THE HISTORY OF THE BAPTIST CHURCHES IN A NUTSHELL
By Steven Speray
April 27, 2006 AD
Living in the Bible belt here in Kentucky for so many years and being surrounded by so many Baptists who have attempted to convert me by way of tracts and booklets has compelled me to give a response using a little history and logic. Since there are so many different types of Baptist churches holding to diverse doctrines and practices, I titled this writing emphasizing the plural churches because the Baptists are not unified in faith. This response will give me the opportunity to use the Baptists as an example showing the importance of knowing your church history.
Today, the Baptist churches have over 25 different branches or sects totaling nearly 32,000,000 members worldwide. The Southern Baptist being the largest body is the largest Protestant organization in the United States.
The name “Baptist” comes from the peculiar doctrine of total immersion in baptism conferred only to those who could confess a belief in Christ, which merely symbolized the newfound faith. The Baptists first instituted the doctrine of total immersion of water baptism in 1644, more than 30 years after the first Baptist church was founded.
Contrary to the common myth that Baptists can trace their history back to Christ or John the Baptist, never in history prior to the Reformation do we find an individual or church that claimed the same peculiar beliefs as found in the Baptist churches today. As a matter of fact, the two doctrines (beliefs) shared by all Baptists, total immersion in baptism for adults only as an ordinance, and the Bible Only (Sola Scriptura) did not exist as beliefs for anyone who claimed Christianity until the 16th and 17th centuries.
Dr. J. M. Carroll’s little booklet, “The Trail of Blood, a History of the Baptist Church,” gives his account of following the Christians down through the centuries. He also included a chart to better clarify his version of church history. It has sold over 2,000,000 copies and is taught by many Baptists as a factual history of Christianity.
The introduction of this booklet, written by Clarence Walker, begins with a brief history of Dr. Carroll’s interest in the history of different denominations, especially their origin. His purpose, of course, was to find the oldest and most like the churches described in the New Testament.
On page 2, a claim is implied that Baptists are not Protestants by referring them separately from the Catholics and Protestants. The map in the back of the booklet clarifies this implication with a statement saying, “Baptists are not Protestants since they did not come out of the Catholic Church.” In the same paragraph of page 2, another claim is made that Anabaptists existed before the Reformation informing us that Dr. Carroll believes that Anabaptists were the first Baptists.
Since Dr. Carroll is aware that the term Baptists cannot be found in history, he indicates that Baptists came under the nicknames of Anabaptists, Paulicians, Donatists, Albigenses, Waldenses, Montanists, and Novations. (Pages 2, 10, 55)
He states that the Catholic Church put untold numbers of Baptists to death during the dark ages, and goes on to say their history was written in legal documents and papers of those ages.
However, the whole booklet is filled with myths and lies as will be shown next.
The Real History of the Baptists
With the corruption of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, an Augustinian priest named Martin Luther, overreacted in his attack against the corruption of the hierarchy and was then later excommunicated in 1521 for denying the historical understanding of salvation.
In 1517 Germany, during Martin Luther’s first attack on the historic Christian doctrines, another preacher named Thomas Munzer attacked Martin Luther’s position on how the Church should follow Christ and be saved. Just before his execution in 1525, he recanted everything, made a good confession, received Communion, and died united to the Catholic Church.
Though he maintained Luther’s positions on the new doctrines of the Bible Alone and Salvation by Faith Alone, Munzer also believed the sacrament of baptism to infants was not valid since infants couldn’t believe or make a decision in belief. Therefore, his new position was that all babies who were baptized must at the age of reason make a confession of faith and be re-baptized as a sign of the individual’s new belief in Christ.
Munzer also denied the sacrament of the Eucharist claiming Christ did not become transubstantiated on the altar of Catholic churches. He believed the Eucharist was merely a symbolic gesture of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He once undermined the Catholic Mass by using pretzels and beer as meal offerings in place of bread and wine to prove he did not believe in the sacrificial character or the Real Presence. Most Baptists today use crackers and grape juice to indicate the same belief as Munzer.
In 1525, a Catholic priest named Menno Simons set up the first Anabaptist churches. Their purpose was to establish what they held as a spiritual kingdom of converts to real Christianity independent of all civil and church authority. This historic fact debunks Dr. Carroll’s contention that Anabaptists existed before the Reformation.
The term Anabaptist or “Re”baptist stems from the fact that these new Protestants practiced rebaptism for all those converted out of the Roman Catholic Church. The rebaptisms always took place with water being poured over the top of the head just as the Roman Catholic Church had been doing for 1500 years. Never was total body immersion thought to be necessary.
Menno Simons’ new church came to be known as the Mennonites. The Amish today are one of several sects that have split from the Mennonite Church. They appear to be one and the same to many outside of these two religions.
In 1602, an Anglican priest named John Smyth refusing to conform to the Church of England fled England to Amsterdam, Holland and tried to become a Mennonite. He went so far as to rebaptise himself by pouring water over top of his own head. Again, as an Anglican, he never thought that one needed to be immersed. However, doubting the validity of his self-administered baptism was again rebaptised by the Dutch Mennonites for his third baptism. Due to his views on salvation, the Mennonites later rejected him.
In 1609, he established what we could rightly call the very first Baptist Church in history. In 1611, John Smyth with his friend Thomas Helwys compiled a “Confession” or a “Declaration of Faith” combining Martin Luther’s new doctrines: the Bible alone is the sole authority of faith, and a faith alone for salvation with adult (children but not infants) believers only to be baptized (no mention of immersion as the practice was then of pouring). It also stated the Church must be completely separated from the state. All civil authorities were to take care of temporal affairs only and allow the freedom of religion to all.
The fatal flaws pertaining to these positions is a church constantly dividing, which always comes with a bible only belief, leaving the ultimate interpretation of the Scriptures to each individual. The other is a state that is separated from the Church will always result in an anti-religious state, just as it did in America with its false democratic government which keeps out the reign of Christ as King of its society.
After the death of John Smyth in 1612, Helwys along with his companions returned to England to set up its first Baptist Church at Spitalfields, in London. Thomas Helwys later died in 1616.
The first two churches along with the members were known as the General Baptists for their teaching of the general atonement for all men. They believed in the total free will of man to choose to be saved. Again, they believed in pouring water in baptism until they adopted the method of immersion in 1650 by the splinter group known as the
Immersion Baptists founded in 1644. This group was an offshoot of yet another splinter group called the Particular Baptists founded in the mid 1630’s.
It was the Immersion Baptists with their new confession of faith that sealed forever the name that came to be known as the Baptist church. However, they would merge back with the Particular Baptists and become one.
The Particular Baptists founded by John Spillsbury in Southwark, England did not hold to the belief of the general atonement. This group based its beliefs on the new doctrines first founded by the notorious Protestant Reformer John Calvin who claimed a limited (particular) atonement of Christ’s sacrifice and along with Luther believed in double-predestination.
Though very Calvinistic at first, they were influenced by the teachings of the Anglican clergymen John and Charles Wesley. With this influence, William Carey in 1792 established missionaries following the example of Roger Williams, the Anglican priest turned Baptist convert who came to America establishing its first Baptist church. He later died rejecting his baptism and organized religion altogether.
In 1891, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland were formed by a unification of General and Particular Baptists. However, many Baptist churches refused to join in the union, leaving them to be independent churches.
The Baptist churches in America grew quickly and in 1845 divided in three major Conventions: Northern, Southern, and Colored (Black). Later they divided again and again into many different sects. Today there are American Baptists, American Baptists USA, Baptist Bible Fellowship, Missionary Baptists, Bethel Baptists, Central Baptists, Conservative Baptists, Baptist Church of Christ, Free Will Baptists, General Baptists, Landmark Baptists, National Baptists, National Baptists USA, National Missionary Baptists, National Primitive Baptists, North American Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Progressive Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Separate Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, Southern Baptists, United Baptists, United Free Will Baptists, Berean Fundamental Baptists, Bible Fellowship Baptists, Bible Protestant Baptists, and Bible Way Baptists.
Since black Americans constitute a large part of Baptists, I would like to touch upon their role in the Baptist religions.
Today, 4 out of 5 blacks in America are Baptists. This is due to the white English Protestants who owned and proselytized their slaves in early America.
The slave trade was justified by the Protestants using the New Testament which speaks of a type of slavery however unlike the slavery of early America. This is the result of Luther’s Bible Only doctrine, which allows anyone to interpret Scripture entirely for themselves without the authority of the church to put parameters on such interpretations.
The slaves used the Old Testament books showing the horrors of slavery with the example of the captivity of Israel in Egypt. The words of Moses, “Let my people go” was the rally cry of slaves who escaped or attempted to escape to freedom from their English slave masters.
Catholics were forbidden to have slaves as all the popes during those times condemned the slave trade as a damnable sin. However, a few so-called Catholics did continue and participate in the slave trade. Most black Catholics in America came from the French who married into the race and the Spanish who helped the slaves escape from the English Protestants.
However, the English greatly outnumbered the French and Spanish and pushed the French to the Southern tip of Louisiana and to the north into Canada, while the Spanish where pushed back into Central and South America.
Though in America most blacks are Baptists, in the rest of the world, black Catholics far outnumber any other religious group for the exception of Islam.
In the mid-1800’s, most slaves were Methodists following Wesleyan theology. Over the years the slaves and their children began joining the Baptist churches because of its Calvinist Theology, which is more appealing. Due to the racism found in the churches, blacks began to build and establish their own churches, which they could worship, fellowship, and lead their own congregations.
Contrary to Wesleyan theology, Calvinist theology might stress Christ’s words; “take up my yoke, which is easy” which concerns resting in Christ for He did all the work and suffering. Not only would this appeal to all men but also especially with slaves who have done nothing but work and suffer their whole lives, not to mention the many years of hardships that followed after their freedom was granted.
For black America today, the Baptist church is the church of family history where the emphasis is on the preaching on Word of God and the praising the Lord in song. The closeness of the black family resides in the faith of their ancestors, which had become the Baptist religions for most of them.
Nicknames of early Baptists?
So what about Dr. Carroll’s claim that Baptists came under the nicknames of Paulicians, Anabaptists, Donatists, Albigenses, Waldenses, Montanists, and Novations?
Well, we know about the Anabaptists, but the rest of these groups are a whole other story.
The Paulicians originated from the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church in the 7th century and continued into the 12th century. They believed Christ only appeared in human form and only seemed to have died. They greatly emphasized the Epistles of Paul (hence the name Paulicians), while rejecting the Epistles of Peter and the entire Old Testament.
Donatists were named after Donatist the Great, a Catholic Bishop of Carthage in 313 AD, who split from the Catholic Church. Donatists were ex-Catholics who believed in all seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. However, they believed the sacraments were invalid if the minister (priest) of the sacraments was impure or in mortal sin. This was contrary to the Catholic belief that Christ is the real minister of the sacraments and the priests were the ambassadors of Christ.
The Montanists originated in the 2nd century and lasted through the 9th century. They believed they were oracles of the Holy Spirit, and the only possessors of any charismatic qualities. They were opposed to any kind of art and were a quasi-form of Gnostics. However, they did believe in the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.
The Novations were a schismatic group named for the man Novation who set himself up as the pope in 251 AD.
The Albigenses of the 11th century and the Waldenses of the 12th century were a part of Catharism. Cathars had many different sects. In general, they all believed the world and all matter were evil.
Albigenses were named for the place, Albi, France, where the heresy originated. They with the Waldenses were vegetarians who practiced promiscuity. They believed the body was evil and the spirit must be freed from the body. They practiced extreme mortifications with tremendous fasts, sometimes even to the point of suicide. Since they believed offspring was evil, marriage and infant baptism were forbidden. Since they also believed the body was evil, they rejected the incarnation of Christ.
The extreme measure Dr. Carroll goes to prove Baptists go back to the time of Christ is quite an insult to his own religion. For no Baptist would dare claim these groups as their own who rejected the Old Testament and the Epistles of Peter, believed in the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, and forbidding marriage while practicing promiscuity.
However, the attempt to find the oldest and most like the church described in the New Testament is made by Dr. Carroll because he realized it is absolutely necessary to demonstrate their church or at least their beliefs can be found and substantiated in every generation since Christ.
Unfortunately for them, only one church can do what they wish their church could do. The Roman Catholic Church is the only church found in every generation since Christ and has always remained unified in doctrine resulting in a unified Church. Only the Catholic Church can be totally substantiated in history, Scripture and logic.
As for the untold numbers of Baptists who were put to death by the Catholic Church during the dark ages, they were untold because it didn’t happen. As for their history being written in legal documents and papers of those ages, they don’t exist and never did. Dr. Carroll just plain lied about it because he knew the biggest obstacle in his belief system was the Roman Catholic Church. Thankfully, however, rumor has it that he recanted everything on his deathbed and admitted his lies.
As for the claim that Baptists were not Protestants since they did not come out of the Catholic Church is a half-truth since they actually came out of the Church of England under the influence of the Dutch Mennonites. This means that they were Protestants since they held to the two foundational doctrines never known in history, which caused the revolt against Rome.
The common thread for all Baptists is the practice of adult baptism by total immersion only while rejecting infant baptism. All Baptists believe in Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura or the Bible Only as the sole authority on faith. All Baptists agree with Luther, Calvin, and the other notorious Reformers that the Catholic Church’s papacy is false because Protestants believe it is unbiblical in their personal interpretations of the Scripture, which again stems from the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Most Baptists believe in Luther and Calvin’s doctrine once-saved-always-saved.
With this in mind, Catholics have five important questions for Baptists:
1. What church would you have attended before the first Baptist church was established and built in 1609 or before the Protestant Revolt?
2. If you already know for sure you are going to be in heaven, why the need to hope and work out your salvation in fear and trembling as St Paul said to do? After all, if you know already you’re going to heaven, hope is not needed, and there would be no need to fear and tremble.
3. In light of St. Paul stating in a salvation context that he might end up a reprobate himself if he didn’t buffet his body, how is it he didn’t know for sure he was going to heaven but you do?
4. If once saved always saved is true, why does the Bible warn in a salvation context of falling away or being cut off if it were impossible for one to fall away or be cut off?
5. Why belong to a man-made religion based on man-made beliefs about the Bible, which run contrary to the entire 1500-year history of Christianity? If the answer is something like, “My beliefs come from the Bible” then what about the entire Christian world who never believed in those things for next 1500 years until those particular beliefs were resurrected during the 16th century?
Since the Baptist churches are not united in their interpretation of Scripture, they claim that it doesn’t really matter what church of faith you belong to as long as you believe and trust Jesus.
However, did not Christ pray that they (the church) be one? Did Christ’s prayer fail to achieve what He asked the Father? Did not Christ say that the gates of hell would never prevail against his church?
Doesn’t that mean His church is to be found in every generation till the end of time teaching nothing but the truth?
History is the key.
We are told to hold fast to the faith that was delivered from the beginning and calls to mind the warning of St. Paul, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8-9
The Baptist Church’s interpretation of Scripture was never believed or taught for 1500 years of Christianity such as the Bible being the ONLY authority and rule of faith, or adult baptism by immersion only, or a once-saved-always-saved belief.
The historic Christian recognizes that the Baptist faith is another gospel, which was never ever preached by anyone until the 16th century Protestant Revolt. According to St. Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “let him be accursed.”
When Baptist preachers are confronted with this contradiction, they almost always retort that it is not about religion but a relationship.
This final statement is all they can muster because in the end they know their religion could not be truly and logically justified historically or even by Holy Scripture. It doesn’t matter to them because they claim to have a relationship with Christ and nothing was going to separate that relationship.
The problem with this understanding is religion is the very substance of the relationship. Without the religion, the relationship is hollow. The very definition of religion is the system of belief based on faith and the outward practices of life by which men indicate their relationship with God.
This means that a false religion is a false relationship with one’s own God or a wrong religion is a wrong relationship with one’s own God.
It’s that simple.
Christ instituted the Catholic Church so we can have the right relationship with Him. Those who refuse to accept it are like the ones whom Jesus spoke, “He who rejects you rejects me and he who rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
There are many people who completely fabricate lies about the Catholic Church, and/or misrepresent it.
I’ve seen it all and it amazes me how easy it is to debunk them all.
Christ said, “The path to destruction is a wide one and many are those who take it, but the path to paradise is a narrow one and few who even find it.” We may live in a confusing world but the narrow path can be found for Christ would not have left us without being able to find it.
I submit the Catholic Faith is that path for it is the only faith that can be found throughout the entire history of Christianity. It was the faith of Peter to whom Jesus gave the keys. It was the faith of all Peter’s successors. It was the faith of Stephen who was the first to die because of it. It was the faith of all the saints.
The Roman Catholic Faith is the faith found in all generations since Christ and if this faith is not it… then nothing else is.