It is amazing to see what one book has done to shape the history of the world. The early church unified around the writings of the Apostles. The teachings found in The Book caused a shift in the most powerful kingdom the world had ever known. The Roman Empire, marked by Greek influence of worshiping many gods, completely transformed into the Holy Roman Empire as the teachings of the Bible swept through the kingdom. What arguably started as a world revival soon morphed into a tradition of ignorance. The Middle Ages brought high illiteracy and the reading of the Bible was left to a small number of educated monks. People no longer searched for truth on their own but accepted the teachings of a corrupt clergy greedy for money and power.
The Enlightenment gave way to the Reformation as more people learned to read and have access to the Bible. People began to question the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church as they read the Bible for themselves and realized they were not accurate. This was the case in England in the early 1600’s where we find our Baptist roots. It is hard to look past tradition even if the truth is staring you in the faith. A small group of Separatists (who separated from the Church of England) recognized in Scripture that baptism was for believers, not infants. They had English translations of the Bible since 1300’s; however, it was 1609 before believer’s baptism was practiced. It was the 1640’s before this group began to practice immersion as the means for baptism. These early Baptists continued to examine their beliefs, not by tradition, but by the Word of God.
No wonder J. H. Shakespeare said, “the great discovery, therefore, of the age was not the New World, but a book.” The Bible led one Separatists group called the Puritans to settle in the New World and the Bible that led another Separatists group to become what we know today as Baptists. I am proud to be a Baptist today, not only because of our tradition, but because we are a people who look at the Bible and not tradition for our understanding of truth. This is what led J.H Shakespeare to conclude that you could wipe out all the religious groups of the seventeenth century, leave an open Bible, and “there would be Baptists” tomorrow.