Shackelford on Baptist History (Complete)

Chapter 5: The Expansion of the Church

A.D. 29. After the day of Pentecost the disciples went everywhere gladly preaching the word, while great success attended their ministry. In a very short time a second church was planted at Samaria, and soon another at Antioch. Persecutions were now inflicted upon the Christians everywhere, and Saul was on his way to Damascus, with authority to arrest men and women, and breathing out threatenings and slaughter against all Christians, when he was suddenly stricken down and made to cry out for mercy. Being converted to the Christian faith, he attached himself to the church at Antioch.

Paul became at once enthused with the spirit of missions, and the church at Antioch, by direct command of God, set him and Barnabas apart to this work. They immediately set out to bear hence the gospel of Christ to the regions beyond. During this journey they visited Lystra, where Timothy was converted. Soon churches were planted at Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Colosse, Rome and Galatia. These churches were all modeled after the church at Jerusalem, being:

First. Independent in their organic relations, one from another.
Second. They acknowledged no head but Christ, and owned no Lawgiver but him.
Third. The members of these churches were baptized believers.
Fourth. They administered baptism by immersion only.
Fifth. They denied sacramental salvation.
Sixth. They held to equality of membership.
Seventh. They held to freedom of conscience and to religious liberty.

These principles were so repugnant to the wishes of the rulers, and to those who occupied high places, that they stirred up the common people against the disciples of Christ, and many of them were put to death, and others were scattered abroad, but everywhere they went they continued to preach the word.

Thus at this early period in the history of the churches, “the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church,” and every effort to stamp out the fires of Christianity, served only to rekindle them. Nero was at this time, A.D. 66, emperor of Rome, and by his orders the Apostle Paul was put to death. He, who had at one time been so bitter in his denunciations of Christianity, after a long life of active labor in the service of Christ, sealed his testimony with his blood.

The services in the Temple, in Jerusalem, had all this time gone on uninterrupted, but shortly after this time the city was besieged by Titus, in command of the Roman soldiers, in their war with the Jews, and so great was the destruction of lives in the city from pestilence and famine that there was no proper person, says Jones, the historian, to offer the sacrifices, and on the 17th day of July, A.D. 70, the sacrifices ceased. It has been estimated that the Jews lost one million five hundred thousand lives during this war.

We find that Polycarp became the pastor of the church at Smyrna, in A.D. 81. This was just fourteen years before the apostle John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, which occurred in A.D. 95. Polycarp had received his instruction from this apostle, who was one of the immediate disciples of Christ, and continued as pastor of this single church for a period of eighty-five years, or down to A.D. 166, when hoary with age, but strong in faith, this soldier of the cross was burned alive for his loyalty to Christ. Justin Martyr and others were beheaded the same year. This was under the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antonius, emperor of Rome. Terrible persecutions were visited upon Christians at this time, but the tide of Christianity swept on, for behind it was the hand of Him who had said the gates of hell should not prevail against his church.

In A.D. 200, Irenaeus suffered martyrdom at the hands of the opposers of Christianity. He was at this time pastor, or bishop, of the church at Lyons, France, (then Gallia). The terms bishop and pastor at that time signified the same thing. A bishop was pastor of a single church, or had the oversight of a single congregation, and was in every way amenable to the church and subject alike, with the private members, to its discipline. Mosheim, vol. 1, page 39, says:

“Let none, however, confound the bishops of this primitive and golden period of the church with those of whom we read in the following ages; for though they were both distinguished by the same name, yet they differed in many respects. A bishop during the first and second century was a person who had the care of one Christian assembly, which at that time was, generally speaking, small enough to be contained in a private house. In this assembly he acted not so much with the authority of a master, as with the zeal and diligence of a faithful servant.”

Mosheim’s testimony to the independence of the churches, and the subordinate office of bishop, during the first two centuries, is highly credible, inasmuch as he was a Lutheran and a historian of high reputation.

Robinson, in his Ecclesiastical Researches, says: “During the first three centuries, congregations all over the East subsisted in separate, independent bodies, unsupported by government, and consequently without any secular power over one another. All this time, they were baptized [Baptist] churches, and though all the Fathers of the first four ages down to Jerome (A.D. 370) were of Greece, Syria and Africa, and though they give great numbers of histories of the baptism of adults, yet there is not one record of the baptism of a child till the year 370.”

The testimony of these historians establishes three important facts. (1) The independence of the churches. (2) The subordinate character of the bishops or pastors. (3) The baptism of believers, as opposed to infant baptism.

In the beginning of the second century Pliny, who was governor of Bithynia, put Christians to death merely on the ground of their professing Christianity. He simply asked the question, “Are you a Christian? ” and if they avowed it, he asked the question a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment, when, if they persisted, he immediately ordered their execution. Trajan was at this time emperor of Rome, and by his orders Ignatius, who was pastor at Antioch, was sent to Rome and exposed to the fury of the wild beasts in the theatre and by them devoured. About the same time, A.D. 115, Simon, after repeated scourgings, was crucified at the advanced age of one hundred and twenty years. This was a fulfillment of the words of Christ addressed to Peter, “When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkdest whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”—John 21:18.

We have found the church at Smyrna in existence at Polycarp’s death, A.D. 166, and have no means of knowing anything about the further history of this church, but find a church in existence at Lyons, A.D. 180, under the pastoral care of Irenaeus, a Greek, who, before he accepted the pastorate at Lyons, had lived at Smyrna, and had enjoyed the religious instructions of Polycarp, who himself had been a disciple of John. He continued to be the pastor of this church until A.D. 200, when he suffered martyrdom. Only a little later than this, or about A.D. 200, or 215, at the latest, we find a church in existence at Carthage, Africa, which continued to exist, as a single church, for a period of two hundred years, or until A.D. 400.

The ancient city of Carthage was situated on the sea-coast, near the present site of Tunic, and at the nearest point to Italy. This part of Africa has always been settled by white people. Those who embraced the faith as held by this church, at Carthage, were known by the name Montanists, from Montanus, who was a leader among them, and who had inveighed against the corruptions which had already begun to creep into the churches. Indeed, Paul, in his time, declared “the mystery of iniquity doth already work,” (2 Thess 2:7,) and we have no means of knowing how corrupt a church may become, without losing its identity as a scriptural church. We know the church at Corinth became very irregular, desecrating the Lord’s Supper, yet it was regarded by the apostle as a true church, though in error.

So at this time Montanus had inveighed against some of the corruptions which existed in his day, and through his instrumentality a church was established at Carthage. Agrippinus was the first pastor of this church, and was aided in his labors by Tertullian, who had seceded from the Catholic church at Carthage, and had united with the Montanists on the ground of the purity of their communion. Tertullian had complained that access to membership in the church was too readily gained, and that baptism was too hastily administered. When inquired of by a rich lady whether infants might be baptized on condition that they asked it, he replied that baptism ought not to be administered too hastily.

A.D. 200. When referred to the cases of the Eunuch and Paul, he declared that these were exceptional cases, and said that, “Such as understand the importance of baptism are more afraid of presumption than procrastination, and faith alone saves the soul.”

The looseness of doctrine touching baptism, and lack of discipline, finally forced Tertullian out of the dominant party which afterwards became known as the Catholic church, and he united with the Montanists’ church at Carthage, “which admitted members by examination and baptism, but all such as joined the Montanists from other communities were re-baptized.” For this reason the Montanists were sometimes called Anabaptists. So at this early period in the history of Christianity we find churches of different faith existing in the same cities.

A.D. 251. In A.D. 251, we find Novatian leaves the dominant party, on account of its corrupt doctrine and practice, and was ordained pastor of a church in the city of Rome. Novatian had been baptized by pouring, but so different from the pouring administered for baptism at the present day, that no one thinks of giving him as an example. He was sick, and supposing that he was about to die, he greatly desired to be baptized. Water was poured around him until he was completely covered, and this was recognized as baptism, inasmuch as he could not be immersed in the usual way. It had, at least, the merit of representing a burial.

There were now two opposing parties in Rome, each claiming to be the true church. The dominant party called themselves the Catholic church, and denominated the other the Paterines. The Paterines were sometimes called the Church of the Martyrs.

Novatian, who was their pastor, enforced such strict discipline by his teaching, which was so rigidly adhered to by his church, that they were often called Puritans, or Cathari, the pure. Sometimes they were called Novatians, from the name of their pastor, and this appellation continued to be applied to them long after his death.

A.D. 330. All over Italy these people were known by the name Paterines, and in A.D. 330, Italy was said to be “full of them.”

The Novatians had no fellowship with the Catholics, and rebaptized all who came to them from that party. They regarded the Catholics as having abandoned the true faith and were no longer a true church.

George Waddington, in speaking of the Novatians, calls them “Sectaries,” as quoted by Dr. Ray, and says: “And these rigid principles which had characterized and sanctified the church in the first century, were abandoned to the profession of schismatic Sectaries in the third.” Mr. Ray very correctly remarks on this testimony as follows:

“This important testimony of George Waddington, the learned Episcopal historian, establishes two important points.

1. That the Novatians, called Sectaries by their enemies, preserved those rigid principles which had characterized and sanctified the church in the first century.
2. That the Catholic, or orthodox party ‘abandoned these principles to the profession of Schismatic Sectaries in the third’ century.”

A.D. 306. As early as A.D. 306 wide spread dissensions begun to exist among Christians throughout the Roman empire, extending not only through Numidia, but throughout the provinces of Africa. One party sustaining the civil authorities, and the other resisting their encroachments upon religious liberty. It was at this time that Donatus came to the front, as a great leader of the dissenting party, and a class of Christians in Northern Africa, which espoused his views, were called Donatists. They held to the same doctrines and practices which distinguished the Montanists. They were the same people in faith and practice, and were known by the name, Donatists, for a period of four hundred and fifty years, or down to A.D. 756. Sometimes they were denominated Puritans, as the Novatians were, and for the same reason. Donatus was elected bishop, or pastor, at Carthage in A.D. 306, and was the firmest supporter of his party. This fact alone identifies the Donatists with the Montanists.

A.D. 390. There were in A.D. 390, as many as four hundred separate congregations of Donatists. These were each presided over by a single bishop or pastor. These terms at that time signified the same office. The Donatists, like the Montanists and Novatians, rebaptized all who came over to them from the Catholic party, and hence were called Anabaptists.

A.D. 404. The Catholics had long before this become the dominant party, and backed by State and municipal authority, continually persecuted the true faith, and left no means unused to propagate their own doctrines. So many Catholics had abandoned that faith and united with the Donatists or Montanists, that Emperor Honorius, in 404, ordered them to return to the Catholic church, or be fined, at the same time banishing the pastors of the refractory. These mild measures failing to have the desired effect, more severe measures were adopted. The increased numbers of the Donatists, however, prevented the Catholics from using the extreme measures which were afterwards used for their suppression. Mr. Orchard says of them:

“The Donatists had hitherto maintained themselves in good reputation, and their affairs were in good state. The Catholics having Augustine as their head, with other zealous adjutors exerted every means for their suppression; but finding their preaching and writing effected very little alteration, they in 404, sent a deputation to the emperor, Honorius, requesting him to enforce those edicts made in previous reigns against the Donatists.—The emperor first imposed a fine on all those who refused to return to the bosom of the church, banishing the pastors of the refractory. The year following severe measures were adopted, but the magistrates were remiss in their execution. This occasioned a council at Carthage, which sent a deputation to the emperor, soliciting the appointment of special officers to execute his edicts with vigor. Though weakened by these measures the Puritans were yet quite strong.”

A.D. 412. In A.D. 412, we find the Donatists persecuted for rebaptizing. The Catholics well knew that a refusal to recognize their baptisms as scriptural was equivalent to a declaration that their churches were not scriptural churches. “The Catholics found by experience that the means hitherto used had been ineffectual against the Donatists. They now prevailed on Honorius and Theodosius, emperors of the east and west, to issue an edict, decreeing, “that the person rebaptizing and the person rebaptized, should be punished with death.”

The Novatians, who, as we have already seen, held to the same doctrines and were identically the same people as the Donatists, were suffering severe persecutions during the same year. Mr. Orchard says: “In 412, Cyril was ordained bishop of Alexandria. One of his first acts was to shut up all the churches of the Novatians, and strip them of everything of value.”

The Donatists not only rebaptized all persons who came over to their faith from the Catholics, but persistently refused to baptize children, “contrary to the practice of the Catholic church.” This opposition to infant baptism greatly incensed the Catholics. An assembly (since called a council), was convened at Mela, in Numidia, at which Augustine presided, with ninety-two ministers present.

A.D. 415. At this Catholic council, in the year 415, the following declaration was made: “We will that whoever denies that little children by baptism are freed from perdition and eternally saved, that they be accursed.” Had the Catholics been able to produce scriptural evidence in support of infant baptism, their bitter denunciations would not have been needed.

All these people known by the names of Montanists, Novatians and Donatists, were distinguished by the following characteristics which marked them as Baptists:

First. Their churches were local, independent bodies.
Second. The terms bishop, and pastor, signified with them, the same office, and they were the servants of the churches.
Third. They admitted none to their membership but baptized believers.
Fourth. They invariably baptized by immersion.
Fifth. They opposed the doctrine of baptismal salvation.

Orchard says of these people: “The Novatians and Donatists very nearly resembled each other in doctrine and discipline; indeed they are charged by Crispin, a French historian, with holding together in the following things: First, For purity of church members, by asserting that none ought to be admitted into the church but such as are visibly true believers and real saints; Secondly, For purity of church discipline; Thirdly, For the independency of each church; and, Fourthly, They baptized again those whose first baptism they had reason to doubt. They were consequently termed Rebaptizers or Anabaptists. Osiander says, our modern Anabaptists were the same with Donatists of old. Fuller, the English church historian, asserts, that the Baptists in England, in his days, were the Donatists new dipped.”

We have now traced the true churches of Christ during the first four centuries, by different names, it is true, but holding to the same principles and doctrines. Indeed we find them continuing for three hundred years longer, or until A.D. 750, by the single name of Donatists. The church at Smyrna continued certainly from A.D. 81 to A.D. 166, for Polycarp was pastor of this church during this whole period of time. Nor have we any reason to believe that the church became extinct at the death of their pastor in 166. Then we have the church at Lyons, with Irenaeus pastor, in A.D. 180, which he continued to serve until A.D. 200. In A.D. 200 or 215, we find the church at Carthage which continued to exist, as a single church, for a period of two hundred years. These people were called Montanists. Nearly one hundred years before this time, we have found a people called Donatists, beginning about A.D. 306, and continuing for a period of four hundred and fifty years, or until A.D. 756. All this time the same people were called by different names, in different localities, as Novatians, Paterines, Puritans, Cathari, or the pure, and Church of the Martyrs.

We will now go back over the same period of time to note the rise of heresies and the persecutions to which the true churches were subjected, for the faith of the Gospel of Christ.

Author of the “Compendium Of Baptist History”. Please inform the Editor of the AHB (via the Contact page) if you have biographical information on this author. Thank you.

Shackelford on Baptist History (Complete)