Baptists, Protestant Christians who accept the basic doctrine of the 16th-century Reformation but have added other beliefs and practices, including baptism of believers by immersion only, the separation of Church and state, and the autonomy of the local church. The Baptists are important for their emphasis on these and other beliefs and for their numbers.
The history of the Baptist Church is traced to the early days of the Protestant Reformation-specifically, the division of the Reformation. John Smyth and Thomas Helwys founded the first Baptist church on Dutch soil at Amsterdam in 1609. Smyth returned to England and there in 1611 or 1612, he led a small group of Christians in establishing the first Baptist church on English soil, at Spitalsfield, near London. As they grew in number, English Baptists came to be divided between General Baptists and Particular Baptists. Roger Williams, an English Puritan clergyman, founded the first Baptist church in America at Providence, Rhode Island, 1639.
About the same time, John Clarke established a Baptist congregation at Newport, Rhode Island. Baptist growth increased in the 18th century. Later in the same century, the Baptists eagerly supported the American War of Independence and therefore became more popular. In the 19th century the Baptists, split over the issue of slavery, lead to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. In 1907 the northern Baptists formed the Northern Baptist Convention.
Before the Reformation, the major divisions within Christianity were between those who accepted the Council of Chalcedon and those who did not. The Protestant Reformation was the conclusion of forces that had been calling for reform within the Western church for centuries. The consequence was an explosive breakage of Christian groups. One of the main streams of the Protestant Reformation is the Reformed Calvinist, Baptist Church.
The structures of...