Thoughts on Baptist History
by Bro. K.D. Ward
“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.”
Jesus began an ecclesia (authorized assembly) and said it would not die out. In fact, He said to His disciples: “the gates of hell [place of the dead] shall not prevail against It.” (Matthew 16:18)
So important is this ekklesia to Christ, that through it He receives glory: “To him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages…” (Ephesians 3:21)
From these verses, we learn the kind of church that Jesus started has endured to the present day. In reading Baptist history we see many bumps and turns in the road that brings us to the present. Jesus said to the apostles, His Church, “…you will be hated by all nations for my names sake.” (Matthew 24:9).
John T. Christian wrote in his History of the Baptists of the difficulties surrounding the subject of the Baptists whom he traces down through the ages. We are far removed from many of the circumstances. The representations of the Baptists were often made by their enemies who would often misrepresent facts. Many of the documents were destroyed. Because of persecutions, Baptists were more concerned with hiding than giving an account of themselves.
Dr. Christian then states, “it is a right royal history worth telling and preserving.” (A History of the Baptists, Vol. 1 Pg. 3).
There has been a battle between two groups of historians. In his book, The Battle for Baptist History, Dr. I. K. Cross asked two questions: (1) “Have there been true Baptist Churches in every century since the first one established by Jesus Christ?” or… (2) “Did true Baptist Churches of the twentieth century begin with the Protestant Reformation and are simply another form of Protestantism?”
He further states, “Twentieth century historians, while accepting the local congregation, also accept the standard Protestant definition that in a larger sense the church is universal in nature, embracing all believers everywhere –regardless of what they believe and practice” (Pg. 29).
In the Commission to the Church, they were to “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20). “It leaves no room for those teachings to be compromised or substituted by some theologian’s new concepts. His promise to be with them always, even to the end of the age, was made to those who abide by that Commission. Therefore there must be in every age, a group teaching and practicing New Testament standards” (Pg. 19).
The Lord’s Church has had many enemies down through the ages and they were referred to as “radical” and often referred to as “Anabaptists.” Important information is set forth in A Summary of Christian History by Robert A. Baker. He states, “Some refer to the ‘Radical Biblicists’ as being the ‘Anabaptists Proper.’” Note the following quote by Mr. Baker:
“Radical Biblicists” — This group has recently been termed the “Anabaptist Proper’ by one author, with good reason, for they demanded personal faith before baptism as a basic element of their belief. They were radical in the sense that they eliminated all tradition in favor of biblical authority, which they counted the source of their ideas about believers’ baptism, separation of church and state, the elimination of sacramental and sacerdotal grace, the centrality of the gathered church, restoration of the primitive Christian spirit of love and the New Testament pattern of organization, and holy living as the result of an experience of regeneration through God’s Spirit” (Ibid. pg. 119).
As you read this quotation you can see that they were so radical, they believed in the same basic things Landmark Baptists believe today —
- Faith before baptism
- Biblical authority
- Centrality of the gathered Church
- Holy living, etc.
Conclusion Yes, there were those who had the truth and fell by the wayside, but the Lord has always had His “seven thousand” who have not bowed the knee to universalism, compromise, or half-truth. Let us always be numbered among those faithful few.