Baptist Churches in all Ages
by Paul Goodwin & BobFrazier
Chapter 2-Baptists and the Protestant Reformation
The title, itself, circumscribes the outer limits of this article. The spiritual and secular forces that combined to bring about the reformation, as well as its admittedly lasting religious and political influence upon the present shape of Western Civilization, will become of interest to us, only as they are found to bear upon the subject.
This paper concerns itself with the Protestant Reformation only insofar as that historical event has bearing upon the history of the Baptist Churches.
Secular historians, with scarcely a backward glance at the evidence, have almost universally tended to classify all Christian churches as either Catholic or Protestant. For reasons that ought to be obvious this is the method of classification followed by Catholic Church historians. Protestant historians, either in ignorance of the available historical data or with deliberate calculation have followed the same procedure. Not a few Baptists have viewed the reformation as the mother of their denomination; and therefore have found no occasion to object to their being called Protestants. On the other hand, many Baptists hold a sharply contrasting view of church history; contending that their churches are the spiritual descendants, not of the Protestant Reformation, but of that church established by Jesus Christ during the period of His personal ministry on earth, Matthew 16:18.
Thus, we have raised three questions that require an answer: (1) Are Baptists a protestant denomination? (2). If so, then by what historical standard are they so classified? (3). Finally, are Baptists a protestant denomination, or that special, peculiar people described in the New Testament as the churches of Christ? The scope of this article, then, entails the answers to these three questions.
What Is A Protestant?
The repeated failure of those who speak and write upon the subject of Christian history to define with exactitude the terms, Protestant, and Protestant denomination, has resulted in no little confusion. Whenever the terms have not been defined with linguistic precision the question of a Baptist connection with the reformation has been no more than a futile exercise in semantics. If we are to say with historical finality that Baptists either are, or, are not Protestants, then we must arrive at a working definition of the terms, Protestant, and Protestant denomination.
We are eternally indebted to Dr. W. Morgan Patterson, of the church history department at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, for two authoritative historical definitions of the term, Protestant.
Writing in a recent article published in the Arkansas Democrat, Dr. Patterson points out that the term, Protestant, has both a definite historical definition, and a significant theological meaning.
Are Baptists Protestants?
I digress to inquire, may Baptists be fairly said to be historical Protestants? Certainly not within the commonly accepted historical definition of that term. Dr. Patterson has told us that the term is applied historically to those German Princes who supported the rebellion of Martin Luther against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, beginning with Luther’s nailing of his ninety-five "theses" to the door of Wittenberg castle, and ending with his formation of the Lutheran church, about the year 1530. Some of the German rulers supported his "protest" and were called "protestants." If Baptists are "protestants" within the historical, meaning of the word, then they may be as fairly called Lutheran. The obviously sharp contrast between the results of such reasoning and the truth as it is viewed by both Baptists and Lutherans, in the year 1964, is nearly too ludicrous to contemplate.
In one, and only one, sense of the word Baptists may be categorized as "protestants." Again, the words are those of Dr. Patterson:
The position is now taken that. if the term "Protestant" and "Protestant denomination" are to be so defined, then Baptists are the original protestants. For centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation they "protested" the religions excesses and abuses of Rome.
Baptist Protestants Before Protestant Reformation
1. The Novatain Churches
Certain facts are so self evident as to be counted as axioms of truth. Any half-serious student of history will know that Rome, the political capital of the empire, gradually became the important center of the Christian religion.
Almost nothing is known of the origin of the church at Rome, save that it was surely a New Testament church in origin, doctrine, and practice. This too, is taken to be self evident, or else Paul would not, and could not have written the Roman letter to this church. This ought to be sufficient comment upon her New Testament origin.
It can be said, with near certainty, that the division of Christianity into two parties, Catholic and "protesters" began at Rome in the year 251 A. D.
In that year the church at Rome divided itself into factions in support of two candidates for the office of pastor of the church. The faction of Cornelius prevailed and he was declared elected; whereupon, the supporters of Novatain withdrew from the church at Rome. (A History of The Baptists, John T. Christian, Broadman Press, 1922, page 44)
Novatain’s protest was directed, only in a secondary sense, against doctrinal deviation; primarily, it was a protest against loose disciplinary practice, and the growing moral corruption of the church at Rome. (A Concise History of Baptists, G. H. Orchard, Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky, republication, 1956, pages 53-57)
Novatain’s protest was broad in its sweep, and far reaching in its lasting consequences. Concerning the Novatain rupture, the historian John T. Christian says:
It seems abundantly clear that the Novatain churches were "protestant" only in so far as that term implies a "protest" against the Church at Rome. It will now be demonstrated that they were not "protestant" churches in the historical meaning of the term.
The Novatain churches cannot be called protestant churches, in the historical meaning of the word, for the following self-evident reasons:
(1). The Novatain movement, as a distinct line of protest commenced in the year 251 A. ID.; the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther in the year 1517.
(2). The Novatain churches did not date their beginnings as a separate denomination at the Protestant Reformation; but, rather derived their separate, distinct denominational name from a member of the church at Rome. The church at Rome was organized during the life time of the Apostle Paul, long before the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.
(3). In relation to their doctrine, the Novatain churches were far more Baptistic than Protestant. This is satisfactorily proven when reference is made to their instruction of candidates for baptism.
Concerning such instruction, pastor Orchard states:
From Orchard’s statement it is inferred that the Novatains offered baptism to believers only. Beyond controversy this is a Baptist characteristic. It is plainly inferred also, that they rebaptized those candidates who came to them from apostate Roman churches. Does not this characteristic brand them as more Baptist than historical Protestant?
(4). In relation to their practice, the Novatain churches were far more Baptistic than historical Protestant. Cryspin, the French historian tells us that they held the following practice, among other things, in common with the Donatists, another protesting group:
This is distinctly a Baptist trait, even today. It is not commonly known to be a Protestant characteristic. If Cryspin’s statement does not prove the Novatains to have been distinctly Baptist in practice, then is anything provable?
There is impressive historical authority for the proposition that the Novatain churches continued until the reformation.
The thoughtful reader is invited to ponder long over the plain inferences that can be drawn from this quotation of historical authority. It speaks of a movement begun in protest against the Roman church. It speaks of a movement of protest that endured until the very days of the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther. The Novatain churches were Baptist protestants before the Protestant Reformation.
Baptist Protestants Before Protestant reformation
2. The Paulician Churches
The history of the Paulician churches furnishes further proof that the Baptist "protest" and Baptist doctrine and practice antedates the reformation by centuries.
Apparently, these churches were dubbed "Paulicians" by their enemies because of their tenacious adherance to the writings of the Apostle Paul. (A History of the Baptists, John T. Christian, Broadman Press, 1922, p. 50)
The historian Orchard says that these churches came into notice in the east about the year 653. (A Concise History of The Baptists, Ibid. p. 127) If the year of their prominence were the date of their birth, then it would testify to the existence of protestants in the area of Armenia almost nine hundred years before the beginnings of Luther’s protest in Europe.
But it can be stated with near historical certainty that the Paulicians originated long before the seventh century. They claimed apostolic origin for themselves. Christian quotes from the "Key of Truth," an old book written by a Paulician author.
If it be observed that the Paulician claim to apostolic origin does not mean that they, in fact, had such origin; then let it also be observed that to deny is not to disprove their own assertion that they stood in direct succession to the New Testament church.
The renowned historian, Gibbon, sustains the Paulician claim to New Testament succession. "Through Antioch and Palmyra the faith must have spread into Mesopotamia and Persia; and in those regions became the basis of the faith as it spread into the Taurus mountains as far as Aarat. This was the primitive form of Christianity. The churches in the Taurus range of mountains formed a huge recess or circular dam into which flowed the early Paulician faith to he caught and maintained for centuries, as it were, a back-water from the main for centuries." (Bury’s edition of Gibbon’s History, Vol. VI, p. 543.)
If a protestant is to be characterized by protest against the fleshly excesses of the Catholic movement then the Paulicians can easily qualify as "protestants." "They had no orders in the clergy as distinguished from laymen by their modes of living, their dress, or other things; they had no councils or similar institutions. Their teachers were of equal rank. They strove diligently for the simplicity of the apostolic life. THEY OPPOSED ALL IMAGE WORSHIP WHICH WAS PRACTICED BY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. THE MIRAGULOUS RELICS WERE A HEAP OF BONES AND ASHES, DESTITUTE OF LIFE AND OF VIRTUE." (A History of the Baptists, John T. Christian, Ibid. p. 55)
It has been shown that the Paulicians were apostolic in origin, and protestant in character. It is now submitted that they were clearly Baptistic in doctrine and practice.
(1). They recognized no human authority over their churches. "These people were called Acephali, or headless." (Orchard, Ibid. p. 130) This could scarcely be said to be true of a Protestant denomination upon the face of the earth. It is a Baptist characteristic. Baptists call Jesus Christ the head of their churches.
(2). "They made constant. use of the Old and New Testaments." (A History of the Baptists, Ibid. p55). Baptists, today, regard the Bible, and the Bible alone, as their sole rule of faith and practice.
(3). They were decidedly Baptistic in the order of their keeping of the New Testament commandments. "They held that men must repent and believe, and then at a mature age ask for baptism, which alone admitted them into the church." (A History of the Baptists, Ibid. p. 55) Can it be fairly said of any Protestant denomination that they observe this order of the commandments? No, this is a Baptist characteristic.
(4) They were far more Baptistic than protestant in their administration of the ordinance of baptism. The following quote from historical authority speaks for itself.
Let the fair-minded reader render the verdict. Were the Paulician congregations Baptist or Protestant in doctrine and practice?
We know something of the numerical strength of the Paulician movement from the number of their martyred dead. Orchard puts the number at one hundred thousand. (Orchard, p. 137).
But wave upon wave of popish persecution did not inundate these ancient witnesses. "From the blood and ashes of the first Paulician victims, a succession of teachers and congregations repeatedly arose." (A Concise History of Baptists, Ibid. p. 135).
Thus, we have traced the Paulician churches from their apostolic origin in the regions of Turkey and Bulgaria in the east to their settlement in Europe around the year 1017, five hundred years before the Protestant Reformation. Thus it is established that at least one community of Baptist sentiments flourished long before the days of Martin Luther.
It cannot fairly be said that the Paulician movement died. By other names it lived for five hundred more years before the reformation, as -Ana-Baptists they survived the reformation, and the sentiments of the Paulicians are alive and treasured in the Baptist churches of today.
Baptist Protestants Before Protestant Reformation
3. The Waldenses
A study of the pre-reformation period that did not take into account the history of the Waldensian churches would be a superficial treatment of church history.
Their remote antiquity is established at the mouth of many witnesses, Catholic, Protestant and Baptist alike.
The editors of Life Magazine say: "The Waldensians, the oldest Protestant denomination, were persecuted for several centuries before allying themselves with the Reformation in 1532." (The World’s Great Religions, By the Editors of "Life," Vol. III, p. 258).
Theodore Beza, the sixteenth century reformer, voiced the same sentiment, when he said:
Dr. A. W. Mitchell, a Presbyterian historian; writing in the year 1853, gave a remarkable testimony concerning the antiquity and the evangelical purity of the Waldensian churches.
In the preface of his book, "The Waldenses," Dr. Mitchell writes:
The remote antiquity of the Waldensian churches, having been attested by standard authorities, is now taken for granted.
The scope and nature of the Waldensian protest is readily apparent upon examination of their treatise on the subject of Antichrist. The text of this document was corn-piled in the year 1120 A. D. The treatise may be examined in its entirety in the book, "The Churches of the Valley of Piemont," Sir Samuel Morland, page 132-144.
The Waldenses speak for themselves concerning the works of Antichrist:
Thus, did the Waldenses, in the year 1120 A. D., lift their pen in protest against a corrupt Roman Catholic Church. They labeled that body "Antichrist." More than this, one could scarcely protest.
The 1120 broadside issued by the Waldenses against Antichrist was issued contemporaneously with a confession of faith, dated the same year, which indicates that they were not only "protestant," but Baptistic as well.
Dr. Mitchell listed the Waldensian Confession of Faith of 1120 A. D., article by article, as follows:
—Source, (The Waldenses, Presbyterian Board of Publication, A. W. Mitchell, pp. 376-378.)
The position is taken, without qualification or equivocation, that this is a Baptistic confession of faith dated more than four hundred years before the Reformation. Only a Baptist church could or would endorse all fourteen articles; there is not a Protestant body, (using the term in its historical sense), on the top side of the earth that would dare do so.
Protestant and Catholic historians alike have declined to do battle upon the question of the apostolic origins of the Waldenses. The extent of their protest against Rome has been duly noted. As the brightest, most shining example of protesting Baptists, living centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation, they are truly "the burning bush" of Christendom.
The Baptists and the Reformers
Baptist churches and Baptist sentiments flourished continuously for fourteen hundred years from the personal ministry of Jesus Christ to the Protestant Reformation. This proposition has been more than sustained by appeals to the histories of the Novatain, Paulician, and Waldensian churches. In each case an apostolic, or near apostolic origin was first alleged, and then demonstrated. If it were required the number of witnesses could be multiplied. An historical affinity could be shown between the Novatainists, Paulicians, Waldensians, Montanists, Albigenses, Bogimils, Petrobrusians, Henricians, Arnoldists, and many others. It is scarcely necessary. It is abundantly evident that while Baptists have always been protestants where Rome was concerned, they have never been reformers, as the legitimate successors of ,Jesus and the apostles their religion has never required reformation.
It is candidly conceded that no succession can be made out for the name, "Baptist." If Catholic and Protestant historians will concede that Baptist doctrine and Baptist practice, (under any name whatever), has endured since the time of Jesus and the apostles, then Baptists will concede that there is no proof of succession for the name "Baptist" itself.
There were Baptists, (by sentiment if not by name), at the time of the Protestant Reformation. History reveals that they did not react toward it with any degree of uniform opinion.
Not a few of the ancient witnesses lent their support to the reformation, merged their identity with it, and became protestants.
The historian, John T. Christian says:
—Vol. I, Broadman Press, 1922, Ed. P. 82
As Dr. Christian suggests the dawn of Reformation day brought the pre-reformation Baptist protestants to a parting of the way. Many went with the Reformation party. Many more did not. These became the Anabaptist movement, soon to drop the pre-fix "Ana" and become simply "Baptist."
The Ana-Baptist attitude toward the reformers and the Reformation is a matter of historical record. See "A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and Other Parts of the World," by David Benedict, 1848 ed, page 79 and following.
Concerning the Ana-Baptists and the Protestant Reformation, Benedict says:
David Benedict has delineated seven broad areas of disagreement between the Ana-Baptists and the Protestant Reformation party. If modern day Baptists are to be numbered, without question, with the Protestant denominations, then surely more rapport than has been found, must be shown between their Ana-Baptist forefathers and the original founders of historic Protestantism.
The questions once raised are now answered. Baptists, as a separate denomination, find their genesis far, back of the Protestant Reformation, on the pages of the New Testament. Therefore, Baptists cannot be fairly called "protestants" in the historical sense of that term. In so far as the term "protestant" implies a protest against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, Baptists are, as it has been observed, "the first to qualify."
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