Chapter 2 – Historical Origin Of The Baptized Churches Of Christ In The United States
The churches of the New Testament did not have “names.” There is no mention of a subdivision of the church into “denominations” in the New Testament. The church was a numerator – that is, it was one body, taken in the sense of the whole community of believers.
Today, there truthfully is no such thing as a “denomination” of the true church.
However, there are many denominations of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the word catholic means an umbrella, or overall collection of many differing “Orders.”
When Constantine The Great (303 a.d.) ordered all the pagan, Jewish, and so called Christian religions of the Roman empire to merge into his universal religious organization, thereafter called “The Church,” and appointed the bishop of Rome to the ancient office of Pontifix Maximus, and made him the head of the pagan Pontifical College, it was of necessity to create “Orders” or “denominations” within the now corrupted “Church” to hold as many together as possible. Needless to say, large numbers of Christians refused to go into the homogenized state religion of the Empire. Because of this rebellion, Constantine, in 330 a.d., decreed that all religions unite in his “Church” on penalty of banishment from the Empire. We will say more about some of these groups below.
In the New Testament, Paul addressed a very disorderly and irregular church by this salutation: “Unto the church (Greek: ecclesia) of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,” and included also in that salutation, “with ALL that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (I Corinthians 1:2).
We note two things here: 1) He addresses a group that he refers to as the ekklesia, or church; and 2) others that also call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.
We hope you’ll keep this in mind, for we will have occasion to build upon that statement later. But the point to make here is, his salutation is not addressed to a church “by name.” He is only recognizing a called out baptized assembly that belongs to God, rather than some other called out assembly for some other purpose, or in some one else’s name.
Again, His salutation in II Corinthians is the same. It is addressed to the “church of God at Corinth” and to the “faithful in Christ Jesus.” There is no indication that the “faithful in Christ Jesus” are the same individuals that are in the church at Corinth, or in some other “church” in Achaia.
In his salutation in the Book of Romans, he addressed it in these words, “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints,” (Romans 1:7). In this case, he does not specifically address the “church,” but embraces a much larger number: “to all that be in Rome, called to be saints.”
We see him addressing multiple “churches”, or “ekklesia”, in his epistle to the Galatians: “Unto all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2). We wish to add this particular comment here: He addresses multiple churches as individual assemblies, rather than a single “denominational entity”.
His address to the Ephesians is to both the “saints which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Is this one group of people, or two categories?
To the Philippians, he addressed “all the saints in Jesus Christ which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). Did a single church in Philippi have multiple bishops? Not likely, but they could have, as they also could have had multiple deacons. But here he does not specifically address a “church.”
The reader may check all the other salutations. But I add this: “To the churches of Christ.”
Were there “Campbellites” then?
Or was there one denomination called “the Church of God” also?
It is clear from the New Testament and the history of all the eastern churches that they baptized by immersion.
So were they all called “Baptists”?
[Many present-day churches’ constitutions says, “We, the church of Jesus Christ of the Baptist faith and order.”] Finally, the point here is that in the apostolic age, churches did not have “names,” nor are names necessary in any age of time, other than as a help to identify themselves to others who may not know them intimately, and to distinguish them from others with whom they cannot be consistently identified.
“Why then all these names today?” one may ask.
The answer is rather easy: would you like to go from one “church” to another, covering perhaps fifteen-hundred or more to find the one with which you could fellowship?
It is a given that all “Baptists” do not believe alike, but at least you have eliminated several hundreds of others by only searching among them!
It is also a given, that all Old School or Primitive Baptists are not of the same faith and order, but look how great a number you have saved yourself from having had to visit!
And the list could go on. We fully admit that the appellatives are not necessary, nor Biblical, but they are helpful for one attempting to find a people with whom he may fellowship. It is also granted that it is not a perfect way, and in the end, it is left sovereignly in the providence of God to “add to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).
Where, and when, did the first large division take place in the early church? Asked a believer in Indiana.
It is in answering this question that we begin to trace the origin of the “baptized churches of Christ.”
From Nero, Domitian, Trajan (98 A.D.) to Emperor Decius, persecutions were severe against the baptized church of Christ. There was a lull of about forty years in the persecutions after Emperor Diocletion, which saw a large increase in the early church, with large numbers of nominal head-knowledge believers entering the church unconverted. It became a “popular” thing to do. The last great pagan persecution is referred to as the Decian Persecution that ended about 251 a.d. It produced many martyrs as well as many apostates. The church had become full of politics, innovations, and spiritual darkness of great depth. It was best described as doctrinally bankrupt, lax in discipline, and evolving into a rich and haughty organized institution alien to the simplicity of the baptized church of Christ in the apostolic age. Church offices were now being filled by political appointments and new offices created to give more positions to fill. In the New Testament period, there were only apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers and deacons. But in time, the corrupt members appeared to outnumber the experimental believers sufficient to gain the control of the large bishoprics, and felt intelligent enough to improve upon Christ and His apostles’ organization. This brings us to the first great schism in the Church.
The baptized church at Rome had multiple elders, called, presbyters. Two of them were Cornelius and Novatius. During the Decian Persecution, Cornelius apostatized, denied the faith under oath and turned the church books over to the Roman authorities to be burned. After the persecutions, Cornelius, as so many other apostates, came back into the church without repentance, confession, acknowledgment, and/or baptism as if nothing had happened. Novatius and many others stood against such a corruption, and became known as the Cathrari Party, meaning “Puritans.” The bishop of Rome stood with the corrupt party, and Cornelius was appointed a presbyter. Upon the death of the bishop, the two contending parties put forth Cornelius and Novatius for the office of the bishop, but neither party was strong enough to prevail. The church called upon bishops from other large metropolitan churches, which resulted in the election of Cornelius as bishop of Rome. Thereupon, Novatius and the Cathrari withdrew from the corrupt churches throughout the Roman Empire.
Thereafter, the puritan party was referred to by historians as Novatians in Italy; Donatists (after a bishop Donatius the Great) in North Africa; and Montanists in Asia or Eastern Roman Empire. Within fifty years, the corrupt party became Constantine’s Roman Catholic Church.
In 303 A.D., Constantine the Great won control of the Roman Empire. He set out to administratively reorganize the Empire into five administrative districts: the new city, Constantinople became first in rank; Rome, second in rank; Antioch in Cilicia, next in rank; Alexandra in Egypt, next in rank, and finally, Jerusalem was set up when he reorganized the religions of the Empire. [These religious districts were the Patriarch of Constantinople (or Eastern Orthodox), the Patriarch of Alexandria (or Coptic Catholic Church) in North Africa; the Patriarch at Rome, (or Roman Catholic Church) in Italy and western Europe, The Patriarch of Antioch (or Marionite Catholic Church) in Asia Minor, and Jerusalem Catholic Church in Palestine.]
For centuries prior to Constantine, Rome freely allowed various religions to flourish in Rome. The Senate appointed a governing council over these pagan religions, and appointed a Pontifex Maximus as its head, or Pontiff. Upon the death of the Pontiff, the office rotated to each of the pagan religions of the Empire. Having now put the administrative government of the Empire in order, Constantine decreed that all religions, pagan, Jewish, and Christians merge into one umbrella, or Catholic Church. The corrupt Church of Rome had no problem with it, since Constantine gave the office of Pontifex Maximus to the bishop of Rome in perpetuity. [Note: Most people are unaware that the “Pope” was an ancient title in Roman religion for over 500 years before Christ.]
However, during his reign, Constantine actually made himself Head of The Church Of Rome, with the Pope his subordinate. The one great mark of the apostate Church was that it now became a political-religious entity, or a State religion. Throughout ALL history since, in every nation with a State supported and controlled religion, their chief characteristic has been the persecution of the saints, and the baptized churches of Christ. This writer takes this single mark as the criteria to identify Antichrist. Under this heading we conclude with this single point: All the offspring of the State Religion of the Roman Empire have likewise set up state religions and enforced their heresies upon others by sword, whip, stocks, and/or imprisonment, even in Colonial America.
Separation of Church and State is a BAPTIST BORN PRINCIPLE.
Elder John Leland, an Old School Baptist minister drafted the Bill of Rights for James Madison, who promised faithfully and publicly (at Frederickburg, Va.) he would offer it as an amendment to the Federal Constitution upon Congress’ first session. He did what he promised.