Church History

A History of Baptist Cooperation


Local autonomy has always been part of Baptist history, but so has cooperation.  Throughout our history, local Baptist churches have been the ultimate authority for their own congregation.  Baptist churches hire their own pastors. Baptist churches install their own Elders and Deacons.  Baptist churches develop and approve their own budgets including making decisions about missions giving.  However, we also have a history of cooperation with other churches.  Typical Southern Baptist churches cooperate through local county associations, state conventions, and the national Southern Baptist Convention.  These contemporary efforts are grounded in a history of cooperation found in the earliest Baptist churches.  I have recently published a book about an early Baptist named Thomas Patient (HERE) who both planted the first Irish Baptist churches but also cooperated with other like-minded Baptist churches.


First London Confession of 1644 

The seeds of a vision for cooperation were laid in Baptist’s early statements of faith.  The earliest Particular Baptist confession of faith was the First London Confession of 1644.  Seven churches came together to publish the confession in order to distinguish themselves from the Arminian Anabaptists and place them within the broader English Reformation.  The confession was modeled after the Separatist Confession of 1596.  The London Baptists confessed a biblical reformed faith.  They also confessed congregational convictions as well as believer’s baptism by immersion.  But, they also emphasized cooperation.  Article XLVII of the First London Confession of 1644 states, “And although the particular Congregations be distinct and severall Bodies, every one a compact and knit Citie in it selfe; yet are they all to walk by one and the same Rule, and by all meanes convenient to have the counsell and help one of another in all needfull affaires of the Church, as members of one body in the common faith under Christ their onely head.”[1]  Article XLVII of the First London Confession of 1644 is modeled heavily after the Separatist Confession of 1596’s Article 38.  These seven churches actually modeled their convictions by publishing the confession.  They were from different churches but were also committed to working together, therefore they needed to distinguish the doctrine that unified them.  The First London Confession of 1644 became a tie that bound them together.  Thomas Patient was one of the men who signed this early confession.  Later he left London in order to spread the gospel in Ireland.  Patient then ended up planting the first Baptist churches in Ireland.

5th Monarchist in Ireland

Thomas Patient went to Ireland as an army chaplain with Oliver Cromwell’s invading force. During the English Civil War the King had been executed and the Parliamentarian forces eventually made Oliver Cromwell their leader against the Royalist forces.  The non-conformists like the Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists sided with the Parliamentarians.  However, as the war progressed a debate arose regarding Cromwell’s office.  Some wanted to make him King, but most were strongly opposed to that title and that type of authority.  Therefore, the Barebones Parliament in 1653 settled on an office of Lord Protector.  However, many of the non-conformists were enraged by that title because God was their Lord Protector.  Leaning on passages like Daniel 7 they argued their hope was in a messianic kingdom.  Bell explains, “For many, the Protectorate looked uncomfortably similar to the monarchy that God had so recently called them to overthrow.  The Saints were extremely dissatisfied.”[2]  They believed elevating Cromwell to a title of Lord Protector would conflict with their allegiance to their heavenly king.

During these years Thomas Patient was in Ireland expanding the Baptist movement, but also remaining in cooperation with the other London Baptists.  For example, he was a signer of a letter sent from the Irish Baptists on June 1, 1653 to the London Baptists.  In the letter they suggested a national day of prayer, requested continued correspondence, asked for a list of other like-minded churches in London, and asked the London Baptists to send representatives to Ireland to help instruct their new Baptist churches.  During these years the heat over the Lord Protector title continued to heat up.  However, William Kiffen saw things differently.  He had served as a pastor with Thomas Patient in London.  Both had signed the First London Confession of 1644 representing their church.  Kiffen simply saw the Protectorate as another government to appease in order to preserve religious tolerance.  Therefore, he sent a letter to the Irish Baptists rebuking their criticism of Cromwell and pleading with them to submit to the Cromwellian government.  In his letter Kiffen contended the Protectorate was both a legitimate government and had preserved the country from chaos.

Even though Kiffen was more influential than Patient he did not operate like a Catholic Pope demanding they defuse their heat.  Rather, Kiffen approached them as a fellow Baptist and pastor seeking to persuade them to think differently about the implications of their criticism of Cromwell.  Patient and the Irish Baptist heeded Kiffen’s admonition and their relationship with the Protectorate improved.  The incident is a great example of loving correction, but also humble cooperation.  Due to humble cooperation rather than authoritative mandates the fledging movement was able to avoid becoming too political and enabled them to improve their relationship with Cromwell.

Lessons for Contemporary Baptists

These types of historical accounts provide examples for Baptist today.  W.T. Whitley explains, “from the beginning Baptists were not ‘Independents’; they always sought for fellowship between the different churches, and they were very successful in arranging for permanent organization.”[3]  Even though Baptists should champion our convictions about local autonomy, we should also celebrate our convictions about cooperation.  Torbet explains, “Their purpose was framed by a desire to have fellowship between local churches and to carry on evangelistic work.”[4]  My role as pastor of Redeemer Church is first to the local church, but we also seek to be involved with the Denton Baptist Association.  The DBA has supported the planting of our church and now we are working with the DBA to plant other churches.  As Baptists our doctrine and history are to commit to the local autonomy of our church.  However, our doctrine and history also call us to cooperate together to spread the gospel.

[1] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1969), 168-169.

[2] Mark R. Bell, Apocalypse How?: Baptist Movements During the English Reformation (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2000), 153.

[3] W.T. Whitley, A History of British Baptists (London: Charles Griffin and Company, 1923), 53.

[4] Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists, 3rd edition (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1963), 43.

Church History

Soul Competency or Regenerate Church Membership?

Baptists have long asked the question, “what does it mean to be a Baptist?” E. Y. Mullins was the president of The Southern Baptist Seminary and argued that soul competency was Baptists’ “mother principle.”[1] Other ideas about religious liberty and oppositions to confessions of faith spring from the Mullins’ teachings on soul competency. However, the father of the Irish Baptist movement would disagree with Mullins’ conclusions. Thomas Patient planted the first Baptist churches in Ireland and did so for different reasons than soul competency. The doctrine that led to Patient establishing those first Irish Baptist churches helps Baptists understand what it really means to be a Baptist.


Lessons from Patient’s Relationship to Government

Baptist have long advocated for religious liberty. However, Patient had a relationship with governments that call into question our assumption that all Baptists have always advocated for religious liberty. Thomas and Sarah Patient came to the American colonies in the 1630’s. They held to the New England faith which was marked semi-separatism and congregationalism. But, while in New England they wrestled with a debate over believer’s baptism versus infant baptism. Patient became convinced of believer’s baptism and a warrant was issued for his arrest.[2] Even though he experienced religious persecution for his baptistic doctrine, there is no record of him using the experience to advocate for religious liberty.

Patient has a second note-worthy experience with the government in 1650. John Owen preached a sermon before parliament on February 28, 1650 titled “Steadfastness of Promises, and the Sinfulness of Staggering.” Owen explained, “there was, for the present, one gospel preacher for every walled town in the English possession of Ireland.”[3] In the sermon he requested funds in order to send pastors to Ireland to preach the gospel. Thomas Patient was one of the men who went to Ireland as an army chaplain. Therefore, this is an example of the British government funding a Baptist pastor to go to another country to serve as both an army chaplain and to plant baptistic churches! This is not our contemporary understanding of a separation of church and state. This Baptist pastor was willing to take government funds in order to plant Baptist churches.

Charles Fleetwood was installed as the Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1651. He was an Independent, but he welcomed Baptists into leadership. Brown explains that by 1655 “at least twelve governors of towns and cities, ten colonels, three or four lieutenant-colonels, ten majors, nineteen or twenty captains, two salaried preachers, and twenty-three officers on the civil list”[4] were of the Baptist faith. They had risen to political prominence, but their goals seemed less about religious tolerance and more about nudging the balance of power in their favor. In fact, these realities led to other groups becoming suspicious of the Baptists, which was a factor in Fleetwood losing his position to Henry Cromwell in 1655. Patient appears to have been part of a push for a Baptist religious settlement rather than being an advocate for religious liberty. This is another example from his ministry of the early Baptists not advocating for religious liberty even though they were in positions of political power.

Lessons from Patient’s Organizing Principles

Even though Thomas Patient did not hold to our contemporary understanding of religious liberty, he did plant the first Baptist churches in Ireland. If soul competency and religious liberty were not hallmarks of his ministry, what did he organize those churches around? A letter sent in 1651 from his church to another congregation helps answer the question. Patient and eleven men from his Baptist church sent a letter to another congregation rebuking them for joining together in “fellowship with such as do fundamentally differ in judgement and practice; to witsuch as agree not with you about the true state of a visible Church, nor the fundamental Ordinances thereof.”[5] Patient organized his church around the doctrine of believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership. Further, he and his church rebuked another congregation that did not likewise organize their church according to the same doctrines.

Patient received criticism for his positions on baptism and how to organize a church. As a result, he wrote a full-length book on the doctrine of believer’s baptism titled On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants.[6] In his book he made the case that “it is the duty of every man that believes and repents, to be baptized.”[7] In his book, Patient makes no mention of religious liberty. Further, he did not write a book on religious liberty as the organizing principle of Baptist churches. Rather, he advocated believer’s baptism by immersion as the doctrine by which Baptist church should organize. According to Thomas Patient, being a Baptist meant holding to believer’s baptism by immersion.

Conclusions for Baptist Identity

This historical evidence should add to the conversion over Baptist identity. The history is clear that Baptist (particularly American Baptists) have long advocated for religious liberty. This history is to be understood and celebrated. As Baptists, we should continue our ministry of advocating for religious liberty. Our efforts are right and good. Our efforts are also part of our history. However, soul competency and religious liberty are not our “mother principle.”[8] Our identity is linked to our conviction the Bible teaches that genuine converts are to publicly profess their faith in Christ by being immersed. Those who are baptized by immersion as believers are the ones who should make up the visible church. Therefore, believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership are the Baptist distinctions.

[1] E. Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion, Library of Baptist Classics 5 (Nashville: B & H, 1997), 79.

[2] Records and Files of the Quarterly Court of Essex County Massachusetts, vol. 1. 1636-1656, (Essex Institute: Salem, Massachusetts, 1911) 52.

[3] Thomas Russell (ed.), The Works of John Owen, D.D. vol. 1 (London: Richard Baynes, 1826), 91.

[4] Louise Fargo Brown, The Political Activities of the Baptists and Fifth Monarchy Men in England During the Interregnum. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912) 136-137.

[5] John Rogers, Ohel: A Tabernacle for the Sun: or Irenicum Evangelicum, An Idea of Church-Discipline. (London, 1653) 302.

[6] Thomas Patient, On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants. (Henry Hills: London, 1654).

[7] Patient, On Baptism, 5.

[8] Mullins, The Axioms of Religion, 79.

Church History

The Irish and Baptist Identity

The Irish Baptists inform our understanding of what it means to be Baptists because they have an undisputed beginning. I recently wrote a biography of Thomas Patient who planted for the first Irish Baptist churches (HERE). One of the challenges for Baptists is to pinpoint our beginning. Baptist historians have struggled to identify when and where the movement actually began. Some have tried to link a trail throughout church history from the time of Christ into the English Reformation. Others have claimed it began on the European continent with close links to the Anabaptist tradition. Still others argue the Baptist movement comes directly out of the English Reformation. Beginnings are significant because they inform identity. For example, if our beginnings are closely linked to the Anabaptist tradition then Anabaptist doctrines should help us understand what it means to be a Baptist today. However, the Irish Baptist movement is uniquely helpful because their beginning is undisputed. Their undisputed beginning informs their identity which then informs the broader Baptist identity.


The War Spreads to Ireland

The British Civil War of the 1640’s and 1650’s was largely a political dispute over the powers of the Monarch and Parliament as well as a religious dispute over what is the most biblical form of church government. The Protestants largely sided with the Parliamentarians. Out of the religious dispute arose many of the modern Protestant denominations including the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Each of these camps argue for a particular form of church government. As the conflict progressed Oliver Cromwell rose to power overseeing the Parliamentary forces. He defeated the Royalist forces and took charge of England. However, in 1649 he invaded Ireland. Included in his effort was an attempt to spread the Protestant gospel to the Catholic Irish. Parliament funded a number of ministers to serve as army chaplains to preach the Protestant gospel of faith alone to the Irish. Thomas Patient was serving as a pastor with William Kiffin in one of London’s reformed Baptist churches and chose to accept the call to bring the gospel to Ireland.

Thomas Patient’s Irish Ministry

Even though Thomas Patient is a little-known figure from church history, he lived an interesting life and was a faithful example for contemporary Baptists. He traveled to New England as part of the Pilgrim migration to the new world. However, while in the American colonies he became convinced through reading Scripture and listening to debates that the biblical mode of baptism was by immersion and it should be reserved only for believers. His new-found conviction for believer’s baptism by immersion went against the colony’s doctrine and a warrant was issued for his arrest so he fled back to England. While in London he began pastoring with William Kiffen and they together signed the First London Confession of 1644. That statement of faith defined their church’s doctrine as Protestant, reformed, and baptistic. These are the doctrines he took with him to Ireland.

While in Ireland he began preaching with other ministers at a prominent cathedral in Dublin. He also travelled the southeastern portion of the country preaching the gospel. During these early months of his ministry he founded a church in Waterford utilizing the doctrine of believer’s baptism by immersion. This congregation was so committed to the doctrine that they wrote a letter to the people attending services at the cathedral in Dublin urging them to separate over the issue. A group did indeed separate and formed a church in Dublin based on their convictions about believer’s baptism by immersion. Both congregations, therefore, held to the doctrine of regenerate church members. They taught only those genuinely converted should be baptized and thus become members of their churches.

Many became critical of Patient’s teaching so he wrote On Baptism in order to advocate believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership. His book is one of the earliest known full-length treatments of the Baptist doctrine. Citing the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, he explained that Christians should obediently follow all of Jesus’ teachings including being baptized. Patient noted the term “baptism” “doth in proper English signify to Dip.”[1] He also explained that the one being baptized is to be a “taught and repentant person.”[2] Related, he wrote “Faith and Repentance go before baptism.”[3] Tenderly, Patient calls on his readers to “obey the word of God’s command”[4] and be baptized by immersion professing their faith in Christ.

Clear Baptist Distinctives

The Irish Baptists teach all Baptists some helpful lessons. First, our key organizing doctrine is believer’s baptism by immersion and the related doctrine of regenerate church membership. Baptist identity is about adhering to those doctrines. Baptists are people who believe in believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership. If someone does not hold those doctrines then they are not a Baptist. Baptist brethren, your key doctrine is believer’s baptism by immersion.

Second, our distinct doctrine is not soul competency or religious liberty. Patient would not have identified with E. Y. Mullins teaching about soul competency because he rebuked people for not holding to a biblical view of baptism. In fact, he urged them to leave a church and start a new church around the doctrine. Further, even though Baptists have long held and rightly held ideas about religious liberty, Patient would also not have identified with all those ideas. He went to Ireland funded by the English Parliament in order to start Baptist churches. Further, while in Ireland he sought to bring about a government that mandated a Baptist view of church government. The organizing principle of the initial Irish Baptist churches was not soul competency or religious liberty but rather believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership. Baptist brethren, you should hold to a number of other doctrines but you must also hold to regenerate church membership.

Third, Patient came to his convictions about baptism by interpreting the Bible which was the same way he came to his convictions about other doctrines. Patient, therefore, was first a Protestant then an Evangelical and only then a Baptist. If someone holds to Baptist doctrine it would contradictory to also hold to Catholic doctrine or liberal doctrine. Baptist brethren, you must first be a Protestant and an Evangelical before you can be a Baptist. Thomas Patient and the Irish Baptists teach contemporary Baptists fundamental lessons about our identity.

[1] Thomas Patient, On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants. (Henry Hills: London, 1654), 8.

[2] Patient, On Baptism, 17.

[3] Patient, On Baptism, 17.

[4] Patient, On Baptism, 179.

Church History

Irish Lessons for Church Planters

Tucked away in the religious history of Ireland is a profound lesson for church planters. I recently wrote a biography of Thomas Patient who planted for the first Irish Baptist churches (HERE). Guys who plant churches breathe the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The history of the Irish Baptists teaches us the virtue of planting churches committed to regenerate church membership. The original Irish Baptist churches were started because of the doctrine of believers’ baptism and thus regenerate church membership. Those churches were planted in the 1650’s and remain faithful gospel witnesses today.


The Story of Thomas Patient’s Irish Ministry

The lesson is only understood as part of the story of Thomas Patient. He was a British Particular Baptist who served with William Kiffin in London. Kiffin was one of the most significant figures in the establishment of Reformed Baptist Churches in England. In addition to pastoring the church, Kiffin was a successful businessman. He was part of a rising merchant class gaining considerable wealth in his day. Together, Kiffin and Patient represented their church by both signing the First London Confession in 1644.

Patient’s ministry was primarily during the period of the English Civil War, which was driven by both political and religious concerns. The Civil War period gave greater freedoms to Protestants who rejected the episcopal view of church government. During this period saw the rise of the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists. These denominations came about over different interpretations of how churches should be organized and how churches should relate to the government.

During this period Oliver Cromwell rose to lead the Parliamentary forces against the Royal forces. Eventually the war expanded from England and into Ireland. John Owen joined Cromwell in Ireland then came back to England in order to call more ministers to spread the gospel to Ireland. Thomas Patient answered that call and went to Ireland as an army chaplain.  While in Ireland he joined other preachers teaching at a prominent cathedral in Dublin.

The Founding of the First Irish Baptist Church

However, in addition to preaching in Dublin and ministering to soldiers, he also travelled throughout eastern and southern Ireland sharing the gospel message to the Irish. In 1650 he effectively gathered a group of converts in Waterford into a church. This church became the first Baptist church in Ireland. It was established on baptistic convictions as evidenced by a letter they wrote to the congregation in Dublin in 1651. In this letter Patient’s congregation rebuked those in the Dublin congregation who held to believer’s baptism yet “joined in fellowship with such as do fundamentally differ in judgement and practice.”[1] They admonished the Dublin believers that if they joined in church fellowship with those who did not practice the ordinance of “dipping Beleevers”[2] then they would be “guilty of their sin of disobedience.”[3] Patient’s congregation believed the doctrine was significant enough to leave one congregation for another. They also, therefore, believed it was significant enough to organize around. A group heeded the admonition and formed a congregation in Dublin.

As a result of the division, Patient went to great lengths to defend the doctrine. He ended up publishing one of the first full-length books advocating believer’s baptism. In his book he thoroughly examined scriptures that Baptists still use to advocate our doctrine. Patient expounded the ministry of the Apostles in Acts and linked it to Jesus’ Great Commission call by concluding “Faith and Repentance go before baptism.”[4]   He also made a distinction between baptism and circumcision explaining the latter as a “Covenant in the flesh.”[5] Patient was striving to make the point, “That there was never a Covenant of eternal life, made with any but with such as did and do believe, all along till Christ, not since.”[6] He made the point that baptism serves to “confirm our Regeneration”[7] therefore should be reserved for those profession faith in Christ. His goal was to see Christians “obey the word of God’s command.”[8]

The first Irish Baptist churches were founded around the doctrine of believer’s baptism by immersion.  As a result, those churches were officially made up of regenerate members.  The visible Baptist churches were born-again believers in Christ.

Lessons for Contemporary Church Planters

Church planters should never seek to divide congregations. However, church planters do have a unique opportunity to establish their congregations on a faithful ecclesiology. One lesson from Patient’s Irish ministry is for church planters to do the work of firmly establishing their doctrine of the church. Church planters should know the key passages, hold ecclesiological positions, advocate for how they inform their practical ministry, then organize their churches accordingly.

Another lesson is  church planters should utilize the pastoral tool of believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership. Like Patient, I have found the doctrine incredibly useful in planting church. In addition to clarifying someone’s conversion and beliefs about the gospel, it enables a pastor to use the gospel to inform all aspects of church life. Conversion is based upon the gospel, but so is the obedient step to be baptized. Further, baptism helps someone draw a line in the sand and commit themselves to the congregation. Baptism can set expectations for a young believer.

As I studied the Irish ministry of Thomas Patient I could not help but think he would have registered his church on the Nine Marks website! I was particularly pleased to learn that those congregations are still in existence today…over 350 later! If the goal is to plant a church that lasts, follow Thomas Patient’s lead and plant a church committed to regenerate church membership.

[1] John Rogers, Ohel: A Tabernacle for the Sun: or Irenicum Evangelicum, An Idea of Church-Discipline. (London, 1653), 302.

[2] Rogers, Ohel, 302.

[3] Rogers, Ohel, 302.

[4] Thomas Patient, On the Doctrine of Baptism, And the Distinction of the Covenants. (Henry Hills: London, 1654), 17.

[5] Patient, On Baptism, 39.

[6] Patient, On Baptism, 93.

[7] Patient, On Baptism, 168.

[8] Patient, On Baptism, 179.