The First Baptists

The Christian world today includes innumerable denominations and offshoots — which I sometimes refer to as the “isms” and schisms of Christianity.  A few centuries ago, there was just the western Church and the eastern Church, and they weren’t all that different from each other.  Then along came Martin Luther in the 16th century.  The Lutheran separation from the Catholic Church was not the only one.  There were others who went even further in giving up the Catholic practices.  These various Protestant groups were generally called “reformed” churches.  Three of the major ones had their beginnings in Switzerland.

One of these was the Presbyterian Church which was formed in Geneva under John Calvin. Another was the Reformed Church which Zwingli led in Zurich.  Eventually, some of Zwingli’s followers took issue with the practice of infant baptism and their protests led to them being driven out of the Church.  These protestors were called Anabaptists, meaning “over-again-baptizers” because they began to re-baptize adults who had already been baptized as infants. The name this third group called themselves was simply Baptist.

In addition to the baptism issue, the Baptists began to call for the separation of Church and State, calling into question the divine right of kings.  This was highly unusual, and also highly unpopular in 16th and 17th century Europe.  The Baptists were persecuted severely by both Catholics and Protestants.  Many of these persecuted groups eventually found homes in the Netherlands and in the United States.

For a detailed timeline of the history of the Baptists, see


Introduction to the Church Timeline

There have been many significant events over the past centuries that have shaped the practice and organization of Christian churches today.  In future weeks I will build a graphical timeline showing some of those events, and comment on their impacts.  As I began to catalog some of these defining points in the life of the Church, I selected a few “C” words to get us started.

Christ – 1st century – Of course, He is the beginning of all things Christian.

Churches – 1st through 3rd centuries – Christians met together in their communities, mostly in homes and often in secret due to widespread persecution.  “Church” meant the congregation of believers, not organizations or buildings.

Constantine – 4th century – The first Christian Roman Emperor, edicted that Christians should no longer be persecuted.  Later he called a council at Nicea for the leaders of the churches all across the world.  We will have a lot more to learn later about the Council of Nicea, but for now we will just say that this was the first serious attempt to unite all of Christendom with a common doctrinal base.  The resultant Nicean Creed is still used in some churces today.

Conquest by Mohammedans – 7th century – The Islamic invasion swept through Palestine, Egypt and northern Africa into Spain, which later led to an aggressive armed response from the Christian world.

Crusades and Cathedrals – 11th through 13th centuries – This was a time of great political power for the organized church, but it was also a time when some very unhealthy religious practices began to take root.

Calvin – 16th century – Calvin and other reformers such as Luther and Zwingli “protested” against the worst abuses of the Church … hence they were the first “Protestants”.

Colonies – 17th century – The early American Colonists brought their diverse Christian beliefs and practices to the New World.  They later brought this heritage to bear on the establishment of a new nation that is based on Christian principles, but with the promise of religious freedom for all.

See for an  interactive graphical timeline of church history with much more detail.

As we look at all of the changes in the Christian Church over the centuries, we may be tempted to ask how Christians and their leaders could stray so far from 1st century principles.  However, we need to remember that these shifts took place gradually over many generations.  Each generation pretty much accepted the “Church of their fathers” and made only minor changes in accordance with their evolving cultures and political situations.  Over the centuries these additions and modifications to Christian doctrine and practice have built up layer on layer to bring us to where we are today.  This is why I have set myself to the task of going back through those layers and learn more about the heritage of modern day Christianity.