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Baptists in the United Kingdom

The baptism on confession of faith of those above the age of majority, and by immersion, has been a feature of Christian practice from New Testament times. The origin of Christian Baptism is to be found within the Judaic practice of proselyte baptism via the ministry of John the Baptist, including the baptism of Jesus. Tertullian (c.155 - 225) expresses his preference for the Baptism of adults and from the time of Hippolytus (c.170 - 235) to around 800 CE the church in Rome required those to be baptized to undergo a three year period of instruction in the faith. The practice of baptising households as in 1Cor 1v.16 & Acts 16v.15, assuming this to include infants, and perhaps more importantly the development of the doctrine of original sin meant that the practice of infant baptism grew and its theology was developed.

The origins of the modern Baptist movement are to be found in the European radical reformation of the early sixteenth century.Small groups grew up known as Anabaptists. Amongst other things these early groups only baptized believers on confession of faith holding that this was the New Testament pattern. They believed in the separation of church and state, religious liberty, and almost all were avowedly pacifist.

In the early years of the seventeenth century a small group of people left the oppression of Great Britain to seek religious freedom in Amsterdam. They formed themselves into a church under the leadership of John Smyth (c.1554 - 1612) and Thomas Helwys, here they came under the influence of churches in the Mennonite tradition (an Anabaptist group named after Menno Simons 1496 - 1561), receiving believers baptism. In 1611 Thomas Helwys led the group back from Holland. Helwys was the author of 'The Mistery of Iniquity', the first English printed book to plead for full religious freedom. In this work Helwys argued for state and religion to be separated and argued for freedom of religion for all, specifically including in this Islamic, Judaic, and atheistic belief.

The successors of Helwys and his friends became known as the General Baptists. They were Arminian in theology and their church order was independent, with the appointment of inter-congregational officials known as 'Messengers'.In 1633 a group connected with a Calvinistic Separatist church in London broke away on adopting believer's baptism. This was the origin of the Particular Baptists. They remained Calvinistic in theology but their church order was of the independent type.

The first Baptist church in Wales was founded in 1649 at Ilston, near Swansea. Baptists had founded work in Ireland by the mid seventeenth century and Scotland by the mid eighteenth century. In the wake of the evangelical revival a 'New Connexion' of evangelical General Baptists was formed in 1770. The Particular Baptists also began to become more evangelical in the late eighteenth century, and as a result the Baptist Missionary Society was formed in 1792.

Over the nineteenth century the majority of Baptist Churches began to move closer together, the Particular Baptists forming their first Union in 1812 and reforming in 1831.The General and Particular Baptists came together to form a new Union in 1891. This became what is today the Baptist Union of Great Britain, over time individual congregations have joined the Union and in 1993 the 'Old Baptist Union' became part of the BUGB as an association of Churches. The BUGB is the largest Baptist grouping in the UK, having over 2,100 churches and around 160,000 members. There are other unions in the UK, e.g. The Baptist Union of Wales and Baptist Union of Scotland, as well as smaller groupings e.g. the Strict Baptists of the Grace Baptist Assembly, and many independent churches of Baptist practice.

Congregations of the Baptist Union of Great Britain are autonomous Churches governed by the Church meeting, a gathering in which all the members of the church are entitled to speak and vote. These Churches come together with others in regional associations with regional ministry, in addition to the national denominational structure. Most are open churches welcoming the baptized of other denominations without requiring 're-baptism', and almost all are 'open table' churches welcoming 'all who love the Lord' to partake at communion.

The Baptist denomination is found in many nations and forms one of the largest church groupings in the world, linked in the fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance formed in 1905.

The Declaration of Principle of the Baptist Union of Great Britain

The basis of the Union is:

  1. That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His Laws.
  2. That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who 'died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third day'.
  3. That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.

Five Core Values

At the end of the 1990's the Baptist Union of Great Britain went through a process of consultation and reflection. As part of its work it produced a document called 'Five Core Values for a Gospel People'. These were summerised as.

A Prophetic Community

An Inclusive Community

A Sacrificial Community

A Missionary Community

A Worshipping Community

Some of the better known Baptists include:

John Bunyan (1628 - 88)
writer of Pilgrims Progress amongst over sixty works.
William Carey (1761 - 1834)
Missionary, Linguist and Educator
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 - 92)
Walter Rauschenbusch (1861 - 1918)
Theologian, 'Social Gospel' pioneer
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878 - 1969)
Minister, Theologian and Writer
Vernon Johns (1892 - 1965)
Preacher, Civil Rights Activist, and Farmer
Billy Graham (1918 - )
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968)
Civil Rights and Social Activist


Regarding Baptist history try:

Individual congregations addresses are found on the BUGB site and also at:

For some perspectives from the USA try:

Gareth Dyer