Fighting Fundamentalist

Friday, February 02, 2007

Baptists Before the Reformation 1st part

Baptist history portrays a rich heritage of Biblical truth, missionary zeal, interchurch association and religious liberty. Biblical Distinctives of Baptists p.111; Anderson and Gower, RBP

Baptists Before the Reformation

The church began in the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). From 70 AD (the year the temple was destroyed) to about 312AD both persecution and great church growth and development took place. The Bible was completed. The Autographs were being copied into the first Manuscripts. The church went underground. From about 312 to 1517 the Roman Catholic (RC) religious machine grew strong. When Constantine declared the Christianity the state religion, at that time all manner of idolatry and formalism passed for Christianity. Rome continued to add to itself more and more “traditions”. Simultaneously there existed what I will call Free or Indigenous Churches, those groups that remained underground and did not participate with the Roman Catholic religion. Between 1517 and 1545 the Reformation began to make steady progress.

Fifteen centuries passed between the times of the apostles and the Reformation period. During this time various groups of Christians followed the Bible in greater and lesser degrees. What we can know about these groups is quite unclear since many of them were under severe persecution and their writings (if they had any) were destorted and/or destroyed. What we are left with is the records of their persecutors. This is not a lot to determine a clear picture of church history. However, there are at least four theories of Baptist origins that have emerged in recent times.

Four Theories of Baptist Origins

Apostolic succession

In his book The Trail of Blood, J. M. Carroll puts forth the view that there has been an unbroken chain of New Testament (Baptist) churches from either John the Baptist or Jesus Christ Himself. Baptists accordingly have had a continuous line of authority through one or more of the following: a succession of ordination going back to the apostles, a succession of baptism going back to the apostles, and a succession of local churches holding the biblical distinctives of Baptists going back to the apostles. Those who hold to this theory have also been called Landmark Baptists.

Was there an unbroken chain of Baptist Churches from Jesus onward?

Could be!

Anabaptist kinship

In denouncing the “baptism” of infants and holding firm that only those old enough to understand and believe the gospel should be baptized, Anabaptists became the scourge of the Reformation. The word Anabaptist means "baptized again". Most Christians felt that the “baptism” of infants was a most important sacrament since some felt that regeneration precedes faith. It was the sacrament initiating babies into the church-state. Therefore Anabaptists were scorned and persecuted for not conforming to this idea of infant initiation by sprikleing a little watter on their heads. What luminaries of divine truth persecuted these believers for holding this biblical doctrine and heart felt conviction? Yes, the Roman Catholic Church… and also Martin Luther, and John Calvin too, but watch out not all Anabaptists tolerated diversity either.

Around 1534 John Matthys, an Anabaptist, became the leader of Munster and if you did not submit to rebaptism you had to flee for your life. After a siege and the death of John Matthys, the Munsterites defense eventually buckled; then came slaughter and torture to those who remained true to their convictions. This event damaged the reputation of the Anabaptists (even the pacifists in their ranks) and persecution increased all the more in fact thousands of Dutch Anabaptists died during the 1500’s.

Historical succession between these Anabaptists and others that held to “Baptist” doctrine cannot be established, but such groups according to the Anabaptist kinship theory have always existed, and (they say) modern Baptists are in this line.

Is the Anabaptist kinship the correct view?

Could be!

Possible baptistic congregations within the Roman Catholic church

The Roman Catholic religious machine reacted to the Reformation with the Council of Trent, which officially codified many tenants and practices that were unofficial practices up to that time. This Counter Reformation was for the purpose of stopping the mouths of Protestants and to declare anathema any teaching but her own official Roman Catholic dogma.

Before the Council of Trent, it seems that anything short of outright attacks on the authority of the “church” were tolerated… that is as long as you were Roman Catholic by name. This leniency may have allowed baptistic views to remain within her domain. However when the “church” tightened her damnable controls after the Council of Trent “Baptists" could no longer remain within the religion of Rome, soon they began to appear independently throughout Europe.

Were there Baptists within the Roman Catholic Church?

Could be!

English Separatist decent

During the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, a small number of people separated themselves from the “impure” national church and formed small gathered churches. Their number was never more than several hundred; even so, they were hunted down and severely punished by the agents of Elizabeth and James I. They were also strongly criticized by Puritan preachers. The Separatists were Puritans but they sought to completely “separate” themselves from the state-church, the Church of England. The Puritans only wanted to “purify” the church which held to Catholic ceremony and doctrine.

Information on Baptists during this period is plentiful. Therefore, this theory holds that since there is no clear documentation prior to this, assumptions about earlier times can’t be substantiated. In light of this, it is still maintained that there is historical evidence which confirms that Baptist beliefs existed in various ways, and by various groups, to greater and lesser extents before the Separatist Movement and way before the Reformation. That is why, according to this theory Baptists, historically, are not Protestant, nor Reformed!

Famous names connected with this movement are:

Robert Browne

John Smyth

John Robinson

Is the English Separatist theory true?

Could be!

What do you think? Which theory seems most acceptable to you? Explain why, if you wish.

Stay salty,
Brother John


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