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1609 - 2009

Celebrating 400 years of Baptist Life and Witness

Amsterdam, 2009



 The BWA Heritage and Idenity plans to make a special focus at its 2009 meeting on the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first Baptist witness. The meeting will be held in Amsterdam at the time of the BWA General Council meetings there in honour of this event.


For the European Baptist celebration, visit their web site
 Amsterdam BC

   This page and others will be developed over time in association with the 400th anniversary. Contributions of relevant material (text, graphics, links etc) are welcome and invited.

 Martin Luther King Baptist Church Amsterdam with Australian BWA Touring Party 1975

 Please contact the webmaster and the Commission chair.







 By Bruce Gourley
Interim Director, The Center for Baptist Studies
Mercer University

Some Baptists in America and Europe today are part of a conversation concerning an "Emerging" (or "Emergent") movement within Christendom. This contemporary movement positions followship of Christ over unquestioned loyalty to religious institutions; strives for authentic, uncoerced faith rather than packaged answers; exhibits a spirituality that cannot be constrained by the walls of a church building; and values global ecumenical and pluralistic conversation and action.

While new and refreshing on the one hand, the modern Emerging movement hearkens back, in many respects, to Baptists of the seventeenth century. Amsterdam in 1609 became the starting point for a new paradigm of Christian faith and discourse. The earliest Baptists emerged from the shadow of institutional religion (both Roman Catholic and the Church of England) and staked out a preposterous claim: following Jesus meant rejecting the doctrinal supremacy of human creeds and embracing freedom of conscience, and doing church the New Testament way meant abandoning state-supported church structures and gathering in autonomous, independent local congregations.

The established churches in Europe and the New World initially sought to stamp out, and latter contain, the perceived heresies of Baptists. Despite efforts of suppression, Baptists survived and eventually thrived, their message of freedom of conscience, religious liberty, and separation of church and state triumphing in America and spreading worldwide.

Some Christian movements, such as that begun in Amsterdam in 1609, have served to rescue the faith from institutional staleness and even stagnation. Such moments represent rebirth and new beginnings, yet are not without controversy in both the present and the future. Baptists of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, in an era of institutional consolidation on the one hand and denominational fragmentation on the other, witnessed uneasiness over their own legacy. At the beginning of the era, it was controversial in many Baptist circles in America to recognize John Smyth and Thomas Helwys as the founders of the Baptist faith. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, many Baptists in America turned their backs on freedom of conscience and separation of church and state.

Yet even as some Baptists distanced themselves from their past, other Baptists journeyed in new directions while at the same time nurturing their legacy. The formation of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in 1905 marked the birth of a worldwide Baptist movement that transcended geographical and theological boundaries and focused on the Baptist heritage of religious liberty and human rights. During the second half of the century, a growing theological and social progressivism squared off against a surging American fundamentalism. When fundamentalists wrested control of the Southern Baptist Convention and established hierarchical control reminiscent of the Roman Catholic Church of the seventeenth century, many Baptists throughout America and the world responded by coalescing around the Baptist heritage of freedom of conscience, rebuffing autocratic intuitionalism, re-adopting the language of "movement", and framing the Gospel to include concerns for the world's neediest citizens.

A legacy of Amsterdam 1609 is thus found in emerging twenty-first century Baptist re-commitments to the biblical freedoms championed by our faith forefathers and mothers. Flowing from freedoms of conscience and religion is a renewed hope for the Baptist faith to exude the energy and exhibit the contagious vitality of a contemporary, worldwide transformative movement.


  "A Unique Blend of Freedom and Community"
By Bruce T. Gourley

  Some ten to twelve generations ago, the Baptist faith emerged in Holland in the form of exiled Puritan Separatists in 1608-1609. Over the next eighteen months, modern Baptists will celebrate the 400th anniversary of their common heritage, a celebration that will take the form of heritage tours, special book releases, historical emphases within some local congregations and Baptist groups, and featured articles within journals, including the Baptist Studies Bulletin.

It is only fitting to celebrate four centuries of a Christian people whose early years were so filled with persecution that their continued existence was questionable. That well over 100 million Baptists exist in the early twenty-first century is testimony to the staying power of the beliefs initially shared by the handful of earliest Baptists living in exile and uncertainty in the early seventeenth century. And yet a survey of modern Baptists reveals something unsettling: many are not faithful to their own denominational heritage. While some are simply unaware of the Baptist legacy, others have wandered down paths studiously avoided by previous generations of Baptists.
At their simplest, the earliest historical Baptist convictions could be summarized as a unique blend of freedom and community under the Lordship of Christ. The original freedom fighters, the early Baptists insisted upon freedom of conscience, religious freedom for all persons, separation of church and state, freedom from creeds and the individual's free access to God. Advocating voluntary community and local church autonomy, the earliest Baptists limited church membership to regenerate believers who expressed personal faith and participated in believer's baptism. The freedoms and community claimed by early Baptists were lightening rods at a time in history when the only Western models of government entailed alliances with religious entities that dictated state religions, all other churches were hierarchical in nature, and infant baptism served as the entryway into church membership. For their radical beliefs, Baptists were persecuted by theocratic states on both sides of the Atlantic for most of their first two centuries of existence.

Yet in a twist of historical irony, the foundational heritage of freedom and community and nearly-two centuries of attendant persecution has been forgotten, discarded, neglected and/or distorted in many twenty-first century Baptist circles, at the very time that Baptists face some of the greatest challenges and opportunities experienced since the eighteenth century. This century is already characterized by the numerical decline of Southern Baptists and stagnation for North American Baptists as a whole, while African-American Baptists and those of the earth's southern hemisphere experience notable growth and European Baptists evidence signs of revival. Concurrent with these trends, many conservative to fundamentalist Baptists in America now reject separation of church and state, seek special privileges in the public square for Christians who share their theology, and scoff at freedom of conscience. At the same time, some moderate Baptists in America have tilted the historical Baptist blend of convictions in such a way as to bury freedom under an avalanche of hierarchical community.

In short, not only will some modern Baptists avoid recognition of four centuries of faith heritage in the coming months, but some will continue an ongoing campaign to dismantle or reconstruct the faith of their spiritual forefathers. At this 400-year point, the future of the faith handed down from the early Baptists lies in the hands of those Baptists in North America and around the world who are not afraid to hold aloft and celebrate the unique blend of freedom and community that first surfaced among a handful of persecuted believers and survived despite severe opposition.



Courtesy  Baptist Studies Bulletin June 2008



 Baptists hope 400th anniversary will inspire vision for movement's future

Nearly 2,000 Baptists are expected to gather for 400th anniversary of the birth of the Baptist movement in 2009.

by Jenna Lyle


Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008, 19:55 (GMT)

Preparations are already underway for celebrations in 2009 to mark 400 years of the world Baptist movement, which organisers are stressing will not only look at the achievements of the past, but also set out the vision that will ensure the movement’s successful stride into the future.

Four hundred years have passed since the movement’s founding fathers – refugees from England – gathered in the backroom of an Amsterdam bakery in 1609 to read the Bible together. That small gathering became the first Baptist-minded congregation and the European Baptist Federation (EBF) anticipates that 1,700 Baptists from across Europe alone will turn out from 24 to 26 July 2009 to celebrate the occasion, slated “Amsterdam 400”.

With an expected cost of 300,000 euros, the EBF is urging all 52 member unions to participate in a large-scale fundraising drive that will allow Baptists from less wealthy countries to attend.

EBF General-Secretary Tony Peck and Financial Chairman Jan Saethre (Siljan/Norway) have already addressed a financial appeal to the member unions reminding them of the commitment they made at the EBF-Council sessions in Budapest last September to contribute one euro per member towards the cost of the conference.

Peck and Saethre are also requesting that union leaders press home the fundraising drive to their congregations.

“We are of course aware that one euro per member is too much for some unions,” they said.

Each union that cannot manage the ‘one-euro-per-member’ donation is being encouraged to consider a one-off contribution of their own choosing in order to help keep costs down and cover the travel expenses of some participants.

There are more than 100 million Baptists worldwide, around 800,000 of which are in Europe and the Middle East, making them the world’s largest Protestant denomination. The Dutch Union has some 11,500 members worshipping in 85 congregations.








 The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space a

"Why Are We Baptists?"

By Faith Bowers

Faith Bowers of London, England is a member of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. An historian, writer and editor, she has served on regional, national and international Baptist councils, and as secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Doctrine and Worship Committee. She was a founding member of BUild?the Baptist Union initiative with people with learning disabilities?and has written several books on church and disability. Ms. Bowers is also Sub-editor of the Baptist Quarterly, a publication of Britain's Baptist Historical Society. The following piece is an abbreviated version of an article featured on the Central Baptist web site.

Used by courtesy Faith Bowers and Bruce T. Gourley, Baptist Studies Bulletin, Jan 2009


‘Bloomsbury’ is a Baptist church, belonging to the Baptist Union of Great Britain, although it has always been open to Christians coming from other traditions. To the question ‘Why are you Christians?’ most Baptists would give similar answers to those from other branches of the Church. Today the choice of denomination is often made for social reasons: perhaps we grew up in Baptist families, or had Baptist friends, or found a church where we felt comfortable, or just one that made strangers welcome. For some, the answer goes deeper and is a matter of theological understanding and principle. In the past, and in some countries still today, it has been harder to make a minority choice than it is in modern England. In testing circumstances, strong beliefs are needed for people to take an unpopular or even dangerous position.

Baptists acknowledge the lordship of Christ as the ‘sole and absolute authority’ in all matters of faith and practice, and believe that the principal way in which God makes himself known is through the Bible. A striking feature of the Baptist story has been the way that separate groups, studying the Bible for themselves, have come to a Baptist understanding of the church and of believers’ baptism. These groups, arising in different places at different times, have not always held all other beliefs in common.

Today's Baptists are heirs to several, varied traditions. The stress on the authority of Christ, revealed in the Bible and by the Holy Spirit, means that Baptists have resisted setting individuals up in positions of authority over the church. They have maintained that each church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to study the Bible, to interpret the mind of Christ for its situation and to act upon this. The church meeting, the gathering of believers to seek guidance together, is the place where decisions are taken. The local church is the important unit for Baptists.

Because of their understanding of the priesthood of all believers, Baptists ordain
ministers rather than priests. They value those trained and set apart as full-time leaders but do
not see them as fundamentally different from other members of the church who all have their part to play in the ministry of the whole people of God. Such local churches cherish their
independence, yet most Baptists have also fostered interdependence between churches.

Membership of wider groupings is voluntary, but many churches have joined to form regional associations and national unions. Thus Bloomsbury belongs to the London Baptist Association and to the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Similarly, many Baptist churches, Bloomsbury among them, gladly work with Christians of other denominations, although even the most ecumenically minded Baptists tend to be rather an awkward squad on the inter-church scene because of their particular understandings.

Baptists practice Believers’ Baptism. They do not baptize babies but wait for ‘years of discretion’ when candidates can take the decision for themselves, so only believers are baptized. Baptism is normally by total immersion, which is dramatic and memorable, but the mode is secondary to the believing state of those baptized.

It is easy to be a Baptist in England now, free to worship as we choose without penalty. Sadly, many people do not choose to be Baptists, or, indeed, any type of Christian. There are other countries where Baptists still suffer for what they believe, and for their repeated emphasis on the human right to liberty of conscience.

Because Baptist statistics depend on baptized church members, comparison with paedobaptist membership figures can be misleading. Most Baptist congregations are much larger than the actual church membership.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain joined in founding the Free Church Federal Council, and the British and World Councils of Churches, and is now active in Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and Churches Together in England (CTE). Wales and Scotland have separate Baptist Unions, but some churches across the border belong to the ‘English’ Union, hence the broader, if somewhat misleading, title. These Unions all belong to the European Baptist Federation and to the Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, which now comprises 35 million baptized believers in a worshipping community of 100 million in 214 Baptist unions and conventions worldwide.

Whatever our reasons for joining a Baptist church, as Baptists we are heirs to a tradition that embraces:

  1. -the evangelical Christian faith, stressing personal commitment, dependence on the Bible, and the right to be free to respond to the gospel
  3. -the concept of the church as the fellowship of believers, a gathered and gathering community bound to Christ and to one another
  5. -the missionary spirit which seeks to share the Good News of Christ in deed and word
  6. the practice of fellowship giving as the chief means of financing church work
  8. -the stress on freedom: the human right to freedom from slavery and oppression, from ignorance and poverty, and especially freedom of conscience, the right to religious liberty for all, including the right to be a ‘Free Church’
  10. -the sense of interdependence which draws Baptists with differing emphases and in different places to work together for the common cause
  12. -the need for godly lives, demanding high standards in all we think or speak or do.

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© Copyright BWA Heritage and Identity Commission Oct 2005