Beliefnet News

UTRECHT, Netherlands — (RNS/ENI) Four hundred years after the first Baptist congregation was established, followers have been challenged to continue championing religious liberty.
“We as Baptists must continue to defend religious freedom for all peoples and all religions,” said Denton Lotz, the former general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, at a special service held last Thursday (July 30) in Amsterdam to mark the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement.
The service was held in a Mennonite church in central Amsterdam, a short distance from the site of what is honored as the first Baptist congregation, founded in 1609 by exiles from Britain who had fled religious persecution in England.
“If we fail to take seriously the 21st century and merely continue to defend religious freedom as though we were living under King James I, then we will have become irrelevant and our defense of freedom irrelevant,” said Lotz, who served as the BWA’s top executive for 19 years until his retirement in 2007.
That first Baptist church was established in an Amsterdam bakery under the leadership of Thomas Helwys and John Smyth, a former Church of England cleric, who sought a self-governing church free from state control.
Smyth maintained that the church should receive its members by baptism after they had consciously acknowledged their faith and thus opposed infant baptism.
Still, the threat today is not directed at religious practice, “but rather whether or not religion will be granted a fair hearing,” said Lotz. “Our public and state education has promoted secularism as its own religion and has indoctrinated the younger generation to believe that man can live without God and can explain the universe and history and community without faith.”
The service was the highlight of a series of international events held in the Netherlands from July 24 to Aug. 1 by the BWA and the European Baptist Federation to celebrate the anniversary.
American evangelist Billy Graham sent a letter to celebrate the anniversary.
“For four centuries, Baptist men and women have preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, ushering countless people into the family of God,” evangelist Graham wrote in his message, which Lotz read during the anniversary service. “I challenge all of you to reconfirm the mission and ministry mandated by our Savior.”
Graham had a long association with the BWA and spoke at every Baptist World Congress between 1950 and 1985. The world congress is the largest international gathering of Baptists, held every five years, and is planned by the BWA.
The anniversary service was attended by the delegates of the BWA annual gathering and general council meeting held in Ede, a town about 50 miles from Amsterdam. More than 350 delegates from more than 50 countries attended the six days of meetings.
The BWA is a fellowship of 216 Baptist conventions and unions comprising a membership of more than 37 million baptized believers and a community of 105 million.
Several Baptist groups are not members of the alliance, including the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States. It left the BWA in 2004.
By Andreas Havinga
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus