I came across Michael Haykin’s blog posting about the ongoing debate over the origin of Baptists. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that many of our paedobaptist brethren are always trying to link Baptists with the radical Anabaptists of the 16th century. I’m not sure why this is other than perhaps they are too uncomfortable sharing the “Reformed” label with Reformed Baptists. Whatever the reason, this idea of the early Baptists borrowing heavily from the Anabaptists hasn’t diminished. Haykin aptly describes the situation as the Baptists owing their origins to the Puritan/Separatist influences rather than the Continental radicals.
To be sure, we cannot dismiss the idea that early Baptists were probably familiar with the Anabaptist arguments regarding the mode of baptism. Some have suggested that their influence seeped into the section on baptism in the 1644 Confession (First London Baptist Confession). I don’t know how true that is, but I’ll concede here that it may very well be true that these early Baptists well-read on the Anabaptist arguments. However, a mere consultation on arguments for credobaptism is still a far cry from a full-blown borrowing of doctrine from the Anabaptists.
It must be noted that the Particular Baptists had a covenantal argument for their defense of credobaptism which the Anabaptists did not. Agreeing on the practice of baptism is just a small slice in the overall picture. And as Haykin points out, there is a noteworthy absence of direct Anabaptist influence within the writings of the Particular Baptists. Indeed, it can be safely said that the influence of Anabaptist arguments was limited to one particular issue (baptism) and was minor at best. How in the world this is supposed to represent a direct pathway from the Anabaptists to the Particular Baptists still alludes me.
As James Renihan points out in his book, Edification and Beauty, the Particular Baptists went out of their way to distance themselves from the various heretical Anabaptist sects. He acknowledges that there may have been some contact between a few Particular Baptists and Dutch Anabaptists at one point in time, but this is the only such connection which can be made. There’s nothing to suggest that this contact was extensive or that any borrowing of doctrine took place. Renihan goes on:
…the pertinent question remains: is there evidence for Anabaptist influence? The best resource is in the previously mentioned Kiffin Manuscript. Evidently, these Particular Baptists had some knowledge of the practices of the Dutch Anabaptists, and esteemed them enough to seek advice, at the least, and perhaps more, from them. Richard Blunt spoke Dutch, and so could have been the source for their contact with these Anabaptists. While these things are true, nothing more can be established at this point. The Kiffin Manuscript seems to imply that the growing convictions about Believer’s Baptism developed within the Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church, and that a considerable period of time (a minimum of 7, and a maximum of 19 months, depending on the reckoning) passed between the adoption of baptist convictions and the actual institution of baptism. This would certainly leave enough time for theological ferment, and for the development of doctrinal convictions based on a study of Scriptural passages.
In other words, the Particular Baptists developed their doctrine of baptism over a lengthy period of time with very little (if any) influence from the Anabaptists. They went to the Scriptures more than anything else, not drinking heavily from the well of Anabaptist works. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Particular Baptists developed their doctrines within the milieu of their Puritan and Separatist heritage. There’s no clear line back to the Anabaptists from the Continent. This is something all Reformed Baptists ought to ponder…especially me as I watch and celebrate my wife’s baptism tomorrow.