Early Particular Baptist history is notoriously murky, and historians are forced to be content with whatever information has survived the passage of time. The paucity of information requires that a degree of tentativeness be inserted into statements based on that information. Consequently, when historians of the Particular Baptists assert that the Particular Baptists do not come from continental Anabaptists, or that they were distinct from the General Baptists, are they speaking absolutely? Absolutely not.
Absolute statements are easy to prove false, or rather, easy to prove not absolutely true. This is especially the case when dealing with broadly defined or undefined terms. What is an Anabaptist? What is a Particular Baptist? What is a General Baptist?
There are connections between the early Particular Baptists and the continental Anabaptists, as well as to the General Baptists. But connections are not causes, necessarily. Analogy is not genealogy. So, what are these connections, and what do they mean? What is their significance? And are there other connections that balance our perspective in other directions?
The Early Particular Baptists Consulted the Dutch Anabaptists Regarding the Mode of Baptism
The most important source for Baptist beginnings is the so-called “Kiffen Manuscript” held in the Angus Library at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Among other things, it tells the story of the Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church. As repeated many times elsewhere, a group within this church became convinced of credobaptism. Subsequent to this conviction, the group determined that dipping was the proper and necessary mode of baptism, without which there was no baptism. In other words, those not dipped are not simply improperly baptized, they are simply not baptized.
Already being convinced of the theology of credobaptism, this fledgling church sent a Dutch-speaking emissary to Holland to see how others had administered the ordinance via dipping. The manuscript says (in updated spelling),
“being convinced of Baptism, that also it ought to be by dipping the body into the water…None having then so practiced [dipping] in England…and hearing that some in the Netherlands had so practiced [dipping] they agreed and sent over Mr. Richard Blunt (who understood Dutch) with letters of recommendation, who was kindly accepted there and returned with letters from them.”
The group consulted was, according to James Renihan in his book Edification and Beauty, “the Collegiants or Rijnsburgers…a lay movement…[that] practiced baptism by immersion, not as a church ordinance, but in order that it might be provided for those who desired it.” It is important to note, however, that Blunt was not baptized while there. Rather, the church took time to consider all of this and the next year the church took steps to baptize themselves (considering themselves unbaptized to that point). The manuscript says,
“Mr. Blunt baptized Mr. Blacklock that was a teacher amongst them, and Mr. Blunt being baptized, he and Mr. Blacklock baptized the rest.”
As a side note, the theological rationale behind this event was as follows:
- The legitimacy of baptism does not stem from the baptizer, but from the command given to the church.
- The church is therefore authorized to appoint a baptizer in order to fulfill the command of baptism.
- If baptism has been so neglected that in that place there is no baptizer who is already baptized, the first baptizer must, of necessity, be unbaptized.
- So it was for John the Baptist who began to baptize by virtue of a command, he himself being unbaptized.
Back to the point, note that in the above quote Mr. Blunt was baptized by Mr. Blacklock. He had not been baptized in Holland. This is confirmed later in a separate portion of the manuscript that describes Francis Bampfield’s inquiry into “the methods taken by the Baptists, to obtain a proper administrator of baptism by immersion, when that practice had so long been disused.” Bampfield was told in London that Baptism was recovered by,
“Either a self baptizer…One John Smith…
Or two men according to their principle in their judgment altogether unbaptized before, did baptize one another at the first, and afterwards did baptize others. And so were many of the baptizings in London, reported originally to be in one if not in two instances.”
The second instance is referring to Blunt and Blacklock who are again both described as unbaptized.
These sources clearly establish a connection between the early Particular Baptist movement and the Dutch Anabaptists. But what weight can be laid on this foundation?
- After the Baptists had already formed their theology of credobaptism, One early Dutch-speaking Baptist consulted Dutch Anabaptists about the mode of Baptism.
John Smyth, regarded as a founder or progenitor of the General Baptists, was mentioned above. Did the Particular Baptists have a connection to him? No. First, Smyth died in Holland in 1612. Second, Smyth was not practicing dipping. Third, listen to Hercules Collins who argues that the Particular Baptists had no connection whatsoever to him and retrieved credobaptism from the commands of the Scriptures,
Collins had the advantage of defending his tradition’s history while its earliest pioneers were still alive.
Reviewing this evidence, we see that it indicates that if the early Particular Baptists got anything from the Anabaptists, it was dipping tips. The Dutch Anabaptist connection is small. What would weight our estimation in another direction? Consider two things.
First, the literature published by this group from its earliest stages onward denies a genealogical and/or theological connection to the Anabaptists. One would think that the fruit would match the root. But as the Particular Baptists’ theological commitment to credobaptism had formed quite apart from a group divided from them by geography and language, so their ongoing commitment to credobaptism was defended quite apart from the Hollanders. My previous post provided contextual reasons for why some of the most prominent Particular Baptists arrived at their credobaptist views quite apart from the Anabaptists.
Second, as described in the aforementioned previous post, tracing the actual historical movement of specific Particular Baptists from paedobaptism to credobaptism demonstrates that a core segment of the leadership of the movement began as university-trained, CoE-ordained paedobaptists. They read Reformed theology and interacted with it, approving much and disapproving of the obvious points. Their training and influences are clear.
Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the continental Anabaptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of Anabaptist theology? Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.
The Particular Baptists Have Connections to the General Baptists
Before launching into this, you should know that the category “General Baptist” is a broad category including a large range of beliefs. And we have to be careful not to assume the theological commitments of those labeled as “General Baptists.” In some cases, as we will see in a moment, the question dividing the groups was narrowed down to how the gospel should be preached.
Consider two prime examples of the proximity of the early Particular Baptist movement to the General Baptist movement. I say “prime” because they are in the list of early Particular Baptists in my previous post, because they are men who lived and influenced the Particular Baptist movement for many years, and because they published works that give us access to their thought.
Christopher Blackwood, a Cambridge-educated Church of England priest converted to Credobaptism after hearing a General Baptist, Francis Cornwell, assert the error of paedobaptism. But Blackwood never joined the General Baptists. Nor does General Baptist theology appear in his writings. In fact, paedobaptists who read Blackwood said that he sounded like John Cameron.
A more interesting example is Benjamin Coxe who spent time in Thomas Lambe’s church before ending up with the London Particular Baptists. Wright even argues that Coxe actually embraced the theology of the General Baptists. Dealing with Wright’s claim requires more attention than we can offer here, but we know that Coxe spent very little actual time in Lambe’s church, a span of two years during which Coxe was absent and incarcerated for a good amount of time. And we know that Coxe left over a dispute involving predestination.
Lambe said to Coxe, “if you deny that Christ died for the sins of all, what Gospel will you preach to unbelievers?” This indicates that the heart of the issue was how to preach the gospel in such a way that all men are commanded to believe, while knowing that only the elect will actually believe. Coxe came to credobaptist beliefs, eventually joined Lambe’s church, became uncomfortable with the way the gospel was preached, and joined with the Particular Baptists soon after. No imprint was made on him, except perhaps extremes to be avoided.
What weight can we lay on this foundation?
- The early Particular Baptists had connections to the General Baptists, but not as a source, nor with lasting or significant effects.
Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the General Baptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of General Baptist theology? Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.
Early Particular Baptist origins should be viewed as a series of streams that run together until they form a united river around 1644. Each of these streams has its own context through which it passes along the way to arriving at a greater unity and united identity. The Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church is the central stream to which others joined, many of them having been trained at Cambridge or Oxford and ordained in the Church of England. They examined the theology of their day, as described in the previous post, and arrived at a common understanding of how that system should be realigned.
This post has attempted to add balance to discussions of Particular Baptist origins and identity by providing the sources that connect the Particular Baptists to traditions from which they commonly are said to be disconnected. Historians should avoid absolute disavowals of Particular Baptist connections to Anabaptists and General Baptists. They should likewise avoid placing a weight on those connections that they will not bear. Are Particular Baptist origins separated from Anabaptists and General Baptists? Not absolutely. Do the Particular Baptists come from these groups? Absolutely not.
These discussions must be guided by evidence distinguishing analogy from genealogy, and guarded by reason distinguishing correlation from causation.