John Smyth (Baptist minister)
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John Smyth (c. 1570 – c. 28 August 1612) was an early Baptist minister of England and a defender of the principle of religious liberty. Historians consider John Smyth as a founder of the Baptist denomination.
Smyth was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1594 in England. He preached in the city of Lincoln in 1600 to 16022. Soon after his ordination, he broke with the Church of England and left for Holland where he and his small congregation began to study the Bible ardently. He briefly returned to England.
In 1609, Smyth, along with a group in Holland, came to believe in believer's baptism (as opposed to infant baptism) and they came together to form one of the earliest Baptist churches. Baptists believe that baptism is a sign of obedience to God.[Mt. 28:19-20] Baptists also believe that baptism by immersion is pictorially symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the beginning, Smyth was closely aligned with his Anglican heritage. As time passed, his views evolved.
First, Smyth insisted that true worship was from the heart and that any form of reading from a book in worship was an invention of sinful man. This rejection of liturgy remains strong among many Baptists still today. Prayer, singing and preaching had to be completely spontaneous. He went so far with this mentality that he would not allow the reading of the Bible during worship on the grounds that a translation was "...the worke of a mans witt...& therefore not to be brought into the worship of God to be read." This idea stemmed from the belief that worship should be ordered by the Spirit.3
Second, Smyth introduced a twofold church leadership, that of pastor and deacon. This was in contrast to the Catholic hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon, and the Reformed Protestant trifold leadership of Pastor-Elder, Lay-Elders, and Deacons.
Third, with his newfound position on baptism, a whole new concern arose for these "Baptists". Having been baptized as infants, they all realized that they would have to be re-baptized. Since there was no other minister to administer baptism, Smyth baptized himself (for which reason he was called "the Se-baptist," from the Latin word se '[one]self') and then proceeded to baptize his flock. Despite this generally held view, Dr. John Clifford as cited in the "General Baptist Magazine", London, July, 1879, vol. 81), records that "in 1606 on March 24, ...this night at midnight elder John Morton baptized John Smyth, vicar of Gainsborough, in the River Don. It was so dark we were obliged to have torch lights. Elder Brewster prayed, Mister Smith made a good confession; walked to Epworth in his cold clothes, but received no harm. The distance was over two miles. All of our friends were present. To the triune God be praise".
Before his death (in Holland in 1612),4 Smyth moved away from his Baptist views and began trying to bring his flock into the Mennonite church. Although he died before this happened, most of his congregation did join with the Mennonite church after his death. This brought about a separation between Smyth and a group led by Thomas Helwys. The churches that descended from Smyth and Helwys were of the General Baptist persuasion. Smyth "eventually rejected the doctrine of original sin and asserted the right of every Christian to hold his own religious views. Among Smyth's works, is The Differences of the Churches of the Separation (probably 1608 or 1609)."5
- Lee, Jason (2003). The Theology of John Smyth: Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. p. 41. ISBN 0-86554-760-2.
- Britannica entry for John Smyth
- Lee, Jason (2003). The Theology of John Smyth: Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0-86554-760-2.
- James Robinson Graves, Jacob Ditzler, The Graves-Ditzler, Or, Great Carrollton Debate ...: The Lord's Supper, Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1876, p. 895.
- Doniger, Wendy, ed. (1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. p. 1019. ISBN 0-87779-044-2.