Dr. W. A. Criswell, successor to the great George Truett, answers - I BELIEVE THAT: We (Baptist churches) came from the pierced hands of Christ; and the gates of hell have not/ nor ever shall prevail against it. At times its witness has been almost drowned in blood. Days without end its life seemed about to perish in the flames. Its scattered flock suffered no less than its martyred pastors. But it lived. It lives today. It will always live, this loved church of the Lord Jesus, these people called Baptists.
"I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" [Matthew 16:18].
"I will be with you alway, even unto the end of the age" [Matthew 28:20].
If you stop this side of John the Baptist, you stop too soon. The question as to the origin of the Baptists has risen within the ranks of our denomination. One has contended that our churches cannot be traced further back that three hundred years. This is approximately the time of Roger Williams and would imply that he founded the "Baptist church." In nowise would I seek to dim the luster of the name of our glorious Baptist preacher, Roger'Williams, but to link his name with such a thought as this is impossible. This is the story, briefly, of
In October of 1635 he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony on account of his religious opinions. Driven from white men, he became a missionary to the Indians from whom he bought the land that made up the Providence Plantation. Friends joined him in the new colony, and they organized a church after the pattern of the New Testament. There was no Baptist minister in the group to whom they could repair for baptism, so Roger Williams was baptized by one of their number, Ezekial Holliman; and in turn Williams baptized Holli-man, and some ten others. Both the General and Particular Baptists in England held that in case no administrator could be had, it was lawful for two believers to begin baptism; and they quoted the Scriptural authority of John the Baptist. Be that as it may, the case had no historical repercussions as far as our Baptist churches, our Baptist pastors, and our Baptist policy are concerned. John T. Christian in A HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS, Volume II, p. 40, writes, "This baptism of Williams has been the occasion of much heat and strife; but it is difficult for me to understand what sig-nificance it has in Baptist history. So far as is known, not one Baptist church or minister came out of the Providence church of this period or was anywise affected by the baptism of Williams.
The real beginning of our Baptist work in Rhode Island came from Dr. John Clarke, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Newport, organized about the same time that Roger Williams began his work in Providence. Doctor Clarke was a Baptist minister before he came to America. He was a "Particular" or Calvinistic Baptist educated at the University of Leyden in Holland. To him more even than to Roger Williams ought to go the credit for the organization of the noble colony of Rhode Island with its grant of full religious liberty to all, and certainly must go the distinction of beginning the Baptist work that so marvelously multiplied in America. But even Dr. John Clarke would be amazed at the suggestion that he founded the first "Baptist Church." He was just one of the long line of Baptist preachers who faithfully proclaimed the truth of Christ through the ages.
All this raises the ultimate question: "Where did these people called Baptists come from anyway?" Try to find their beginning and you go back and back and back and arrive finally on the banks of the Jordan River where one of their number, a God-called preacher named John, is preparing a people for the coming of Christ. If you stop this side of John the Baptist, you stop too soon. Their story continues all the way through.
"THE TRAIL OF BLOOD"
After the days of the apostles and after the days of the Fathers, a corrupt apostate hierarchy stamped as heretics all who witnessed to the truth as it was in Christ Jesus. These noble men of God furnished the material for the rack, the dungeon, and the stake in the dark days when the established [Catholic] church took up the bloody sword of persec-ution. They themselves were not free from all error, but believed God's Word is the Holy Scriptures, and they sealed it with their lives.
For example, the Donatists, arising soon after the early Fathers, were known for the purity of their church members, for the independence of their churches, and for their custom of baptizing again those who came to them from other groups. They were called Anabaptists or re-baptizers.
Reduced by fierce and bloody persecutions waged against them by Mitre [Pope] and Crown, they nevertheless multiplied and scattered throughout the empire. The historian David Benedict says, "For a thousand years after the rise of the Donatists we find them spread along in all parts of Europe, under different names, but recognized by friends and foes as substantially the same people and in the middle of the sev-enteenth, Fuller, the English ecclesiastical historian, says of the English Baptists that "they were Donatists, new dipped."
At the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation these "Anabaptists" sprang up overnight everywhere. They came out of their hiding places where bitter persecution had driven them. Mosheim, in his church history, Volume IV, p. 428, says of their origin, "The true origin of the Anabaptists is hid in the remote depths of antiquity."
That would be to say, they did not begin with the Reformation. They were reformers before the Reformation. Or more truly said, they were the true church and the true people of God, living "in spite of dungeon, fire and sword."
EARLY BAPTISTS IN ENGLAND
When the gospel was first carried into Great Britain nobody knows. It was certainly at an early period, possibly in the second century. The historian Cook, in his volume entitled The Story of the Baptists, p. 72, quoting from an English historian says, "In England there can be no doubt that Baptist churches existed early in the third century. We are warranted in saying that the early British Christians held the distinctive principles of Baptists. Austin, in the sixth century, had a great deal of trouble with a colony of Baptists in Wales and used such representative messures against them as to load his name with infamy."
Dr. Cook then quotes Charles H. Spurgeon, "It would not be impossible to show that the first Christians who dwelt in this were of the same faith and order as the churches now called Baptists. All along our history from Henry II to Henry VIII there are traces of the Anabaptists. There must have been a great hive of them on the continent for, despite their being doomed to die almost as soon as they landed, they continued to invade the country to the annoyance of the priesthood and the hierarchy."
About thirty years ago, Dr. George McDaniel, pastor of First Baptist Chruch, Richmond, VA, and sometimes president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published a little book entitled The People Called Baptists. I read that book as a boy. It left an indelible impression on my mind. The first page is the following:
"The name 'Christian' was first applied, in derision, to the followers of Christ by enemies at Antioch. The name "Baptist" was first given, in ridicule, by Pedo-Baptist opponents of the people who rejected the baptism of babies. Both names, like the cross, have been changed from marks of shame to badges of honor.
"To be well born is to enter life with advantages. Baptists are justly proud of their parentage - the New Testament. They have an ancient and Scriptural origin. Certain characters in history are named as founders of various denominations: The Disciples began with Alexander Campbell; the Methodists with John Wesley; though Wesley never left the Church of England; the Presbyterians with John Calvin; the Lutherans with Martin Luther; and the Church of England with Henry VIII and Cramner's Book of Common Prayer in the reign of Edward VI.
"Not so with the Baptists. There is no personality this side of Jesus Christ who is a satisfactory explanation of their origin. The New Testament churches were independent, self-governing bodies like the Baptist churches of today. We originated, not at the Reformation, nor in the Dark Ages, nor in any century after the Apostles; but our marching orders are the Commission, and the first Baptist church was the first church of Jerusalem. Our principles are as old as Christianity and we acknowledge no founder but Christ."
[Taken from the Ashland Avenue Baptist paper [Lexington, KY], July 9, 1971. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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