The Baptist World Alliance and the European Baptist Federation will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement’s founding at the very spot where many believe it began.
Starting Friday, EBF will be hosting Amsterdam 400 in the Netherlands’ capital city, where a group of English believers had moved four centuries ago to escape the religious persecution they were experiencing in England.
“In July 2009, a group of Baptists representing the world family will stand outside 120 Amstel Street, Amsterdam, and remember with prayerful thanksgiving some notable events that took place 400 years ago,” wrote BWA President David Coffey ahead of the three-day event in Baptist World magazine, the BWA’s quarterly publication.
There, behind the modern facade of Amstel Street, stood the East India Bakery in Bakkerstraat, where many Baptists claim the movement was founded.
“In Amsterdam, the newly formed bakery congregation created a community whose worship and life together reflected more truly the New Testament pattern of a believers’ church. The studies and conversations of the community eventually led to a rejection of the practice of infant baptism and a recovery of the emphasis of baptism in the New Testament, which is the baptism of believers on the basis of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Coffey noted.
Today, Baptists number over 110 million worldwide in more than 220,000 congregations and are considered the largest world communion of evangelical Protestants.
Though Baptists are represented in more than fifty separate groups, around 90 percent are found in five of those bodies – the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC); National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., (NBCA); American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABC); and Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI).
BWA – which includes the NBC, NBCA, and ABC – is a fellowship of 214 Baptist conventions and unions comprising a membership of more than 37 million baptized believers. The group once included the SBC but the latter church body withdrew its membership in 2004 over theological concerns.
Apart from the BWA, the SBC is the largest Baptist association in the world, with over 16 million members and more than 42,000 churches.
Though the SBC won’t be marking the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement, the BWA and EBF will be gathering Baptists from 45 countries in the coming days to revisit the road Baptists have traveled, recalling and reflecting on major moments in Baptist history through daily corporate worship events, seminars, and forums.
“Our celebrations in Amsterdam will not be an indulgence in nostalgia but a moment to pause and wisely reflect on Baptist beginnings,” said Coffey.
“As C. S. Lewis reminds us, it is not the remembered past but the forgotten past that enslaves us,” he added, citing the late Christian apologist.
Leaders expected to speak during the three-day event include Neville Callam, general secretary of the BWA; Raquel Contreras, BWA vice president and president of the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile; Teodor Oprenov, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Bulgaria; Valeriu Ghiletchi, bishop of the Union of Christian Evangelical Baptists of Moldova and vice president of the EBF; and Toivo Pilli, rector of the Tartu Baptist Theological Seminary in Estonia.
Besides major presentations, the Amsterdam 400 celebration will also feature smaller workshops and seminars on Baptist beginnings and Baptist beliefs, and on issues such as religious freedom, human trafficking, and urban theology.
Leading Baptist theologians, historians, educators and scholars will reflect on the works of notable Baptist pioneers such as Thomas Helwys, missionaries such as George Liele, preachers such as Charles Spurgeon, and prophets such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
Plenary sessions will discuss the subjects of mission, freedom, community and discipleship.
The EBF council said it will be holding its annual meeting during the Amsterdam celebration.
The BWA, meanwhile, plans to hold its annual gathering directly after the Amsterdam 400 celebration in Ede, about 38 miles from Amsterdam, from July 27 to Aug. 1. The annual gathering will focus on the 400th year of Baptist witness in worship, forums, study groups, and workshops.
Amsterdam 400 will close with a final service on Sunday during which BWA President David Coffey will preach.
Four days later, on July 30, a special quadricentennial service will be held at the United Mennonite Church in Amsterdam. Denton Lotz, former general secretary of the BWA, will be the keynote speaker at this service.
Christian Post reporter Ethan Cole in Washington contributed to this article.