Baptists have been, down through the ages, about the most hated and persecuted religious group because their distinctives make them a threat to religious tyrants.
Baptists believe that salvation comes only through repenting of sin and placing faith in the blood of Christ. Works and godly living always follow salvation; they do not produce salvation. By rejecting baby baptism, they insisted that only converted people be baptized.
The cause of the Baptists’ persecution in the middle ages was that they refused to baptize babies. In baptizing babies, a church has been able to keep its thumb on the people. No family wants to be responsible for a child going to hell, so they must “baptize” each baby to “protect” his soul. Religious leaders could see the threat to their religious empire if baby baptism were no longer practiced, so they persecuted Baptists.
Questions have been raised why the mode of baptism was not an issue during the Reformation days and it is very simple: There was no controversy about baptism because almost everyone agreed that immersion was the Bible way and the traditional way. The largest churches in England (Church of England) still have huge baptisteries in them (that have not been used in hundreds of years).
It was common for Roman Catholics to immerse into the 1500s, and John Calvin, writing of the word for baptize said, “The word signifies to immerse, and it is certain that the rite of immersion was observed in the ancient church.” Well, if so, I would like to know why the followers of Calvin don’t immerse today. Even Martin Luther taught immersion as late as 1518! Do you know of any Lutherans who immerse?
The churches were relatively sound up to the 800s but by the 1100s, Rome had a tight grip on most of Europe. The popes continued to grab ecclesiastical power at every opportunity until a major change took place with Pope Gregory VII in the 1000s. Gregory claimed supremacy in temporal affairs as well as church affairs! No one would imagine the graves that would be dug through the centuries because of that teaching.
Groups that believed Baptist principles can be traced through history. Those groups include Lombards, Abigenses, Waldenses, etc. These people did not baptize babies but only “those who believe in the name of Jesus Christ.” Later they were called, Anabaptists or rebaptizers. They did not like that name because they said that they were not rebaptizing people since sprinkling of babies was not baptism.
These Bible-believers were persecuted by Catholics and the Reformers because they insisted on faith in Christ before baptism.
Before Luther took his stand against Rome, Michael Sattler took his and paid with his life. He was arrested in 1527 in Germany for his Anabaptist preaching and the court sentence read: “Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner. The latter shall take him to the square and there first cut out his tongue, and then forge him fast to a wagon and there with glowing iron tongs twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the site of the execution five times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic.”
Remember that was done in the name of religion—Roman Catholicism—but not real Christianity.
A Roman Catholic priest in 1604 said of the Anabaptists: “Among all the sects none had a finer appearance and a greater external sanctity than the Anabaptists. Among themselves they call each other brother and sister; they curse not, they revile not, they swear not….” That’s pretty good when your enemies talk that way about you!
It should not be inferred that the Baptists were a small obscure sect during the years preceding the Reformation. Many of Baptist churches had hundreds of members. In St. Gall, (Switzerland) in 1525, the Baptist church had 800 members and a Roman Catholic witness said, “The number of converts increased so that the baptistery could not contain the crowd, and they were compelled to use the stream of the Sitter River.”
In only two years the Baptist church in Augsburg numbered over 1100 members (by 1527). The pastor was Hans Denck. It was common to baptize hundreds of people in a day! In areas of persecution, some private homes had baptisteries built in them! In other places, large tubs were used to baptize people out of doors.
Now remember that all this happened before the Reformation! Do you now understand why Baptists insists they are not Protestants? They did not come out of Roman Catholic Church or Reformation. They were here waiting for the Reformers!
Sir Isaac Newton said that it was his conviction that “the Baptists were the only Christians who had not symbolized with Rome.” So Baptists were not new-comers on the religious scene. Even Luther (who had no love for Baptists) said, “The Anabaptists have been for a long time spreading in Germany.”
Henry VIII came to the throne of England and while he hated the Catholics, he detested the Baptists not because they immersed, for Henry and all English kings during the 1500s were immersed! He hated Baptists because they insisted that babies should not be baptized, and he burned numerous Baptists at the stake.
One Baptist lady, Joan of Kent, was arrested in 1548 and was burned at the stake in April 1549. George van Pare, a surgeon was condemned and was ordered burned and while being tied to the stake, he kissed the stake and faggots that soon consumed him. Those Baptist martyrs paid the purchase price for England’s freedom.
Presbyterians took over the Church of England and after 1648, immersion was illegal. Each church was forced to keep a list of births and “baptisms,” and the parents of any child not sprinkled were considered Baptists.
In 1648, the Presbyterians got a law passed that punished Baptists as “blasphemers and heretics.” Baptists would be jailed if they said that, “Baptism of infants is unlawful, or such baptism is void, or that such persons, ought to be baptized again, or in pursuance thereof shall baptize any person formerly baptized….”
Please remember that these were people who professed to believe in the Bible. They weren’t persecuting heathen, which would have been wrong as well.
When the Presbyterians’ long political power ended, immersion returned to the Church of England; however unsaved people (and carnal Christians) liked sprinkling or pouring and that became preferred over the Bible mode of immersion.
Baptists have always held strong opinions, so there has been a tendency to “fuss” among ourselves. Most other denominations have so few convictions that they don’t have any reason to do much fussing.
The English Baptists believed they were a separated people and would not permit a young man from one church to marry a young lady from another church.
They disciplined members for backbiting, idleness, not keeping promises, not telling the truth, etc.! What if we did that today? Shouldn’t we being doing that today?
Down through the centuries Baptists demanded freedom for everyone and paid for that position with their blood, Baptist blood!
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Great article! It really encouraged me to stand up more for the truth that my Baptist forefathers fought for.