In 1611 Thomas Helwys boldly led a small group of Christians back to Britain from Holland where they had sought freedom from religious persecution in England. Returning to Britain they formed the first Baptist church in Britain in a place called Spitalfields, London. But it was not long before Helwys was arrested and put in Newgate Prison where he died before 1616.
This did not deter the group from meeting however, but spurred them on in their shared commitment to their convictions including the priesthood of all believers, the importance of the Word of God, sharing God’s story with others, freedom of religion and the pursuit of justice. But they continued to face persecution, and some 50 years later they were still being sentenced to death.
Thankfully we don’t face such opposition today, yet we do live in times of great change. The increasingly post-Christendom and Jesus-illiterate world around us is forcing us to rethink how we ‘do church’. We are having to re-learn how to communicate the good news that Jesus is Lord to our neighbours and communities.
Times such as these call for great creativity and courage, and thankfully we have our rich heritage we can all draw on for inspiration. Our forebears’ willingness to risk persecution and even death for their convictions has the power to fill us with hope that God can equip us with the same passion, strength and wisdom they had. We can be inspired to move into the future God has for us.
Let us continue to pray that God will fill us with creativity, boldness and courage as we face the task of sharing his good news to our communities.
Stephen L Baxter