Baptist History Homepage

The Trail of Blood - 2,000 Years of the Baptist Story
By Ben Stratton
I. The Biblical Basis for Baptist History.

      A. Truth #1: Jesus Christ founded a church during His earthly ministry.

1. While the church was empowered on the day of Pentecost, that is not the starting point.
2. From the disciples of John, Jesus organized a church that went about preaching the gospel, baptizing converts, and teaching God's word. John 4:2, Mark 1:14-15, Matthew 18:17.
      B. Truth #2: Jesus promised perpetuity to the church He founded.
1. "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matthew 16:18.
            "Will build" - Punctual lineal tense - something already built that keeps on going.
            "Gates of hell" - doors of the grave - this church will never die!
2. Question: How will we be able to locate New Testament churches throughout history?
            Answer: Their doctrine - A New Testament church will hold to New Testament doctrines!
            A New Testament church recognizes Jesus as the only head of the church, the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, allows only saved people to be church members, practices believer's baptism by immersion, and believes in the separation of church and state.
II. The First 1,500 Years of Christianity.

      A. The first three centuries.

1. Christianity spread rapidly across the world after the ascension of Jesus
            Thomas went to India, Matthew to Egypt, Pudens & Claudia to England (2 Timothy 4:21)
            Christians were also severely persecuted - at first by Jews and later by Romans.
      B. The slow drift into paganism
      1. Some churches fell into doctrinal error so by 251 you begin to have a division. (2 Timothy 4:3)
      2. Roman Emperor Constantine makes Christianity a state religion in 313 with the Edict of Milan.
            This established official state church will eventually become the Roman Catholic Church.
      C. The Dark Ages
      1. The Roman Catholic Church gradually developed over the centuries.
            Leo I was the first real Pope (440-461) - declared himself the church's successor of Peter.
            Through the years more and more unbiblical doctrines were added to the Catholic Church.
            Purgatory (593), Holy Water (850), Celibacy of Priesthood (1079), Transubstantiation (1215).
      2. Yet there were various groups scattered about who opposed the Roman Catholic Church.
            These include the Paulicians, Bogomils, Albigenses, Waldenses, Petrobrussians, etc.
            These groups believed in Biblical authority, believer's baptism, and local church autonomy,
            They were persecuted so badly, they can be traced by a "Trail of Blood."
III. The Origin of Modern Denominations

      A. The Protestant Reformation

1. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" on the church door in Wittenburg.
            At first Luther was primarily protesting the selling of indulgences.
2. Luther's ideas spread rapidly throughout Germany, France, Switzerland and Sweden. B. The origin of the various Protestant denominations.

            1. The Lutherans
            With their 1530 Augsburg Confession, Luther and his followers had a clear break with Rome
            However the Lutherans continued to practice infant baptism along with a state church.

            2. The Presbyterians
            In 1541 John Calvin began the leader of the Protestants in Geneva who disagreed with the Lutheran understanding of the Lord's Supper.
            While the Presbyterians championed the five solas, they also practiced infant baptism.

            3. The Anglicans / Episcopalians
            When the Pope refused to grant Henry VHI a divorce, he started his own church in 1531.
            This denomination holds a halfway position between Catholicism and Protestantism.

            4. The Methodists
            Rejected by the Anglicans, John Wesley's followers organized their own church in 1785.
            Methodists believe in infant baptism, sprinkling for baptism, and the possibility of apostasy.

            5. The Disciples of Christ / Church of Christ
            Thomas and Alexander Campbell broke with the Presbyterians over baptism in 1812.
            The followers of Campbell organized their own churches throughout the 1820' s.
            In 1906 his followers officially separated over the use of instrumental music.

            6. The Pentecostals
            In 1880 some Methodists who believed strongly in holiness and Christian perfection left to form what became the Churches of God and the Church of the Nazarene.
            In 1901 Methodist professor Charles Parham began teaching speaking in tongues.
            In 1914 his followers split over their belief in the doctrine of the Trinity.

IV. The Rise of Modern Baptists

      A. The European Anabaptists

1. During the Protestant Reformation Anabaptists came out of hiding all over Europe.
            They thought the Protestants would join them, but they were wrong.
2. Because the Anabaptists stood for believer's baptism and the separation of church and state they were terribly persecuted by Catholic and Protestant alike.
            Because they believed in baptism by immersion, many Anabaptists were drowned.
      B. The English Baptists
1. Anabaptists had been in English for centuries. (St. Patrick, Paulicians, Waldenses, Lollards, etc.).
            During the 16th & 17th centuries, there was limited religious freedom in England.
            This caused the English Anabaptists to grow and flourish.
2. Eventually the "Ana" was dropped and these English dissenters were called Baptists.
      C. American Baptists
1. The first Baptist church in America was started in 1638 in Newport, Rhode Island.
            The First Great Awakening helped Baptists to grow in the 13 colonies.
            These colonial Baptists influenced Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to add the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
            The Separate Baptist revival caused Baptists to expand into the frontier.

2. Baptists continued to grow in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.
            Those Baptists who didn't believe in foreign missions separated in 1832 and became known as Primitive (Hardshell) Baptist as opposed to Missionary Baptists.
            In 1845 the Baptists of the South formed the Southern Baptist Convention in order to coordinate the missionary efforts of the churches.

V. What Some Great Baptists Believed About Baptist History
      A. "We are the old apostolic Church . . . we, known among men, in all ages, by various names, such as Donatists, Novations, Paulicians, Petrobrussians, Cathari, Arnoldists, Hussities, Waldenses, Lollards, and Anabaptists, have . . . an unbroken line which comes legitimately from the apostles" Charles Hadden Spurgeon, Famous Baptist pastor in London. From New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 7, p. 613

      B. "Let these authorities suffice for the present. They prove conclusively for they are concession wrung from the unfriendly lips by truth too stubborn to be compromised, that the Baptists were not called out of mystical Babylon by Luther or Calvin, or Henry the 8th, that they existed long before the time and dreary darkness of the world's moral midnight, and we give this as the concluding reason Why I Am a Baptist." John L. Waller, First editor of the Western Recorder. From Western Baptist Review, 1848, page 166.

      C. "I have no question in my own mind that there has been a historical succession of Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time." John T. Christian, first professor of Church History, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. From page 6 of his book "History of the Baptists."

      D. "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 thorough." W.A. Criswell, Patriarch of the Southern Baptist Convention's Conservative Resurgence, quoted from a sermon, published in the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church newsletter on July 28, 1995.

      E. "Careful reading and study of this book will give our hearts a greater appreciation of our Baptist forefathers who, though prisons loomed and through death threatened, contended for the faith once delivered and who wrote history in their blood before it was written in ink." R.G. Lee in his forward to the book "Alien Baptism and the Baptists" by William Nevins.

      F. "Who was it that organized the first Baptist church? When was the first Baptist church organized? I will answer these questions quickly and tell you it was Jesus Christ the Son of God. Christ did these things when He was here during His earthly ministry upon this earth." L.W. Carlin, first teacher at Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College. From his sermon "The Church That Jesus Built."

      Recommended reading for further study:
"The Trail of Blood" by J.M. Carroll
"History of the Baptists" by John T. Christian
"America in Crimson Red" by James Beller
"Landmarks of Church History" by Robert J. Sargent
This Day in Baptist History, Volumes 1-3, by David L Cummins and Wayne Thompson

     This paper was presented at the Southern Kentucky Baptist Bible Conference, sponsored by the Bellview Baptist Church, Todd County, Kentucky, in February, 2014.

[Document provided by Ben Stratton, Farmington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Baptist Church Histories
Baptist History Homepage