By S.H. Ford
Men are known by the cause they espouse, and principles they avow, rather than the party with which they are classed, or appellations they receive.
That Lafayette was a Republican might in coming years be disputed, or denied, on the grounds that he was a titled noble, chose to live under a monarchical form of government, and never expatriated himself from one, so as to become a citizen of the Republic which claims him as an advocate of its principles, a defender of its rights, and an associate of its founders.
By such special pleading, though with far less truth and consistency, has it been disputed and denied that the Numidians were Baptists. But let facts speak their testimony is decisive.
A minority of the church at Carthage, on the shores of the Mediterranean, called a council to investigate the validity of the election and ordination of its newly-made pastor or bishop. He had by management secured the majority vote, and hurried on his ordination by the hands of a self-excluded pastor of a neighboring church, who was not recognized by the surrounding churches or their pastors.* These associate pastors (of Numidia) were not invited, nor their counsel or approbation
* I have condensed these facts, which will be found with a unanimity of detail in Hawei’s Mosheim and Neander.
sought. The council decided that the minority was the true church. It then proceeded to ordain Majorius, elected by it as pastor or bishop. The neighboring Churches of Africa, in sustaining this church and its pastor against the dominant party and its bishop Celilanus, gave voice to a great principle, which involved the Christian world in discussion and interminable contest. The principle was this: "That every church which tolerated unworthy members in its bosom was itself polluted by the communion with them. It thus ceased to deserve the predicated of purity and holiness, and consequently ceased to be a true Christian Church, since a church could not subsist without these predicates."*
This principle was a protest against hereditary church membership. It proclaimed that none but those who were born from above, had any right to the ordinances or admission into the church. Neander, an apologist for infant baptism, says:"It was still very far from being the case, especially in the Greek Church, that infant baptism was generally introduced into practice. Among the Christians of the East, infant baptism, though in theory acknowledged to be necessary, yet entered so rarely and with so much difficulty into the existence of the church during the first half of this period."+ [That is, the first half of the fifth century.]It is thus most evident from the investigations of the great pedobaptist historian, whose researches took a wider and more thorough range than those of any other man, living or dead, that infant baptism was not as yet introduced when the division took place in the churches in Carthage and Numidia, and when the majorities expressed and battled for theories which were in direct antagonism even to their own practice. Even Augustine, who rose to eminence during the conflicts in Africa, though a child of pious parents, was not baptized in
* Neander, p. 203.
+ History, vol. ii, p. 319).
infancy. The question of infant baptism soon necessarily rose into prominence. The principles of the Numidian pastors and churches, that none but regenerate believers could be received into a true Christian Church, and that those who received any others were not true churches, utterly condemned the theory of infant membership, and condemned the practice which the majority soon after introduced.
MAJORIUS, the first pastor of the Carthage Church, died soon after is ordination, and Donatus was elected to fill his place. Schisms occurred in almost every church in Africa, and extended into Asia and Europe.
Henceforth, those who declared for the Numidian pastors, and indorsed the principles they expressed, were denominated Donatists. Their ground was that Cecilanus had acted the traitor during the persecution of Diocletian, as had many members of the Carthage Church: that these traitors were nevertheless sustained by, and continued in the church, and had by management elected Cecilanus pastor: that Felix, a notorious traitor, was selected to ordain the new pastor, against the protest of the minority and without the council of neighboring pastors: that the majority, in thus countenancing unworthy and unregenerate members, and declaring that spirituality was not essential to church-membership: in fact lost the predicates of a true church. The Donatist bishops, as the Catholic historians call them, were pastors of separate churches. They had remained in the dominant church until they had seen in it the signs of apostasy. Braving and enduring confiscation, imprisonment, banishment, and death; refusing position, power, the smiles of great Constantine, and the terrors of imperial indignation, they stood steadfast to those principles which were cherished by thousands who had long before broken all connection and communion with dominant party.
A council of foreign interested bishops was appointed by Constantine, the emperor, to settle the dispute; but compromise was a word unknown to these Donatists. A spiritual church was with them everything, nothing else was a church. But these principles would have unchurched those very bishops who were appointed to adjudicate. Of course the decision was against the Donatists. Accordingly they were denounced as heretics, and persecuted by the Emperor, now at the head of the so-called Catholic Church. As a consequence, all who held these principles, now so manfully sustained by the Donatist, united with them, and were known by their name; and thus were found in various countries separate and independent churches, which baptized into their communion none gut those who gave evidence of a change of heart and life, refused all union and communion with the religious organizations around them, and rebaptized all who had been immersed in any other society.
Such were their principles, that Osiander, a historian of great note, and an apologist for infant baptism and a worldly church, said: "Our modern Anabaptists were the same as the Donatist of old." And according to Long, an Episcopalian, who wrote a history of the Donatists, "they did not only rebaptize children, contrary to the Catholic Church."*
Then, the Donatists of Africa were Baptists. Did the denomination originate with them?
* History of the Donatists, Orchard, p. 60.
[From: Samuel H. Ford, The Origin of the Baptists, 1860, republished by the Baptist Sunday School Committee, 1905 edition, Chapter XII - "Century Five," pp. 82-85. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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