SECTION 3: PRIMITIVE BAPTISTS CONTINUED
"After my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock."--Acts 20:29.
1. The tragical conduct of Severus towards the disciples of Jesus has been mentioned. His son and successor, Caracalla, was mild in his measures. Several emperors followed in rather hasty succession, whose clemency admitted of an increase of professors to the doctrines of the cross. Many persons in the employment and in the public offices of government professed the Christian religion; privileges also were increased to them, and several provinces were considered favorable to Christianity. While these tolerant features existed in the government, the profession of Christianity was considerably extended; but at the same time its character was not that enjoined in the New Testament code. In 249, Decius, coming to the throne, required all without exception to embrace the pagan worship on pain of death.
Professors were not in a state to meet sufferings, and apostasy to an alarming extent ensued, as measures of the severest kinds were adopted to bring all to acknowledge pagan rites. Many realized cruel martyrdoms. Varied circumstances attended the churches through the remainder of the century. At the close of this age we may discover the expiring order of gospel worship, and the extinction of that simplicity which characterized apostolic institutions.
2. The officer formerly known by the name of elder, bishop, or presbyter (terms exactly synonymous in the New Testament) became now distinguished by the elevation of the bishop above his brethren, and each of the above terms was carried out into a distinction of places in the Christian church. [See Lord Barringtons Essay on the distinction between the apostles, elders, &c. vol. i. pp. 61 and 252; and vol. ii. p. 4.] The minister, whose congregation increased from the suburbs of his town and vicinage around, considered the parts from which his charge emanated, as territories marking the boundary of his authority; and all those presbyters sent by him into surrounding stations to conduct evening or other services, acknowledged the pastor of the mother interest, as bishop of the district: this view of the pastor, connected with his charge of the baptistery, gave importance to his station and office which entailed an evil. Associations of ministers and churches, which at first were formed in Greece, became common throughout the empire. These mutual unions for the management of spiritual affairs, led to the choice of a president, which aided distinction amongst ministers of religion. [Camp. Lect. 9, p. 163] In those degenerating times, aspiring men saw each other in varied elevations; consequently jealousy, ambition, and strife ensued, and every evil work followed. The minister having the largest interest under his superintendence; another whose usefulness in the Christian interest had been evident; and a third whose popular declaiming talents had raised him into general approbation; led to distinctions and superior stations, which at last became vested in the metropolitan minister. Places of distinction to which ministers were eligible, prompted the ambitious to use every device to gain the ascendant position; and every part of the word of God, with every scriptural example to support such distinctions and proceedings, was quoted, enforced, and practised. The learning of the philosopher contributed to popularity, and where the suffrages of the community were to be taken, this acquisition was important to the aspirant; while the Jewish distinctions of ministers gave force and example to place and power. It was some time before the bishops, presbyters, and deacons, now very distinct classes of men, could persuade the people that they succeeded to the character, rights, and privileges of the Jewish priesthood. So far as those ministers were successful they opened a door to the adoption of every abrogated rite; and one evidence of success soon appeared, in the abundance of wealth conferred on the clergy. [Lond. Ency., v. xi. p. 286, c. 2, History]
3. The bishops, says Mosheim, now aspired to higher degrees of power and authority than they formerly possessed; and not only violated the rights of the people, but also made gradual encroachments on the privileges of the presbyters. That they might cover their usurpations with an air of justice and appearance of reason, they published new doctrines concerning the nature of the church, and episcopal dignity. One of the principal authors of this change in the government of the church was Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (A.D. 254), who pleaded for the power of the bishops with more zeal and vehemence than had ever been hitherto employed in that cause. The change in the form of government was soon followed by a train of vices, which dishonor the character and authority of those to whom the administration of the church was committed. For though several yet continued to exhibit to the world illustrious examples of primitive piety and Christian virtue, yet many were sunk in luxury and voluptuousness, puffed up with vanity, arrogance, and ambition, possessed with a spirit of contention and discord, and addicted to other vices, that cast an undeserved reproach upon the holy religion, of which they were the unworthy professors and ministers. The bishops assumed in many places princely authority; particularly those who had the greatest number of churches under their inspection, and who presided over the most opulent assemblies. They appropriated to their evangelical functions the splendid ensigns of imperial majesty. A throne surrounded with ministers, exalted above his equals, was the servant of the meek and humble Jesus: and sumptuous garments dazzled the eyes and the minds of the multitude into an arrogant veneration for their arrogated authority. The examples of the bishops was ambitiously imitated by the presbyters, who, neglecting the sacredness of their station, abandoned themselves to the indolence and delicacy of an effeminate and luxurious life. The deacons, beholding the presbyters deserting their functions, boldly usurped their rights and privileges; and the effects of a corrupt ambition were spread through every rank of the sacred order. [Eccl. Hist. C. 3, p. 2, c. 2, S 4, 5] The duties of the sanctuary consequently devolved on new officers, and menials were appointed to do the work of idle bishops and presbyters; ceremonies were added by bishops to please the multitude, or the immediate possessors of power; and a disposition prevailed to accommodate the religion of Jesus to the taste of heathens. [Lond. Ency., v. xi, p. 286; Campbells Lect., No. 8]
4. During the rise and growth of these corruptions, the churches for three centuries remained as originally formed, independent of each other, and were united by no tie but that of charity: [Robinsons Res., pp. 55 and 123] while they were so constituted, corrupt practices did not prevail in some to the same extent as in others, particularly in those communities situated in the country, where objects stimulating ministers to rivalship, seldom presented themselves. Nor are we to conclude that all those persons forming Christian societies in cities, yielded to the ambitious projects of city ministers, and to the glaring and retrograding customs proposed. A certain portion of societies leaves all choice to the leader; but in all periods, some persons in every free community have appeared, who opposed innovation, and such dissidents in the church have adhered to "the law and the testimony." It is impossible to trace the first secession from a professing interest on scriptural grounds. At the conclusion of the last century, Tertullian withdrew from one society on account of its corruptions, and united with another on the grounds of purity of communion. It is evident that many individuals remonstrated with ministers, and that efforts were used to reform the degenerated churches; but those dissidents, finding a corrupt ministry and interest an overmatch for them, and seeing no room to hope for a restoration of purity and primitive simplicity, constantly withdrew and worshipped God, in public or private, as circumstances allowed. That such a course of conduct must have been pursued by numbers, all through the early part of the century, is most evident, since by the middle of this age, 250, many of the old churches were reduced to a pitiable state; [Campb. Lect. 7, p. 124, &c.] while Italy was full of dissenters [Rob. Res., p. 121] who never were in communion with Rome, which is beyond all contradiction. [Rob. Res., p. 440] The deformity of the old churches we have made apparent. To be dissidents in such societies--to separate from such bodies, bishops, presbyters, deacons, and menials, who polluted every sacred appointment, and abused the benefactions of the people--to dissent, was the proof of existing virtue, and to such nonconformists we shall turn.
If the features of nonconformity can be thus traced in Italy, no doubt other provinces contained persons of corresponding characters, particularly in the East, where the old interests were in a deplorable condition. [Campb. ib.]
5. We shall now subjoin the views and testimonies of the writers of the third century, on the subject of baptism.
Tertullian was born of pagan parents at Carthage. He was brought up to the law. His learning was considerable, and his style of writing acquired him the title of the first of the Latin Fathers. He wrote an able and bold defense of the Christian religion. He was evidently a man of extraordinary genius: his piety was warm and vigorous, with some features of austerity; but a degree of superstition accompanying his profession, prevents our relying on his judgment. Tertullians writings prove, that he as a Baptist stood between contending parties; he explained duties to some, enforced them on others, while some of his instructions gave a check to the innovations of the times.
His views of the ordinance were, that "those who are desirous to dip themselves holily in this water, must prepare themselves for it by fasting, by watchings, by prayer, and by sincere repentance for sin." [Dupins Eccl. Hist. 3d Cent., p. 80] And "that adults were the only proper subjects of baptism, because fasting, confession of sins, prayer, profession, renouncing the devil and his works, are required from the baptized." [De Baptismo, Bap. Mag., v. i, p. 210] "The soul is sanctified, not by washing, but by the answer of a good conscience--baptism is the seal of faith; which faith is begun and adorned by the faith of repentance. We are not therefore washed that we may leave off sinning, but because we have already done it, and are already purified in our hearts." [De Poeniten., c. 6. Gales Refl. 410] "There is no distinction between the catechumens and believers, they all meet together, they all pray together, they all hear together." [Rob. Hist. Bapt., p. 245] "To begin with baptism, when we are ready to enter into the water, and even before, we make our protestations before the minister and in the church, that we renounce the devil, all his pomps and vanities; afterwards we are plunged in the water three times, and they make us answer to some things which are not specified in the gospel." [De Corona Militis, Dupin, 3d Cent., p. 82]
Some persons at this period gave undue importance to places, as to the waters of Jordan. To such Tertullian asserts, "It is all one whether a person is washed in the sea or in a pond, in a fountain or in a river, in standing or in running water; nor is there any difference between those whom John baptized in Jordan, and those whom Peter baptized, unless it be supposed that the eunuch, whom Philip dipped in the water, obtained more or less salvation." [De Bapt., c. 4] On which observation Bingham remarks, "So that the first ages all agree in this, that whether they had baptisteries or not, the place of baptism was always without the church, and after this manner baptisteries continued till the sixth century." [Antiq. of the Christian Church, b. 8, c. 17, ~ 1]
Others felt disposed to forego baptism, because salvation had been realized without. Tertullian rebukes the disobedience of such, and he further argues, from Christs words, John 3:5, to prove the necessity of obeying and conforming; and asserts, "that all believers from thenceforth [from the giving of the above words] were baptized." [Walls Hist., p. 1, p. 40] He adds, "That mens minds were hardened against baptism, because the person [to be baptized] was brought down into the water without pomp, without any new ornament or sumptuous preparation, and dipped at the pronouncing of a few words." [De Bapt., c. 2: see African Churches] See churches in Africa.
Origen was born at Alexandria, of Christian parents. He to became a very learned man. His education being guided by Clemens, proved injurious to his views of truth; and his after eminency in the school and the church, was exceedingly pernicious to the cause of pure and undefiled religion. On baptism he observes, "They are rightly baptized who are washed unto salvation. He that is baptized unto salvation, receives the water and the Holy Spirit; such baptism as is accompanied with crucifying the flesh, and rising again to newness of life, is the approved baptism." [Homily on Ezek. xvi. 4, and on Rom. vi.; see African Churches]
Dionysius of Alexandria, writing to Sextus, Bishop of Rome, testifies, that it was their custom to baptize upon a profession of faith. [Danvers Hist. Bap., p. 63]
Arnobius, Professor of Rhetoric at Sicca, says, "Thou art not first baptized, and then beginnest to affect and embrace the faith; but when thou art to be baptized, thou signifiest unto the minister thy desire, and makest thy confession with thy mouth." [Danvers Treat. 66]
6. The most respectable historians affirm, that no evidence exists as to any alteration in the subject or mode of baptism during the third century.
"We have no testimony as to any alteration as to the rites of baptism." [Mag. Cent. c. 3. Danv. p. 62]
"They baptize with some ceremonies those that were well instructed in their religion, and who had given satisfactory signs of their sincere conversion; they generally dipped them thrice in water, invoking the name of the Holy Trinity." [Dupins Hist. Cent. 3]
"There were, twice a year, stated times when baptism was administered to such as, after a long course of trial and preparation, offered themselves as candidates for the profession of Christianity." [Mosh. Hist., C. 3, p. 2, c. 4, ~ 4]
"The severity of ancient bishops exacted from the new converts a novitiate of two or three years." [Gibbons Hist., c. 20]
"The historians of this period do none of them mention anything concerning infant baptism." [Walls Hist., p. 1, c. 21, ~ 4, p. 411]
While the government was pagan, infants could not receive baptism, without being involved with their parents in persecuting edicts; but there is no evidence extant of this. Though Tertullian delicately alludes to this consequence, if minors were baptized; which we shall refer to hereafter. "In the first three centuries, no natural infants appear in any writings, either authentic or spurious." [Rob. Res., pp. 131,362]
Not one natural infant of any description, appears to have been baptized in the Church of Rome during the first three centuries, and immersion was the only method of administering the ordinance. [Joness Ecc. Lect. v.i., pp. 277, 324]
The Paedobaptists say, that, "On infant baptism, as well as other subjects, the study of antiquity is an inextricable maze; and to consult what is called the Fathers, is to ask council at on oracle, whose response is usually of an ambiguous import." [Bogue and Bennetts Hist. of Diss., v.i., p. 144]
7. During the first three centuries, Christian congregations, all over the East, subsisted in separate independent bodies, unsupported by government, and consequently without any secular power over one another. All this time and though all the Fathers of the first four ages down to Jerome, were of Greece, Syria, and Africa--and though they give great numbers of histories of the baptism of adults, yet there is not one record of the baptism of a child till the year 370, when Galetes, the dying son of the emperor Valens was baptized, by order of a monarch who swore he would not be contradicted. [Robin. Resear. p. 55]