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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. Porter, 1914
Baptists have verified Christ’s promise of perpetuity to his churches. Concerning his churches Christ said: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If these words teach anything, they teach that the churches, instituted by Christ and the Apostles would never die, but would reproduce and multiply and perpetuate themselves to the end of all time.
If the words of the Master are true, and they are, there has never been a moment since the days of Christ when his churches were not in existence. If there has been such a time, then the words of Christ have failed of fulfillment. Our contention is that Baptists have been used to fulfill the words of Christ, and that Baptist churches are not only identical in faith and policy with the churches instituted by Christ, but are the legitimate successors of the churches organized by Christ and the Apostles.
As has been said: “We must either suppose that there has been Christian people existing in every age from the apostolic to the present, characterized by the same doctrines and practice, or that there were periods in the intervening history when apostolic faith and practice had absolutely no representative on the face of the earth. Are we prepared to take the latter alternative? Have there been such hiatuses in the history of Christianity? No church, no Christian people, to uphold the standard of a pure gospel, and bear witness to the truth as it is in Jesus amid a perverse and crooked generation?
What, then, becomes of the Saviour’s promise? Reasoning a priori, we must infer, I think, that there must be a continuous line of witnesses for the truth, not only as individuals, but as organized bodies, keeping the faith as originally delivered to the saints, and practicing the ordinances as instituted by the Head. It can not then be ‘arrogant’, nay, it is a duty we owe to the truth, to go into a careful and thorough investigation of historical sources, to find out, if possible, such an uninterrupted line of witnesses. We beg leave to ask, if the continuous line of witnesses from the Apostles to the Reformation were not Baptists, what were they? Surely no one of the present sects having no earlier an origin than the Reformation will claim them. Were they, then, Latins, Greeks or Baptists?”
It is well to bear in mind the difference between church succession and church perpetuity. Apparently, it would be impossible to establish the uninterrupted succession of any given church through the years, even should such a church have a continuous succession. Our contention is not for apostolic succession, or church succession, but for the perpetuity of Baptist churches, from the organization of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem to the present time, and to the end of all time.
Should any Baptist deny the fact that the first church established in Jerusalem was a Baptist church, we would like to insist that he kindly tell what kind of a church it was. To know that it was not a Baptist church implies a sufficient amount of knowledge to determine the character of the church.
We may even go so far as to assert that there was a Baptist preacher before the organization of a Baptist church. The first Baptist preacher was John the Baptist. We learn from the Scriptures that he was a Baptist and a preacher, and certainly it is impossible for a man to be a Baptist and a preacher and not be a Baptist preacher.
Alexander Campbell says: “It was for having his brother’s wife in his brother’s lifetime which procured a rebuke to Herod from the first Baptist preacher. In ranking John among the Baptists, I hope they will forgive me; for although John lived before the Christian kingdom began, he was, upon the whole, as good a Christian as most of us Immerser preachers” (Alexander Campbell: Christian Baptist, Vol. VI., p. 70).
Dr. Armitage says: “Having thus found the model of the New Testament church, the question is forced upon us: Whether or not this pattern is retained in any of the churches of the present day? Without casting ungenerous reflections upon any Christian body whatever, it may be said that, as to substance and form, the most accurate resemblance to this picture of the apostolic churches is now found in the Baptist churches of Europe and America.
Dr. Duncan reports: That when Gesenius, the great German Hebraist and Biblical critic, first learned what Baptist churches were, he exclaimed: “How exactly like the primitive churches!”
“The late Dr. Oncken assured the writer that in forming a new church at Hamburg, A. D. 1834, the constituent members first resolved that they would shut themselves up entirely to the apostolic model, as found in the New Testament. They therefore devoted themselves for some time to prayer and the exclusive study of that Book as an inspired Church Manual; and on comparing the result, to their surprise, they found themselves compelled to form a church in accord with the Baptist churches in England and America. Yet, there is nothing strange in this: the New Testament is ever the same, and it is but natural that when the devout mind is left free from all standards but this, with the determination to follow it in the most simple-hearted manner, it should produce the same stamp of New Testament churches everywhere and always.” (Memoir of James P. Boyce, by John A. Broadus, pp. 149, 150)
We may well heed the following forceful words of Dr. James P. Boyce, the founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
“But the obligation resting on the Baptist denomination is far higher than this. It extends not merely to matters of detail, but to those of vital interest. The history of religious literature and of Christian scholarship has been a history of Baptist wrongs. We have been overlooked, ridiculed, and defamed. Critics have committed the grossest perversions, violated the plainest rules of criticism, and omitted points which could not have been developed without benefit to us. Historians who have professed to write the history of the church have either utterly ignored the presence of those of our faith, or classed them among fanatics and heresies; or, if forced to acknowledge the prevalence of our principles and practice among the earliest churches, have adopted such false theories as to church power, and the development and growth of the truth and principles of Scripture, that by all, save their most discerning readers, our pretensions to an early origin and a continuous existence have been rejected.
“The Baptists in the past have been entirely too indifferent to the position they thus occupy. They have depended too much upon the known strength of their principles, and the ease with which from Scripture they could defend them. They have therefore neglected many of those means which extensive learning affords and which have been used to great advantage in support of other opinions. It is needless to say, gentlemen, that we can no longer consent to occupy this position. We owe a change to ourselves, as Christians, bound to show an adequate reason for the difference between us and others; as men of even moderate scholarship, that it may appear that we have not made the gross error in philology and criticism which we must have made if we be not right; as the successors of a glorious spiritual ancestry, illustrated by heroic martyrdom by the profession of noble principles, by the maintenance of true doctrines; as the church of Christ, which he has ever preserved as the witness for his truth, by which he has illustrated his wonderful ways, and shown that his promises are sure and steadfast. Nay, we owe it to Christ himself, whose truth we hold so distinctively as to separate us from all others of his believing people; to whom we look confidently to make these principles triumphant; for whose sake, on their account, men have been ever found among us willing to submit to banishment, imprisonment, or martyrdom; and for whose sake, in defence of the same truth, we are willing now to bear the scorn and reproach, not of the world only, but even of those who love our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Memoir of James P. Boyce, pp. 136, 137)
“Trace our history back, either through the centuries that have long passed away, or in the workings of God during the last hundred years, and it will be seen that the mass of the vineyard laborers have been from the ranks of fishermen and tax-gatherers, cobblers and tinkers, weavers and ploughmen, to whom God has not disdained to impart gifts, and whom he has qualified as his ambassadors by the presence of that Spirit by which, and not by might, wisdom, or power, is the work of the Lord accomplished.” (Memoir of James P. Boyce, p. 127)
Alexander Campbell, the founder of a sect radically opposed to the Baptists, and at best an unwilling witness to Baptist verities, has given testimony that should convince his own people and others, that Baptist churches are the only true and legitimate successors to the churches instituted by Christ and the Apostles.
The following words of Mr. Campbell are taken from the authorized edition of the “Campbell-McCalla Debate,” now in our possession: “Clouds of witnesses attest the fact that before the reformation from Popery, and from the apostolic age, to the present time, the sentiments of Baptists and the practice of baptism have had a continued chain of advocates, and public monuments of their existence in every century can be produced” (Alexander Campbell, in debate with W. L. McCalla, held at Washington, Mason Co., Ky., Oct. 15, 1823, p. 378).
A REMARKABLE TESTIMONY
In 1819 the King of Holland appointed Dr. J. Dermout, his chaplain, and Dr. Ypeij, Professor of Theology in the University of Groningen, to prepare a history of the Dutch Reformed Church, and also to report on the claims of the Dutch Baptists. “We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and Waldenses; and who have long, in the history of the church, received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the Apostles.
Christian Society which has preserved pure the doctrine of the Gospel through all ages. The perfectly correct external economy of the Baptist denomination tends to confirm the truth disputed by the Romish Church, that the Reformation brought about in the sixteenth century was in the highest degree necessary; and at the same time goes to refute the erroneous notion of the Catholics, that their communion is the most ancient (Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).
Some years since, a Baptist of pedobaptist proclivities is said to have called in question the genuineness of the above report ; whereupon Dr. W. P. Harvey addressed a letter in this connection to Prof. George B. Manly, then president of a college of languages in Berlin, Germany. Dr. Manly’s reply was as follows:
“BERLIN, den 14, Jan. 1896. “REV. W. P. HARVEY, D.D., Louisville, Ky.
“My Dear Sir:-In reply to your favor Of December 6, 1895, in which you inquire as to the authenticity of a passage quoted in Baptist histories, and now called in question by a prominent writer, I take pleasure in stating that the passage is genuine, and the translation gives the thought correctly.
It is found on page 148, Volume I., of the work entitled ‘History of the Dutch Reformed Church,’ by A. Ypeij, Doctor and Professor of Theology at Groningen, and I. J. Dermout, Secretary of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Preacher at The Hague, at Breda, 1819....
“G. W. MANLY.”
The original work containing this report is now in the Royal Library at Berlin.
“It is true, that many Anabaptists suffered death, not on account of their being considered as rebellious subjects, but merely because they were judged to be incorrigible heretics; for in this century the error of limiting the administration of baptism to adult persons only, and the practice of rebaptizing such as had received that sacrament in a state of infancy were looked upon as most flagitious and intolerable heresies” (Mosheim’s Church History, Part II., chap. 3, pp. 490-493).
Writing of the suffering of the Anabaptists in Europe, Mrs. Hutchinson, one of the best writers of her time, says: “Many chose to leave their dearest relations to retire into any foreign soil where they might enjoy the free exercise of God’s worship. Such as could not flee were tormented in the Bishop’s Court, fined, whipped, imprisoned and suffered to enjoy no rest till the whole land was reduced to slavery. O pitying skies, is there nowhere beneath your encircling dome, a land where this agony can cease, because the soul is free?”
Bishop Bossuet, the great Catholic controversialist, complaining of Calvin’s party for claiming apostolical succession through the Waldenses, observes: “You adopt Henry and Peter Bruis among your predecessors, but both of them, everybody knows, were Anabaptists.”
But in the Syrocei Babylonian desert, off the line of the church’s main advance, primitive forms of Christianity, perhaps also of Essenism, still survived which the course of church history had left untouched. To these belong, on the one hand, Sabians (Baptists) ; on the other, the numerous Anchorets” (p. 547, IX. Edition, Ency. Brit., by Rev. F. W. Gotch, LL.D.).
According to this high and disinterested authority, Baptists can be traced to 618 A.D. The overwhelming presumption is that a denomination whose history extends to this remote date must seek its origin at the original source of the churches.
“Cardinal Hosius, President of the Council of Trent (A. D. 1545), a distinguished dignitary of the Church of Rome, says: ‘If you behold their cheerfulness in suffering persecution, the Anabaptists run before all the heretics. If you have regard to the number, it is likely that in multitude they would swarm above all others, if they were not grievously plagued, and cut off with the knife of persecution. If you have an eye to the outward appearance of godliness, both the Lutherans and the Zwinglians must grant that they far pass them. If you will be moved by the boasting of the Word of God, these be no less bold than Calvin to preach, and their doctrine must stand invincible above all power, because it is not their word, but the word of the living God.’ The testimony of these two writers covers the ground from the first Christian martyrdom to the reformation of the sixteenth century” (The Baptist Denomination, p. 262).
“It will there be shown that a succession of principles, like those held by the Baptist churches of today, may be easily traced from the twelfth century onward to our times. The tracing of these principles is a necessary and legitimate part of the history, for though Baptists are of late origin, they did not spring out of the ground and invent de novo the type of doctrine and practice associated with their name. Their roots go back many centuries before their definite origin and formal organization” (Henry C. Vedder, Story of the Churches).
The Wickliffites. “It is pretty clear,” says Dr. Hurd, “from the writings of many learned men, that Dr. John Wickliffe, the first English reformer, either considered infant baptism as unlawful, or at least not necessary, and he denied that sin was taken away by baptism. Some of Wickliffe’s followers maintained that the children of the believers are not to be sacramentally baptized” (411 Religions, p. 718).
“A letter describing the sentiments of the Hussites, written from Bohemia to Erasmus, dated Oct. 10, 1519, states as follows: ‘They renounce all the rites and ceremonies of our church, then ridicule our doctrine and practices in both sacraments; they deny orders (the hierarchy), and elect officers from among the laity; they receive no other rule than the Bible; they admit none into their communion till they be dipped in water, or baptized; and they reckon one another without distinction of rank to be called brothers and sisters.’ If this, says Ivimey, was the case with respect to the followers of Wickliffe in Bohemia, what should hinder us from believing that the followers of Wickliffe in England held similar sentiments respecting the discipline of the church of Christ, and that they also maintained that none ought to be admitted into their communion until they were dipped in water, or baptized?” (Coleman’s Collection of Letters to Men of Note, as quoted by Ivimey, Vol. I., p. 70).
Barnard, Abbot of Clairval. “The Albigenses and Waldenses administer baptism only to adults. They do not believe in infant baptism” (Facts Opposed to Fiction, p. 47).
“Dr. Wall records that the Leonists, or followers of Waldo, say that the washing given to children does no good. They condemn all the sacraments of the Catholic Church” (Jones’ Lectures, Vol. II., p. 486).
Izam, the troubadour, a Dominican persecutor, says: “They admitted another baptism
to what the church did, that is, believers’ baptism” (Rob. Eccl. Res., p. 463),
Mezeray says: “In baptism in the twelfth century, they plunged the candidate in the sacred fount, to show them what operation that sacrament had on the soul” (History of France, twelfth cent., p. 288).
Father Greeter, who edited Sauce’s works in 1613, on the margin opposite the account of the Waldenses’ way of teaching, has this striking comment:
“‘This is a true practice of the heretics of our age, particularly of the Anabaptists.’ There are few of the Baptists of the present day, it is to be hoped, who would blush to own an alliance with either the old Waldensian preachers, or the heretical Baptists referred to by this father of the Catholic Church, at least in this part of their conduct; and, indeed, it would be well if all our missionaries and private Christians of the present day were as conversant with the word of God as the Waldenses even in that dark age appear, from the testimony of their very enemies, to have been.” (Jones’ Church History, p. 352).
Limborch, Professor of Divinity in the University of Amsterdam, in 1670, who wrote a history of the Inquisition, in comparing the Waldenses with the Christians of his own times, says: “To speak honestly of what I think of all the modern sects of Christians, the Dutch Baptists more resemble both the Albigenses and Waldenses, but particularly the latter” (Rob. Res., p. 311).
“One of the most recent and celebrated works in ecclesiastical history which has appeared on the continent of Europe is by M. De Potter, who in a compendious account of these people, the Waldenses, says: ‘They called the pope antichrist, opposed the payment of tithes, abolished the distinctions in the priesthood, denied the authority of councils, rejected all the ceremonies of baptism except simple ablution, and laying stress on the truth, that in infancy there can be no actual conversion to the Christian faith, they therefore baptized anew all those who left the Romish Church wishing to embrace their doctrines. In a word, they rejected everything which they did not find enjoined in the gospel and the sacred Scriptures’” (De Potter, Vol. VI., p. 405).
“The pope himself declared that unless the sword of the faithful extirpated the Waldenses, their doctrine would soon corrupt all Europe” (Spanheim’s Eccl. Annals, London, 1829, as quoted by Hague, p. 74).
“There is reason to think that in the middle of the twelfth century congregations of Waldenses Baptists were gathered in Switzerland and France, under the name of Apostolici; for, in the year 1147, we find Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux, complaining against the earl of St. Gyles for favoring one of their noted teachers, named Henry, who is charged with ‘hindering infants from the life of Christ, the grace of baptism being denied them’” (Mosheim, Cen. 12, Part II., chaps. 5, 8).
“Zwinglius, the celebrated Swiss Reformer, who was contemporary with Luther, Muncer, and Stork: ‘Is Anabaptism a novelty? Did it spring up in a day? The institution of Anabaptism is no novelty, but for one thousand and three hundred years has caused great disturbance in the church, and has acquired such a strength that the attempt in this age to contend with it appeared futile for a time.’ This carries our history back to A.D. 225” (Introduction to Orchard's History).
“Theodore Beza, the contemporary and colleague of Calvin, in his ‘Treatise of the Famous Pillars of Learning and Religion,’ says: ‘As for the Waldenses, I may be permitted to call them the very seed of the primitive and purer Christian Church, since they are those that have been upheld, as is abundantly manifest, by the wonderful providence of God, so that neither those endless storms and tempests by which the whole Christian world has been shaken for so many succeeding ages, and the western parts at length so miserably oppressed by the Bishop of Rome, falsely so called; nor those horrible persecutions which have been expressly raised against them, were ever able so far to prevail as to make them bend, or yield a voluntary subjection to the Roman tyranny and idolatry” (Preface to Morland’s History p. 7; Jones’ Church History, p. 353).
H. Bullinger invariably identifies the Donatists with the Anabaptists, or, as he styles them, “baptists.” “They are,” continues he, “similar in every particular to the old baptists.”
Fuller’s account of the Anabaptists in England, who came over from Holland, and their agreement with the Donatists, is thus expressed: “A match being now made up by the lord Cromwell’s contrivance, betwixt king Henry and the lady Anne of Cleves, Dutchmen flocked faster than formerly into England.” After bestowing upon these newcomers a number of very opprobrious epithets, he says : “They were branded with the general name of Anabaptists. These Anabaptists,” continues he, “for the main, are but Donatists new dipt.”
The Paulicians. “It is evident,” says Mosheim, “they rejected the baptism of infants.”
Dr. Peter Allix, a Frenchman, compelled by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes’ (1685) to take refuge in London, published there numerous works. Among them, “Sonic Remarks upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont, 1690,” affirms “that they, with the Manicheans, were Anabaptists, or rejecters of infant baptism, and were consequently reproached with that term.”
The Paterines. As the Catholics of those times baptized by immersion, the Paterines, by what name soever they were called, Manicheans, Gazari, Josephites, Passagines, etc. made no complaint of the mode of baptizing, but when they were examined, they objected vehemently against the baptism of infants, and condemned it as an error; among other things they said that a child knew nothing of the matter, that he had no desire to be baptized, and was incapable of making any confession of faith, and that the willingness of and professing of another could be of no service to him.
The Berangarians. They admitted only adults to baptism. Bellarmine and Mezeray rank them among the Sacramentarians and Anabaptists. They flourished in the eleventh century.
The Petrobrusians. They held that no persons whatever were to he baptized before they were come to the full use of their reason. This, according to Mosheim, was the first article of Peter’s creed.
The Henricians. “We have no account,” says Mosheim, “of the doctrines of this reformer transmitted to our times. All we know of the matter is, that he rejected the baptism of infants,” etc.
It is not, however, necessary to establish Baptist perpetuity by tracing their churches through the ages. A shorter, and, to our thinking, an equally satisfactory, way is to demonstrate their perpetuity by a process of elimination and cancellation. Assuming that the churches organized by Christ and the Apostles have had a continuous existence, it will be sufficient if I can disprove the claims of all other denominations to an uninterrupted existence since the days of Christ and the Apostles. If it can be shown, with certainty, that all other denominations except the Baptists have originated far this side of apostolic times, then there can be but one claimant to apostolic origin and continuous existence. In other words, to disprove all others is to prove the claim of the Baptists.
In pursuing this plan it will be necessary to show the origin of all existing denominations, especially those which claim Scriptural origin and perpetuity. A little investigation will show that Christ had ascended, and all the Apostles had been buried for several centuries, before any of the denominations, save the Baptists, had been instituted.
While Baptists have been engaged in an age-long conflict, their warfare is not yet ended. The last great battle is yet to be fought and won. This battle is destined to be between the Roman Catholics and the Baptists; the armies of Rome and the serried hosts of righteousness. That this will be the final alignment there can be no doubt in the minds of those who are acquainted with the religious history of the past and the ecclesiastical situation of the present.
It is a fact that every denomination which has ever existed, emanated directly or indirectly from either the Baptists or the Roman Catholics. Even the Papacy is the illegitimate child of an apostate Baptist Church. We make bold to say that every denomination now in existence can be traced to Baptist or Roman Catholic parentage; indeed, Romanists have frankly confessed that Baptists have been their ancient and unconquered foe. And some of them have declared that all other denominations, save the Baptists, would return to their fold.
Be this as it may, it will be generally admitted that Baptists and Romanists occupy the two extremes in ecclesiastical affairs. Between these two, as we see it, there can be no permanent abiding place. When these two great armies are marshaled for the final conflict, all mediating bodies will be subjected to a deadly crossfire that will necessitate their annihilation. Christ or antichrist is the essential logic of the situation. The forces are already taking their places in the line of battle, some under the banner of the dragon, dripping with the blood of the saints; others under the flag of our King, crimsoned with the blood of the Son of God. We can not shrink from the conflict if we would; and we would not if we could. Trying and tragic may be the Armageddon, but the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Let us, then, unterrified, stand for triumphant truth; and when the smoke of battle has cleared, God and the holy angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, and redeemed men and women, will say “Hail!” to the friends of the faith, who have counted their lives not dear unto themselves, that they might contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Amen! and amen! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth forever and forever.