On this day (January 3) in 1644 the British Parliament, which was then controlled by the Presbyterians, passed a bill making sprinkling the official act of “baptism” in England. The bill read, “The minister is to demand the name of the child, which being told him, is to say (calling the child by name) ‘I baptize thee in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.’ As he pronounceth the words, he is to baptize the child with water; which for the manner of doing it is not only lawful but sufficient and expedient to be, by pouring or sprinkling of the water on the face of the child, without adding any other ceremony.” (Remember, this is similar to an Act of Congress.)
This bill actually reversed the law of 1534 which enforced immersion, and under which those who were not baptized were to be treated as outlaws. That law, directed by King Henry VIII, was passed when the Roman Catholic Church was abandoned and the Church of England became the established English religion. At that point and for more than a century, immersion was the only “baptism” permitted in Britain.
Like the earlier law, which was designed to attack the practice of the Roman Church, it is now generally admitted that the law of 1644 was passed primarily to choke out the Baptist cause – which was then prospering in the country.
It is amazing and amusing that many religious historians claim that immersion was unknown among Baptists until 1641. Not only did almost every in England immerse, but immersion has been practiced by Baptistic churches since the beginning of the Christian era.