Are Baptists Part of the Protestant Reformation?

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, which sparked perhaps one of the greatest events in the history of the church of Jesus Christ, the Protestant Reformation. Protestants (who protested against the established church) sought a Reformation (a change in the church to return to the essence of the Scriptures) which has changed the face of the entire Christian church since then. A focus on the sources (ad fontes) of Scripture brought the church back to what became 5 pillars of a return to New Testament Christianity. These are:

1) Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone

2) Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone

3) Solo Christo – By Christ Alone

4) Sola Fide – By Faith Alone

5) Soli Deo Grloria – Glory to God Alone

Even while modern day Protestants trace their roots to the Reformation, there are many within Baptist circles that would argue that Baptists are not part of the Protestant Reformation. They would see a distinct difference in origin for Baptists than the Reformation. So, the question must be asked, are Baptists part of the Protestant Reformation?

Views on the Origin of Baptists

There are, to make it simplified, four different views on Baptist origins (please note I am indebted to my former Church History professor, Gerald Priest at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary for first presenting these truths to me). These are:

1) Strict organic successionist view.

There has always been a succession of Baptist churches throughout history beginning with the first Baptist church of Jerusalem. Dissenters from the earliest times were Baptists with different names.

2) Anabaptist kinship view.

Early seventeenth century Baptists were influenced by continental anabaptists.

3) Spiritual kinship view.

This is the continuation of biblical teachings view or spiritual successionism. There is a ontinuity of Baptist concepts. In other words, there is no “trail of blood” but there is a iscernable “trail of truth.”

4) British separatist view.

The Baptist denominations originated out of the Puritan Separatist Movement n seventeenth century England.

There is of course a mixing of these different views but these are essentially the normal views taken.

Historical Arguments for the British Separatist View

Now, this is a huge topic and one that could be devoted whole books to, but I will refer you to the recent presentation of this material by my former Church History professor here for more details. See him for a presentation of arguments against Baptists being derived from the Protestant Reformation. Briefly though, let me outline a few historical reasons FOR viewing Baptists as deriving from the Protestant Reformation (see Priest for biblical arguments regarding the universal church).

1. The church of Jesus Christ has existed since Pentecost. Just because it is difficult to find historically groups throughout history who maintain a pure commitment to the NT church does not mean they did not exist. Regardless, the purity of the church has been maintained in the universal body of believers, not necessarily always in local churches. This helps us then to not attempt to force heretical groups into a Baptist mold just because they performed baptism by immersion.

2. The Second London Baptist Confession (1688) affirms both the universal and local aspects of the church in article 26, sections 1 and 2. Since Baptists affirm the universal church, this means that it is not necessary for there to be visible manifestations of the universal body in local bodies at every single moment throughout church history.

3. Just because Anabaptists (who did not truly come from the Protestant Reformation) and Baptists practice a similar form of baptism does not make them the same. There are some very major differences like pacifism, nonparticipation in government, and unwillingness to take
oaths among other things makes a real difference between the two groups.

4. Just because Baptists did not directly come out of the Roman Catholic church does not mean they are not part of the Protestant Reformation. They come out of British Puritan Separatism (which can be demonstrated historically) and therefore, since they derive their origin from the Reformation, so we can as well.

5. The First and Second London Confession of Faith mention that they are not Anabaptists. The Confession or Declaration of Faith by the General Baptists says the same thing.

6. John Smyth inaugurated the practice of believer’s baptism among his Separatist ollowers in 1609. After repudiating his baptism and attempting to merge his church with a Mennonite community, Thomas Helwys, John Murton, and their followers rejected Smyth and returned to England to found the first General Baptist church there in 1611.

7. In the 17th century, when some argued for a successionist view of the Baptist origin they were looked upon with suspicion as it sounded very Roman Catholic.

8. There were many different varieties of Anabaptism in the 17th century, not all of it biblical. Today most Anabaptists have no fellowship with Baptists.

This has been rather brief, but it is good to get an overall historical view of something and use it as a jumping off point so that others can investigate the issues for themselves. In conclusion though let it be said that whatever the origins, Baptists have attempted to derive their theology and practice from the New Testament and only the New Testament. Yet, when looking at the historical evidence, it does seem primarily true, that Baptists come not from a long line of succeeding groups, nor from the Anabaptists directly (there may be some influence there) but from the British Puritan Separatists. And they take their origin eventually out of the Protestant Reformation. So therefore, Baptists are part of the Protestant Reformation.

If you are a Baptist this day (Reformation Day) take heart and rejoice in what God has done in history to rescue the truths of the Scriptures and bring them back into the church and thank God for the privilege of being part of that Reformation!

Happy Reformation Day!

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22 Responses to Are Baptists Part of the Protestant Reformation?

  1. Tim Ashcraft says:

    Allen, thanks for the article. That’s some very good information. In earlier years I was taught and was directed to materials that taught that Baptists are not Protestants. As though we were a cut above everyone else and wanted nothing to do with them. I’ve since come to see things differently.

    My hope isn’t in the absolutely pure lineage or succession of my denominational heritage, but in the promises of God, in the absolute perfection of Christ and His redemptive work. Isn’t that what the Reformation is all about? I’m glad to join with other believers and thank God for what He brought about through the work of the reformers.

  2. allenmickle says:

    Tim,

    Thanks for the great comment! I totally agree with you… that is what the Reformation is all about. And I am glad that I can continue to be part of a movement that is still reforming!

  3. Steve Weaver says:

    Allen,

    This is excellent. Thanks for posting it.

    Steve

  4. allenmickle says:

    Steve,

    No problem! Thanks for posting the Reformation resources on your blog!

    Allen

  5. Doug Smith says:

    Good post, Allen. I’ve been doing some research lately on Landmarkism, and it’s very telling that the idea of a long line of Baptist succession is a relatively recent development. You don’t find it in the 17th century, when both Particular (1644, 1677/89 Confesssions) and General Baptists (Orthodox Creed) went to great lengths to identify with their Protestant brethren (and, for instance, deny connections to Anabaptists).

  6. Doug Smith says:

    One more thing – it certainly seems that Baptists do happen to be the group that carries the Reformation to its logical conclusion (regenerate church membership, believers’ baptism by immersion, etc. – as Tom Nettles calls it, a theologically-integrated ecclesiology), following the rule of Scripture and the reasonable conclusion of sola fide. That said, reformation is still needed in Baptist circles and in our own lives.

  7. allenmickle says:

    Doug,

    I think you are exactly right on both fronts. Thanks for the warm comments about the post. I would like to develop it further in a series of posts (regarding each of the historical arguments for the 17th century British Separatist view). Your blog is great by the way!

    Allen

  8. Tim says:

    Excellent summary. I got out my “Baptist History” text which I used in College (thirty years ago) and intended to write something similar but was soon overwhelmed with the dates and different groups. You did an excellent job of summarizing and getting to the point.
    I was taught that Baptists pre-dated the Reformation and were, therefore, not to be identified in any way with the Reformation or Protestants. I’ve always felt that this was a bit too simplistic and perhaps even a bit naive.
    Baptistic groups may have existed before the Reformation but the Reformation certainly helped Baptists reform and refine the doctrines that we hold dear.
    Thanks for a good article.

  9. Baptists are part of the Protestant Reformation, as they are not Anabaptists. And that is from a psalm-singing Presbyterian.

  10. allenmickle says:

    Tim,

    Glad you approve! I hope it is helpful to people. It needs to be expanded. Maybe that’s something for you to work on too!

    Daniel,

    Always good to hear from our Presbyterian friends! Glad you agree!

    Allen

  11. Pearson says:

    Allen,
    Thanks for the summary. It is helpful.
    Thankful to be a Baptist,
    Pearson

  12. allenmickle says:

    Pearson,

    Thanks. Not much original to me in it. Most of it derives from Dr. Priest. He was a good teacher!

    Allen

  13. Maranatha says:

    Thanks Tim…
    My Blog is in the making… Its a very popular thing these days to bunk succesion of a “True Line” of Christs Church. But It is something that deserves more than a casual study… Im glad your looking at it in depth… but dont declare the matter concluded… Christ is not back yet and he will have the final say.
    Maranatha

  14. allenmickle says:

    Greetings,

    This is Allen, not Tim but that’s okay. It may be popular to debunk the “true line” thought but it is nothing new as Baptists in the 17th century for the most part argued against a successionist position as being Roman Catholic. I study this as Baptist history is my main area of study, but perhaps unfortunately, I am very settled on the English 17th century Separatist approach.

    Blessings,

    Allen Mickle

  15. S. Griffith says:

    The church did not begin on the day of Pentecost. The church began when Jesus called out his disciples. At Pentecost the Word says, and there were “added unto them”, who is the “them?” The church of Jesus Christ which was already in existance.

    I am not a Protestant. I am a Baptist that can trace my beliefs through the Word of God to the time of the disciples. We went by other names, Waldenses, Donatists, Paulicians and yes Anabaptists. We do have a connection with all of these. But Baptist have no connection with the Reformers….Calvin, Zwingli, Augustine, Luther…all hated Baptists…especially Calvin the Murderer.

    • allenmickle says:

      Glad you found my site even though you might disagree!

      I acknowledge the birth of the church in the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. The “added” to them would be those who initially received this baptism.

      We of course must disagree. Historically it is true that those who first named the name of Baptist derive from the English Separatists who of course come out of the Protestant Reformation. Baptists have shared more in common with this group theologically than Anabaptists (early Baptists specifically tried to avoid being associated with Anabaptists).

      I would love to see evidence how the magesterial reformers actually hated Baptists (and I do not mean Anabaptists). And of course, many would hotly disagree with your thinking on Calvin. But that is perfectly fine. We of course can agree to disagree. But the groups that you mention (i.e. Waldensians, etc.) all held to heterdox theology which, just because they practiced believer’s baptism does not make them Baptist, and in fact we should be careful to align ourselves with their false teachings.

      Thanks for the interaction though!

  16. David Holtz says:

    Allen–Can we entertain the testimony of a Catholic priest in this discussion? Cardinal Hosius, one of three papal presidents of the famous Council of Trent, and a Catholic investigator/suppressor of all non-Catholics….”Were it not that the Baptists have been greivously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past 1,200 years, they would swarm in greater numbers than all the reformers” (Letters Apud Opera, pp. 112,113) Cardinal Hosius, charged with combating all non-Catholic theology, would be uniquely positioned to make this statement…….and I give the statement more credibility, because it is not given by an agenda-driven Baptist (myself? guilty as charged).

    Your thoughts?

  17. David Holtz says:

    PS–Cardinal Hosius (1504-1579). So that takes the Baptists back to at least the 300s, AD.

  18. allenmickle says:

    David,

    I would simply argue, as others have, that references like this to “Baptists” would simply be to groups that practices immersion (clearly unusual for the time periods) but it does not make them akin to the “Baptist” groups that arise in the 17th century clearly linked to the Protestant Reformation through English Separatism. The arguments against affiliation with Anabaptists (also practicing immersion) would apply here as well. The “Baptists” that this Cardinal is referring to are not theologically the same as the Baptists that arise out of the 17th century. The only similarity is immersion.

  19. David Holtz says:

    Thats OK with me…There may very well be plenty of folks that left the Catholic Church via the Reformation, then eventually adopted what we consider to be traditional Baptist Doctrines.

    There have been many groups, long predating the Reformation, that have consistently held to Baptist doctrine–which is the point being made by Baptists. They consider themselves to be of THAT church.

    Its not just baptism, though. The authority of the LOCAL church, baptism, priesthood of the believer, Trinitarianism (The Catholic Church once adopted Sabellianism/modalism as dogma)were ALL features of independent churches predating the Reformation for centuries, even the start of the Church Age. I dont see any evidence that the Cardinal Hosius is referring to folks that “aren’t’ theologically the same” as today’s traditional Baptists. Can you support that bald assertion? The plain meaning of the Cardinal’s statement seems to require some support, if we are to dismiss the plain meaning.

    I’m also trying to understand the importance of establishing that there was no separate Church from the Catholics that held the theology of current Fundamentalist Baptists……(and forgive me if my assumption of your position is incorrect)….

    Catholics have always attempted to deny the existence of any true Church apart from themselves, prior to the Reformation. It would support their contention that they are the one, true Church, from which all other churches arose. Which is step 1; step 2 being the call for the current ecumenical push for reuniting with the Roman Catholic Church……

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