THE ORIGIN OF THE BAPTISTS
Tertullianus was born in Carthage, in the latter part of the second century. His writings and his memory were fresh; and the churches which believed and practiced as he did were numerous at the time of the rise of Novatian and Novatus. They were scattered throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe.
By S. H. Ford
Of the learning, the ability, and the piety of Tertullian, even the old Catholic historians speak in the highest praise. his letters to the Emperor of Rome, and his defenses of Christianity, are monuments of his learning and genius.
Like the Novatians and Donatists, Tertullian beheld the innovations and corruptions which were fast changing the spiritual character of the churches into semi-Jewish organizations. He pleaded and protested against the growing tendency, and, at length, with a minority, withdrew from the Church at Carthage. This minority church continued there, as similar churches did in other places, till the rise of Novatus, and, finally, of the Donatists. They were frequently called Tertullianists, but more generally Montanists.
To learn their principles we must go to the writings of this extraordinary man. Neander says:
"In the last years of the second century Tertullian appears as a zealous opponent of infant baptism, a proof that the practice had not as yet come to be regarded as an apostolic institution, for, otherwise, he would hardly have ventured to express himself so strongly against it. We perceive, from his arguments against infant baptism, that he introduces Matt..xix: 14. Tertullian advises that, in consideration of the great importance of the transaction, and of the preparation necessary to be made for it by the recipients, baptism should rather be delayed than prematurely applied. 'Let them come,' says Tertullian, 'while they are growing up; let them come while they are learning, while they are being taught that to which they are coming; let them become Christians while they are susceptible.' " (Neander, vol. i, p. 312).
The great Neander, commenting on these words, remarks:
"Tertullian evidently means that children should be led to Christ by instructing them in Christianity, but that they should not receive baptism until, after being sufficiently instructed, they are led by personal conviction, and by their own free choice, to seek for it with sincerity of heart." (Ut supra).
With such principles, where would Tertullian be classed now? As the corruptions which were steadily undermining the standing of the churches increased, Tertullian denied to them the claim of being true Christian Churches. He plead for an equality among presbyters or elders against the growing arrogance of the metropolitan pastors. He plead for the purity of the church, and the rejection of all unregenerate persons. He joined the now numerous sect of the Montanists, and finally proclaimed with them that the one immersion "can relate only to us who know and call on the true God and Christ. The heretics have not this God and Christ. These words, therefore, can not be applied to them, and as they do not rightly administer the ordinance, their baptism is the same as none."
Such were the principles of the Tertullianists in the second century. Were they not Baptists?
Tertullian is called a Montanist. Now these Montanists were principally found in Phrygia. Of these people we give the bitter statements of an enemy who lent all his talent and power to corrupt and carnalize Christianity. Eusebius says:
"There is a certain village in Mysia, (a region of Phrygia,) called Ardaban, where first of all one Mantanus, a late convert in the time of Gratus, proconsul of Asia, inflated with an immoderate desire of chieftainship, primacy, and being deranged and bereft of his wits, became furious, and published strange doctrines, and contrary to the customs of ancient tradition. There were few of the Phrygians seduced, notwithstanding that bold and blind spirit instructed them to revile every church under heaven. The faithful in Asia excommunicated, rejected, and banished this heretical opinion out of their churches." (Eusebius, 1. s., chap. xiv).
The first thing that strikes the reader of this paragraph is that the churches, even in the times of Eusebius, were separate and independent, that they all immersed is unquestioned. The introduction of Jewish and Pagan ceremonies, at the time of the rise of Montanus, is recorded by every historian; and Neander, with almost every other reliable antiquarian, acknowledges that a half century after this period, "infant baptism was not introduced as an apostolic practice." The conclusion which forces itself on the impartial mind is, that all the churches, at the time to which Eusebius referred in the foregoing extract, were nominally made up of baptized believers, which we now call Baptist Churches. But they were gradually losing their spiritual elements and gospel principles, and departing from the faith once delivered to the saints. The abuse afterward heaped on Montanus and Tertullian by this court bishop Eusebius, who was affected with Arianism, reveals the spirit which actuated the Judaizing party. Neander says:
"Montanus belonged to the class of men in whom the first glow of conversion begat and unconquerable opposition to the world. We should remember that he lived in a country where the expectation that the church should finally enjoy on the theater of its sufferings, the earth itself, previous to the end of all things, a millennium of victorious dominion." (Neander, vol. i, p. 518).
That there may have been some extravagances in regard to spiritual operations and influences, maintained by the Tertullianists, is altogether possible. That Montanus and his associates have been shamefully misrepresented is certain.
"While it was the custom to derive the power conceded to the bishops from the power to bind and loose, conferred on PETER, the Montanist Tertullian, on the other hand, maintained that these words referred only to Peter personally, and to those who, like Peter, were filled with the Holy Ghost indirectly. Montanism set up a church of the Spirit, consisting of the spiritual homines,(spiritual men,) in opposition to the prevailing outward view of that institution."
" 'The church, in the proper and pre-eminent sense, is the Holy Spirit in which the three are one, and next the whole community of those who are agreed in this faith.' The Catholic point of view expresses itself in this, viz.: that the idea of the church is put first, and by this very position of it is made outward. Next the agency of the Holy Spirit first, and considers the church as that which is only derived." (Neander, vol. i, p. 518).
There was the ground on which took place the first grand separation from a carnalized community. As the fading light left the once irradiated churches wrapped in the twilight, which soon afterward settled into deep night, the Montanists parted from them, and proclaimed the true gospel principles, conversion, faith, spirituality first, baptism and church- membership NEXT. The dissenting minorities were excluded and traduced. But, unflinching and uncompromising, they would not acknowledge those societies to be churches, and therefore reimmersed all who came from them.
These men were Baptists, if immersing none but professedly converted men, and organizing independent churches on the principles of the gospel, constitute men Baptists. We found them in Phrygia and Armenia, in Italy and Africa, increasing steadily till crushed out by imperial cruelty. We traced their footsteps among the Pyrenees and Alps, where they lay concealed, and suddenly started into life at the Reformation of Luther.
Thus through the darkness have we tracked them up to the dissent of the Montanists in Asia, in the year 190, which was within a century of the apostles. Here, in the rural districts of Asia, which had witnessed the toil and sufferings of the apostles, and where their teachings were remembered by the living, who had actually listened to their preaching, and where their writings were recorded as the inspired voice of Go, here we find Baptists protesting against the very first departures from the simplicity and spirituality of apostolic churches. HERE WE FIND WHERE THE BAPTISTS CAME FROM.
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