John Smyth (English theologian)

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John Smyth
John-Smyth.png
Bornc. 1554
Diedc. 28 August 1612 (aged c. 57–58)
Alma mater Christ's College, Cambridge
Occupation Pastor
Signature
Signature of John Smyth (c. 1554 - 1612).png

John Smyth (c. 1554 – c. 28 August 1612) was an English Anglican, Baptist, then Mennonite minister and a defender of the principle of religious liberty.

Contents

Early life

Smyth is thought to have been the son of John Smyth, a yeoman of Sturton-le-Steeple, Nottinghamshire. [1] He was educated locally at the grammar school in Gainsborough and in Christ's College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1594. [2] Smyth was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1594 in England.

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Ministry

He preached in the city of Lincoln in 1600 to 1602. [3]

In 1607, he broke with the Church of England and left for Holland where he, Thomas Helwys and his small congregation began to study the Bible ardently. [4] He briefly returned to England. In the beginning, Smyth was closely aligned with his Anglican heritage. As time passed, his views evolved. Smyth's education at Cambridge included the "trivium" and "quadrivium" which included a heavy emphasis upon Aristotelian logic and metaphysics. Smyth's evolving ecclesiology was due to his applying biblical truth about the truth into numerous logical syllogisms.

It was in Holland that Smyth discovered Anabaptist theology and retained its principles, notably on believer's baptism by immersion, opposed to infant baptism and the memorial of the last Supper, opposed to consubstantiation and transubstantiation. [5]

In 1608, he published The Differences of the Churches, in which he explained the characteristics of a biblical church: [6] [7]

First, Smyth insisted that true worship comes from the heart and that there should be no books other than the Bible in worship. Praying, singing and preaching should be spontaneous only. He did not read the Bible translation during worship, preferring the original language version. [8]

Second, Smyth introduced a twofold church leadership, that of pastor and deacon and said that a church could have several pastors.

Third, the financial support of the church should come only from the members and not from the government, because that would mean giving them control over the church. [9]

In 1609, Smyth, and Thomas Helwys, along with a group in Holland, came to believe in believer's baptism (thereby rejecting infant baptism) and they came together to form one of the earliest Baptist churches. He was utterly convinced that believer's baptism and a free church gathered by covenant were foundational to the church. [10]

Having been baptized as infants, like the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation they came to believe they would need to be re-baptized. Since there was no other minister to administer baptism, Smyth baptized himself in 1609 (for which reason he was called "the Se-baptist," from the Latin word se '[one]self') and then with Thomas Helwys proceeded to baptize the Church. [11]

John Clifford as cited in the General Baptist Magazine, London, July 1879, vol. 81) records that "[I]n 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." This account was later revealed to have been a forgery connected with the rebuilding of the Baptist Church at Crowle, where the church (now closed) still bears a plaque falsely claiming to have been founded in 1599. [12] It has been suggested by W. T. Whitley that Smyth may have coined such well-known theological terms as Pedobaptist. [13]

In February 1610, Smyth and other church members wrote a letter to a Mennonite community in Waterland to join their movement. [14] [15] This resulted in his excommunication from the church by Thomas Helwys. Smyth and part of the church joined a Mennonite church, while Helwys and part of the church returned to England to found the first permanent Baptist church there, in 1612. The churches that descended from Helwys were of the General Baptist persuasion. Baptist historian Tom J. Nettles argues that Helwys and his group "earned the name General Baptists" because they "claimed that Christ died for all men rather than for the elect only". [16] This is seen as a step away from fully Calvinist commitments.

Death

He died from dysentery on 28 August 1612 in Amsterdam. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anabaptism</span> Non-conformist Christian movement

Anabaptism is a Protestant Christian movement which traces its origins to the Radical Reformation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baptists</span> Denomination of Protestant Christianity

Baptists form a major branch of Protestantism distinguished by baptizing professing Christian believers only, and doing so by complete immersion. Baptist churches also generally subscribe to the doctrines of soul competency, sola fide, sola scriptura and congregationalist church government. Baptists generally recognize two ordinances: baptism and communion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baptism</span> Christian rite of initiation

Baptism is a form of ritual purification—a characteristic of many religions throughout time and geography. In Christianity, it is a Christian sacrament of initiation and adoption, almost invariably with the use of water. It may be performed by sprinkling or pouring water on the head, or by immersing in water either partially or completely, traditionally three times, once for each person of the Trinity. The synoptic gospels recount that John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Baptism is considered a sacrament in most churches, and as an ordinance in others. Baptism according to the Trinitarian formula, which is done in most mainstream Christian denominations, is seen as being a basis for Christian ecumenism, the concept of unity amongst Christians. Baptism is also called christening, although some reserve the word "christening" for the baptism of infants. In certain Christian denominations, such as the Lutheran Churches, baptism is the door to church membership, with candidates taking baptismal vows. It has also given its name to the Baptist churches and denominations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Seventh Day Baptists</span>

Seventh Day Baptists are Baptists who observe the Sabbath as the seventh day of the week, Saturday, as a holy day to God. They adopt a covenant Baptist theology, based on the concept of regenerated society, conscious baptism of believers by immersion, congregational government and the scriptural basis of opinion and practice. They profess a statement of faith instituted on fundamental precepts of belief. Seventh Day Baptists rest on Saturday as a sign of obedience in a covenant relationship with God and not as a condition of salvation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">General Baptists</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anabaptist theology</span>

Anabaptist theology, also known as Anabaptist doctrine, is a theological tradition reflecting the doctrine of the Anabaptist Churches. The major branches of Anabaptist Christianity agree on core doctrines but have nuances in practice. While the adherence to doctrine is important in Anabaptist Christianity, living righteously is stressed to a greater degree.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">English Dissenters</span> Protestant Separatists from the Church of England

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mainstream Baptists</span>

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The Brownists were a group of English Dissenters or early Separatists from the Church of England. They were named after Robert Browne, who was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England, in the 1550s. A majority of the Separatists aboard the Mayflower in 1620 were Brownists, and indeed the Pilgrims were known into the 20th century as the Brownist Emigration.

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Rebaptism in Christianity is the baptism of a person who has previously been baptized, usually in association with a denomination that does not recognize the validity of the previous baptism. When a denomination rebaptizes members of another denomination, it is a sign of significant differences in theology. Churches that practice exclusive believer's baptism, including Baptists and Churches of Christ, rebaptize those who were baptized as infants because they do not consider infant baptism to be valid.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Believer's baptism</span> Person is baptized on the basis of their profession of faith in Jesus Christ

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Immersion baptism</span> Method of baptism

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">British Anabaptism</span>

Anabaptists did not originate in England, but came from continental Europe to escape persecution from Switzerland. English Anabaptism did not touch the country as quickly as other countries since Henry VIII wanted to eradicate heresy quickly and wanted to push a unified religion in England. In fact, during his rule in 1535, Henry VIII had them deported out of England officially with a proclamation that, "Ordered Anabaptists to leave the realm within twelve days after parliament adjourned or suffer the penalty of death." In 1539 he pardoned Anabaptists with a similar proclamation to restore them to the Roman Catholic church. He wanted unity above all. While Henry VIII himself had broken away from the Catholic Church himself, Anabaptists did not face a welcoming country from the beginning of their coming to England. Both Henry and his Tudor successors have charged dissidents on the basis of Anabaptism, some of whom had not such convictions. Looking at primary sources, this means that just because they were charged as an Anabaptist does not mean they were one.

The believers' Church is a theological doctrine of Evangelical Christianity that teaches that one becomes a member of the Church by new birth and profession of faith. Adherence to this doctrine is a common feature of defining an Evangelical Christian church.

References

  1. Lee, Jason (2003). The Theology of John Smyth: Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. p. 41. ISBN   0-86554-760-2.
  2. Cross, F.L., editor. (1997). Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. (3rd ed./ edited by E.A. Livingstone.) Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press. p. 1511. ISBN   9780192116550.
  3. "John Smyth". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  4. Britannica, John Smyth, britannica.com, retrieved 8 June 2021
  5. Sébastien Fath, Une autre manière d'être chrétien en France: socio-histoire de l'implantation baptiste, 1810-1950, Éditions Labor et Fides, Genève, 2001, p. 81
  6. Doniger, Wendy, ed. (1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. p.  1019. ISBN   0-87779-044-2.
  7. Jason K. Lee, The Theology of John Smyth: Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite, Mercer University Press, USA, 2003, p. 54
  8. Lee, Jason (2003). The Theology of John Smyth: Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. p. 54. ISBN   0-86554-760-2.
  9. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Academic, USA, 2001, p. 253
  10. Sébastien Fath, "Une autre manière d'être chrétien en France: socio-histoire de l'implantation baptiste, 1810-1950", Éditions Labor et Fides, Genève, 2001, p. 81
  11. Robert E. Johnson, A Global Introduction to Baptist Churches, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2010, p. 33
  12. R R Kershaw, Baptised Believers, Nottingham University, 1995
  13. Whitley, W. T. (1915). The Works of John Smyth fellow of Christ's college, 1594-8. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. vi. Retrieved 26 May 2017.W. T. Whitley, ed. (1915). The Works of John Smyth. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press.
  14. Jason K. Lee, The Theology of John Smyth: Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Mennonite, Mercer University Press, USA, 2003, p. 87
  15. T. Lyon, The Theory of Religious Liberty in England 1603–39, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2014, p. 119
  16. Russ Bush, L.; Nettles, Tom J. (1999). Baptists and the Bible. ISBN   0805418326.
  17. J. Gordon Melton et Martin Baumann, Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, ABC-CLIO, 2010, p. 298

Further reading