Woodcut from Morgan Edwards, Materials Towards A History of the American Baptists.
The Growth of the General Baptist Movement into Early America
By the 1640s, the English General Baptists had begun to establish numerous churches in England, & soon local associations began to spring up. Growth was steady, & by the 1650s, a “national association” of General Baptists was formed. The 1650s also saw the appearance of several General Baptist confessions of faith, doctrinal statements drawn up by local associations.
Such local doctrinal confessions as The Faith & Practice of Thirty Congregations (1651) & The True Gospel Faith (1654) served to give stability to the General Baptist associations by offering a unified set of doctrinal beliefs.
The 1660 English General Baptist Confession of Faith, however, was to become for General Baptists the most widely used confession in England. Later known as the Standard Confession of 1660, this confession was used by the Free Will Baptists in the American South until 1812, when it was condensed & revised.
Thomas Grantham was the most outstanding leader of the English General Baptists during the middle & later 1600s, & he delivered the 1660 Confession to King Charles II on July 26, 1660.20 Grantham was the most able theologian of the General Baptists, having written numerous books & tracts, primarily on believer’s baptism. His most extensive work was entitled Christianismus Primitivus or the Ancient Christian Religion. In this book, Grantham outlined the theology of the English General Baptists, especially as it relates to the doctrine of the church. Grantham reprinted the 1663 edition of the Confession in Christianismus Primitivus, along with quotations from early Christian fathers, to prove that it contained nothing novel. Besides outlining the doctrinal beliefs of the English General Baptists, the 1660 Confession attempted to halt the persecution that the General Baptists had suffered at the hands of the Anglican Church & the English government by affirming their loyalty to England.
The Confession was signed mostly by men in & around London, but representatives from other areas of England were also present to sign the document. One such representative was William Jeffrey of Kent. Jeffrey & the General Baptists of Kent were the most insistent of all the General Baptists on maintaining the doctrine of feet washing as an ordinance. Jeffrey was author of a doctrinal work, The Whole Faith of Man, which by 1660 was already a standard work of reference & appeal for General Baptists.
The English General Baptists went through many changes in the late 1600s & early 1700s. Many General Baptists left behind their traditional theology—some opting for mild Calvinism & others for unorthodox ideas. Not until later in the 1700s would the movement experience doctrinal cohesion & growth.
Despite this period of doctrinal controversy & decline, the General Baptist faith & practice that had been articulated in the 1660 Confession was proclaimed & preserved in the New World by General Baptists who migrated to the American colonies.