose during the reformation. Those that were baptized as infants were rebaptized aftert hey professed their faith. Some General baptists may have been influenced by them as they shared some similarities in belief. The beliefs held in common were believers baptism, religious liberty, separation of church and state, and Arminian views of salvation . There were also major differences as the Baptists did not want to withdraw from the world, have communal ownership of goods, or semi-pelagianism . They did pave the way for baptists by encouraging the separatists to go beyond their own movement to believers baptism.
The third origin is that of the continuation of biblical teaching through the ages. This view says that Baptists views were the views of the early church, and though not organized, were carried along from the time of Christ. H. Leon McBeth states in regards to this, “These historians seek to trace a continuation of Baptist teachings from New Testament times to the present through earlier dissenting groups .”
The fourth view of Baptist origin is that there were organized baptist churches from New Testament times until now. This view holds to a “trail of blood” theory that views other groups such as Donatists, Cathari, Waldenses and Anabaptists as the continuation of biblical Christianity. This view also states that Baptists originated with “John the Baptist, Jesus, or baptisms in the Jordan .” It is assumed that in Mathew 16:18 Jesus promises that Baptist churches will never go away, and that John the Baptist is the founder. There are variations in this group as some say that succession is essential while some do not, and some say it can be proven and some say it can not.
In my opinion the idea that separatists were the origin of Baptists is more convincing. There are four reasons why I think this and they are also the four reasons that McBeth gives in his book. The early baptists denied they were any way affiliated with the anabaptists, they denied the main features of anabaptist life, almost all of the early baptist leaders were separatists, and baptist views represent the logical summation of separatism . These four were enough to convince me, but when John Smyth attempted to move more closely towards the anabaptists the baptists rebuked him and went back to England. From historical standpoint this view makes the most sense.
1. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1987), 49.
2. Ibid, 50.
3. Ibid, 53.
4. Ibid, 53.
5. Ibid, 56.
6. Ibid, 58.
7. Ibid, 51.
McBeth, Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1987.