Baptist Churches in the UK
Baptists believe the Bible is the basis of their faith and practice. They baptise adults, and church membership is based on commitment to Jesus Christ. They are also active in mission work. They are part of Churches Together in England, the National Churches of Britain and Ireland, Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and the Conference of European Churches.
Baptists owe their origins to the continental Anabaptists of the Reformation era and the Puritan renewal movement within the Church of England. They also opposed the worship of saints and emphasized that churches should be independent of state control. While they treasured the confessional legacy of their seventeenth-century forebears, they recognized that they lived in challenging times and must address challenges that were arising in intellectual, industrial, and social areas.
In 1620 English Baptists presented a very able petition to King James I that declared their loyalty, explained their principles, and pleaded for the relief of their persecutions. They demanded that the church be a voluntary association of free congregations, with each one exercising freedom in the choice and maintenance of its officers and maintaining discipline according to scripture. They also demanded that nonconformist churches be allowed to keep their own registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials. Most complied with the demand and these records form the bulk of those handed in to the Registrar General in 1837.
Despite their differences, Baptists share some core beliefs with other Christian denominations. They believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that He died for our sins. They also believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be interpreted literally. They also believe that each church is independent and governed by the congregation. They have a strong commitment to good inter-faith relations and are open to discussing doctrinal differences.
The Baptist movement originated among English puritans in the 1600s. Their leader, John Smyth, encountered Mennonites and Anabaptists while in Amsterdam, where he baptized himself and 36 others. He later recommended union with these groups, but Thomas Holwys and other members of his group resisted this proposal. Today, Baptists have a global presence. They are represented internationally by the Baptist World Alliance, which was founded in 1905. The alliance aims to provide mutual encouragement, exchange of ideas, and coordination of activities.
Evangelism is an important part of Baptist faith and practice. Evangelists are encouraged to share their beliefs with others and encourage their churches to be active in local and global missions. The church teaches its members that they are called to proclaim Christ’s gospel in their homes, workplaces, and schools.
Baptists believe in congregational church government and have always come together in regional, national and international associations for support and fellowship. The Associations do not act as central authorities but are designed to provide mutual encouragement, exchange of ideas and coordination of interaction between churches.
Baptists also believe that every person, ordained or lay, is responsible before God for their own understanding of scripture. This means that no one is a priest to represent other believers before God. Rather, Christ is the great high priest and all believers are equal in the eyes of God and can take direct access to him. This is known as the priesthood of all believers.
Baptist churches emphasise the role of the church community in worship. A strong emphasis on preaching means it may be possible to find sermons by local pastors. Many famous Baptist preachers have their sermons published and you can find collections of their works in books.
Baptists also believe in congregational church governance, where each member has the right and responsibility to participate in church meetings and govern the congregation. This differs from other nonconformist traditions, where the church is governed by a hierarchical figure like a bishop.
In the nineteenth century, many Baptist churches in London experienced rapid growth and expansion, often leading to a need for more accommodation. It’s worth examining records of Sunday school minutes and attendance, as well as church magazine and annuals. You can also find information on attendances in the religious censuses for 1851, 1886 and 1903-4.