By Bill Lavender
“A Short History Of The Baptists” by Henry C. Vedder, printed by “The American Baptist Publication Society,” Philadelphia, 1892, has undergone many printings since, but is little known and little read among Baptists. Vedder was a faithful Baptist, but many Baptists did not like the truth he told about their history. A few statements from this book will show our readers why this is so. Please read:
“The word Baptists, as the descriptive name of a body of Christians, was first used in English literature, so far as is now known, in the year 1644. The name was not chosen by themselves, but was applied to them by their opponents. In the First Confession of Faith issued by the Particular Baptists in 1644, the churches that published the document described themselves `as commonly, (but unjustly) called Anabaptists.’ While they repudiated the name Anabaptist, they did not for some time claim the new name of Baptists, seeming to prefer `Baptized believers,’ or, as in the Assembly’s Confession of 1654, `Christians baptized upon profession of their faith.’ . . . The name Baptists seems to have been first publicly used by one of the body in 1654, when Mr. William Britten published `The Moderate Baptist.’ The first official use of the name is in `The Baptist Catechism’ issued by the authority of the assembly . . .
“For the fact that the name Baptist comes into use at this time and in this way, but one satisfactory explanation has been proposed: it was at this time that English churches first held, practiced, and avowed those principals ever since associated with that name. There had been no such churches before, and hence there was no need of the name. . .
“A history of Baptist churches cannot be carried, by the scientific method, farther back than the year 1611, when the first Anabaptist church consisting wholly of Englishmen was founded in Amsterdam by John Smyth, the Se-Baptist (self-baptizer, BC). This was not, strictly speaking, a Baptist church, but it was the direct progenitor of churches in England that a few years later became Baptist, and therefore the history begins there … .A History of Baptist churches going farther back than the early years of the seventeenth century would, therefore, in the present state of knowledge, be in the highest degree unscientific. The very attempt to write such a history now would be a confession of crass ignorance, either of the facts as known, or of the methods of historical research and the principles of historical criticism, or of both . . .
“To Baptists, indeed, of all people, the question of tracing their history or remote antiquity should appear nothing more than in interesting study. Our theory of the church as deduced from the Scriptures requires no outward and visible succession from the apostles. If every church of Christ were today to become apostate, it would be possible and right for any true believers to organize tomorrow another church on the apostolic model of faith and practice, and that church would have the only succession worth having – a succession of faith in the Lord Christ and obedience to him. . .
“This church potentially existed from the day when two disciples of John the Baptist followed Jesus and believed on him as the Messiah (John 1:35-40); but of actual existence as an organized society of believes during the life of Jesus no trace appears in the four Gospels. The day of Pentecost marks the beginning of the definite, organic life of the followers of Christ… Not only did this multitude hear the word and believe, but on the same day they were `added to the church,’ which can only mean that they were baptized . . . . Hence the New Testament churches consisted only of those who were believed to be regenerated by the Spirit of God, and had been baptized on a personal confession of faith in Christ. What was done on the day of Pentecost seems to have been the rule throughout the apostolic period: the baptism of the convert immediately followed his conversion. It is a distinct departure from New Testament precedent to require converts to postpone their baptism . . .
“The church universal is not regarded in the Epistles as a visible and organized body, but is wholly spiritual, incorporeal, corresponding essentially to the idea of the kingdom of God taught in the Gospels. The only visible and organized body of Christians recognized by the New Testament writers was the local assembly or congregation. In other words, the apostles knew nothing of a Church; they knew only churches.”
These quotations frgm Vedder are true and interesting, and furnish much food to thoughtful persons.
He freely admits that there were no “Baptists” in the New Testament. The name was not used until 1644 in England. The early Christians and churches of Christ in the New Testament (Rom. 16:16; Acts 9:31; 1 Thess. 2:14, etc.) were not Baptists and those churches were not Baptists churches. “There had been no such churches before (1644), and hence there was no need of the name.” To wear the name “Baptist” in religion is to wear a name and do something unauthorized by God. In the New Testament, God’s children were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:15-16), not “Baptists,” (nor Catholics, etc.)
The first “Baptist” there ever was in the world was John Smyth, a member of the church of England who fled from England because of persecutions regarding his views. He fled to Holland, immersed himself and some of his followers. His movement began to spread in England and his followers began to be called “Baptists” because of their insistence upon immersion. Baptists are correct on insisting upon immersion as the only “form of baptism.” They teach false doctrine when they say that immersion is for those who are already saved. The Bible teaches we are immersed in order to be saved, “for the remission of sins” (Rom. 6:3-7, 16-18; Col. 2:~2; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-41; 22:16; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21, etc.).
Baptist preachers falsely teach that the church begun in the days of John the Immerser (Baptizer). Vedder truthfully points out that the church of Christ began on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47). Only local congregations functioned in the N.T., yet Baptists wrongly have their conventions, associations, etc. John was not “a Baptist” religiously, but was “the Immerser,” baptizing “for the remission of sins” which no Baptist now does. The Baptist movement is now 371 years old. It is not in the N.T.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 4, pp. 98, 101
February 17, 1983