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Desiderius Erasmus, incredulous and finally exasperated in his debates with Martin Luther, once nicknamed the great Reformer Doctor Hyperbolicus. In ­Erasmus’s view, Luther could not resist taking every argument to extremes. We can only imagine what Erasmus would have said of the Baptists, who believe that Luther did not take his arguments far enough. Even the eloquent Erasmus might have been speechless.

Of course, neither Erasmus nor Luther ever encountered a Baptist. The movement we know today as Baptist emerged not on the Continent during the sixteenth century but in England during the ­seventeenth. The world has been less quiet ever since.

Every great movement probably begins in an argument of some sort, and the Baptists emerged in the context of an argument that was intense, significant, and sometimes deadly. Luther had started it. The Calvinists believed he had not taken it far enough. The English Puritans likewise became convinced that the moderately reforming Church of England was not taking the argument far enough. The Separatists (who would include Congregationalists and Presbyterians) believed that the Puritans who remained in the Church of England were not taking it far enough. The Baptists then separated from the Separatists because they were not taking it far enough. Since then, Baptists have not stopped arguing. They often argue among themselves, but more urgently, they argue for the necessity of conversion, for the believers’ church, for the baptism of believers alone, and for liberty of conscience.

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