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The Writing of the New Testament

Sometimes layered under the hype of doctrine and dogma relating to the writing of the Scriptures, one finds some interesting verses among the inspired writ which causes pause and one to scratch ones head. Of these, which are many, the writing of the NT is replete with examples. First, let’s realize that we have no idea HOW inspiration worked, as God chose not to bore us with the gory details. From words we have developed a doctrine or a dogma of how “we think it worked” but the mechanics are not clear. In fact, the original words in Greek should be examined and understood first, since the English (a relatively modern language at that, is but a poor substitute for the richness of the words originally chosen to express such in the Greek. Now I am sure that will open me to castigation by my KJV friends, but in the words of my friend Billy Kelly: “At least while you are chewing on me, you can let someone else rest.”

So let’s get back to the New Testament. First, you need to know that there exists more than 40 gospels from NT times. Some of these are more together, from the existence of copies standpoint than are the four Gospels in the NT. Most scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark is the oldest, and there is evidence that some of the Gospel was used by the other three in their writing as source material. They share the same stories, in the same order, and often in the same words.

So now to get to the point of this blog…..Luke, in the beginning of his Gospel says, “Wheras, many have attempted to compile a narrative of the things which have been fulfilled among us, just as eye witnesses and ministers of the word delivered them over to us, (these narratives being those some 40 or so other Gospels), it seemed good to me also, having followed all these things closely from the beginning, to write for you an orderly account” (Luke 1:1-3) (Note in parenthesis is mine).

So Luke admits the existence of these other gospel writings and this apparently this includes the book of Mark which made it into the inspired writings, and yet Luke says that his book is written to give an orderly account, which apparently was reflecting on the lack of order of these other books including the Gospel of Mark. And of course you can see the questions raised by this assertion. But Luke, who apparently had a low opinion of Mark’s Gospel did not ignore it completely, as he used many of Mark’s stories in his own writing, sometimes in Mark’s own language. Luke and Mark are both second-hand accounts. But it is interesting that they are written well before (widely accepted) either of the two first-hand accounts of Matthew and John.

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Gleanings From Job–part I

There is so much to be said from the book of Job. Most scholars agree to its very ancient date, and that makes it even more phenomenal. That he could have such faith and trust in the antediluvian age speaks volumes as to the great value of this work.

When Job got up one morning, the sun was shining. His family was well. He was wealthy and his income increased. When he retired the sun had vacated his sky, his children were dead, and he had in one day liquidated all of his assets.

But all that was left was his wife and friends. You see the leaving was as much Satan’s test as the taking. God had put everything Job has in Satan’s hand and he could take or leave as he will, only he could not touch Job’s soul. Even Satan is  aware of those parts of our lives which are detrimental to our spiritual good, and he will use those to derail us in our path to God.

Unbeknownst to Job and behind the scenes his life had become a stage, and he was about to be tried in the worst way. But his faith held strong. In the face of Satan’s storms his faith did not fail nor even grow weak. In fact, he shut the mouth of Satan, and the Devil never speaks again in Holy Writ until the NT, hundreds of years later.

So, remember today as you labor through this day that whatever God is allowing in your life—you do not have all the facts. Ignore the preachers, pundits, and practitioners of  “I know why you suffer!” Like Job your life might have become a stage upon which matters of eternal weight are being tested.

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Gleanings from Job–Part II

Interesting that we do not know just how long Job’s trials lasted. But we can be safe to say that every day seems like a thousand hours long. No doubt they seemed longer with a nagging wife, which Satan so aptly left behind to goad him. When I am in pain I often find myself ill natured when others ask questions, make comments, or try to help me. I hate to be waited on. As many of you know my mother has Alzheimer’s and has no temporary memory. The same questions come over and over and over as she tries to help. I love her dearly, but bless her heart, she does not understand just how troublesome she is when I am in pain.

The things we talk about with Job all have to do with the encounter with the Devil, and Job won that round. As previously stated, he won so resoundedly that he shut the Devil’s mouth for years. But then God takes him out of the hands of Satan and puts him in the hands of his friends. Here Job falls flat on his face.

Get the picture. Job is covered with stinky, oozing boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He is bedridden, and as he looks out the window of his room he sees ten fresh graves where the bodies of his 7 sons and 3 daughters are buried. Children in Job’s day are particularly the sign of God’s divine favor. But now it seems the favor has evaporated.

And then those miserable friends of his come to call and Mrs. Job being the kind soul that she was saw the opportunity to go get some work done, so she let them into Job’s sick room, and she fled to another part of the house, glad to be away from Job’s misery.
So these friends came in and sat down and did not say a word. You see it was the custom in that day for the host to speak first, before the guest could speak. So Job was quiet. They sat there for seven days and just looked at each other. Finally, Job speaks with a sigh and says—“Would to God that I had never been born!” And with that his three friends jumped on him with both feet and began sharing all their blighted wisdom.

So what can we learn here? We have already said in the previous post that we do not have all the evidence for what God is doing in a life. Here we learn the unmitigated absurdity of passing judgment on someone else, under the guise of telling them what God is doing in their lives. Next time we will talk about what Job learned about himself in this encounter with his friends, and while he won the first round, he fell flat on his face in the second.

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Gleanings From Job- Part Three

Gleanings In Job, Part III

In our last discussion on Job, we noted the contest between Job and Satan in which God allowed Satan to turn Job’s life into a stage and test his faith. For most this contest is about all they know of the life of Job. They fail to realize that this part of the story only occupies a brief part of the action. Why is that? For most of us involved in the human experience the dark places where we are tested seem so much longer than the wonderful experiences. The days when we are sick or bereaved seem to be a month long, and as though time will never pass. Thus it must have been with Job.

But then we noted that God takes Job out of the hands of Satan and puts him into the hands of men—his friends, and here Job does not do nearly so well. This is the bulk of the book itself, as at length we find the record of what Job says to his friends and what they say back to him. They both say some nasty things to each other. So what is the value? I think it teaches us some valuable lessons and gives us great insight into the human experience.

The truth is that the Devil’s dealings with us are not nearly as common or time consuming as we let on. It seems so spiritual to claim that the Devil is bothering us, when in reality we are what is really bothering us. It is usually our own wicked, fallen nature that is our biggest hindrance to progress in the Christian life. This is what Job learned as he lay sick, when his friends came to visit. Mrs. Job was left with him for a reason and like the friends was a miserable comfort. Job begged her, “Please woman, if you have any scrap of decency, do not let them in. I know them. They say they have come to sympathize when in reality they have come to sermonize.” But she let them in and for seven days they simply sat and looked at each other. (BTW that was the custom in the antediluvian world. When you visited you could not speak until the host spoke.) So after seven days Job says, “I would to God I had never been born!” And his friends ate his lunch from that point.

But in this section, Job learned something about himself. And he did so simply be getting upset. Don’t you understand that? You are such a godly person. You dress right. You don’t swear. You go to church and sing in the choir. You leave church to drive home and it’s raining and this tractor-trailer cuts you off on the interstate and covers you with water and the car almost hydroplanes and the kids are screaming and the wife is talking incessantly, and you waive to the drive and say, “God bless you, my brother! Thanks for that!” Of course you do.

And in a moment of just getting upset all the blessings of the meeting are gone. Your testimony is damaged, and your fellowship with God is broken. You see it is like my having two gallon jugs sitting on a table. One is filled with vinegar and the other with honey. All I have to do is upset them, and that which is on the inside comes outside. Upsetting the jug did not create what was inside the jug, but it most certainly reveals what is on the inside. And thus it is with the Christian’s heart. For all his outward appearances, getting upset reveals what is really inside the heart. “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Never has a great truism been written.

And thus getting upset revealed the heart of this great and godly man, Job. The man who sparred with Satan and resoundedly won the battle of faith; the man who suffered and sighed and saw his family gone, his wealth taken—so completely destroyed the Devil that he does not speak again until the temptation of Christ. But his own tongue brings shame and defeat as his heart is revealed. Too bad James had not been around in Job’s day. How could have pointed out the great truth of the tongue—it is an unruly evil, set on fire of hell.

Even with Christians one does not have to look far to see the hurt and damage and destruction of the human tongue. It is hard to fathom what Christians say to hurt their friends, much less those they disagree with or hate. Yes, I did say hate. Christians notoriously hate others based on race, denomination, culture, and have little regard to the price paid for such actions. Even the godly Martin Luther, in his vitriol against Jews said that we would be doing God a favor if we exterminated them. Such words! And yet they are picked up by Adolf Hitler who took them to heart and sought to do just that. Words always have consequences.

And we see in Job the great truth that it is not the major battles in which we war with Satan, and God sends reinforcements of legions of angels to battle the great Satan, but it is indeed the little foxes that spoil the grapes we need to be most concerned about. The sins of the flesh are big and bold and many times very public and they hurt the testimony, but what of the bitterness, backbiting, envy, greed, jealousy, and a myriad other sins of the flesh, hidden behind the façade of a “godly, spiritual” life that are so damning. How many times have we seen it? They dress modestly, keep their hair cut, no jewelry, no make-up, but they have a tongue that is set on fire of hell. How sad.

So Job learns the awful truth that the sins of the spirit are much more damning and dangerous sometimes than the sins of the flesh. He had those mastered, but not the spirit. (To be continued).

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Baptists: Their Historical Relation to the Protestant Reformation And the Roman Catholic Church

Baptists: Their Historical Relation to the Protestant Reformation And the Roman Catholic Church
by Fred G. Zaspel, 1985

 

PURPOSE OF PAPER

The purpose of this paper is to determine the historical roots of the Baptists, to answer the question concerning any historical association or connection with the Protestant Reformation or the Roman Catholic Church, and to only briefly identify and examine the supposed succession from the Anabaptists and other ancient religious groups. A thorough discussion of all the questions involved with this subject will not be given. A brief outline of the people and events involved is all that is intended.

INTRODUCTION

The study of the history of Baptists is plagued by many difficult questions on the one hand and very bold assertions on the other. This paper, although written from the standpoint of an independent Baptist, is an attempt to challenge the assertion that Baptists have absolutely no historical ties to either the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Reformation. The great differences which divide Baptists from Romanism and from Protestantism is no doubt the cause for this type of claim, but, as will be shown, the claim is not founded on a knowledge of the facts of history. This in no way is a weakness in Baptist beliefs, for history, tradition, and ancestry are not the standard of truth nor the basis of faith; Scripture alone is the norm. The question of historical origins, however, is one of value, for it does give explanation to many of the beliefs and practices of the group in question. This brief study, then, will seek to trace the background of Baptists, beginning with those in America and working backwards from there.

THE DESCENT OF MODERN BAPTISTS

Baptists In America

Skipping over the great names of Baptists such as Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, John Leland, Isaac Backus, etc., and looking back to their fathers in Colonial America, the familiar names of men such as Roger Williams, John Clarke, and Henry Dunster shine brightly. Their struggle for freedom to practice according to the dictates of conscience and the Word of God was long and difficult. They bore the persecutions of whipping, imprisonment, excommunication, banishment, ridicule, and starvation–all for believing and practicing principles which Baptists hold dear. The story of Roger Williams (1600-1685), founder of the first Baptist Church organized on American soil, and his banishment from Massachusetts into the wilderness because of his opposition to the Church of England and championing of the principles of individual soul liberty and religious freedom, is well known. From his church in Providence, Rhode Island, came one John Clarke, close associate of Williams and probably the most prestigious Baptist leader of his time. The church he established in Newport, 1641 (Quaker?), became the second Baptist church in America, Clarke being its teaching elder from the beginning. Henry Dunster (1612-1659), first president of Harvard, began to preach against infant baptism and in 1653 refused the rite to his fourth child. For this he was forced to resign and that after twelve years of impressive service to the college. Even after earnest pleading he was refused the use of his home any longer, was cast out into the winter, and died within five weeks.

These are just a couple examples of the struggles for the rise of Baptist convictions in America. The purpose here, however, is to investigate the historical background of these early Baptists.

Roger Williams, a Welshman, began an Anglican, educated at Cambridge and was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England. He became, in turn, a Puritan (Congregationalist, still within the Church of England), a Separatist, a Baptist, and finally a Seeker. There is some evidence that he had also been a follower of George Fox’s Quakerism. By the time he reached America, he was convinced of Separatist views and refused the offer to assume the pastorate of the Boston church because it was unwilling to officially sever all ties with the Church of England. Having been banished from Massechusetts, he founded the settlement of Providence in June of 1636. In 1638 a church was organized, and by 1639 it was practicing believer’s baptism, Williams having been baptized by a church member.

John Clarke fled England’s persecution of Puritans under Archbishop Laud. After arriving in Boston, he saw problems with Congregationalism, and moving south to Newport established a church (1641?) which became Particular Baptist, Clarke being the teaching elder.

John Miles (1621-1683), another Welshman, came to America in 1662, having been ejected from the Established Church. He settled at Swansea, near Providence, and in the following years was responsible for the establishing of two churches.

Through the study of such men and events of Colonial America, it is clear that Baptists did not migrate to America: English Puritans migrated to America, who, in turn, became Baptists. To be sure, from these men came hosts of American-born Baptists, but the evidence seems very clear that American Baptists trace back to Colonial Puritanism. Continental (Dutch and Swiss) Anabaptism did have some migration to the New World (such as Hanserd Knollys who arrived in Boston in 1638), but these “Anabaptists” would not fit the description or theology of what is recognized to be “Baptist.” They did have Baptist-type beliefs but were Anabaptists of another type (Mennonite, etc.). America’s earliest Baptists were originally Puritans within the Church of England: Williams, Clarke, Dunster, Thomas Gould, etc. Much of the same could be said about later American-born Baptists who also were previously Congregationalists (Isaac Backus, Shubael Stearns, etc.). Baptists were by far the greatest beneficiaries of the Great Awakening of staunchly Protestant Edwards and Whitefield. Entire Congretationalist bodies, having been “awakened” under Whitefield’s ministry saw complete separation from the Church of England the necessary next step; hence, the rise of more Baptist churches.

In summary, Baptists in America, although having certain theological similarities to Continental Anabaptism, have no historical connection with them. Their descent from Colonial Puritanism is obvious and also explains the dominance of Calvinistic theology, not only in those first Baptists in New England but in their children. John Myles, who had previously taken orders from the Anglican Church, may have been the first Baptist to immigrate to the colonies, having embraced Baptist beliefs while in Wales. With Myles, then, Baptists have come out of Puritanism without ties to Anabaptism on the Continent.

Baptists In Britain

Although the honor for the establishing of the first Baptist Church in Wales belongs to John Myles, the real championing of the Baptist cause belongs to one Vavasor Powell (1617-1670), because Myles and most of his congregation moved to New England. Powell was definitely of Puritan persuasion within the Established Church, but by 1655 his church in Wales was baptistic at least, for records reveal that he had been recently rebaptized. Many Baptists came from his efforts, and the succeeding Welsh Baptists (Christmas Evans, 1766-1838, etc.) continued his ardent Calvinistic beliefs, although for a time Arminianism was threatening.

Baptists had no beginning in Scotland until the eighteenth century and that, again, under the leadership of men from Independent and Puritan (within the Church of Scotland) backgrounds. These earliest churches were begun under the leadership of Sir William Sinclair (1750) and Robert Carmichael (1765). The most familiar names of early Baptists in Scotland are the Haldane brothers, Robert (1764-1842) and James (1768-1851), both of whom had been Independents. In 1808 they both became convinced that their practice of infant baptism was unscriptural, and in the fifty years of ministry which followed, nearly forty Baptist churches were founded in Scotland.

Baptists in Ireland have never been many, Irish resistance being too great. The first Baptist church established was under the direction of Thomas Patience in Dublin, probably in the year 1653. The Baptist who perhaps most helped the cause of Baptists in Ireland was the esteemed Alexander Carson (1776-1844). A very learned Scottish Presbyterian, he vigorously opposed some of his church members who began to embrace Baptist convictions. Later, having been persuaded of their truthfulness, he was removed from his church by the synod. His Baptism: Its Mode & Subjects, testifies to his ability to defend believer’s baptism.

The first Baptist Church in England (General Baptist) finds its origin with John Smyth. Although Smyth had definite Puritan beliefs, persecution drove him from England to Holland because of his Separatist convictions. With his church moved to Amsterdam, he came into fellowship with the strong Mennonite (Anabaptist) groups there. Smyth there established a Baptist Church, having baptized himself and his entire congregation (with one pail of water!). He soon applied for membership in the Mennonite church, only to the great disruption of the congregation. Thomas Helwys (c. 1550 – c. 1616), a member of the church, led the congregation to excommunicate Smyth for his Anabaptist heresy. In 1611 they published a declaration of their faith rejecting the teachings of the Anabaptists. Shortly thereafter they moved back to England, thus becoming the first Baptist Church on English soil.

General Baptists who followed (and who eventually gave way almost entirely to Unitarianism) made great efforts to disavow any connection with Anabaptism. Similarities there were, but identity or association with them was consistently denied. Their Declarations of Faith made this abundantly clear; not only did they reject Anabaptism, they often referred to themselves as “Protestants.” In 1678 they published “An Orthodox Creed or Protestant Confession of Faith, Being an Essay to Unite and Confirm all True Protestants.”

The other strain of Baptists in England (Particular Baptists) began in 1638 under the leadership of John Spilsbury, their first pastor. The church began as a break from the Independent Church which was begun by Henry Jacob (the so-called “Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey Church,” named after its successive pastors) over the matter of infant Baptism. These Particular Baptists were by far the strongest voice of English Baptists for generations (Gill, Fuller, Spurgeon, Bunyan, etc.). Like the General Baptists these Particulars repeatedly disavowed any association with Anabaptism and continually affirmed their loyalty to the Protestant Reformation, even calling themselves Protestants. Their Second London Confession of faith is an obvious and admitted adaptation of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of 1646 (as is also the Philadelphia Confession, which became the standard statement of faith for Baptists in America). The Second London Confession (1677) states the Particular Baptist agreement “with Protestants in diverse nations and cities . . . in that wholesome Protestant doctrine, which with so clear evidence of Scriptures that they have asserted,” and claims kinship with the great reformers of England who gave their lives in opposition to Rome.

It is abundantly clear that the Baptists of Britain, while consistently rejecting the teachings of the Anabaptists, sought to remain loyal to the Protestant Reformation, their few (but major) differences notwithstanding.

One other point is worthy of note here, and that regards the mode of baptism practiced by these early Baptists. Originally it was almost uniformly by affusion. This is true of the Anabaptists (even down to today’s Anabaptists and their children the Mennonites) as well as the Baptists of Britain. Vedder ( A Short History of the Baptists) a Baptist Historian, says this was the same of the first Baptists of America as well (e.g., Roger Williams). Well into the third quarter of the seventeenth century Baptists were not entirely an immersionist group. The issue with them, which they so diligently fought, was that of the subjects of baptism. In their struggle for complete conformity to the New Testament, immersion did follow.

Anabaptism

Although this paper is rejecting any historical identification or association of modern Baptists with Anabaptism, the assertion of some Baptists today claiming succession from them, their similarities to present-day Baptists, and their differences, make them worthy of note here.

The similarities are several and well known: separation of church and state, believer’s baptism, sole authority of Scripture, the Lord’s Table as a memorial only, and individual soul liberty. These seem to have been held by most of the Anabaptists although by no means all. A very distressing problem in discussing the theology of the Anabaptists is that there is no one theological system held by all of them: the movement was extremely diverse, so when someone asserts that his church finds roots in the Anabaptists, the only thing one can wonder is, “which one?”

This claim of modern Baptists is made in effort to remain apart from any historical connection with the Roman Catholic Church, even if that connection is via the Protestant Reformers. But even that effort is futile, for virtually all of the early Anabaptist leaders themselves came either from Protestantism or from Romanism itself. A brief list of names will suffice to establish this point: Balthasar Hubmaier, a converted Roman Catholic Priest; Hans Denck, Lutheran headmaster of the renowned St. Sebald School in Nuremberg; Menno Simons, a Roman Catholic Priest in Friesland; Thomas Munster, a Roman Catholic? Lutheran? Communist? –scholars debate; Melchior Hoffman, a Lutheran missionary; Wilhelm Reublin, a Roman Catholic Priest; Johannes Brottli, Roman Catholic Priest; George Blaurock, a Roman Catholic Monk; Simon Stumf, Roman Catholic Priest; Conrad Grebel, Zwingli’s protege in Zurich; Felix Manz, Roman Catholic (illegitimate son of a Roman Catholic Priest) and later associate of Zwingli; etc. The list could go on, but the point is clear: Anabaptists do not represent a pure line of believers outside the Roman Church.

Conclusion

It has been shown that Baptists in America find their origins in Colonial and some English Puritanism. English Baptists continually avowed allegiance to the Protestant Reformation, their early leaders all being Puritans. The Anabaptism of the Continent, although holding some clear Baptistic principles, were not the fathers of modern Baptists (neither in America directly nor via Britain); nor were they without roots in Roman Catholicism themselves.

ANCIENT “BAPTISTS”?

Since many religious groups found within the pages of church history are being purported to be Baptists or Baptist types (cf. J. M. Carroll, The Trail of Blood), this section will seek to briefly identify these groups and their beliefs.

Montanists

The Montanists were a fanatical religious sect of Phrygia (western Asia Minor), the followers of Montanus and his two prophetesses (Prisca and Maximilla). A former Priest of Cybele worship, after converting to Christianity, he attempted a reform of the formalism which had set into the Church, the rise in authority of the one bishop in the local church, and the lack of dependence upon the supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit in this age. His prophetesses spoke for him; he spoke for God and this often in the first person. He established Spirit-led communities at Pepuza and Tymion in Phrygia (naming them “Jerusalem”) and predicted that Christ would return to establish His earthly kingdom at Pepuza; then inspiration and prophecy would cease. The Montanists’ most illustrious adherent was the great church father, Tertullian. They practiced a rigid church discipline, banned remarriage even after the mate had died, approved of desertion of one’s mate for the sake of chastity–all in an effort to holiness. Serious sins after baptism could not be forgiven. Montanism (begun in the mid second century) survived only into the fifth century in northern Africa and into the sixth century in Phrygia.

Novatianists

Novatian (mid third century) was a priest of the church of Rome who broke away from the church because of its laxity in discipline especially in regard to those who had given way under persecution. Basically orthodox in theology his followers set up a rival church with a bishop at Carthage. During the 250’s they grew rapidly, requiring a rebaptism (pouring) of all who joined, not for a belief in believer’s baptism but only because, in their view, they were the only true church. No major sins after baptism could be forgiven. Novatianism was reabsorbed into the Roman Catholic Church by the seventh century.

Donatists

Donatus was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Carthage from 313 to about 355. Like Novatian, he was concerned over the lack of strictness in discipline of these who had given way under the persecution of Diocletian. In 312 the bishop to be elected (Caecilian) was rejected by Donatus and his followers because he (Caecilian) had been ordained by Felix of Apthungi who had betrayed a copy of the Scriptures to his persecutors. This, Donatus argued, rendered his performing of the sacrament of ordination invalid, because he had committed the unpardonable sin. Donatism survived, becoming continually closer to the mother church of Rome, until the fifth century.

Paulicians

The Paulicians emerged in the mid seventh century in the eastern parts of the Byzantine Empire, rejecting the formalism of the church. Their founder, Constantine (who changed his name to Silvanus, or Silas) based his teachings on the written Word of God alone, but that written Word of God was to be found only in the gospels and the epistles of Paul. (They were great lovers of the apostle Paul, the successive leaders of the sect taking to themselves the names of the people closely associated with Paul–Titus, Timothy, Tychicus, etc.; hence, the designation Paulicians.) The other portions of Scripture (New and Old Testaments) were written by an evil deity, the same evil deity who created the world. Obviously, they were dualistic, matter being evil and spirit alone being good. In order to save human spirits from this evil physical world, God (the good deity) sent an angel who appeared as the man Jesus. Some groups of Paulicians existed in Armenia into the nineteenth century.

Waldensians

Having read the Scriptures for himself, Peter Waldo, or Valdes, was so impressed by the claims of Christ that he sold all he owned in order to live a life of poverty. He translated the New Testament from the Latin and began to preach the gospel in the common tongue. He and his followers were very orthodox in theology and began as a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church. Gathering men of like thinking around him, the movement spread rapidly during the twelfth century. In 1184 they were excommunicated by Pope Lucius III, and as a result, they began to spread even more rapidly. They rejected the authority of high-ranking ecclesiastics, re-interpreted or rejected the sacraments of the church except confession, absolution, the eucharist, and baptism. The Waldensians made a noble attempt at reform and remain today in northern Italy, about thirty-five thousand strong.

Albigenses

The Albigenses (so-called because they were most numerous near Albi, in Southern France), or Cathari (from the Greek word, katharoi, meaning pure ones), although claiming New Testament authority for their beliefs, were a heretical sect formed in the Roman Catholic Church during the twelfth century and resembling the Gnostics and Paulicians. Dualism was at the heart of their teachings–two gods, one evil and one good, matter being the essence of evil, etc. The evil god was the Jehovah of the Old Testament. With matter being evil, they, of course, rejected the incarnation of Christ; Christ, they taught, had no real body; it only appeared so. Since matter is evil, they rejected all the sacraments of the church; the one sacrament which they held to was the consolamentum–the giving of the Spirit by the laying of hands and the Gospel of John on the head. They were extremely ascetic, avoiding marriage with its fleshly and therefore evil pleasures, oaths, war, milk, meat, cheese, and eggs.(!) The use of anything material in worship was forbidden.

Anabaptists

The Anabaptists arose in the sixteenth century in Holland and in Zurich, Switzerland. As stated earlier they (generally) held to many beliefs in common with today’s Baptists, but the differences are at least as obvious. Their beliefs and practices ranged from extreme pacifism to extreme revolutionism; they sometimes rejected the taking of oaths, association with the world in any way, and some would require communal living with no allowance for ownership of private property; while they practiced believer’s baptism, very few, if any, immersed; some practiced the strictest church discipline, while others were more tolerant; some believed in the strict separation of church from state, while others sought to rule the state; some were even Unitarian, such as Servetus who was burned in Calvin’s Geneva. One great difference of Anabaptism from modern-day Baptists is that regarding their beliefs in soteriology, and on this point they were all agreed. Far from the Calvinism of the early Baptists, the Anabaptists were semi-pelagian, declaring that not only was man’s will free, but it remained unfallen, his spirit remaining “utterly upright and intact before, during, and after the fall” (Hubmaier). He went on to say that “God created you without your aid, but he will not save you without your aid” (his treatise entitled Von der Freiheit des Willens, “Concerning the Freedom of the Will”). Sadly, many Baptists today have gone this direction in their soteriology, but none who would even resemble anything evangelical would agree with these extremes!

For all their differences, the Anabaptists were, as a whole, very morally upstanding people; even their persecutors admitted this. But to claim identification with them as modern Baptists is neither in keeping with the facts of history nor the great differences of belief and practice.

SUMMARY & CONCLUSION

It has been shown that Baptists in America and Britain find their origins in Protestant Puritanism, and their connection with the Anabaptists is only imaginary. Similarities there are, but the vast differences must be honestly admitted as well. Historical ties to the Anabaptists were continually disavowed by early Baptists, while at the same time they all claimed the closest of ties with the Protestant Reformation. Anabaptist, on the other hand, for the most part, came from Roman Catholic stock. It has also been shown that while few similarities exist between today’s Baptists and some ancient religious sects, none of them were actually what today’s Baptists are. They too came from out the established church of Rome, and were generally sacramentalists and sometimes even pagan.

Let it be reemphasized, as was stated at the outset, that this is no threat to Baptists. While Baptists have no clear, uncluttered genealogy of historical identity, it is no insult but rather a testimony to their strict belief that the Scripture alone is our basis of faith. While Baptists have historical roots which grow back to the Reformation, their only concern need be whether their theological roots grow out of the pages of the New Testament. Baptists do not need (nor does anyone else) a continual, unbroken line back to the apostles, only agreement with them. This is the question of ultimate importance, and if Baptists really believe that, a constructing of history in their favor is not at all necessary. Let them look to their history honestly, gleaning what they can from their predecessors with some differing views and fearing only any deviation from their sole authoritative Statement of Faith, Holy Scripture.

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The Ministry of Thorns

            My thoughts turned this morning to the prominence, at least in the KJV bible of the word “thorn” or “thorns” and I was surprised to learn that the word and its cognates appear some 46 times in this translation. When we realize that in Mark 15:17 the Roman soldiers platted a crown of thorns and placed them upon the head of Jesus, the symbolism becomes even more prominent. This was no small feat, by the way. The thorns that grew in Palestine are big and poisonous, and cause instant swelling and disfigurement. They would have struggled with platting a crown without being stuck themselves. So consider with me some interesting Biblical truths about thorns and then how they minister to us even as Christians.

I.      The symbolism of the thorn.

 In an interesting way, the thorn in the Bible is a picture of the fall of Adam and Eve and the fallen nature that results. The fall not only affected our first parents, but nature surrounding us as well. The Apostle Paul says that all of nature groans since the fall awaiting the redemption of the earth. One could surmise that previous to the fall that roses did not have thorns. Blackberries would not stick you. Things of beautify in nature did not have the negative and sometimes dangerous connotations they had after the fall. Thorns became the symbol of the fallen condition and nature of the world we live in. In a very real way the crown of thorns on the head of Jesus at the crucifixion portray his dying to redeem us from under the curse of sin.

II. God’s children, the church, living among thorns.

The wonderful writings of the Song of Solomon voice this point well. “As a lily among thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters of my people.” (SofS 2:2). We live as God’s children in a world of thorns. We are often pricked and fall prey to the evil nature of the world around us.

III.Thorns affect the ministry of Christians in the world.

As Christians we are told to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, teaching, and baptizing….” So we are in the business of sowing the seed of the Word of God. But the Gospels inform us that as we sow some of that seed falls on stony ground and thorns spring up and choke the Word so that it is unprofitable. There are those awful thorns again, hindering the word of God.

IV.Thorns affect the personal lives of Christians

But the Bible also reminds us that God uses thorns in the lives of Christians to purify us and make us look more like Christ. Consider the Apostle Paul who says he had a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him….” Whatever this thorn was, whether a physical affliction which many believe or something else, it was tied to a fallen flesh in a fallen world. He prayed three times for its removal and was refused. But God gave him grace to live with it. Now that does not match up with the teachings of many prosperity teachers who teach that we should always be healthy and wealthy. If Paul could not get an answer, then where does that leave us? But he did get an answer—a No! God says, “I won’t remove it, but I will give grace!” Thorns are part of the process of making us trust Christ more and rely on his promise to shape us into his image. Thorns hurt, they are unpleasant, they can make us bleed—but he allows them for his divine purpose.

V.The ministry of thorns in the lives of the lost and wayward

Hosea 2:6 is perhaps one of the most interesting passages in the Bible. It says that God hedges the path of the wayward with thorns. He uses thorns to bring a person back to a right relationship with him. Our sole purpose as humans is to bring glory to God in our attitudes, our actions, and our aims, and when we fail, God will hedge us about with thorns to guide our path back to him.

One additional note I would add is this. Beware when God is in this process with your family member or friend that you not get pricked with the thorns, trying to intervene and thwart the plan of God. So many times, well meaning parents interfere with God’s plans and get pricked themselves.

Conclusion

So, in closing, consider the important symbolism found in the thorn. Christ was tempted in all points like we are and suffered every pain on the cross—even the ministry of the thorn to bring us to God and buy us back from the curse of sin. Where sin put thorns on roses, Christ’s death will one day remove them when the earth is finally redeemed. But for the present the ministry continues to make us look for like Christ, and to bring us back to him when we stray. Ah—the simple thorn, but what a great message to us as his children.

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You’re not home yet!

The old missionary had spent his life laboring in obscurity in the jungles of distant Africa. He had buried the love of his life there in the foreign field, and both of his children. He was not returning back to his beloved America, to a land of distant memory. All of his family and the friends of his childhood had long preceded him in death. His health broken the old man of God boarded a steamer coming home for a final time.

As fate would decree, on the same ocean liner was a world famous celebrity with his entourage. As the massive ship entered New York harbor and sailed past the Statue of Liberty, the sound of bands playing could be heard and the noise of thousands of people at the dock to welcome home this famous star of screen and stage. As the ship docked, ticker tape filled the air and music and shouts were loud and boisterous. Soon the star had left the ship and the parade soon followed him down the street.

As the old missionary gathered his personal belongings, and walked down the gangplank, not one person was there to meet him. As a tear trickled down his face, the old man of God looked to heaven, and in a voice of dejection said, “Lord, after all of these years of faithful service, could you not have sent just one person to welcome me home?” From the battlements of heaven a voice spoke in reply: “You see my son that is the point. You aren’t home yet!”

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