Our Baptist Heritage
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The Word of God, our Final Authority for Faith and Practice
Ask the average man in the street today what he knows about Baptists and you will find it is little or nothing. A recent survey taken in one of the busiest shopping centers in South Australia included the following answers:
- Never heard of them.
- Some church or religious lot.
- They shove your head under water.
- Could be a pop group.
Among those questioned was found one Christian. In childhood she had attended a Baptist Sunday School, but later sought fellowship in various other churches, At sometime during this period she was immersed by an obliging Anglican priest. However, baptism by immersion does not automatically make one a Baptist. There are many so-called religious bodies around today who baptize their converts but they cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called Baptist in either name or doctrine.
Who, then, are Baptists? Firstly, and most importantly of all, Baptists are people not a denomination. They are people who, in every age and against all adversity, have held firm to the true teachings of the New Testament. Banding together in groups or assemblies they lived, and often died, to preserve intact the truths of the Gospel. Over the years they have been misunderstood, scorned, persecuted and murdered in their millions. Not thousands — millions! And they have been called everything from political agitators to heretics.
So what is it that makes these people so special? Why should we, as twentieth century Baptists, be proud, yet humble, to be numbered along with them? To discover this we need to go back to the beginning. To a time around the year A.D.30, when a man, dressed roughly in camel hair and skins, stood in the waters of the River Jordan and, pointing to a figure coming towards him, said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”
For some time John the Baptist had been preaching repentance and the need to signify the same by the cleansing witness of baptism. Matthew’s gospel tells us that he was reluctant to baptize Jesus being deeply conscious of his own unworthiness. But our Lord chose to suffer baptism at John’s hands making it the first significant act of His ministry and setting an example which has been followed by His people ever since. Today, with so many different denominations and sects, you may well ask how one can tell which is a true church. There is one criterion, and one only, for recognizing a true church. It is a church based firmly and irrevocably on the foundation of the New Testament. It is built on the rock of Christ and His teachings. Any church deviating from these principles is NOT a true church; make no mistake about that. A true church, therefore, is not a Baptist Church or any other denomination or group but one, regardless of name, that holds steadfastly to the teachings of the New Testament. Briefly these are as follows:
- The absolute authority of Scripture.
- Salvation by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on Calvary.
- Eternal security of the believer.
- The Deity of Jesus Christ.
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- The Person of the Holy Spirit.
- Two ordinances — Baptism and the Lord’s Table.
- Baptized church membership.
- Priesthood of all believers.
- Separation as part of the believer’s life.
- Separation of church and state.
By now you are probably wondering if this is going to be a Baptist Church history or a history of the true church. The answer is, both, for they are inseparable. The rapidly advancing trend towards liberalism in the mainline churches today has, sadly, enveloped many of the Baptist churches. However, those that are evangelistic and Bible-believing, from Creation to Revelation, are shining beacons of Gospel light in the modernism of these dark days.
This, then, is the story of the Baptists, faithful followers of Jesus Christ, from the first to the twentieth century.
THE FIRST CENTURY
At the start of His ministry Jesus chose twelve men to walk with Him, learn of Him, and become the foundation stones of His church. The gospels tell us that four were fishermen and one was a tax collector. The occupations of the other seven are unknown. Whatever their background or educational standard, one thing we do know is that all twelve (Judas was replaced by Matthias) became men of great power and eloquence on the day of Pentecost. Fearlessly they preached repentance and salvation in Christ to be followed by baptism. Their message was eagerly received by the hungry souls around them and “the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved.” On the day of Pentecost alone, the number added was three thousand.
But hard on the heels of those days of rejoicing came the first persecutions. Jesus had told them what to expect (John 15:18-21), and it was not long before Peter and John found themselves in jail overnight for preaching and healing. No doubt the priests and Sadducees thought they would have cooled off by morning. Not so! Instead they witnessed to their captors and when ordered to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus they refused. Eventually, the council had little option but to release them (Acts 4:20-21).
In itself this episode was not so terrible, but it is important in that it is the first Biblical mention of bureaucratic opposition to the church after Christ’s return to glory. Other imprisonments and martyrdoms soon followed, cascading into a veritable bloodbath down through the centuries. Later we shall discover that some of the worst atrocities were perpetrated by those who professed to follow the same Lord as their victims.
The first martyr of the faith was Stephen. His defense before the council of rulers is a brilliant example of the Holy Spirit giving utterance as promised by Jesus (Mark 13:11).
One of the known witnesses of Stephen’s death was Saul of Tarsus who subsequently became one of the most diligent persecutors of the church until the day he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Dramatically changed, he was as zealous in saving souls as he had been in destroying them and, as the Apostle Paul, he is one of the greatest figures of the New Testament. Persecuted and imprisoned on more than one occasion, he was probably finally beheaded, this being the only form of execution permitted him as a Roman citizen.
Of the original twelve apostles only one, John, died a natural death. Judas committed suicide; the other ten were martyred, four of them following the Saviour in crucifixion. With the murder of all the founders of the faith, including John the Baptist and our Lord Himself, it may be thought surprising that the church survived at all. But survive it did -gloriously — the Holy Spirit working mightily in the hearts of ordinary men and women. Although we do not know just when all the apostles died, it is almost certain that most of them lived long enough to see some of the fruits of their labors.
We cannot leave the subject of persecution in that first century without mentioning the brutal slaying of countless Christians (as the followers of Christ became known about A.D.43) in the Roman arenas. Many novels and Hollywood films of epic proportions have depicted their fate. Mostly Fictional, they have nevertheless, brought a shameful period of early church history to the attention of millions of unbelievers. Torn to pieces by wild beasts, often tortured, crucified and burned, those early Christians remained faithful to their Lord singing hymns of glory as they died.
Perhaps the best known persecutor of that age was the Roman Emperor Nero. The moderate start to his reign soon degenerated into tyranny and cruelty to the extent that he even murdered his own mother. The common saying that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” is more or less correct, although history tells us that he was probably reciting verse as he watched the inferno. He certainly fancied himself as a poet. Whether the fire was arson, on his part, or not is open to debate but someone had to take the blame and the hated Christians were an obvious choice.
The subsequent torture and massacre of a vast number of the faithful is one of the darkest blots on the pages of early church history. Apart from the customary practices of crucifixion and feeding them to the lions, Nero is reported to have had many of them placed in barrels of pitch, set on fire, and used as human torches in his gardens. At night he would drive around in his chariot enjoying the spectacle.
This, then, was the plight of Christians during those early years. In spite of some internal dissensions (such as the conflict over circumcision being necessary for salvation — Acts 15) they stayed firm to the beliefs and ordinances of the Apostolic Church (i.e. the original church founded by the Apostles).
The principles as laid down for the New Testament Apostolic churches were, and still are, the standard for all true churches. They are as follows:
- The Word of God the only rule in all matters of faith and practice. The answer to every question of faith is to be found in the Scriptures. All revelation ceased with the death of John. (Modern groups like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses would do well to remember this. See Revelation 22:18,19.)
- Each church was a local body and entirely separate from every other church. They managed their own affairs.
- Each church elected its own pastors by free vote.
- They were actively independent of the State.
There were only two officers in Apostolic churches. The deacon, a man of spotless character, who attended to the physical needs of the church, and the pastor who was responsible for the building up and spiritual warfare of the people. As with all other Christians, they had the right and obligation to proclaim the Gospel. This system of appointments and duties is still observed by every true church today, the number of deacons and pastors being in proportion to the number of members.
The two great ordinances of the church were baptism and the Lord’s table. They still are, although they have been distorted almost out of recognition by some present day denominations.
Baptism by immersion was administered by an authorized person, and only born-again believers who had repented of their sin and confessed faith in Christ were baptized.
The Lord’s table was seen as a remembrance table and a place of thanksgiving and self- examination. It was administered by the local assembly and only Christians were allowed to participate.
By the end of the first century, this was the established pattern of Apostolic churches. Persecution was still rife, yet by that time the Gospel had spread to most of the then civilized world, Churches multiplied and disciples increased so that, with the dawn of the second century, some congregations numbered many thousands. This was especially true of Jerusalem and, as often happens in large gatherings, personalities clashed and errors crept into some of the churches; errors that were later to snowball into serious departures from New Testament teaching creating a blueprint for future deviation and confusion.
THE SECOND TO FIFTH CENTURIES
Two major developments that could be labeled “the good news” and “the bad news” mark this period. The “good news” was the triumph of the Gospel among the common people, notwithstanding persecution. The “bad news” was the destruction of the Apostolic pattern.
Considering the lifestyle of the poor and underprivileged of that time, it is easy to see why they flocked to hear the message of salvation and hope proclaimed by the disciples. The common folk could identify with the physical life and suffering of Christ, after all their lot was not, in many respects, any better than His had been. They eagerly drank in every word of those early preachers and those words were precious, very precious, so that it became a matter of some urgency that they be recorded in an orderly manner for all time.
Thus, during the second century, the New Testament writings were gathered into one book. Paul’s epistles were probably the first documents to be grouped together, many of their original manuscripts reportedly held by the churches concerned. The manuscript of John’s Gospel is recorded as being treasured at Ephesus. A number of translations of the Scriptures were made, many of them due to the great missionary zeal of that period during which the Gospel was preached from as far as Britain to India and possibly even as far as China.
But wherever there were Christians there was also persecution. In Britain many churches had been established by the middle of the second century and the first British martyr, Alhan, was scourged and beheaded in A.D:303 on the spot where St. Albaos Cathedral now stands, In A.D.: 177, there ware great atrocities and murders of the faithful at Lyons in Gaul (France), where history tells us that one, Belinda, died by the sword after having been roasted and bull-tossed. And, of course, all forms of persecution continued unabated in those areas under the direct heel of Rome.
Marcos Aurelius (A.D.121 to A.D.180) ruthlessly persecuted all Christians believing them a threat to the imperial system, His successors were no less diligent in hounding them, and by A.D. 313, there was such alarm at the spread of the new religion that Emperor Galerius issued a decree instituting even more savage persecutions. However, this order failed so utterly in its purpose that eight years later it was cancelled and replaced by another granting permission to practice the faith of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, whilst the Christian faith was flourishing and spreading so were disagreements and errors within many of the churches. Large congregations necessitated many pastors, and some of these began to assume authority over their brethren and over other and smaller churches contrary to New Testament teaching.
Two important changes in doctrine occurred during those early years. Changes that were to be responsible for the shedding of more Christian blood as the centuries progressed than all other errors combined.
The first of these changes dealt with “baptismal regeneration” being substituted for “regeneration” as taught in the New Testament. In other words, the false belief arose that baptism conferred salvation on a person instead of being a symbolic witness of salvation already experienced.
The other, and many consider the more significant change, involved the introduction of infant baptism. Since the new doctrine taught salvation through baptism, it was decided that babies should be baptized as soon as possible to ensure their salvation. However, their baptism was still by immersion. It was not until much later that the practice of “sprinkling” emerged.
But the Lord ensured that all was not lost. There were many who remained faithful to the Scriptural ordinance of believers’ baptism and, during the long period of the “Dark Ages” (early fifth century to early eighteenth century), over fifty million Christians chose martyrdom rather than accept these false doctrines.
In A.D.313, Emperor Constantine is said to have had a vision which impelled him to become a Christian and so the spiritual power of the church became linked with the temporal power of Rome. Christianity became respectable, losing its independence and seeing the distortion of many of its truths in the process. One of the graver errors to surface around this time was the introduction of the doctrine that the elements of the Lord’s table contained the actual body and blood of Christ.
Considering all these happenings, it is easy to see how the Roman Catholic Institution or “system” as we know it today developed from the hierarchy organized by Constantine.
The fifth century is noteworthy, politically, for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. In the year A.D. 410, Alaric the Visigoth entered Rome and sacked the city. As time went on other tribes from the north followed conquering all in their path. The Empire finally crumbled in A.D.476 and the barbarian Christians, though not orthodox, managed to co-exist with the Roman Institution eventually becoming integrated with it. They also brought their own superstitions and errors to add to the growing list of those sponsored by the Catholic system.
Not least among these was the law, introduced early in that century, making infant baptism compulsory. Loyal Christians refused to comply with this law and paid the penalty in blood and tears. Defied the right to call themselves Christians anymore they were known by various other names such as Montanists, Novationists, Paterines, etc., and those who had been baptized in infancy and later re-baptized were called Anabaptists.
By now the Roman institution was wandering further and further from Scriptural truth. Many doctrines were changed or adapted to suit the new state church. Others were discarded altogether and new ones were being formulated at an alarming rate. Among these was the doctrine advocating the worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was thought necessary for another mediator to bridge the gap between God and man. Prayers were to be offered to Mary and she would pass them on to Christ who, in turn, would convey them to God. “Ave Maria” had its beginning here!
So began the “Dark Ages”! The Catholic Institution was headed by Pope Leo I and was the leading power in the then civilized world. The true churches, by whatever name called, were hunted, hounded and scattered abroad, and the century ended with the death of religious liberty and the supremacy of the “secular church”.
SIXTH TO FIFTEENTH CENTURIES
Much accurate history of this black period in the life of the true church has, unfortunately, been lost.
In efforts to prevent the spread of any views contrary to their own, the Catholics resorted to extreme measures. Not least among these was the collection and destruction of all books and manuscripts of a “heretical” nature. These included many of the few copies of the Scriptures owned by the faithful, To ensure no further documents were printed almost all persistent writers and preachers were put to death.
Whatever resemblance there was between the Catholic system and the New Testament church virtually disappeared. The various ecumenical councils, held over a period of several centuries, only served to widen the gap. They were more civil then religious, more pagan than Christian. Eventually the doctrine that salvation could only be found within the Catholic system was proclaimed. All else was heresy. There was a single choice — Catholicism or damnation.
But if Catholic power was absolute in the immediate vicinity of Rome and the Biblical countries, it was a different story in most of Europe including Britain. Although the tentacles of Catholicism had reached out to claim authority in these places, the opposition was great. Many groups rose to prominence at this time fearlessly proclaiming God’s truth. Not all of them were truly Baptist in doctrine but all held to the fundamental of the gospel of salvation by faith alone, and suffered terribly for doing so.
By the early sixth century, the British Christians had been scattered throughout the land by the Saxons who invaded their shores after the Romans left in A.D.455. Many perished at the hands of the Saxon horde. Those that survived settled in small communities chiefly in the West Country, Ireland and Wales, observing New Testament teaching and living at peace with their fellow-men. This was especially true of the church in Wales where Baptistic doctrine was, and still is, very much alive and well.
Hard on the heels of the early evangelistic missionaries to Britain (notable Patrick and Columba) came the Catholic zealot Augustin, or Austin. He tried, unsuccessfully, to bring the whole country under the control of Roman Catholicism but only managed to establish absolute power in the south-east. He had greatest trouble with the Welsh, over two thousand of whom were put to death in the year A.D.600 for refusing to baptize infants. Augustin died in A.D.604, his most durable legacy to Britain being Canterbury Cathedral, seat of power of the Anglican Church to this day. Less than one hundred years later, the first religious penal law was declared in Britain. Infant baptism became compulsory within thirty days of birth. Failure to comply brought a fine of thirty shillings. Should a child die unbaptized, poverty and life-long penance was the lot of the hapless parent.
As time passed, the Catholic hold on Britain strengthened. Successive Archbishops of Canterbury also became Prime Ministers thus holding the reins of political as well as religious power. But in the far reaches of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Gospel flourished in its purity, so much so that missionaries were dispatched from these areas to all parts of Britain and even as far a field as Europe.
Many famous names came to the fore during the five centuries prior to the Reformation. Men of great faith and courage who vigorously opposed the doctrines of Rome, upheld the teachings of the New Testament and were quite prepared to suffer and die for their convictions and many of them did together with thousands of their followers.
Perbaps the most important British religious reformer of those years was John Wycliffe (A.D. 1320 — 1384) often referred to as the father of the English Bible. He believed that the Bible should be available to every person in his own language. Even Letin Bibles were beyond the reach of most people, as evidenced by a report that the Abbot of Caxton paid 67 pound for one and that at a time when it cost only 50 pound to build two spans of London Bridge. A labourer’s wage was two pence a day.
In A.D.1385, the first full English translation, known as the Wycliffe Bible, was completed with a second version appearing about ten years later.
Wycliffe was not a declared Baptist but an ordained priest of the Catholic system though he flouted its authority on most principles. However, many of his bands of Poor Preachers (Lollards) and his other followers were Baptists, if not in name, at least in doctrine and practice. They carried the Gospel, together with Wycliffe’s writings, not just throughout Britain but to the continent of Europe where John Huss and Jerome of Prague studied his works. Both these men were eventually burnt at the stake. It is significant to note that over a century after Wycliffe’s death, Martin Luther is said to have acknowledged the debt he owed to this Englishman’s influence.
As previously stated, the catalogue of those who died in the Dark Ages is without parallel in the annals of persecution. The majority unknown, there were certain individuals and groups who earned themselves a place in history. Here are a few of them:
- A group of Cathari (Baptistic in doctrine) in Bonn and Cologne came to prominence in A.D.1163, when a number were put to death for withstanding infant baptism. They were wiped out in A.D. 1231.
- The Petrobrusians (Baptistic in doctrine) spread the Gospel throughout the south of France. Their leader, Peter of Bruis, was called the father of heretics by his enemies. He was burned in A.D.1126 and his supporters heavily persecuted.
- Another Baptistic group, the Albigenes also from the south of France, became such a threat to the Catholic institution that a crusade, lasting fifty years, was launched against them. In one attack on Beziers in A.DL1209, 60,000 were killed.
- Arnold of Brescia led a group called Arnoldites. He was an Italian hated by the Catholics because he preached against the immorality of the priesthood. In A.D.1143, his preaching in Rome caused a rebellion. He was hanged in A.D. 1155, his body burned and his ashes scattered on the Tiber.
- The Waldenses’ leader, Peter Waldo, was converted in A.D.: 1160. He led an exemplary life and was excommunicated in A.D.1184 for preaching without a license. This group suffered over thirty-six persecutions, the worst being in A.D:1160, when over six hundred women perished with their children. However, Peter Waldo himself was not martyred but died a natural death in A.D. 1217. The Waldenses are of special interest because they have survived as a group to this day. They have about 150 churches in Italy with some 30,000 members and there are approximately 24,000 followers in parts of South America. A number of Waldensian colonists settled in the U.S.A. in the seventeenth and again in the nineteenth centuries. In the early 1970s, they merged with the Presbyterian church forming Waldensian Presbyterian congregations.
The story of the fifteenth (and early sixteenth) century persecutions would not be complete without a mention of the martyrs of Smithfield. This area of London was a designated place of execution for common criminals and many of the faithful were fed to the flames there for refusing to bow the knee to Rome.
All these, and others too numerous to recall here, had one thing in common. They held firmly to the teachings of Scripture in matters of faith and doctrine. They believed in the separation of church and state and the right of congregations to govern themselves, and they refused to recognize the authority of the popes and bishops, standing against abuses of baptism and the mass. How peerless their example, how supreme their sacrifice! May we in this twentieth century never become so complacent that we forget these faithful spiritual ancestors to whom we owe so much, including our present religions freedom.
In A.D.1483, Martin Luther was born, the man who more than any other stemmed the tide of Catholic dominance. Realizing that any compromise between the true church and the Roman Catholic system was an impossibility, he attacked the problem at its very roots. Breaking away from the Catholic Mother institution, he sowed the seeds of a new era by creating an entirely new Christian organization (now known as the Lutheran Church). In October A.D:1517, he nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, thus starting the Reformation.
THE REFORMATION YEARS
The Reformation years, roughly A. D. 1500 to A.D. 1650, saw the most radical upheaval in the Christian church since apostolic times. The torch lit by men such as Wycliffe, Huss, Waldo and many others, was slowly being fanned into flame; whilst the blood of martyred millions remained silent witness to the power of God in the hearts of His people. In spite of the risks involved, the penalties of torture and death for those who defied Catholicism, bands of true believers could be found in every part of Europe.
Just how far the Catholic institution had strayed from New Testament teaching is now a matter of history. Many books, both fact and fiction, can be found on library shelves documenting the perversions and excesses of its hierarchy. Immorality was rife among the priesthood, many living openly in sin. The Bible was seldom read and little known; not surprising considering many of the priests were illiterate. Worst of all, the papacy itself was no longer a religious position but highly political and much sought after, the pope equaling, if no surpassing, everyone else in loose living and greed.
Perhaps the most notorious pope of all was Alexander better known as Rodrigo Borgia. Obtaining his position by bribery in A.D.1492, he spent the next eleven years until his death in A.D. 1503, in such debauchery and intrigue that many of his own priests and monks spoke out against him. Subsequent popes, whilst not so blatantly depraved, were, however, more concerned with the temporal pursuits of science, the arts, politics and war than with spiritual issues.
Meanwhile persecution of the faithful continued reinforced by the evil activities of the Inquisition. Some of the devices used by this so-called “holy organization” were so abominable as to defy the imagination and myriad were the cries and prayers of its victims which ascended to the throne of grace. Then, when Satan seemed to be triumphant, God intervened raising up men of great faith and courage to champion His cause and break the stranglehold of Rome.
The first, and probably the greatest of these men of faith, was as previously mentioned Martin Luther. German by birth, he was an Augustine monk and University Doctor of Theology before he came under the conviction of sin and experienced salvation. From that moment he dedicated his life to opposing the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic institution proclaiming the simple truth of salvation by faith alone. This belief cut right across Catholic theology especially the doctrine of Indulgences and the Sale of Indulgences, the latter being one of Catholicism’s most profitable enterprises.
Briefly it worked like this. The people were taught that salvation comes by “good works.” All good works were noted in a heavenly ledger on the credit side. This account was available to the “true” (i.e. Catholic) church to dole out as required by sinning mortals. Sin was assessed, a price put on it, and upon payment the sinner was absolved. Presumably the necessary debit was then made in the celestial banking system.
This doctrine so incensed Luther that it became the main target of his 95 theses. Having publicly renounced the authority of Rome, he stood before the world as a free Christian man. Encouraged by the support of his fellow-countrymen, he became a fiery brand pouring forth tracts and sermons in print as well as voicing the Gospel message with great vehemence. As his popularity grew, so did the anger of the Catholic hierarchy and, on June 15th, A.D.1520, the pope ordered him to be excommunicated and his works burnt. In a gesture of defiance, Luther made his own bonfire outside Wittenberg fueling it with documents of his discarded faith.
Whilst Luther was busy preaching and protesting in Germany, men of like caliber were taking a stand for God in other European countries. In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingii developed his own ideas. Differing in certain respects from the teachings of Luther, he nevertheless soundly condemned many doctrines of the Roman institution, attracting a large following by his presentation of the Word of God. When the Catholic element in his country united with Austria in an attempt to destroy the Reformation, he died heroically on the field of battle.
The year A.D. 1509, saw the birth of another great figure of the Reformation era — John Calvin. Born in France to members of the nobility, he studied law before coming under the influence of a Protestant group in Paris. Forced to flee to Switzerland because of his evangelical views, he spoke out fearlessly against false doctrines and general licentiousness which was especially prevalent in Geneva. At first rejected by that city, he eventually settled there laying the foundation of Calvinism which was soon to spread across Europe.
There were, of course, others who played a noble part in the resurgence of apostolic Christianity. Maybe their names are not so well known but they were worthy men to be acknowledged with gratitude.
Great was the upheaval of the Reformation and mighty were its leaders but they were not without fault. Whilst the Lutherans corrected much doctrinal error, they did not go all the way, They retained infant baptism by sprinkling, did not believe in the separation of church and state, and upheld Catholic views regarding the mess and system of church government. The Reformed Church (i.e. Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer, etc.) went much further than Luther in returning to New Testament standards but they still observed the Roman principles of infant baptism and church government. They did, however, remove the superstition surrounding the Lord’s table seeing it only as a remembrance table.
So what was happening to the truly faithful while all this was going on? You might be forgiven for thinking life was easier and more tolerable for them. Not so! In fact, their persecution took on another dimension. In addition to hounding by the Catholics, they now faced opposition from the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Adhering strictly to New Testament teaching in all things, especially in regard to believers’ baptism, they were all lumped together under a common heading of Ana-Baptists and persecuted mercilessly. The only difference in their fate between the two rival bodies was that, whereas the Catholics liked to burn them, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches preferred drowning them.
In England, those seeking to throw off the yoke of Rome had an unwitting ally in King Henry VIII. Not that his reasons for spurning the Catholic faith were all laudable. Desirous of a legitimate heir, he divorced his wife Catherine of Aragon in direct defiance of the pope’s orders. Subsequent political maneuvering resulted in the Supremacy Act of A.D.1534, making the King the supreme head of the church in England; a nominal position still held by the reigning British monarch. Although Henry secured independence for the English church, there was very little change in doctrine at that time. However, the breakaway was ultimately responsible for considerable reformation.
Meanwhile, north of the border, Scotland produced her own reformer, John Knox. Greatly influenced by his association with Calvin, he blazed such a trail through his homeland that by A.D.1560, Catholicism was virtually banished from its shores. The seeds sown in this area of the Reformation grew into the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which is now the national church of that country.
Early in the seventeenth century the Baptists emerged as a distinct body, maintaining that baptism should always be by immersion and only administered to born-again believers. But recognition only brought more opposition. Fines, imprisonment and cruel tortures were inflicted on confessed Baptists in attempts to make them conform to the state church. These measures met with little success since the victims stood firm and the church gained strength through adversity.
In A.D.1611, a group of Dutch Christians left an independent community in Amsterdam and arrived in England where they later formed what was probably the first Baptist Church in London. Adopting the principle of congregational church government, they separated from the state controlled church, a move which eventually brought them much suffering and persecution. It was this same desire for independence which caused the Pilgrim Fathers to set sail from Plymouth in A.D. 1620, in search of religious freedom in America.
As the century progressed, many good men came to the fore, especially in Britain. Two of them will ever be remembered for their enduring contribution to Christian literature. John Bunyan, languished in jail for twelve long years. There he conceived his masterpiece Pilgrim’s Progress a book as relevant today as when it was written. Many a schoolboy must surely have studied and learned passages from John Milton’s sublime epic poem Paradise Lost.
By the turn of the seventeenth century the Reformation had effectively split Christendom into three main divisions –Catholic, Protestant and Ana-Baptist (contrary to popular belief, Baptists were not, and never have been, part of the Protestant movement). Baptist groups existed in all parts of Europe and also in America, They were able to establish churches and thrive in spite of continued persecution in certain areas. The torch of freedom had been well and truly lit and the flame of truth burned steady and bright, hopefully nevermore to be dimmed.
MILESTONES FROM THE
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY ONWARDS
The last three centuries have seen rapid development and expansion in both the Protestant and Baptist movements.
Spiritual dissatisfaction with the orthodox churches resulted in a great surge of non-conformity. The first major upheaval came with John and Charles Wesley and the birth of Methodism. Contemporary with them was George Whitefield, English evangelist and missionary, revered on both sides of the Atlantic. Then in A.D. 1865, William Booth founded the Salvation Army. These men and the movements they created have since earned worldwide recognition and respect. But, whilst they proclaimed the gospel of salvation, they cannot be termed Baptist if for no other reason than that they did not observe the Biblical precept of believers’ baptism nor Biblical principles of church government.
In tracing the history of Baptists from the eighteenth century onwards, it is important to recall the statement made in chapter one that “Baptists are people not a denomination.” Whilst it is true that many of them grouped together in Baptist associations and unions, there were those who preferred to remain free and independent. This is still the case today.
Baptists appear to have been the last Christian body to escape persecution on a large scale, especially in America. There they faced opposition, not only from other religious groups, but also from many state legislatures. Their strong conviction regarding separation of church and state led them to refuse all offers of help from state governments. Persistence here was justified since those who accepted official aid eventually became state controlled.
British Baptists, meanwhile, were faring somewhat better than their American counterparts. If not the largest non-conformist group in the land, they nevertheless numbered many famous preachers and organizers among their members. Men like William Carey who took the Gospel to India and established the Baptist Missionary Society; Christmas Evans, the great Welsh revivalist who, on becoming a Christian, was so abused by his former companions that he lost an eye; William Knibb, fighter of slavery in Jamaica; and George Mueller, pastor and founder of orphan homes, who later joined John Nelson Darby in starting the Christian Brethren.
In A.D.1834. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born, a man destined to become the greatest Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century, if not of all time. The pulpit of his famous Spurgeon Metropolitan Tabernacle in London has been occupied by many noteworthy preachers over the years. Perhaps one of the best remembered is William Scroggie, Scottish lecturer and prolific writer who ministered at the Tabernacle during the dark days of World War Two.
We cannot leave this century without honoring some of the great evangelists and preachers who brought revival to the needy masses thronging the rapidly growing cities of America. Not all were Baptists but they were mightily used of God, their names and work being a rich legacy handed down to us. D. L. Moody tramped the streets of Chicago taking Christ to an increasingly ungodly city. Later he was joined by Ira Sankey who contributed much inspiring gospel music to their evangelistic campaigns. Another great witness of that time was R. A. Torrey who, together with Alexander, took the Word of God to all parts of the globe including Australia.
Recorded among prominent American Baptists of the same era are many well-known names including Adoniram Jodson, eighteenth century missionary to India and Burma; George W. Truett, notable preacher, author, and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas for 47 years; Modecai Ham, evangelist, who is reported, together with Billy Sunday, to have almost put the saloons out of business; and last, but by no means least, J. Frank Norris, outstanding leader of Bible Fundamentalism and one of the founders of the Independent Baptist Movement. These last three men lived and worked well into the twentieth century.
The year A.D.1900, was ushered in on a wave of religious awareness and enthusiasm with no hint of the cataclysmic events which were to follow. Two World Wars, political and economic uncertainty, the phenomenal rise of technological achievement, and the threat of universal annihilation have all had a drastic effect on religious belief in this century.
The 1914-1918 “war to end all wars” had barely passed into history when the world was once again plunged into conflict. As invariably happens in times of national disaster, people bewildered and fearful thronged the churches. Some came to renew their faith. Others met Christ for the first time and found faith. Whilst the majority, having ignored God for most of their lives, came expecting His blessing and protection in the struggle that lay ahead.
In A.D. 1945, the relieving armies in Europe uncovered the holocaust of Nazi concentration camps. The resultant horror and public outrage at man’s inhumanity to man caused many to question their faith. How could a loving God allow such things? Did He, in fact, exist?
Well, praise His Name, He does exist as we who belong to Him assuredly know and there are still people eager to find Him. This was evidenced by the huge crowds which flocked to the revival crusades held all over the world by evangelist Billy Graham in the post-war years. The ministry of the late Dr. John R. Rice brought salvation and hope to thousands during this same period. An accomplished writer, he was founder and editor of The Sword Of the Lord, the most widely read fundamentalist publication in the world today. At the time of his death in 1980, he was broadcasting the Gospel over sixty American radio stations and he was not alone in faithfully upholding and preaching New Testament doctrine.
Today there are many great men of God who are household names in America and who minister to congregations numbering thousands every week. In Hammond, Indiana, Dr. Jack Hyles occupies the pulpit of the First Baptist Church which has a membership of approximately 86,000 and the largest Sunday School in the world.
Over in Lynchburg, Virginia, Dr. Jerry Falwell is pastor of the large Thomas Road Baptist Church and founder of the Moral Majority Movement. (Please note that this booklet was written when Falwell was considered to be a Fundamental. This website does not support this man or his ministry at all). This powerful movement has been responsible for many national decisions affecting moral issues in the community. For example, it forced such a boycott of stores stocking pornographic type literature that the owners had to remove the offending magazines from their shelves or face going out of business.
Another distinguished preacher, missionary and evangelist is Dr. Lee Roberson, founder of Tennessee Temple University and pastor emeritus of Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga. This church has one of the largest membership enrollments in the world and also one of the world’s largest mid-week prayer meetings.
These men, together with many others, are working tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and the coming of His kingdom.
Here in Australia, we also have men of vision who helped to found and consolidate the Independent Baptist Movement. Pastor Randy Pike, the first Independent Baptist missionary to our land, was closely followed by others of his fellow countrymen, and in the past two decades many churches and Bible colleges have been established.
Among the notable fundamentalists of today is Marvin R, Matthews, founder of Sydney Bible Baptist College and pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in that city. Queensland has one of God’s stalwarts in Sidney W. Hunter, pastor of Brisbane’s Good Shepherd Baptist Church and editor of the widely circulated paper Biblical Fundamentalist.
Unfortunately, wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit moves in power there is always increased activity on the part of Satan, hence the enormous response to the many false doctrines that seem to be thriving today as foretold in Matthew 24:11 “And many false prophets shall rise and shell deceive many.”
There is a hunger in the hearts of men, a desire for something stable to cling to, the need for an answer. Sadly, the Christian church as a whole is not providing that answer.
Many of the mainline churches, including some Baptistic ones, have become humanistic in doctrine and liberal in outlook. The weekly bingo sessions and social gatherings have replaced the prayer meeting and soul winning. This trend is world-wide, from the northern extremities to our own Australia, a comparative newcomer to the gospel.
Everywhere sin abounds on an unprecedented scale. It is tolerated! Excuses are made for it! In many cases, as with abortion and homosexuality, it is even legalized. But however you look at it, it is still SIN, and its wages are still death.
Happily, the faithful, though small in number compared to world population, continue steadfast in the Lord. A great responsibility is ours. Having accepted Christ as our personal Saviour, let us live lives separated to Him, obedient to His Word and loyal to His cause, seeking even in these latter days to point the lost to Him.
When tempted to despair let us remember at what great cost the Gospel has been handed down to us. Let us humbly thank God for the silent witness of the centuries and for the courage of those saints still suffering today under totalitarian regimes. May we be ever watchful for the time is running out.
Let us lift up our hands and our hearts in glorious anticipation of the return of Him who said, “BE OF GOOD CHEER, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.”