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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Church That Jesus Built, 1923 (Chapter 9)
"This church was not swallowed up by the Catholic Church and ceased to exist in the Dark Ages, as Protestantism teaches, but in fact has a continuous line of churches through all these centuries, under various names, but holding the same principles as the church founded by Christ and true Baptist churches hold to-day. There were no real Protestant churches until the sixteenth century. Who furnished the millions of martyrs, who were cruelly put to death by the Catholic Church? There is but one answer: they were Baptists."
T. Moore, in Why I Am a Baptist
We have touched on the fact that from the time that corruption began to gain the ascendancy and God's order began to be perverted and changed, there have been dissenters—those who protested against the evil and corruption, and banded together to live and act in accordance with the teachings of the Scriptures. Those who maintained the New Testament form, doctrine and teachings were termed by the corrupt churches "sects," and were denounced as "heretics." All historians admit that these "sects" or "heretics" existed all along down through the ages.
In these churches which stood for the New Testament teaching against corruption, there were leaders and learned men who became extremely well known and well hated because they dared to champion the cause of truth against apostasy. In many instances a large number of those holding the true faith had applied to them the name of the leader. When a new name came to be applied to those holding Baptist beliefs, historians often write as though a new sect originated. In truth it was only a new name that originated, and out of the mouths of enemies at that. A new name applied to the same people, holding the same peculiar beliefs, in no wise changed them.
Now, before I begin to suggest some of the peoples of ancient times through whom Baptists may properly claim historical continuity, let me re-emphasize two points which I request the reader to bear in mind throughout the reading of the entire chapter. First, all I am seeking to establish is that there has always from the time of Christ, been groups of individuals who held on essential points the New Testament faith, and who handed together in churches that were essentially Baptistic in faith and practice. Second, only two doctrines are essential to a New Testament church: The way of salvation and the way of baptism. If a group of churches are sound on these two cardinal points they may properly be called Baptist churches.
There is no doubt that, clue to circumstances that prevailed and which we might profitably dwell upon if space permitted, some of the "sects" had irregularities existing among them. Some of the peoples whom I shall mention held erroneous ideas and indulged in some extravagances.
However, if I can show that they held pure the two cardinal doctrines mentioned as essential to a Baptist church, I shall have proved my contention that they were Baptists. It is held against some of the "dissenters," for instance, that they had extravagant ideas about the Second Coming of Christ. That does not disqualify them from being Baptists. So did the Thessalonians have these erroneous views, and Paul had to write 2 Thessalonians to correct them. So do some Baptists today go to extremes in making programs and placing the events connected with Christ's return.
But let us proceed to very briefly notice some of the "sects" that maintained separation from the movement that came to be known as Catholicism. We may well begin with the:
I am well aware that a few Baptist historians hold up their hands in horror at the thought of Baptists claiming kin with the Montanists. (Cf. Newman and Vedder) With preconceived antipathy for the Baptist continuity idea they seek to draw as dark a picture of the early "sects," as they call them, as is possible. From many historians I have gleaned information concerning the Montanists. My conclusion is that their irregularities have been greatly exaggerated. In some of the churches there were irregularities, no doubt, but I am convinced that on the whole they were a great and good people holding the doctrines essential to a Baptist church. Let us notice the admissions of historians concerning them:
Vedder says (Short History of the Baptists, pp. 58, 62):
"They clearly apprehended the truth that a church of Christ should consist of the regenerated only…Of course the Montanists immersed—no other baptism, so far as we know, was practiced by anybody in the second century. There is no evidence that they baptized infants, and their principle of a regenerate church membership would naturally require the baptism of believers only."
Should we be ashamed to claim kinship with these churches, composed of regenerate people, duly immersed upon profession of faith in Christ?
But let us read further the testimony of historians:
"’Montanism' was a protest against corrupt and sinful living and lax discipline. The substance of the contention of these churches was for a life of the spirit. It was not a new form of Christianity; it was a recovery of the old, the primitive church set over against the obvious corruption of the current Christianity. The old church demanded purity; the new church had struck a bargain with the world and arranged itself comfortably with it, and they would therefore break with it." (Moeller, “Montanism”, in Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia)
"As there was at that time…no essential departure from the faith in action, the subject of baptism, church government or doctrine, the Montanists on these points were Baptists." (Darrel, Perpetuity, p. 69)
"Montanism continued for centuries and finally became known under other names. (Eusebius, Church History, p. 229, note by Dr. McGiffert)
"The severity of their doctrines gained them the esteem and confidence of many who were far from being of the lowest order." (Mosheim, Eccl. History, Vol. 1, p. 233)
"Montanism…is best understood as a reaction against a condition of the church and of the Christian life, which seemed to the Montanists to be pitched too low and also to have decayed from an earlier and purer standard." (The Ancient Catholic Church, by Rainy, p. 130)
"Montanists held that membership in the churches should be confined to purely regenerate persons; and that a spiritual life and discipline should be maintained without any affiliation with the authority of the state." (Armitage's History, p. 175)
"Montanus was charged with assuming to be the Holy Spirit himself; which was simply slander." (Armitage, p, 175)
"History has not yet relieved the Montanists of the distortion and obliquity which long held them as enemies of Christ; while in fact they honestly, but in some respects erroneously, labored to restore that Christ-likeness to the churches which had so largely departed." (Armitage, p. 176)
2. THE NOVATIANS
These were so called because of the leader of the puritist movement who bore the name Novatian. He was a member of the Church of Rome planted by Paul, but which became so corrupt that separation was necessary in order to preserve the faith.
Of Novatian, Dr. J. B. Moody says, "He neither began nor propagated a sect. Others followed his example in separating from the corrupt churches and thus followed the divine command, and thus their walk was orderly. The disorderly constituted the apostasy."
Robinson says (Eccles. Researches, p. 126):
"A tide of immorality pouring into the church, Novatian withdrew and a great many with him…Great numbers followed his example, and all over the Empire puritan churches were constituted and flourished through the succeeding two hundred years. Afterwards, when penal laws obliged them to lurk in corners and worship God in private, they were distinguished by a variety of names, and a succession of them continued until the Reformation."
Vedder says (Short History, p. 64), "The Novatians were the earliest Anabaptists; refusing to recognize as valid the ministry and sacraments of their opponents and claiming to be the true church, they were logically compelled to rebaptize all who came to them…The party gained great strength in Asia Minor, where many Montanists joined them."
Dr. J. T. Christian, in his recent Baptist history, shows that the Novatians held to the independence of the churches, and recognized the equality of all pastors in respect to dignity and authority.
Dr. J. B. Moody, after having studied the Novatians in the light of a dozen or more historians, says of Novation, "He contended that…salvation…was of the Lord, by grace through faith."
Without multiplying quotations we find that the Novatians were Anabaptists, holding the scriptural view on the way of salvation, pure in life and scriptural as regards their conception of the ministry and church government. I see no reason as to why Baptists should not trace continuity of existence through them.
3. THE DONATISTS
Dr. J. B. Moody, who read widely on subjects pertaining to church history, says relative to the Donatists, "Those who contended earnestly for the original pattern were called in some countries Novatians and in others Donatists. These men did not originate sects, but separated from the growing apostasy and perpetuated the true churches."
In the case of the Donatists, separation from the corrupt occurred in the year 311 A. D.
The French historian Crespin gives the following as the view held by them:
"First for purity of church members, by asserting that none ought to be admitted to the church but such as are true believers, and true saints. Secondly, for purity of church discipline. Thirdly, for the independency of each church. Fourthly, they baptized again those whose first baptism they had reason to doubt. They were consequently rebaptizers or Anabaptists."
From this it is apparent that they held the doctrines essential to a Baptist church.
Curtis says (Progress of Bapt. Principles, p. 21): "Donatists…seem to have formed the germ of the Waldenses."
Benedict says (Church History, p. 4),"After the Donatists arose they (the Montanists) were often called by that name."
Jones says (Hist. Chris. Church): "There was hardly a city or town in Africa where there was not a Donatist church."
4. THE PAULICIANS
Dr. J. T. Christian says in his Baptist History, pages 76 and 77, "The Paulician churches were of apostolic origin and were planted in Armenia in the first century."
An old book of the Paulicians, called the Key of Truth, was discovered a few years ago by Dr. Coneybeare of Oxford. In this book the Paulicians claim for themselves apostolic origin. Dr. Coneybeare, who translated the Key of Truth and who is probably the greatest authority on the Paulicians, tells us that the Paulicians and Bogomils were persecuted but persisted here and there in many hiding places until the Reformation, when they reappeared under the form of Anabaptism.
Mosheim says, "They baptized and rebaptized by immersion. They would have been taken for downright Anabaptists."
Dr. Christian says, "Baptist views prevailed among the Paulicians. They held that men must repent and believe, and then at a mature age ask for baptism, which alone admitted them into the church."
Adeney says (Greek and Eastern Churches, page 217), "There it is quite arguable that they (Paulicians) should be regarded as representing the survival of a most primitive type of Christianity."
From the references above it may be seen that the Paulicians claimed apostolic origin, held Baptist doctrines and persisted until they were absorbed in the Anabaptist movement.
5. THE ALBIGENSES
Many historians, such as Mosheim, Gibbon, Muratori, Coneybeare and others, regard the Paulicians as the forerunners of the Albigenses, and indeed the same people save only for name. Dr. Christian states in his history, previously referred to, that recent writers hold that the Albigenses had been in the valleys of France from the earliest ages of Christianity. Because of persecution they left hardly a trace of their writings, so that our knowledge of them is not as full as we could wish. Jones, in the history already quoted from, says that they held the two doctrines necessary to a New Testament church. He also tells us that they rejected infant baptism.
Other "sects" holding these New Testament doctrines in common, but called by such names as Petrobrussians, Henricans, Arnoldists, existed, but space does not permit a detailed account of them. Of these Dr. A. H. Newman says (Recent Researches Concerning Med. Sects, p. 187), "There is much evidence of the persistence in Northern Italy and Southern France, from early times, of evangelical types of Christianity."
6. THE WALDENSES
The close connection of the Waldenses with the peoples whom I have previously mentioned is recognized by historians. Jones says (History, Vol. 2, p. 4), "When the popes issued their fulminations against them (the Albigenses) they expressly condemned them as Waldenses."
Some have tried to begin the Waldenses with Peter Waldo and to make of him the founder, but without success. Peter Waldo did not start the Waldenses, neither are they called after him, for he and the Waldenses have their name from the same origin. On this point Jones says (H., Vol. 2), "The words simply signify 'valleys,' inhabitants of valleys, and no more." Peter Waldo was so called because he was a 'valley man,' and he was only a leader of a people who had long existed. The Waldenses held the opinion that they were of ancient origin and truly apostolic.
In regard to some historian's way of dealing with them, Jones remarks, “The very generic character of the Waldenses is overlooked by most writers respecting the wide-spread community to whom it applied…They were spread all over Europe for many centuries…Whatever local name they bore, the Catholics called them all Vaudois or Waldenses."
Of their origin, Vedder says (Short History, p. 122), "The Waldenses, in their earlier history, appear to be little else than Petrobrusians under a different name…The doctrines of the earlier Waldenses are substantially identical with those of the Petrobrusians, the persecutors of both being witnesses."
Some have tried to make it appear that the Waldenses practiced infant baptism. Of course, as I have previously pointed out, a people so widely scattered, with churches in many sections, may have in some of their churches had heretical practices. But my study of the Waldenses from many sources has led me to conclude that to charge the Waldenses generally with having practiced infant baptism, is a base slander. I concur with Dr. Christian when he says, "There is no account that the Waldenses proper ever practiced infant baptism."
Of the doctrines held by the Waldenses, Vedder has this to say (S. Hist., pp. 123, 124):
"Roman writers before 1350 attributed the following errors to the Waldenses:
1. They assert that the doctrines of Christ and the apostles, without the decrees of the Church, suffice for salvation.
2. They say that baptism does not profit little children, because they are never able actually to believe.
3. They affirm that they alone are the church of Christ and the disciples of Christ. They are the successors of the apostles."
Vedder also goes on to give a list of other beliefs held by them and similar to those held by Baptists today. Then he adds, "Also, we find attributed to them certain tenets which were afterwards characteristic of the Anabaptists…Maintaining these views, they were the spiritual ancestors of the Anabaptist churches."
The historian Keller has this to say, "Very many Waldenses considered, as we know accurately, the baptism on (profession of) faith to be the form which is conformable with the words and example of Christ."
No one can make a study of the Waldenses and fail to see very rapidly that they held the two doctrines essential to a Baptist church. They were a great and noble people, who maintained the true faith in the face of bitter and almost continuous persecution. Baptists need feel no shame in claiming kin with them.
7. THE ANABAPTISTS
There is much evidence that the Waldenses came to be known later as Anabaptists. The Reformation gave opportunity for the various "sects" in hiding, which we to-day identify as Baptists, to come forth and declare themselves. These hated, so-called "sects" came to be known by the general name "Anabaptists."
Dr. Vedder says:
"It is a curious and instructive fact that the Anabaptist churches of the Reformation period were most numerous precisely where the Waldenses of a century or two previous had most flourished…That there was an intimate relation between the two movements few doubt who have studied this period and its literature. The torch of truth was handed on from generation to generation."
Similarly Dr. Christian says, "In those places where the Waldenses flourished, there the Baptists set deep root…Many able preachers of the Waldenses became widely known as Baptist ministers…Many details marked the Waldenses and the Baptists as of the same origin."
Again, he says, with reference to the Waldenses and Paulicians, "In my judgment both parties were Baptists."
If we ask the opinion of those hostile, we find Baronius, the learned Roman Catholic historian, saying (Danver's Baptism, p. 253): "The Waldenses were Anabaptists."
Again, Vedder, who, let us remember, is hostile to the idea of Baptist perpetuity, has this to say (S. Hist., p. 130):
"These Anabaptist churches were not gradually developed but appear fully formed from the first...Complete in polity, sound in doctrine, strict in discipline. It will be impossible to account for these phenomena without an assumption of a long existing cause. Though the Anabaptist churches appear suddenly in the records of the time contemporaneously with the Zwinglian Reformation, their roots are to be sought further back."
Further, he says on pages 136, 143:
"The Anabaptists, like Baptists of today, argued that, there is no command or example for infant baptism in the New Testament, and that instruction and belief are enjoined before baptism…The teachings of the Swiss Anabaptists are accurately known to us from three independent and mutually confirmatory sources: The testimony of their opponents, the fragments of their writings that remain, and their Confession of Faith. The latter is the first document of its kind known to be in existence. It was issued in 1527…It teaches the baptism of believers only, the breaking of bread by those alone who have been baptized, and inculcates a pure church discipline…The…Confession corresponds with the beliefs avowed by Baptist churches today. It is significant that what is opprobriously called 'close communion' is found to be the teachings of the oldest Baptist document in existence."
I shall close my discussion of the Anabaptists with a quotation from Dr. W. D. Nowlin (Fundamentals of the Faith):
“As to the origin of the Anabaptists, church historians differ, but it is probable that in many instances they were the revival of the remains of the earlier sects or at least of their sentiments, which still lingered in many localities. Undoubtedly it was the quickened life and thought of the Reformation that brought them again into notice and resulted in the vast increase of their members.
“Anabaptists held to the complete separation of Church and state, liberality of the individual conscience and the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice. They opposed infant baptism; admitted none but regenerated persons to baptism and church membership; and practiced immersion only for baptism.
“As a result they were bitterly persecuted and outlawed. Nevertheless they greatly increased in numbers and extended over a large part of Europe…The Baptists of the last three hundred years are the direct descendants of the true Anabaptists of the period of the Reformation; perhaps we might more correctly say, the Baptists were then called Anabaptists.
“So we find Mosheim, whose authority is great as a church historian, saying: 'The true origin of that sect which acquired the name Anabaptist is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is consequently extremely difficult to be ascertained.'"
I have been dealing with so-called "sects" more commonly dealt with by church historians, and have shown that they held views in the main - essentially Baptistic. I have also indicated by historical quotation the connection that the peoples had with each other. However, there are several bodies of Christians through whom we could trace continuity of organized Baptist life if space were available. I shall take time to barely indicate these Christian bodies through whom Baptists connect with apostolic times.
There are, for instance THE WELCH BAPTISTS who make well authenticated claims to apostolic origin. I can do no better than to state the facts concerning them in the words of a writer to the Religious Herald of some years ago:
“The Welch Baptists claim their origin direct from the apostles, and their claim has never been successfully controverted. They maintain that the light of a pure Christianity has been preserved among her people during all the 'Dark Ages.' They were a pastoral people, dwelling in their mountain homes. They were subjected to almost constant persecution, and therefore sought to conceal themselves in their mountain recesses, that have been so appropriately styled 'the Piedmont of Britain.' And yet the fact of their early existence is placed beyond peradventure or doubt. They attracted the attention of the Romish Church, and as early as the year 597 a monk visited them, by the name of Austin, and sought to win them to his views."
Dr. J. T. Christian, in his recent Baptist History, presents an abundance of historical evidence which proves Welch Baptists of apostolic origin. He is well worth reading on this point.
Benedict, in his History of the Baptists (page 343f), shows most convincingly that Welch Baptists are of early origin. According to him, they were ancient in Wales in 597. He shows that at that date they had a college and at least one association of churches.
Further, the history of IRISH BAPTISTS is very interesting, reading in connection with the thought of Baptist perpetuity. Baptists had churches in Ireland at a time not vastly remote from the days of Paul. Patrick, the great Irish preacher, was born about 360, but according to historians, Christianity in Ireland antedated Patrick's arrival by a long period.
Of Patrick, Dr. Vedder writes as follows:
"Rome's most audacious theft was when she seized bodily the apostle Peter and made him the putative head and founder of her system; but next to that brazen act stands her affrontery when she 'annexed' the great missionary preacher of Ireland and enrolled him. among her `saints'…From the writings of Patrick we learn that his teachings and practices were in many particulars at least evangelical. The testimony is ample that they baptized believers…There is no mention of infants…Patrick's baptism was that of apostolic times…immersion."
Of the churches of Ireland, Vedder further says, "The theology of these churches up to the ninth century continued to be remarkably sound and scriptural."
I could go on to cite historical references to show that these Irish Baptists sent missionaries to Northern France and Southern Germany and in that way are related to the "Baptists under other names" that I have already mentioned.
Surely I have presented evidence ample to prove my claim that from the days of Christ there has always been in existence churches holding the two doctrines essential to a New Testament church. I have been able to give only a scrap of the historical evidence at my command.
The more one studies on this question the more dogmatic they are forced to become in the belief that history justifies the Baptist claim to continuity of Baptist church life throughout the ages. History indeed vindicates the Master's promise that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His church!