The Baptist churches born out of the 17th century Reformation based their beliefs on the importance of baptism for believers, the sacrifice of Jesus, the ability of individuals to interpret Scripture and have a relationship with God. They also believe in the need for congregations separate from government interference, says American Baptist Churches USA.
Here are six significant events in the history of the Baptist Church:
1. Early Baptist church, in the 1600s, took off in Holland, "where religious toleration was much greater than in England," says ABC USA. John Smyth led the first congregation and Thomas Helwys returned to England from Holland to establish a church there. Significant in the beginnings of this church were the belief that Baptists could follow Calvinism, which believed in predestination, and Arminianism, which believed salvation came from free will. Calvinism was inclined to dominate the Baptist theology until the late 18th century.
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2. Roger Williams, who had been a member of the Church of England, created the first Baptist Church in the United States around 1638, according to ABC USA. Another Baptist Church in a different community was founded around the same time by John Clarke.
3. The modern missionary movement was considered started by British pastor William Carey in the late 1700s. But even before Carey served as a missionary in India, beginning around 1793, the "first Baptist to evangelize in a foreign country was George Lisle, a freed slave and first ordained black in America, who sailed from Georgia to establish churches in Jamaica in the 1770s," says ABC USA.
4. By 1790, there were 35 Baptist associations and 750 churches in the United States, with about 60,000 members. "The Baptist tradition would see massive growth in the United States during the Great Awakening in the mid-18th century, followed by an increased interest and effort in foreign missions," according to Patheos Library.
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5. A significant event in Baptist history in the U.S. was the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Differences evolved within the Baptist Church in the north and south.
6. The Baptist Church's well-known move toward social justice occurred in the mid-1950s. Much is attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership, although not all Baptists agreed with King. Others in the church were also known for their social justice focus, "Walter Rauschenbusch, a New York Baptist with a warm evangelical faith, was the father of the Social Gospel in America," reports Baptist History.
"Before he died in 1918, he had advocated, among other things, social reform of poverty and economic injustice based upon biblical and theological principles. Likewise, the Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, has put much of its energy and effort in the struggle for human rights around the world. No Baptist, however, has been the cheerleader for justice as was Martin Luther King Jr."
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