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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


Baptists and the Order

of the Primitive Church

John Quincy Adams

From Baptists: The Only Thorough Religious Reformers, 1854

"Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized…And the Lord added to the church, daily, such as should be saved." (Acts 2: 41, 47)


All professed Christians, who admit that the Scriptures contain a model for church organization, strenuously maintain that the denomination with which they are connected is formed after the scriptural pattern. This is true alike of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others. But it is abundantly evident, that while these denominations are so very dissimilar, they cannot all resemble one scriptural model.


It is further evident, that some who make pretensions to be "the church," are not satisfied to rest their claim to that title, simply on a comparison of their organization with the New Testament pattern of a gospel church, but very gladly seek to bring in evidence from other quarters, by which they hope to support their cause. Jewish antiquity, the Fathers, Tradition, Expediency, are all pressed into their service, to supply the lack of evidence afforded in Scripture, or, as is sometimes the ease, to nullify and render powerless its direct testimony against them.


All this, I say, is done by those who profess to find, in the New Testament alone, a warrant for their ecclesiastical systems and organizations. They do not seem to perceive, that the very course which they adopt to support their claims, affords most conclusive evidence that they are false and vain.


But while some appeal to Tradition, and others to expediency, it is the glory of the Baptists that they act on the principle of the sufficiency of the Bible in testing this, as well as all other questions relating to religion. Though Jewish antiquity, the Fathers, and Tradition, yield as much or more support to their distinctive features, as to those who are most clamorous in demanding submission to them, still they prefer to appeal to "the law and to the testimony."


It is certain that primitive church order has been generally abandoned, from the fact that so many different organizations exist, each claiming to be the gospel church. Now, it is evident that not more than one of these dissimilar organizations can be constructed after the Scripture model. All that is necessary in testing their claims is that they be compared with the New Testament description of a gospel church. And any body of Christians that is unwilling to be brought to this test must of course give up this claim. Let us inquire,


I. What was the Order of the Primitive Church?


We can only obtain satisfactory information on this point from the Word of God. The text and its connection present to us the circumstances under which the first gospel church was formed. From this it will be perceived, that first, the gospel was preached, then repentance and baptism were urged upon the hearers; "then they that gladly received the Word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."


1. Primitive churches were composed of professed believers. Those who "gladly received the word." In all the epistles to the churches, it will be seen that the members composing them are addressed as believers, chosen ones, saints, partakers of like precious faith with the apostles ; and even where their sins are spoken of they are alluded to as brethren, who had departed from the faith. Dr. Dwight says, "There is but one character given in the New Testament to those who were church members, and that is the character of Christians. There is no mixture of any other character."


2. Primitive churches were composed only of baptized believers. By baptized I mean immersed believers. "They that gladly received his word were immersed;" this is the translation—in our version we have only a transfer. Let me, on this point, give you a few authorities for this translation, for there are some who deny its correctness—none, however, of any pretensions to scholarship.


The learned Bossuet says: "Baptism was performed by plunging. In fine, we read not in Scripture that baptism was otherwise administered; and we are able to make it appear, that for 1300 years baptism was thus administered throughout the whole church, as far as possible."


Doddridge says "'Buried with him by baptism.' It seems the part of candor to confess that here is an allusion to the manner of baptizing by immersion, which was the primitive mode."


John Wesley says: "Buried with him,' alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion."


Whitby, author of a commentary on the New Testament, and more than forty other learned works, says:


"It being so expressly declared here, that we are buried with Christ in baptism, by being buried under water, and the argument to oblige us to a conformity to his death, by dying to sin, being taken from hence; and this immersion being observed by all Christians for thirteen centuries, and the change of it into sprinkling, without any allowance from the Author of this institution, being that which the Romanist still urges to justify his refusal of the cup to the laity; it were to be wished that this custom might be again of general use."


Dr. Chalmers says: “The original meaning of the word baptism is immersion; and we doubt not that the prevalent style of administration in the apostles' days was by an actual submerging of the whole body under water."


Archbishop Tillotson says: "Anciently those who were baptized were immersed and buried in water, to represent their death to sin; and then did rise up out of the water, to signify their entrance upon a new life."


I might go on and ill a volume with similar quotations, from every scholar' of any note who has ever written upon the subject. In addition to this, every lexicon of note gives it a meaning, by which it signifies, either an immersion into an element, or a complete overwhelming with it.


It is evident, also, from the narration of circumstances connected with baptism in the New Testament, that immersion was the primitive mode. Christ, when he was baptized, came up out of the water. When Philip baptized the eunuch, he went -down into the water with him, in order to do it. The apostle Paul, in alluding to baptism, twice calls it a burial, and once a burial and resurrection. All who became members of the primitive churches were admitted by immersion; and as none were admitted but believers, none but believers were immersed.


3. In the primitive church none were admitted to the Lord's table but those who were immersed. Though they were, at the time of their conversion, members of the Jewish nation, or, as a Pedobaptist would say, of the Jewish church, and had been circumcised in their infancy, still they must be immersed before becoming members, or enjoying the privileges of a Christian church. Yea, even though they had been proselytes to the Jewish religion, and were circumcised after they arrived at maturity, they must still be immersed, when they professed faith in Christ, before they could sit down at the Lord's table. It is admitted by all, to have been the practice of the primitive church, to receive none but the baptized to the Lord's table.


4. Primitive churches were independent in their government. All the members were on an equality in each church, and each church was on an equality with every other church. There were no bishops, in the sense in which that term is used by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Methodists. There were no church sessions, presbyteries, assemblies, synods, or conferences. Advisory councils, having no power to legislate, were sometimes called to give counsel in difficult matters. But individual churches possessed supreme authority to administer discipline, and transact their own business. The church was the highest court of appeal.


II. Pedobaptists have universally departed from the Order of the Primitive Church.


The first Pedobaptist church was the Church of Rome. I presume I need not stop here to show that the Romish church does not conform to the Scripture model. All Protestants will affirm that she does not; and anyone who will read the Bible will be convinced of it. Let me remind them, however, that in nothing is her dissimilarity to gospel churches more palpably manifest than in her infant baptism; and in this thing all Pedobaptists are treading in her path, while not one of them is conformed to the New Testament pattern. For,


1. They are not composed of the same materials. They number among their members others than professed believers. Every Pedobaptist church holds that the children of believers, when baptised, are members of the church, and form a part of it. I substantiated this assertion by numerous quotations from printed documents, in my sermon on the "Spirituality of Christ's kingdom;" I need not, therefore, repeat them here. But I remark, in addition to this, that conversion is not necessarily a qualification for membership in most Pedobaptist churches.


With Episcopalians, admission to full church privileges is granted to those who have been confirmed. The requirements for this service are thus stated in the Book of Common Prayer: "The church hath thought good to order, that none shall be confirmed but such as can say the Creed, the. Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and can also answer to such other questions as in the Short Catechism are contained." The conditions of admission being thus made, irrespective of personal character, it cannot be expected that the Episcopal church will bear a comparison with that of primitive times. Indeed, it will be perceived that all that is needed is a good memory, in order to be confirmed as a member of that church.


The Presbyterians acknowledge in their standard, that "the visible church consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children." They further say, "Children born within the pale of the visible church, and dedicated to God in baptism, are under the inspection and government of the church, and are to be taught to read and repeat the Catechism, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. They are to be taught to pray, to abhor sin, to fear God, and to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. And when they come to years of discretion, if they be free from scandal, appear sober and steady, and to have sufficient knowledge to discern the Lord's body, they ought to be informed it is their duty and privilege to come to the Lord's Supper." (Directory for Worship, chap. 9, sec. 1) Now, in all this there is nothing said about regeneration, repentance, or faith.


The late Dr. Chalmers, a distinguished Presbyterian minister, maintained that it was "wrong to say that none but the pious should be admitted to partake of the sacraments," while, for the decent regulation of the church, "it is well that the visibly profane or profligate are kept away." As to the duty of a minister to the "great majority of our species," who are "neither of the profligate or the pious," his business is, "not to exclude them, but to warn them." A church, formed on such principles as these, certainly cannot claim to be identical with the primitive churches.


In the Methodist body, it is held that a religious society is "a company of men, having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in the Lord, that they may help each other to work out their salvation." "There is one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies—a desire to flee the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins."


It is well known that persons who give no evidence of conversion are often allowed, and even urged, to become "class members;" and in some instances these "seekers," as they are termed, are permitted to come to the Lord's table. It is not necessary, according to the Discipline, that a man give evidence of conversion. It is certainly not impossible for unconverted men to fulfil a term of probation. And thus, in almost every Pedobaptist church it may be seen that conversion is not absolutely insisted on as a condition of membership on the part of adult applicants.


But what shall we say of their infant membership? We frequently hear of the "children of the covenant," and the "children of the church," from Pedobaptist pulpits, but do we see anything of this kind in the New Testament? Do we find unconverted men addressed as members of the church in primitive times, or young persons urged to fulfil baptismal vows, made for them by their parents, when they were unconscious infants? No, no! We see parents urged to bring their children up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," but we nowhere find this duty enforced by any allusion to vows made at the dedication of their children in baptism.


Again, those united with the primitive church churches, in consequence of a sermon preached by the writer, showing that Baptists occupied common ground with others, in restricting the communion to those whom they considered baptized, invited to the Lord's table all " who desired to be Christians."


2. Pedobaptists do not receive their members by the same initiatory rite as the primitive churches did. The primitive churches received their members by immersion. This was the act by which they publicly "put on Christ" before the world. A great many Pedobaptist authors acknowledge that the primitive saints were immersed, and that immersion is the proper signification of the terms which are used to designate the ordinance. In addition to those already quoted, I remark that Calvin says: "Here we perceive how baptism was administered among the ancients; for they immersed the whole body in water." Bishop Taylor says: The custom of the ancient churches was not sprinkling, but immersion."


Now, we know that Pedobaptist churches receive the majority of their members, not by immersion, but by sprinkling. Some may be immersed, but it is only after every argument to dissuade them from it has failed. The practice of these churches is sprinkling, the exceptions are immersion. In the primitive church there was "one Lord, one faith, one baptism;" and that was immersion. Here, then, is a striking dissimilarity between all Pedobaptist churches and the primitive churches. The latter were composed of immersed believers. The former are composed of a mixed multitude of believers and unbelievers, sprinkled, poured, and immersed.


The language addressed to the primitive churches cannot be addressed to them. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Have infants put on Christ?" Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death." Can a Pedobaptist minister address his church thus? "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through faith of the operation of God." (Col. 2:12)


Can this language be appropriately addressed to a Pedobaptist church? No; so far from it, many Pedobaptists do not like to read it in their Bibles. But still further; a Pedobaptist preacher cannot stand up, in a Pedobaptist community, and address unconverted men as the primitive disciples did: "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you." They have been baptized, as they call it, already. From all this it is evident, that Pedobaptist churches are very dissimilar to the churches in the times of the apostles, and to the teachings of the New Testament.


3. There is a wide dissimilarity between Pedobaptist churches and the primitive church, in reference to the Lard's Supper. In the primitive churches, all who were baptized, and members of the church, were admitted to the Lord's table. None, who were considered proper subjects of baptism, and who had received that rite, were excluded from the communion. But Pedobaptists contend that infants are proper subjects, and that sprinkling is the proper mode. Every infant who is sprinkled, then, according to their view, is properly baptized, and a member in the visible church, and ought, according to their own reasoning, to be admitted to the Lord's table.


Pedobaptists are most inveterate close communionists. They are very eloquent against the bigotry and closeness of the Baptists, for not admitting members of Pedobaptist churches to the Lord's table, but surely they should not expect us to receive persons whom we consider unbaptized, when they will not receive their own baptized members. All whom we consider baptized, and who are members of our churches, we receive; so did the primitive churches. But Pedobaptists have large numbers, whom they consider baptized members of their churches, whom they do not admit to the Lord's table. This is a kind of close communion that we have never practiced.


4. There is a dissimilarity in the government of Pedobaptist churches and the primitive church. One was independent; the other is arbitrary, despotic, and tyrannical. I exhibited this fully in my Lecture on the "Equality of Christ's Disciples," and therefore need not repeat the arguments here.


III. Baptists aim to restore the order of the primitive church.


Baptists make no appeal to Tradition, the Fathers, or Expediency. They simply ask, "What do the Scriptures teach?" They follow the New Testament model of a church, and invite all to test them by it. It is not strange, therefore, that they confidently appeal to God's Word for proof of the correctness of all they do. They take it all from the Bible, and therefore they know it can all be found there. Take any Scripture account of the course pursued by the apostles, or of the practice of gospel churches, and you will find the counterpart in a Baptist church.


Like primitive churches, they are composed of immersed believers. We say, show us an instance of the baptism of an infant in the primitive church, and we will then baptize infants. But until you do, we will oppose infant sprinkling as an innovation of man, having no divine authority, and therefore sinful, when performed in the name of Jehovah.


Like the primitive churches, Baptists admit none to the Lord's table but those who are immersed, on profession of their faith. Show us an instance of a gospel church doing otherwise, and we will conform to the model.


Like the primitive churches, Baptists are independent in their government. Show us a pope, or bishop, or conference, or synod, or presbytery, or council, authorized to govern the church, and we will submit to just such authority as you can show us in the Bible.


Our position in these matters is illustrated by a. narrative contained in a tract, published by the American Tract Society, entitled "Mick Healy, the Bible Reader." Mick had been a strict Roman Catholic for fifty years. One day he accidentally found a Bible, and commenced reading it. The more he read, the more he neglected the Romish service. The priest at length heard of it, and visited Mick, and sought to get the Bible from him. Failing in this, he began to expostulate with him. He told him he must not read it anymore; and reminding him that he had not been to confession for a long time, he told him he must come and confess, for it was his duty.


Mick held out the Bible to the priest, and said, "Will your reverence please to show it to me in the Book." Now this is just what we say to all the arguments of Pedobaptists. They tell us that all Christian parents should have their infant children sprinkled. We say, "Will you please to show it to us in the Book." They tell us that sprinkling will do as well as to go "down into the water," and be "buried in baptism," and "come up out, of the water." We say, "Will you please to show it to us in the Book."


After some time, Mick united with a Protestant church, and regularly attended the Sunday-school. The children used frequently to gather round him, and put questions to him, to hear his answers:


"Well, Mick, why don't you now pray to the Virgin Mary?"

"Because it is not in the Book."


"Why don't you now confess your sins to Peter and Paul, Mick?"

"Because it is not in the Book."

 

"Why do you believe the Bible to be sufficient to make you wise unto salvation, without tradition?"

"Oh, sure, it is all in the Book."


"Must everything in religion be proved by the Bible, Mick?"

"Yes; whatever is not so, is only moonshine."


Now our Pedobaptist friends ask us why we do not sprinkle infants; we reply, "It is not in the Book." They wish to know why we "go down into the water," and immerse those who believe, and "come up out of the water." We reply, with Mick, "Oh, sure, it is all in the Book." They ask us why we do not admit to the Lord's table with us those who are unbaptized. We reply, "It is not in the Book; and whatever is not in the Book, is only moonshine." We aim to be Bible Christians, and to make our churches Bible churches. In upholding Baptist sentiments, we simply aim to perpetuate primitive Christianity.


We resemble the primitive Christians in another respect —we are "everywhere spoken against." This we expect, so long as men follow Tradition rather than the Word of God, and are influenced by the teachings of men, rather than by the example of Christ; but when the Bible,—and especially the Bible faithfully translated,—is made the standard, then we shall triumph. We make no arrogant assumptions; we utter no idle boast, but we simply use the language of humble confidence and firm faith.


The progress of the Baptist denomination can be arrested, only by taking the Bible away from the people; for, while they possess that, in spite of priests and princes, scaffolds and bundles of sticks, tortures and death, some will be found, as in all ages some have been found, who will contend for primitive simplicity, primitive purity, primitive order.


On the other hand, Pedobaptism can only succeed, by withholding the Bible from the people, or veiling the command to be immersed in an unknown tongue, or calling human tradition to support it, and enlisting carnal weapons to defend it. But its days are numbered; it is in its decline. Its end approaches; and soon will be heard the vocal shout, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen," and Rome, and all that is Romish, infant sprinkling and all, shall be destroyed. And so let it be!


Do not imagine, from these remarks, that I cherish any feelings of animosity toward those who practice infant baptism. No; far from it. I sincerely pity them. So much anxiety as many of them suffer, demands commiseration. Especially do I pity the priests and ministers who are engaged in defending it. So much labor in vain—so much pains for nought. Has not Christ said, "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." (matt. 15:13) Oh, how much better, to come out on Gospel ground, take the Bible, and follow Christ, and enjoy the sweet time when the Bible is read, or the Gospel is faithfully preached — abiding in confidence and strengthened, knowing that you have done what is right!