Our identifying particularities amongst 17th century Baptist congregations:
- We were an “established” church. We were the only church in the town. Some public monies were used to compensate Elder Myles. Residents of the town (1667) agreed to certain religious practices through the organizing documents of the town drawn up by Myles and Thomas Willet. Rev. Myles named the town after Swansea, Wales where he had established a Baptist congregation.
- We practiced open communion. The organizing covenant (1663) states “So we are ready to accept and receive too, and hold communion with all such as by a judgement of charity we conceive to be fellow members with us in our head Christ Jesus, though differing from us in such controversial points as are not absolutely and essentially necessary to salvation.” Myles, influenced by the Particular Baptist group at the Glasshouse in London (1649) had practiced “close communion” in Wales. In Massachusetts Myles allowed for a more “ecumenical” approach, a trait still found in Baptists. Here the conviction and tradition of religious tolerance is seen emerging into the colonial American experience.
- We allowed both infant and adult baptism. According to the founding documents of the town, it was to be the choice of the parents whether to have their children baptised or not. The town “covenant” also allowed for the pastor to baptise children or adults (believers!?) at his discretion. When our second pastor Samuel Luther refused to baptize infants (c.1700), the last of the “congregationalists” left to form the Barrington Congregational church. This turned the church more toward the more distinctive Baptist practice of “believer’s baptism,” those who could articulate “regeneration,” the perceptible change within, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Earliest records do not indicate by which mode baptism was performed.We had the only founding pastor that was a Baptist on both sides of the Atlantic. Myles trained and employed as a Church of England clergy went to the Glass House Church (1649, Kiffin, Consett, et al.) and was swayed to the emerging “Baptist” point of view. He founded a church in Ilston, near Swansea, Wales later that year. He participated in Cromwell’s government as a “Trier,” one who examined candidates for the clergy. He left England after the restoration of the monarchy and the passage of legislation that once again limited Baptist practices.
- We emerged out of a Puritan congregational church (and later gave birth to a “congregational” church- now the Barrington Congregational Church, UCC). On Nov. 23, 1663 Capt. Thomas Willet was given permission by the Newman Congregational church (1643) to find “additional pastoral leadership” to help the newly chosen Zacharia Syms. A group of “proto-baptists” who had gathered round Obadiah Holmes in 1649 within the Newman church included James Brown, a signer of the 1663 covenant. He stayed in Rehoboth after Holmes went to the Newport, RI Baptist church (~1651).