WERE THE PAULICIAN AND BOGOMIL CHURCHES BAPTIST CHURCHES?
WITHIN the last two years a Baptist newspaper of large circulation and conducted with great ability has asserted editorially that " there was no evidence at present attainable which justified a belief in the existence of Baptist churches during the period between the fourth and eleventh or twelfth centuries." The writer did not deny, although he did not assert, that there might have been during that period individuals who held to Baptist doctrines.
But great men are not always wise, and their dicta are not always infallible. It happened, at the very time that this statement was made, that there was evidence attainable that during the period specified Baptist churches as pure as any now in existence were maintained, and their membership during a part of that time was as large as, and perhaps larger than, that of the Baptist churches throughout the world at the present day.
In our demonstration on this point it may be well to define what are and have been in all ages the distinguishing characteristics of Baptist churches.
It will be said, perhaps, by persons who have not given the matter much thought, " Oh, everybody knows what is the sole characteristic of Baptists: they believe in immersion as the only baptism." This is true; but so do the Greek Church, the Mormons, the Campbellites or Disciples, the Christians, the Free-Will Baptists, etc., etc. " Well, they reject infant baptism." True; but so do most of those named above.
A critical examination of the history and doctrines of the Baptist churches of Europe and America reveals the following negative and positive particulars as characteristic of them all.
1. They take the word of God, as revealed in the Bible, as their only sufficient rule of faith and practice.
2. They regard faith in Jesus Christ as God manifest in the flesh, and as having suffered and died the shameful death of the cross, and risen again for their justification, and ascended to heaven as their Mediator, as the only sufficient assurance of salvation, and that this faith is always connected with repentance and regeneration.
3. They refuse to be bound by any creed or confession of faith or doctrine which is not clothed in the words of the Scriptures.
4. Their only initiatory rite for membership is the immersion of the believer in water on the profession of his faith. This they do not deem a saving ordinance, but a simple act of obedience to the command of Christ.
5. They entirely repudiate infant baptism, both as unscriptural and injurious to its subjects, inasmuch as baptism is only the profession of the act of faith on the part of the believer himself, and no one is able to promise for an infant that it shall believe at a future time. And they regard this baptism of infants as tending to hypocrisy and the introduction of unconverted persons into the church, and of no significance except where it entitles the infant, as it does in some countries, to state privileges.
6. They regard the Lord's Supper as a memorial, not a mystical, service, to be offered only to baptized believers. They repudiate utterly the mystical ideas of the ordinance entertained by some of the Reformed churches, the consubstantiation theory as held by the Lutheran, and still more decidedly by the Greek Church, and the transubstantiation doctrine of the Romish Church and its allies.
7. They abhor the worship of the Virgin Mary in all its forms, and that of the saints, prayers to the saints, prayers or masses for the dead, the worship of pictures, icons, images, crucifixes, and everything of the sort, monachisin and seclusion, and all attempts to acquire merit by superfluous good works.
8. They believe in the necessity of a pure and holy lifenot for the attainment of heaven or of any earthly or heavenly good, but from gratitude to Him who hath redeemed them.
9. They have always held to freedom of conscience and worship. They have never, when they have had the power, persecuted any for holding views which differed from theirs, but have always granted to others what they claimed for themselvesthe freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.
10. They have always been a plain peopleplain in dress, plain in their houses of worship, and plain in their speech. Their churches have not been decorated with cross or crucifix, statue or image, lectern, altar, reredos, or lighted candles. No "storied windows dight" have displayed full-length portraits of the Saviour, the apostles, or saints. No chimes of bells ring out for them the announcement of church holy-days. Even in the midst of the most gorgeous displays of church architecture and decoration they have been content with perfect plainness.
11. They have never acknowledged any hierarchy, archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, and priests, nor have any of the monastic orders ever gained even a momentary foothold in their churches. Their pastors, teachers, or elders are chosen from, and licensed and ordained by, the churches, and these possess no exclusive or ecclesiastical authority; and though held greatly in esteem and love for their works' sake, they have no ruling power or right of absolution beyond other members of the church, except what is derived from their intellectual attainments, their study of God's word, and their earnest devotional spirit.
We think no one familiar with our denomination would question, for a moment, the right of a church which held these views, and practised in accordance with them, to be considered a Baptist church and entitled to receive the hand of fellowship at once.
Will any intelligent man who has carefully read this historical sketch point out a single item in which the Paulicians and Bogomils failed to come up to the standard of Baptist churches of the present day?
A great deal has been said of the gross doctrinal errors of the Paulicians, and they have been confounded (wilfully in some instances) with the Manichaeans, Novatians, and other sects whose doctrines they vehemently repudiated. The early ecclesiastical historians, who have given us such exaggerated pictures of their heresies, were themselves mostly priests or monks of the Greek Church, bitter partisans, and champions of a church which enforced uniformity of dogma at the point of the sword. From them alone, unfortunately, is nearly all our information in regard to the doctrines of these early Protestants derived. They had every temptation to misrepresent, and we know that in many instances they did so. For a period of ten centuries they persisted, against their earnest protests, in calling the Paulicians and Bogomils, Manichaeans, and imputing to them the dualistic doctrine, which was perhaps held, though probably only in a modified form, by some of the earlier Paulicians. They attributed to them also the phantastic theory of Christ's mission to earth, of which there is no trace later than the sixth or seventh century. In Our narrative we have admitted these charges as probable, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, but they certainly disappeared speedily before the stronger and clearer light of God's word. Meantime, these views, if theoretically held for a time, were no bar to a saving faith in Christ, and did not prevent them from leading lives of such holiness and purity that even their adversaries were compelled to acknowledge their excellence. Nor did they prohibit their making the most active exertions for the conversion of the world. They were, with all their errors, sons of God, without reproach, epistles of Christ known and read of all men.
At a period when the sword was the usual weapon for conversion, and the doctrines of the church were thrust down the throats of the unconverted "will he, nill he," the Paulicians of Armenia were sending out their missionaries two and two, unarmed except with the word of God, among the savage and pagan Bulgarians, to lead them to Christ and to teach them the way of salvation; and they were wonderfully successful. Many centuries before either the Greek or the Roman Church had thought of the possibility of the devotion of holy women to the nursing of the sick, the care and instruction of the poor and ignorant and of little children, and all those works of mercy which have made the names of the "Sisters of Charity" and of "Mercy" so widely honored, devout women of the Paulician and Bogomil churches were giving themselves to these good works; and not only our modern missions, but our modern Sunday-schools and hospitals for the sick, find their models and origin among these humble people.
Grant, even, that in their earlier history, with but scanty light and with only small portions of the word of God accessible to them, they had fallen into theoretic errors in regard to the two principles of good and evil, and with their vivid Oriental imaginations had speculated upon the possibility of the phantastic theory of our Lord's mission to earth, were these views any more crude than those of many genuine converts from heathenism at the present day? And when we set in the balance against these their simple faith in Christ, their repudiation of Mariolatry, invocations to saints, the worship of images and pictures, and, above all, their holy living and earnest working for the propagation of the truth, why should we turn away from them as heretics and unworthy of the Christian name?
The Greek and the Roman churches, their violent and relentless persecutors, who boasted of their orthodoxy, were, even at their best, far more heretical, both in doctrine and in practice, than the Paulicians. Their churches were decked and filled with images, sculptures, icons, and paintings of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and even with paintings of traditional scenes in the lives of saints and emperors which would now bring a blush even upon a cheek of brass; the idolatries, practised in both churches in the worship of the Virg in and the saints and emperors, and the adoring of crucifixes and relies, were open and gross; while the conduct of emperors and empresses, the spiritual heads of the church, was so infamous in its criminality that it put to shame even the worst of the pagan emperors of Rome. There were corruption, simony, theft, profligacy, and the most horrible licentiousness everywhere. All these things passed without rebuke, or at most with very gentle reproof, from the ecclesiastical historians of the times, who reserved the thunders of their denunciations for the pure and saintly Paulicians. At a later period the Romish Church emulated, and even surpassed, the Greek Church in the infamy of its priesthood, the cruelty of its persecutions of the hapless Bogomils, and the horrible corruption and impurity of its popes, bishops, priests, monks, and nuns.
When the hidden treasures of sacred books, manuscripts, and communion-vessels preserved in the secret chambers of castle-vaults in Bosnia and the Herzegovina for four hundred years and more by the Moslem descendants of Bogomil nobles shall be brought to light, as they soon will be, we shall learn more in detail of the doctrinal views of these Bogomil churches, but it is not to be anticipated that we shall find anything to their discredit; for holy living and careful, thorough study of God's word ensure sound doctrine. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine."
Courage and firmness in defending their faith, coupled with a patient endurance of persecution for righteousness' sake, was a characteristic of the Paulicians, and later of the Bogomils. Evans, a most impartial writer, estimates that between the eighth and fifteenth centuries nearly a million of these Protestants perished by martyrdom in Bulgaria, Bosnia, and the Herzegovina. But when, as in the ninth century, the Greek Empress Theodora attempted and vowed their entire extermination, they showed themselves no cowards or cravens in their defence of their hearths, their homes, and their faith, but drove back their cruel persecutors with such vigor that they made them quake in their gilded palaces in Constantinople.
Then followed an act which we, alone of all the Christian denominations, are warranted in claiming as distinctively a development of, one of our fundamental mental principlesthe establishment of the free state and city of Tephrice, whose every citizen was at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience without let or hindrance. Where did these Christian mountaineers get this idea? All around them there was bitter persecution for conscience sakethey themselves had seen one hundred thousand or more of their brethren slain for their faith at the command of the infamous Theodorayet, while flushed with their victory over their persecutors, they pause and found a state where persecution for conscientious belief shall be unknown, where every creed and every unbeliever shall find shelter from persecution. This free state lasted for nearly a hundred and fifty years; and though it was too early for permanence, since the nations were not capable of grasping so grand an idea, yet it existed Iong enough to show that those whom Christ makes free are free indeed.
And during its existence the freedom of opinion maintained there was not apathy or indifference. Far from it. The free city of Tephrice was the centre and seat of a missionary enterprise which has had no parallel since the time of the apostles. The missionary elders went forth two and two, sustained by their brethren at home, throughout Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Serbia, preaching the word, and the pagan Bulgarians and Bosniacs were converted in such numbers that their enemies of the Greek Church began to add to the other opprobrious names which they gave to the Paulicians that of Bulgars, which after a time was corrupted into " Bougres," by which term, among others, they were known for centuries.
At length so many of these missionaries migrated into Bulgaria that Tephrice became nearly depopulated, and fell into the hands of the Saracens. At a later period, when the Bogomils were, as was the case several times, the masters of Bosnia for forty, sixty, or, in one instance, a hundred years, they never retaliated upon their persecutors the wrongs which they had endured, but always advocated the largest liberty of opinion.
That the Bogomils of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Serbia in the eleventh and following centuries had purged themselves from those erroneous doctrines which were taught by the earlier Paulicians, and were as clear in their doctrinal views as the Baptist churches here to-day, is abundantly evident from the reluctant testimony of their adversaries. They do not quite abandon their old nickname of Manichaeans in speaking of them, but oftener they call them Patarenes, Bougres, Ketzers, Publicani, and sometimes Arians, which is widest of the mark of all, for their belief in the divinity of Christ and his equality with the Father was as sound as that of the Athanasian Creed.
If their affiliation with all the purest Reformers before the Reformation were not so thoroughly demonstrated as it is, we might have anticipated it from their known missionary spirit; but there is no fact in history better substantiated than that the Bogomil churches in Bosnia were the mother-churches from which originated, through the labors of their faithful missionaries, the congregations of Waldenses, Vaudois, Poor Men of Lyons, Catharists, Ketzers, Publicani, Bohemians, and Hussites; and it is equally certain that during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and probably both earlier and later, there was an annual intercourse kept up between these churches and the mother-churches in Bosnia. Eventually there were probably some diversities of doctrine, which crept in among the Western churches; the manuscript found at Lyons in 1851, and which contains a form of worship certainly not earlier than the latter part of the fifteenth centurywhich we give in part elsewhere indicates considerable departures from the earlier faith. What these were it is difficult to say. They certainly did not include infant baptism, which was repudiated by most of the Christian churches of the Continent that had never been in fellowship with Rome. They may have admitted, in some cases, affusion or sprinkling in the place of immersion in baptism, but this is uncertain, and in the more southern churches improbable.
But there is one fact which should be kept in mind: the Bogomils, and, earlier, the Paulicians, as well as the churches which affiliated with them in Western Europe, refused to be called reformers, or even Protestants, if by that term there should be any implication that they were originally seceders from either the Roman or the Greek churches. They said uniformly and boldly, "We have never had any connection with those corrupt churches; and though we protest against their false doctrines, we have no belief that they can ever be reformed into churches of Christ." It was this bold and consistent opposition to these great churches which so inflamed their wrath and made them such bitter persecutors of the Bogomil churches. As a consequence of this, as we have noticed in the history, none of those churches which had affiliated with the Bogomils of Bosnia were much enlarged by the Reformation, and most of them maintained a separate existence after that event.
This is just the position that the Baptist churches, and they only, have always occupied. They did not come out from Rome, for they never belonged to it. They sympathize, indeed, with what is good in the work of the Reformation, and with the churches which cannot go farther back than Luther or Calvin or Zwinglius for their origin; yet all of those churches retain, in their ordinances, their infant membership, and their hierarchy, some traces of their former adherence to the Church of Rome. The white robe of their profession has still some stains upon it. The Baptist churches, on the other hand, trace their spiritual lineage back in an unbroken line through myriads of white-robed martyrs who never were defiled by contact with Rome to the days of the apostles, and reckon as among their earliest elders and preachers the names of Paul and Peter and John, of Stephen and Philip and Barnabas, of Silas and Timothy and Titus; and the only priest they know is the Great High Priest who is passed into the heavens, the Shepherd and Bishop of souls.
In this noble position we stand, as a denomination, alone, though the early Puritans of England might have shared it with us had they not given up their birthright by adopting the twin errors of affusion and infant baptism from Rome.
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