A Brief Survey of Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches
What are their Beliefs and History
Compiled by Cooper P. Abrams, III
All Rights Reserved (September 2007)

            The name Independent Fundamental Baptist Church is used traditionally by churches which pattern themselves strictly after the example of the early church, as found in the New Testament. Today the name Baptist is used by many churches that are not following the teachings of the New Testament. Thus the words "Independent" and "Fundamental" have been added by many Baptist churches to further identify themselves as true Bible believing churches and to show a distinction between themselves and Baptist churches that were not following God's word. Most Baptist churches were in the past founded on the sound doctrinal teachings of the New Testament; however, many of them have in varying degrees drifted away from many of the teachings of the Scriptures.

            Some of these churches have gone so far to even deny the fundamental teachings of the Bible, such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth and salvation by the Grace of God, through faith. Others have to a lesser degree compromised the Word of God by their teaching, practices and church polity trying to conform to popular religious trends. These worldly churches still call themselves "Baptists," but in fact they do not believe or practice what true Baptists have historically believed and more importantly what the Word of God says. The true Independent Fundamental Baptists have no association or fellowship with these churches because they teach or practice things contrary to the New Testament.

           The best illustration of this point can be made this way. Suppose an airplane flew over some isolated country that had no past or present contact with anyone else in the world. Further, suppose that a Bible somehow was to fall from the plane and the inhabitants of this isolated land were to be able to pick up that Bible and read the text for themselves. Suppose too that some of them on reading that Bible were to believe and repent of their sins and place their trust in God's Son and His redemption for personal sin. These new believers would then, following the New Testament example, submit to believer's baptism by immersion, and organize a local church. That local body of baptized believers would be as valid as any true New Testament church Christ ever founded. Why, because it was founded on God's Word and there is no necessity that it have contact with some other church which belongs to a succession of churches to give it legitimacy or authority. It is a historical fact the first Baptist church in America was not founded by another Baptist congregation. It was founded by Roger Williams, according to the teachings and example of the New Testament. The Gospel is to be preached throughout the world by believers empowered by the Holy Spirit as Acts 1:8 plainly states. When a congregation results from the preaching of the Gospel, authenticating that congregation as a New Testament church rests solely on its doctrine and practice....not in its affiliation or succession.
 

WHEN AND WHERE WAS THE FIRST RECORDED BAPTIST CHURCH IN HISTORY

           The historian David Benedict states the Gospel was preached in Britain within sixty years of the Lord's return to heaven. These churches appear to have been baptistic and remained sound until Austin, the Catholic monk brought Catholicism to the Isles in 597 A.D. He states there were Baptists in England 1400 A.D., and mentions William Sawtre, who was identified as a Lollard and Baptist. He was the first person burned at the stake after Henry IV's 1400 A.D. decree to burn heretics. His "crime" was he refused infant baptism and rejected the Anglican church as being biblical. Benedict states that the English Roman Catholics in 1535 put to death twenty two Baptists for heresies. In 1539 thirty one more that had fled to Holland were apprehended and martyred there. He records that five hundred others who were identified as Anabaptists were also killed in England during this period. After Henry VII separated England from the Roman Catholic Church the Baptist fared no better. Many Baptists were executed by the newly formed Church of England during what is called the "Protestant inquisition."

           The line of English churches that can be traced, who called themselves Baptists, began in 1610 in Holland. This is not to say there were no Baptists in Britain earlier, but that this began a line of churches whose history can be traced. It began with a man named John Smyth who was an ordained bishop in the Church of England. In 1606, after nine months of soul-searching and study of the New Testament he was convinced the doctrines and practices of the Church of England were not biblical, and thus he resigned as priest and left the church.

           Because of prosecution by the Anglican Church of all who disagreed with it and who refused to agree to its authority, John Smyth had to flee England. In Amsterdam, he with Thomas Helwys and thirty six others formed the first Baptist church of English people known to have stood for baptism of believers only.

           Smyth believed the only real apostolic succession is a succession of biblical New Testament truth, and not of outward ordinances and visible organization such as the Church of England or the Roman Church. He believed the only way to recover was to form a new church based on the Bible. He then baptized himself (which is not biblical) and then the others of his congregation. In only a few years however, the church had lost all but ten members to the Mennonites and other groups in Holland. Smyth died in 1612, and the church ended in Holland shortly after that with Helwys, Thomas and John Murton returned to England as persecution there lessened. History records the members of this Baptist church went back to England. Those who remained in Holland joined the Mennonites. Therefore the Baptist church in Holland did not produce a succession of other churches, but those who founded it went on to set up other Baptist churches in England.

           Back in England these men, formed the first recorded Baptist church on English soil. By 1626, the churches had grown from one, to five churches and by 1644 there were forty congregations. Through preaching the New Testament, the Gospel went forth in power and the Baptist movement grew rapidly.

           These first Baptist churches formed in England were Armenian in theology, which taught that all men could be saved. Another group of Baptists were the Calvinistic or Particular Baptists and they believed in limited atonement in which only the elect could be saved. Particular Baptist had their beginnings around 1616, when some "dissenters" left the Church of England and were lead by the Rev. Henry Jacob. By 1644, these congregations grew to seven churches.

           About this time the Puritans were also becoming strong in England. The Puritans were dissenters from the Church of England. They wanted to bring reform to the Church of England. Although they were a great deal more pious than the Church of England, they still practiced most of its beliefs including infant baptism. Anyone who differed from the practices of the State church was subject to great persecution. Puritans and Baptists alike, to escape persecution, migrated to the New World.

           One man Hanserd Knolleys is an example of dissenter of the Church of England who had to flee to America. He was a presbyter and former deacon in the Anglican Church. Knolleys was under deep conviction of the need to preach the New Testament and follow its example as one's rule of faith. He refused to wear the robes of his church office, and refused to let unsaved people take the Lord's Supper. Further, he ignored the reading of the "order of service" and simply preached instead the Scriptures. To preach the Bible without the rituals of the Church of England was against the civil law. Knolleys joined with other dissenters and left England. In 1638, he landed in Boston and settled for a short time in Piscataway (now Dover) in New Hampshire. There he became the pastor of the Puritan church. The Puritans were in control of the colonies and in fact had set up an unbiblical theocracy in which the Puritan church governed both secular and religious affairs. Because Knolleys refused to baptize infants and preached against it he was banned from the colony by the famous Puritan governor Cotton Mather. Knolleys after two years returned to England at the request of his father. He became an outspoken "Separatist" or dissenter of the Anglican or state church. In 1645, he formed a Baptist church in London. Shortly after, the Church of England fell from grace when the English monarch was overthrown and the Presbyterians became the favored church of the state. The Presbyterians, who are Calvinists, then took up the persecution of biblical believers and forbade Knolleys from preaching in parish churches. He, however, continued to preach by holding services in his own home. One of the last acts of the Presbyterians, before the Long Parliament in England fell, was to past a law passing the death penalty on anyone who was caught holding to what they called "Eight Errors in Doctrine." These "doctrines" included infant baptism. Knolleys was imprisoned many times and suffered at the hands of the "State Church." He is only one of many such godly men who would not compromise the God's truth. The "crime" of these men was that they believed the Bible was God's Truth, and rejected dictates of false churches and men. It is revealing that the Calvinistic Protestant Presbyterians persecuted those who followed the Bible and rejected their hierarchy and false teachings which included Calvinism.
 

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE BAPTISTS IN AMERICA.  

           It is well to note the Pilgrims were also Puritans, and Puritans were dissenting Protestants who had left the Church of England. These people were called "Separatists." They were not seeking doctrinal purity or adherence to the teachings of the New Testament, but rather wanted to "reform" the English church. They were never the friends of Baptists. The Puritans should not be confused with true Bible believing churches, because their beliefs and practices were much like the Church of England. Although, they were not as corrupt as the Church of England, they still practiced a strict ritual of church service, a state church, sprinkling, and among other things, infant baptism. They were intolerant to anyone who did not agree to the authority of the Puritan church, which was supported by a governmental church tax of all the people.

One may admire their piety, but a true believer in the New Testament would have a great problem with their doctrines, church polity, and especially their persecution of Baptists and driving them from their colonies. The Puritans practiced a grace plus works salvation. One must correctly understand that when they preached piety, they were preaching salvation by works. Everyone in the colony was automatically a member of the state church and was taxed to support it. Failure to pay the tax brought the wrath of the civic and church leaders. People were publicly beaten, placed in stocks, fined, imprisoned, and banished from the colony by the civil authorities under the direction of the Puritan church officials. Puritan churches persecuted the Baptists in America until the U. S. Constitution was made law 1787. The first Baptist church on American soil was a direct result of the Puritan persecution of true New Testament believers.

           Roger Williams is credited with founding the first Baptist church on American soil. Williams graduated from Cambridge University in 1627, and was apparently ordained in the Church of England. He soon embraced "Separatists" ideas and decided to leave England. In 1631, he arrived in Boston. He was much displeased with the Puritan theocracy. He strongly believed in separation of church and state and upheld the principles of soul liberty. "Soul liberty" is a belief that everyone is responsible to God individually. It bases its belief in the New Testament teaching that every believer is a priest to himself, having full access to God without the need to go through a church, church leader or priest. (Hebrews 4:15-16; 10:19-22) Despite his views he was made the pastor of the church in Salem.

Shortly after that, because of his doctrinal preaching, he was forced to leave Salem and went for a short time to Plymouth. He returned to Salem where he was summoned before the court in Boston because of his outspoken beliefs and was banished from the colony. The charge recorded against him was that "he broached and divulged new and dangerous opinions against the authority of the magistrates." Clearly, he was banished because he believed in religious freedom and believed and taught the New Testament was a believer's sole source for his faith and practice. His "crime" was that he rejected the unbiblical ideas of the state church such as infant baptism and other false teachings of the Puritans. The Puritans drove him from their colony in the dead of winter.

           In 1638, Williams made his way to what is now Providence, Rhode Island, and there bought some land from the Indians. Some of his former congregation in Salem joined him and they set up a colony. Its beginning charter reads as follows:

           In 1663, Charles II gave the colony a royal charter and it read:

           This was the first time in the history of the world that a government was established which granted religious freedom! This charter was the very cornerstone of American religious freedom and that it was Baptists who first established religious and civil freedom in America! At first Williams did not identify himself as a Baptist. However, he continued to read the New Testament, and became fully aware that infant baptism, sprinkling for baptism, and allowing unsaved people to be members of the church was not scriptural. Thus, resolving to follow the Lord's commands in truth, in March, 1639 he formed the first Baptist church on American soil. He began by baptizing himself and then baptizing ten other members.

           Shortly afterward, Williams withdrew from the church and became what he called a "seeker." History does not record why he would not identify himself as a Baptist although he set up a Baptist church. Please note that this presents no problem for this first Baptist church in America. This church was not founded on a man, but on the Bible. It was not founded on a line of Baptist churches down through history. It was founded because saved men believed the Bible and wanted to follow the New Testament's teachings and the example of what a true church should be. Even after Williams left, this Baptist church continued to follow the New Testament and was not adversely affected. It was not the man who founded the church that was important, but the New Testament principles on which was established. They called themselves Baptists because that was the best name they could choose to describe what they believed and a name that identified them as Bible believing people.

This church had no ties to anyone or any other church, yet this was a Baptist church as much as any Baptist church ever was. They were a New Testament church, not because of a succession of churches or men, but because they formed their assembly on the principles of the New Testament. That made them in the eyes of God as legitimate a church as any Paul founded. The sole authority for any true church is God's Word and not its human founder, or its heritage. Not once in the New Testament do you find even a hint that a church was legitimate because it was founded by Paul, was established by the church at Jerusalem or Antioch, or called itself by a particular name.

           However, no one should think little of the name of Baptist for it is the name that most has identified those individuals and churches that have uncompromisingly stood on the Word of God. Historically, Baptists are the only group into modern times whose churches were founded on the Scriptures alone and not on the traditions or works of some man. Baptists have always been the champions of the Word of God and preaching of the Gospel. History is clear there is no other denomination that has so loved and been faithful to God's Word as has the Baptists. Even the enemies of the Baptists openly recognize their zeal for the Word of God.

           After Roger Williams stepped down, Thomas Olney took over as the pastor of the church in Rhode Island. Although, this was the first Baptist church to be founded on American soil there is no recorded offspring from this church and modern American Baptist churches cannot trace their history directly to it. Other churches founded in New England and in the Middle colonies were the actual mother churches of modern Baptist churches as these churches were responsible for starting other churches.

           On May 28, 1665, a Baptist church was founded in Boston, by Thomas Gould, who refused to accept infant baptism. There were nine original members of the church which included two women. A storm of persecution broke out because these Baptists preached what the Puritans called "damnable errors." Most of the members of this Baptist church, at one time or another, were fined or imprisoned or both. Thomas Gould died in 1675 an untimely death, partly because of his having his health broken by Puritans persecutions which included several long imprisonments.

           In 1678, shortly after the church erected a new building and the Puritan controlled government nailed its doors shut and forbade anyone under penalty of the law to enter or worship there. This lasted only one Sunday however, and the following Sunday the doors were opened and services held in defiance of the order. The magistrates found their order was becoming unpopular and impossible to enforce so the church in the future was left unmolested. In 1684, a Baptist church in Maine seeking greater religious liberty was relocated to Charleston, South Carolina.

           The Dutch colony of New York for a time persecuted Baptists within its territories. The first Baptist church in New York was started by William Winchendon, in 1656. He was heavily fined and then imprisoned. Being to poor to pay the fines he was banished from the colony. Later, the Dutch issued new orders and allowed religious liberty.

           In 1700, a Baptist minister, William Rhodes began to hold meetings on Long Island and in 1724 organized the first Baptist church there. The most important center of early Baptist churches was around Philadelphia, "the city of brotherly love." In 1684, Thomas Dungan started a church at Cold Springs, New York which lasted until 1702. In 1688 a Baptist church was organized at Pennepeck, Pennsylvania with twelve members. It helped start the first Baptist church in Philadelphia the following year. It became an independent church in 1746. Offers of religious liberty drew many Baptists to settle in New Jersey. The first church was founded there in 1688, in Middletown and was made up of many who had fled persecution in the other colonies. Many churches were organized in the following years.

           In other areas Baptist churches were being formed about this same time. In North Carolina the first Baptist church was started in the northeastern coastal region at Perquimans, in Chowan County in 1727.

           In Virginia, Baptists were not welcome. Before America won its independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights became law, the Episcopal Church, which was the American branch of the Church of England, was the only legal church in Virginia. There was a fine of 2000 pounds of tobacco for failure to have one's infant children baptized. One Baptist church, however, did begin after 1714, in Surry County, and another at Burleigh, Virginia. Virginia was especially harsh in religious persecutions and anyone not holding Episcopal ordination was forbidden to preach or hold services. Baptists with other citizens were taxed to support the Episcopal Church.

It is well to note that not all Virginians felt this way. Two champions of religious liberty were the Virginians Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Thomas Jefferson is believed to have been deeply influenced to press for religious freedom in American, by the plight of several Baptist preachers he knew. For example in Isle of Wight county in southeastern Virginia, Baptist preachers were taken to Nansamond River, nearly drowned by Episcopalians to show their contempt for Baptist's beliefs in immersion and their rejection of infant Baptism. They were then tarred and feathered and ran out of the county.

           The center of Baptist activity in the colonies was in the Philadelphia area, and Baptists held regular "general meetings" of the churches for devotional and evangelistic purposes there. It can be historically determined that forty seven Baptist churches were in existence before the Great Awakening. All but seven were above the Mason-Dixon Line. Baptist continued to grow in numbers through the period of the Great Awakening and up to the time of the Revolutionary War. Baptists as a whole were patriots and many Baptist pastors served as chaplains in the Revolutionary Army. Baptist churches and pastors contributed large sums of money to support George Washington and the army. The Great Awakening stirred religious interests in the colonies and a reported great revival took place. The Revolutionary War for some time slowed the growth of Baptist churches. However, after independence was won and the Constitutional and Bill of Rights was written which gave all Americans religious freedom, the Baptist again began to grow until today they are the largest denominational group in the United States.

           It should be noted that the American Revolution is directly responsible for the establishing the first nation on earth to grant religious freedom. The Revolution ended the Protestant civil rule in the colonies which stopped the persecution of Bible believing Baptists.

WHAT MAKES A TRUE BAPTIST?

           Today there are at least a hundred different groups which all themselves "Baptist." Many of these churches have conflicting beliefs and practices. The natural question then to ask is, "What makes a person a true Baptist?" In examining the history of Baptists and determining what makes a genuine Baptist, five distinctives should be noted. These five distinctive beliefs separate the true Baptists from other groups who have mistakenly taken the name Baptist, and from all Protestants. Examine any church in light of these five distinctive it will be shown if they are a true historic Baptist congregation.

           It is well also to note that these five distinctives are traits also of the true New Testament church! These distinctives are the distinctives taught in the Bible which form a true New Testament church. The one thing that makes one a Baptist is that they historically have followed the New Testament alone as their sole rule for faith and practice. Baptists strongly insist that God's Word is not up for arbitration or subject to the individual's, group's, denomination's or church's "private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20) Baptists believe you do not have to be a Baptist in order to be saved and have eternal life, but a person must believe the Gospel and follow the teachings revealed in the New Testament. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) Further, if a person is truly saved and strictly follows the principles of the New Testament he will in a true sense be a Baptist whether he uses the name or not. Baptists interpret the Bible literally within its historic, cultural and grammatical context. True Baptists believe, as the New Testament teaches, that Christ is the only head of the church.

           Fundamental Independent Baptists are strict in interpreting the Bible in a "literal" sense. In other words, when the Bible speaks, the words have a literal meaning and that is the meaning God intended. To interpret God's word one must apply sound hermeneutical principles of interpretation which considers the grammatical use of the words, the culture and historical situation in which they were written.

           True Baptists reject the Apocryphal Books as being inspired of God and use them only for historical reference. Further, they reject the efforts of the many who "spiritually" interpret the Scriptures, using allegory and placing hidden or specially revealed meanings to the words of the Bible. Baptists refuse to accept the so-called "scriptures" or revelation of modern day prophets. They believe that when the Book of Revelation was completed by the Apostle John about 90-95 AD, the Word of God was complete and He has given no further revelation. It is believed that God meant what He said in Revelation 22:18, that the Scriptures were not to added to or taken from. (See also Gal. 1:6-10, 1 Tim. 6:30, Titus 1:9-11, 2 Tim. 4:1-5, 1 Cor. 13:8-10)

           Ask these five questions of any church, and if they can answer all five in truth with a yes, then you will have a true Baptist church. All others misuse the name.
 

THE FIVE BAPTIST DISTINCTIVES
    1. WE ACCEPT ONLY THE NEW TESTAMENT AS OUR AUTHORITY IN ALL MATTERS OF FAITH AND PRACTICE.

           This means that Baptists do not accept any authority except the New Testament Scriptures in regard to church polity, practice and doctrine. The institution of the local church (ekklesia - assembly) is not found in the Old Testament. The institution of the local "ekklesia" was not instituted until Pentecost after the Lord ascended into heaven. Christ is head of the local church, and it is His bride. We believe the Word of God, the Bible is complete and it solely, ". . . Is given of by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God many be perfect, thoroughly furnished (equipped) unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) We reject that God is giving supposed "new" Revelation, believing that God forbids any adding to or taking away of the canon of Scriptures. (Rev. 22:18-19) We do not accept any authority over the New Testament Church, but Christ Himself, including any hierarchy to include popes, modern day prophets, or councils of churches. We believe the sixty six books of the Bible are the inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God.

2. WE BELIEVE THE CHURCH IS TO BE MADE UP OF SAVED BAPTIZED BELIEVERS.

3. WE BELIEVE IN STRICT SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. 4. WE BELIEVE IN THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER. 5. WE BELIEVE IN THE AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH.

           Though, not a historic distinctive of a Baptist church, one other characteristic is necessary for an assembly to call its self a true New Testament church. This distinctive is based on the truth that God will not, nor can He bless or be a party to doctrinal error. A true New Testament church will believe and follow the correct and proper instructions of God's word. There are many churches that believe and practice false doctrines such as modern tongues speaking, do not practice biblical separation from worldliness and hold to other unbiblical views. A true New Testament church's doctrine and practice will correctly follow the word of God, thus churches that put themselves at odds with the Lord. The New Testament stresses purity in faith and practice as Revelation 2-3 clearly teach. Jesus strongly warned five of the seven churches of Asia saying he had things against them. He warned them believe the Word of God and to correct their failures or He would take action against them or have not part with them. A true church that has the blessings of the Lord will diligently seek purity in faith and practice. Those who refuse to repent of their errors will not have the approval or the blessings of God.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

           A church which cannot answer yes to all of these questions cannot historically call itself a Baptist church, nor can it legitimately call itself a New Testament church. These are the distinctives that separate true Baptists and from all Protestants, any organized church, doctrinally unsound church, or "Christian" cults.

           A person can rightly take godly pride in truthfully bearing the name Baptist. Many men have suffered and given their fortunes and their lives to hold the name in truth. It stands for devotion and a strict obedience to God and his commandments. It holds high the saving Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, as revealed in the New Testament and an unwavering commitment to carrying out the Great Commission, that is, to teach everywhere the truth of God's Word.

           The validity of a church as being a true biblical New Testament church does not rest in its ability to show an unbroken line of succession from the time of Christ. In fact, no church on earth can make that claim. Even the Roman Catholic Church which boasts of his unbroken history cannot prove an unbroken line of churches no earlier than the Fourth Century, and what Catholicism teaches today in no way resembles New Testament faith or practice, or what the early churches believed and practiced.

           We must agree with John Smyth, the true New Testament church is founded on its belief and practice of the Scriptures, and not on any outward succession of a visible or invisible organization. In this sense, any church which bases it faith and practice strictly on the teaching of the New Testament is a true and Biblical church, even if it existed in time, only yesterday. It is not the name or the organization that makes a biblical church, but its practice of the faith as revealed in the New Testament.

           It is the Word of God, the Bible, and in particular the New Testament that tells us what is a real and true church! The Bible and only the Bible reveals to men how to have their sins forgiven and have everlasting life and heaven. That is what saved believers have always believed, because that is what the New Testament, which is what God's Word says.

           The Baptist bases his authority solely on the Bible itself. They do not accept that authority was given to any particular man, pope, prophet, group, or church on earth to be the means of the salvation of men. A church is not God's instrument of salvation, but an institution of believers joined together to preach and teach God's word and present the Gospel to a lost and dying world. God has not entrusted that authority to impart salvation to any man or church. God alone has that authority and He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, brings conviction and salvation to those who in simple faith believe.

           A church that is a true biblical assembly, patterns its self-after the example in the New Testament. It is one made up of baptized believers organized in a local congregation for fellowship, teaching and evangelism. Every system of hierarchy set up by man over the authority of the local church is unbiblical and has lead to doctrinal errors and corruption without exception and God has no party with them.

Bibliography

Cooper P. Abrams, III - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This article may be copied and used freely, but must not be sold in whole or in part.   It is requested that if you make multiple copies of the material and distribute it that you contact the author as an encouragement to him.

Revised September, 2007.
 


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