Baptists joined other minorities in seventeenth-century England and America as a persecuted minority often misunderstood and caricatured in the press and religious literature. One of the frequent misrepresentations was the identification of those who practiced baptism with the radical reformers in Muenster of the sixteenth century. In a religious climate where most Christians presented children for water baptism at an early age, “re-baptism” was anathema and the guilt by historical association with the Munsterites provided a strong offense.

Among the most able controversialists, Thomas Edwards (1599–1647) was a standout. A Presbyterian who never held a permanent charge, Edwards was a product of the strict Puritanism of Queens College, Cambridge. During the early Civil Wars, he inveighed against the Church of England; later he was equally vehement in his attack upon all forms of sectarians. For Edwards, religious toleration was synonymous with the dissolution of the orthodox consensus which the Puritans had long struggled to achieve. His book Gangraena (1647) from which the following selection is taken, was described as “the most arrogant and logical defense of an exclusive church system ever advanced.” The following selections illustrate the efforts to which opponents of Baptists would go to discredit the group with exaggerated reports of Baptist behavior.

I have received lately certain information, from some who are come out of Wales, that a Trooper in Colonel Rich’s Regiment has been for some weeks past in Radnorshire, Wales and also Brecknockeshire, preaching and dipping, where he has vented many doctrines of Antinomianism and Antibaptism, and rebaptized hundreds in those Countries. Among others, one woman whom he dipped, ...

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