The modern Baptist movement, which stands at the heart of mainstream Christianity, began in the early 17th century when a Separatist congregation of about 50 members from Gainsborough in England moved to Amsterdam to escape persecution. John Smyth was their pastor, and Thomas Helwys a well-to-do member, who possibly financed the move, was their social leader. In Amsterdam they came in contact with another Christian group (Mennonites) who baptized only believers. After studying the scriptures Smyth became convinced that this was biblical and his congregation followed his teaching and his lead. Smyth baptized himself, then Helwys and then the others in 1609. Smyth died in 1612 and the majority of his congregation later joined the Mennonites, but Helwys and about a quarter of the original English congregation returned to England shortly after Smyth’s death, believing that the escape to Holland had been a mistake. In 1612 they formed the first English Baptist church on English soil at Spitalfields, just outside the walls of London.
Since that time the number of Christians who embrace Baptist principles has grown, and today it is one of the largest denominations in the world. From their beginnings, Baptists have always maintained the principle of religious liberty, that is freedom from all forms of compulsion and coercion in matters of religious faith and practice.
The Baptist presence in Australia began in Sydney in 1831 only forty years after the British penal colony was established. Today more than 300,000 Christians are members of more than 800 Baptist churches spread right across Australia.
For more information about Baptists in Australia visit www.baptist.org.au