The Bastards Unwanted Children of Reformation: A Philippine Baptist Perspective on the Reformation
This paper was presented during the 2017 STEP-ATESEA Annual Forum held at Brokenshire College in Davao City on the occasion of the Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 13, 2017. This forum is attended by the selected faculty representatives from the Samahan ng Teolohikal na Edukasyon ng Pilipinas (STEP).
I would like to begin this paper with a standard disclaimer. Whatever I present here is what I believe to be true and accurate to the best of my ability. However, the task of presenting a comprehensive “Philippine Baptist Perspective” is an almost impossible one. As I told Dr. Reeve Velunta, Baptists are by nature “separatists.” There are as many perspectives on any given issue as there are Philippine Baptists. So even though I am the Academic Dean of a Baptist Seminary in the Philippines, I cannot, and will not even try, to act as the definitive spokesman for Philippine Baptists. Thus, the reason for the use of an indefinite article in the subtitle. Having mentioned that, let us now proceed to the topic at hand.
In order to present a proper perspective, one has to establish one’s self first in context. And so this paper will first try to establish where the Philippine Baptists are located in terms of its lineage. I will try to give a sketch of the beginnings and growth of the Baptist movement. Second, I will try to explore two theological themes that gave rise to the development of a separate Baptist movement from the mainline movements of the Reformation. Finally, I will try to identify two unique contributions of Baptists to Christianity and society at large.
1.0 Baptist Beginnings
I will use a diagram to trace the relationship that I have to the Reformation.
Me >> West Baguio Baptist Church>>Luzon Convention of Southern Baptist Churches>>Southern Baptist Convention USA>>Particular Baptists>>Thomas Helyws>>John Smith>>Church of England>>Roman Catholic Church>>Early Church>>Jesus Christ
So, I am more than six degrees away from our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of you are probably closer, which is quite enviable.
So if you will notice in the diagram, the Baptists have descended from the Anglican branch of the Reformation. This is because Baptist Historians affirm that John Smyth is the progenitor of the Baptist movement in England. However, other views existed as well and we’ll turn to them one by one.
1.1 The Trail-of-Blood
Among Baptists, there exist several views as to where we came from. The first of which is what we call the Trail-of-Blood  which claims that Baptist churches of today can be traced back to the Lord Jesus Christ in an unbroken succession. This is the view espoused by Dr. J.M. Carroll who published a book of the same title in 1931. This view is very similar to that of Landmarkism popularized by James Robinson Graves in the 19th century. It is believed that Baptist churches directly succeeded from the church established by Christ and his apostles. . There are those who did not agree with this view which created a rift among Baptist churches in the American south. This is because Landmarkist ideas “introduced an exclusionist ecclesiology into Baptist life, creating an increasingly isolationist stance among Southern Baptists.” . Needless to say, this view did not gain much popular support from the Baptist churches of the early 19th century.
1.2 Anabaptist Descent
Another view is the claim that we descended directly from the Anabaptists. This confusion is not new. Even in its earliest inceptions, the terms Baptists and Anabaptists can be mistakenly interchanged, albeit unintentional . This view also can be explained away because of the recent advancement in scholarship in Baptist and Anabaptist history. Although distinct groups, the influence of Anabaptists upon Baptists cannot be denied because of evidences supporting it. We may not be the same, but we can call them cousins of the faith.
1.3 Smyth and Helwys
Finally, the most documented story of Baptist beginnings points to John Smyth and Thomas Helwys as the founders of Baptists . Although it was John Smyth who really started the group, it was Thomas Helwys who continued leading the movement. After dissatisfaction with the Church of England, Smyth left the Anglican priesthood in 1602 and formed a group that he believes is very close to the New Testament practices. He first baptized himself by pouring water over his head and then baptized the others as well. That’s why he was notoriously labeled Se Baptist (self-baptizer) by his critics . One of the first members is Thomas Helwys, an influential and rich Englishman at that time. However, this was the time when forming religious groups outside the Anglican Church is considered a criminal offense. And so the group met in secret. Eventually, Smyth and his followers escaped to Amsterdam because it is more tolerant to separatist groups. That’s where Smyth came in contact with the Mennonites – the Anabaptist group founded by Menno Simons.
Smyth published confessions of faith that are very similar to the beliefs of the Anabaptists. However, there came a time when Smyth recanted his self-baptism, aligned himself with the Christology of the Mennonites (Hoffmanite, i.e., denies the humanity of Christ), and requested membership into their group. This did not sit well with Thomas Helwys and others. Thus, the first of many splits among Baptists happened in Amsterdam. Helwys and his followers (numbering not more than ten) excommunicated Smyth from their group. It is a sad irony that the founder of the Baptist movement got excommunicated by the group he founded and died neither a Baptist nor an Anabaptist. After this, Helwys took over the leadership of the group and they decided to go back to England to establish their church on English soil. This is despite the fact that the Anglican Church’s persecution of separatist groups was in full swing under King James I. The first Baptist church was established in 1611, the same year the King James Authorized Version of the Bible was released. The church was located at Spitalfields, a suburb of London.
Under the leadership of Helyws, the group grew in number, though not significantly large enough to cause a stir. His greatest contribution to the movement is the book he wrote entitled The Mistery of Iniquity. This book is one of the very first expressions of freedom of religion for all people. He even gave a signed copy to King James I which cost him his liberty, and ultimately his life.
From here, the Baptist movement moved to the New World. There, it produced personalities such as William Rogers, Isaac Backus, etc. that helped shape what the Baptists of today are. And the rest as we say is history.
1.4 Baptists in the Philippines
In the Philippines, the first documented Baptist mission is by the American Baptist Missionary Union (ABMU), with Eric Lund as the first missionary. While in Spain, he came into contact with a Filipino, Braulio Manikan, who is from Aklan. Braulio became a convert and then together, they started the Baptist ministry in Jaro, Iloilo in May 1900. In just four years, the number of Baptists grew and were able to form an Association of Baptist churches which were known as the kasapulanan. Its first association meeting was held in 1904. And in 1929, these Kasapulanan organized themselves into the Western Visayan Convention; which eventually became the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches in 1935 or “Convention Baptist” in short.
The American Southern Baptists Convention’s Foreign Missions Board did not really plan to go to the Philippines. Their main target was China. However, when the Japanese occupied China, they were forced to escape to the Philippines, which also got involved in the war eventually. After the war, the American missionaries went back to China to continue the ministry there. It wasn’t long before the communists took over control of China and forced the missionaries to leave a second time. This time, they went to Baguio City and used it as an interim base of operations in case China becomes open again. In the meantime, the American missionaries reached out to Chinese residents of Baguio, Manila, Dagupan, and Davao. The first Chinese converts in Baguio were baptized and were organized into what is now the Baguio Chinese Baptist Church – the first Southern Baptist Church in the Philippines – on May 29, 1950.
Because China remained closed to missionaries, the Southern Baptist Missionaries decided to extend their work to Filipinos as well. On August 30, 1950, The Philippine Baptist Mission was born. It is comprised of American Southern Baptist missionaries who “desired Philippine Baptist life built on Filipino leadership committed to historical Baptist principles.” In a span of 18 years, Southern Baptists grew from zero members to 11,458 baptized believers in 1968. Southern Baptist work has spread more rapidly in Mindanao, thanks to the Convention Baptists who migrated there during the war and helped with the evangelistic efforts. This explains why there are thousands of Southern Baptist Churches in Mindanao and only hundreds in Luzon.
2.0 Core Baptist Doctrines
So what do Baptists believe? Despite the diversity of Baptists around the world, we come together under several core doctrines that we have inherited from our forefathers during the Post-Reformation period. The sound of Martin Luther’s hammering of his 95 theses may have long decayed by the time John Smyth decided to leave the Church of England, but its reverberation was still in full swing. What made John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, and other early Baptists separate from their institutional church to establish a group of their own even if it meant imprisonment, torture, and death? The answer to this: a great dissatisfaction with the current ecclesiastical situation after a thorough and close study of the Scriptures. Indeed, the Church of England separated ways with Rome, but in essence still was very much like the Catholic Church, only this time, without a Pope.
Here are two theological themes that sharply distinguish the Baptists from their mainline counterparts. It cost them much persecution, their liberty, and to some, their lives. The first is the most radical interpretation of Sola Scriptura and the second is its logical conclusion: believer’s baptism.
2.1 Scripture as the Authoritative Word of God
Both founders of the Baptist movement followed the lead of the Reformers in elevating the Scriptures as the source of doctrine. No other document share that same place as the bible in terms of authority. Smyth was known to read and study scriptures in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Helwys asserted that the Bible is the only source of doctrinal truth, and that every believer has the right to read and interpret the Bible . In his 1611 confession, the centrality of the Bible to Baptist belief was immortalized by these words:
That the scriptures off the Old and New Testament are written for our instruction; 2 Tim. 3.16 & that wee ought to search them for they testifie off Christ IO.5.39. And therefore to be vsed with all reverence, as conteying the Holie Word off God, which onelie is our direction in al things whatsoever.
Although this doctrine seems very similar to the Sola Scriptura battle cry of the Reformers, it is in essence different. The Reformer’s understanding of Sola Scriptura is that Scripture is the final authority, alongside other authorities such as Church Fathers and Councils . For Helwys, it is only the Bible as the direction in all things. This staunch belief of Authority of Scriptures, not Tradtions may also be traced to the Mennonite Anabaptist influence on the Baptists as evidenced in their First London Confession of 1644.
2.2 Practice of Believer’s Baptism
The practice of baptism has been one of the most debated points between the Magisterial reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli) and the radical reformers (Anabaptists). The practice of infant baptism was carried over by the Reformers into their new respective groups, which drew the criticism of the Anabaptists. For them, believer’s baptism is the logical implementation of Sola Scriptura. The teaching in the New Testament is that those baptized were the ones that professed faith in Christ and committed one’s self to him. This belief was also found in the first London Confession of 1644 in articles 39 and 40 and also prescribes immersion as its proper administration. Baptism is considered an ordinance and not a sacrament. This view on baptism is in direct contrast with the Reformers who strongly advocate infant baptism. Thus, when the radical reformers made their break with the institutional church, they used baptism as its visible sign. Because of this, they were labeled as Ana-baptists or re-baptizers. When the first Baptists also made their break, they used baptism as the initial rite to symbolized their total rejection of the institutional church they belong to.
3.0 Contributions of Baptists
As Baptists struggled to survive amidst strong persecutions, both from Catholics and Protestants, they have remained steadfast to the doctrines and principles they believe and cherish in. Because of this, two principles we enjoy today may be traced back to these radical groups of the Post-reformation period. Of course, it did not just come to them on their own but inherited a legacy from various influences of the Reformation period as well.
3.1 Religious Liberty
In accordance with the teachings of the Reformers, the doctrine that the head of the Church is Christ and not the Pope nor, as in the case of the Church of England, the king, became a battle standard for the earliest Baptists. It is God through Christ who is the only sovereign an individual has in terms of spiritual things. In the words of Thomas Helyws, “The king is a mortall [sic] man, and not God therefore hath no power over ye immortall [sic] soules [sic] of his subjects, to make lawes [sic] and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual Lords over them.” It was a time when the King of England has authorized the punishment of those outside the confines of the Church of England. For Thomas Helwys, this went beyond what Scripture warrants as the duty of the king. He boldly asserted that:
men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.
This is the nearest we can get to a statement appealing to religious liberty. It was unheard of at the time to boldly ask a king to relinquish himself of power. Helwys was imprisoned because of this and eventually died after four years. However, according to Harris, Helwys died in prison as the freest man on earth. He had planted an idea that the Baptists took to heart. He was not able to see its fruition, but later generations were able to enjoy this benefit.
3.2 Separation of Church and State
The idea of the magisterial reformers about the church is that it is territorial. One can be born into a Christian country and thus becomes a Christian. Therefore, the government is enmeshed with spiritual things as well. This also explains why infants and children can be baptized as their legal way of joining the state. The Kingdom of God is intricately joined with the Kingdom of this World. And thus when the Anabaptists denounced infant baptism and promoted a separation between these two kingdoms, it was treated as a crime against the state. Thus, the persecution of heretics is necessary to preserve social order. Thus, the Magisterial Reformers could not imagine a separation of the Church and the State.
The first Baptists espoused this view of separation of church and state as well. However, Smyth went as far as barring the magistrates from joining the Church. He was influenced by the teachings of the Mennonites in regards to this. Helwys on the other hand disagreed with Smyth on this point and made allowances for magisteries to be part of the Church. And thus, the General Baptists under Helwys have a more positive outlook towards the State. However, Helwys as the champion of religious freedom, delineated the spheres of authority for the state and the church. For him, there should be a clear demarcation between the physical and the spiritual realm in terms of obedience and control. The king reigns supreme on earthly matters and Christ reigns on the spiritual. As a corollary to that, the state shall not be responsible in supporting the church in its administration of its duties.
Baptists have embraced this doctrine and brought it with them to the Colonies. Roger Williams was the first to start a free society in the United States, when the Parliament granted him a charter on March 14, 1644 in Rhode Island. Furthermore, this charter has allowed “all decisions about religion to the ‘greater Part’—the majority—knowing the majority would keep the state out of matters of worship. Soul liberty now had official sanction.” Williams is also known to have written to maintain a “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” And thus the Western world came to embrace and champion freedom of religion – expressed fully in the separation of the Church and State.
4.0 Putting Forth the Baptist View
So how do Baptists of today view the Reformation? Surprisingly, most Baptist have a positive view on the Reformation. In fact, two leading Baptist seminaries in the United States have each dedicated a journal issue on the topic: The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology entitled theirs as “Remembering the Reformation Solas” while The Southwestern Journal of Theology have theirs as “Anabaptistica.” Moreover, going through prominent Baptist web sites such as Center for Baptist Studies and Baptist History, shows the positive outlook Baptists have for the Reformation. Even though the dark days of persecution is also discussed and written about in the articles, the results of the radical reformation has outshone the dire moments of Baptist history.
In a recently conducted informal inteviews done by this researcher among select Southern Baptist leaders here in the Philippines, nobody mentioned about the persecution our Baptist progenitors suffered from the hands of the magisterial Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. All of them are actually grateful for that spark that Luther provided in 1517 that ignited the Christian world and changed it forever. Each of them in one way or another mentioned the five solas the magisterial reformers fought for and reflected on how it still rings true in their respective congregations.
And thus, here I attempt to summarize the views that Baptists have regarding the Reformation in three distinct (and yet related) categories.
4.1 The Good
The five Solas of the Reformation, namely sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria (except for the first one that needs modification) also became the basic building blocks of Baptist Theology. Baptists are known for their staunch reverence and deep reliance on the Bible alone for faith and practice. Salvation is by the grace of God, through faith in Christ alone. This ultimately leads to the conclusion that all of these is for the Glory of God alone. And thus, Baptists have a very positive view of the Reformation in this regard. These five solas have become the fuel that made early Baptists thrive despite strong oppositions. As mentioned above, all the interviewed Southern Baptist pastors mention this as a positive legacy from the Reformation.
4.2 The Bad
On the other hand, Baptists view sola scriptura quite differently as that of the Reformers. They have radically removed all other authorities (tradition, pope, councils, creeds, etc) and just left the Bible to have that sole honor. This has become a point of contention between the mainline church and the radical reformers from the very beginning. Church beliefs and practices must be weighed and evaluated through scriptures alone. That’s why for Baptists, a lot of practices by the mainline institutional churches, went down the drain. Also, the Reformers stopped short of really setting free the people in spiritual matters. They were reluctant to be free from State control, which is understandably so because of their worldview that God’s Kingdom is territorial. On the other hand, Baptists defined the church as the collection of visible saints, separate and yet part of this world.
4.3 The Ugly
The memories of persecution because of religious beliefs will always be in the pages of Baptist history. Although many Baptists would never mention nor talk about it, the fact that our history is written in blood remains. Both our Anabaptist cousins and the General (and later on Particular) Baptists suffered persecution because of what they believe as true. The good thing that came out of this painful experience is that out of these persecutions, the doctrines of religious tolerance and religious liberty came into being.
The Reformation of 1517 indeed has influenced the Baptist beliefs and practices, either directly or indirectly in ways that we may categorize as good, bad, and ugly. Although the Baptist movement came almost a hundred years later, the battle cry of the magisterial reformers hasn’t died down, but instead served to fan the flames in the hearts of the early Baptists in the post-Reformation period.
 J.M. Carroll, Trail of Blood.
 Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, Baptists in America: A History (UK: Oxford University Press, 2015), 116
 Stephen Stookey, “Baptists and Landmarkism and the turn toward Provincialism: 1851,” in Turning Points in Baptist History: A Festschrift in Honor of Harry Leon McBeth, edited by Michael Edward Williams, Walter B. Shurden (Atlanta: Mercer University Press, 2008): 178.
 Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists: Traced by Their Vital Principles and Practices from the Time of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Year 1886 (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 328-9.
 Glen Harold Stassen, “Opening Menno Simon’s Foundation-Book and Finding the Father of Baptist Origins Alongside the Mother-Calvinist Congregationalism,” Baptist History and Heritage 33 (1998): 34.
 Lawrence Holiday Harris, The Origins and Growth of Baptist Faith: Twenty Baptist Trailblazers in World History (Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Reprint Company, 2001).
 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day Vol 2 (NY: HarperCollins, 2010), 195.
 D. Leslie Hill, Faithful and Free: Baptist Beliefs Through the Years (Makati City: Church Strengthening Mninistry, 2011), 316.
 Hill, 329.
 Harris, 21.
 Harris, 21.
 Tim Grass, “Bible, Church And Tradition In The 16th Century Reformation,” Journal of European Baptist Studies Vol. 3 No. 2 (2003): 22.
 Glen Harold Stassen, “Revisioning Baptist Identity by Naming our Origin and Character Rightly,” Baptist History and Heritage Vol. 33 No. 2 (1998): 45.
 William R. Step, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth Century Anabaptism, 3rd Edition, revised and enlarged (MI: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 201.
 Stassen, “Opening Menno Simon’s Foundation-Book,” 37.
 Walter B. Shurden, “The First London Confession of 1644,” Centerforbaptiststudies.org. (2017). [online] Available at: http://centerforbaptiststudies.org/resources/firstlondon.htm [Accessed 11 Oct. 2017].
 Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity. 1612. Flyleaf.
 Helwys, Short, 53.
 Harris, 21.
 Smithsonian Magazine. John M. Barry, “God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea”. [online]. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/god-government-and-roger-williams-big-idea-6291280.
 Baptist Distinctives. “Baptists: Separation of Church and State.” [online] https://www.baptistdistinctives.org/resources/articles/baptists-separation-of-church-and-state.
 “Remembering the Reformation Solas,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 19 No. 4 (2015).
 “Anabaptistica,” The Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 56 No. 2 (2014).