The Irish Baptists inform our understanding of what it means to be Baptists because they have an undisputed beginning. I recently wrote a biography of Thomas Patient who planted for the first Irish Baptist churches (HERE). One of the challenges for Baptists is to pinpoint our beginning. Baptist historians have struggled to identify when and where the movement actually began. Some have tried to link a trail throughout church history from the time of Christ into the English Reformation. Others have claimed it began on the European continent with close links to the Anabaptist tradition. Still others argue the Baptist movement comes directly out of the English Reformation. Beginnings are significant because they inform identity. For example, if our beginnings are closely linked to the Anabaptist tradition then Anabaptist doctrines should help us understand what it means to be a Baptist today. However, the Irish Baptist movement is uniquely helpful because their beginning is undisputed. Their undisputed beginning informs their identity which then informs the broader Baptist identity.
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.
Reading about the lives of ordinary Christians gives hope for how to have an impact on our generation. Many read about the luminaries, but there is a virtue to reading about ordinary Christians in the past. Reflecting on the history of ordinary Christians helps preserve our faith, deepen our theology, deeper our understanding of contemporary culture, and is fun. Yes, fun can be a virtue. Yes, history can be fun.