A Spirituality Of The Word: The Scriptures In Early Baptist Life And Thought -- By: Michael A. G. Haykin

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 09:4 (Fall 2000)
Article: A Spirituality Of The Word: The Scriptures In Early Baptist Life And Thought
Author: Michael A. G. Haykin


A Spirituality Of The Word:
The Scriptures In Early Baptist Life And Thought

Michael A. G. Haykin

The Baptist movement emerged from the womb of British Puritanism in the early to mid-seventeenth century. The Puritans, in turn, were children of the sixteenth-century Reformation, which had sought to purify the Church of the doctrinal error, superstitions, and idolatry that had characterized Medieval Christianity. Reformation had come to England and Wales during the reign of Henry VIII (r. 1509–47), but it was not until the reign of his son Edward VI (r.1547–53), and particularly his youngest daughter Elizabeth I (r. 1559–1603), that it was placed on a firm footing. After Elizabeth I ascended the throne there was no longer any doubt that England and Wales were firmly in the Protestant orbit. The question that now came to the fore, though, was to what extent the Elizabethan church would be reformed. By the 1560s it was evident that Elizabeth was content with a church that was “Calvinistic in theology, Erastian in church order and government, and largely mediaeval in liturgy.”1

It was as a response to this ecclesiastical “settledness” that Puritanism arose, seeking to reform the Elizabethan church after the model of the churches in Protestant Switzerland, in particular those in Geneva and Zürich. In these continental churches there was a distinct attempt to include in the church’s worship only that which was explicitly commanded by Scripture. For instance, John Calvin (1509–64), one of the leading reformers in Geneva, could

declare with regard to the worship of the Church that “nothing pleases God but what he himself has commanded us in his Word.”2 Puritanism experienced such strong opposition from Elizabeth and the established church, however, that by the 1580s and 1590s a number of Puritans had come to the radical conviction that the church in England and Wales would never be fully reformed. They decided to take matters into their own hands and, “without tarrying for any,”3 separate from the state church and organize their own congregations. It was among these Separatists, as they came to be known, that believer’s baptism was rediscovered, and Baptist congregations subsequently formed in the first half of the seventeenth century.

The earliest Baptist denomination to develop was that of the General Baptists, so called because of their conviction that Christ died for all men and women. Wedded to this conviction was a firm commitment to Arminian theology. By 1630 there were five General Bapti...

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