Was the world’s first Baptist church Arminian or Calvinist?

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Calvinism within Baptist churches (e.g., John Piper, Albert Mohler, including hipper and younger Baptists like Mark Driscoll).  When I read and hear Baptists describing “true evangelical” doctrine as  Calvinist in doctrine, this makes me scratch my head and wonder.

When I was reading up on Baptist history, I found something very interesting.  Thomas Helwys (along with John Smyth), two fathers of the Baptist movement, fled to Holland together with other Puritan/Separatist followers to escape the persecution of King James.  Helwys later returned to England and started the first Baptist church at Spitalsfield in 1612.  This was the first Baptist church recorded in history.

What theology did this Baptist church hold to?  Historians describe this as a General Baptist type of church which held to an Arminian belief of free-will (as opposed to a Calvinist doctrine of predestination).  So should Calvinistic Baptists continue claiming what is “truly evangelical”?

3 thoughts on “Was the world’s first Baptist church Arminian or Calvinist?

  1. You make a good point. I see this myself. I find it amazing when reading Thomas Helwys’ confession and “Mystery of Iniquity” that he and those like believers never refer to themselves as “Baptist”. I have found that the title “Baptist” was more commonly accepted as Calvinism was, but I need to do more study on that. In fact, I find that Helwys and his brethren had beliefs and a way and name in referring to themselves that is very close to another body of believers today.


      1. I’m doing more research. As far as, I see. Helwys was for weekly Lord’s Supper, church elders opposing hierarchies, baptism of believers by immersion for forgiveness of sins, opposition to musical instruments, and referring to “the church of Christ”. Yet, most separatists were like this with exception to beliefs on baptism. Helwys says that baptism follows repentance for the remission of sins and water and the Spirit cannot be separate to be joined with Christ in baptism (“A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity”, P.103). He believed that this was the one baptism into the body (P.113, 115, 128). More reading on Helwys’ position on baptism is needed. Helwys appears to may have also taught confession of sins before baptism, which looks to be more than just recognizing that one has sinned in baptism as the churches of Christ do.


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