J. A. Shackelford completed his “Compendium of Baptist History” in 1891. It was not his original intent to write a history of the Baptists, but rather prepare a chart “which would give a bird’s eye view of Baptist History, with its relations to the Catholic hierarchy, and the branches of the Romish church.” However, the amount of material acquired through research provided an abundant supply of historical facts which suggested a larger work should be produced. The finished manuscript is a superb summary of significant events which tell the story of Christ preserving His church through two millennia.

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An unusual interest has, of late, been awakened in the study of church history. This is a hopeful indication. It shows that many are disposed to turn away from human organizations, and seek for the true church of Christ, as revealed in the Gospels. It is worse than folly to suppose that the Saviour left his work so incomplete that uninspired men, of later years, must take it up and bring it to perfection. It must be a recognized fact that Christ established his Church, as a “pillar and ground of the truth.”

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Before proceeding further it will be necessary to examine into the meaning of the word “church.” This word has come to be used in such a broad sense that it takes in and is applied to any religious organization, or society, whether a Scriptural church or not.

By some writers it is made to “include the entire body of professed Christians.” By others it means “the spiritual congregation, or aggregate of the regenerate, including the saints in heaven, the saints on earth and the saints yet to come.” The general usage of the word at present justifies both of these definitions, but its Scriptural use does not, nor was the word so used in the time of Christ and his apostles.

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