Rooted in Baptist history four hundred years ago, the declared founder of the first Baptist church, Thomas Helwys, strove to faithfully follow the New Testament Scriptures, and those beliefs challenge Baptists today to reconsider their core beliefs. This article is intended to be a friendly article encouraging Baptists to reexamine their beliefs according to the Scriptures.
The title of “Baptist” was never used by Thomas Helwys, but rather Helwys repeatedly referred to the church as “the churches of Christ” (Helwys, Thomas. In The Mystery of Iniquity. P. 10, 12, 36, 56–58, 60, 66–67, 81, 84, 99–100, 113). Helwys’s doctrinal beliefs appear to be exactly the same as the churches of Christ today. The following consists of quotes from Helwys regarding baptism and salvation:
“The Lord does ‘teach all men everywhere to repent, and they that believe and obey shall be saved. And they that do not believe shall be damned,’ which you shall all be, every one of you that submit to any other government than that most holy and blessed government which Christ has established in his church, whereof he is the head and king. And therefore the church of Christ is ‘in subjection in every thing.’ (Ephesians 5:24)” (Helwys. In The Mystery of Iniquity. P.84. emp. added).
“And therefore please not yourselves so much in those things, although we acknowledge they are worthy of great commendations in you, and our souls are much affected to you for them. But if you follow not Christ in the regeneration, that is, if you be not ‘born again of water and of the Spirit, and so enter into the kingdom of heaven,’ all is nothing, as you see by the example of this ruler. And Cornelius (Acts 10), if he had not been baptized with the Holy Ghost and with water, for all his prayers and alms he had not, nor could not have entered into the kingdom of heaven.
Thus entered all the people of God of whose entrance the scriptures give testimony, either by rule or by example, and thereof if there be any other entrance found out, it is not, nor cannot be of God. This only is the door which Jesus Christ has set open for all to enter in at, that enter into his kingdom. (John 3:5) And the Lord sanctify all your hearts with grace that you may enter therein. For no other way of salvation has Christ appointed but that men first believe and be baptized. (Mark 16:16)” (Helwys. In The Mystery of Iniquity. P.88-89).
“For when were you called, and (as you say) separated, you should have joined to Christ, and have entered into his kingdom, which seeing you have not done, you are not separated from the world, nor have no fellowship in the Gospel. We confess the Lord has called unto you, and you have joined yourselves together in a voluntary profession, but you have not joined yourselves to Christ. And therefore is your profession a false profession, and you have a false Christ that is no Christ, as shall be hereafter proved. And to show you that you are not joined to Christ, you being of the world before you constituted or set up your church by your own confessions, the Word of the Lord does evidently declare that there is no way for them that are of the world, who are not in Christ, but enemies to Christ, as all that are of the world are, there is no way to join and come to Christ, but only to ‘amend their lives, and be baptized’ (Acts 2:38) And ‘all ye that are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ (Galatians 3:27) Let us now entreat you on God’s behalf that you will no longer be fighters against God in contending against his truth, from the which we trust through the mercy of God, you shall not be able any confess that infidels and unbelievers have no other way to come, and be joined to Christ, but only by believing and being baptized, then you that confess that you were of the world before you set up your church, must needs confess also that you were infidels and unbelievers. For you shall be ashamed to say that there are any believers of the world, seeing our Savior Christ says, ‘The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth.’ (John 14:17) And John 16:8-9, ‘The Comforter shall reprove the world of sin, because they believed not in me.’ And John 17:25, ‘O righteous Father, the world has not known thee.’ And John in his first Epistle, chapter 5:18-19, speaks thus, ‘We know that we are of God, and this whole world lies in wickedness.’ And this being the condition of them that are of the world: 1. They cannot receive the Spirit of truth. 2. That they believe not in Christ. 3. That they know not God. 4. That they lie in wickedness. You confessing yourselves to be of the world before you joined yourselves together in your voluntary profession, by a covenant of your own divisings (you being of the world), your condition was the same. Then were you without the Spirit of truth, unbelievers, not knowing God, laying all in wickedness. And so are you all infidels, and there was, nor is, no way for you to join unto Christ, but to ‘amend your lives and be baptized,’ and by baptism ‘to put on Christ,’ which seeing you have not done, you are still of the world. The Spirit of truth is not in you, you are infidels and unbelievers, you know not God, and you remain in your wickedness. And so is your profession a false profession of Christ, and you have not the true Christ, but a false Christ. And so is your baptism a worldly baptism brought out of the world, an ordinance of the world, and not the baptism and ordinance of Christ, whose baptism is not of the world, as he is not of the world.
Shall we need to lay down any other ground to convince you, and stop all your mouths? Is not this easy, plan and evident enough? What can be more plain? You confess (yourselves) you were of the world before you made your separation from England. And our Savior Christ says that they which are of the world believe not in him. And will not grant that they that believe not in Christ are infidels or unbelievers? Then you, being of the world, were infidels and unbelievers must amend their lives and be baptized and by baptism put on Christ. And our Savior Christ, giving a general direction to his disciples to preach the Gospel to all, gives likewise a general direction what all unbelievers must do if they be saved. ‘They must believe and be baptized.’ (Mark 16:16) This straight are you now driven unto, either to confess that before your separation you were infidels or unbelievers, and then you must believe and be baptized, or else that you were believers and faithful, and have you separated from a faithful and believing people, and not from the world” (P. 92–93).
“The Lord give you grace to see your greatest evil herein. And the Lord deliver his poor people from the Word of God that there is but one baptism of Christ, (Ephesians 4:5) and that whosoever is baptized into Christ has put on Christ, or is clothed with Christ. (Galatians 3:27)” (Helwys. In The Mystery of Iniquity. P. 102. emp. added).
“Thus do you run into dark places while you forsake the lantern that should light your paths, which light of truth teaches you, and all men, that the baptism of Christ is ‘the baptism of amendment of life, for the remission of sins.’ (Mark 1:4) And our Savior Christ says, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ (John 3) And Hebrews 10:22, ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in assurance of faith, our hearts being pure from evil confidence, and washed in our bodies with pure water.’
Here is the true baptism set down, which is the baptism of amendment of life for the remission of sins. And here is the true matter where men must be washed, which is water and the Holy Ghost, that is pure from a evil conscience, and washed with water. Therefore can you not divide the water and the Spirit in this baptism. Christian has joined them together, and he that denies washing, or is not washed with the Spirit is not baptized, because we see the baptism of Christ is to be washed with water and the Holy Ghost. And to take away subtle exception, if a man be in prison, or any place, and be converted to the Lord, and would be baptized with water but cannot, he is accepted with God, ‘who accepts the will for the deed’ (2 Corinthians 8:12), and herein is the Lord’s mercy equal with his justice. For if a man’s heart consent to evil, he is guilty, although he do it not. (Matthew 5:27-28)” (P. 103. emp. added).
“If you will examine the New Testament throughout, you shall find no seal, nor none sealed, but they that believe, ‘who are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,’ (Ephesians 1:13) by which the Holy Spirit ‘we are all baptized into one body,’ (1 Corinthians 12:13) And there is but ‘one Spirit, one baptism, and one body,’ (Ephesians 4:4-5) which holy seal of the Spirit seeing infants cannot have, they cannot be baptized with that one baptism into that one body. So is your consequence for the baptizing of infants directly contrary to the covenant and ordinance of God. The covenant of the Lord being that; they which believe and are baptized shall be saved,’ and the ordinance being the ‘baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.’
To conclude this point with a ground that all who have any knowledge of the Word of God will confess, which is this: the covenant of the New Testament is a covenant of life and salvation only to all that believe and are baptized. (Mark 16:16) The seal of the covenant must needs be answerable to that holy covenant, a seal of life and salvation only to them that believe and are baptized. (Ephesians 1:13-14; Revelation 2:17-18) The apostle here to the Ephesians does show that ‘after they believed they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (P.128. emp. added).
“And, first, in the Gospel According to Mark (1:4), it is preached by John to be baptism of amendment of life for the remission of sins. And the apostle (in) Romans 6:4 says, ‘Baptism is a burying into the death of Christ, that we should walk in newness of life.’ And (in) Galatians 3:26-27 the apostle says, ‘Baptism is the putting on of Christ by faith.’ How should this baptism belong unto infants? Can there be amendment of life for the remission of sins in infants? And can infants be buried into the death of Christ to walk in newness of life? And can infants put on Christ by faith? If they can do none of these things, which is most plain they cannot, then may they not be baptized. What were sufficient to give satisfaction in this long conceived error of baptizing infants, you may see by the ordinance itself. They are not capable of it. And you may see that the Lord by the covenant does not command nor require any such thing at the hands of parents to baptize infants and all their household. The covenant is that men should believe and be baptized, but there is no one word to command them to baptize their infants, and all their household. Oh, that you would be weary of this your great ignorance, to say that baptism is the seal of the covenant. And yet you will seal them that cannot receive the seal, and them that are not once mentioned in the covenant, bringing in under the covenant whom you will, without the will and mind of the Lord, and although the covenant shall still overthrow you, that there can none be under the covenant, but they which believe and are baptized. For the Lord will admit of no other than he has mentioned in his covenant, though you seal never so many with water and words. Although this might suffice, yet we will endeavor by the Lord’s assistance to convince you by your own ground” (P.123. emp. added).
“And if the people of God would but with upright hearts read diligently the whole Epistle to the Hebrews, they should (through the grace of God) find to their full satisfaction the difference between the old covenant and the new, and the priesthood, and the tabernacle, and the ordinances, services, and sacrifices set down so plainly as it would make an end of this controversy, and many more, to the advancement of God’s truth, and the salvation of the souls of his people that shall follow him in the regeneration or new birth, which is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, in which regeneration or new birth whoso follows him not cannot enter in to the kingdom of heaven. In that Epistle to the Hebrews they that read shall find (as we have formerly showed) that the old covenant was a carnal covenant and commandment. (Hebrews 7:16) And as the Lord speaks to Abraham (Genesis 17:3) speaking of the covenant of circumcision, says, ‘My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.’ And as the covenant was, so was the priesthood, and the tabernacle, and the sacrifices, and service, all carnal and worldly, as is with all evidence and plainness in that epistle set down. But the new covenant is a not a covenant in the flesh. But it is a covenant in the Spirit, a spiritual covenant written in the hearts and minds of God’s people, established upon better promises than the first covenant. And all this is evident by the words of the covenant, which are, ‘They that believe and are baptized shall be saved.’ And as this covenant is spiritual, so is the priesthood, so is the tabernacle, and all the ordinances, sacrifices, and services thereof. And all this is most plainly set down in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which difference between the old and the new covenant, if it were carefully searched unto and found out , it would make you cast away your carnal baptizing of infants and to baptize no infants, but such infants as were babes in Christ, such as are begotten by the immortal seed of the Word” (P.124-125. emp. added).
“Yet through repentance such might be saved. But now under the new covenant, which is spiritual, there is promise of salvation to them that keep it. For ‘he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.’ And there is condemnation pronounced against them that keep it not. ‘He that will not believe shall be damned.’ And he that sins presumptuously or willingly of knowledge against this covenant, or any of the ordinances thereof shall never be forgiven. (Hebrews 20:29 [10:26ff]) Thus may all see that will not wink with their eyes that the new covenant is not like the old” (P. 126. emp. added).
“There is no such baptism in the New Testament as baptism in the flesh. God forbid that men should remain still ignorant as to think that Christ Jesus in his heavenly kingdom and new covenant has established any carnal rite, or ceremonial ordinance, the ‘handwriting whereof he has put out and abolished.’ (Colossians 2:14) And therefore the baptism of the New Testament must needs be a spiritual baptism of water and the Spirit (John 3:5) with which baptism infants cannot be baptized” (P. 127. emp. added).
“There was never any one doctrine of Christ nor of the apostles that ever were so acceptable to all men. It must needs be acceptable because so good a thing is so easily come by. What a grievous thing would it be if one might not be a Christian and member of Christ’s body before they had learned Christ, and to believe in him. This would trouble children if they should be forced to know Christ before they could be admitted to be his disciples and to be baptized. And this would be a great trouble to parents that their children should not be baptized before they had carefully brought them up in the instruction and information of the Lord. And this would be a great burden to bishops and priests, if they should have none admitted members of their church until by their diligent and faithful preaching of the Gospel they were brought to knowledge, faith, and repentance, and to amend their lives and be baptized. If these old doctrines of Christ and his apostles should not be put into practice it would trouble and offend the world, being so contrary to all custom, and counsels, and affections of men” (P. 131. emp. added).
“When this way shall be once truly learned and faithfully practiced of God’s people to attain to true knowledge, then shall all that seek after Christ strive to enter into his kingdom by repentance and new birth, being born again of water and the Holy Ghost. Then shall men learn to know the true baptism of Christ, which is the ‘baptism of repentance for remission of sins,’ and be therewith baptized and ‘put on Christ,’ and not satisfy themselves with childish baptism, in which baptism of repentance for the remission of sins they cannot put on Christ” (P. 147. emp. added).
Helwys, Thomas, & Groves Richard (Ed.). 1998. In The Mystery of Iniquity. Mercer University Press.