A question that comes up from time in relation to baptism is: were you sprinkled or “dunked”? As a child this was one of the key differences learned from my Catholic friends. In my case, baptism by immersion was done shortly after accepting Jesus Christ as savior. My Catholic friends were sprinkled shortly after birth. Is one way better than the other? Is one right and one wrong? Does Robert Lowry’s song, “Shall We Gather at the River”, only apply during the summer months?
Today’s question is about John the Baptist. Was he in fact the first Baptist? John is referred to as John the Baptist in most English Bible translations. In the God’s Word translation of the Bible, it more accurately refers to John as the Baptizer (Matt. 3:1). It describes the function that John provided as a baptizer and not a set of beliefs that is associated today with the Baptist denomination. Those beliefs are documented commonly using the acrostic BAPTISTS. The simple answer to the question then is: no, John was not the first Baptist. But where did Baptists come from?
Believers of Jesus Christ were first described as Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26), a term that became synonymous with all believers of Jesus Christ. The name Anabaptist was given to Christian’s that believed they should be re-baptized after making a conscious decision to accept Christ as Savior. This came from the Biblical examples of being baptized after salvation (Acts 2: 38, 2:41, and 8:13). In the 16th century many believers were being re-baptized (those that were baptized as infants). The word Anabaptist was the term that referred to those “radical” believers that did not agree that the Reformers were going far or fast enough. They wanted to separate from the established church rather than reform it. It is from these Radical Anabaptists that the Baptists beliefs and practices come from because they are biblically supported.
If John the Baptizer was not the first Baptist then who was? That question can’t truly be answered because it is very difficult to trace the roots back to one particular person. There were several Radical movements going on in different parts of Europe at the same time. During the ensuing years these Radicals started to write down their beliefs. One of the earliest Anabaptist belief documents penned was by Michael Sattler in February 1527. It became known as Schleitheim Confession. Over time much of what Sattler wrote made its way into what is known as the Baptist Distinctives.
Next time we will start looking at the Baptist Distinctives and learn why some of these Baptist “radicals” were burned at the stake (Michael Sattler), beheaded, or drowned (Sattler’s wife) for the beliefs that are taken for granted in parts of the world today.