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.


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