The first Baptist congregation appeared in 1609 in Holland. It was here that the
Church of England minister, John Smyth, performed a radical act of baptising himself
by pouring water on his head. He then baptised his fellow reformer, Thomas Helwys
and other members of the congregation.
myth and Helwys had left England for Holland in 1607 after being persecuted for wanting
to rid the Church of England of all traces of Roman Catholicism. They believed that
the Bible, not church tradition or religious creed, was the guide in all matters
of faith and practice; that the church should be made up of believers only, not all
people born in the local parish; and that the church should be governed by those
The nineteenth century saw a period of significant growth for the Baptist movement.
Great preachers such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon in London and Alexander Maclaren
in Manchester drew crowds in their thousands.
Today, Baptists are represented globally by the Baptist World Alliance which was
founded in 1905. It provides an international forum for the exchange of Baptist thought,
paying special attention to Christian education, religious freedom, human rights
In the Baptist movement everyone is equal. There is no hierarchy of bishops or priests;
Baptists are congregational: each church is self- governing and self-supporting,
made up of members, each with a role to play. The churches encourage those attending
to become church members through baptism. This entitles them to vote at the church
meeting where all decisions are made. Final authority rests not with the minister
or deacons but with church members at the meeting. It appoints ministers, elders,
deacons and others who take a leadership role, agree financial policy and determine