Church Perpetuity and The Baptists
Who are the Baptists? Some say they are Protestant of the Reformation period. To this they place their origin with the Particular and General Baptists of London (both of which are Reformed churches). Others attribute their lineage to the ancient Anabaptists and predate the Reformation movement. Can their origin be definitely set in time? With this question in mind we proceed with this study.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the name Baptist. Many believe that Baptist is a derivative of Anabaptist, with the Ana being dropped. This is the simplistic explanation, which may have some truth to it; however there is another explanation which seems more plausible in the origin of this name. There is a journal called The Broadmead Records which sheds light on the Baptist name. This book is the history of a Baptist church in Bristol England, 1640 - 1687. Here are excerpts taken from the founding of this church:
"And at that juncture of time  the providence of God brought to this city one Mr. Canne, a baptized man; it was that Mr. Canne that made notes and references upon the bible. He was a man very eminent in his day for godliness, and for reformation in religion, having great understanding in the way of the Lord. Like unto Aquila, he taught them the way of the Lord more perfectly, and settled them in church order, and showed them the difference betwixt the Church of Christ and antichrist, and left with them a printed book treating of the same, and divers printed papers to that purpose.* So that by this instrument, Mr. Canne, the Lord did confirm and settle them; showing them how they should join together, and take in members. . . . [There was] obstruction by a very godly great woman, that dwelt in that place, who was somewhat severe in the profession of what she knew, hearing that he was a baptized man, by them called an Anabaptist, which was to some sufficient cause of prejudice" (She shut them out of the place she had allowed them to meet).
* He (Mr. Canne) calls himself "Pastor of the ancient English church in Amsterdam," in 1634, when he printed "A Necessity of Separation from the Church of England," which, probably, is the book here referred to. Between that date and 1640 he must have become a Baptist, as stated in the text. He returned shortly after his visit to Bristol to Amsterdam, where he published "Syon's Prerogative Royal, to prove that every particular congregation hath from Christ absolute and entire power to exercise in and of herself every ordinance of God, and is an independent body, not standing under any other ecclesiastical authority out of itself."—Amsterdam, 1641, 12mo. pp. 64.
In these records reference is also made of Baptized churches. The logical connection of baptized men and baptized churches to Anabaptists is a simple one. Anabaptists were well known for their strenuous position of baptism and re-baptizing, and insisted that theirs was true baptism and all others false. People thus called them the baptized church or the baptized people; which may have been a term of ridicule. Here we have a bridge between those called The Baptized, the Anabaptists, and the Baptists. Neil Morely, missionary to the British Solom Islands, tells of the local people that they called him the baptizing man and the churches which were founded as Baptizing Churches. I leave it to your judgment of the etymology of the Baptist name.
The next question is when did the Baptist name come into use? This question is far more difficult than the first and the answer may never be found. As we have observed when this question is asked the usual answer is the Baptist name began with the General Baptist of London in 1611, 1612. But not being satisfied with that answer we ask where they got the name. Was it in use before them and they simply adopt it? Or did it happen that established Baptist churches aligned themselves with the General Baptists and gave them the name? It happens that Baptists in England and on the Continent existed at least a century before the 1500's,* and the General Baptists accepted this name.
*See Robinson, Ecclesiastical Researches, chapter 13, Bohemia.
The earliest documented usage of Baptist that I have been able to find comes from an edict of the Council of St. Gall instigated by Zwingli. It was to rid themselves of the “Dippers.” The edict is as follows:
* A history of the Baptists Vol. 1, John Christian, page 121.
“In order that the dangerous, wicked, turbulent and seditious sect of the Baptists may be eradicated, we have thus decreed: If any one is suspected of rebaptism, he is to be warned by the magistracy to leave the territory under penalty of the designated punishment. Every person is obliged to report those favorable to rebaptism. Whoever shall not comply with this ordinance is liable to punishment according to the sentence of the magistracy. Teachers of rebaptism, baptizing preachers, and leaders of hedge meetings are to be drowned. . . . Foreign Baptists are to be driven out; if they return they shall incur the same penalty. No one is allowed to secede from the [Zwinglian] church and to absent himself from the Holy Supper.” Dated September 9, 1527.*
Another edict was put forth upon March 26, 1530:
“All who adhere to or favor the false sect of the Baptists, and who attend hedge-meetings, shall suffer the most severe punishments. Baptist leaders, their followers, and protectors shall be drowned without mercy.”*
In the study of the church both Baptist and Protestant historians used the name Baptist rather freely. So freely in fact, that it is difficult to determine how precise they are in their detailed accounts. A number of notable men have applied the name to groups of churches existing in Europe two centuries before Luther. While we Baptists may relish in these accounts, we are not provided with the reason why they are known as Baptists. Were they indeed called Baptist in their day or did the historians simply assign the name because they resembled the Baptists of the 1600's? We are not disputing their usage of Baptist, but desire supporting evidence. Some have applied the name to those who were certainly not Baptistic. Research leaves us with uncertainty as to when the name began. However, we know this, it is very old, and it cannot be claimed that any man or group of men founded the Baptist Church.
As a footnote to the above we notice a trend of writers who identify ancient churches as being Baptists because they were of "Like Faith and Order" of Baptists today. For this they have been accused of arrogance and brash presumptuousness. While we would not use words so brutal it is indeed not a prudent practice. This type of approach sets the model of the church to be that of current Baptists and attempts to make the ancient churches conform to this model. The question is not how well they conform to Baptists of today, but rather how well do the Baptists conform to them, and in this they measure well.
The Antiquity of The Baptists
Robinson commented that succession with the apostolic churches was the holy grail of the Reformation churches. Having a physical lineage from the first century is only one part of succession. Succession must also include doctrine, practices, policies, and morality. As observers of history we can see the church entering into the Dark Ages and then emerging one hundred years before the Reformation. In the centuries between the church lay hidden, but evidence of it is seen in the blood of martyrs, in the testimonies of its enemies, and in the names and titles given to it. When the church emerged it was just as glorious as at the beginning. Protestants insist that the greatest corruption of the church was in this age. In doing so they are fraudulently identifying the church with the Roman Catholic Church. But as for the true church of Jesus Christ, it never shined so bright, sublime and beautiful than in this age. Surviving nakedness, murder, brutality, bruised and bloodied it was an appaling sight but to the spirit it was breathtaking.
Two prominent names of the Dark Age dissenters were the Albigenses and the Waldenses. Their records are stellar. Can any single lineage of a church be established? No, the records were methodically destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church. Samuel Morland in his The Churches of the Valley of Piedmont wrote that by the time he entered the valleys the Inquisitors had destroyed nearly every document they uncovered of the Waldenses. Few records survived. This was a policy long established and faithfully practiced by the Catholics.
The Albigenses and Waldenses were alike in all the essentials of Faith and Order. They had many contacts together through the centuries. Because of destroyed records it is impossible with what is left to us to give a church by church (a chain link) lineage. However, if we think of the Albigensian and Waldensian churches as a species of Churches and Christians we don't need to see the microcosm of the individuals but the movement and life of the whole. These churches are historically identified with the apostolic churches; the Waldenses and the Bogomils made this claim of themselves, and others concur. And always the name Anabaptist was associated with them.
The essentials of Faith and Order of the Lord's churches were those which they confessed from the Holy Scriptures. They rejected all human advancements of theology and the adoption of paganism, superstition, and philosophy. Their form of church government and clergy followed exactly the pattern set in the New Testament. They had unity without uniformity. We may view with disappointment that they put forth no opinion on issues about which we feel so warmly. This should serve to instruct us that perhaps we have over-burdened our Confessions of Faith with non-essentials. But in our defense the churches today face many more complicated theological aberrations than they. It would be rare to find an exact counterpart among them with our creeds, but in essence we Baptists are of the same fabric of beliefs. This is the heritage which has come to us. We are apostolic.
Ypeig and Dermount in their History of the Netherlands's Reformed Church said:*
*Armitage, chapter XI, The Baptist Copy of the Apostolic Churches.
"We have now seen that the Baptists who in former times were called Anabaptists, and at a later time period Mennonites, were originally Waldenses, who, in the history of the Church, even from the most ancient times, have received such a well-deserved homage. On this account the Baptist may be considered, as of old, the only religious community which has continued from the times of the Apostles; as a Christian Society which has kept pure through all ages the evangelical doctrines of religion. The uncorrupted inward and outward condition of the Baptist community affords proof of the truth contested by the Romanish Church, of the great necessity of a reformation of religion such as that which took place in the sixteenth century, and also a refutation of the erroneous notion of the Roman Catholics that their denomination is the most ancient."
The distinguishing principles of the first churches and the Baptist may be stated thus:
I. That the inspired Scriptures contain the full and supreme authority of Christ in all that relates to Christian faith and practice, whether in doctrine, ordinance, the ordering of a holy life, or in the administering of church government.
II. That a Christian church must be made up only of persons who are morally regenerated; and that it is not a simple voluntary association, but a body of men called out of the world about them, by Christ's special authority, to be a people peculiar to Himself.
III. That they maintain Baptism and the Lord's Supper after the Apostolic appointment both as regarding in their relations among themselves as ordinances, and to other great Gospel teachings.
IV. That they earnestly oppose all connection of the Church with the State, and all distinctions made by the State among its citizens, on the ground of religion. By this opposition they insisted on total religious freedom and liberty of conscinousness in the matter of choice of worship. They never asked for tolerance but freedom. Never once did they ever persecute others.
"It is enough to show that what Christ's churches were in the days of the Apostles, that the Baptist churches of to-day find themselves. The truths held by them have never died since Christ gave them, and in the exact proportion that any people have maintained these truths they have been true Baptists of the world. A Baptist church is a congregation, and not a denomination of congregations, and find it in what nook we may, if it can trace its doctrines to the Apostles it is an Apostolic Church." (Armitage)
Those who have never been willing to understand the Baptists or their values argue for a reformation origin. Of all the historians specifically devoted to the in-depth research of the Baptists none have been able to documented their precise origin. If a date was possible it most assuredly would have been assigned. The name is elusive as it is traced back in time, blending itself with those of the Anabaptist, Waldenses and Albigenses. It is ancient with no definitive origin of its own, but emerging from earlier ancient churches.
From what has been said of the Baptists no other denomination in the world possesses their credentials.
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