A Christian denomination or sect denying the validity of infant-baptism or of any baptism not preceded by a confession of faith. Baptists and their spiritual progenitors, the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century (including the Mennonites), have always made liberty of conscience a cardinal doctrine. Balthasar Hubmaier, the Anabaptist leader, in his tract on "Heretics and Their Burners" (1524), insisted that not only heretical Christians but also Turks and Jews were to be won to the truth by moral suasion alone, not by fire or sword; yet as a Catholic, but a few years before, he had cooperated in the destruction of a Jewish synagogue in Regensburg and in the expulsion of the Jews from the city. Hans Denck and Ludwig Hetzer—among the most scholarly of the Anti-Pedobaptists of the sixteenth century, who had devoted much time to learning Hebrew and Aramaic—made, in 1527, a highly meritorious translation of the Prophets from the Hebrew text, and contemplated a mission to the Jews. Their early death prevented the execution of this purpose. The Mennonites of the Netherlands, who became wealthy during the seventeenth century, were so broad-minded and philanthropic that they made large contributions for the relief of persecuted Jews. In England, Henry Jessey, one of the most learned of the Baptist ministers of the middle decades of the seventeenth century (1645 onward), was an enthusiastic student of Hebrew and Aramaic, and an ardent friend of the oppressed Hebrews of his time.
The Seventh-Day Baptists of England and America, from the seventeenth century onward, have insisted on the perpetual obligation of Christians to observe the Jewish Sabbath, and have made this obligation the distinctive feature of their creed. Many of the Seventh-Day Adventists, especially those that practise believers' baptism, have still more in common with Judaism than have the Seventh-Day Baptists proper, and their ideas of the Messianic Kingdom are in many respects Jewish. The colony of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams and John Clarke—the former for a time and the latter throughout his life connected with the Baptists—on the principle of liberty of conscience for all. Jews early availed themselves of the privileges thus offered, and became influential citizens. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, Baptists were foremost in the struggle for civil and religious liberty throughout the British colonies (United States); and to Baptists was due, in large measure, the provision in the United States Constitution against religious tests of any kind.
- Newman, A History of Anti-Pedobaptism, 1897;
- Brons, Ursprung, Entwickelung, und Schicksale der Taufgesinnten oder Mennoniten, 1884;
- Keller, Ein Apostel der Wiedertäufer (Joh. Denck), 1882;
- Müller, Gesch. der Bernishen Täufer, 1895;
- Ivimey, Hist. of the English Baptists, 1811-18;
- Oscar S. Straus, Roger Williams, 1894;
- A. H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, 2d ed., 1898.