THE BAPTIST GOSPEL EXPLAINED
The main thing that makes Baptists different from the rest of the Christian followings is the way they baptise people. Not just anyone and not just a quick dab of holy water either. This is REAL baptism - total immersion and the thing that makes it work for them is that those that go in for the full water treatment are actually supposed know what they are doing. Conscious acceptance is the way they see it and voluntarily jumping into a freezing river is the way they join. The roots of The Baptists go back to the time of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth 1st in the late 1500's. Which was a time when England was divided between the Catholics and the Don't-Knows. The Catholics on the one hand were led by Henry VIII, he of the many wives. The Don't-Knows on the other were also led by Henry VIII. The reason was that good King Henry, due to his well publicised marriage difficulties, decided he had had enough of being told who he could and could not marry by some chap in far away Rome, even if this chap did call himself The Pope. So now, royally upset, Henry decided that it was high time to put an end to pope power and start a little reforming. Henry started the Reformation, the Catholics were on their way out, the Protestants were on their way in and just when everything was looking good for Henry, he died. It was then left to his children, son Edward and daughter Elizabeth to finish the job. Which they did.In Speyer, a small town in Germany, in 1529, the reformers had their Big Day. They may have been small in numbers but they were big in the protesting department and it was a short step in the mixture of languages of the day to get from the 'protesters' to Protestantism. Even the Baptists of the sixteen hundreds cannot claim any originality, they only had to look back a few thousand years to find the best known Baptist was a man with the rather ordinary name of John. This particular John was a keen self-employed baptiser and had been working on the banks of the River Jordan for many a long year without much recognition or time off. But one day in AD 30 he had his big break in the baptising business when much to his surprise the next in line for a ducking was none other than Jesus Christ himself - and lucky John could not have had a better client than The Son Of God himself. Sadly in those days reporting and record keeping were still in their infancy and although John went on to become an Apostle and the future popularity of Jesus was already divinely assured, the idea of baptism stayed firmly down by the riverside and no one else really took up the idea.But busy John was not only a baptiser and a preacher of repentance, he was also an outspoken critic of illicit marriages. He could not resist pointing out to anyone that listened that it was wrong to divorce you wife and then marry your own niece, as the local governor of that part of the world had just done. Now all this would have gone unnoticed if it were not for the names of the main players. The governor was one of the Herods. The niece was Herodias and her daughter was Solome. The sad moral of the story is that the poor guys get poorer and the rich guys get handed every thing on a plate. In this case the head of John the Baptist.Things remained fairly quiet for the next fifteen hundred years or so, but the idea of throwing people into the river was just too good to let go. So back to the Reformation, King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I and Mr John Smythe. J. Smythe was a protestant looking to make an impression on the faithful and get his name into the history books and it was 1609 in the then small town of Amsterdam, Holland John Smythe had his Good Idea. He formed his own church and as a novel initiation ceremony, first completely immersed himself, then an increasingly number of consenting adults, in large amounts of cold water and simply told them they were baptised. Although he is credited with being the father of Baptism his hope of the everlasting recognition thwarted by his own name. With John-the-Baptist already a household name, Smythe-the-Baptist never had a chance. He was however not the only one with reforming ideas and two other men with ideas of their own were about to make their respective marks: Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. Whether or not John Calvin was sitting in on the meeting in Speyer is not known but as soon as it was safe to call yourself a Protestant he wasted no time in putting pen to parchment. Monsignor Calvin was French, bright, literate and increasingly influential and he wrote himself into the history books by creating a new form of Christian teaching. With one eye on immortality coupled with the usual lack of modesty he called it Calvinism.
He had an obsessive desire to get all his ideas down on paper and spent many happy hours locked away in a small room with quill and ink and when he eventually published The Institutes in 1536 John Calvin became an instant best seller. Calvin's idea was that God had sorted everything out a long time ago (predestination) and all that was left was to live the good life. He did not mean the Good Life, as some people will try and interpret the meaning, he meant a good life. Man, he said, had no free will and could only achieve salvation by rigidly following the Scriptures. According to John (Calvin) there were those (the few) who were going to heaven and there were those (the majority) that were definitely not.Although this hard line approach appealed to the newly emerging Baptists thing got a bit confusing in the naming department. The Baptists called the Calvinists, Particular Baptists and the Calvinists, naturally, called themselves, The Calvinists.Jacobus Arminius was a man proud of his name. So proud in fact that when casting round for a name for his new protestant interpretations of old ideas, he followed the usual course of calling his faith after his own name. Arminianism. Jacobus was a Dutchman and whether he did not like the French in general or just well connected French Reformists in particular, he had no time for John and his Calvinists. He preferred to believe that man had at least some free will and choice over his destiny, and just by doing what he did, proved it. Some of the Baptists liked what they saw and called the Arminianism followers General Baptists. The Arminians, naturally, called themselves The Arminians. John Calvin died in 1564 but he certainly made a big impression on the reformers. A good part of Scotland took up Presbyterianism as an almost direct result of Calvinism. Congregationalism, from the same roots, became a big hit in North America and writings of J. Calvin can be found in many a Baptist library. Jacobus Arminius was forty nine when he died in 1609 and whether he knew it or not, his main mistake was that he tried to adapt an existing faith without giving anyone anything new to believe in. The Arminians did not last very long. The Dutch struck them off the approved list as early as 1618, just eighteen years after the death of Jacobus. Those that were left got into the Unitarianism team and are these days - hard to find.The First Baptist Church in America was founded in Rhode Island in the aptly named town of Providence in 1639 by a 32 year old Englishman, Roger Williams. Roger came out from England on a one-way ticket. He settled in Boston but was soon thrown out of the town by the ruling church-based government for loudly criticising all church-based governments. Taking what was to become Interstate Highway 95 he left town, turned south-west, continued on for about eighty kilometres and found Rhode Island and founded The First Baptist Church.. Which kept him out of any other sort of trouble for the following three years.In 1891 The Baptists realised that they had to get their combined act together and put on a united front to the world. What they were (rightly) concerned with was the difference between the Generals and the Particulars. The Particulars still believed that salvation was only for the particular few while the Generals had what can only be described as a more general outlook. This, they all decided, had to be unified and after a decisive poll in 1891 The Generals came out as the winners and after what must have been a very short meeting the sub-committee-in-charge-of-names decided on the somewhat predictable title of The Baptist Union. The Baptists have survived and even prospered through the revivals and continue to make the most of the liberal-alternative attitudes of the modern world. They are liberal enough in an almost endless verity of trivia with their ideological differences being emphasised as the real alternative to all the other real alternatives. The fact that these alternatives are so hard to define is undoubtedly one of their main philosophical strengths.Anabaptists was a name given to the Baptists who, in the days even before the Reformation, realised that babies were not really in the position to make an informed choice about baptism and that real baptism should only be available for consenting adults. They were very happy with the idea of the church being separated from the state but a lot less happy with the promise of persecution and extermination by both the Catholic and Protestant departments of the merciful Christian faith around the middle of the 1500's.