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John Smyth's request for Mennonite recognition and admission: four newly translated letters, 1610-1612: under the leadership of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, the people who would become the first Baptists met Dutch Mennonites in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, at the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age.

Prompted by a theological disagreement with Smyth, Helwys returned to England in 1612 and planted the first General Baptist church. The disagreement centered on the validity of Smyth's se-baptism and differing views on joining the Waterlander Mennonite church in Amsterdam. (1)

Correspondence regarding the English affair, as the Mennonites referred to Smyth's request for recognition and admission, commenced with his application to the Waterlanders in February 1610. (2) Until recently, historians have translated only a selection of the known correspondence from the Dutch and Latin into the English language. (3) Today, English translations of four more letters concerning the English affair are available. (4) Although these communications provide helpful insight into the Mennonite view and practice of consensus, this article mainly focuses on details shedding light on the English affair. These new translations provide evidence that supports as well as challenges some of James Robert Coggins's views regarding the Smyth group's application to the Waterlanders and the ensuing events. (5) A discussion follows the translation of each letter. The translations retain some of the Dutch word order and punctuation to facilitate further research by non-Dutch historians.
 A Letter Dated May 15, 1610

 A Letter of Yeme de Ringh at Harlingen to Lubbert Gerritsz,
 Hans de Ries, and Reynier Wijbrandtsz, Dated May 15[?], 1610

 To the Honorable Pious Man
 Reinier Wybrants glassmaker
 in Saint Luke on the
 Singel in the Mennonite
 Church.
 At
 Amsterdam

 Pay the messenger (6)

 Praise be to God XV[?] May 1610 in Harlingen

 From the heart-beloved brothers and fellow servant in Christ
 Lubbert Ger:[ritsz], Hans de Ries, Renier Wibrants. Your letter
 with the request to come there to you to discuss the English
 affair, has reached us; the others have been sent for immediately
 at my word. Our teachers, except Jacob Tiewes, have gathered and
 have sent their opinions regarding this to you, which you may want
 to review. It seems that they prefer to have first the articles
 which have been given to you by the English in order to review
 these same with the brothers so that afterwards there would come no
 trouble out of it since they are worried. So the friends can do
 what their minds think "and I do not think that even if we came
 there" that we perhaps would be united in the understanding and
 that might cause some trouble I am afraid; but that you send to
 here to the teachers the articles given to you and that I do not
 see as evil. For I am concerned that they do not take it (so it
 appears) on the aspect of baptism, [that is] why I hope so that
 they can be satisfied with our belief and household, that it could
 come indeed to a good end by letters as God wills. So you think
 well, for I for my person had much preferred to see the case
 somewhat in a different manner than this, namely that they had
 undertaken themselves to hear and see all things, or since they
 have not undertaken that they would have placed it in your hands
 completely. Then this as it appears has not been able to go this
 way, and this so I notice from the care of the churches here.
 Therefore, I beg you to do so indeed and write after her desire the
 articles as you have given them to her and even if it were that the
 servant of the English co-signed, then this would not harm my
 reservation, but do it as you think is good. I have co-signed this
 although it is not all according to my opinion, so I cannot view it
 as evil, for when we do something without our congregations, so we
 get certainly trouble for we have many hard heads to which we have
 to see a bit, and it is not possible to live always in strife for
 our congregations grow now fairly, praise God, so that we now in
 two times in one month or within five weeks, have received for
 baptism 40 people, and it would not be good indeed to bring unrest
 among them. Further with this goes a letter which I have just
 received from Rippert and have opened without knowing it and have
 not yet read since I was still in bed when the letter came, this
 with all my best taking away it happened unknowingly. Nothing
 further than be greeted from the heart along with all who are
 beloved to you.

 Your Servant, Yeme de Rijnck


Yeme de Ringh wrote this letter some three months after the Smyth group applied for recognition as a true Mennonite congregation. (7) De Ringh's letter is a reply to Gerritsz's request to Mennonite congregations that were part of the Bevredigde Broederschap that they attend the May 23, 1610, conference regarding the English affair. (8) De Ringh noted to Gerritsz that he had called the teachers of the Harlingen church together and discussed the issue. Their conclusion was threefold: (1) they should not attend the conference because they most likely could not come to a mutual understanding; (2) they wanted to see A Short Confession of Faith, which de Ries and Gerritsz had drawn up and which the Smyth group had signed in agreement, so they could read Smyth's view on baptism; and (3) they did not want to cause any unrest in their church by recognizing the Smyth group. Five other ministers of congregations in Friesland replied similarly. (9) In short, the Friesland teachers refused to decide upon the English affair until they had had a chance to discuss the articles of faith with their congregations and reach consensus. The teacher of the congregation at Rijnsburg, South Holland, however, expressed no concern regarding doctrinal issues in his May 18, 1610, letter.
 A Letter Dated May 18, 1610

 A Letter of Willem Janszoon, Teacher at Rijnsburg, to Reynier
 Wybrantsz. at Amsterdam, Dated May 18, 1610

 To the
 Honorable and the pious reijner
 Wybrant son living at Amsterdam (10)

 Be greeted from the heart

 After wishes of everything good from this side I let know my dear
 and in-God-beloved brother and fellow worker in the gospel Reijner
 Wybrant's son that I have received your writing and have understood
 from it as that there have come some zealous hearts from England
 who there are seeking to unite with you and that you have spoken
 with them there multiple times about our household and outwardly
 are one with each other in confession as I understand and [you]
 write to us unworthy ones to come there on 23 May with some of our
 fellow servants to discuss with each other in order to speak on the
 most important [matter] with them and that I should bring some
 along who can understand and speak Latin, so I let my dear brother
 and fellow servant know that it is not convenient for me on that
 day since my word stands to come that day to another place which I
 cannot rearrange because of a reason, but ! have moved Master Jacob
 and Cornelis van Beest to be there then with you all since they can
 understand and speak Latin and that you will have more help from
 them than from us since we do not understand that language; the
 Lord may give you altogether wisdom and understanding that it may
 take place to the honor of the gospel, to the edification of many
 pious and to the praise and gratitude of God's holy name and to the
 salvation of our dearly bought souls, for this God may loan us his
 grace. Amen.

 Willem Ian's son from Reynsburch on 18 May [1610]


The main point of Janszoon's letter was the teacher's reply to Gerritsz's invitation. Janszoon's concern was to send two men who understood and spoke Latin. This concern supports the view that the English did not speak Dutch, nor did the Dutch speak English. The common language at the conference, therefore, was Latin. Not all Dutch and English, however, spoke Latin. Some men of either group, speaking both Latin and their native language, were to serve as interpreters at the conference. (11) Janszoon himself was unable to attend. He was not the only minister to decline the invitation.
 A Letter Dated May 21, 1610

 A Letter from Dirk Pieters at Hoorn to Lubbert Gerritsz. at
 Amsterdam, Dated May 21, 1610

 To the honorable Clas
 Iansen Bruijn
 to be passed on
 to Lubbert Gerretzen in
 Amsterdam

 Three SS [Stuivers = nickels]
 The deliverer's pay (12)

 God's grace for a friendly greeting. Amen.

 Honorable Sir, from the heart loved and loved-in-God brother
 (father) and fellow servant in the Lord Lubbert Gerretsen. Since we
 have received the letter signed by you all of the 6th of this [May]
 and have thought about the same with attention (and have reviewed
 with worry) so we have discussed with our servants and with our
 fellow servants, as well as have called for Aebell Hendericksen,
 Gijsbert Dircksen and Jacob Ariensen with them holding council, we
 find it for the best of our conscience (and for the Lord) not to
 come according to your desire, beg therefore hold it to us for the
 best, it does not happen because you all are not worthy to us, not
 at all, even if it were ten more times as the Lord knows, but [it
 happens] because of certain important causes which we think we have
 tot that. As many as now deal with the case therefore we were
 written, is our simple advice and request that you would indeed
 deal carefully and thoroughly and not lightly agree to a
 continuation because of some dangers that may arise over that, so
 that we do not hammer on the one side and break much more on the
 other side, for, dear brother, we see well when already a few
 separated nations come together how heavily it falls to keep the
 same in peace just as the present situation teaches us all too
 well. However, we know that the fruits of righteousness are sown in
 peace by those who keep the peace, therefore, dearly beloved
 brother, let us keep that which the Lord has given us, so that we
 do not lose what we have wrought but may receive full pay from the
 Lord, with this may the Lord help and assist us now and in
 eternity. Amen. Be with this [letter] commended to the Lord and
 greeted from the heart with the peace of the Lord, dated Hoorn, 21
 May anno 1610.

 By me Dirrick Pieterzn, your fellow servant in the Lord


Writing on his own and three other ministers' behalf; Dirk Pieters, a minister in Hoorn, North Holland, declined Gerritsz's invitation. Pieters urged the Amsterdam Waterlanders to be careful and thorough in their decision because a continuation with the English group might prove dangerous. Writing of his concern that "we do not hammer on the one side and break much more on the other side," Pieters likely was afraid of the possible breakup of the Bevredigde Broederschap. The congregations aligned with the Broederschap at that time already had difficulty maintaining peace amongst each other. Despite this difficulty, the Amsterdam Waterlanders continued working on recognition and admittance of the Smyth group, which would cause more unrest in the Broederschap.

The Amsterdam Waterlanders' letter of July 16, 1610, to the Mennonite leaders in Friesland contained a request for their answers to two issues. First, the Amsterdam Waterlanders wanted to know the Frisians' opinion of the confession of faith that the Smyth group had signed. Second, they wanted to know their view of the baptism that the members of the Smyth group, in particular John Smyth, had undergone. The Amsterdam congregation, then, still desired national consensus on the English affair. Yet the congregation felt ashamed and pressured: "We are very surprised that this affair seems to have been taken at heart by you so very little, for which we are ashamed before these [English], and scarcely know what to answer that this affair is put off such a long time." (13)

Replying two days later, the Frisian ministers urged the Amsterdam Waterlanders to acquaint "all churches in Prussia and the whole of Germany, and wherever established" with the English affair, which "is a completely new and never heard of affair." (14) The ministers warn against "ruin, harm, hurt, and perdition of the churches concerning the [Waterlander] peace-making or union," desiring "peace, quietness, and silence" instead. According to them, the Waterlanders' "intemperate zeal is partly the cause of" the widespread discontentment over the English alliance or union with the Mennonite congregations. (15) The Friesland congregations, therefore, did not want to have anything to do with the discussion.

No further correspondence between the Waterlanders and the Frisian Mennonites concerning this topic has survived. Most likely, these were indeed the Frisians' last words regarding the issue. The following winter, when the Amsterdam Waterlanders brought up again the union with the English as evidenced by a surviving manuscript, Mennonite ministers were gathered around Gerritsz's deathbed. According to Coggins, by then the Smyth group had been recognized as a true Mennonite congregation. (16) Coggins's threefold argument that the 1610 negotiations with the Smyth group formed a cause for the breakup of the Bevredigde Broederschap around 1613 is cogent. (17) His hypothesis that the May 23, 1610, conference ended negotiations and resulted in the recognition of the Smyth group as a true Mennonite congregation, however, is not as strong. He fails to account for two developments found in surviving manuscripts.

First, the Amsterdam Waterlanders' letter of July 16, 1610, requested the Friesland congregations to send their opinions on the English affair. The Waterlanders were ashamed that it was taking the Frisians such a long time to make a decision and did not know why the English were putting off commenting on the matter. If, as Coggins contends, the May 23 conference resulted in the recognition of the Smyth group as a Mennonite congregation, why would the Waterlanders have thought it necessary to obtain the Frisian Mennonites' opinion? The Frisians' reply of July 18, 1610, was also inconclusive. The leaders wrote, "We, undersigned, may not conceal from you our astonishment at your ardent and impetuous writing to us, in which you demand our answer within a fortnight, or that we afterwards shall be quiet about the alliance or union with the English, in your town, having taken place or intended." (18) In the remainder of the reply, the Frisian leaders seemed to have believed that the union had not taken place yet, because they warned against it and urged the Amsterdam Waterlanders to deliberate most seriously. The second aspect that appears to discredit Coggins's hypothesis is found in the memorandum by Claes Claeszoon Anslo.
 A Memorandum Dated January 17, 1611/2

 A Memorandum Made by Claes Claeszoon Anslo at Amsterdam
 on Jan. 17, 1611/2
 Copy (19)

 On the 17th of January when Lubbert Gerretsz was in bed very ill,
 he has asked all servants and also Hans de Ries, Jan Munter,
 Nittert Obbesz, Cornelis Albertsz, and myself Claes Claesz, (except
 Mathijs Lutso[?] who was absent) even Koefoot, his desire from the
 heart was so he said and [we] clearly expressed to him that it was
 also our desire that Reijner Wijbrans might be affirmed in the full
 service, since he had served the congregation for a while in the
 Word of God, saying that he was at peace with that since he had
 been found being most faithful to the Word of God to know that the
 sacrament would also be well entrusted to him the best[?], to which
 we all answered yes. And since, except for seven, it was determined
 peacefully by that whole congregation by silence, Lubbert Gerretsz
 then also asked Reynier Wybrans, whether he was prepared to accept
 the heavy duty by God's grace, who under the same also answered
 yes, then Lubbert Gerretsz has placed [on] him the hand on the
 head, wishing him many good wishes of God and also affirmed him and
 bound him to nothing but to the Word of God, saying also that he
 had had great happiness that with all those men finally all
 concepts had been laid down and that one shall deal with everything
 only according to the Word of God. Furthermore he has desired
 seriously that one, however, should not postpone the case of the
 English, but complete firstly if it were possible since they had
 some reservations about the baptism of Mr. Smidt, since he had no
 Scripture for it, but now did want to accept all the other English
 without worry, without baptizing again. Further he desired also
 from Nittert Obbes, that he would lead the voting happening for
 this, and would let him be placed and do his best through God's
 grace, which Nittert Obbes also accepted under that same grace, and
 it was also desired by Lubbert Gerretsz that Matheus[?] Iansz would
 do that, too, who was not present there but the servants promised
 to request that, too, and have all accepted Reynier Wybrans with a
 kiss and also have departed friendly in peace and have commended
 Lubbert Gerretsz with a kiss to the Lord's grace and have wished
 good night--and before that Lubbert Gerretsz asked Hans de Ries,
 since Reyner Wybrans was a young man, that he would come to his aid
 in everything with advice and deed, and with him weigh all things
 and act as they had done together, either orally or to write each
 other depending on the situation of the case. Also Lubbert Gerretsz
 expressed and desired, that one in the handling of the sacraments
 would act in everything for the most edification of the
 congregation, saying in some places at a table there around 20
 people sat down, in other places one should deal with it
 differently, which might take place with the most peace, that he
 had administered it at a table in De Rijp and also in other places
 etc.

 Claes Claesz in Ansloo

 This I have written on the very same day for
 a memorandum as soon as I came home.


Gerritsz's meeting with some Waterlander ministers resulted in affirming Wybrantsz into full service. While Mennonite consensus on local and intra-local levels took place on this occasion in a practical way, which provides important information regarding Mennonite consensus during this time, a more intriguing passage in the letter forms the second aspect for which Coggins's hypothesis fails to account:
 Saying also that he had had great happiness that with all those men
 finally all concepts had been laid down and that one shall deal
 with everything only according to the Word of God, furthermore he
 has desired seriously that one, however, should not postpone the
 case of the English, but complete firstly if it were possible since
 they had some reservations about the baptism of Mr. Smidt [John
 Smyth], since he had no Scripture for it, but now did want to
 accept all the other English without worry, without baptizing
 again, further he desired also from Nittert Obbes, that he would
 lead the voting happening for this.


To whom the phrase "all those men" refers is not clear. Perhaps, the phrase is the concluding part of Wybrantsz's ordination. If so, then "all those men" could refer to the leaders present at Gerritsz's bedside. However, the phrase may introduce the next topic, namely "the case of the English." Although the meaning of the Dutch word, translated with "postpone," is difficult to determine, the context shows that the case of the English was still pending. The main reason, Gerritsz shared, was the reservation of the ministers regarding Smyth's se-baptism, which had no biblical warrant. Gerritsz understood the reservations, yet encouraged the leaders to accept all the other English without rebaptizing them. The aspect of consensus played an important role because Gerrritsz asked Obbes to lead the vote on accepting the other English.

From this discussion, two observations are noteworthy. First, John Smyth was still alive at this time. If he had died already, then the Mennonite ministers would have had no reasons for their reservations. According to Champlin Burrage's description, Smyth was indeed alive: "Smyth had long been of consumptive tendency, and in the summer of 1612 he grew rapidly weaker and died at the end of August in that year." (20) Second, a complete acceptance of the Smyth group as a true congregation does not seem to have taken place before January 17, 1612. If acceptance had been arrived at during the May 23, 1610, conference, then why did Gerritsz urge his fellow ministers to accept all the other English in January 1612? The available evidence, therefore, shows that most likely the May 23 conference did not finalize the discussion. (21) Stephen Wright, however, proposed an intermediate position that is well-argued and is partly based on Thomas Helwys's chiding of the Waterlanders:
 The Waterlanders could not admit Smyth and his friends formally,
 but offered them tacit recognition as a group, and close informal
 association, through continued accommodation at Munter's bakehouse.
 Helwys chided the Waterlanders.... [The group] found [itself] in
 ecclesial limbo, unable to go forward or back, the only means to
 properly church themselves blocked by the Broederschap. (22)


Conclusion

To prove conclusively their hypotheses about the "English affair," Baptist historians need more evidence. As it stands today, the letters of July 16 and July 18, 1610, as well as the memorandum of January 17, 1612, contain phrases indicating that the May 23, 1610, conference did not have the result for which the Amsterdam Waterlanders and Smyth had hoped. Close association between the two groups continued since the Smyth group lived at Jan Munter's bakehouse. (23) Nothing else is known with regard to this group before their request of November 6, 1614, to merge with the Amsterdam Waterlanders. (24) Until then, the other Mennonite congregations likely continued stalling negotiations. Finally, in January 1615, the Smyth group was "admitted in the community ... without baptism." (25) Hans de Ries, a minister of the congregation at Alkmaar, baptized the few Englishmen who had to be baptized before admittance.

Finally, the union of the Smyth group with the Waterlanders was a fact. Yet it had come at great cost. The Waterlanders in Holland had alienated themselves from the Mennonite leaders in Friesland and Germany. Plausibly, this alienation contributed to the breakup of the Bevredigde Broederschap in 1613.

(1.) H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 37-38.

(2.) Champlin Burrage, The Early English Dissenters in the Light of Recent Research (1550 1641), vol. 2, The Dissent and Nonconformity Series, no. 10 (Cambridge: University Press, 1912; reprint, Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, n.d.), 177; and John Smyth, The Works of John Smyth, vol. 2, ed. W. T. Whitley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915), 681. Cornelius J. Dyck argues for an application date of early 1610 because the English used Old Style dating. See Cornelius J. Dyck, "The Middelburg Confession of Hans de Ries, 1578," Mennonite Quarterly Review 36, no. 2 (April 1962): 131-32,

(3.) For letters and translations, see Burrage, Early English Dissenters, vol.2, 172-218; Smyth, Works, vol. 2, 681-709, 733-50; and Benjamin Evans, The Early English Baptists, vol. 1 (London: J. Heaton & Son, 1862), 208-22.

(4.) This author first translated these letters for a Master's paper. See Kirsten T. Timmer, "Consensus in Dutch Mennonite Understanding" (paper for Directed Studies in Baptist and Free Church Studies, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006).

(5.) James Robert Coggins, John Smyth's Congregation: English Separatism, Mennonite Influence, and the Elect Nation, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, ed. Cornelius J. Dyck, no. 32 (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1991), 77-97.

(6.) For the Dutch text, see Burrage, Early English Dissenters, vol. 2, 205-07.

(7.) Stephen Wright, The Early English Baptists, 1603-1649 (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2006), 41.

(8.) Bevredigde Broederschap (Satisfied Brotherhood) was the name of a group of High German, Frisian, and Waterlander Mennonites who united around 1600. In 1613, most Prisians and High Germans separated from the Broederschap due to their stricter views on the ban and mixed marriages. Also, the Amsterdam Waterlanders' consideration of accepting the Smyth group as a true Mennonite congregation contributed to the breakup. See Coggins, John Smyth's Congregation, 81-04, and James Robert Coggins, "A Short Confession of Hans de Ries: Union and Separation in Early Seventeenth-Century Holland," Mennonite: Quarterly Review, 60, no. 2 (April 1986): 126, 135.

(9.) Evans, Early English Baptists, vol. 1, 214.

(10.) For the Dutch text, see Burrage, Early English Dissenters, vol. 2, 207-8.

(11.) Ibid., 187.

(12.) For the Dutch text, see ibid., 208-09.

(13.) Evans, Early English Baptists, vol. 1, 215.

(14.) Ibid., 217. Coggins, "Short Confession," 137, argues that the Friesland ministers objected to the group's baptism because it contradicted Article 12 of the Concept of Cologne (an important document for the founding of the Bevredigde Broederschap). This article called for "proper succession in ordination," which rendered the Smyth group's baptism invalid since Smyth had baptized himself.

(15.) Evans, Early English Baptists, vol. 1, 217.

(16.) Coggins, John Smyth's Congregation, 84. Some historians arguing that the union of 1610 failed are B. R. White, A History of the English Baptists, vol. 1: The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, ed. B. R. White (London: The Baptist Historical Society, 1983), 26; and W. T. Whitley, A History of British Baptists (London: Charles Griffin & Company, Ltd, 1923), 22.

(17.) Coggins, "Short Confession," 136-38.

(18.) Evans, Early English Baptists, vol. 1, 216.

(19.) For the Dutch text, see Burrage, Early English Dissenters, vol. 2, 213-15. The year is 1612 according to New Style dating.

(20.) Champlin Burrage, The Early English Dissenters in the Light of Recent Research (1550-1641), vol. 1, The Dissent and Nonconformity Series, no. 9 (Cambridge: University Press, 1912; reprint, Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, n.d.), 248.

(21.) Jason Lee. The Theology of John Smyth. Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2003), 95, n269; and Burrage, Early English Dissenters, vol. 1, 249. Without having a complete English translation available, both authors correctly refer to the memorandum of January 17, 1612.

(22.) Wright, Early English Baptists, 42-43. For Helwys's comments, see Thomas Helwys, An Advertisement or Admonition unto the Congregations ... New Fryesers ([Amsterdam]: n.p., 1611), 39-40.

(23.) Keith L. Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Studies in the History of Christian Thought, ed. Heiko A. Oberman, vol. 31 (Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1982), 83; Wright, Early English Baptists, 42-3; and Evans, Early English Baptists, vol. 1, 220.

(24.) Evans, Early English Baptists, vol. 1, 220.

(25.) Ibid., 221.

Kirsten T. Timmer is a Ph.D. student in church history at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute, Arlington, Texas. She teaches religious education to seventh through twelfth graders in the Netherlands.
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Author:Timmer, Kirsten T.
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Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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