Southern Baptist roots go all the way back to the Reformation in England in the sixteenth century. Various dissenters called for purification of the church and a return to the New Testament Christian example. These dissenters also called for strict accountability in their covenant with God. One of the prominent dissenters who arose in the seventeenth century was John Smyth. Smyth was a strong proponent of adult baptism and 1609 went as far as to rebaptize himself and others. Smyth’s action was a sign of the first English Baptist church. By 1644, due to the efforts of Thomas Helwys and Smyth, there were 50 Baptist churches. Some Baptists were General Baptists because they believed people choose to be saved and they saw atonement, as general not just limited. Others were referred to as Particular Baptists because they thought redemption was limited to a chosen few. Both groups strengthened the Baptist movement in England.
As the English Baptists struggled with recognition, some began to come to America. They came to America, like other counterparts, to escape religious persecution in England. By the mid eighteenth century Baptist numbers grew even more due to the Great Awakening pioneered by Jonathan Edwards. By 1790, Baptists had began to organize and expand. At this time Baptists organized missionary societies to spread the Christian lifestyle to others. It was these mission societies that led to other organizational structures that would eventually define and make a denomination of Baptists. By 1830’s tension began to mount between the Northern and Southern Baptists that corresponded with the rift that was growing between northern and southern culture in America. In 1844 these issues came to a peak and the Home Mission Society separated into northern and southern divisions. As a result of this the Baptists in the south met in May of 1845 and organized the Southern Baptist Convention.
The first annual convention of the Southern Baptists was held in 1845. In this convention the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board were established. The purpose of each board is still “the propagation of the gospel,” with one board focusing on national issues and the other on foreign issues.
After Reconstruction of the South the Southern Baptists began to thrive, and from Reconstruction to the end of World War I, Southern Baptists had gone from a bunch of unorganized and scattered churches with little in common into a denomination of an even larger number of churches and people sharing both culture and program, and training and mission. By the twentieth century Southern Baptists were a cultural establishment influencing many people all over the country and world.