First Baptist Church of Hampton in the 1890s
A BIT OF OUR HISTORY
First Baptist Church of Hampton was founded in July of 1817. Its original name was First Baptist Society. In October 1819, 24 people gathered at the home of Joshua Lane and put together and agreed upon a church constitution and became the first members of the church.
In its early days both First Baptist Society and First Baptist Church operated side-by-side. First Baptist Society concerned itself with the financial affairs of the group, while First Baptist Church focused its attention on ministry, caring for people and calling pastors
By 1834 the Society was able to purchase the current site of the church. In October of that year a church meetinghouse was built. Eighteen years later it was decided the church needed to be able to provide a home for its pastors, so it purchased a piece of land next to the church where, two years later, a two-story home and stable were built. Rev. William Rogers, his wife and nine daughters were the first to live there. Both buildings are still in use – the meetinghouse is where we still meet today. Pastor Mark Lowe lives in the parsonage with his wife and two daughters.
In 1962 First Baptist Society was dissolved and all its work was placed under the umbrella of the church. Over the decades, this church has never been a congregation that is large in number, but it has taken stands on many of the issues that have shaped and directed the path of our nation and spoken God’s truth from its pulpit. This faith and willingness to put it to work has made First Baptist a church that has maintained a strong witness to the community. It has also given the church a reputation for faith and good works in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire.
Our church is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches in the USA. If you’d like to see what the denomination is about, read on.
THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN BAPTISTS
American Baptists, Southern Baptists and all the scores of other Baptist bodies in the U.S. and around the world grew out of a common tradition begun in the early 17th century. That tradition has emphasized the Lordship and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, believers’ baptism, the competency of all believers to be in direct relationship with God and to interpret Scripture, the influence of the Holy Spirit on individual lives and ministries, and the need for autonomous congregations free from government interference or hierarchical polity.
In the early 1630s Roger Williams, formerly a member of the Church of England, took up clerical responsibilities in Massachusetts. However, he eventually became estranged from authorities in the Massachusetts Bay Colony over the failure of church and civil functions to be independent of one another. About 1638 he established the first Baptist church in America in the then uncolonized Rhode Island (Providence), which became the first government in history founded on the premise of absolute religious freedom. At the same time John Clarke, also originally from England and also dissatisfied with religious practice in Massachusetts, founded a Baptist church in Newport, R.I. Williams and Clarke secured a charter guaranteeing civil and religious freedom in Rhode Island from King Charles II in 1663.
Because of continuing intolerance by Puritans and others in New England, Baptist activity developed throughout the 17th century in New Jersey and Philadelphia. In 1707 the Philadelphia Baptist Association formed, comprised of five congregations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This and succeeding associations honored the autonomy of constituent churches, but served as councils for ordination, and a means of disciplining ministers and settling congregational disputes. By 1790 there were 35 Baptist associations, and approximately 560 ministers, 750 churches and 60,000 members in the U.S.
In the late 18th century Isaac Backus, of Middleborough, Mass., challenged the notion that Baptists (and other Christian groups), while tolerated, still had to pay taxes to support the established (Congregational) church. Other Baptists confronted the issue in the South, where Anglican influences were prominent. In most cases change was slow to come, but progress in realizing separation of church and state had been made.
John Leland, a pastor from Virginia, actively supported Thomas Jefferson’s religious freedom bill passed in Virginia in 1786. As a delegate nominee considering the proposed federal Constitution, Leland originally proposed to vote against it because of its lack of provision for religious liberty. He offered his support, however, when his opponent for the state delegate position, James Madison, convinced him provision for religious liberty would be made in what became the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The Baptist influence, thus, was significant in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
By 1833 all of the U.S. states had, in their constitutions, affirmed the principle of separation of church and state with full religious liberty.
The Call to Missionary Work
First Baptist Church of Hampton today.
British pastor William Carey was the most influential figure in beginning the modern missionary movement, articulating the call to overseas service with the question, “If the Gospel was worthy of all acceptation, why is it not preached to all?” He served as the first overseas representative (along with John Thomas) beginning in 1793, and remained engaged in evangelistic and educational ministries for 40 years in and around Serampore, India.
In fact the first Baptist to evangelize in a foreign country was George Lisle, a freed slave and first ordained black in America, who sailed from Georgia to establish churches in Jamaica in the 1770s. Influenced by Carey Congregationalists Adoniram and Ann Judson set sail for India in 1812. After wrestling en route with the notion of baptism (and concluding that only baptism by immersion was Scriptural) both became Baptists. No longer engaged by the Congregationalists, and forced out of India by the East India Company, they settled in another mission field, Burma. There Judson was instrumental in church growth and discipleship until his death in 1850, and his vital legacy is acknowledged by Baptist leaders there today.
Origins of American Baptist Organization
The issue of slavery reached a peak in 1845 when the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society determined that it could not appoint any candidate for service who held slaves and when the American Baptist Home Mission Society decided separate northern and southern conventions were necessary. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in response.
Northern Baptists remained organized as a group of societies until 1907, when the Northern Baptist Convention was formed to structure coordination of the societies’ work while maintaining the autonomy of constituent churches.
American Baptist Life and Mission Today
Throughout their history American Baptists have been led by the Gospel mandates to be directly active in the institutions of society to promote holistic and healing change. The tradition of social outreach and ministry extends back to the enfranchisement and education of freedmen following the Civil War, through frontline advocacy of the Civil Rights Movement, the empowerment of women in church and society, ecological responsibility and the many contemporary issues of justice. Because of the longstanding commitment to outreach to and fellowship with all persons, American Baptist Churches USA today is the most racially inclusive body within Protestantism and will within the next few years be comprised of no racial/ethnic majority group.