Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Apocalypse How? Baptist Movements during the English Revolution

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Apocalypse How? Baptist Movements during the English Revolution

Article excerpt

Apocalypse How? Baptist Movements during the English Revolution. By Mark R. Bell. (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press. 2000. Pp. ix, 299. $35.00.)

Mark Bell's welcome study of the various Baptist groups in the seventeenth century, primarily before 1660, relies extensively on the studies of Murray Tolmie, Bryan Ball and B. R. White.Yet his approach is unique because of the significance he attaches to millenarianism in interpreting the history of these groups. The General (Arminian) Baptists, he argues, developed a relatively sophisticated organization as a result of their missionary zeal, which in turn was rooted in their apocalyptic tenets. The Particular (Calvinist) Baptists emerged from the Henry Jacob-John Lathrop-Henry Jessey circle in an attempt to re-establish the apostolic church under the authority of King Jesus, an effort grounded in apocalyptic convictions. Likewise, Bell avers that the Baptist call for liberty of conscience was framed in the context of the apocalyptic struggle between the forces of Christ and Antichrist. For a while the Baptists formed an uneasy alliance with the Levellers, but whereas the latter argued for sweeping reforms based on inherent rights, the Baptists envisioned reform through the prism of millenarianism. The alliance unraveled, Bell contends, when the threat of Presbyterian domination faded, the Baptists recognized their fundamental differences with the Levellers, and at least some Baptists began to endorse the government in apocalyptic terms.

As I have asserted with respect to Presbyterians and Friends in Ireland, Bell makes a compelling argument that the General and Particular Baptists, especially in the years following their break with the Levellers, developed organizational structures and strong leaders that enabled these movements to become proto-denominations, thereby laying the groundwork for them to become modern denominations in a later age. …

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