AnabaptistsEnglish History

The Other John the Baptist

The Other John the Baptist

If someone asked you to name a Baptist, you might offer John the Baptist from the New Testament. Now John was not a Baptist in the modern sense, although there are Baptists who would disagree with that.

However, one of the first modern Baptists was named John: John Smyth. What do we know about this John the Baptist?

John Smyth

Well, he began as John the Anglican, being ordained as an Anglican priest in 1594. However, he left the Anglican Church and became a Separatist. Since Separatists were not welcome in England, he fled with some others to Amsterdam.

It was in 1608 in Amsterdam that Smyth came to believe in believer’s baptism, that is the doctrine that believers rather than young infants should be baptized. This was a practice of the Anabaptists at the time.

It was John Smyth and Thomas Helwys that organized the first Baptist church. The problem was that none of them had experienced believer’s baptism. So Smyth baptized himself and then Smyth and Helwys went on to baptize the others.

Smyth was known for three innovations from his Anglican heritage:

  1. Rejection of written worship resources and a focus on spontaneous acts that were understood as being from the heart.
  2. Adoption of a church structure that included only pastors and deacons.
  3. Believer’s baptism.

His theology continued to evolve and one of the most controversial changed was the rejection of the doctrine of original sin. He summarized his theology in the Short Confession of Faith in 20 Articles (1609).

Eventually, Smyth took his congregation closer to the Mennonites and he himself adapted to some Mennonite beliefs. His congregation formerly merged with the mennonites after his death.

While John Smyth might not be a household name like Martin Luther, John Calvin, or John Wesley, he did have a major impact of a small group that went on to be one of the larger traditions within Christianity.

Liked it? Take a second to support Stephen Bedard on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *