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From Separatists to the SBC (Week 4 - Church Who, What, How?)

To compile a brief survey of Baptist life from the 17th century Separatists to the founding of the SBC is no small task.  As with any historical sketch there are various caveats of influence that hold great importance, but must remain unmentioned.  Though this is regrettable, for the sake of brevity, it is necessary.  From the 17 century Separatists to the founding of the SBC in 1845 covers around 200 years of church history and involves numerous bylines that take place in England and early Colonial America.  However, I have chosen four major themes that tend to be at the root of every historical byline.  These four themes are:
  1. Dead orthodoxy vs. eroding orthodoxy
  2. The First Great Awakening
  3. The Impact of Associations
  4. The Modern Missions Movement
Dead Orthodoxy vs. Eroding Orthodoxy
In a previous session we pointed out that the positive byproduct of heresy is that it forces the church to clearly define, defend, and articulate orthodox belief.  The same is true of debate and schism.  While Baptists, both Particular and General, had numerous debates throughout the 17th century and into the 18th century, these debates inspired the publication of various tracts and books that help narrow the focus to what eventually becomes Baptist orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxy (correct action).  As outlined by Leon McBeth those points of orthodoxy include:
  • A Trinitarian understanding of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit as one).
  • The Bible as the final authority of truth.
  • The church as made up of true believers who clearly demonstrate saving faith.
  • The leaders of the church are those who have expressed a divine call.
  • Baptism is to be offered only for true believers and is to be practiced by immersion.
  • Communion is a memorial supper to “recall and reflect upon the death of Christ.”  Communion is to be observed only by true (believers baptized) members of the church.
  • While there were various views on oaths, pacifism, and the relationship to government; most Baptists agreed on religious liberty for all.
  • Because Baptists emerged during a time when millennial expectation was high, Baptists have always been an expectant people.  While there are various eschatological views amongst Baptists, in general Baptists are encouraged to live life with a sense of evangelistic urgency and moral purity in lieu of Christ’s return.
  • While worship is expressed in various ways, in general Baptists have held to preaching, an exposition of Scripture, as a central part of worship gatherings.  
The occasion for defining orthodoxy was an eroding one.  Some General Baptists (Arminian in nature) were eroding into a more Unitarian belief.  Unitarianism rejects a Trinitarian belief in God, the idea of original sin in man, and the idea that God will damn mankind because after all, man may be misguided, but he is essentially good.  
Another occasion for defining orthodoxy was a dead one.  While some General Baptists were becoming Unitarian, some Particular Baptists were becoming hyper-Calvinistic.  Hyper-Calvinism asserts that because God elects both the saved and the damned that evangelism is futile.  In this environment missions and preaching in both America and England began to suffer.  Sermons became more like the reading of academic papers and lost their passion and zeal.  Because of the eroding orthodoxy of the General Baptists, Particular Baptists began to become more “creedal” in nature; seeking not only to define the faith but to force its congregants to subscribe to it.  Missions was condemned as heretical because if it was God who determined who was to be saved and who was to be lost; missions/evangelism was merely the casting of a pearl before swine.  Particular Baptists were growing to believe that the church had no Biblical basis to evangelize the heathen.  
In response to the dead orthodoxy and lack of evangelistic zeal in the church comes two important movements that heavily influence Baptist life; The Great Awakening and the Modern Missions Movement.
The First Great Awakening
Not only was the pulpit cooling in America but in New England those churches, namely Presbyterian and Congregational, that had allowed infants to receive baptism and thus church membership were in a quandary.  The expectation was that infants who were baptized would then follow through in their adult life and make their own profession of faith.  In a cooling church environment, many of them did not.  Because church membership was ironically tied to civic life in many towns throughout the colonies, a question arose as to the relationship of the next generation to the church and the state.  A decision was reached in 1662 allowing the children of moral parents to be baptized into the church giving them church and state privileges with the exception of receiving communion.  By doing so, many churches in the colonies were abandoning the idea of regenerate church membership.  In effect, many in the church were now “half-way” members.  
There are several preachers that should be noted in the First Great Awakening, but two were the vanguards of the movement: Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and George Whitfield (1714-1770).  Jonathan Edwards rejected the idea of the halfway covenant and called for justification by faith and a regenerate church membership.   His sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” resulted in many conversions and a spirit of repentance in the New England Colonies.  If Edwards was the Awakening’s preacher, Whitfield was its evangelist.  It would be the itinerate preaching ministry of George Whitfield that would spread the revival throughout all the colonies.  
Baptists were at first slow to grab on to the religious fervor of the Awakening.  In reaction came two groups, Regular Baptists and the Separates (not Separatists).  The Regular Baptists were suspicious of the emotional outpourings associated with the revival while the Separates saw it as a genuine move of God’s Spirit in the church.  In the beginning, Separates were mostly Congregationalists and Presbyterians who endorsed the revival.  Feeling that the Presbyterians and Congregational churches were not responding to the revival many Separatists began to unite with Baptists who were beginning to embrace the movement.  Isaac Backus, a noted Baptist leader came to the defense of the Separatists, opened communion with them, and as a result many Congregational and Presbyterian Separatists became Baptists.  
Many historians attribute the Great Awakening as an important contributor to the American Revolution.  Another fruit of the movement that changed the shape of the movement was that Baptists enjoyed massive growth and rapid expansion throughout the colonies.  The Great Awakening also re-ignited the pulpit and began to impact theology as a result of the collusion of Baptists and Separates.  The end result was a more moderate form of Calvinism, also known as Evangelical Calvinism.  This form of Calvinism rejected the hard fatalism of hyper-Calvinism, kept a Reformed theology, but concentrated also on the call of Jesus to preach the gospel to all nations.  
The Impact of Associations
A normal part of early Baptist life was the organizing of the churches into associations.  Associations in early America owe their roots to Baptist life in England.  In America the associations were the forerunners of national denominational life.  By 1800 there were 42 Baptists associations in America.  The most notable being the Warren Association (Rhode Island, 1767) and the Philadelphia Association (1707) in the North, and the Sandy Creek (1758) and Charleston (1751) (first association in the South) in the South.  Each association had its own DNA mostly traced back to influence of either General, Regular, or Separate Baptists.  No doubt the influence of Separate Baptists became strongest in the South resulting in congregations that were more emotional and zealous.  Regular Baptist congregations tended to be orthodox Calvinists who were more methodical in not only worship but also their work.  In the early stages many associations had both Separate and Regular churches within them.  While this did often cause controversy, there are many positive examples of their working together in the association.
The main contributions of the associations to Baptist life were as follows:
  • Endorsement of schools and theological training for pastors.
  • A unified approach to church discipline.
  • Important documents that establish orthodoxy and orthopraxy in Baptist life.
  • An approach to missions that filtered the finances through denominational channels.
The Modern Missions Movement
The predecessor to the American associations was the mission society in England.  One of the most notable societies was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792.  Frustrated by the lack of missionary zeal in the churches of England due to the dead orthodoxy that had emerged from hyper-Calvinism there, William Carey brought a treatise entitled An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.  His treatise was the result of careful studies of world populations and revealed numerous unreached people groups around the world.  Carey called for every possible means to be used to reach them.  Carey was later invited to preach at the 1792 meeting of the association in Nottingham.  His sermon had two simple points “Expect great things - attempt great things.”  Burdened by the message a group of ministers met in Kettering on October 2, 1792 and formed the Baptist Missionary Society.  In 1793 John Thomas and William Carey were appointed as the first missionaries and sent to India.  The Baptist Missionary Society would make mission work an important part of Baptist life as it moved into the 19th century.  Through William Carey and the BMS, the modern missions movement was born.
Baptists in the colonies were not as well organized as they recovered from the American Revolution and missionary activity was intermittent at best.  Coming into the 1800’s there were several small missionary societies that were attempting to engage in regular work, but it was not until the organization of the Triennial Convention.  Adoniram Judson, his wife Ann, and Luther Rice (all students at Andover Seminary) went from America to Berma to assist the work of William Carey.  Luther Rice left the Judson’s to return to America to raise support.  In 1813 Rice met with the Charleston Association and a recommendation that a united effort for missions be formed.  In May, 1814 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to form the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States; also known as the Triennial Convention as it was to meet every three years.  
Along with the focus of the Triennial Convention on foreign missions, other societies were organized to lend support to other tasks:
  • The Woman’s Union Missionary Society (1861)
  • The Home Mission Society (1817)
  • Numerous Baptist papers and publishing houses were formed throughout the 19th century
  • The Tract Society (1824) which eventually became the American Baptist Publication and Sunday School Society (1844).
The Formation of the SBC
Baptists enjoyed rapid growth under the organization of the Triennial Convention.  Yet America was moving into another controversy that would deeply impact Baptist life, slavery.  In 1843 the American Baptist Free Mission Society was formed and was committed to appointing only non-slave holding missionaries.  In 1844 the Society changed policies officially banning the appointment of slave holding missionaries.  Anticipating the move delegates from Georgia submitted the name of James Reeve as a missionary to the Native Americans.  Reeve, a slaveholder, was refused by a vote of seven to five.  In 1844 the Alabama State Convention demanded that the Triennial Convention acknowledge the right of missionaries to own slaves.  The Board rejected the request.  
Convinced they no longer had a place in the Triennial Convention a group gathered at First Baptist Church of Augusta, GA on May 8, 1845 and established the Southern Baptist Convention.  Forming their charter and purpose with no mention of slavery the new convention would engage in missionary efforts while at the same time assimilating Southern culture into their practices.  
While this may be an abrupt stopping point for the SBC it is necessary for the scope of this project.  In the final four weeks of this class we will discuss how the SBC is currently organized and how it engages the world with the gospel.  While some of the cause behind the beginnings of the SBC are certainly not admirable, the SBC, like the rest of the South has struggled through the years to overcome a racially charged heritage.  To note how far the SBC has come, it is expected that its first African American President, Fred Luter, Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, will be elected at the June, 2012 New Orleans Convention.  
In any event, this historical sketch provides enough background to see the roots of rich SBC heritage such as the Women’s Missionary Union, Lifeway Publishing, the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, associations, state conventions, ministries, and concerns for education through the seminaries.    

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Coming to America (Church, Who? What? How?)

While the Reformation was doing its work in the greater part of Europe, it was also making waves in the proud monarchial tradition of England.  While some in England wanted something protestant, it was important for them to somehow preserve the relationship between the church and the throne.  The end result was the Church of England.  An arrangement that very much resembled the monarchial ecclesiology of The Catholic Church, but gleaned some of the fervor of the Protestant Reformation.
The story of the Reformation in England is the stuff of historical legend and modern film.  It is during this time that we are given the great monarchial characters of the House of Tudor and the House of Stuart. The list of names here would include:
  • Henry VIII (1509-1547) - who separated the Church of England from Rome by the Act of Supremacy.  Henry did this primarily because the Catholic Church would not condone divorce.  Henry was married 6 times. 
  • Edward VI (1547-1553) - son of Henry VIII who never married.  Moved England decidedly toward Protestantism as his father Henry had appointed for him a Protestant tutor as a child.
  • Mary I (Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary) (1553-1558) - the half sister of Edward who moved England back to Catholicism as it was important for her to validate herself as the legitimate heir to the throne over her Protestant brother Edward and her rival 16 year old sister Jane.  Mary dismantled the Act of Supremacy and exacted a harsh persecution of protestants, hence her name Bloody Mary.
  • Elizabeth I or Elizabeth Tudor (1558-1603) - though she preferred Catholicism she chose Protestantism for political reasons.  Through her Elizabethan Settlement she settled the question of religion in England by enacting her own version of the Act of Supremacy thus making England a Protestant, Anglican (Church of England) state.
  • James I (1603-1625) - wanting to squelch controversy from Puritans (who sought reform in the Church of England) and wanting to further substantiate the Church of England, James and the English parliament “authorize” a new English translation of the Bible in 1604.  The Bible was completed and published in 1611 and became known as the Authorized Version or the King James Version. 

    It should also be noted that it was during these struggles of the monarchs to establish the Church of England that many dissenters sought religious freedom.  The eventual result was the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 to America.  Its passengers (102 Puritans and 42 of which were Separatists rooted in the Particular Baptist tradition) sought to establish a new colony built on religious freedom.
  • Oliver Cromwell, Revolution, Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy (1653-1660) - Oliver Cromwell was a great military leader who brought an end to the unrest of the monarchy and ushered in the short lived age of the Commonwealth in England.  While a commonwealth, many dissenting groups who stood against both the Catholic and Anglican (Church of England) Churches gained governmental influence.  It is during this time that the Fifth Monarchy Movement (a movement that sought to usher in the millennial reign of Christ through reform of parliament) took hold.  Cromwell was forced to suppress the movement and in doing so imprisoned many Baptists.  Cromwell’s untimely death and failure of his son to be successor led to the careful reestablishment of the Stuart throne to Charles II.  Charles enacted the Clarendon Code which contained numerous provisions that made it illegal to resist the Church of England.  It is during this time that dissenting Protestants, Puritans, Separatists, and Baptists sought religious freedom.  Many of them fled to America.  As “Baptist” friendly colonies began to develop, particularly in Rhode Island due to the work of Roger Williams (who founded the first Baptist (particular) congregation in Providence,1639), more Baptists begin to flee England for America.    
The Groups Who Fled England for America:
During the times of unrest in England several groups fled for America that contributed to Baptist life.  Below is an outline of the characteristics of these key groups:
The Puritans:
  • The term “Puritan” is used more to describe the spirit of the movement rather than a denominational label.  There were various groups within Puritanism, yet they had a common concern, to purify the Anglican Church.  The Puritans first sought to carry out reform from within the church.  
  • Much like the Anabaptist opinion of the Protestant Reformers in Switzerland and Germany, the Puritans did not think that the Anglican Church took their reforms from the Catholic Church far enough.
  • Primarily reformed in doctrine.
  • Primarily congregationalists who advocated autonomous relationship for local church life between the church and the state.
  • Greatest opposition to reforming the Anglican Church was the English throne, primarily Elizabeth I who sought to enforce religious conformity by law.  Due to legislation Puritan clergy were forced to be considered as “non-conformists” in their relationship to the Anglican Church.  Their dissent and separation from the Anglican Church set the stage for a new movement, the Separatists.
The Separatists:
  • “Unable to purify the Church of England, many churchmen determined to separate and form their own independent congregations where they could institute what they regarded as biblical practices.”
  •   As such these congregations were considered as Separatist.
  • At the core separatists were continually seeking to institute “biblical practices” in congregational life.
  • By nature of being “separatists” there was no real cohesive nature to the movement.  A wide variety of ideas and debates were prevalent across the spectrum of congregational life such as whether to stand or kneel, whether to allow the congregation to sing, but there was especially debate concerning Calvinism vs. Arminianism.  
  • Separatists congregations were found in fields, homes, and ships.  Each congregation ordained their own clergy and deacons as well as administered the sacraments.    
  • There was no common church life among Separatists, but they tended to be congregational or moderately presbyterian favoring some degree of congregational participation.  They mostly rejected liturgical forms of worship in favor of using only the Bible.  They were concerned that the church be made up only of the redeemed.  However, many Separatists did not emphasize believer’s baptism or religious liberty for all.  Ironically many early American colonies mimicked the intolerant forms of church/state relations their settlers once fled in England.  Citizenship was tied to church membership.   
  • A notable Separatist congregation was the Pilgrim Church led by John Robinson.  After finding no friendly place to build their community, the congregation eventually settled in Amsterdam.  Fearing that their children would lose their English heritage by marrying Dutch families a portion of the church under the leadership of William Bradford and William Brewster fled to the new world aboard the Mayflower in 1620.  
  • While Baptists owe a great deal to the Separatists, it cannot be said that Baptists came exclusively from the Separatists.
The Rise of the Baptists (Particular and General)
We know that the first Baptist congregation in America was established by Roger Williams in Rhode Island (1639), but this was not the beginning of the Baptist church.  There is no real point in history in which a congregation emerged that was known as the first Baptists.  The term Baptist has been used to describe various groups from Anabaptists to Separatists that were Baptistic in their practice.  At first the name was derogatory slang used to criticize various groups that were practicing believer’s baptism (not necessarily by immersion).  However, as time wore on the name began to stick with particular congregations.
General Baptists
  • Older congregations that were more Arminian in their theology.  As such they believed man had the freedom to choose to be saved but also were in danger of losing salvation.  General Baptists also held that although there are many local autonomous churches, there is only one true church. 
  • The early key leaders of the movement was John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.  In his views, Smyth journeyed through Anglicanism, Puritanism, Separatist, Baptist, and eventually sought to become Mennonite.  Taking over the Gainsborough church in 1606, the congregation grew quickly.  Being under constant threat by James I the congregation split for safety; Smyth and Helwys taking one group and Brewster and Bradford taking the other.  The Brewster/Bradford group became the Mayflower Church as mentioned above.  Smyth and Helwys took their group further in their Separatist reforms and adopted believer’s baptism thus making them, in that sense, truly Baptists.
  • Smyth also believed that worship should be completely spontaneous.  As a reaction against the Book of Common Prayer he forbid song books and even at times reading from English translations of the Bible.  Seeking a pure church membership, Smyth constantly questioned every aspect of baptism and would baptize himself and re-baptize the congregation.  However, he was never completely satisfied, even considering his own actions “hasty and disorderly” and eventually sought to join the Mennonites as the true orderly church.  Smyth believed the Mennonites represented the true succession of the church and in so doing he broke with the Baptists.
  • Not willing to follow Smyth and his conclusions, Helwys reluctantly broke with Smyth and continued to develop the Baptist church.  Under Helwys’ leadership the church:
    • Adopted believer’s baptism, but not by immersion.
    • They departed from Calvinism making room for free will and falling from grace.
    • They allowed the church to elect its own officers, preaching elders, and both men and women as deacons.
Particular Baptists
  • General Baptists derive their name from the idea that Jesus died “generally” for all.  This view is known as general atonement.  Particular Baptists then hold to a “particular atonement” which means that Christ died only for the elect.  The Particular and General Baptists did not divide.  Their relationship is described better as “Baptists of different kinds.”
  •   Both came from the Separatist movement, but as described earlier, within the movement there were divergent views.  Therefore, it can be said that the Particular Baptists emerged from a different section or strain of the Separatist movement than their General Baptist counterparts.
  • Like the General Baptists, Particular Baptists were searching for the “true church.”  In their beginnings, from the influence of Henry Jacob (1563-1624), Particular Baptists held a high view of the Anglican Church as the true church, however they saw it in much need of reform.  As is the story of the Separatist movement, Jacob was not allowed to exact his reforms due to pressure by King James I.  Still holding that the Church of England was the true church, Jacob was eventually forced to differentiate between what he considered to be congregations that represented the “true” Church of England and false congregations.  
  • Along with John Lathrop and Henry Jessey, Jacob formed the JLJ church in 1616; so named due to its first three pastors.  This congregation is primarily responsible for the rise of Particular Baptists.  Jacob eventually left the church and settled near Jamestown, Virginia in 1622.
  • Under the leadership of Lathrop, the church grew despite increasing questions of its continued acknowledgment of its relationship to the Church of England.  Eventually the pressures of a large congregation in dangerous times and increasing unrest in their relationship with the Church of England led to a schism in the JLJ church in 1633.  
  • Like their General counterparts the Particular Baptists recovered the idea of believer’s baptism.  The General Baptists taught this as early as 1609 and the Particular Baptists by 1638.  While General Baptists were first in this phase of the practice of Baptism, it was the Particular Baptists who led the way in the recovery of the ancient mode of immersion - arguing that this is the mode taught in the New Testament.  Particular Baptists began immersing in 1640; General Baptists by 1660.  
  • Though the mode certainly drew criticism, it was the charge of immodesty that was the greatest struggle for the church.  Opponents of immersion wrote pamphlets that called the practice “unscriptural, unnecessary, and unhealthy.”  They charged that not only did many people grow sick and die after immersion, often being baptized in icy rivers, but that immersing Baptists baptized both men and women together, often naked.  History shows that not all Baptists immersed their converts naked, but in various areas nude baptism was the common practice. 
As Baptists begin to emerge in England and America, while it is difficult to attribute any one common ancestry, it is not difficult to identify the core of influential ideas and practices.
  • The influence of Reformed theology, particularly justification by faith.
  • A return to the Bible as the authority for the doctrines and practices of the church as opposed to the papacy or the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Congregational autonomy and participation in church life.
  • Religious liberty.
  • Recovery of believer’s baptism and the beginnings of a return to the ancient practice of baptism by immersion.
  • Constant questioning over whether a leader or a local congregation is “true.”
  • A belief in the right to “separate” from those considered to be “false.”
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The Church Emerging from the Reformation (Church, Who? What? How?)

Though there have been attempts to construct a successionist lineage of Baptists back to the Apostles or even John the Baptist, these constructions are revisionist at best and often end up as simply poor historical scholarship.  Doctrinally these attempts do more harm than good as they are heretical attempts to prove that the Baptist church is the only, true church.  In the end these attempts are dishonest and unnecessary.
The historical truth is that Baptists emerged not from a single stream, but more from the convergence of several movements that stemmed from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  Therefore, to properly understand Baptist history one must examine the context of the Reformation.  

Background of the Reformation
In our previous session we discussed two of the major challenges of the Patristic or Early Church; persecution and heresy.  Both of these issues raised major questions as to who are the people of God, or who is the church?  In response to the rising tide of persecution through the first 500 years of its history, the church was forced to ask, “What becomes of the lapsed?”  For those who renounced Christ to save their skin, is there room for restoration?  This question resulted in several church councils, the most notable of which being the first meeting of Carthage under Cyprian in 251 AD.  Subsequent councils or synods of Carthage would meet over the next century to deal with other issues; perhaps the most notable of which being the Canonicity of certain books of the Bible.  Yet, before dealing with questions about the authenticity of the Bible, Carthage was called together to deal with the authenticity of the church.  
Another notable council dealt with the other critical Patristic issue, heresy.  The most looming issue was the identity and nature of Christ.  Arius (250-336 AD), an elder in Alexandria, taught that the Word, Jesus, was not coeternal with the Father but rather the first of God’s creation.  Arius’ teaching did serious damage to the identity of Christ and caused quite a schism in the church.  
The controversy also had an adverse affect on the Roman Empire.  Constantine, who had experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity, had risen to power in the western section of the empire.  Constantine’s attributed his victory to the blessing of Christ in his life.  Therefore, Constantine represented the end of the persecution of the church and the beginning of Christian favor in the empire.  Constantine allowed the church to own land and build places of worship so that it could establish itself as a legitimate faith in what was otherwise a pagan, polytheistic state.  With Constantine being the first Christian emperor, the church and the state became bedfellows.  This turn of events becomes critical to understanding the next 1,000 years of church history leading to the Reformation.
Because the church was so closely related to the state under Constantine, the Arian controversy not only brought unrest to the western and eastern Church, but also to the western and eastern empire.  Constantine knew that it was not only critical for the church, but also for the state, that consensus be reached concerning the nature of Christ.  In 325 AD Constantine called a council of church leaders together from both western and eastern sections to draft a common statement concerning Jesus.  The end result was the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Conspiracy theorists would argue that the church did not understand Christ as the divine Son of God until Nicaea.  The idea of the conspiracy is that Constantine manipulated the meeting to his own ends as to legitimize Christ as King and himself as divinely chosen emperor.  This is simply not the case.  Because this is only a contextual accounting for purposes of Baptist history, there is simply no time to deal with this charge.  I would only state simply, that to assume the church had no understanding of Christ as divine before Nicaea is a total fabrication that is unscholarly, dishonest, and illogical.  To charge that the church did not believe something strongly before it stated it in council is a major historical and philosophical leap into total conjecture.  In fact, Philippians 2 could be argued as one of the earliest creeds of the church.  A text in which it is plain to see that indeed the church held that Jesus Christ was equal with God.  
The positive of Nicaea is that it was the beginning steps to quench a critical heresy.  The negative is that after Constantine the marriage of the church and the state became adulterous.  The next 1,000 years of church history are riddled with deep corruption in the Catholic Church as popes, bishops, and priests competed with and against emperors for massive amounts of wealth, popularity, and power.  It is from this fabric that the Dark Ages, the Medieval period is woven.  
Yet even in this time one can trace the struggle for purity in the church as the key question comes to the front over and over again, “Who is the church?”  During this time monastic life and the ascetic movements find reasons to flourish.  Against an increasingly immoral church certain men and women of the period would separate themselves to demonstrate extreme holiness and seek to find the true people of God.      
The Reformation
The question of “Who are the people of God?”, “Who is the church?” reached its boiling point in the 16th century.  Many people associate the Reformation with Luther, but he did not work alone.  Luther was certainly the voice and face of the Reformation, but the seed of the thought can be found in the humanist movement, most notably in Erasmus (1466-1536).  With Erasmus came a revival of reading original and sacred texts.  In an otherwise illiterate generation, scholars began to study the Bible in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and translate it into the language of the people (refer to Wycliffe 1328-1384).  The humanist movement inspired a revival of learning and began to loosen the grips of the Catholic Church on the Biblical text.  Until this point the Catholic Church conducted worship from the Latin text, a language long lost in Europe by the 16th century.  With the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press (1440) the Bible was no longer the exclusive property of the papacy (leaders of the Catholic Church).  Despite persecution, revival began to break out in remote corners of the Holy Roman Empire.  The flashpoint would come on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
The immediate context of Luther’s 95 Theses was the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel (1465-1519).  Tetzel’s occasion for selling indulgences was to not only raise money for the building of St Peter’s Basilica but also to pay off debts to the pope owed by the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg.  Indulgences promised those who paid that deceased loved ones would spend less time in purgatory.  He would travel the streets singing, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  While Tetzel’s heresy may have pushed Luther over the edge, it was the greater corruption of the Catholic Church and the lack of theological orthodoxy that Luther addressed most poignantly in his 95 Theses.  As he stated in his introduction, Luther protested for one reason alone, he sought the truth.
In the early stages, at the core of the Reformation movement there was affection for the Catholic Church.  The primary desire was to reform the church from within.  Yet as the Catholic Church declared the protestant reformers heretical and excommunicated them, the need to begin something new become increasingly apparent.  Yet again, it is important to note that despite the fact that the end result was Protest-ing or Protestant Churches, this was not the initial agenda of Luther and the Reformers.  So as the Reformers saw that they could not bring about Reform within the church the question became how far should they go in their reform and separation from the church?
This question resulted in two Reformation camps:
  1. The first camp would be those Reformers who in the end retained some influence of Catholic doctrine, polity, and praxis.
      • Martin Luther (1483-1546) - Although these ideas were not original to Luther, his proclamation of Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), and Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) began the great divide between Catholic theology and the Protestant churches.  As a powerful preacher and a brilliant scholar, Luther’s skills to communicate his message fueled the flames of the Reformation.  Although he did not subscribe to the Catholic understanding of Transubstantiation (the bread and wine become the body of Christ) in communion, Luther did hold to consubstantiation (the bread and wine are with the body and blood of Christ) in communion.  Calvin strongly disagreed with Luther in this point.  However, along with Calvin and Zwingli, Luther held similar views of the church’s relationship to the state and the necessity of infant baptism.  
      • John Calvin (1509-1564) - If Luther’s contribution was the idea of the Reformation, Calvin’s was the organization of the idea.  It was through Calvin’s well organized theology that the doctrines of the Reformation spread throughout Europe.  Calvin’s Institutes became the standard for a Reformation theology that centered on the sovereignty of God.  As such, ultimate authority did not reside with the pope or the state, but in God alone.  The state could not rule over the church, but if the state was not accomplishing the will of God it was the duty of the church to right the ship.  In the end Calvin retained an idea of a magisterial state heavily influenced by the church.  Also, along with Luther and Zwingli, Calvin believed that infants should be baptized as a way to remove original sin and bring them into the covenant of grace.  For the Reformers, like the Catholic Church, baptism had not only implications for membership into the church, but also citizenship with the state.  
      • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) - Zwingli was the militant arm of the Reformation.  He did not agree with Luther’s ideas of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but he was persuasive in retaining the Catholic praxis of a close state/church relationship.  Because of his military prowess Zwingli was able to wrestle several municipalities away from Catholic control and establish Protestant states.  Zwingli had no problems using the power of the state’s military might to continue the spread of the Reformation ideal.
      • The legacy of the Reformers could be summarized as follows:
        • The recovery of the authority of Scripture and salvation by faith.
        • The emergence of Protestant states and the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire.  
        • Close relationship between the church and the state.  An unrighteous state had no power over the church, but the church had the responsibility to bring the church to righteousness and could then use the power of the state to enforce righteousness.  (It is interesting to see the legacy of the relationship of the church and the state post-Constantine, yet notice the Reformers still had great faith that this relationship had redemptive potential). 
        • Lutheran form of church government.
        • Presbyterian form of church government.
        • Reformed theology.
  1. The second camp would be those Reformers who held that the Reformation fathers did not go far enough.  In the end these Reformers retained nothing of the doctrine, polity, and praxis of the Catholic Church.  The movement first began to emerge with a group known as the Swiss Brethren.  Some of the original members were students of Zwingli.  Their disagreement arose when they did not feel that Zwingli took the principles of the Reformation far enough.  Their sharpest point of disagreement was over Baptism.  The Brethren held that Baptizing children gave people a false sense of conversion.  They were Christians only because they were baptized into the Christian church and were citizens of a Christian state, but there was lacking in many a real sense of repentance, faith, and following Christ.  When the Brethren saw that Zwingli would hold fast on his views, the Brethren sought to begin a new congregation of true converts.

    On January 21, 1525 at the fountain in Zurich square George Blaurock, a former priest, asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him.  Blaurock and Grebel held that baptism was reserved only for believers and because children were baptized without willing consent, theirs was illegitimate.  The followers of Blaurock and Grebel soon became known as Anabaptists or “re-baptizers.”  Their views on Baptism drew strong opposition from both Protestant Reformers and Catholics.

    The Anabaptists also took the Reformation to other ends.  Unlike Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the Anabaptists were pacifists, believed strongly in separation of the church from the state, and religious freedom.  Most all of the early Anabaptist were martyred, tortured as heretics, drown in rivers and burned to death by Protestant Reformers.  The more they were persecuted the more the movement grew. 

    Persecution not only brought about the deaths of the first generation of Anabaptists, but it brought about some diverse and more radical views in subsequent generations.  Some later Anabaptists forsook Pacifism and incited rebellion against Protestant states.  This led to the idea that a New Jerusalem must be established first in Strasbourg and later in Munster.  The end of the radical movement came in unfulfilled prophecies, a lost sense of the foundational principles of the movement, and a great deal of bloodshed.

    The restoration of the Anabaptists ideal came through Menno Simons ( 1496-1561).  Simons returned the Anabaptists he influenced to pacifism, forbid the taking of oaths, and advocated obedience to civil authorities.  Because they would not take oaths nor serve in the military, Simons’ followers were considered subversive to the state.  Being persecuted they were scattered, migrating to new lands that offered the prospects of religious freedom.  Subscribing to Menno Simons’ principles the Anabaptist became known as the Mennonites.
The Legacy of The Reformation and Its Influence on Baptists
  • It may be argued that Baptists are not Protestant in the true sense, but there is no doubt that Baptists “are a Reformation people.”
  • From Luther Baptists continue the legacy of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, and the priesthood of the believer.
  • From Calvin Baptists have been heavily influenced by Reformed theology.
  • Because of Zwingli the Anabaptists emerged giving another Reformation root from which Baptists owe a great deal.
  • The Anabaptists heavily influenced Baptists in their ideas of the relationship of the church to the state, believer’s baptism, the importance of discipleship, religious freedom, and congregational forms of church government.
  • The initial question that sparked Reformation continues, who are the people of God?  If anything, Baptists have gleaned that this is a question that should never be lost.
Cairns, Earle E.  Christianity Through the Centuries 
Gonzalez, Justo.  The Story of Christianity vol. 1 and 2
Leonard, Bill J.  Baptist Ways, a History
McBeth, H. Leon.  The Baptist Heritage, Four Centuries of Baptist Witness
Shelley, Bruce L.  Church History in Plain Language
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The Church from Jesus to Constantine (Church Who, What, How?)

The Vision of Christ for the Church
Jesus referred to the church twice, Matthew 16:18 and 18:17.
Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 18:17 (ESV)
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
So what exactly did Jesus mean when He said He would build His church?
  1. Old Testament ancestry - At its core the church is a gathering of God’s people.  An important theme in Scripture is the work of God to gather a people for Himself.
    1. Genesis 12:2-3 - the call of Abraham
    2. Exodus 6:7, 19 and 20 - In the Exodus story we literally see God “pull out” a group of people who would establish their identity in worship, morality, and in civic life according to His ways.  In their days, their moral codes, their ethics, and in their worship habits Israel was to identify themselves with Him.
  1. The New Testament word for church is the Greek term ekklaesia.  The word is used 114x in the New Testament and is translated 109x as the word church.  Ekklaesia literally means “the called out ones.”  Prefix ekk - means from or out of.  Kaleo - means to call.
  2. Greek context - In Greek life an ekklaesia most often referred to as a civic organization or society of people who had decided to gather around a common cause.  They would agree to adhere to a common creed, set of organizing principles, and purpose.
  3. When Jesus used the word ekklaesia (church) then, He referred to:
    1. The continuing work of God to call a people unto Himself.
    2. Those who He would redeem.
    3. Those who would adhere to His teachings.
    4. Those who would agree to accomplish His purpose.
    5. In the Greek sense, a fraternity or society of people defined by Him.  The church is literally the Jesus Society - a group of people who subscribe to His teachings and seek to fulfill His purposes.  In the historical context in which Jesus is speaking His hearers would have made an immediate connection between the Greek  idea of ekklaesia and Jesus’ claiming it as “my” church - my ekklaesia.  
  4. There is no New Testament understanding of the word “church” as it refers to a gathering place or a worship ritual.  Whether the term was used in Greek life or the Biblical text, the term church always refers to a distinctive group of people.  Church is not where we go or what we do, church is who we are.
The Apostolic Church
Jesus’ reference to the church has an obvious future aspect.  So when did the church begin?  In His parting talks it is apparent that Jesus is preparing His closest followers, the apostles, for a critical mission.  This mission would come through great trial, but it would also come with great help.  Jesus told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would become a comforter and a helper to them.  John 14 - 17 are critical passages to understanding the role of the Holy Spirit and the task of the apostles after Jesus’ departure.  
Other key texts come from Luke; Luke 24:36-53 and Acts 1:6-11.  These texts teach us that the inauguration of the work of the Christ followers and their new relationship to the Holy Spirit was soon coming.  Before any work would commence the apostles and disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem.  Once the Holy Spirit came, their work would begin.
The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit is shared in Acts 2.  The church, in its apostolic sense, was born on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection.  The rest of the New Testament then, particularly the Book of Acts and the epistles, gives us important insight into the development of the church.  Some important themes begin to emerge:
  1. The church would engage in a distinct task of taking the gospel global (Acts 1:8).
  2. The church would subscribe to a distinct set of doctrines that centered upon the identity of Christ which includes: defense of Him as Messiah to the Jews, proclamation of Him as a global Savior to the Gentiles, defense of His bodily resurrection, and application of His teachings as authoritative in the lives of His followers.
  3. As the church spread, its people would express shared life in Christ through continuance in the apostle’s teaching, baptism, communion, and distribution of material wealth through offerings and contributions for the purpose of missions, support, and benevolence (Acts 2, 4, 5, Romans 6, 15, 1 Cor. 11, 16, Ephesians 4, Col. 2, 1 Peter 3).
These shared distinctives would not come without great challenge.  The three main threats to the purity of the apostolic church were:
  1. Persecution – Therefore the church had to endure.
  2. Corruption – Therefore the church had to be faithful to exercise discipline (Acts 5), to preaching/teaching (Titus 2), and to study (1 and 2 Timothy).
  3. Attrition – Therefore the church had to be committed (Acts 2, 4, Heb. 10:19ff).
It is also important to note that as the church spread and developed it organized.  In many people there is resentment towards “organized” religion.  This resentment is often expressed along with a romanticized ideal that the apostolic/New Testament church was raw, bohemian and resistant to organization.  This is not the New Testament picture.  In the Apostolic church, clearly we see:
  1. Leadership (Acts 6, Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 2)
  2. Localization (the address of the epistles themselves, also seen in the movement of the gospel in Acts)
  3. Accountability both financially and doctrinally (note several episodes in Acts especially in distribution, missions, and in Gentile conversion as well as the closing statements of several epistles).
As a collective witness of the New Testament we see an important theme emerge concerning the church.  The major question concerning the church became “who?”  Who are the people of God?  Who is the church?  This question was not only answered by initiation:
  1. Repentance of sin and faith in Christ as Savior
  2. Clearly exhibited indwelling of the Holy Spirit
  3. Baptism
The question was also answered by continuance:
  1. Devotion to Jesus teaching (kerygma) and apostolic doctrine (didache)
  2. Continued identity with the church
  3. Participation in the mission
  4. Moral purity
Those who did not continue were not considered to have eternal life (1 John 2:19).
The Early Church (@90 AD - 325 AD/451 AD)
Whenever we speak of the Early Church we measure its beginning by its apostolic successors and end the period approximately at the Council of Nicaea 325 A.D.  Some would end the period at Chalcedon (451 AD).  When we speak of this period then, we are speaking roughly of the church’s first 500 years.  This period is also referred to as the Patristic period which is a term that notes the men who led this early period.  These men are commonly called the Church Fathers or its patriarchs (latin - pater), hence the term patristic.  
Characteristics of the era:
  1. Succession - This period is led by men who succeeded the apostles.  Many of them exhibit a relationship to the apostles such as Polycarp (70-155) who had a relationship to John.  Their writings are critical as they exhibit that the early church:
    1. Saw the teachings of Christ and the writings of the apostles as authoritative as they referred to them often and used them as base texts for their teaching (refer to Papias 60-130, Clement of Rome 30-100, The Didache).
    2. Continued to organize and especially took the issue of leadership seriously.  For the church to succeed it must continue in the authority given to it by Christ through the apostles (refer to Clement of Rome 30-100)
  2. Heresy - Heresy was an issue even before the death of the apostles.  The most notable challenge being the identity of Christ.  The most common strain of heresy came through the teachings of the Gnostics.  We see their influence greatly upon the writings of John, in both his gospel and epistles, as it is clear in his choice of terms that he is refuting their teachings.  In short Gnosticism was a fusion of Greek philosophy with Christian thought.  The end result was an understanding of the spiritual and material world that did serious damage to the person of Christ.  Gnostics did not see Christ as God in the flesh (as this was impossible due to the evil nature of flesh), but rather Jesus was a human being who achieved “gnosis (the Greek word for knowledge).  As a man achieving gnosis he lived as the supreme example of what man is to achieve.  In the Gnostic system there is no understanding of the atoning death of Christ, His suffering, or His resurrection.  As such the orthodox understanding of salvation, sin, creation, the fall, most all Christian doctrines are distorted heavily or lost altogether. 

    The Patristic period is noted for the important documents generated during the era.  From the Gnostics came a series of psuedographic (false names) writing.  During this period it was common to write under the name of an apostle or early follower of Christ so that one’s statements were lent instant credibility.  The discovery of Nag Hammadi (@ 50 documents discovered in Egypt 1945) revealed the nature of these early Gnostic writings.  In the Nag Hammadi we find documents such as the gospel of Thomas,  The Secret Book of John, The Gospel of Mary, etc.  Currently one will see documentaries aired on The History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic reporting these documents as “lost gospels.”  The charge is that there was a conspiracy to leave these documents out of the New Testament cannon.  Had they been accepted, they would certainly have given us a much different picture of Christ.  The Nag Hammadi also serve as the plot of the popular book and film The DaVinci Code.  What is important to note here is that these writings were NEVER accepted by the early church and are proven to have appeared at least 200+ years after Christ (compared to the gospels and New Testament epistles which were completed within 60 years after the resurrection).  If there is any positive to heresy it inspires orthodoxy to be clarified and recorded.  In response to the Gnostics and to other heretical writings of the period, the Patristics generated numerous manuscripts that help us affirm a sense of orthodoxy and practice within the Patristic church.
  3. Persecution - We see Christian persecution beginning in the New Testament.  It certainly increased dramatically under Nero (54-68), who probably killed Paul, Peter and most of the early disciples of Jesus (especially the 70) and reached  its greatest intensity under Diocletian (284-305).  Christian persecution in the Roman empire did not end until Constantine I (306-337).
  4. Formation - It is important to note that during the Patristic period the New Testament Canon began to form as the writings of the apostles circulate and gained wide acceptance in the church.  The writings of the Patristics are critical here as they quote New Testament texts, reject false texts, and use accepted texts as the basis for their teaching.  Each time they did so they gave attestation to many parts of the New Testament that were affirmed early and received by the post-apostolic church as the Word of God.
  5. Gentilization - In 70 AD Jerusalem was destroyed.  This not only marked the end of an important era of Jewish history, but also an important era of the migration of the gospel.  With the loss of Jerusalem, Rome became the center of the Christian universe.  As the gospel moved to Rome the church became decreasingly Jewish and increasingly Gentile in nature.  It is here that we begin to see how culture begins to influence the expression of the gospel in the church as it migrates.  As the church becomes more Roman we see it take on many of the values of Greco-Roman society as well as its organizations.  It is here that the Church “Catholic” or “Universal” (intentional use) is born.
Early on the church established that the people of God would trace themselves back to the teachings of Jesus and those of the apostles.  Though the ancestry of Baptists can become cloudy at times throughout the centuries, there is no doubt that a distinctive Baptists hold dear is that they are ever seeking to be nourished from the roots of Christ through God’s Spirit and God’s Word.  Baptists may not find succession through a catalogue of great historical names, but it does find lineage in the Word.  No matter how far removed we are from first century Jerusalem holding to the Bible as the authoritative text keeps us connected to the teachings of Jesus and the birth of the church in Acts 2.
Ultimately the church is not a chapter within a denominational fold, nor is it an addressed structure on a street.  The church is a group of people defined by Christ.  Church is not a place one goes nor is it something one does, the church is something we have become because we have been born again by the Spirit of God.  People should also not carry a false sense of salvation if they have an affinity for Christ but have no relationship with His people.  The church is the Jesus society.  On the first Pentecost day after His resurrection Jesus gave His people His Spirit, they gathered together, and by His Spirit He made them His church.  The church is His society and as such His people subscribe to His teachings and seek to fulfill the purposes of Christ, the one who defines them.  
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