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The betwixt and between baptismal theology of Baptists in Colonial America.

"It's just a symbol," is an oft-repeated description of baptism in Baptist life. That description served to remind Baptists that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

It is not an objective means of grace or the seal of saving union with Christ. (1) In other words, it is not a sacrament. Over the last four hundred years, many Baptists have argued against the various sacramental theologies expressed by Puritans, Separatists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Restorationists, and Catholics, among others. On the one hand, according to many Baptists, these sacramental theologies have made too much of the baptismal act by arguing that baptism somehow sealed saving grace. On the other hand, these same Baptists were equally uncomfortable with the type of language that suggests baptism was just a symbol. This discomfort was particularly the case when Baptists encountered such theologies as those expressed by the Quakers, who argued that baptism had no perpetual significance outside the New Testament era and was therefore completely unnecessary in modern times. (2) In such theological dialogues, Baptists argued that baptism was an important command and should not be taken lightly. Baptism is just a symbol flippantly suggests that baptism has no value or worth outside the pictorial presentation. As a mere symbol, it could be dismissed as a redundant act tacked on at the end of the conversion experience. Baptists countered that baptism was not a mere symbolic act of the isolated self, but it was a participatory act in the relational reality made possible in the believer by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. (3)

Not new to Baptist life is the reality that the two together, mere symbolism and sacramentalism, frame the boundaries of the baptismal conversations. In 1745, English Baptist Samuel Wilson offered the following assessment of baptismal theology: "It is certain, men are apt to run into extremes; Some may possibly make too much of baptism; supposing it to be a regenerating, or justifying ordinance; that it washes away the guilt of original sin, and is always accompanied with the conveyance of grace. Others may think as meanly of it as a mere circumstantial ritual, or test of obedience to a positive precept, with little, if any spiritual meaning." (4) Wilson identified the two extremes of baptismal theology--that it was either a regenerative act or a mere circumstantial ritual--and as a Baptist he rejected both. (5)

This article focuses on the betwixt and between theology of the two extremes as it was expressed in the early seventeenth century, when Baptists first emerged in America. In reviewing the baptismal theologies of Baptists such as John Clarke, Obediah Holmes, and Thomas Goold, clearly baptism was symbolic, but it was not "just a symbol," a phrase that suggests its value was only symbolic. Yet, baptism was not a sacrament, although it was expressive of a rich theology informed by Baptist soteriology, ecclesiology, Christian ethics, and eschatology.

Visible Church, Visible Believer, Visible Baptism

Baptist life in America began in the New England colonies in the seventeenth century, and there the earliest baptismal theologies that surfaced in ecclesiological conversations related to the quest for the visible church. The Puritans attempted to create a visible church, made up of a covenanted community of visible saints, who were called out from the world and set apart from the wicked. (6) In order to sustain a visible church, Puritan congregations typically exercised some form of church discipline. Their covenantal theology of infant baptism, which was modeled after circumcision in the Old Testament, complicated the Puritan's effort to sustain a visible church. Among New England Puritans, for example, church member's children were baptized as infants into the church. Unfortunately, when some of these baptized members of the church grew older and did not express signs of grace, the Puritans were faced with the dilemma of what to do with these unregenerate church members. The practice of infant baptism worked against their efforts to maintain a visible church. The situation was further complicated when these unregenerate church members had their own babies and wanted them to be baptized in the church. The Puritan New England Synod of 1662 affirmed a solution, later known as "the Halfway Covenant," which allowed the unregenerate members to continue their membership and allowed their children to be received into the church by infant baptism. (7) The proviso, however, was that those children became halfway members with limited privileges in the Puritan church. The Halfway Covenant was the most satisfactory answer the synod could offer in the Puritan's attempt to preserve the purity of the church and the practice of infant baptism.

Baptists in colonial America affirmed the Puritan effort to create a visible church but regarded infant baptism as a major obstacle to obtaining it. (8) Baptists charged that pedobaptism compromised the Puritan quest for a visible church made up of visible saints. Not surprising, the pivotal question for the emerging Baptists in the 1600s was: Who are the proper subjects of baptism? The Baptists responded that believers only were the proper subjects of baptism. In 1639, Roger Williams founded the first Baptist church in the American colonies. (9) After being driven out of Boston by the established Puritan church, Williams, and a small group of others accepted rebaptism and constituted a church on that basis in Providence, Rhode Island. According to the earliest description of the event, "They also denied the baptizing of infants, and would have no magistrates." (10) Along with practicing believer's baptism, Williams established the Rhode Island colony as a place of refuge for the freedom of worship. Apparently, the "how" of baptism--the mode of affusion or immersion--was not an issue in this first Baptist church. (11) Instead, the question of "who"--the proper subject or believers only--of baptism concerned these first Baptists. In effect, William's interest in believer's baptism was closely associated with his search for the true or visible church, modeled after the New Testament pattern. (12) Not much is known about William's baptismal theology, and soon after his baptism, he left the Baptists to become a Seeker.

Whether or not Williams practiced immersion is not dear, but it did not take long for the question of the appropriate mode of baptism to follow quickly in the Baptist quest for visible church. John Clarke formed the second Baptist church in America in Newport, Rhode Island, sometime between 1641 and 1644. (13) No extant church records survive, but the Newport church was likely the first Baptist church in America to practice baptism by immersion. In his Ill Newes from New England (1652), Clarke later identified that the proper mode of baptism was immersion: "I Testifie that Baptism, or dipping in Water, is one of the Commandments of the Lord [J]esus Christ, and that a visible beleever, or Disciple of Christ [J]esus (that is, one that manifesteth repentance towards God, and Faith in [J]esus Christ) is the only person that is to be Baptized, or dipped with that visible Baptism, or dipping of [J]esus Christ in Water." (14) Clearly, his ecclesiological quest for a visible church, visible baptism or immersion, emerged as a key component of theology, along with the visible believer. The mode of dipping or immersion was significant because it was symbolic of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection; but as important was the fact that baptism was the participatory act of a believer in the relational reality that was made possible by Christ. Note that visible baptism was the dipping of Jesus Christ in water. The baptismal candidate was one who had repented, placed her faith in Jesus, and followed Christ obediently into the baptismal waters.

John Clarke

John Clarke, a physician and lawyer in England, was a well educated man, who arrived in Boston in 1637. Unlike Williams who was a short-lived Baptist, Clarke remained a Baptist until his death and is regarded by many historians as the "Father of American Baptists." He is particularly known today through his published work, Ill Newes from New England (1652), which narrated the persecution of Dissenters, like the Baptists, in Boston. Clarke published this work to make the English population aware of the harsh religious persecution suffered in the colonies. (15) Although Ill Newes is rightly remembered for its defense of freedom of conscience, the limits of civil government, and religious liberty, these themes have overshadowed other significant theological contributions of this work. Ill Newes is one of the first, if not the first, significant Baptist theological treatise to come out of New England in defense of baptismal theology. (16) In his writing, Clark expressed his opposition to Puritan and Quaker baptismal theologies. In turn, he expressed a rich betwixt and between theology expressive of Baptist ecclesiology, soteriology, Christian ethic, and eschatology.

Opposing sacramentalism and mere symbolism, Clarke warned against two extreme sides of worship: "the left side in a visible way of worship in deed, but such as was neither appointed by Christ, nor yet practiced by them who first trusted in him, or on the right in no visible worship, or order at all." (17) The left side was a reference to the Puritan pedobaptists, whom he believed regarded Christ's commands as "at the best, but meat for babes." (18) According to Clark, pedobaptism was the "superstitious hallowing of water" by the hand of a "superstitious consecrated ministry." (19) The right side, "in no visible worship or order at all" was a reference to the worship practices of those such as the Quakers and Antinomians. (20) According to Clarke, they regarded Christ's commands as "low and his appointments as carnall, legal injunctions," which were no longer binding. (21) In defense of believer's baptism by immersion, he argued that it was not a mere symbol, but an important act of visible worship in obedience to the commands of Christ as revealed by the Holy Spirit. Visible worship was "spirituall worship," or worship that springs from the Holy Spirit, who leads the believer in obedient response. (22) Visible worship involved obedience to the commands of Christ. For Clarke, baptism was neither sacramentalism on the left side or mere symbolism on the right side, but a relevant act of obedience and worship of Christ through the Spirit.

Clarke's baptismal theology was a betwixt and a between theology that carried the great weight of Baptist theology on its shoulder. First, baptismal theology expressed Baptist ecclesiology, particularly the visible and voluntary nature of the church. As previously noted, Baptist baptismal theology grew out of a quest for a visible church. As such, believer's baptism acted as a type of front-door discipline to the church. (23) The use of church discipline to maintain a visible church stems back to the Puritans, who used it to admonish members who committed sins and censure those who failed to repent. (24) Among New England Puritans, church discipline also involved requiring a declaration of one's narrative conversion experience as an adult. The Puritans required a person who had been baptized as an infant to later offer a public narrative of their experience of saving grace in front of the church. (25) This narrative experience of grace became a test for participation in the Communion Table and ultimately full membership in the church. Where the Puritans practiced infant baptism and then relied on the exercise of disciplinary practices, such as public conversion narratives, to maintain a visible church after membership; Baptists, on the other hand, practiced believer's baptism as the initiatory exercise of church discipline and as the public or visible expression of the conversion experience. (26)

Ecclesiologically, Clarke's theology of believer's baptism expressed not only church discipline, but also the voluntary nature of the visible church. Baptism as an act of church discipline demonstrated the believer's willingness to submit to Christ's commands and to live faithfully as a member of the church. Baptism replaced the narrative of grace that was required in Puritan churches as a means of church discipline. Clarke argued that baptism was a lively declaration or confession of Christ. (27) It was the act of an adult, who voluntarily consented to be baptized. In turn, the church consisted of members, who had each openly and voluntarily in baptism confessed their faith before the church. Believer's baptism gave the church confidence in the profession of faith of those who were being baptized into the same spiritual fellowship. All the members shared the same baptism, whereby the believers professed their subjection to Christ and their willingness to walk together with each other as the Spirit knit them together into the household of faith. (28) Here we see the assertion that the Spirit, who tenderly knit the household of faith together, was also at work in the lives of the candidates, who confessed their faith in baptism.

Relatedly, believer's baptism by immersion expressed Clarke's soteriology. Only those who had repented and placed their faith in Jesus Christ were to be baptized. The act served as the believer's public confession of faith. Although the Baptists' insistence upon immersion was driven by their effort to return to primitive New Testament practices, it was also largely shaped by soteriological concerns. Clarke argued that dipping in water was important because baptism made visible two reference points--Jesus Christ and the believer. In baptism by immersion, the believer "doth visibly put on Christ [J]esus the Lord"--his death, burial, and resurrection. (29) In turn, Christ's death and resurrection made possible a lively hope so that the believer too could walk in newness of life by the promise of the Spirit in the present world. Baptism then was a visible proclamation of the saving work of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer, who repented and followed Christ in faith. Nonetheless, baptism was not merely a pictorial symbol that pointed back to yesterday's conversion experience. It was a lively or dynamic act of faith in Christ, which expressed the relational reality of today's salvation that lived in the hope of the resurrection.

As such, believer's baptism expressed a significant Christian ethic. It demonstrated the disciples' obedience, or better, the disciples' following of Christ's command. Clarke's emphasis on obedience was expressive of a dynamic faith relationship with Christ. Baptism was an act whereby one was "visibly and lively planted into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ." (30) His use of such phrases as, in baptism the believer "put on Christ" and "walked in him," demonstrated that baptism was a relational reality of Christ and the believer, rather than the act of an isolated self. (31) Similarly, Clarke spoke of the "Holy Spirit of Promise," who was sent to be "a wellspring of living water" to lead the believer into truth and to observe all things that Christ commanded. (32) These phrases that qualified the language of obedience reflected a strong relational reality between the believer and Christ made possible by the Holy Spirit. Baptism was not a legalistic-type of obedience done in isolation from Christ after the believer was converted. It was the relational act of the believer, who was in Christ and following him by faith through the work of the Spirit, even in the act of baptism.

Clarke made clear on a number of occasions that baptism was an eschatological reality. (33) Most clearly, Clarke argued that in baptism the believer is resurrected with Christ "so to walk in newness of life in this present evill world, being also begotten unto a lively hope, that in the world to come he shall be raised, and quickned both in soul, and body, to a life everlasting." (34) Baptism by immersion was an eschatological reality that stemmed from the lively hope of Christ's resurrection. It was a participation in the newness of life created by resurrection hope that looked forward to a future resurrection. The Spirit of promise and truth, Clarke argued, made possible this walking in newness of life. As such, baptism itself was an act of lively hope, a waiting, and a holding fast of the believer, who was led from truth to truth by the Spirit of promise. Baptism was not an arrival, but an anticipation of the coming of the Lord and the believer's transformation into the image of Christ. Baptism was neither merely symbolic nor sacramental. It was a relational reality expressive of Baptist theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, discipleship, and eschatology.

Obediah Holmes

Obediah Holmes, like many colonial Baptists, became an advocate of believer's baptism after migrating to America from England. He was baptized as a believer in the Plymouth Colony by 1650 and soon thereafter was forced to move to Newport to find religious refuge from the civil and religious authorities. (35) Within a couple of years, he became the second pastor of the Newport Baptist congregation and served there faithfully for thirty years. Holmes is most remembered for "the event" of 1651, when he found himself in a Boston jail, sentenced to be fined or publicly whipped for his schismatical Baptist activities. (36) Holmes refused to pay the fine and was whipped, receiving thirty lashes across his back. After his beating, he famously remarked, "You have struck me as with Roses." (37) A year later, Clarke published the account in his Ill Newes from New England (1652), which circulated throughout England and America. Unlike Clarke, Holmes was neither an educated man nor a prolific writer. Although his "literary remains" are not extensive, several of his writings have survived. (38) Two of his letters, written by his hands, were incorporated and published in Ill Newes from New England. The other significant writing is his "Last Will and Testimony," a sixty-page manuscript written seven years before his death. Although never published during his lifetime, the manuscript survived and is one of the most detailed spiritual autobiographies of any seventeenth-century Baptist in America.

The simplicity and conviction of Holmes's theological reflections on conversion and baptism offer a significant contribution to the developing reservoir of Baptist baptismal theology. His conversion experience is particularly helpful for understanding his baptismal theology. The handwritten testimony narrates a long spiritual crisis in which Holmes was unable to find rest or quiet for his soul in prayer or in duties. (39) Throughout this dark night of his soul when "his spirit like a wave tossed up and down," Satan continually whispered to him that there was no hope. Holmes regarded his best performances and strictest attempts at obedience as sin. After many years of spiritual struggle, he was brought at last by God to the conclusion that in Christ God loved him and offered him free grace. Thereafter, Holmes understood that faith in Christ produced works of faith-obedience to Christ's ordinance. In his later reflection on obedience, Holmes emphasized the relationality of obedience: "For I look at every ordinance of His to be but as a means of His own appointment to convey and communicate Himself." (40) To follow Christ's ordinances means to meet Christ by faith even in the act of following.

Holmes's long spiritual battle of conversion and his wrestling with language of obedience shaped his understanding of baptism, which he regarded neither as a mere symbol nor a sacrament. Although he recognized the importance of obedience, he also refused to give too much credit to the ordinances: "And though my heart and affections and judgments and practice is to ordinances... I use them, but yet my soul's consolation and rest is not in them." (41) His soul rested in the Lord and not in the ordinances, and yet the Lord conveyed himself through the ordinances. Here the betwixt and between theology is clumsy and slippery, but Holmes continued to tread the discourse between mere symbolism and sacramentalism as he wrestled with the language of obedience. Baptism was a relational reality in which the believer did not act in isolation, but in Christ by faith. At the end of his life, Holmes reflected, "I [wished] more and more to find the good effect of that significant ordinance of baptism which I own and have respect unto, but not therein to trust, but yet good in its place as other appointments of the Lord ... It is my desire that while I am in the land of the living I may use them in obedience and love to my Lord and in a careful, earnest waiting for His own Spirit in and through them." (42) Like all of the Lord's commands, baptism is neither to be neglected nor trusted on its own. Instead, it is a following of Christ that is at the same time an act of hope waiting on the Spirit.

One of Holmes's unique contributions to Baptist baptismal theology was the deep, inner connection that he made between believer's baptism by immersion and baptism in suffering. The correlation between the two expressed his soteriology and the Christian life lived in cosmic conflict with evil. Certainly, he was not the first Baptist to associate baptism and affliction, but he was one of the first to publish this expression in America. For Holmes, although baptism was not a sacrament, it was clearly an important, albeit risky act of the believer--more than a mere symbol. To have fellowship with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection was to have fellowship with Christ in his suffering--something Holmes experienced personally at the hands of civil and religious authorities. Immediately before his whipping in Boston, he stated loudly, "I am now come to be baptized in afflictions by your hands, that so I may have further fellowship with my Lord, and am not ashamed of his sufferings, for by his stripes am I healed." (43) Note here that suffering was not the point of baptism, but certainly fellowship with Christ was. One who had surrendered his soul to Christ by faith must expect to surrender his body as well. (44) Clearly, Holmes's soteriology and doctrine of Christian life were inseparable.

More than just a theological expression of soteriology, the connection between baptism and affliction underscored discipleship and eschatology. Baptism was as an engaging of the believer in a cosmic battle with the forces of evil. Holmes identified the baptismal event as a "drowning," and act of complete surrender that thrust the believer into a life lived in battle against evil. (45) In narrating his conversion experience, Holmes stated that no sooner had he been baptized, than "the adversary cast out a flood against us." (46) The use of the flood metaphor was no coincidence. Holmes understood baptism by immersion in water as a baptism into the adversary's flood of affliction against him. This same adversary that tormented Holmes during his conversion experience had questioned him in the days and hours before his whipping. (47) Holmes later wrote that while alone in a prison cell, Satan "let fly" a reminder to him of his wife, children, birth, and upbringing. The implication of baptism as a cosmic battle with these forces accentuated the reality that for the believer there was no easy sanctuary or withdrawal from the world. Just as Christ was crucified, a disciple was called to live a cruciformed life by faith and hope in the world. The cross was not just a symbol of God's struggle against evil; it was God's victory over sin and death. Similarly, baptism was no mere symbolism; it was the participation of the believer in Christ's work.

Thomas Goold

Thomas Goold's life followed a similar pattern as that of Clarke and Holmes. A wagon maker and farmer by trade, Goold was considered a respectable member of the Puritan church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, until he embraced believer's baptism. (48) After a diligent search of the scriptures, he wrote, "God was pleased at last to make it clear to me by the rule of the gospel, that children were not capable nor fit subjects for such an ordinance, because Christ gave this commission to his apostles, first to preach to make them disciples, and then to baptize them, which infants were not capable of." (49) He began questioning infant baptism as early as 1655, when the Puritans reproved Goold for refusing to have his newborn daughter baptized. (50) Ten years later, in 1665, Goold founded the first Baptist church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (51) That church began when eight men and women met in the Goold home, and each was immersed. (52) On the same day as their baptism, they signed a church covenant, which was one of the earliest among Baptists in America. (53) Four months later, Goold was called before the civil court, where he presented another document, the church's confession of faith and order. The confession demonstrated how the covenant was central to the congregational life of the Boston Baptists. Baptismal theology was woven into the fabric of both documents.

The first page of the Boston Baptist Church Records contains a brief description of the opening meeting and the simple covenant signed by the fledging congregation: "The 28 of the 3d mo. 1665 in Charlestowne, Massachusetts, the Churche of Christ, commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptists were gathered togather And entered into fellowship & communion each with other, [engaging] to walke togather in all the appointments of there Lord & Master the Lord Jesus Christ as farre as hee should bee pleased to make known his mind & will unto them by his word & Spirit, And then were Baptized." (54) This covenant, like many others in early Baptist history, expressed significant ecclesiological insights. (55) The Boston Baptists affirmed their commitment to walk together with God and with one another, pledging their obedience in faithfully seeking God's word through the Spirit. The language expressed the community's shared journey of discovery as disciples walking forward into God's word. Baptism was a significant expression of this covenant language and was intertwined with it. Baptism was described as the initial act of the "walking together" of the gathered church and presented as no mere symbol or act committed in isolation, but instead was the relational act of the believer in fellowship with Christ and with other believers.

The confession of faith affirmed by the Boston Baptists was likewise connected to this covenantal language and emphasized a comparable theology to that of Clarke and Holmes. The confessional articles spoke primarily to the formation and practices of the church, asserting belief in the triune God and the Bible. (56) The section on the church's baptismal theology was brief but integral to the theological thrust of the entire confession: "Christ his commission to his desciples is to teach & baptise And those that gladly received the word & are baptised are saints by calling & fitt matter for a vissible church And a competent number of such joyned together in covenant & fellowship of the gosple are a Church of Christ." (57) Notice the emphasis on a visible church that was similarly expressed earlier by Clarke. The article affirmed that baptism was commanded by Christ. Receiving the word gladly and being baptized made the believer fit for the visible church. Baptism was not a sacrament, but an ecclesiological act. Baptism was the joining together in covenant and fellowship. The emphasis on baptism and the covenant to fellowship together adds a unique expression to Baptist ecclesiology. Baptism was not merely an expression of the believer's fellowship with Christ, but was also a covenantal act of fellowship in and with the body of Christ.


Early seventeenth-century Baptists in America recognized the importance of baptism for the life of the confessional church. In their quest for a visible church, they emphasized believers only as the proper subject because baptism was an expression of soteriology and the Christian life. Baptism was a confessional act of faith that Jesus Christ is Lord. In baptism, believers participated in the relational reality made possible by faith in Christ. Similarly, Baptists affirmed visible baptism by the mode of immersion because it functioned as a lively symbol in the same way that preaching functions--to proclaim the gospel and to focus the congregation's fundamental confession that Jesus is the incarnate Christ who has come from God to redeem all of creation from sin and death. Ecclesiologically, baptism expressed each member's willingness to submit to Christ's commands and to live faithfully as member of the body of Christ. In turn, the cruciformed community walked together in the Spirit and lived authentically in the world. Eschatologically, baptism was the act of one called to live a resurrected life that testified to the future hope and to bear witness to the victory of Christ over sin and death.

Twenty-first century Baptists have much to learn from the rich historical heritage of Baptist baptismal theology. For these early colonial Baptists in America, baptism was neither a sacrament nor a mere symbol. It was a relational act and an authentic symbol. As such, it was a rich expression of the church's theology and an integrating focal point for the doctrines of soteriology, ecclesiology, the Christian life, and the eschatological hope that the believer finds by faith in Jesus Christ. Clearly, the betwixt and between baptismal theology carried the great weight of Baptist theology on its shoulders.

(1.) James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, vol. 2 (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 2001), 578-79.

(2.) Some Quakers, such as the Rogerenes, practiced believer's baptism.

(3.) Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 239-40. Along these lines, Tillich argued that a symbol that is true has a double meaning: "A symbol has truth: it is adequate to the revelation is expresses. A symbol is true: it is the expression of a true revelation." Mere symbolism loses this double meaning. It emphasizes that the symbol has truth, without expressing that a symbol needs also to be an authentic expression of the candidate's relationship with Christ.

(4.) S. Wilson, A Scriptural Manual,. or, a Plain Presentation of the Ordinance of Baptism (Newport, RI: S. Southwick, 1772), 5. This manual was first published in England in 1745 and circulated among Baptists in America. The fourth edition was printed in America as early as 1772. In 1827, the Baptist General Tract Society published it for a new generation of Baptists.

(5.) Ibid., 31. Wilson argued that it was no "mere" symbolism, but a profession of faith, a declaration "entrance into Christ," and a lively representation of the burial and resurrection of Christ.

(6.) Edmund S. Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963), 10-14.

(7.) Ibid., 130-33.

(8.) Ibid., 125.

(9.) James K. Hosmer, ed., Winthrop's Journal: History of New England 1630-1649, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), 274.

(10.) H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987), 131; Hosmer, ed., Winthrop's Journal, I, 279.

(11.) The mode of baptizing that Williams and the others at Providence utilized has been debated among Baptist historians. See William H. Whitsitt, A Question in Baptist History: Whether the Anabaptists in England Practiced Immersion Before the Year 16417 (Louisville, KY: C.T. Dearing, 1896), 147-64; Henry Melville King, The Baptism of Roger Williams (Providence, RI: Preston and Rounds, 1897), 102; McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 131; and Bill Leonard, Baptist Ways: A History (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2003), 74-75. Whitsitt gathered evidence that suggests Williams was not immersed, but sprinkled. Contrary to Whitsitt, King asserted that Williams was immersed. Whereas McBeth argued that the Providence group "probably" practiced baptism by immersion, Leonard asserted that Williams received baptism by affusion from Ezekiel Holliman.

(12.) william G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent: 1630-1833, The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 10. Williams remained a Baptist for only four months before becoming a Seeker. Nonetheless, he later stated in a letter to Winthrop that he believed the Baptist practice of baptism came nearer to the New Testament practice than others.

(13.) McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 136-39; McLoughlin, New England Dissent, vol. 1, 11-12.

(14.) John Clarke, Ill Newes From New-England, in Colonial Baptists, eds., William G. McLoughlin and Martha Whiting Davidson (New York: Arno Press, 1980), 36, 85.

(15.) McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 139-40.

(16.) McLoughlin, New England Dissent, vol. 1, 27.

(17.) Clarke, Ill Newes, 19. Italics added for emphasis.

(18.) ibid.

(19.) ibid., 12.

(20.) Louis Franklin Asher, John Clarke (1609-1676): Pioneer in American Medicine, Democratic Ideals, and Champion of Religious Liberty (Pittsburgh, PA: Dorrance Publishing Co, 1997), 42-43. This particular quotation from Clarke's Ill Newes is under a heading entitled, "To the True Christian Reader." Asher argued that this section was directed as a warning to the Hutchinson Faction, to the Quakers, and to Roger Williams, who was a Seeker.

(21.) Clarke, Ill Newes, 18-19.

(22.) Ibid., 80-81.

(23.) I owe this insight to Professor David William Kirkpatrick, who used this phrase and discussed this concept in a lecture ("The Church," Spring 2004, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas).

(24.) Morgan, Visible Saints, 10-11.

(25.) Ibid., 64-77.

(26.) Baptists also practiced other forms of church discipline, similar to the Puritans.

(27.) Clarke, Ill Newes, 84-85

(28.) Ibid., 80, 90-91

(29.) Ibid., 84-85.

(30.) Ibid., 91.

(31.) ibid., 90.

(32.) ibid., 89-94.

(33.) ibid., 36-37; 80-81; 84-86; 90-91.

(34.) ibid., 84.

(35.) Edwin S. Gaustad, ed. Baptist Piety: The Last Will and Testimony of Obadiah Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian University Press, 1978), 18-20.

(36.) ibid., 22-29; McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 139-140.

(37.) Clarke, Ill Newes, 51.

(38.) Gaustad, ed., Baptist Piety, 67-69.

(39.) ibid., 70-82

(40.) Ibid., 79

(41.) Ibid., 81

(42.) Ibid., 81-82

(43.) Ibid., 50.

(44.) Ibid., 28.

(45.) Ibid., 91.

(46.) Ibid., 46.

(47.) Ibid., 27-28, 47-48.

(48.) Isaac Backus, A History of New England with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, vol. 1 (Newton, Massachusetts: Backus Historical Society, 1871), 29097; Nathan Wood, The History of the First Baptist Church of Boston: 1665-1899 (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1899), 31-71. Backus and Wood included documents written by Goold in their histories; McLoughlin, New England Dissent: 1630-1833, vol. 1, 51.

(49.) Backus, History of New England, vol. 1, 290. Backus included Goold's narrative describing his interaction with the Congregationalists in Massachusetts.

(50.) McLoughlin and Davidson, eds., "The Baptist Debate of April 14-15, 1668," in Colonial Baptists, 92. Goold later stated in a public debate, "And the church they baptized infants: which I could not close with: and also the means as well as the subject I could not close with: it is not being the sprinkling of a little water but dipping of a professed believer."

(51.) They originally formed the church in Charlestown and nine years later moved it to Boston. See McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 49.

(52.) Wood, History of the First Baptist Church of Boston, 59-60; and McLoughlin and Davidson, eds., "The Baptist Debate of April 14-15, 1668," 91-133. Wood was unsure how these nine members were baptized. He believed it was possible that John Myles, a Baptist minister from Swansea, Massachusetts, or John Clarke, pastor at Newport, may have administered the baptisms. Since Wood's work, McLoughlin and Davidson have uncovered transcripts of a debate held in 1668, which indicates that the group probably re-baptized themselves.

(53.) Charles W. Deweese, Baptist Church Covenants (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1990), 41.

(54.) Wood, History of the First Baptist Church of Boston, 33.

(55.) Deweese, Baptist Church Covenants, 39.

(56.) McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 58.

(57.) Wood, History of the First Baptist Church of Boston, 65. Wood includes a facsimile and transcription of the articles.

Sheila D. Klopfer is assistant professor of religion at Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky.
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Author:Klopfer, Sheila D.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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