The Importance of History

Dr Pierre Coovert

Psalms 11:3 “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Carl Marx said “A people without a heritage can easily be persuaded.”

George Orwell said “He who controls the history controls the future.”

A people cannot survive for long if they forget their history. Baptists are no different. We are loosing our identity because we have lost our history and if we loose our historical foundations we become just another religious denomination with nothing special to offer the world.

Starting in the last half of the 19th century there was an effort to rewrite Baptist history. It reached its zenith by the middle of the 20th century. This rewritten history is now taught as fact in most Baptist schools and in all Protestant schools. Let’s take a short look at this rewritten history and see why it cannot be true.

This history says that modern day Baptists have their origin in one of three sources. Most say they began in England with John Smyth about 1606. This is impossible because John Smyth was never a member of any Baptist church in England. He was a minister in the Church of England with separatist leanings. He left England for Holland and there started a church which was never a legitimate Baptist church. When he was cast out of this church he sought to join, as was accepted in, a Mennonite church which baptized by sprinkling.

The second supposed source for the origin of Baptists is the Anabaptists of Munster in the early sixteenth century. First of all, this group was not originally called Anabaptist, they were called Zwickau prophets. The name “anabaptist” was applied later as it was often applied to all who opposed the state church. These people did not baptize by immersion which proves they were not true Anabaptists since the true Anabaptists of that day were being drowned by Zwingli and his followers because they baptized by immersion.

The third supposed source of the origin of Baptists is Roger Williams. Roger Williams was a Congregational minister who stood against infant baptism. As a result he was kicked out of Massachusetts and moved to Rhode Island. He joined with the Baptists for a short time but later renounced their beliefs and became what he called a “seeker.” The church that he started in Providence only lasted for a few months and then was dissolved. Some of the members started another church some time later, but it was not the original church.

The church in Providence was not the first Baptist church founded in Rhode Island, it was the second. The earliest date given for the founding of the church in Providence is 1639. John Clarke founded a church in Newport Rhode Island a year earlier, in 1638. Some historians say that the Newport church was actually started at least a year earlier in Boston and then, after a winter in New Hampshire, was moved to Newport.

There are many reliable historians, both Baptist and others, who place the origin of Baptists back to the time of the apostles. I could fill pages with quotes from these historians but I will just give you a few.

First let me give you one of the most unreliable quotes: “Were it not that the baptists have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past twelve hundred years, they would swarm in number greater than all the Reformers.” This is attributed to Cardinal Hosius, the president of the Counsel of Trent. This exact language cannot be found in any of his works so the quote is not reliable. It may be a summary by someone of what he said at various times.

Here is a verifiable quote from the Cardinal which may be part of the things summarized in the other quote: “For not so long ago I read the edict of the other prince who lamented the fate of the Anabaptists who, so we read, were pronounced heretics twelve hundred years ago and deserving of capital punishment. He wanted them to be heard and not taken as condemned without a hearing.” (The letters of Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius, Liber Epistolarum 150, titled “Alberto Bavariae Duci” in about 1563 A.D.)

In this quote we have the Anabaptists condemned as deserving of death as early as 363 AD. There are few who will deny that the Baptists are the descendants of the Anabaptists.

Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer said, “The institution of Anabaptism is no novelty, but for one thousand and three hundred years has caused great disturbance in the church, and has acquired such a strength that the attempt in this age to contend with it appeared futile for a time.” (From the introduction to Orchard’s Concise History of Baptists).

This quote, made by the man who was responsible for the drowning of Anabaptists for their belief in the baptism of saved people only by immersion, takes us bake to about 225.

Professor John Clarke Ridpath, Methodist, of Du Paw University, evasively answered (concerning the origin of the Baptists): “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 Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the days of the Apostles; and as a Christian society which has preserved pure the doctrines of the Gospel through all ages.” (A study commissioned by the King of the Netherlands on the history of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands)

This quote not only says Baptists date their existence to the days of the Apostles, it also says that it is the Baptists who have kept the pure doctrines of the Gospel through the ages. This is a pretty good recommendation from historians who were trying to establish the Reformed Church of the Netherlands and in stead finds that Baptists are the true apostolic Christians.

The sad thing is that most Christian school and home school materials used by Baptists do not teach Baptist history. Where are our people going to learn your history if not in our churches? It is important!

If we are to keep our identity and purpose as Baptists we must learn our historical foundations. If we are nothing more than Protestants then there is no need for our distinct existence. If, on the other hand, Baptists have through the centuries kept the doctrine of the Gospel pure, then we are something different and we have the responsibility to continue the work of our Baptist ancestors.

Psalms 11:3 “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
RSS Podcast