Identifying A New Testament Assembly
Compiled by Lonnie Ford for the Nepali Brethren
Chapter: XIII. THE HISTORICAL RECORD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ASSEMBLY.
Baptist Assemblies seek to follow the pattern of our Lord's Assemblies in the New Covenant Scriptures. Most Baptist historians and preachers that follow the New Covenant Scriptures believe this glorious truth, that Jesus Himself, and the Apostles were the first New Covenant Assembly. It is one of the most glorious claims ever made for any Assembly. Most Baptists believe that both the Bible and history substantiate its truth.
Most of the Baptists history, is traced through the writings of their enemies that had set out to destroy them. There has not been found in written history an unbroken chain of baptisms, or of Assemblies, that can lead us with absolute certainty back to the time of Christ.
However, there is enough evidence in history and through scripture to substantiate the claim. One of the proofs is in the fact that in every age from the days of Christ upon the earth until the present time, the Lord's Assemblies have continued, however imperfectly, to exist. This is evident because there have been Assemblies holding essential New Covenant principles, such as those held by Baptists today in every age.
In a book such as this, we can give only a brief outline of the history of Baptists and in doing so, we will cover again briefly some of the points we have already established in proceeding chapters.
- The Beginning of the New Covenant Assembly.
- The History of the Lord's assembly, began when Jesus established the first assembly during His personal ministry here on the earth.
- This is one of the things which He definitely said He would do: "Upon this rock I will build My Assembly;" (Matt. 16:18).
- Before Jesus left the earth, He stated that the work He had come to do was finished, (John 17:4; 19:30).
- Assemblies like this first Assembly have continued to exist from that present time.
- Jesus promised that they would not cease to exist.
- He said that "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against" his Assembly, (Matt. 16:18).
- He said that it would be in the world to the end of the age, (Matt. 28:20).
- If the words of Jesus were true (and we know that they were), then there have been New Covenant Assemblies in existence in every age since Jesus spoke.
- They will continue to be in the world until He comes again.
- In the brief historical sketch to follow, we will see how Jesus' promise did not fail.
- New Covenant Assemblies Today.
- Since New Covenant Assemblies, like those set up by our Lord, are in the world today, how may they be identified?
- New Covenant Assemblies must be based on these four truths.
- They must have the right founder -- Jesus.
- They must have been founded in the right place -- in Palestine, where Jesus lived.
- They must have been founded at the right time -- during the earthly ministry of Jesus.
- They must be teaching the doctrines the Lord gave His Assembly in the New Covenant Scriptures.
- It is impossible for any Assembly, or group of Assemblies that cannot meet these conditions, to be the Assemblies that the Lord established.
- Can any Assembly meet such requirements?
- Where did the various denominations begin?
- The following table, showing the origin of some of the denominations, is prepared from the statements of historians.
- Similar facts could be given concerning every other denomination except Baptists.
- (Roman Catholicism was centuries in developing. Before Leo I, the popes (bishops of Rome) had claimed for themselves, a position of special importance in the Assemblies. Leo, however, more clearly and effectively than his predecessors, claimed that the pope was head of all the Assemblies. Subsequent popes continued this claim, which is the distinguishing mark of Romanism).
A study of this historical table will quickly reveal that it would be difficult for any of these denominations, to prove that its Assemblies are New Covenant Assemblies established by the Lord while He was here.
Even if historical records are not considered, the doctrinal test is enough.
||King Henry VIII
|Church of Christ
||Alexander Campbell U.S.A.
||Joseph Smith U.S.A.
||Mary B. Eddy
Does this mean that Jesus' promise of perpetuity failed and that there are no true New Covenant Assemblies in the world?
- For example, how can Assemblies that teach sprinkling for baptism or sprinkling of babies, neither of which is found in the New Covenant Scriptures, claim that they are true New Covenant Assemblies?
Baptists do not accept such a conclusion.
- Be careful, for if we say it failed we say that Jesus is a liar.
- Baptists believe that their Assemblies are New Covenant Assemblies, because of their doctrines, their organization, and their practices.
- While it is true that for some, the historical link of Assemblies throughout every age, since the days of our Lord here on earth is not clear enough to be conclusive, we believe that the doctrinal claim is all that is necessary -- that authentication of a Baptist Assembly is its acceptance of the Old and New Covenant Scripture as its sole and final authority.
- Many modern scholars say that Baptist history (speaking of groups under the name 'Baptist' today) can only be traced back to the Reformation period; but they also recognize that Baptist 'principles' do reach back to Jesus.
- Indeed, Baptists have not always been known as Baptists throughout history.
- There is a kinship between the Baptists of today and groups through the ages, who have held to the same basic New Covenant truth.
- The following quotations reveal their position:
- John T. Christian (Baptist): "I have no question in my own mind, that there has been a historical succession of Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time," (A History of the Baptists, pp. 5-6).
- George W. McDaniel (Baptist): "Baptists are justly proud of their parentage --- the New Covenant" (Scriptures).
Alexander Campbell ('Disciples' or 'Church of Christ'): "The Baptists can trace their origin to Apostolic times and can produce unequivocal testimony of their existence in every century down to the present time," (Debate with Walker).
John C. Ridpath (Methodist): "I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist Assembly as far back as A. D. 100, though without doubt there were Baptists then, as all Christians were then Baptists," (quoted from W. A. Jarrel, Baptist Assembly Perpetuity, p. 59).
- "They have an ancient and Scriptural origin . . . There is no personality this side of Jesus Christ, who is a satisfactory explanation of their origin," (The People Called Baptists).
Ypeij and Dermount (Dutch Reformed Congregation): In 1819 the king of the Netherlands appointed these men to write a history of the Dutch Reformed Congregation, and to investigate the claims of the Dutch Baptists that they could trace their history back to Christ. These men wrote in their report: "We have now seen that the Baptists who were formerly called Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites, were the original Waldenses, and who have long in history. . . received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered as the only Christian community which
has stood since the days of the apostles, and as a Christian society which has preserved pure the doctrines of the Gospel through all the ages," (quoted from Christian, History, p. 95).
Mosheim (Lutheran): "The first century was a history of the Baptists." Cardinal Hosius (Roman Catholic): "If the truth of religion were to be judged by the readiness and cheerfulness which a man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinions and persuasions of no sect can be truer or surer than those of the Anabaptists; since there have been none for these twelve hundred years past that have been more grievously punished," (quoted from G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, p. 364).
- If all Christians were then Baptists, what kind of Assemblies did they form? Baptist Assemblies, of course.
A Brief History of the Lord's Assembly.
- Whether the historical relationship can be established or not, we can certainly say that Baptist Assemblies of today are New Covenant Assemblies in their doctrine, organization, and practice.
- It must be our purpose as Baptists to remain true to the New Covenant in every way -- the type of Assemblies Jesus wants and needs in the world.
- In apostolic days and for a period thereafter, the Assemblies remained reasonably free from false teaching, although they constantly fought against intrusions and deviations.
Before the end of the first century, however, satan began to sow evil seeds. Curates here and there began teaching doctrines not true to "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
- The letters of the Apostle Paul are ample proof of that.
This union finally culminated in the full development of Roman Catholicism by about the end of the sixth century.
- Jewish legalism, observance of days, baptismal regeneration, salvation by works or law, centralized church government, union of church and state, and other heresies appeared.
- In the year 312, the Roman emperor Constantine took the first steps toward governmental support for Christianity.
- Gradually, Church and state were united into a great politico -- ecclesiastical alliance.
The translation of the Scriptures into the language of the people, the invention of printing, and the revolt of many religious leaders against the Roman hierarchy then brought a new day in world history.
- With Catholicism in control the Dark Ages came.
- The period lasted until the Reformation.
Though these groups did not carry the name "baptist," many of them did hold various Baptist teachings, such as separation of church and state, spiritual democracy, salvation by grace apart from sacraments, believers' baptism, and immersion as the mode of baptism.
- During all this time of the rise and development of false doctrine and practice in the assemblies, there were scattered through Europe, Asia, and Africa, groups of dissenting assemblies which refused to acknowledge the Roman pope and sought to follow the New Testament.
- Some early groups were the Montanists, Novatians, and Donatists.
- Later groups included the Petrobrusians, Waldensees, and Anabaptists.
- Catholic historians call most of these sects "anabaptists," or 'rebaptizers' because they rejected the validity of Catholic baptism, ordinances and even the validity of their assemblies.
- Catholics never used the word 'anabaptist' as the name of a church, but as the name of this groups PRACTICE of re-baptism.
- Those groups labeled anabaptists, insisted that what their converts had received at the hands of the Catholics, was not baptism at all, so their practice was not one of re-baptizing!
- They were mercilessly persecuted throughout the centuries until after the Reformation, and some persecution against them has continued to modern times.
When the Reformation came, numerous new non-Catholic groups appeared.
- Assemblies holding these truths cherished New Testament principles.
- They shared with Baptists the desire to follow the Lord's will for His Assemblies.
In the centuries since the Reformation, other denominations have been formed until there are now hundreds of separate denominational organizations.
- To Protestants 'church' is CATHOLICISM and Catholicism had corrupted itself!
- It became their duty to REFORM this corrupt organization.
- But in their struggles to bring about a 'reformation' within the Catholic Church, they rejected the offer to IDENTIFY themselves with the Christian Assemblies that ALREADY EXISTED around them, that were not a part of the Catholic system, or ever had been, but had existed INDEPENDENT OF CATHOLICISM and has survived the persecutions of the Dark Ages.
- But for Protestants, the Catholic Church was their 'Mother Church,' and while they were willing to rebel against injustice within their Church and desired to bring about a REFORM, they had no desire to depart from her, nor forsake her.
- When the leaders within the Catholic Church EXCOMMUNICATED these rebels, instead of identifying with the other Christians' of their day, they SPIRITUALIZED the term 'Catholic Church' and made it an 'INVISIBLE, MYSTICAL, UNIVERSAL (catholic) CHURCH -- made up of all believers.'
- This new theory and idea gave them the theological license, to form as many different 'visible' religious bodies (churches) as they wanted; each claiming to be more 'reformed' than the other.
- Some emphasizing one doctrinal feature more than others.
- Some of them became the large Protestant denominations of today.
- They all rejected many of the heresies of the Roman Catholic Congregation, but most of them retained some teachings that had no foundation in the New Covenant Scriptures.
In the Reformation period the people now called 'Baptists' by name also emerged from hiding.
- In time other religious bodies ('NOT PROTESTANTS'), were formed who had no ties to Catholicism, the original Protestants, or the ancient Christian Assemblies.
- These new religious communities were founded mostly by American men and women on American soil, years after Jesus founded His Assembly in the land of Palestine, succeeded in adding confusion to an already confused world by adopting terms, rites, etc. from any and all of the then existing communities and then calling themselves 'Christian Churches.'
- Some of them have departed far from using the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice, having invented one of their own designed to deceive.
Before this time their records were burned along with them whenever they were found.
- As we have already stated, many historians believe that they had existed under other names in the preceding centuries.
- Now they became known as 'Baptists,' and their history may be clearly traced from that period.
Baptist Past and Baptist Future.
- In England, they began a slow but steady growth.
- Soon they began to appear in other lands.
- Here in America the first Baptist Assembly was established in Rhode Island about 1738, and soon there were Assemblies in other colonies.
- They grew very rapidly during the Revolutionary period and the early years of the new nation.
- Baptists have contributed many things to the world's progress.
The Baptist past is glorious.
- Perhaps their greatest contribution is religious freedom.
- They have fought for it through the centuries, and its establishment in America came largely through their influence and effort.
- They also inaugurated the modern mission movement. William Carey, an English Baptist, was the first foreign missionary of the English-speaking world.
- A Baptist layman in London started the first Sunday School Society for Bible teaching, and the great Bible societies of England and America have had strong Baptist support. Baptists have made many other contributions to the progress of Christianity.
- As we remain true to our Lord, our future is assured.
- The Lord has promised that his Assemblies will be here until the "end of the age."
- Inspired by the unfailing devotion of our forebears and assured of victory by the promises of God, let us as Baptists, in this day of religious compromise and retreat, hold "fast the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
- Let us, with renewed fervor, lift up the banner of Him who said, "and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me," (John 12:32).