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Often considered a product of the Protestant Reformation, the Anabaptists came about at the same time as the Protestant churches, but its early leaders came from Catholicism, not Protestantism. The Anabaptists rejoiced in the work being done by early Protestant leaders but considered theirs to be a halfway reformation. In actuality, the Anabaptists were the product of the Radical Reformation, which came about at the same time, and for the same reasons as the Protestant Reformation, and Anabaptists were persecuted by Catholics and Protestants alike. The Anabaptist movement began in three different communities. The oldest of these is the Swiss Brethren, who began in 1525, and stressed unity within the group, the need for believer's baptism, and noncomfority. Persecution kept this group small. The Swiss Brethren remain today, but most of its members later joined the Mennonites. The second group began when some of the Swiss Brethren began preaching in Germany. Three groups of these Anabaptists eventually developed along cultural lines. These were the Dutch, Frisian, and Flemish. These groups became the Mennonites in the 1530s, due to the popularity of Menno Simons, who was actually rather late to Anabaptism. The third group is the Hutterian Brethren, named for Hans Hut, who preached in Germany around 1528. This group shared much of the theology of the Swiss Brethren and Anabaptists, but also emphasized the need for communal living and holding all property in common, a practice that would later catch on with other Anabaptist groups. The Hutterian Brethren has not undergone division, other than the Bruderhof, who joined them briefly on two occasions. The first significant division among Anabaptists came about in 1697, when Jacob Amman left the Swiss Brethren due to his belief in stronger church discipline. Those who followed him became the Amish. During the 19th and 20th centuries, there were several divisions, particularly among the Mennonites.

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The Anabaptist Origins of the Baptist Church


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Acknowledged as the founder of the Baptist denomination, John Smyth's connection with the Anabaptists may not be as well known. In 1594, John Smyth was ordained by Bishop Wickham, having received Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees at Christ's College in Cambridge, and selected as a fellow of Christ's College, a position he held until 1598. During his time at Cambridge, he became identified with the Puritan majority at the University.

From Cambridge, Smyth was appointed as city preacher in Lincoln, a more highly esteemed position than the vicarship of a local parish. After two years as city preacher, he was declared city lecturer for life, yet only five weeks later, this action was revoked. Coming out on the wrong side of a political struggle, Smyth was relieved of his duties on October 13, 1602. At this time, he had not become a Separatist, but was a Puritan who was intolerant of other beliefs.

Following his dismissal, he moved to Gainsborough, where he supported himself and his family by practicing medicine. However, observing that the local vicar was receiving an income but not discharging his duties, Smyth stepped in to fill the gap. However, as he had not obtained a license from the Anglican bishop, he was severely reprimanded, and it was this reprimand that seemingly led him along the path of Separatism.

After nine months of deliberation, Smyth, along with a group of friends, with whom he consulted, created a new church, with two congregations: one at Gainsborough, under the leadership of Smyth, and the other at Scrooby, under the leadership of John Robinson, a former Puritan minister. Only a couple of years later, in 1608, the church sought refuge from persecution in Holland.

Prior to his arrival in Amsterdam, Smyth's ideas differed little from that of the Puritans, yet within a year he would introduce a revolutionary change. In late 1608 or early 1609, Smyth and his congregation reconstituted the church on the basis of believer's baptism, a step that was not taken by other Separatist groups. What brought him to lead his new congregation to take such a drastic step?

Well, it seems that Holland also served as a refuge for Anabaptists, and John Smyth made their acquaintance soon after his arrival. His small congregation was surrounded by at least three Anabaptist churches: the Flemish, the Frisons, and the Waterlanders, and he is known to have had significant contact with the latter. After some members of his flock had defected to the Anabaptists, Smyth was prompted to search the Scriptures and to reconsider his positions. As a result, his church was reconstituted on the basis of personal confessions of faith and on the baptism of believers, which were Anabaptist positions. He wrote that infants were not to be baptized because there was no example to be found in the Scriptures that infants had been baptized either by John the Baptist or Christ's disciples. As did the Anabaptists, he also cited the Great Commission as a basis for denying infant baptism. His arguments against infant baptism were identical to those offered by Anabaptists since 1524.

The influence of the Anabaptists is undeniable. In England, he had led his Separatist group to follow the Old Testament in forming his church on the basis of a covenant, which was the pattern of the Separatists. In Holland, on the basis of the New Testament, he rejected the covenant and reconstituted his church on the basis of believer's baptism, following the Anabaptist pattern.

While he initially based his actions on the authority of the New Testament rather than on Anabaptist practice, he later petitioned the Waterlander Anabaptists for admission into their fellowship, declaring his own baptism to be invalid, asking to be baptized as an Anabaptist. Most of his church accepted his lead in this, but the Waterlanders declined his petition. Led by Thomas Helwys and John Murton, a minority of Smyth's church excommunicated Smyth and the majority in 1610. This group, numbering no more than ten members, established the church from which the General Baptists of England trace their heritage. From them came the other Baptist congregations.



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