PART ONE: Origin of the English Baptists
Ancient Baptist Succession in Wales
Perhaps because of their Separatist origins, the Particular Baptists of London and vicinity suffered from certain doctrinal lapses concerning communion and baptism. Throughout the latter years of the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth they debated the issues of mixed memberships and open communion. In fact, after careful consideration of the 1644 Confession, a Particular Baptist council ruled that its authors purposely left the question of open communion unanswered. Therefore, they concluded that their intent was to permit open communion.
The positions of Killcop, Spilsbury and Knollys concerning baptismal succession have already been noted. Crosby's History of the English Baptist indicates an attitude of ambiguity existed among some Particular Baptists toward the principle of baptismal succession.
In all, it appears from the statements of early Particular Baptist leaders that baptism by immersion, upon a profession of faith, was the determining feature of church fellowship. Evidently it was their position that baptismal authority need not be through succession from Christ; rather, at any time, God allowed groups to assign this authority to one of their members and thereby institute a new beginning of church identity and authority. Thus, reformation did not require church succession for authority to baptize.
Jonathan Davis, in his book A History of the Welsh Baptists, published in 1835, notes the Particular Baptists were in controversy over the practice of laying on of hands on newly baptized members. Also, W. Gwynn Owen's book reveals the practice of fellowship with the General Baptists led to associational amalgamation between the two bodies of Baptists.
Such practices were in contrast to the early Baptists of Wales in the Midlands, who claimed their succession of Baptist heritage through the mother church in Olchon Valley located on the Wales/England border, which is part of that area of Britain known as the Midlands. Their ancient Baptist heritage included principles of closed membership and communion. They were not reformed, claiming a succession to Christ through the Apostle Paul. Former pastor of Olchon Baptist Church, John Howells, states the ancient Britons of Wales, around Olchon, maintained an unbroken chain of succession from Christ. "The true apostolic succession is to be found here, and here only, in the history of the genuine Baptists. From Paul, downwards, to this day, they have never failed as a visible body of believers, witnessing for the truth as it is in Jesus, and in maintaining the like faith and practice, continuing constant, in season and out of season, in spite of bonds, imprisonments, the fiery stake, the headsman's axe, the hangmans cord, the assassin's sword, the damp, dark, dreary, and undrained dungeon, the racking tortures of the inquisition, the perverted Roman church. There has been all along the blood-tinged ages of martyrdom an uninterrupted preservation of the primitive creed and ritual of the church of the Pentecost, so signally inaugurated in the upper room in Jerusalem. There is no missing link in this celestial chain from age to age of the remnant according to the election of grace. One of those important and super-eminent links in the "Catena" of Orthodox Christian Church history is the ancient church and chapel of Olchon. It goes back behind Luther and the Protestant Reformation. The genuine Baptist Church needed no reformation, for it never deformed or degenerated itself. Its unquenchable and sparkling transparency motto ever has been and still is, the incorruptible Word that liveth and abideth forever."
Jonathan Davis notes the ancient Baptists of Wales did not practice open membership or communion. He cited their relative isolation as the reason for their purity of doctrine and practice. He wrote of the Welsh brethren around Olchon, "We know that at the reformation, in the reign of Charles the first, they had a minister named Howell Vaughan, quite a different sort of a Baptist from Erbury, Wroth, Vavasor Powell and others, who were the great reformers, but had not reformed so far as they ought to have done, in the opinion of the Olchon Baptists. And was not to be wondered at; for they had dissented from the Church of England, and probably brought some of her corruptions with them, but the mountain Baptists were not dissenters from that establishment. We know the reformers were for mixed communion, but the Olchon Baptists received no such practices. In short, these were plain, strict Apostolic Baptists. They would have order and no confusion, the word of God their only rule."
Several historians, cite an ancient presence of Baptists in Wales. In the introduction to Orchard's History, J. R. Graves wrote; "Welsh Baptists contend that the principles of the gospel were maintained pure and unalloyed in the recesses of their mountainous principality all through the dark reign of popery. God had a regular chain of true and faithful witness in this country, in every age, from the first introduction of Christianity."
"In no country have the principles of our faith as Baptists been more generally understood and more bravely defended than in the little principality of Wales. It is commonly believed that all through the dark reign of popery, in the seclusions of her valleys and the fastnesses of her mountains, there were those who preserved the ancient purity of doctrine and worship."
"There is much evidence that the Baptists of England and Wales date back to very early times."
Jonathan Davis places Christianity in Wales prior to the reformation with this colorful description of the Vale of Carleon, which is the location of Olchon. "It is well known to all who are acquainted with the history of Great Britain, that Carleon, in South Wales, was a renowned city in past ages......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 Tydryl, our Alps; and the crevices of the rock, 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. It was no wonder that Penry, Wroth and Erbury, commonly called the first reformers of the Baptist denomination in Wales, should have so many followers at once, when we consider that their field of labors was the vale of Carleon and its vicinity."
Formal records of the origin of Christianity in Wales are lost in antiquity. However, a single legendary account is generally cited by Welsh Baptist historians. The following description of the ancient roots of the Welsh Baptists is taken from History of the Welch Baptists, by Jonathan Davis, written in 1835. "About fifty years before the birth of our Savior, the Romans invaded the British Isles, in the reign of the Welch king Cassebellun; but having failed, in consequence of other and more important wars made peace with them, and dwelt among them many years. During that period many of the Welsh soldiers joined the Roman army, and many families from Wales visited Rome; among them there was a certain woman named Claudia, who was married to a man named Pudence. At the time, Paul was sent a prisoner to Rome, and preached there in his own hired house, for the space of two years, about the year of our Lord 63. 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 their Christian religion. These together with other Welshmen, among the Roman soldiers, who had heard that the Lord was gracious, exerted themselves on behalf of their countrymen in Wales, who were at that time idolaters." Davis continues, "How rapidly did the mighty gospel of Christ fly abroad! The very year 63, when Paul, a prisoner, was preaching to a few individuals, in his own hired house in Rome, the seed sowed there is growing in the Isle of Britain."
The Apostle Paul concludes his second epistle to Timothy with greetings from some of the saints gathered with him in Rome. Among those mentioned are Pudence and Claudia. Paul's mention of these Welsh Christians casts some doubt as to their being in Wales in 63 A. D. since it is believed Paul wrote II Timothy in 66 A.D.. However, the identities of Pudence and Claudia are well documented. Claudia was the daughter of Welsh King Caratacus. Pudence was Claudia's husband. Armitage believed he was a Roman Senator.
Seventeenth century historian Edward Stillingfleet, in Orgines Britannice: or, the Antiquities of the British Churches, provides specific details of the identity of Pudens and Claudia and their involvement with Christianity in first century Rome and Britain. Quoting Moncaeius de Incunah he wrote, "That Claudia, mentioned by St. Paul, was Caractacus' daughter, and turned Christian, and after married to Pudens, a Roman senator; whose marriage is celebrated by Martial in his noted epigrams to that purpose." Stillingfleet continued his assessment of Claudia's role in the spread of Christianity to Britain quoting from Antiquities Britannicae; "That in so noble a family, the rest of her kindred who were baptised with her might be the occasion of dispersing Chritianity in the British nation."
T. Rees, in his History of Non-conformity in Wales, states that Bran Fendigaid (Bruno the blessed), a Prince of Wales, was a Christian, who, along with other Christians, returned from Rome to Wales around 60 A. D.. According to Rees, they brought with them ministers of the gospel, who introduced Christianity to Wales, establishing a link of succession from Christ.
William Cathcart, in his book The Ancient British and Irish Churches, also claims an ancient beginning for Christianity in the British Isles. He quotes the work of second century historian Tertullian to substantiate his assertion. "In whom other than Christ, who has already come, do all the nations believe? For in him have believed the most diverse people; Pathians, Medes, Elamites; those who inhabit Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Cappadocia; the dwellers of Pontus, Asia and Pamphylia; those occupying Egypt, and inhabiting the region of Africa beyond Cyrene, Romans and natives, even Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, and other nations; nay, the different tribes of the Getulians, and many territories of the Moors, all parts of Spain, the different peoples of Gaul, and part of BRITAIN not reached by the Romans but subjugated by Christ. In all these the name of Christ who has already come, reigns."
In 180 A. D. Faganus and Damicanus, who in Davis' words "were born in Wales but born again in Rome, and there became eminent ministers of the gospel," returned to Wales to assist their brethren. In citing their successes Davis wrote. "Though the gospel had been preached in the island since the year 63; yet, as God had not departed from his general way of disseminating his truth among the children of men, by beginning with small things in order to obtain great things, hitherto it had been the day of small things with our forefathers, the inhabitants of the ends of the earth. But now Zion's tent stretched forth; she broke forth on the right hand and on the left."
About 285 A. D. the Welsh Baptists suffered their first large scale persecutions. As Satan had been negligent of his usual policy of immediate persecutions against those newly turned to the Savior, he assaulted this small band of isolated Christians with intense hatred and destruction. During the reign of Roman Emperor Dioclesian, in the tenth persecution, the first martyrdoms on Welsh soil occurred. The elimination of Christianity in Wales was ordered.
Alban was the first Briton to fall in death for Christ. He was executed for providing shelter to a Christian bishop. Next to Alban were two of Christ's bishops, Aaron and Julius, who lived at Carleon, South Wales. With their deaths the reign of terror expanded. A command went out that every Christian be slain. Orders were given to burn all their meeting houses and writings. But persecution did not stop the spread of Christianity, for as quickly as one saint fell another stepped forward to carry forward the blood stained banner of King Immanuel.
The first Christian emperor was a Welshman. Though of Roman descent, Constantine was also Welsh. His mother was Helena the daughter of Coelgodebog Earl of Glouchester, his father Constantius, the Roman ruler of Britain. As a youth, Constantine resided in Wales, where his mother instructed him in the ways of Christ. Concerning Helena's dedication to Christ, Cathcart rote, "She was a devoted Christian, and there is some reason for supposing that she exerted and influence over both her husband and son in favor of christians, which prompted them to the toleration of their opinions." Thus, it was by a Welshman that Christianity drew the attention of all the world. However, it is a saying with English historians, and here it very accurately applies; when princes engage in religion they either do to much for it or too much against it.
Not all Welsh Christians were orthodox. The father of perhaps the greatest perversion of the doctrines of Christ was a Welshman. His Welsh name was Morgan. He is the father of free willism. Davis notes, "the Welshmen, for a considerable time, had a sort of a religious quarrel with one of their countrymen, of the name of Morgan, known abroad as Pelagius."
Davis quotes historical records which note the massacre of more than 1200 Welsh Baptists around 600 A.D. by Saxons under command of the papist monk, Austin. Because of previous successes among the pagan Saxons of England Austin ventured into Wales to spread Roman Catholicism. He requested a meeting with the leaders of the Baptists. Being agreeable to meet and discuss matters of religion, the Welsh brethren sent some twelve-hundred of their preachers and delegates to meet with Austin near Hereford, on the English border, near the cleft of Black Mountain, in a valley called Olchon. Once they assembled the papist asserted that baptism was the means of salvation, and insisted the Welsh brethren surrender their children and infants to Catholic baptism. To this the Elders utterly refused, at which point Austin ordered the Saxons, who had accompanied him to Wales, to attack the unarmed Baptists. In one day, at the hands of one Catholic monk and four-hundred Saxon malefactors, some twelve-hundred of God's humble servants fell in defence of Christ's cause.
Very little written history remains of the Welsh Baptists during the dark ages of Catholic occupation up to the reformation of the English Catholics by Henry VIII. However, some few accounts exist which testify that Christ's little band of Welsh Baptists remained as true witnesses of the glory and graciousness of God. The remnants of history which remain are mostly centered around the vale of Olchon.
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