There are many big anniversaries this year, such as the Calvin 500. This year is also being celebrated at the 400th anniversary of the first Baptists. (Warning: if you are a Landmark Baptist, you should not read this post as it contains truth that you cannot accept. Think of Tom Cruise's famous line in A Few Good Men.)
Since it is such a big anniversary, I will post some historical facts and some comments in coming posts.
In case you are poor at math, the year the story begins is 1609. The Church of England was the state church for our English spiritual ancestors. Membership was mandatory. Other denominations or religions were not allowed.
Those who attempted to separate from the church were often punished severely. The Church of England might well torture and kill them (but in a loving, Christ-like, way, I'm sure). These Separatists often had to leave England. This little congregation left England for Holland.
The group was lead by John Smyth. While studying his Bible, John decided that the baptism of infants was not scriptural, that only believers could be baptized. His congregation agreed.
John decided he needed to baptize the whole congregation. Humorously, the next problem became who could baptize John. I do not remember any qualifications set forth by Christ as to who can baptize, only who may be baptized, but clericalism prevailed and John decided only he could baptize himself. That scene from the movie, The Apostle, comes to mind. Since Smyth had been an Anglican priest, we can sympathize with his dilemma.
So, all were baptized and the first baptist congregation existed, and it existed in Holland. A few years later, the congregation returned to England and John the Baptist Smyth began to petition the king for religious freedom. A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity was the pamphlet he published.
Smyth later abandoned the Baptist identity and sought to lead his congregation into the Mennonite faith. In what would be a rousing start to Baptist arguments and politics, the church split. Smyth's supporters became Mennonites. Those who followed Thomas Helwys, another leader in the congregation, did not.
The first baptist church had the first baptist church split.