THE WELSH BAPTISTS
The study and story of the Welsh Baptists is an interesting one. Wales is a part of Great Britain. It is located on the west of England about in the middle. To the west of Wales, across the Irish Sea lies Ireland. Wales is about 136 miles long from north to south and 96 miles wide at its broadest part. It is entirely flanked on the east by England. Scotland joins England to the north and the English Channel is on the south of England. Wales reaches neither Scotland nor the English Channel. This land is the center of British folklore and legend. It is the land of King Arthur and his Round Table, Lancelot and Camelot.
It also has a beautiful place in the history of the people called Baptists. How wonderfully God had His hand upon this little land! Our own American Baptist heritage has a close connection with Wales. Many of the earliest Baptists to come to America came here from Wales. Many of the early churches in America came from Wales or from people who were Baptists in Wales.
The Gospel in Wales
The Gospel was preached very early in Britain (in Wales). Tradition has it that Joseph of Armithea was the first one to preach the Gospel in Britain, at a place called Glastenbury. George Park Fisher tells of this legend: "The origin and development of the early Baptist Church are involved in obscurity. But although history is silent here, the credulity of later generations has never wanted for legends to supply its place. Some of these relate the story of missionary labors of Peter and Paul; others tell of Joseph of Armithea, of the church he founded at Glastenbury, and of his sanctity, which was so great that a hawthorn bush budded every Christmas day in his honor."1
Of Paul maybe preaching in Britain, here J. Davis: "That the apostle Paul also preached the gospel to the ancient Britons, is very probable from the testimony of Theodoret and Jerome; but that he was the first that introduced the gospel to this island cannot be admitted; for he was a prisoner in Rome at the time the good news of salvation through the blood of Christ reached this region. That the Apostle Paul had great encouragement to visit this country afterwards will not be denied."2
For one interested in various other ideas and opinions about how and when and by whom the gospel came into Britain, please read Thomas Crosby. There are 58 pages in this Preface which are interesting reading. Who first introduced the gospel into Wales is not really important. That is was introduced is. However, I will give my opinion. It is the same as that of most of the historians. The evidence seems pretty clear.
Joseph Belcher writes: "It is believed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was introduced into Britain about the year 63, by Claudia, a Welsh princess, converted under the ministry of the apostle Paul, at Rome. Her exertions to extend the reign of Christ were constant and successful. Bishop Burgess tells us, that the early British churches bore a striking resemblance to the model Institution at Jerusalem; and Mosheim tells us that 'No persons were admitted to baptism, but such as had been previously instructed in the principle points of Christianity, and had also given satisfactory proofs of pious dispositions and upright intentions.'"3
Of this Claudia, Thomas Crosby writes: "Now amongst the converts of the natives of this island, in the first age to Christianity, Claudia surnamed Ruffina, is refuted a principle; she was the wife to Pudence, a Roman senator; and that this is the Claudia, a Briton born, mentioned by St. Paul, then living at the exceptions of Parsons the Jesuit, by answering his objections to the contrary; and then says, 'The issue of all this is this: Claudia’s story, as a British Christian
stands unremoved, for any force of these objections; though one need not be much engaged herein.'"4
Again, let us read the words of Davis: "About fifty years before the birth of our Savior, the Romans invaded the British Isle, in the reign of the Welsh king, Cassibellan; but having failed, in consequence of other and more important wars, to conquer the Welsh nation, made peace with them and dwelt among them many years. During that period many of the Welsh soldiers joined the Roman army, and many families from Wales visited Rome; among whom there was a certain woman of the name of Claudia, who was married to a man named Pudence. At the same time, Paul was sent a prisoner to Rome, and preached there in his own hired house, for the space of two years, about the year of our Lord 63 (Acts 28:30). Pudence and Claudia his wife, who belonged to Caesar's household, under the blessing of God on Paul's preaching, were brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, and made a profession of the Christian religion (II Timothy 4:21). These, together with other Welshmen, among the Roman soldiers, who has tasted that the Lord was gracious, exerted themselves on the behalf of their countrymen in Wales, who were at that time vile idolaters."5
The comments of John Gill and Matthew Henry on II Timothy 4:21, seem to think Claudia was a Briton. Whatever, the gospel entered Britain very early. Since the early churches were Baptists, the early Christians in Wales were Baptists.
The first six centuries saw Britain mostly without the evils of Popery. I have a copy of a rare book called Saint Patrick and the Western Apostolic Churches: or The Religion of the Ancient Britains and Irish, not Roman Catholic: and the Antiquity, Tenents and Sufferings of the Albigenses and Waldenses. My copy was published in 1857. This is a very interesting book with many source materials quoted. I would like to give a section of it showing that the early centuries of Christianity in Wales (Britain) were separate from the Roman error.
"This holy religion was introduced at an early period of the Christian era into Britain and Ireland. We have ample material to illustrate this, but shall not stop here to exhibit them." (He gives, in a footnote his source material).
"There is perhaps no point in ancient church history more clearly established than this, that the primitive, apostolic religion of Christ flourished in Britain and Ireland for the First Six Centuries, uninterrupted by any successful irruption of Popery."
"The following is a sketch of the proof of this important fact. Bishop Burgess has shown that there are seven remarkable epochs in the first seven centuries, relating to the ancient British Churches."
"Under the first epoch, Stillingfleet and Burgess have collected the ancient documents extant, to prove that 'St. Paul advanced into Spain,' and 'into the utmost bounds of the West,' and 'conferred advantages upon the islands which lie in the sea.' And Henry Spelman quotes a passage out of Fortunatus, bishop of Poictiers, stating that ‘St. Paul passed over the ocean, even to the British Isles."
"In the second epoch, in the second century, king Lucius publicly protected Christianity. In the ancient document called the British Triads, it is related that 'Lleirwig (in Latin, Lucius) called Lleuver the Great, gave the privilege of the country and the tribe, with civil and ecclesiastical rights, to those who professed faith in Christ.' The venerable Bede says: 'After the days of Lucius, the Britons preserved the faith which they had received, whole and inviolate, in a quiet and peaceable manner, until the reign of Diocletian.'"
"In the third epoch, and during the frightful persecutions which raged from the year 304, for many years; Bede says, 'The British Churches enjoyed the highest glory in its devoted confession of God.'"
"In the fourth epoch we find the British Churches sending eminent doctors to the Council of Arles, convoked, not by the Pope, who had no such power then, but by the emperor, Constantine the Great, in A.D. 314; also to the Council of Nice, in 325; and to the Council of Sardica, in 347. And these bishops were very unlike modern bishops. These ancient holy pastors, who preached every Sabbath, were so
poor that 'the three delegates were constrained, through their poverty, to accept the public allowance in lodging and food, provided by the emperor.'"
"The fifth epoch is rendered famous for the unanimous condemnation of Pelagianism, by the British pastors and churches.
"In the sixth epoch, these faithful clergy and churches, in full council condemned Pelaganism for the third time.
"The seventh epoch is rendered painfully remarkable by the arrival of the emissaries of the Roman pontiff, to propagate Popery and idolatry. The first melancholy occasion was the marriage of 'a Papist,' namely, queen Bertha, by the king Ethelbert. This paved the way for St. Austin and his monks, who came into Britain in A.D. 600, and began their fatal operations shortly after."6
These above statements, written by Protestant writers, gives evidence that Britain (of which Wales is a part) was free from most of the Roman errors for 600 years after Christ.
Were Ancient World Christians Baptists?
We have already stated that there was only one kind of church back then and that kind was Baptistic. What did they believe and practice concerning baptism? Benjamine Evans writes: "It is not as to the mode of baptism. That is unquestioned. No man would risk his claim to accurate acquaintance even with English history, by denying that the ancient mode of baptism was immersion. Wales knew nothing else."7
Evans, though he doesn't seem sure of what American Baptists have said, writes of them: "Were the ancient British Christians Baptists? This question meets us on the threshold, and asks our attention for a time. Writers on both sides of the Atlantic, claim for Wales the honour of retaining primitive ordinances and church polity beyond any other nation in Europe. Removed from the influence of Rome, the authority of the ambitions and worldly-minded Pontiffs who ruled in that city was not acknowledged in Wales till
about A. D. 600, and the growing corruptions of the Western church had not penetrated the fastness of that country. Some of our American brethren speak of the churches there as corresponding, up to the time of Austin's invasion, with our present polity. National Christianity was unknown, and everywhere the churches were based on Congregational principles, and union with them was the result of individual conviction, and was professed and secured by the immersion of the body in water. In other words, in a true and important sense they were Baptist churches…"8
Benedict's History, probably the best History of Baptists to have if you have only one, has the following: "The Rev. Josiah Taylor, of England, in his Memoirs of the English Baptists, published many years since in the E. B. Magazine, gives the following account of the early history of these primitive British Baptists.
"About sixty years after the ascension of our Lord, Christianity was planted in Britain, and a number of royal blood, and many of inferior birth, were called to be saints. Here the gospel flourished much in early times, and here, also, its followers endured many afflictions and calamities from pagan persecutors. The British Christians experienced various changes of prosperity and adversity, until about the year 600. A little previous to this period, Austin, the monk, with about forty others, were sent here by Pope Gregory the great, to convert the pagans to popery, and to subject all the British Christians to the dominion of Rome. The enterprise succeeded, and conversion (or rather perversion) work was performed on a large scale. King Ethelbert, and his court, and a considerable part of his kingdom were won over by the successful monk, who consecrated the river Swale, near York, in which he caused to be baptized ten thousand of his converts in a day.
"Having met with so much success in England, he resolved to try what he could do in Wales. There were many British Christians who had fled hither in former times to avoid the brutal ravages of the outrageous Saxons. The monk held a
synod in that neighborhood, and sent to their pastors to request them to receive the pope's commandment; but they utterly refused to listen to either the monk or the pope, or to adopt any of their maxims. Austin, meeting with this prompt refusal, endeavored to compromise matters with these strenuous Welshman, and requested that they would give Christendom, that is, baptism to their children; but with none of his propositions would they comply. 'Sins, therefore,' said he, 'ye wol not receive peace of your brethren, ye of others shall have warre and wretche,' and accordingly he brought the Saxons upon them to shed their innocent blood, and many of them lost their lives for the name of Jesus."
The Baptist historians in England contend that the first British Christians were Baptists, and that they maintained Baptist principles until the coming of Austin. "We have no mention," says the author of the memoirs, of the christening or baptizing children in England before the coming of Austin in 597; and to us, it is evident he brought it not from heaven, but from Rome. But though the subjects of baptism began now to be altered, the mode of it continued in the national church a thousand years longer, and baptism was administered by dipping, & c. From the coming of Austin, the church in this island was divided into two parts, an old and the new. The old, or Baptist church maintained their original principles. But the new church adopted infant baptism, and the rest of the multiplying superstitions of Rome."9
That there were Baptists in all centuries in Wales is evident. In some of our earlier chapters we saw the Paulicians, Waldenses and others entering Britain. We studied about the Lollards in England. At all times there was a Baptist witness there. All of the historians point this out. It is highly recommended that the student purchase Crosby's History of the English Baptists, published first in the 1700's and History of the Welsh Baptists.
Notes on Chapter 28
1 History of the Christian Church, page 89.
2 History of the Welsh Baptists, page 6.
3 Religious Denominations, page 125.
4 History of the English Baptists, Volume 1, second preface, page iv.
5 History of the Welsh Baptists, pages 6-7.
6 St. Patrick and the Western Apostolic Churches, pages 58-61.
7 Early English Baptists, Volume 1, page 3.
8 Early English Baptists, Volume 1, pages 2-3.
9 The History of the Baptists, page 343.
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