The Origin and Perpetuity of the Baptists
The Baptist Examiner

Anti-Baptist Writers Confused And
Divided As To Baptist History


Wide confusion exists among those who seek to mark the beginning of Baptists this side of Christ. This confusion may not necessarily prove anything in favor of Baptists, but it certainly reveals that their claims to perpetuity all the way back to Christ have not been disproved to any general satisfaction.

W. A. Jarrel, author of Baptist Church Perpetuity, wrote to Roman Catholic bishops, priests, and Protestant scholars, asking "when, where, and by whom the first Baptist church originated." Here are some of the answers that Jarrel received:

J. Gentile (Roman Catholic), a priest of Shreveport, Louisiana: "You have in Dallas, two or three priests with valuable libraries. Interview them."

G. H. Elder (Roman Catholic), a bishop of Cincinnati, Ohio: "I cannot get time to answer all my letters. These questions cannot be answered without explanation, which I have not time to make. And there is no reason why you came to me for them. You have men near you—priests and others—who can do it better than I."

A Roman bishop of New Orleans, said: "In Germany, called Anabaptists, by Nich. Stork, 1522."

John S. Murphy, a priest of St. Patrick’s church, Houston, Texas: "Stork, a short time after Luther proclaimed his heresies."

A spokesman for Cardinal Gibbons (Roman Catholic) of Baltimore, Maryland: "Your questions are not possibly capable of exact and very positive answers. The Baptist church of the present times seems to be the lineal descendant of the old Anabaptists of Reformation times. They have their most probable origin in the Mennonites or Dutch Baptists. These arose, as you know, after Martin Luther. The forefathers emigrated into England in the time of Henry the VIII, and of Queen Elizabeth. However, the first church known as the Baptist Church seems to have been built in London in 1606. The year 1547 is about the earliest date set by reliable historians for the existence of a Baptist denomination. As a sect they can not go back to a more remote date than that. It is not sound history or good reasoning to try to connect them with an earlier sect or heresy; though you may find some similarity between their teachings and the teachings of the ancient Waldenses, or sects and controversies even earlier."

The professor of church history in the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary wrote: "Baptists were originated by ‘some Swiss, about 1523.’"

H. M. Scott, professor of church history in the Congregational Theological Seminary, in Chicago, wrote: "It arose in Zwickan, Saxony, A. D. 1520; under the Zwickan prophets, Starch and others."

A. C. Lewis, professor of church history in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Chicago, wrote: "I regret not being able to give you the categorical answers you seem to anticipate . . . The questions as put, do not admit of short and categorical answers . . . The first Baptist Church was not formed or organized, but evolved out of Anabaptist antecedents."

Professor L. L. Paine, of the Congregational Theological Seminary, of Bangor, Maine, wrote: "When Luther began his reformation there were so-called Anabaptists. But the Baptist denomination is later. The origin of the English Baptists is very obscure. They appear in the reign of Elizabeth, persecuted."

Professor John Clarke Ridpath, Methodist, of Du Paw University, evasively answered: "The answers of your questions turns upon the definition of the word Baptist . . . There is, therefore, a sense in which we should say that there was a Baptist Church in the age of Luther. There is another sense in which we should have to deny the proposition . . . I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist Church as for back as A. D. 100, though without doubt there were Baptists then, as all Christians were then Baptists."

The president of the Campbellite College, at Bethany, Va., wrote: "The Baptists appeared first in Switzerland." Who founded the first Baptist church that ever existed "cannot be determined. There were no Baptist Churches before the beginning of the sixteenth century though immersion was practiced from the beginning."

A. P. Cobb, pastor of the First Campbellite Church, in Springfield, Ill., wrote, "Was there a Baptist Church when Luther began his Reformation? Yes. In Switzerland, 1523. Large churches fully organized in 1525-30 in South Germany. Who originated the first Baptist Church? I cannot tell."

The pastor of the First Campbellite Church, Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote: "Was there a Baptist Church when Luther began his Reformation? The Baptists had large churches fully organized between 1520-30 in Switzerland. They were persecuted by both Zwingli and, the Romanists. Who originated the first Baptist Church that ever existed? I do not know."

The professor of church history in the Campbellite College, at Irvington, Ind., endorsed the following quotation—which he enclosed with his letter—from the Journal and Messenger, of Cincinnati: "Baptists believe that the churches founded by the Apostles were essentially Baptist. That they believed and practiced what Baptist Churches believe and practice today. They also believe that persons holding these essential doctrines were found all along down through the centuries, from the days of the apostles until now. But they do not fix upon any particular time when the first Baptist Church of modern times came into existence. They find that such churches existed in Switzerland in the early part of the sixteenth century—the days of Zwingli and Luther. They find that about the same time such churches were to be found in Holland and the Low Countries; and that soon after they were to be found in England. They find that as early as 1640-44 they were existing in various parts of our own country, and that their founders for the most part came from England or Wales. Not to speak of Roger Williams, it is found that Hanserd Knollys founded a little Baptist Church in New Hampshire; that a similar church was founded in New Jersey, another in Pennsylvania and others in the Southern States, in the seventeenth century. No one church in this country can be called the mother church of Baptists."

His words are: "As it did not seem possible to answer in the brief space of your card, the reply has been delayed. In the meanwhile the enclosed extract from the Journal and Messenger . . . set forth all the facts in the case, as given in church history."

B. D. Dean, Professor of Church History in Hiram College, wrote: "Was there a Baptist Church when Luther began his Reformation? No, not under that name. Baptist churches sprang up simultaneously in different countries as the result of the Reformation. I know of no Baptist Churches calling themselves Baptist Churches prior to 1600."

Professor Dean, in his letter, endorses the following statement: "In Switzerland, in Germany, in Holland, it has been found impossible to decide when Baptists first appeared, or which were the first churches of Baptists in those lands . . . and it is quite as difficult to decide the question about ‘Baptists in England."

Jarrel’s remarks on these replies to his questions:

"Had I asked any of the foregoing scholars: Who was the first President of the United States? When and by whom was the Methodist Church originated? The Presbyterian? The Lutheran? The Campbellite? The Episcopal? In a half dozen words they could have answered. Yet, in answer to when and by whom Baptist churches originated, we see they spend more time refusing to attempt an answer, than would be necessary to tell the name and the date of the origin of Baptist Churches if they were of modern and of human origin; or, they evade the question; or, they annihilate each other’s answers by their contradictions of each other; or, they admit the impossibility of answering my questions, or, they indirectly, without intending it, concede Baptist Churches are neither of human nor of modern origin.

"Closing these answers is the following, which I received when I received the others just quoted, from Prof. Walker, professor of church history in Harvard University: ‘As you are probably aware, your questions relate to one of the most disputed points in church history. Whether the Baptist movement can be traced back to the Lutheran Reformation or not, is a question which has been much debated of late . . . Some men of weight in church history, and notably the German scholar, Ludwig Keller, of Munster, would find a continuous, relation between the Anabaptists of the Reformation period and individual sects like the Waldenses, and through them a line of free and possibly evangelical churches, back to the early days of the church.’"

"In view of these statements of representative scholars—to which an almost unlimited number can be added—that history does not assign to Baptist Churches a human founder and a post-apostolic date of origin is settled beyond doubt."