The modern Baptist Church was founded in The Netherlands in 1609 by John Smyth, a clergyman who had broken away from the Church of England. He maintained that the church should receive its members by baptism after they had consciously acknowledged their faith and, since a child is unable to do this, he opposed infant baptism. Some of his followers established a Baptist church in London in 1612, its pastor being Thomas Helwys, who believed in religious toleration for all men and women, including atheists and pagans as well as Christians.
The spread of Baptist churches was greatly influenced by the revival movements during the following two centuries. In 1891 the General and the Particular Baptists were united in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland. The Baptists are the largest denomination in the USA. There are significant Baptist communities in India, Myanmar, Brazil, Nigeria, Great Britain, Romania and the Ukraine. But it is a world church, and Baptists witness in many other countries of the world as well.
Interpreting the New Testament, Baptists stress that the church as the body of Christ is a communion of the faithful who have personally and voluntarily made a decision for Christ, and because of their personal confession of faith become, through baptism, members of Christ's church. Baptists recognize only the Bible (no creed) as binding authority. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit each church may interpret the scriptures and design the life of its community. The pronounced congregational constitution does not allow for a centralized church structure but promotes unions and conventions of individual churches.