Baptists, a denomination of evangelical Christians, who differ from others in respect to the proper age and mode of administering baptism. In the view of the Baptists age is nothing, but spiritual quaification is everything; hence they baptize all who repent and believe the gospel, whether in childhood, youth, or manhood, and very frequently whole households at once, as did the apostles. The Baptists reject the substitution of sprinkling for the entire immersion of the body, which they maintain was originally practised in the administration of baptism, and (except in the case of the sick) universally observed throughout Christendom for 1,300 years. For the universal obligation of immersion as identical with baptism itself, and essential to its specific spiritual purposes, they urge the admitted signification of the word the necessity of adhering to the ordinary meaning of words in the interpretation of laws, the places where the rite was originally performed, the phraseology employed in describing it, the example of Christ himself, and the metaphorical allusions of the sacred writers when explaining the spiritual import of the rite. They maintain that, so far as the meaning of the word is concerned, they have the concurrence of the whole body of the reformers of the Kith century, who were withheld from restoring immersion among Protestants generally, not by critical reasons, but by their views of church authority and expediency. The Mennonites, or Dutch Baptists, restored immersion; hut a part of them, though still rejecting infant baptism, have since adopted pouring; those who retain immersion are now called Tunkers, i. e., dippers. All the Greek and oriental churches, though adopting the baptism of children, retain immersion as essential to the validity of the rite, and deny that there is any efficacy in the western form of baptism. - On the subject of church communion strict Baptists agree generally with other denominations that it is not proper before baptism.
Open communion, so eloquently advocated by Robert Hall in England, the Baptists of the United States regard as an anomaly. The Baptists believe in the spiritual unity of the whole believing church under Christ, its head, and in the duty of making this duty visible by subjection to him in all things. Local churches, like those of Jerusalem and Antioch, composed of converted members, duly baptized, embodied under the law of Christ by free mutual agreement, and maintaining the truth in love, they hold to be, according to the New Testament, the appointed means, in the first place, for manifesting this unity. The government of these churches is congregational. Each body, being immediately dependent on Christ, is therefore independent of all others, and is complete in itself for the management of its internal affairs, such as the choice of officers, declaration of faith, and reception, dismission, or discipline of members. Each church is a tribunal, where Christ himself presides, ratifying in heaven whatever is done according to his will on earth. This principle of independence is, however, balanced by the intercommunion of churches. This intercommunion is the highest form of visible unity, and is never to be interrupted without necessity.
On this principle their churches associate, invite councils for advice, and organize societies for mutual cooperation in any benevolent, educational, or missionary enterprise. But all such associations among Baptists disclaim the slightest jurisdiction over the churches. - Baptists make no distinction but that of office between clergymen and laymen. The voice of the majority governs. They recognize no higher church officers than pastors and deacons. Elders, as evangelists and missionaries, are also ordained after due trial, and sent out to preach the gospel. Councils are usually called by the churches, to advise and assist in the ordination of ministers, the formation of churches, and the settlement of serious difficulties. Such councils in some localities are composed exclusively of ministers, and are called presbyteries; but they must not be confounded with the bodies that bear that name in the Presbyterian church, as they have neither judicial nor appellate powers. Whatever be their differences in other things, Baptists all agree in maintaining the congregational form of church government.
With Congrega-tionalists, so called, they differ only in regard to baptism and in being more strictly congregational. - In Great Britain the Baptists, next to the Congregationalists, form the most numerous body of Protestant dissenters. In England the body is divided by their views of the design of Christ's redemption into General and Particular Baptists, the former taking Arminian and the latter Calvinistic ground. The New Connection of General Baptists seceded from the old, to exclude Unitarianism, which was creeping in. They were originally strict communionists, but are now divided on that question. They have a theological school at Leicester, a successful mission at Orissa in India, and, though a small, are a zealous and flourishing body. The Particular Baptists are altogether the most numerous and influential. They have in Great Britain and Ireland 2,567 churches and 243,395 members. They have six theological colleges - at London, Bristol, Horton, Haverford West, Pontypool, and Edinburgh. Their periodical organs are the "Freeman," a large weekly sheet, and three monthly periodicals, the "Baptist Magazine," "Baptist Reporter," and the "Eclectic Review." This body holds different views on the question of communion; the prevailing ones are those of Robert Hall. In all other respects they are united.
Within half a century they have advanced rapidly in numbers and influence. They support the important mission to India begun by Carey in 1793, a Baptist home mission, and missions in Ireland, France, Africa, Honduras, and the West Indies. The Jamaica mission is now self-supporting, but the home society has established and sustains at Calabar, in Jamaica, a theological institution for native candidates for the ministry, which is in a flourishing condition, and promises much for Africa also. Baptist principles are spreading rapidly in all the widely extended colonies of Great Britain, particularly Australia, New Zealand, St. Helena, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Cana-das. On the continent of Europe, within 35 years, nearly 30,000 converts have been baptized, and 100 churches planted in the principal cities of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark, besides 220 churches in Sweden, with 8,807 members. Many of these converts have suffered severe fines and imprisonments; some have been denied the liberty of marriage; others have had their children forcibly baptized in the state church; others, still, have been condemned to perpetual banishment. But in the face of all this intolerance they have advanced.
Hundreds, driven from their homes, emigrate to America. Recent information from France and Switzerland announces the gradual abandonment of infant baptism by the free evangelical churches, and also by some in the Protestant national church. - In the United States the Baptist, with one exception, is now the largest denomination of evangelical Christians. They are spread through every state and territory. Owing to a difference on the subject of slavery, in 1845 the southern Baptists, by mutual consent, formed separate organizations for their benevolent enterprises. As early as 1764, when numbering in all America only 60 churches and about 5,000 members, the Baptists founded their first college in Rhode Island. Long before, they had fostered Harvard, and helped Franklin to lay the foundations of the university of Pennsylvania. They now have 28 colleges of their own, over 100 academies and female seminaries of a high grade, and 9 theological schools. They have publication societies at Philadelphia, Charleston, and Nashville, besides many flourishing private publishing houses in our large cities. They maintain 45 periodical organs, including a quarterly review.
The Baptists of the United States also support the American and foreign Bible society, the American Baptist missionary union, the southern Baptist board of foreign and domestic missions, the Baptist home mission society, and in part the "American Bible Union." Their missions are planted in Canada, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Hayti; in France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway; in western and central Africa; in southern India, Assam, Burmah, Siam, and China. The number of conversions from their colportages and missions in 1871 exceeded 5,000. Total number in the mission churches, over 50,000. The income of all the above societies in 1871 was $800,000. In doctrine the Baptists of this country are Calvinistic, but with much freedom and moderation. The New Hampshire declaration of faith in 1833 is the most popular. - Besides the general body of Baptists, there are in the United States nine smaller bodies, distinguished by peculiarities indicated by their respective names. The Seventh-Day Baptists differ only in the observance of the Jewish Sabbath; the Free-will and the Anti-mission Baptists are seceders from the general fellowship on account of Arminian and Anti-nomian tendencies, though the latter are gradually adopting different views and returning to the general body.
The General (or Six-Principle) Baptists, the Tunkers, and the Men-nonites are of foreign origin, and cling to their ancient usages. The Christian connection, the Campbellites (or Disciples), and the Wine-brennarians (or Church of God) are new organizations, drawn from various sources, though agreeing with the Baptists generally as to the subjects and mode of baptism. For the peculiarities of each see the respective articles. - It is asserted by some Baptists that they can trace their history in a succession of pure churches (cathari) essentially Baptist, though under various names, from the 3d century down to the reformation. These churches, from the 5th century onward, were the subjects of systematic persecution from the state churches, both in the East and in the West. Cyril of Alexandria and Innocent I. of Rome, according to the historian Socrates, began this persecution by depriving them of their houses of worship, and driving them into secret places, under the laws of Honorius and Theodosius II., which forbid rebaptism (so called) under penalty of death. Yet their principles reappear among the Culdees of the West and the Paulians of the East, the Vallesii and the Paterines, the Albigenses and Waldenses, and emerge on all sides at the first dawn of the reformation.
Mr. Bancroft says of the German Baptists of that era: "With greater consistency than Luther they applied the doctrines of the reformation to the social positions of life, and threatened an end to priestcraft and kingcraft, spiritual domination, titles, and vassalage. They were trodden under foot with foul reproaches and most arrogant scorn, and their history is written in the blood of thousands of the German peasantry; but their principles, secure in their immortality, escaped with Roger Williams to Providence, and his colony is witness that naturally the paths of the Baptists are paths of freedom, pleasantness, and peace." (See Anabaptists.) - In England, from the time of Henry VIII. to William III., a full century and a half, the Baptists struggled to gain their footing, and to secure liberty of conscience for all. From 1611 they issued appeal after appeal, addressed to the king, the parliament, and the people, in behalf of this "soul liberty," written with a breadth of view and force of argument hardly since exceeded. Yet, until the Quakers arose in 1660, the Baptists stood alone in its defence, amid universal opposition.
In the time of Cromwell they first gained a fair hearing, and, under the lead of Milton and Vane, would have changed the whole system of the church and the state but for the treason of Monk. In the time of Charles II. the prisons were filled with their confessors and martyrs, yet their principles gradually gained ground in the public mind and hastened the revolution of 1038. "The share which the Baptists took," says Dr. Williams, "in shoring up the fallen liberties of England, and in infusing new vigor and liberality into the constitution of that country, is not generally known. Yet to this body English liberty owes a debt it can never acknowledge. Among the Baptists Christian freedom found its earliest, its stanch-est, its most consistent, and its most disinterested champions." Not less powerful has been the influence of the Baptists in the United States. Introduced into Rhode Island with Roger Williams and John Clark in 1038, their history for more than a century, in most of the colonies, is that of proscribed and banished men.
Yet, persecuted themselves, they never persecuted others. "In the code of laws established by them in Rhode Island," says Judge Story, "we read, for the first time since Christianity ascended the throne of the Ca?sars, the declaration that conscience should be free, and men should not be punished for worshipping God in the way they were persuaded he requires." The article on religious liberty in the amendments to the American constitution was introduced by the united efforts of the Baptists in 1789. The new impulse given to the spirit of liberty by the revolutionary war was followed by the rapid spread of Baptist principles. Their great prosperity dates from that era. In 1762 there were 56 Baptist churches in America; in 1792 there were 1,000; in 1812, 2,433; in 1832, 5,322; in 1852 they exceeded 9,500. At the present time, according to the "Baptist Year Book" for 1872, without including any of the Baptist minor bodies, there are 18,397 churches, 12,013 ministers, and 1,489,181 church members, of whom 85,321 were added the preceding year.
Including those of the British provinces, the total number of members was 1,557,449. If those sects be included which agree with the Baptists in their organic principles, though differing in other points, the number would rise to more than 1,700,000. The total population attached to Baptist views is estimated at nearly 8,000,000. From these statistics it appears that the increase of the Baptists for outruns that of the population of the United States. The rates of increase have been greatest in Massachusetts and Virginia, where they were most persecuted, and in the new states where their zealous ministers were among the earliest pioneers. (See Curtis's "Progress of Baptist Principles for the last One Hundred Years," Boston, 1856).