Saturday, July 9, 2011

William Richards : Oneness Jesus Name Baptist

Thomas Weisser has written several books on the Apostolic faith and history. He is a historian and theologian of water baptism in the name of Jesus and the Oneness of God. Weisser has also spoken at Harvard's Symposium on Oneness Pentecostalism that took place in 1984. This book William Richards : Oneness Jesus Name Baptist includes a biographical sketch of William Richards (1749-1818). Richards was an early General Baptist minister. This book discusses Richards views on liberty, baptism and the Godhead. In the preface Weisser notes that "most of this book consists of reprints of portions of the book; Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. William Richards first published in 1819 by John Evans." Richards even addresses the oft used Trinitarian sweeping generalization about early Unitarians. 

The Trinity has not been accepted nor understood by many sects of Christianity. Thomas Finger noted that even "...for many Anabaptist and other Christians, the Trinity is an abstract conundrum."  (1) The General Baptist probably started by John Smyth in Amsterdam around 1608/09 held to a modified form of the Godhead that appears before the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. General Baptist may also reject Calvinism and accept Arminianism. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes, "After many General Baptist Churches had moved towards Unitarianism, a New Connexion was formed in 1770 under the influence of the Evangelical revival. This group united with the Particular Baptists in 1891."(2) G.T. Kurian also notes that the General Baptist's theology "is based on the Standard Confession of 1660 and the Orthodox Creed of 1678."(3)

In chapter two Weisser gives us a view of Richard's beliefs on liberty. It turns out that Richards believed that people of various faiths could live in harmony while practicing their own beliefs. A novelty perhaps in our own times. Richards clearly states "To have among its inhabitants so many different religious societies or sects, can be no real reproach...wherever real liberty exists, a diversity of religious opinions and denominations must be expected." (pg. 30, 31). This was probably a revolutionary idea given the life situation or historical context of Richards. 

In chapter three Richards views on water baptism is discussed. In a writing published in 1806 he writes that immersion was essential "to the due administration of Baptism...the Greek words expressive of this ordinance, signify immersion as plainly and must be the real and proper signification of the words expressive of Baptism... "(pg. 50, 51) Interestingly enough he also records "The people called the Quakers, and many of those who have gone under the name of Socinians, have long objected, that Water Baptism was a mere temporary rite...this notion is said to be now very rapidly gaining ground..."(pg. 53) He also references Mark 16:16 as referring to water baptism (pg. 55)

The Christo-centric nature of water baptism should be a given but is sadly often ignored by current and previous Trinitarian theologians. Richards however is obviously a firm witness and believer in water baptism, by immersion, in the name of Jesus. In fact, he goes on to reference water baptism in the name of Jesus directly. He notes,
"Water-baptism is in the commission evidently connected with the preaching, the belief, and the profession of the Gospel...all who embrace or believe that Gospel...and on that confession or profession to be baptized in, or into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; thereby signifying that he is their chosen Master, Lord, and Savior..."(pg. 59) 
Some, concerning the views of Richards on the Godhead, have likened them to Isaac Watts or Samuel Palmer. Even the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church thinks that most General Baptists were Unitarian. While many of them may have been Unitarian or Socinian in their theology this fact can also be used as a term mistakenly applied to those who reject the Trinity. This is often the case for Oneness Pentecostals who believe that God is one in both being and in person. They do not reject the deity of Christ rather they exalt Him to His supreme position as God all in all. They affirm the supreme deity of Jesus Christ. In the case of Richards he was NOT Unitarian or Socinian. In fact, he appeals to Colossians 2:9 to support his case as do many Oneness Pentecostals. In a letter dated Dec. 7, 1804 Richards notes that 

"I have scarce ever been asked if there were any truth in these reports...(that of Socinianism especially) were true."(pg. 73) In the same letter he goes on to write, "...I did not use to be an Athanasian, or even a Waterlandian. Such views of THE DEITY always appeared to me too tritheistical!...I never could say or think with the Socinians, that JESUS CHRIST is no more than a man like ourselves. I believe, indeed, that he is a man, but I also believe that he is Emmanuel, god with HIM God hath pitched his tent or tabernacle among us...HE is the form of object of divine worship...honor the Son as we honor the Father...all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily." Richards also writes that he does not divide "THE DEITY or land in Tritheism, as I cannot but think the Athansian or Waterlandian scheme does." (pg. 73, 74)

Click here to visit and order William Richards : Oneness Jesus Name Baptism. You can also email Thomas Weisser at


1) Finger, Thomas. A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology : Biblical, historical, constructive. 2004 (421). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

2) Kurian, G. T. (2001). Nelson's new Christian dictionary : The authoritative resource on the Christian world. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs.

3) Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (2005). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.) (663). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

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