THE DEPARTURE FROM THE FAITH.
THE VARIOUS BODIES THAT KEPT BAPTIST PRINCIPLES ALIVE.
Drifting away and why
As the first century A. D., was passing away a departure from the Faith was evidenced among the Christian churches. The desire and inclination to graft Christianity on to Judaism on the part of the converted Jews and the inability of the Gentiles to fully comprehend the fundamental principles of Christianity led to corruption in the church. Accustomed to the idea that outward ceremonies and sacrifices met the requirements of their Supreme Ruler, the Jews attempted to harmonize the teachings of Christ and the Apostles with the ideas of their former worship. This led them farther and farther away from the ideas of personal faith and communion with Christ, with the result, as a distinguished writer observes that "The natural result was the substitution of formalism for spirituality, devotion to the externals of religion taking the place of living faith." It is easily understood how these tendencies led to a corruption of doctrine and polity; how that the simplicity of the New Testament church organization, with its absolute lack of rites and ceremonies, would not meet the demands of ritualists and formalists in the churches.
Grace through sacraments
It was thus that the priesthood and grace through sacraments took fast hold on these crude early Christians. Hence, early in the second century we meet with the idea of the one great visible church with its priesthood and its elaborate rituals and ceremonies. With this came baptismal regeneration, thus bringing into the churches the hosts of unregenerated people, whose only claim to the new birth was that they had been baptized. Now the church is no more with them "a body of baptized believers, baptized upon a profession of their faith," but a combination of saints and sinners, the latter supposed to have received grace through baptism. With the church and the world so mixed it was but a step toward the union of church and state with the latter ultimately predominating. As a result of this corruption we find the monarchs and potentates of this period, though without Christ themselves, making themselves rulers over God's heritage. Announcing themselves as representatives of the Kingdom of God, they assume the leadership of the church of Christ. Surrounded as they were, by vicious and immoral officials, they soon delivered the church by placing these wretched sinners in high places in the councils of the church. What wonder that darkness followed by a scattering of the adherents to the faith came upon the churches.
Fundamental principle of baptism vitiated
The origin of clinic Baptism
Having raised baptism to a sacrament, it was but natural that these church authorities should insist upon baptism under all conditions. So that when immersion in water was not possible, some form as near to immersion as possible was to be administered. While there would be no baptism without immersion, they felt that something must be done, hence, when there was not sufficient water in which to immerse, they poured water upon the head. Now as baptism had been vitiated as to its fundamental principle, other innovations soon followed. In the third century we find the introduction of clinic baptism (from kline, a couch), the baptism of sick persons confined to their beds. Of this Cramp says: "It was not Baptism, properly so-called, as they were only sprinkled with water or had water poured on them. The reason alleged for this departure from apostolic practice was the necessity of baptism to the salvation of the soul, and the consequent danger of depriving it, lest the sickness should terminate in death. Thus one error led to another. If those clinics recovered they were not baptized afterwards, but they were not admitted to the ministry. Novation, however, was an exception to the rule. He had been sprinkled or received a pouring on his head, when his dissolution was hourly expected. After his recovery, his eminent qualifications for the ministry induced the churches to deviate from the established custom, and he was ordained."
Infant Baptism a result of corruption
Infant baptism was another result of the idea of baptismal regeneration, the deduction being that infants being unregenerated, if they died were lost. This being true, as they reasoned, they baptized infants that they might be regenerated and thus saved. It is hardly necessary to point out the fact that infant baptism is to be found nowhere in the New Testament.
The corruption of the Lord's Supper
As Vedder points out, the idea of sacramental grace did not stop with the corruption of the doctrine of baptism, but extended to the Communion, or the Lord's Supper. He says: "With the decrease of faith the increase of formalism kept pace and the administration of the Lord's Supper, from being a simple and spiritual ceremony, became surrounded by a cloud of rituals and finally developed into the mass of the Roman Church." Laying as great stress as Luther did later upon the mere letter of Scripture, the Church of the third and fourth centuries insisted that the words "This is my body" were to be accepted by all faithful Christians as a literal statement of truth, and that Paul's words when he says that the broken bread is the body of Christ do not indicate a spiritual partaking of Christ's nature, but a literal and materialistic reception of it in and through the bread and wine."
The catechumenate and its evil
With the elaborate system of rites, ceremonies and mystic principles that had become connected with the churches through these new and false ideas they had brought in the establishment of a catechumenate, a system of rudimentary instruction in Christianity for those who were to be baptized and become members of the church. So elaborate was this that the idea soon became prevalent that one was to work his way into the Kingdom rather than to be born into it. Thus the church of the New Testament was led into "the wilderness, and as a visible, local organization we lose sight of it for a long, dark period."
Peter of Bruys and his followers
Despite the obscurity of various periods since the first and second centuries, it is plainly evident to the searcher after truth that the principles and sentiments for which Baptists contend have been in evidence, and men have suffered and died for them somewhere at all times since apostolic days. We shall now give a brief sketch of various sects, who kept alive the fires of New Testament principles during the dark period, from the third century to the Reformation. It may be that none of these held to all the doctrines and practices of Modern Baptists, but each contended for some of them. THE PETROBRUSIANS, among the earliest of these sects, were the followers of Peter of Bruys, in Southern France, who preached with great power and blessing. We know not by what means he was led to the thoughts and conclusions which brought him to the position of the bold reformer. Cramp defines his position as follows: "Baptism and the church were contemplated by Peter in the pure light of Scripture. The church should be composed, he constantly affirmed, of true believers, good and just persons; no others had any claim to membership. Baptism was a nullity unless connected with personal faith, but all who believed were under solemn obligation to be baptized, according to the Saviour's command." The Petrobrusians brought down upon their heads the wrath of Peter the Venerable, who wrote a book against their "heresy," because they absolutely rejected tradition and appealed to the Scriptures as the sole authority in religion, and because they denied sacramental grace. With Vedder we can see that these "errors" of the Petrobrusians were what Baptists have always held to be precious and fundamental truths. After twenty years of splendid labor amid fiery trials Peter of Bruys was burned as a heretic about the year 1126.
We pause in passing to speak of Arnaldo da Brescia who followed very close upon Peter of Bruys as a reformer and "heretic." It is said that the most serious revolts of the twelfth century against the church are traceable to his lecture-room. He will always hold a prominent place in Baptist history, as he was the first to proclaim so eloquently and effectively the doctrine of soul liberty and the separation of church and state.
Peter Waldo and the Waldenses
The Waldenses, who were, according to several recognized authorities, the disciples of one Peter Waldo, a rich merchant of Lyons, came to notice in southern France about 1150. Their leader was a magnetic character, who, though not connected in any way with Peter of Bruys, reached the same conclusions and became "the spiritual heir of his predecessor and namesake" and took up the same work. If we are to believe early Roman writers, the doctrines of the Waldenses are identical with those of the Petrobrusians. Ray, in his Baptist Succession, differs from other authorities in asserting that Waldo, instead of originating the Waldenses, joined them and received his name from them. He says further, "These Waldensian Baptists were the seed of the primitive church, and upheld by the wonderful providence of God, so that those endless storms and tempests which shook the whole Christian world for ages failed to shake the courageous Waldenses." Camp calls attention to the fact that there has been much dispute respecting the Waldenses, some having represented them as being originally all Baptists while others, on the contrary, contend they were Pedobaptists. But in this connection it is interesting to note that in one of their confessions they say, "We acknowledge no sacraments, as of divine appointment, but baptism and the Lord's Supper." Camp adds, "How the Waldenses were led to change their practice (if they did change) we need not inquire; it is sufficiently manifest that their views harmonized with ours in the early stages of their history."
Anabaptists of Switzerland
The Swiss Anabaptists came into prominence about the year 1523, their numbers increasing with astonishing rapidity. This latter fact has led many writers to the conviction that there was a connection between the Swiss Anabaptists and their Waldensian and Petrobrusian predecessors. Discussing this fact Vedder says: "Another problem demanding solution is furnished by the fact that these Anabaptist churches were not gradually developed, but appear fully formed from the first, complete in polity, sound in doctrine, strict in discipline, it will be found impossible to account for these phenomena without an assumption of a long existing cause." The character of men who were foremost among the Swiss Anabaptists made the sect one of great power and influence. Zwingli, the great Swiss reformer, was himself at first, according to his own confession, greatly inclined toward Anabaptist principles, but was kept from casting his fortunes with them by his belief in and support of the state church idea. He repudiated the Anabaptist idea of a spiritual church, and contended against them to the point of cruel persecution for the ascendency of civil authority in church matters, and the government of the Zurich adopted his policy. By a strange fate Zwingli was slain by the Papists in the battle of Chappel while a Chaplain in the Protestant Army. But several of Zwingli's lieutenants and closest associates became ardent Anabaptists, the line separating them and him becoming more and more marked between the years 1523 and 1525. Among these faithful supporters of true principles were Conrad Grebel, Felix Manx, Balthazar Hubmeyer and George Blanrock.
Grebel was the son of a member of the Zurich Council and a man of much learning. He is said to have been converted about the year 1522, after which time he has a reputation for great piety. Having derived his views concerning the church from his own study from the original Greek New Testament, his influence was great among the other followers of Zwingli.
The Martyrdom of Manx and Hubmeyer
Manx was a native of Zurich of a very liberal education. He took early to the principles of the Reformation and thus became intimately associated with Zwingli and other Swiss Reformers. But reaching the conclusions that infant baptism and the union of church and state were not upheld by the Scriptures, he took the Anabaptist position and in consequence was imprisoned by the Zurich Council, and finally because he persisted in preaching and baptizing those who professed faith, the Zurich magistrates denounced him as a rebel, apprehended him and he was drowned in 1527.
Hubmeyer was a Bavarian, born at Friedburg about the year 1480. He was noted as a man of great learning and eloquence, and after much deliberation and research became a most conscientious and zealous Anabaptist. He was baptized with one hundred and ten others by William Roubli, a Swiss Baptist, after which he preached with great power and results. In July, 1525, he was imprisoned, tortured and starved until he promised to recant; but when brought to deliver his recantation his spirit reinserts itself and he reaffirms his opposition to infant baptism. He was sent back to prison, where he was again tortured almost beyond the point of human endurance, and it is said that a written recantation was finally extracted from him. He was then released, but was kept in town under strict surveillance until he escaped from Zurich, resumed his Anabaptist preaching and forming churches. In 1528 he was again apprehended by King Ferdinand and sent to Vienna, cast into a dungeon and sentenced to death. In March of the same year he was burned at the stake, another Martyr to the cause of righteousness.
Although the Swiss Anabaptists were compelled to meet in secret or in the quietness of the night, their numbers grew amazingly. From their confession we glean that they held to "the baptism of believers only, to the breaking of the bread by those alone who have been baptized, and to a pure church discipline." The only fault charged against them by their contemporaries, that is supported by evidence says Vedder, is that they had the courage and honesty to interpret the Scriptures as Baptists to-day interpret them.
German Anabaptists: Their Persecution
The German Anabaptists were persecuted as cruelly as were their fellow believers in Switzerland. The Catholic and Protestants vied with each other in their efforts to show their extreme hatred for them and their desire to exterminate them. While there were those among their leaders who were noted for their knowledge of the original Scriptures and for their eloquence, the masses were unlearned people. Much odium has been cast upon the German Anabaptists because of Thomas Munzer's connection with what some historians call the Peasant War, and others call the Munster Riot. That this was an ill-advised and cruel affair no one will deny. But putting the blame upon Baptists is foolish indeed, for Munzer was not a Baptist, though a Reformer of great zeal; for we are told that he published a liturgy in German that contained a form of baptism for infants, and according to good authority he never abandoned the practice of baptizing infants. In fact, Keller, in his work on the Reformation, says: "That Cornelius has shown that in the chief points Munzer was opposed to the Baptists."
As Ray states, volumes might be filled with the details of the sufferings of the German and Dutch Baptists, as they were the objects of persecution by all the leading Protestant Reformers; but there is splendid glory in the tribute paid them by Vedder that they, with their Swiss contemporaries, were the only men of their time who had grasped the principle of civil and religious liberty.
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