by David Crowe
Find out more about the ministry of Free Will Baptist Home Missions at www.homemissions.net.
I have been a Free Will Baptist all of my life. As a child, my parents took me to a Free Will Baptist church. As a teenager my parents dragged me to a Free Will Baptist church. I married a Free Will Baptist girl and later attended Free Will Baptist Bible College.
I ministered in Free Will Baptist churches in Alabama and Tennessee for 17 years, and for the past 13 years, I have ministered to Free Will Baptists across North America as a staff member of the Free Will Baptist Home Missions Department.
I have never been ashamed to be called Free Will Baptist. I believe our denomination has a prominent place in church history and a vital role in God’s Kingdom today. One of my core beliefs is that God has given every man, woman, boy, and girl a free will to embrace and accept His offer of salvation by grace through faith or to reject it. I believe this to be the doctrine of the Bible as preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles. They all preached a “whosoever will” gospel.
This was a core belief of the New Testament Church and the early Christians—the common belief until 300 A.D. when Augustine began to teach infant baptism and predestination. These doctrines soon became the core beliefs of the state church in Rome, and gradually they spread across Europe. During this period of history, the state church martyred many Christians for teaching baptism after salvation and for teaching the free will of man.
Twelve hundred years of history passed, and groups of Christians began to spring up all over Europe. They lived and worshipped God in hiding for hundreds of years. I had been led to believe that the terms free will, free-willers and freewill, were not commonly used to describe Baptists until 19th century America. I had also been taught that all European Baptists who came to North America believing the doctrine of free will were simply called General Baptists.
However, Dr. William Davidson, a prominent Free Will Baptist historian, found that Champlin Burrage noted that a non-calvinistic congregation existed as “free-willers” in England as early as 1551. He also noted that in 1611, Thomas Helwys used this term in the title of an article, “An advertisement or admonition, unto the congregation, which men called the New Frylers (Free-Willers), in the lowe Countries written in Dutche.”
Two documents printed in 1659 also used these terms. The first is titled, “A declaration of a small society of baptized believers, undergoing the name of Free-Willers, about the city of London.” The second was written by an opponent of Free-Willers, named I. Beevan, and was entitled, “A Loving Salutation to all People Who Have Any Desires after the Living God: but especially to the Free-Will-Anabaptists.”
It seems clear to me that there have been Free-Willers in the Kingdom of God since the beginning of God’s plan of salvation for man. Those who believe predestination argue that to allow man free will lessens the sovereignty of God. It seems clear to me that God’s creating man and giving him a free will does not lessen His sovereignty, but enhances it. His creation loves and accepts Him because he chooses to do so, not as a manipulated puppet.
A few months ago, I acquired two documents from Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts. These original documents were printed in London, England, in 1661. The first is titled, A Fannaticks Address Humbly Presented to the King and his Peers. The second is, A Fannaticks Testimony Against Swearing Being an
Answer to Four Books. Both documents were written by Henry Adis (sometimes spelled Addis), a Baptist who lived in England during the nation’s Civil War. He spent a great deal of time in prison because he would not swear allegiance to the king because of his religious beliefs. These two documents explain his reasons for this belief. On the title page of each of these is stated, “By Henry Adis, a Baptized Believer, undergoing the Name of a Free-Willer.”
Many have lived and died believing and preaching the free will of man. So, never be ashamed of being a “Free-Willer”!
About the writer: An avid historian, David Crowe is director of development for the Home Missions Department. Learn more about Free Will Baptist history through the Heritage Book Club. Visit www.homemissions.net.