Chapter 21: Church Succession
We have traced the Baptists by their principles, and have found them existing, under different names, but holding to the same doctrines, from the days of the apostles to the present time. It is not necessary for the preservation of their history, to show a continuation of churches during all this time, for the principles which characterize these people could not have been perpetuated without existing organizations at the same time. One of the most important principles of Baptists is the belief that a church of Christ is a body of believers, convened together in covenant relations, for the objects and ends to be attained by the gospel of Christ.
We have seen that the word ekklesia, which is translated church, conveys the two-fold idea of being called out and convened together. In order that Christ’s church should be perpetuated, then, it must of necessity have continued to meet together in organized capacity. Without organization there is no ekklesia—no church. Whether we can trace them or not, these churches have existed during all the ages from the time of Christ until the present.
An undercurrent of pure water cannot spring up on the coast of one continent and make its way through the salt sea waters to the other shore, and then come to the surface without preserving its identity all the way through, though it may not be seen. Let the current once be broken, and mingling with the greater quantity it is lost forever. The Atlantic cable crosses the ocean, but it covers every inch of the line in its track. There is cable all the way. So there have been churches all the time since Christ said, “Behold, I am with you alway, unto the end of the world.”
Or, take this illustration: There is a railroad track two thousand miles long. A train of cars is seen to start on the farther end of the track with coaches unlike any other coaches. These are freighted with passengers who speak a dialect unlike any other dialect spoken. We follow the train for a distance of four hundred miles when it disappears in a tunnel and is seen no more for a distance of one thousand miles when it again appears and proceeds to the end of the track. The cars which come out of the tunnel are identical in every feature with those which entered on the other side, and the passengers speak the same dialect spoken by those who were known to have occupied the cars until they disappeared from sight. Further testimony shows that subsequent explorers find at every eyelet in the tunnel evidences upon the walls, of a dialect which has been spoken only by the persons occupying these coaches. Who will say that the cars did not pass through?
Had it not been for the persecutions, and the efforts made to “destroy the very memory” of the Baptists from the face of the earth, we would have been able to trace their history church by church back to Jerusalem. For nearly one thousand years our history can be traced just this way, with only one break in the line of succession. Or in other words we can follow the cable of succession one-fourth of the way back to the apostles, when it is lost sight of in the dark night of popery, but following on we come in sight of it again four hundred years this side of the apostles, and follow church by church to the beginning. During this period of time when we lose sight of the churches as organizations, and their records are destroyed, we find the same people existing, holding to the same doctrines, and fleeing from place to place, yet numerous as the sands of the sea. We conclude, therefore, that they perpetuated their organization during the whole period of time.
We have found the Spring Hill church, in Tennessee, with a number of others which grew out of it, existing at the present time, and have traced it back through Saw Mill church, South Carolina, and this church through Welsh Neck and Welsh Tract churches back to Wales. Here is a line of succession, unbroken, of the Baptist churches in America continuing for two hundred years, and connecting them with the Welsh Baptists.
But where did the Welsh Baptists come from? Mr. Ray says: ”No living historian, whether friend or foe, can find the origin of the Welsh Baptists this side of the apostles.”
Mr. Davis, in his history of the Welsh Baptists, says that many families from Wales were visiting Rome during Paul’s imprisonment there in A.D. 63. Among them was a woman named Claudia, who was married to a man named Pudence. “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. These, together with other Welshmen, among the Roman soldiers, who had tasted that the Lord was gracious, exerted themselves on the behalf of their countrymen in Wales who were at that time vile idolators.”
Christianity was in this way introduced into the highest families of the Welsh people, Claudia being a daughter of the Welsh king, Caractacus.
Nothing of importance is communicated with reference to these Christians until the year 180, when two Welshmen whose names were Faganus and Damicanus were converted in Rome and “becoming eminent ministers of the gospel were sent from Rome to assist their brethren in Wales.”
The Welsh occupied that part of the Isle of Britain now known as England until about A.D. 500, “But ever since,” says Mr. Davis, “they have dwelt on a tract of land, on the western part of the island, now called Cumry, or Wales. The Welshmen, for a considerable time, had a sort of religious quarrel with one of their countrymen, of the name of Morgan, known abroad by the name of Pelagius. The civil war between them and the Scots and Picts, was by no means a friend to religion; and the measures they took in calling in the Saxons to assist them, in the year 449, were very injudicious; for the Saxons never returned to their own country. After many bloody and desperate battles for many years, the Saxons by stratagems too horrid to mention drove the Welsh to the mountains and took possession of their land.”
Mr. Davis mentions Gildas, Dyfrig, Dynawt, Teilo, Padaru, Pawlin, Daniel, and some others as having been ministers among the Welsh Baptists as early as A.D. 600. Dynawt was a man of learning and was president of the College of Bangor.
Soon after the year 600, Austin came from Rome to convert the Saxons from paganism to popery. Having succeeded in a great measure in England, he resolved to try his experiments upon the Welsh. He was, however, disappointed. The Welsh agreed to meet with Austin in an association held on the borders of Herefordshire. Austin said he would propose three things to the Welsh ministers and messengers of the different churches of the Principality. First he proposed infant baptism. “He was answered immediately by the Welsh, that they would keep this ordinance, as well as other things, as they had received them from the apostolic age. On hearing this, Austin was exceedingly wroth, and persuaded the Saxons to murder one thousand and two hundred of the Welsh ministers and delegates then present; and many more afterwards were put to death, because they would not submit to infant baptism.”
The majority of the Welsh people, however, submitted to popery, more out of fear than love, and but little is known of their religious history up to the time of the reformation. Mr. Davis says that Theophilus Evans “traces the remnant of the Welsh Baptists through the darkness of popery to the year 1000.” He also says that “Peter Williams, a Methodist preacher, who wrote an exposition on the Old and New Testaments in Welsh, has followed them through the thick clouds till they were buried out of sight in the smoke, in the year of our Lord, 1115.”
The Welsh Baptists, according to Mr. Davis, were not destroyed in this time of persecution, but many of them hid away in their mountain fastnesses and maintained an existence all along through the dark reign of popery. “The vale of Carleon is situated between England and the mountainous part of Wales, just at the foot of the mountains. It is our valley of Piedmont; the mountains of Merthyn Tydfyl, our Alps; and the crevices of the rocks, the hiding-places of the lambs of the sheep of Christ, where the ordinances of the gospel, to this day, have been administered in their primitive mode, without being adulterated by the corrupt church of Rome.”
We see, therefore, that the Welsh and English Baptists had their wilderness period, corresponding in date and period of time with that of the Baptists in Italy, France and Spain.
In the year 1586, John ab Henry, called by the English John Penry, who was an Episcopal minister in both the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, dissented from the church of England and became a Baptist. Mr. Davis says that he at once became a “ringleader of those Baptists in Wales, who never had and never would bow the knee to the great beast of Rome, nor any of his horns in England. He was noted for piety, ministerial gifts, and zeal for the welfare of his countrymen. He was a native of Brecknockshire, and the first who publicly preached the gospel among the Baptists in Wales, after the reformation; which implies that the gospel was, more or less, privately preached among the Baptists in the Welsh mountains during the whole reign of popery.”
William Jones was brought up a Presbyterian and was imprisoned under the rule of Charles II. He became converted to Baptist principles while in prison, and on his release traveled eighty miles in order to be baptized. This shows the importance the Welsh Baptists attached to regular baptism. On his return he baptized eleven others. This was the beginning of the church at Rhydwilim, which was constituted in the year 1668, and had grown to eight hundred members in 1835.
The first Baptist Association held in Wales after the reformation was held at Abergavenny, on the 14th and 15th days of June, 1653. Only five churches were represented which were as follows: Olchon, Llantrisaint, Llanwenarth, Swansea, and Carmarthen. The names of twenty-four messengers appear on the minutes. This Association continued to meet from this time, almost every year, without interruption, and in 1689, the Welsh Baptists published their Confession of Faith, which was adopted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1742.
These facts with reference to the Welsh Baptists have been compiled from Davis’ history. Davis was a Welshman and obtained most of the information contained in his history from a history of the Welsh Baptists by Rev. Joshua Thomas, a native of Wales.
1 find by consulting the Baptist Hand Book of Great Britain and Ireland, for 1891, that the church at Wrexham is the oldest Baptist church in Wales which is in existence at the present time. This church was constituted in 1630. Rev. Philip A. Hudgell is the present pastor.
Mr. Benedict, quoting Memoirs of the English Baptists, by Rev. Josiah Taylor, says: “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 nourished much in early times, and here, also, its followers endured many afflictions and calamities from pagan persecutions. 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 single 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 the 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 Welshmen, and requested that they would consent to hear him in three things, one of which was that they would give Christendom, that is, baptism to their children; but with none of his propositions would they comply.”!
We have already seen the result upon the part of the Welsh Baptists in rejecting the propositions of Austin.
The Baptist historians in England, says Benedict, contend that the first British Christians were Baptists, and that they maintained Baptist principles until the coming of Austin. Since that time “the church in the Island was divided into two parts, the 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.”
From this time until the reformation we can catch only glimpses of the Baptists in England, almost losing sight of the churches as organizations during this time, but a people holding to Baptist principles were known to exist during all this period. They were compelled to hold their meetings in secret, and their church records, if discovered, were destroyed. Mr. Benedict, in a note, page 337, says: “From all the fragments of history, I am inclined to the belief that Baptist churches under various circumstances, have existed in England from the time of William the Conqueror (about 1050), four or five centuries prior to those of which any definite accounts have come down to us; and that the more the history of the dark ages is explored, the more this opinion will be confirmed. Baptist churches, in persecuting times, were merely household affairs—which must of necessity, be hid from public view. More than three centuries had elapsed before any of the Baptists in England had any knowledge that a church of their order once existed in Chesterton, in 1457. Mr. R. Robinson brought the facts to light by examining the MS. records of the old bishop of Ely; and no doubt many other such discoveries might be made, if similar records were consulted.”
Whether the church at Chesterton, referred to by Mr. Benedict, is the old Hill Cliffe church, in the county of Chester, England, I have no means of knowing, but it is certain that Hill Cliffe church ante-dates the reformation, for it was in a flourishing condition in 1522, and has continued to exist to the present time. The Baptist Hand Book of Great Britain and Ireland, for 1891, gives 1522, as the date of its organization, but a history of the church, published in 1882, says: “We cannot go back to the foundation of the Hill Cliffe church, because at the time the earliest reference is made to it, it was then in a flourishing condition, and the very reference itself points to its earlier existence.”
Rev. D. O. Davies, of Rochdale, England, who attended the Southern Baptist Convention, at Birmingham, in 1891, as a representative of the English Baptists, in a recent letter to the writer says of this church:
“The oldest Baptist church in the country is Hill Cliffe, in Cheshire, but on the borders of Lancashire. The old church was built in a secluded spot, far removed from public roads and enclosed by a thick wood. Tradition declares that the church is five hundred years old. A tombstone was recently discovered in the burial ground of the place, bearing date, 1357. In digging the foundation to enlarge the old chapel, a large baptistery was discovered which was made of stone and well cemented. The baptistery must have belonged to a previous chapel. Oliver Cromwell worshipped at this church, and one of his officers occupied the pulpit. It is one of the pre-historic churches, and a regular Baptist church.”
The history of Hill Cliffe church, with which I have been kindly furnished, discloses many interesting facts. “The selection of Hill Cliffe,” says the author, “as a place of meeting for Christian worshippers can only be accounted for on the ground that the great object in view was concealment from their persecutors. It would be impossible to have chosen a better, place for the purpose. Surrounded as it was until recent times by woods, at a safe distance also from the public highways, and very near the boundaries of the counties of Lancaster and Chester, it was as safe a place as could possibly have been found in those dark days of persecution. Whenever the persecuting spirit was found in Lancashire, then the people would worship at Hill Cliffe, but when the persecuting spirit in Cheshire was the stronger, the people worshipped at Warrington, there being at the earliest time of which there remain any records of the existence of Hill Cliffe Chapel, a meeting-house in connection therewith at Warrington.” Warrington is distant from Hill Cliffe one and a half miles.
In 1704, Rev. Francis Turner was called to the pastorate of this church, of which fact Mr. Davis makes mention in his history of the Welsh Baptists, and the records state that in May, 1705, the church “paid charges when Mr. Turner’s family came to Warrington, £0:12s:08£d,” and on “July ye 2nd, 1705, pd. to Bro. Turner, 6:15:0.” This was probably the first salary paid to the new minister.
This church extended branches out in every direction which it designated as “quarters,” and the records show that it received subscriptions, or contributions, from Liverpoole “quarter,” Chester, Bickorton, Nampwick and Newton quarters.
The quarter at Liverpoole was formed in 1701, but did not become entirely independent of the mother church until after “July ye 3d, 1714,”for at this time the church at Liverpoole asked permission of the Hill Cliffe church to settle a pastor, and acknowledged their obligations to support Bro. Turner at Hill Cliffe.
It is worthy of mention that the present pastor of this old church, Rev. A. Kenworthy, to whose courtesy I am indebted for its published history, has been preceded in the pastoral office at Hill Cliffe by his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather, but not in regular succession. Rev. A. Kenworthy, Sr., served the church for a period of thirty-seven consecutive years.
“Eythorne Baptist church,” says Mr. Davies in the letter already referred to, “was founded not later than 1550. Joan Boucher, or Joan of Kent, was a member of this church. She was a lady of means, a zealous Christian, and on May 2d, 1550, she was led to the stake. The church still exists.
“Braintree, sometimes spoken of as Bracking and Braintree, but now known by the one name, is in Essex, and the church was existing here in 1550, and still exists.”
Mr. Davies then gives me a list of twenty-three additional churches, none of which were organized later than 1640, and all of which are existing at the present time, and all regular Baptist churches. The list is as follows:
Crowle, Lincolnshire county, organized in 1599; Epworth, Lincolnshire county, organized in 1599; Tiverton, Devonshire county, organized in 1607; Plymouth, Devonshire county, organized in 1640; Kingsbridge, Devonshire county, organized in 1640; Dartmouth, Devonshire county, organized in 1640; Warford, Cheshire county, organized in 1600; Stoney Stratford, Buckinghamshire Co., organized in 1623; Newbury, Berkshire county, organized in 1640; Kingstanley, Gloucestershire county, organized in 1640; Smarden, Kent county, organized in 1640; Bethnalgreen, London, organized in 1640; Stoke Newington, London, organized in 1638; White Chapel, London, organized in 1633; Misterton, Nottinghamshire county, organized in 1610; Oxford, Oxfordshire county, organized in 1600; Bridgewater, Someraetshire county, organized in 1600; Wedraore, Somersetshire county, organized in 1600; Alcester, Warwickshire county, organized in 1640; Coventry, Warwickshire county, organized in 1626; Warwick, Warwickshire county, organized in 1640; Wrexham, Wales, organized in 1630; Dublin, Ireland, organized in 1640.
Here we have a list of twenty-six regular Baptist churches, all of them existing at the present time, the youngest of which is more than two hundred and fifty years old, and the oldest certainly three hundred and seventy, and most probably more than five hundred years old. The circumstantial evidence is strongly in favor of the existence of this old church in Cheshire as early as 1357.
This carries us back of the reformation of the sixteenth century in a regular line of church succession, with every evidence, except the church records which were destroyed, that churches of this faith had long before this time existed in England.
The Baptists in America have been shown to have descended, in regular succession, from the English and Welsh Baptists. Baptist ministers, with regular ordination and baptism, came over from England and Wales in numerous instances, and commenced at once to establish churches. In one instance a whole church came from Wales, which has been traced church by church in regular succession, from Pennsylvania, through South Carolina and into Tennessee, to a number of existing churches, with a present living ministry which these churches have sent out into other States.
Commencing at the other end of the line we have found organized churches for a period of four hundred years, beginning with the apostles. Before the church at Jerusalem was extinct, the church at Antioch was in existence. Ignatius was pastor of this church in A.D. 115, when he was exposed to the fury of wild beasts. The church at Smyrna was in existence long before this time, for Polycarp was its pastor from A.D. 81 to 166, when he was burned.
The church at Lyons, France, was in existence in A.D. 180, for Irenseus was its pastor at this time, and continued in this capacity until A. D. 200. At this time, A. D. 200, the church at Carthage was in existence, and continued as a single church for a period of two hundred years, or until A. D. 400.
We thus see that the only Wilderness period of the churches is that period of time when they cannot be traced church by church, and even then we can look back into it, by the dawning light of the reformation, and still see them in existence for a period of two hundred years before the dark- ness was entirely lifted.
All this intervening time a people have been shown to exist who held to principles which characterize Baptists, and as one of the leading principles of Baptist doctrine is that a church of Jesus Christ is a body of believers called out and convened together, we must conclude that the principles could not have continued to exist without churches to perpetuate them.
History therefore bears witness to the declaration of Christ, that against His church the gates of the underworld should not prevail.