The Welsh Baptists of the Midland
In May, 1655, delegates from seven Baptist churches met at Warwick England, near Birmingham, in the area known as The Midland. These delegates were from the following churches: Warwick, Derby, Burton, Moreton, Tewksbury, Hooknorton and Alcester. They drew up a Confession of Faith, to affirm what they and their ancient Welsh Baptist forefathers believed the Bible to teach. These churches were descended from Baptist churches in nearby Wales, most notably old Olchon Church, located in the Black Mountains on the Welsh border, which was itself many hundreds of years old at the time.
These Welsh Baptists intended to make a distinction between their ancient belief in the Sovereign Grace of God in eternal salvation, and the doctrinal errors of the Arminian (or, freewill) Baptists and the Calvinist Baptists proliferating around them. The Arminians, among the Baptists, had recently adopted the new freewill theories of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609, Dutch theologian), advocating eternal salvation on the condition of the sinners act of will. The Calvinist fraction of Baptists were enthusiastically embracing the doctrines of John Calvin (1509-1564, French-born Swiss Protestant theologian), which sought to mix works (acts of will in believing and obeying the Gospel) and grace for eternal salvation and for perseverance of the saved. The Welsh Baptists wished to confirm the doctrine they had ever believed for centuries before the Protestant Reformation, the Sovereign Grace of God in eternal salvation - God eternally saves His elect to Son-ship by an act of pure grace (the new birth, or regeneration), and then sends them the Gospel to tell them how to live godly, saving them to Fellowship with Him while they live in this world, if they will obey it.
Many people have the mistaken idea that Sovereign Grace is some new idea, and that churches that do not accept the popular doctrines of Freewill or Calvinism have somehow fallen into error and perhaps become a sect or a cult. However, Baptist Churches that believe Sovereign Grace have been in existence from the 1st century, and are far older than Freewill or Calvinist churches. The Midland Confession of 1655 proves the existence of these ancient Baptist churches in England at a time when most Baptists were rapidly adopting old heresies dressed in new clothes. 34 years before the Calvinist Baptist London Confession of Faith of 1689, the Welsh Baptists of the Midland were reaffirming the ancient doctrine of Sovereign Grace.
The Lakeland Church of Lakeland Florida is the same kind of Baptist Church as the Welsh Churches of the Midland, staunchly advocating the ancient doctrine of the Sovereign Grace of God in Election and Eternal Salvation. Although The Lakeland Church has not published an articles of faith as such, preferring to declare the Scriptures as their articles of faith (Luke 1:1-4; 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9), we do not hesitate to publish this ancient confession and to declare that we are in full agreement with it, in whole and in part.
An Historical Sketch of the Welsh Baptists
- 60 AD: Brian Fenidigad (Bruno the Blessed), a Prince of Wales and a Christian, journeys from Rome back to Wales with companions, being ministers of the Gospel, who introduce Christianity to Wales.
- 63 AD: Paul is preaching in his own hired house in Rome (Acts 28:30), Pudens and his wife Claudia are converted to Christianity (2 Timothy 4:21). Pudding is the son of a Roman Senator and probably one himself; Claudia is a Welsh princess, the daughter of King Caractacus, and a member of Caesars household (their marriage was celebrated in some of the edugrams of Martial, the Roman poet.)
- 180 AD: Faganus and Damicanus, two Welshmen who had become converted to Christianity while in Rome, return to Wales and there become eminent ministers of the Gospel.
- 200 AD: Tertullian, the famous Christian apologist from Carthage, writes: In whom other than Christ, Who has already come, do all the nations believe? For in Him have believed the most diverse people; [a long list of nations follows], and part of Britain not reached by the Romans but subjugated by Christ. In all these the name of Christ Who has already come, reigns.
- 283 AD: During the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, in the tenth persecution, the Welsh Baptists suffer their first large scale martyrdoms. The elimination of Christianity in Whales is ordered. Albion was the first Welshman on record to die for Christ, for the crime of sheltering a preacher. Next to die were two ministers in Carleon, South Wales, Aaron and Julius. Orders were given to destroy all Christian meeting houses and writings. Christianity spreads.
- 600 AD: The papist monk Austin orders Saxon mercenaries under his command to slay 1,200 Welsh Baptists. He had requested a meeting with Baptist leaders, and they sent 1,200 to meet with him near Hereford, in a valley called Olchon, near the cleft of the Black Mountain. Austin declared that only Roman Catholic baptism was the way to salvation, and ordered the Baptists to tender their children and infants to be baptized by him. The Baptists refused, and Austin ordered his Saxon mercenaries to slay them all.
- 1390-1349 AD: Life of Dr. Thomas Bradwardine, Archbishop of Canterbury; born in Hereford County, near Valley of Olchon. His family later moved to Chichester. It was believed that his family attended services at the old Olchon Church, a Welsh Baptist congregation. In his famous work, The Cause of God against Pelagius, he denies the doctrine of free will and affirms the sovereign grace of God, a position essentially the same as that of the later Midlands Confession of 1655.
- 1315-1322 AD: Walter Reynard (sometimes referred to as Walter Lollard,) a German Anabaptist preacher of great renown among the Waldenses, lives in England. It is known that Reynard knew of the existence of the Welsh Baptists in the Olchon valley before arriving in Wales. Further, that he travelled and lived in Wales, although it cannot be proved that he actually visited Olchon Church. Upon returning to Europe, he was captured and burned at the stake in Cologne in 1322. His visit and acceptance by the Welsh Baptists strengthens the view that the European Anabaptists and the Welsh Baptists shared a common origin.
- 1330-1384 AD: Life of John Wycliffe. He was the first man to translate the Bible into English. In 1371 he lived near Olchon and it is possible that Wycliffe received much light from the writings of Bradwardine and in conversations with Walter Brute, pastor of Olchon Church. Wycliff began to sow the seeds of reformation about this time. After his death, his followers become known as Lollards.
- 1357 AD: The oldest legible tombstone inscriptions in the graveyard of Hillcliff Baptist Church in Warrington, near Liverpool, in Lancashire County. Hillcliffe Church has been continuously in existence from before then until present.
- 1377-1399 AD: Reign of King Richard II. Richard sends a letter to the nobility and gentry, charging all to persecute Walter Brute, pastor of Olchon Church, on charges of heresy and conducting unauthorized religious meetings.
- 1378-1417 AD: Life of Sir John Oldcastle, The good Lord Cobham, English Lollard leader. He had a country home named Olchon Court, and Anabaptists sometimes met there and Oldcastle would preach. After the death of his childhood friend, King Henry IV, he was vigorously persecuted by Archbishop Arundel of Canterbury for his Lollardism. He was tried and convicted of heresy and imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1413. He escaped and fled to Wales, where he evaded capture for four years. In 1417, he was arrested at Olchon Court, taken to London and condemned to death. He was hung by chains over an open fire and slowly roasted to death, continuing as long as he had life to praise God and commend his soul to His Divine keeping.
- 1494-1536 AD: The life of William Tyndale. A famous translator of the Bible into English. In fact the King James translators retained over 80% of the phraseology of Tyndale. He lived his early years not far from the valley of Olchon. A nonconformist, Tyndale espoused many of the beliefs shared by the Welsh Baptists, and some historians believe he was much influenced by them, noting that the Tyndale family name was associated with the Baptists around Olchon.
- 1593 AD: John Perry was executed. A contemporary of Perry, an A. Wood, charged Perry with being a notorious Anabaptist. Another contemporary, a Mr. Stype, charged him with practicing anabaptism (the practice of re-baptizing those that were baptized as infants.) He lived near the valley of Olchon, and was executed for dissenting activities.
- 1612 AD: Edward Wightman, the pastor of Burton Church (one of the seven churches writing the Midland Confession of 1655) is burned at the stake in Lichfield, for the heresy of being an Anabaptist.
- 1633 AD: Howell Vaughn noted as the pastor of Olchon Church.
- 1645-1699AD: Thomas Perry and John Reese Howell are pastors of Olchon Church. During the reign of Charles II, (1649-85) Olchon Church was persecuted relentlessly, frequently being forced to hide in the woods and clefts of the Black Mountain, and to meet in secret.
- Early 1700s AD: Welsh Baptist congregations immigrate to America; London Tract Church and Welsh Tract Church are planted in Delaware; Welsh Baptist influence spreads thence throughout the American states.
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