The church is a subversive society

The church is a subversive society

The president of Southern Seminary is on record as saying that government funding for religious schools is wrong, that Baptists “consistently oppose” the public reading of Scripture in public schools, and he even agonized over whether it would “subsidize religion” for churches to be tax-exempt.[1] This president is not Al Mohler, but his predecessor Edgar Mullins, writing in 1908. Some religious outsiders (and perhaps not a few Baptists) would be surprised to learn this. Yet, Mullins was no maverick—so why do his views seem so out of step with evangelical political discourse today?

Broadly speaking, church and state relations can be framed as four choices:[2]

  • Theocracy. The church controls the State. For example, Rousas Rushdoony, an architect of Christian Reconstructionism, believed the Great Commission was about the church’s mandate to remake society. He declared that focus on salvation of souls at the expense of this mandate was “heretical.”[3]
  • Constantianism. The State favors the church, which in turn accommodates itself to the government. This is a quid pro quo partnership.
  • Free church in a free state. Government leaves people alone to worship (or not) as they wish, and the church supports that aim so all can freely choose their own path—without implicit or explicit State sanction.
  • Isolation. Christians withdraw. They watch their own movies, listen to their own music, go to their own clubs, and effectively segregate themselves from society, culture, and the wider world.  

The third path is the historic Baptist position, and it is the one Mullins represented. This is a framework that can bring clarity in polarized times—and, as a bonus, it is enshrined in the 1st Amendment. The position is simple, and one can appreciate it regardless of its sectarian origins:

  1. Each person is responsible for her own relationship with God,
  2. In order to be responsible, each person must be free to make her own choice,
  3. So, the best model for church and state relations is “a free church in a free state.”     

Salvation is an individual affair. Jesus calls individuals to “repent and believe,” (Mark 1:15). The Apostle Paul tells believers to put away their old selves, and “put on” their new status as God’s children (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Scriptures speak of individual judgment (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Revelation 20:11-15). That being the case, choosing God—loving Him with everything you have (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:28-31)—cannot be based on implicit or explicit coercion. It must be a free choice, an intelligent and willful decision. You cannot force love in a marriage, nor can you compel love for Christ. God is interested in our hearts, which must be freely given. As one early Baptist wrote, “You may force men to church against their consciences, but they will believe as they did afore.”[4]

If all this is true, then it suggests Christians ought to support “a free church in a free state.” The two pillars of this position are codified in the 1st Amendment as the “free exercise” and the “establishment” clauses:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

Essentially, these two pillars say (1) government will not establish a religion, nor will it (2) prohibit people from freely exercising their religious beliefs. As Christians today survey the evangelical landscape and wonder what to think about the intersection of church and politics, the Baptist ethos is one worth considering. Here are some questions to make this less abstract—consider them in the context of “a free church in a free state,” and the “free exercise” and “establishment” principles.

  1. Should Christians support compulsory Christian prayer in public schools? This practice would compel all students to pray in a Christian manner, regardless of their own beliefs. This is coercion. It also violates the establishment clause. This is why Engel v. Vitale (370 U.S. 421 (1962)) went the way it did—not because “secularists” were on the march, but on principle.
  2. Ought a nativity scene be displayed on public property? Would this be favoring Christianity? What should you think if someone says, “This is a Christian nation, and while other faiths can worship as they wish, the nativity scene must go up!” If government cannot “establish” religion, then what is the solution, here?
  3. May a football coach employed by a public school be fired for engaging in prayer on a football field after a game? The Bremerton, WA school district thought this violated the establishment clause. The Supreme disagreed (Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 597 U.S. ___ (2022)).

More examples could be given. The “free church in a free state” framework is a flexible model that eschews government coercion in matters of faith, while safeguarding a person’s right to exercise that faith. Government has struggled to fairly implement this framework in the messiness of real life; at times favoring accommodationist or separationist views to solve the muddle.[5]

The point is that there is no theocracy. There is also no church and State quid pro quo partnership. Nor is there a need to withdraw from public life and embrace isolationism. There are only houses of faith being asked to be left alone, declining special treatment, not lobbying for “access” and “power,” not pushing for an explicit or implicit establishment of Christianity—because one day the shoe may be on the other foot. It can do this because the church’s job is not to underwrite American democracy, but to be a counter-cultural community of “foreigners” waiting for the better tomorrow, witnessing for Christ and the Gospel.[6] To be this alternative community, the church must demand to be left alone—not cry out for special favors or long for sepia-toned nostalgia of a bygone de facto Christendom. This is what Howard Snyder called the “countersystem” or “subversive” model,[7] wherein the church is a community summoning people to leave the secular city and join a new society.

Thinking citizens cannot escape this sectarian discussion, because the post-Trump GOP is suffused with populist derivatives of Christian Reconstructionism. Those unfamiliar with the broader stream of Christian theology may assume Reconstructionism is Christianity. Indeed, the “free church in a free state” ethos has fallen on hard times in public discourse—especially at the hands of leaders who know better. Much of the popular uproar in evangelical circles about “losing our country” is because America has been disestablishing Christianity as its de facto civil religion for at least the past two generations.

This framework is sometimes dismissed as utopian or naïve. Somebody’s values will be legislated, why not make sure they are Christian values? There are good books which flesh out the framework I can only sketch here.[8] Suffice it to say that God’s community is not the State; “Church and State might in a perfect society coalesce into one; but meantime their functions must be kept separate.”[9] As one theologian observed, “the church is a colony, an island of one culture in the middle of another.”[10] Resident aliens never mistake a foreign country as their own.

For healthy civic discourse, to ensure a decision for Christ is freely made (whichever way it may go), so the church can be the church, and for a measure of sane pluralism in an insane world—both Christians and concerned citizens should champion the “free church in a free state” ethos.

[1] Edgar Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1908), pp. 197-200.

[2] There are many helpful ways to frame this issue—this is merely one of them. 

[3] Rousas J. Rushdoony, Christianity and the State (Vallecito: Chalcedon, 1986), pp. 19, 35. 

[4] Leonard Busher, “Religion’s Peace, 1614,” from H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1990), p. 73. 

[5] Take the example of a nativity scene at the county courthouse. A separationist ethic would ban all religious displays at Christmas. An accommodationist view would allow any group to put up any display it wants at Christmas. 

[6] See Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens, expended ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2014), ch. 2.

[7] Howard Snyder, Models of the Kingdom (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), pp. 77-85.  

[8] See especially Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens. 

[9] Mullins, Axioms of Religion, p. 195.

[10] Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens, p. 12. 

Carl Henry and being baptist

Carl Henry and being baptist

I’m reading through a little book Carl Henry wrote during the Reagan years, titled The Christian Mindset in a Secular Society. He writes something here that I felt I must share. It’s about the relationship between the Church and the State. Henry suggests that the church’s job is about more than personal evangelism. Like an occupying army, he suggests the church is to be “light and salt in a darkening and decaying society,” (p. 39). He then writes this (p. 40):

Speaking as a Baptist, should we do as Henry suggests? Should we “insist” on applying Christian ethical absolutes to national life? What is disturbing is that Henry suggests pluralism is a sham. It’s true that somebody’s values will be advanced in any piece of legislation, policy, or administrative rule. It’s also true that a key mark of the Baptist ethos is that we wish government to leave everyone alone so we can all worship as we see fit, without interference or sanction. Baptists believe this because any coercion, any outward pressure, any legal compulsion to “make” someone a Christian is both (1) a waste of time, because it won’t work, and (2) spiritual abuse. So, Baptists have not historically sought or wanted State sanction for religious activities.

Henry was a Baptist. That makes his negative remarks about pluralism (and more recent culture war moves by more modern Baptists) so puzzling. Baptists should not desire State sanction or approval for any religious speech or act, because this would implicitly or explicitly force other faith groups to accept Christian moral values. Baptists recognize that the precedent of State sanction might smile on Christians today, but what about tomorrow? We’re all for State-sponsored approval as long as it favors us. But, what if it doesn’t?

Henry continues:

Henry has doubled down. While I admit I’m not sure how to square (1) my Baptist convictions against State sanction for religion in any form, with (2) my desire to see Christ’s values advocated for in the public square, I insist that Henry’s comments here are not Baptistic in the slightest. His reasoning appears to go like this:

  1. This country was founded on Christian principles
  2. and it ain’t very Christian anymore
  3. so we gotta advocate for Christianity in our national life as part of our Gospel mission

This is incorrect. However, it’s complicated. Behold the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


You can’t establish a religion, can’t prohibit exercise of religion, and you can’t stop public religious speech. So much is clear. But, it’s also true that the Constitution (and its Amendments) came about in a Christian-ish milieu. The Constitution Annotated, the official “living” government publication providing context for the origin and interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, notes this:

Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.8 The object, then, of the religion clauses in this view was not to prevent general governmental encouragement of religion, of Christianity, but to prevent religious persecution and to prevent a national establishment

The Constitution Annotated, Amendment 1.1.1, Historical Background on Religion Clauses

So, it’s apparent that while America did not have an official State church, its implicit atmosphere was broadly Christian. We can see, then, why Carl Henry and others frame the Church/State relationship the way they do. Are they wrong to do so?

I fear they are indeed wrong. This does not mean I believe Christians should withdraw from society and ignore the moral problems of the day. It also does not mean Christians ought to wed themselves to a particular party, like so many barnacles to a ship. But, these are topics for another time.

I can say, however, that I don’t believe Henry’s approach here can be called Baptist.

Edgar Mullins’ Axioms and 2022 America

Edgar Mullins’ Axioms and 2022 America

Edgar Mullins was the fourth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I recently finished his classic The Axioms of Religion: A New Interpretation of the Baptist Faith (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1908). His is a refreshingly simple exposition of Baptist Christianity. I’ll provide a sketch of Mullin’s position here, and note some of its implications and possible rebukes for modern Baptists in 2022 America.

Kingdom Principles and Polity

Mullins begins by presenting four principles for the Kingdom of God as guardrails for a biblical polity. They are:

Figure 1.

Christianity is not about rote obedience, but a relationship between God and man. Because God is our Father, that personal relationship shapes how we respond to His laws—not as frightened slaves, but as obedient sons and daughters. “Those in the kingdom call God Father, and those who call God Father are swayed and molded by the laws which are of the essence of the kingdom.”[1] All this presupposes we can know God, He can communicate and we can understand Him—revelation is possible. That revelation is in Christ, through the Scriptures:

The soul cannot thrive on abstract notions about God, just as a bird cannot fly in a vacuum, or a tree root itself in a bank of mist, or as a vine cannot climb a moonbeam. Christ made the idea of God concrete. Christ is God’s message to man. It is at this point that the authoritativeness and regulative value of the Scriptures come into view. The Scriptures alone enable us to maintain contact with the Christ of history.[2]

This all implies a revelation and a response, without the interposition of priests or efficacious sacraments. Christianity is a personal religion which asks for our faith:

Not faith in the sense of blind acceptance of hidden mysteries; not implicit faith in the sense of acceptance of the total body of teachings of an infallible church, but faith in the biblical sense of an intelligent response to the revelation of truth from person to person. This faith arouses the entire being, the intellect, the emotions, the will, and the moral nature.[3]

Polity matters, because the way we organize ourselves based on this common faith betrays what we think about the kingdom. After all, the church is “the social expression of the spiritual experiences common to a number of individuals.”[4] So, the church must mirror the kingdom—and the kingdom is characterized by God’s Fatherhood, Christ as the only mediator, individual and independent capacity for God, and personal relationships. “The local church is like a leaf on the tree of the kingdom of God. As such it must reproduce in its own measure the outlines of the kingdom.”[5]

Mullins distills seven implications, or “laws” which he declared “must be respected in any and every ecclesiastical polity which can in any sense lay claim to biblical warrant …”[6]

Figure 2.

The reader can consult Mullins for more detail. Relevant implications are (1) there is no caste system in the church, (2) Scripture is the vehicle for sanctification, not sacraments, (3) a church cannot interpose between the Christian and his Father, (4) dogmatism about a particular form of worship is fallacious,[7] (5) and “nothing is more terrible in Christ’s teachings than his arraignment of merely ceremonial righteousness and empty orthodoxy.”[8]

This all leads to Mullins’ point—soul competency is the controlling principle of the Baptist faith. Everything else is a spoke around the soul competency hub. It is the sugar that sweetens the espresso. The leaven that makes the bread rise. Choose whichever metaphor you fancy—soul competency is “the thing.” It’s “the comprehensive truth” that encapsulates (1) the intellectual freedom of the Renaissance, (2) the principle of individualism, and (3) the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith.[9]

Mullins explained:

The competency of the regenerated individual implies that at bottom his competency is derived from the indwelling Christ. Man’s capacity for self-government in religion is nothing more than the authority of Christ exerted in and through the inner life of believers, with the understanding always, of course, that he regulates that inner life in accordance with his revealed word …[10]

Individualism is the watchword. Because man has free intellect, because he is personally accountable, then his salvation, his relationship with God, his faith community, his sanctification—all of it coalesces around soul competency:

The biblical significance of the Baptists is the right of private interpretation and obedience to the Scriptures. The significance of the Baptists in relation to the individual is soul freedom. The ecclesiastical significance of the Baptists is a regenerated church-membership and the equality and priesthood of believers. The political significance of the Baptists is the separation of Church and State.[11]

Thus, we come to Mullins’ axioms of religion, which are his apologetic for the Baptist expression of Christianity:[12]

Figure 3.

Soul Competency or Bust

Baptists should agree, in principle, that the State mustn’t force religion on its subjects. The civic axiom (above), which Mullins labeled “Religio-Civic,” means “the State has no ecclesiastical and the Church no civic function.”[13] This rule “has never parted company” with Baptist doctrine[14]—“there has never been a time in their history” when Baptist have capitulated on that score.[15] Toleration is different than liberty—they are “poles apart.”[16] Freedom means men are left alone to worship (or not) as they see fit.

What of the idea that government exists for moral ends? Mullins summarizes that argument:

If the government is for moral ends it is closely akin to religion in its function and purpose. Religion indeed is the best instrument for the realization and accomplishment of moral ends. Hence Church and State should be one, with the church subordinate as a part of the larger whole.[17]

To leap forward to 2022, should government promote or discourage abortion? A psychological basis for gender identity? Governments make and enforce criminal law, and those laws presuppose moral values—but whose values?

Mullins dismisses the very idea that Church and government ought to coalesce for moral values. “Americans do not deny that the ends for which government exists are moral, but they do deny that those ends are religious.”[18] The two spheres are different, and they cannot formally touch. Mullins acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution is “grounded in essential moral principles,” and that government “is the expression of moral relations which necessarily exist in human society and created by God.”[19] However, that doesn’t mean the Church has a role to play in legislating that morality.

It does not follow, however, that because an institution is the expression of moral relations in one sphere that it is meant to promote moral ends in all spheres. Church and State might in a perfect society coalesce into one; but meantime their functions must be kept separate.[20]

Each body has its specialization, and it ought to remain that way. The Church deals with souls, and the government with laws. The church is a voluntary society, and once the church becomes the government it becomes coercive—it is no longer voluntary.[21] So, for example:

  1. Religious educational institutions must never accept funds from the government—it would be a “flagrant violation.”[22]
  2. Compulsory bible reading in school is wrong, because Baptists “respect the consciences of all others.”[23]

Mullins, writing in a bygone age, admits that schools have a duty to instill moral values but insists that morality can be taught without reference to religion “within certain limits.” He reasons, “[m]oral teaching is not objectionable even to atheists.”[24]

Questions for 2022 America

If we follow Mullins, as he wrote in 1908, these are but a few of the implications:

  1. Baptists must not advocate for Christianity as an established religion. This kneecaps the ethos of at least 80 years of patriotically infused Christian expression in certain corners of American evangelicalism.
  2. Baptists cannot advocate for explicitly Christian morality. It is unjust to force religious values on other people—else they would not be free.
  3. Baptist churches and schools must never accept Federal funds. It is doubtful many such institutions would survive. Churches which accepted government monies during the pandemic are in grave error.
  4. Baptists must stop all efforts to teach creationism in public schools.
  5. Baptist must cease all textbook wars and critical race theory fights with local school boards.

In short, Baptists must largely withdraw from public advocacy for Christian values. I’m not saying this. I’m saying Edgar Mullins said this.

And yet, Mullins also wrote that changing circumstances always force Christians to dig into Scriptures and find what had been there all along, to address current threats:

Christianity is like a knife of many blades and other devices to be used in turn as need arises. There is this difference however. In Christianity many of the blades are concealed from view until new emergencies bring to light their presence and use. Every interpretation of Scripture assumes, or should assume, the divinely adapted fitness of Scripture to human need. History reacts upon and explains exegesis in many ways, just as the growth of a tree reveals what was lying potent in the seed, and as the progress of a building sheds light on the preliminary plans of the architect. Thus we are slowly obtaining an exposition of our exegesis.[25]

So, in 2022 America, is the Baptist principle of soul liberty in the civic sphere outmoded? Can Mullins be laid to rest on a dusty shelf; a quaint relic from a more innocent age? If the implications I noted are correct (and perhaps they aren’t), then how should that force convictional Baptists to re-evaluate their stance vis-à-vis the State?

Kevin Bauder, in a modern treatise on Baptist polity, has advanced far beyond Mullins because he lives in a modern context. He suggests Baptists appeal to “natural order”, and not the scriptures. “When they enter the public square … they are obligated to justify civil laws by some appeal to natural order. This takes hard thinking and careful argument. That failure to do this thinking and to make these arguments is a species of intellectual laziness.”[26] He explains “[t]he New Testament never charges Christ’s church with the duty of establishing righteousness through legislation …” The existence of a natural order means common decency is possible, and “Christians are not obligated to impose more than that level of decency within the public square.”[27]

Bauder does not specify whether he refers to natural law, or a general call to “the way things are.” It is likely the former. Is such a tactic still persuasive and effective, in our 2022 context? Is that tactic “not enough?”

Baptists have framed soul competency in opposition to a State church, yet Mullins wrote during a time when, as George Marsden notes, America still blessed an emerging secularism with Christian symbolism.[28] A Christian ethos was “the State,” in a manner of speaking. The “convictional glue”[29] of society is no longer “Christian,” but something else entirely. Because the foe now is not an imposed flavor of “Christianity,” but a religion altogether different, does the soul competency wine need a new wineskin?

It is clear Baptists have a “complicated” relationship with soul competency, the State, and moral legislation. Baptist individuals, churches, and institutions which follow partisan political impulses in 2022 America are acting less like Baptists, and more like Americans. To a Baptist, that can’t be a good thing.

[1] Edgar Mullins, The Axioms of Religion: A New Interpretation of the Baptist Faith (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1908), p. 29.

[2] Ibid, p. 30.

[3] Ibid, p. 33.

[4] Ibid, p. 35.  

[5] Ibid, p. 36.  

[6] Ibid, p. 38.  

[7] Regarding the “freedom of worship” law, which Mullins labeled “Worship: Freedom of intercourse between the Father in heaven and the child,” he explained, “[t]his excludes of course the limiting of acceptable worship to particular places, or through human mediators, or by means of physical appliances,” (Ibid, p. 38).

[8] Ibid, p. 41.  

[9] Ibid, p. 57.  

[10] Ibid, p. 55.

[11] Ibid, pp. 56-57.  

[12] “These six simple propositions are as six branches from that one trunk of New Testament teaching. Let us come, then, to the axioms …” (Ibid, p. 73).

[13] Ibid, p. 185.  

[14] Ibid, p. 188.  

[15] Ibid, p. 189.  

[16] Ibid, p. 49.

[17] Ibid, p. 193.  

[18] Ibid, p. 194.  

[19] Ibid, p. 195.  

[20] Ibid, p. 195.

[21] “The Church is a voluntary organization, the State compels obedience. One organization is temporal, the other spiritual. Their views as to penal offenses may be quite different, that being wrong and punishable in the Church which the State cannot afford to notice. The direct allegiance in the Church is to God, in the State it is to law and government. One is for the protection of life and property, the other for the promotion of spiritual life. An established religion, moreover, subverts the principle of equal rights and equal privileges to all which is a part of our organic law. Both on its political and on its religious side the doctrine of the separation of Church and State holds good. Civil liberty and soul liberty alike forbid their union,” (Ibid, p. 196).

[22] Ibid, p. 197.  

[23] Ibid, p. 197.  

[24] Ibid, p. 198.

[25] Ibid, p. 13.

[26] Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order (Schaumberg: Regular Baptist Press, 2012), p. 141.

[27] Ibid, p. 141.  

[28] George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford, 2006), p. 49.

[29] “Every culture and society exudes a certain convictional glue, an undergirding outlook on life and reality that preserves its cohesiveness. When that adhesive bond deteriorates, the sense of shared community tends to come apart at the seams,” (Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Waco: Word, 1976), p. 44.


In addition to being an Investigations Manager for a Washington State agency, I’m also a pastor at my church. So, I’m pretty busy – which is why I haven’t written much here for the past year or so. But, having said that, this past March, I self-published a book about Baptist polity.

Why did I do this, and what do I have to say that’s worth reading? Fair enough. Here are some short answers:

  1. I wrote the book in a deliberately low-key, conversational style. I tried to avoid using an academic tone. Basically, my target reader is an interested, “ordinary” Christian of any denominational stripe.
  2. I frame the matter as a contrast between the members of the Old and New Covenants. If you’re a dispensationalist, this is a unique way of putting things. Basically, I argue like a Reformed Baptist.
  3. I argue for open communion; that is, anybody who confesses Christ as Savior and claims to be a member of the New Covenant may partake of the Lord’s Supper.
  4. I argue that believer’s baptism isn’t a prerequisite for participation in the Lord’s Supper, and interact at length with the arguments against this position.
  5. I argue for immersion as the correct mode of baptism by a very thorough look at the relevant passages. But, I’m also honest enough to admit the case isn’t a “slam-dunk.” It’s an inference from good principles. I’d give immersion a C+/B- on a grading scale, but I think it’s the best way.
  6. The book isn’t polemical. I love and respect other ecclesiastical traditions, and interact with them fairly. I just think they’re wrong!

I wrote the book for ordinary church members. Most books about polity are written for pastors by theologians. Mine is written for ordinary Christians by a pastor. The only recent book with similar aims is one by Kevin Bauder, a theologian at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis. But, Bauder writes from a dispensational framework and his audience is Baptist fundamentalists.

I tried my best to present a winsome, irenic and positive case for the Baptist way to “do church.” If you’d like to check the book out, here it is (in trade paperback and Kindle):

Baptismal Chaos!

Many Christians (and some Baptists) don’t realize that Baptists have a completely different view on baptism than most other Christians. What are the differences? I’ll tell you. We believe baptism is only for believers. This means we don’t baptize babies or other children who are too young to understand and obey the command to repent and believe the Gospel. We believe baptism is by immersion, because, well … that’s what the word “baptize” means! The Scripture also shows us Jesus coming up out of the Jordan River (Mk 1:10), which means He originally went out into the river, which wouldn’t be necessary if he was sprinkled. The early churches understood baptism was by immersion, because they wrote and told us so, and that’s why ancient churches have been found with baptisteries! There are other reasons, too. We also don’t believe baptism does anything to the person. Instead, we believe Scripture teaches baptism is an outward picture of a spiritual reality that’s already happened. You don’t become a Christian by being baptized. You’re baptized to show that you already are a Christian. I say all that (and, to be sure, there’s a lot more to be said!) so you have a context to understand why I’m going to criticize this (below). It’s a short excerpt from the Book of Common Prayer, which is a product of the English Reformation, in the mid-16th century. The first edition was largely the work of Thomas Cranmer, a faithful believer and Archbishop of Canterbury who was later killed for his faith. The Church of England has largely folded like a paper doll on the moral and ethical issues of the day, at least at the higher bureaucratic levels. Its cousin in the USA, the Episcopal Church, is not really a Christian organization any longer (there are local exceptions). But, the official doctrine of the Church of England is thoroughly conservative. Though some quarters of the Church of England has largely given up following or caring about its doctrine, on paper, at least, they have a conservative, Bible-believing theology. The 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer says the following about baptism. There are a few things that are so good here. But, there’s also a lot that’s so bad. See what you can spot:
Dear Lord, forasmuch as all men are conceived and borne in sin
Too true. Good.
and that no man borne in sin can enter into the kingdom of God (except he be regenerate, and born again of water and the holy ghost),
Why is this mentioned in the context of baptism? Well, because of John 3:5, in which Jesus says to Nicodemus, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” (Jn 3:5). As early as the mid-2nd century, Christians began misinterpreting this verse to be referring to a synergy of baptism + Holy Spirit. No. Both references (water + Spirit) are referring to the Holy Spirit. See, for example, the numerous passages about the New Covenant that refer to the Spirit as a water that cleanses the recipients from sin and unrighteousness (Ezek 36:24-29). Mark tells us that John the Baptist understood these references to be a baptism of the Holy Spirit, which would cleanse Israelites from all their sins (Mk 1:4, 8). The Apostle Paul adopted these water metaphors, and spoke about how Christians are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” (Titus 3:5-6). Again, note the water metaphor.  But, you see, many Christian denominations still believe baptism “does something” to the recipient. This is what the Book of Common Prayer assumes. This is terribly wrong. Wrong every which way you slice it. It’s what the Church of England still teaches. Consider what their doctrine says about baptism:
BAPTISM is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
Nope. But, we return to the excerpt we were discussing previously:
I beseech you to call upon God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bountiful mercy he will grant to the children that thing, which by nature they cannot have, that is to say, they may be baptized with the Holy Ghost and received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made lively members of the same.

These are instructions for the priest to utter during the baptismal ceremony for babies being brought for baptism. The priest is supposed to call upon those present to ask God to grant forgiveness of sins and spiritual life to the baby as she is baptized.

No. No. No. I love my brothers and sisters in Christ who aren’t Baptists. They’re just so terribly wrong about this whole matter. The Book of Acts doesn’t show unbelievers being baptized. Never. The Book of Common Prayer is a beautiful piece of literature, and it’s shaped much of Christian liturgy in the English-speaking world. But, it’s wrong here. What you think about the church matters. Being a Baptist matters. Ciao.

Getting Baptism Wrong

augustineIt’s astonishing to me how quickly Christian churches lost the meaning of believer’s baptism in the first centuries after Christ returned to heaven. The early church quickly adopted a baptismal regeneration view of the ordinance; a view that is completely at odds with the New Testament documents.

Perhaps the largest culprit for this misinterpretation is a wrong-headed understanding of Jesus’ words from John 3:5, in which Jesus explains the meaning of the new and spiritual birth to Nicodemus. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

For several reasons, this is best understood as a double-metaphor, with water and Spirit both referring to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in salvation (cf. Ezek 36; Mk 1:8). However, anyone who has spent time reading the early apostolic and post-apostolic literature knows very well how this passage (and others) were interpreted to teach a spiritual regeneration view of the ordinance of baptism.

Indeed, Christian literature from the mid-2nd century demonstrates that some believers thought there was no forgiveness for sins committed after baptism.[1] Again, this isn’t a concept taught anywhere in the New Testament. By the mid-4th century, the process for adult baptism had become quite elaborate and superstitious.[2]

I’ve started reading Augustine’s Confessions, which is one of those books every seminary graduate comes across, knows he should read, but usually doesn’t. Well, I decided I’d better.

Here are some remarks Augustine made about baptism. It gives us a representative glimpse into what Christians in North Africa thought about the ordinance in the mid-4th century. It also shows us how far they’d slipped from any semblance of a New Testament doctrine of baptism:[3]

Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God condescending to our pride, and I was signed with the sign of the cross, and was seasoned with His salt even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in Thee.

Thou sawest, O Lord, how at one time, while yet a boy, being suddenly seized with pains in the stomach, and being at the point of death—Thou sawest, O my God, for even then Thou wast my keeper, with what emotion of mind and with what faith I solicited from the piety of my mother, and of Thy Church, the mother of us all, the baptism of Thy Christ, my Lord and my God.

On which, the mother of my flesh being much troubled,—since she, with a heart pure in Thy faith, travailed in birth more lovingly for my eternal salvation,—would, had I not quickly recovered, have without delay provided for my initiation and washing by Thy life-giving sacraments, confessing Thee, O Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins.

So my cleansing was deferred, as if I must needs, should I live, be further polluted; because, indeed, the guilt contracted by sin would, after baptism, be greater and more perilous.

A few remarks:

  1. Augustine was not a believer at this time
  2. He refers to the church (that is, Christ’s church in a corporate sense) as “the mother of us all.” I believe Cyprian coined this terminology during the Novatian controversy, about 100 years before.
  3. Augustine considers baptism to be “life-giving,” and in some way efficacious to wash away sins. Given the context of his time, he believed in baptismal regeneration. He refers to baptism as “my cleansing.”
  4. His mother deferred Augustine’s baptism, because she didn’t want him to contract sins after baptism if he ended up living after all. This ties back to the false ideas that (a) baptism actually removed sins, and (b) that it only removed sins prior to baptism, and not afterwards.

The New Testament knows nothing of any of this. It’s more important than ever for Christians to hold fast to the inspired word of God. Creeds, confessions, books and theologians are good and helpful guides; very helpful, actually. But, the only infallible source of faith and practice is the Bible.

Always be willing to conform your theological tradition to the Scriptures. We’re all prisoners of our own context and times, even if we don’t realize it. You’ve been molded and shaped by your own unique circumstances, culture and theological tradition. That’s a good thing. But, it can also be an echo-chamber.

Always go to the sources. Always go to the Bible.


1 See, for example, “Shepherd of Hermes 2.4.3,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; trans. F. Crombie (Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 2:22.

2 For an excellent summary of the baptismal rites at the time of Augustine’s baptism from a series of contemporary sources, see David Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth, 2 vols. (Greenville: BJU Press, 2013), 1:342-347.

3 This excerpt is from Augustine of Hippo, “The Confessions of St. Augustin” 1.1.17, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 14 vols., ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. G. Pilkington (Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 1:50.

Were the Novatians Early Baptists?

baptistryWere the Novatians Baptists? Many Baptists like to claim the Novatians as their own. Landmarkers believe they were Baptists through and through.

For example, J.R. Graves declared “that all the churches of Christ, before the ‘apostasy,’ which took place in the third and fourth centuries . . . were what are now called Baptist churches.”[1] Thomas Armitage, the great Baptist historian, rightly said this was a rash characterization.[2]

If they cannot be claimed as direct descendants, can Novatians be claimed as the distant spiritual kin of modern-day Baptists? Some Baptists would agree.

Much of what has been written of the Novatians by Baptists of any stripe is at best a gloss, and at worst completely incorrect. As an example of the latter, G.H. Orchard, a Landmarkist, wrote:

One Novatian, a presbyter in the church of Rome, strongly opposed the readmission of apostates, but he was not successful. The choice of a pastor in the same church fell upon Cornelius, whose election Novatian opposed, from his readiness to readmit apostates. Novatian consequently separated himself from the church, and from Cornelius’s jurisdiction. Novatian, with every considerate person, was disgusted with the hasty admission of such apostates to communion, and with the conduct of many pastors, who were more concerned about numbers than purity of communion.[3]

J.M. Carrol, in his infamous treatise Trail of Blood, declared that when the errors of compromised local church autonomy, infant baptism and baptismal regeneration crept into true churches, the Novatian Baptists sallied forth for the cause of ecclesiastical purity:

Some of the churches vigorously repudiated them. So much so that in A.D. 251, the loyal churches declared non-fellowship for those churches which accepted and practiced these errors. And thus came about the first real official separation among the churches.[4]

Jack Hoad, a solid historian, likewise missed the boat when he wrote that Novatians were “making a strong protest against the same moral laxity and the weak, almost non-existent disciplinary standards in the churches . . .”[5] Thomas Armitage observed, “[t]he Novatians demanded pure Churches which enforced strict discipline, and so were called Puritans.”[6]

All of these brief characterizations are wrong. They are either so simplistic as to be unintentionally misleading, or terribly anachronistic. A thorough review of what Cyprian and Novatian actually wrote will demonstrate that the Novatian’s doctrine of (1) baptism, (2) local church autonomy and (3) church discipline are completely incompatible with New Testament (i.e. Baptist) ecclesiology.

Background to the controversy[7]

Cast of Characters

Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage from 248-258 A.D. He fled Carthage during the Decian persecution (250-251 A.D.) and communicated with his flock by letter. He returned to Carthage after the persecution ended, and quickly worked to restore order in his church and deal with the problem of the “lapsed;” those who worshiped the Roman Emperor during the persecution.

Novatian was a leader in the church at Rome, which may have numbered over 50,000 at this time. The Bishop of that church, Fabian, perished at the beginning of the Decian persecution. Novatian handled official correspondence from the church after Fabian’s death, and probably expected to be appointed as the new Bishop. It was not to be. Cornelius was installed instead, and shortly thereafter Novatian officially broke with the church at Rome over how to handle the problem of the lapsed.[8]

The background

In the year 250 A.D, Roman Emperor Decius ordered all Christian “spokesmen” to offer a sacrifice of incense to him, to demonstrate their submission to his authority. Christian “spokesmen” were the clergy, and thus each Christian Pastor had a very serious decision to make. Sooner rather than later, a Roman pro-consul would roll into town and require all Christian leaders to come forth and make the requisite offering and, in return, receive a certificate proving obedience.

Many Christian leaders resisted this infamy and persecution, imprisonment and martyrdom soon followed. “Any refusal to obey the edict would be tantamount to treason. With many refusing to obey, the church quickly appeared as a serious threat to the unity of the Empire.”[9] This persecution ended as abruptly as it began when Decius was slain on the field of battle in 251 A.D. fighting the Goths.

It is a fact that many Christians apostatized during this time of trial. The tortures were great and terrible. Eusebius, for example, relates a representative account:

They seized first an old man named Metras, and commanded him to utter impious words. But as he would not obey, they beat him with clubs, and tore his face and eyes with sharp sticks, and dragged him out of the city and stoned him.[10]

Cyprian wrote a comprehensive treatise entitled On the Lapsed after he returned from exile. He admitted that, in Carthage, “the greatest number of the brethren betrayed their faith.”[11] They had voluntarily betrayed their Savior. Cyprian was shocked that all the clear warnings from the New Testament about persecution could be ignored. “Have not prophets aforetime, and subsequently apostles, told of these things?”[12]

Cyprian reminded his readers that Christ had ordained eternal punishment for those who rejected Him. Even worse, many Christians apparently rushed to deny Christ and escape potential harm; “freely they hastened to death, as if they had formerly wished it, as if they would embrace an opportunity now given which they had always desired.”[13]

Cyprian couldn’t help but wonder if their consciences betrayed them as they offered worship to Emperor Decius; “did not their tread falter? Did not their sight darken, their heart tremble, their arms fall helplessly down?”[14] In their zeal to apostatize, some Christian mothers even brought their infants along as they offered worship to Decius![15] Cyprian flatly condemned all apostasy during the persecution; “[n]or is there, alas, any just and weighty reason which excuses such a crime,”[16] and attributed the lax character of Christians to love of things of the world rather than Christ.[17]

Once the persecution was over, what should churches do with believers who had so readily and enthusiastically apostatized from the faith? There were two categories of people to consider;[18]

  1. those who had offered incense to the Emperor and obtained certificates proving it, and
  2. others, usually the wealthy, who had simply bribed Roman authorities and obtained their certificates without sacrificing to the Emperor. This was the question which sparked the Novatian schism.

Novatian had a peculiar view on what ought to be done about the lapsed. He broke from the Church at Rome after Cornelius was elected as Bishop. Novatian’s enemies painted a picture of him as a bitter and spiteful man, consumed with jealousy, anxious for revenge. Dionysius claimed “a long time ago this remarkable man desired the episcopate, but kept this ambitious desire to himself and concealed it,—using as a cloak for his rebellion those confessors who had adhered to him from the beginning.”[19]

Novatian’s split from the church, and his self-declaration as the Bishop of Rome, was a naked attempt to “grasp and seize the episcopate, which had not been given him from above.”[20] Dionysius even claimed that Novatian plied gullible men with liberal amounts of alcohol and “compelled” them to support his rival claim to the Bishopric![21]

Schism was a matter that Cyprian could not tolerate. To him, the corporate, catholic church (in the true sense of the word) was unbreakable. Like distinct sunbeams come from a single source, and tree branches draw strength from one root, and tiny streams flow from one large body of water – the church was the source of divine life. Cyprian wrote, “ . . . she is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness: from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated.”[22] Indeed, Cyprian believed that those who left church, like the Novatians, proved they were never believers in the first place (1 John 2:19):[23]

Whoever he may be, and whatever he may be, he who is not in the Church of Christ is not a Christian. Although he may boast himself, and announce his philosophy or eloquence with lofty words, yet he who has not maintained brotherly love or ecclesiastical unity has lost even what he previously had been.[24]

To Cyprian, the Novatians and their ilk were like the men of Korah, Dathan and Abiram – traitors to Christ! Not only that, such men were actually worse than the lapsed![25] A schismatic may die a martyr’s death but is still without hope of salvation; “[t]hey cannot dwell with God who would not be of one mind in God’s Church.”[26] The Novatians, as far as Cyprian was concerned, were not even believers – they were counterfeits; “[h]e professes himself to be a Christian in such a way as the devil often feigns himself to be Christ.”[27]

Sometime in 251 A.D., as the Novatian schism was heating up, Dionysius received a letter from Novatian asking for his support. His response sums up the prevailing attitude towards schism during this period. He told Novatian that it would better if he were martyred for the unity of the church, rather than to divide it!

For it were better to suffer everything, rather than divide the Church of God. Even martyrdom for the sake of preventing division would not be less glorious than for refusing to worship idols.[28]

This is a brief background of the situation. This complicated intrigue is usually simplistically portrayed as (1) Novatian the Baptist (or Baptist forerunner) standing on principle against the (2) dark and sinister forces of a centralized church. Well, what did Novatian actually believe? Can he be claimed as a Baptist, or at least a Baptist forerunner?

Doctrine compared


Baptists believe the New Testament teaches that baptism is only for a believer, by immersion, upon a profession of faith, as a step of obedience and public testimony. Baptists do not believe baptism is a means of grace or a means of regeneration. Novatian disagreed with every single one of these propositions. One very important document from this period is entitled On the Apostolic Tradition, which may have been written by Hippolytus and records the practices of the church in Rome in the early 3rd century.[29]

The Decian persecution, and the subsequent Novatian schism, took place during the early to late 250’s A.D. Therefore, Apostolic Traditions is a very important resource for understanding how the church at Rome likely operated in Novatian’s day. It is a fact that the church practiced infant baptism:

You are to baptize the little ones first. All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak. With regard to those who cannot speak for themselves their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family, should speak. Then baptize the grown men and finally the women, after they have let down their hair and laid down the gold and silver ornaments which they have on them. Nobody should take any alien object down into the water.[30]

This snapshot of church polity in Rome around the time of Novatian demonstrates that the church practiced infant baptism.[31] “Little ones” were to be baptized before adults. These “little ones” were divided into those who could speak for themselves, and those who could not. Apparently, the little ones were members of a family who were all being baptized together.

Unless a critic is prepared to dismiss Apostolic Traditions out of hand, or is willing to explain away the baptism of these “little ones” too young to speak for themselves, or perhaps even argue that Novatian secretly disagreed with this practice in his own church where he was already an acknowledged leader, then it is a fact that Novatian’s church in Rome practiced infant baptism and he likely approved of the practice.

Novatian himself was baptized by pouring. He was sick and near death, and was baptized upon his sickbed. Eusebius, the historian, recorded a now lost epistle from Cornelius (Novatian’s successor) to this effect:

But Satan, who entered and dwelt in him for a long time, became the occasion of his believing. Being delivered by the exorcists, he fell into a severe sickness; and as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by affusion, on the bed where he lay; if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it. And when he was healed of his sickness he did not receive the other things which it is necessary to have according to the canon of the Church, even the being sealed by the bishop. And as he did not receive this, how could he receive the Holy Spirit?[32]

Cornelius went to observe that Novatian’s irregular baptism was not becoming of a clergyman, and it nearly cost him his position:

For this illustrious man forsook the Church of God, in which, when he believed, he was judged worthy of the presbyterate through the favor of the bishop who ordained him to the presbyterial office. This had been resisted by all the clergy and many of the laity; because it was unlawful that one who had been affused on his bed on account of sickness as he had been should enter into any clerical office; but the bishop requested that he might be permitted to ordain this one only.[33]

There is more evidence to suggest that Novatian’s doctrine of baptism was suspect. In his treatise on the Trinity, in the context of defending the humanity of Christ, Novatian wrote, “ . . . in baptism and in the dissolution of death the flesh is raised up and returns to salvation, by being recalled to the condition of innocency when the mortality of guilt is put away.”[34]

Is Novatian speaking of Spirit baptism, or of the ordinance of water baptism? Elsewhere, commenting on the fulfillment of Jewish dietary laws in the finished work of Christ, Novatian condemns those who still observed the Mosaic Law – likening it to voluntary slavery. “Yet there is no advantage at all of righteousness, while we are recalled by a voluntary slavery to those elements to which by baptism we have died.”[35] This quotation could also be seen to refer to Spirit baptism.

Novatian does make one very clear statement that strongly suggests he held to some form of baptismal regeneration:

He it is who effects with water the second birth, as a certain seed of divine generation, and a consecration of a heavenly nativity, the pledge of a promised inheritance, and as it were a kind of handwriting of eternal salvation; who can make us God’s temple, and fit us for His house; who solicits the divine hearing for us with groanings that cannot be uttered; filling the offices of advocacy, and manifesting the duties of our defence . . .[36]

J.N.D. Kelly, for one, is convinced that Novatian believed the Spirit did something at baptism. [37] One cannot read Novatian’s words and come away with another interpretation. His successor in Rome, Cornelius, went a step further and believed that the Holy Spirit was only given to a believer after baptism and after the bishop laid hands on the candidate![38] Cornelius went so far as to question whether Novatian was actually indwelt by the Spirit because of his irregular baptism:

And as he did not receive this [confirmation by laying on of hands after baptism], how could he receive the Holy Spirit?[39]

The third-century book On the Apostolic Tradition documents what the church in Rome (Novatian’s church!) did immediately after baptism:

And afterwards, each drying himself, they shall dress themselves, and afterwards let them go into the church. And the bishop, laying his hand on them invokes, saying: Lord God, you have made them worthy to deserve the remission of sins through the laver of regeneration: make them worthy to be filled with the Holy Spirit, send your grace upon them that they may serve you in accordance with your will; for to you is glory, to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit in the holy church both now and to the ages of the ages. Amen.[40]

Briefly, it has been demonstrated that (1) the church at Rome likely practiced infant baptism during Novatian’s day, (2) Novatian himself was baptized by pouring, not immersion, and (3) his baptism was not done as a public testimony of his new-found faith – it was done in private, upon a sickbed.[41]

Moreover, Novatian made numerous statements that could be interpreted to support some form of baptismal regeneration. Not only that, but documents from the church at Rome from the 3rd century suggest that Novatian’s church believed the Holy Spirit was bestowed after baptism and after confirmation by the bishop. Cornelius, Novatian’s own successor, criticized him for (1) his irregular baptism and (2) not having been confirmed afterwards! This is not the portrait of a Baptist crusader.

Autonomy of the local church

Baptists believe that the local church is an autonomous, independent, democratic body. It is not a representative democracy, like the Presbyterian model. It is a direct democracy, more akin to a town-hall meeting, where every member has a say and carries equal weight. This does not rule out cooperation and consultation with other like-minded churches; it simply means that, in the end, the local church makes its own decisions.

In 250 A.D., Novatian had stepped into the breach when good Bishop Fabian was martyred. In this capacity, he corresponded with other churches on behalf of the church at Rome. He was on friendly and cordial terms with Cyprian at this time. In a letter to Cyprian, Novatian[42] agreed with him that, as soon as the persecution ended, a council should be convened to determine what to do about those who had lapsed from the faith:

However, what you also have yourself declared in so important a matter, is satisfactory to us, that the peace of the Church must first be maintained; then, that an assembly for counsel being gathered together, with bishops, presbyters, deacons, and confessors, as well as with the laity who stand fast, we should deal with the case of the lapsed.[43]

More specifically, Novatian believed this issue was too big for individual churches to make on their own. He believed in what Robert Reymond would call a connectionalism,[44] or a catholicity among churches. Important decisions ought to be made only after close consultation with other men from other churches:

Look upon almost the whole world devastated, and observe that the remains and the ruins of the fallen are lying about on every side, and consider that therefore an extent of counsel is asked for, large in proportion as the crime appears to be widely propagated.[45]

J.M. Carroll warned his readers that if they found a church which didn’t hold to a series of identifiable “marks,” then beware! Among these marks, he wrote:

[t]he churches in their government and discipline to be entirely separate and independent of each other. Jerusalem to have no authority over Antioch; nor Antioch over Ephesus; nor Ephesus over Corinth; and so forth. And their government to be congregational, democratic. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.[46]

If this be the case, Landmarkers should stop claiming Novatians as their kin!

After the persecution ended, Cyprian held his own council in North Africa, as did Cornelius in Rome[47] (by this time Cornelius had been elected as Bishop and Novatian had split from the church). The Western churches by this time appear to have developed a distinctly Presbyterian-style of polity, whereby the decrees of representative councils were expected to be obeyed. Notice the corporate decision-making process in Cyprian’s North African council:

 . . . the advice gathered from the comparison of all opinions being communicated and weighed, we might determine what was necessary to be done. But if any one, before our council, and before the opinion decided upon by the advice of all, should rashly wish to communicate with the lapsed, he himself should be withheld from communion.[48]

Novatian agreed with the idea of a cooperative council to decide what was to be done with the lapsed. His successor, Cornelius, later held a council in Rome to formulate that policy. There is no concept of the autonomy of individual, local churches. The best that can be said for Novatian is that he wished to include the laity in his council. Instead, there is a distinctly Presbyterian-flavor to this ecclesiology. In the ensuing controversy, Cyprian would move the church well along the path towards an Episcopalian polity.

Church discipline and the lapsed

 Most Baptists would agree with Cyprian on church discipline, if they would only read what he wrote. Ernest Pickering’s characterization is representative of what most Baptists believe about this issue; “[b]asically, he and his followers were contending for a stricter view of the requirements for church membership than was generally accepted in his day.”[49]

Thus, Novatian is a crusading separatist; Cyprian is a lax compromiser. The truth is that Novatian was a schismatic exclusivist.


Cyprian was not lax. He believed that the truly repentant ought to be re-admitted into fellowship, and the unrepentant be excluded. When some of the lapsed presumptuously demanded to be re-admitted to the church, Cyprian condemned this “seditious practice” and charged that the clergy who permitted it were “frightened and subdued” men, who “were of little avail to resist them, either by vigour of mind or by strength of faith.”[50] Instead, Cyprian advocated a moderate, sensible policy:

 . . . we balanced the decision with wholesome moderation, so that neither should hope of communion and peace be wholly denied to the lapsed, lest they should fail still more through desperation, and, because the Church was closed to them, should, like the world, live as heathens; nor yet, on the other hand, should the censure of the Gospel be relaxed, so that they might rashly rush to communion, but that repentance should be long protracted, and the paternal clemency be sorrowfully besought, and the cases, and the wishes, and the necessities of individuals be examined into . . .[51]

A priest must be able to discern false confessions from real ones.[52] Cyprian actually believed the lapsed were actually being re-admitted too readily! Those who allowed the unrepentant to return to fellowship were actually harming them.[53]

Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord![54]

Pastors who re-admitted the lapsed rashly ought to be shunned.[55] Cyprian fumed at these men; “[w]hy do they hinder those who ought to weep continually and to entreat their Lord, from the sorrowing of repentance, and pretend to receive them to communion?”[56] Folks who are truly unrepentant are easy to spot, Cyprian argued – just look at their fruit![57] These people received no forgiveness for their denial of Christ.[58] Cyprian’s policy was to look for fruits of honest repentance; for example, he recommended accepting some lapsed people back into fellowship who had been repentant for three whole years!

 . . . we think it may be sufficient for entreating the mercy of the Lord, that for three years continually and sorrowfully, as you write, they have lamented with excessive penitential mourning.[59]

If a priest unwittingly admitted a false repentant person, Cyprian was content to let the Lord sort it all out;

Moreover, we do not prejudge when the Lord is to be the judge; save that if He shall find the repentance of the sinners full and sound, He will then ratify what shall have been here determined by us. If, however, any one should delude us with the pretence of repentance, God, who is not mocked, and who looks into man’s heart, will judge of those things which we have imperfectly looked into, and the Lord will amend the sentence of His servants.[60]

The following words from Cyprian should destroy the false idea that the man was lax about re-admitting the lapsed:

To a deep wound let there not be wanting a long and careful treatment; let not the repentance be less than the sin. Think you that the Lord can be quickly appeased, whom with faithless words you have denied, to whom you have rather preferred your worldly estate, whose temple you have violated with a sacrilegious contact? Think you that He will easily have mercy upon you whom you have declared not to be your God?

You must pray more eagerly and entreat; you must spend the day in grief; wear out nights in watchings and weepings; occupy all your time in wailful lamentations; lying stretched on the ground, you must cling close to the ashes, be surrounded with sackcloth and filth; after losing the raiment of Christ, you must be willing now to have no clothing; after the devil’s meat, you must prefer fasting; be earnest in righteous works, whereby sins may be purged; frequently apply yourself to almsgiving, whereby souls are freed from death.[61]

All in all, Cyprian advocated a sensible, strict and practical approach to the lapsed. He was not lax at all. Historians who claim otherwise have simply have not read his writings.[62]


What did Novatian really think about lapsed apostates? Could they ever be re-admitted to fellowship? Some irresponsible historians have painted a false picture in their writings. One of these men is G.H. Orchard, who wrote:

Novatian, with every considerate person, was disgusted with the hasty admission of such apostates to communion, and with the conduct of many pastors, who were more concerned about numbers than purity of communion.[63]

To Orchard, Novatian was a pious, principled Baptist – a man who exercised an influence of “an upright example, and moral suasion.”[64] The fundamental question is this – is there any circumstance where an apostate may be re-admitted to fellowship in a local church? Is any amount of repentance sufficient? Or, are these believers cut off from fellowship, let alone membership, in a local church?

Novatian believed the sin was unforgiveable. J.M. Cramp accurately summed up the issue:

Novatian held that apostacy was a sin which disqualified them from again entering into church fellowship, and to secure a pure community, he formed a separate church, which elected him for its pastor.[65]

Alas, it wasn’t always this way! Novatian did not leave many extant writings. The best and most helpful of these is Epistle 30, found in Cyprian’s collection of writings. In this letter, before the schism, Novatian was in full agreement with Cyprian on what to do about the lapsed. Strict discipline was essential for preserving the church.[66] Hasty restoration of the lapsed was an insult to the fallen and a detriment to the lapsed themselves.[67] He advocated for a prolonged and genuine repentance; what Novatian himself called a “middle course:”[68]

Let them indeed knock at the doors, but assuredly let them not break them down; let them present themselves at the threshold of the church, but certainly let them not leap over it; let them watch at the gates of the heavenly camp, but let them be armed with modesty, by which they perceive that they have been deserters; let them resume the trumpet of their prayers, but let them not therewith sound a point of war; let them arm themselves indeed with the weapons of modesty, and let them resume the shield of faith, which they had put off by their denial through the fear of death, but let those that are even now armed believe that they are armed against their foe, the devil, not against the Church, which grieves over their fall.

A modest petition will much avail them; a bashful entreaty, a necessary humility, a patience which is not careless. Let them send tears as their ambassadors for their sufferings; let groanings, brought forth from their deepest heart, discharge the office of advocate, and prove their grief and shame for the crime they have committed.[69]

In all respects, the Novatian who wrote Epistle 30 around 250 A.D, before the schism, was in complete agreement with Cyprian. Anyone who compares Epistle 30 with Cyprian’s On the Lapsed would believe they were written by kindred spirits. Unfortunately, Novatian changed his mind. Nobody knows why he changed his mind; there are no extant writings which tell us. There are rumors Novatin was a reluctant figurehead, but Eusebius very much doubted it.[70] All the record tells us is that, after the schism at the church of Rome, Novatian apparently decided that the lapsed could never be forgiven.

Cyprian complained to Cornelius in Rome (who had been elected to the position Novatian likely craved for himself) that the Novatians were guilty of “grievous rigor” and “inhuman hardness.”[71] Novatian was “the opponent of mercy and love.”[72] Moreover, Dionysius lamented that Novatian “has calumniated our most compassionate Lord Jesus Christ as unmerciful.”[73] Cyprian wrote to a church leader in Arles that Novatian was in grave error:

 . . . holding that most extreme depravity of heretical presumption, that the comforts and aids of divine love and paternal tenderness are closed to the servants of God who repent, and mourn, and knock at the gate of the Church with tears, and groans, and grief; and that those who are wounded are not admitted for the soothing of their wounds, but that, forsaken without hope of peace and communion, they must be thrown to become the prey of wolves and the booty of the devil . . .[74]

It appears, from the words of his enemies, that Novatian decided the lapsed were simply without hope of forgiveness. This was why Dionysius called him “brother-hating and inhuman.”[75] He had become an exclusivist somewhere along the way; an anonymous critic sneered, “[c]ertainly he declares that he and his friends whom he collects are gold!”[76]

Cornelius, for his part, saw Novatian as a “wily and subtle man” with the “poisoned cunning” of a serpent.[77] Novatian apparently based his position on Matthew 10:33; “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” This same anonymous author rejected this line of argument, noting that “its meaning is assuredly with respect to future time—to the time at which the Lord shall begin to judge the secrets of men—to the time at which we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” [78] The author did not understand how Novatian could change his mind so radically. He compared Novatian to Saul, who likewise turned rotten at the end.[79]

Other men have wondered the same thing throughout the years. Ambrose, writing in the late 4th century about the Novatian schism, remarked that “[f]or when the Lord forgave all sins, He made an exception of none.”[80] How could Novatian be so harsh as to suggest that the lapsed could never be forgiven? Jerome, writing at roughly the same time, went even further. Denying Christ, he argued, certainly was not the unpardonable sin. How could Novatian suggest it was?

But to put a more searching question still: let Novatian tell us how he distinguishes speaking against the Son of Man from blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. For I maintain that on his principles men who have denied Christ under persecution have only spoken against the Son of Man, and have not blasphemed the Holy Ghost.[81]

Later Novatians continued to believe that the lapsed had indeed committed an unpardonable sin. The historian Socrates Scholasticus, writing sometime in the late 4th and early 5th century, recorded Emperor Constantine’s interview with a Novatian Bishop. The record tells us that Constantine was casting about, trying to find a way to heal the division between the Novatians and the church. He called for the Novatian Bishop, Acesius, and asked why the schism still persisted:

When, therefore, the emperor further asked him, ‘For what reason then do you separate yourself from communion with the rest of the Church?’ he related what had taken place during the persecution under Decius; and referred to the rigidness of that austere canon which declares, that it is not right persons who after baptism have committed a sin, which the sacred Scriptures denominate ‘a sin unto death’ to be considered worthy of participation in the sacraments: that they should indeed be exhorted to repentance, but were not to expect remission from the priest, but from God, who is able and has authority to forgive sins.

When Acesius had thus spoken, the emperor said to him, ‘Place a ladder, Acesius, and climb alone into heaven.’ [82]

Constantine’s answer can still draws a laugh today! The implication, of course, is that Acesius is arrogant, haughty and exclusivistic. Later in his church history, Socrates relates his own account of the Novatian schism, and makes it quite clear that Novatian believed the church had no power to accept the lapsed back into fellowship. They had committed a “deadly sin” and could not partake of the sacraments. Novatian exhorted the lapsed to repent and to hope that God would forgive them. Meanwhile, they could not fellowship with other believers. Socrates observed;

As he asked that they should not receive to the sacraments those who after baptism had committed any deadly sin this appeared to some a cruel and merciless course: but others received the rule as just and conducive to the maintenance of discipline, and the promotion of greater devotedness of life.[83]

It appears, in the final analysis, that Novatian changed his mind somewhere along the line. He and Cyprian had been in essential agreement. However, he came to believe the following:

  1. The sin of the lapsed was so great (a “deadly sin”) that the church could not re-admit them to fellowship under any
  2. Meanwhile, the lapsed must be encouraged to seek repentance from God and could be given no encouragement or assurance that He even would forgive their sin
  3. He felt Cyprian’s policy towards the lapsed was too loose; indeed, it was blasphemous for the lapsed to be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper.


So, was Novatian a Baptist? Much more could be written about the Novatian schism. However, just from a brief examination of Novatian’s doctrine, it is apparent that the man cannot be claimed as Baptist:

  • His church likely practiced infant baptism, he himself was baptized by pouring and, in his own case, the ordinance was not performed as a public testimony of his faith. Moreover, there is good evidence that Novatian’s church believed in some form of baptismal regeneration.
  • Novatian favored a primitive, Presbyterian-style church polity characterized by a connectionalism between churches. He favored large ecclesiastical councils which decided doctrine and practice for several churches. There is no evidence that Novatian believed in the independence and autonomy of the local church.
  • Finally, Novatian was un-Biblical in his exclusion of the lapsed from fellowship in the church. He felt their sin was unpardonable, and declared they were without hope of forgiveness. He was schismatic and exclusivistic.

This is a far cry from the sweeping generalizations in so many Baptist publications. In three key areas of Baptist polity, (1) baptism, (2) autonomy and (3) church membership, Novatian was sub-Biblical and decidedly un-Baptist. John Christian, in his Baptist history, gamely tried to salvage something from the Novatians:

The Montanists, the Novatians, and the Donatists held diverse opinions, not only from each other, but from the teachings of the New Testament; but they stressed tremendously the purity of the church.[84]

Novatian did not merely stress the purity of the church; he believed the lapsed were without hope of forgiveness! No amount of honest repentance was apparently enough for Novatian; it would be difficult to find a fiery Baptist who would agree with Novatian on this point. The man was not a Baptist, and cannot legitimately be claimed as the spiritual kin of any Baptist.


[1] James R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What Is It? (Memphis, TN: Graves, Mahaffey & Co, 1880; Kindle reprint, First Vision Publishers, n.d.), Kindle Locations 2235-2236.

[2] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, revised and enlarged ed. (New York, NY: Bryan, Taylor, & Co.,

1890; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, n.d.), 482.

[3] G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of Baptists (Nashville, TN: 1855; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 2003), 53.

[4] J. M. Carroll, The Trail of Blood, Kindle ed. (Emmaus, PA: Challenge Press, 2013), Kindle Locations 294-295.

[5] Jack Hoad, The Baptist (London, England: Grace Publications, 1986), 30.

[6] Armitage, History of the Baptists, 178.

[7] Two church historians have particularly excellent accounts of this whole matter. First, see Philip Schaff, A History of the Christian Church, 8 vols., 5th ed. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1858; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), 2:193-197, 849-853. Second, see David O. Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth, 2 vols. (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2013), 1:183-199.

[8] Schaff, History, 2:849-850.

[9] David O. Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth, 2 vols. (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2013), 1:187.

[10] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.41.3, NPNF2, 1:283.

[11] Cyprian of Carthage, On the Lapsed 7, ANF 5:439.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, On the Lapsed 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid, On the Lapsed 9.

[16] Ibid, On the Lapsed 10.

[17] See On the Lapsed 11-12.

[18] Beale, Historical Theology, 1:187-188.

[19] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.43.5, NPNF2, 1:287.

[20] Ibid, 6.43.8, NPNF2, 1:288.

[21] Ibid, 6.43.9-10, NPNF2, 1:288.

[22] Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church 5, ANF 5:423.

[23] Ibid, On the Unity of the Church 9, ANF 5:424.

[24] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 51.24, ANF 5:333.

[25] Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church 18-19, ANF 5:427.

[26] Ibid, On the Unity of the Church 14, ANF 5:426.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.45.2, NPNF2, 1:290.

[29] See the introductory material to Hippolytus of Rome, On the Apostolic Tradition, trans. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Popular Patristics Series, Number 22, ed. John Behr (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), 20-32.

[30] Ibid 21.4-5, 110–111.

[31] The interpretation of this passage is hotly contested! G. Wainwright observes, “[h]istorians and exegetes have a heavy ecclesial and ecclesiological investment here, for the answer effects, even if it does not finally settle, the contested issue of the impropriety, legitimacy or necessity of infant baptism,” (“Baptism, Baptismal Rites,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1997], 123).

[32] Eusebius, Church History 6.43.14-16, NPNF2 1:288-289.

[33] Ibid, 6.43.17, NPNF2 1:289.

[34] Novatian, On the Trinity 10, ANF 5:620. Emphasis mine.

[35] Ibid, On the Jewish Meats 5, ANF 5:649. Emphasis mine.

[36] Ibid, On the Trinity 29, ANF 5:641. Emphasis mine.

[37] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, revised ed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1978), 209.

[38] See Eusebius, Church History 6.43.14-16, NPNF2 1:288-289.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Hippolytus of Rome, On the Apostolic Tradition 21:20-21, 112.  The editor of this edition disagrees that the text supports bestowal of the Spirit. He believes it is a prayer that believers be filled with the Spirit at a later date; something like an early Keswick doctrine (123).

[41] There is not sufficient space to explore why, precisely, Novatian felt it necessary to be baptized upon his sick-bed. Did he feel that baptism was more than a mere symbol, and actually did something to the subject? Philip Schaff noted that believers in this day often postponed baptism as long as possible, believing that baptism itself only washed sins away that were committed prior to baptism (History, 2:254). The seeds of baptismal regeneration and the concept of penance were germinating in Novatian’s day; and Cyprian would do a great deal of the fertilizing.

[42] Cyprian later explicitly identifies Novatian as the author of this letter; see Epistle 51.5 ANF 5:328.

[43] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 30.5, ANF 5:310.

[44] Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, revised ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 900-904.

[45] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 30.5, ANF 5:310.

[46] Carroll, Trail of Blood, Kindle Locations 179-181.

[47] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 51.6, ANF 5:328

[48] Ibid, Epistle 51.4, ANF 5:328.

[49] Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 13.

[50] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 22.3, ANF 5:300.

[51] Ibid, Epistle 51.6, ANF 5:328. See also Epistle 54.13, ANF 5:343.

[52] Ibid, On the Lapsed 14, ANF 5:441.

[53] Ibid, On the Lapsed 18, ANF 5:442.

[54] Ibid, On the Lapsed 15, ANF 5:441.

[55] Ibid, Epistle 27.1, ANF 5:306.

[56] Ibid, On the Lapsed 16, ANF 5:441.

[57] Ibid, On the Lapsed 30, ANF 5:445-446.

[58] Ibid, On the Lapsed 34, ANF 5:446.

[59] Ibid, Epistle 52.2, ANF 5:336.

[60] Ibid, Epistle 51.18, ANF 5:331.

[61] Ibid, On the Lapsed 34, ANF 5:447.

[62] This author read every single epistle and treatise Cyprian wrote. Much more evidence could be marshalled in support of Cyprian’s approach to church discipline than what is presented here.

[63] Orchard (Concise History of the Baptists, 53).

[64] Ibid, 54.

[65] J. M. Cramp, Baptist History: From the Foundation of the Christian Church to the Close of the Eighteenth Century (London, UK: Paternoster, 1871; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, n.d.), ii.

[66] Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 30.2, ANF 5:309.

[67] Ibid, Epistle 30.3, ANF 5:309

[68] Ibid, Epistle 30.8, ANF 5:311.

[69] Ibid, Epistle 30.6, ANF 5:310.

[70] Eusebius, Church History 6.45.1, NPNF2, 1:290.

[71] Cyprian, Epistle 53.5, ANF 5:338.

[72] Ibid, Epistle 66.4, ANF 5:369.

[73] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 7.8, NPNF2, 1:296.

[74] Cyprian, Epistle 66.1, ANF 5:368. See also Epistle 54.13, ANF 5:343.

[75] Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 6.43.2, NPNF2, 1:286.

[76] A Treatise Against the Heretic Novatian by an Anonymous Bishop 1, ANF 5:657.

[77] Cyprian, Epistle 45.1, ANF 5:322-323.

[78] A Treatise Against the Heretic Novatian by an Anonymous Bishop 7-8, ANF 5:659.

[79] Ibid, 14, ANF 5:661.

[80] Ambrose of Milan, Two Books Concerning Repentance 1.2.5, NPNF2 10:330.

[81] Jerome, Letters 42.2, NPNF2 6:57.

[82] Socrates Scholasticus, Eccesiastical History 1.10, NPNF2 2:17, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. A. C. Zenos (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890).

[83] Ibid, Ecclesiastical History 4.28, NPNF2 2:112.

[84] John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists,  2 vols. (Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1922; Kindle reprint, 2013), vol. 1, Kindle Locations 79-80.

On Potlucks and Baptist Business Meetings

It’s normal in Baptist circles to interpret the so-called Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) as a local church business meeting. I remember when I first came across this interpretation in Paul Jackson’s little book on Baptist polity. More recently, Kevin Bauder wrote:

Sometimes called the Jerusalem Council, this assembly was not really a church council at all. It was a business meeting of the local church in Jerusalem. The need for the meeting developed when teachers from Jerusalem came to Antioch with the message that circumcision was essential to salvation.[1]

Acts 15 was a church business meeting? Where, pray tell, was the potluck? I don’t think this argument really holds up, and Acts 16:4 is one reason why. But first – a brief survey of the text.

Big Trouble in Little Antioch

Certain men “from Judea” (not necessarily the Jerusalem church) came down to Antioch and began teaching that people had to follow the Mosaic law (specifically ritual circumcision) in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). Paul wrote against this heresy in the book of Galatians.

After Paul and Barnabas “had no small dissension and debate” with these brigands, the church at Antioch appointed them to head to Jerusalem and go “to the apostles and elders about this question,” (Acts 15:2). It seems Antioch recognized the apostles’ inherent authority, and the Jerusalem church’s status as the “mother church.” A church plant naturally looks up to the parent church. The leaders in Antioch looked up to the apostles in Jerusalem. They sought advice and consensus.

They arrived in Jerusalem and “were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders,” (Acts 15:4). Paul and Barnabas explained how God’s grace had clearly gone out to the Gentiles. This was too much for some of the Christians “who belonged to the party of the Pharisees.” They protested, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses,” (Acts 15:5).

The fight was on. It is interesting that James and the others in the Jerusalem church had to know this was simmering below the surface, yet they apparently did nothing. The Jerusalem church was always characterized by a velvet-glove approach to this issue (cf. Acts 21:20-25).

The church did not gather to hash this out; only “the apostles and elders” did (Acts 15:6). “Much debate” ensued (Acts 15:7). Peter spoke (Acts 15:7-11). Paul and Barnabas gave testimony (Acts 15:12).  Then James issued his judgment – “we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,” (Acts 15:19).

James didn’t mention Antioch. He mentioned “Gentiles” in a generic sense, indicating he was speaking to a much larger issue. The dispute in Antioch was the impetus for a decision which had implications far beyond that single city. The letter the council sent with Paul and Barnabas was not for Antioch – it was for the entire region encompassing “the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia,” (Acts 15:23). This was a circular letter.

The letter read, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things . . .” (Acts 15:28). This is not the language of a friendly suggestion. It is the language of an ecclesiastical superior to an inferior. A Pastor of a church cannot “lay upon you” a burden to another church. He can offer friendly advice. This is not what happened here.

The Dogma of Acts 16:4

If Acts 15 simply depicts a Baptist church business meeting (minus the casserole potluck and fried chicken), then why does Acts 16:4 read thus:

As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem (Acts 16:4).

This is strong language. Paul and Timothy are passing through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41), apparently revisiting “the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord,” (Acts 15:36). As they passed through these cities, they “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.”

It is very possible this circular letter hadn’t yet reached the region beyond Antioch. Paul and Timothy were making sure it did. Notice the language Luke used. This letter is not a suggestion. It is a dogma. It is an ordinance, an order, a decree. It was a decision reached by the “apostles and elders” at Jerusalem. It carried authority. It was “delivered to them for observance.”

Does Acts 15 still sound like a local church business meeting?

To make matters worse, the word the RSV translates as “decision” is actually much stronger than that.[2] It was more than a decision – it was an order.

The phrase here is τὰ δόγματα (“the dogma”). It is well attested in the LXX, the NT and the early post-apostolic era. Silva wrote the semantic range encompasses the concepts of decree, ordinance or doctrine.[3]

  • In the LXX, we read that Nebuchadnezzar issued a decree (i.e. an order) that all the wise men of Babylon be brought forth, to interpret his dream (LXX Dan 4:3). Later, Darius issued a decree (i.e. a law) that no man could pray to anyone except him for 30 days (LXX Dan 6:9; see also 6:11, 13, 14, 16, 27).
  • In the NT, we read about the decree (i.e. an order) which went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world must be taxed (Lk 2:1). The Jews in Thessalonica claimed Paul and his companions were advocating for another king, in violation of Caesar’s decrees (i.e. laws; Acts 17:7). Paul wrote that Christ abolished “the law of commandments and ordinances,” (i.e. regulations; Eph 2:15). He also stated that Christ “canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands” (i.e. regulations; Col 2:14). Kittell wrote that “In Ac. 16:4 the word signifies the resolutions and decrees of the early church in Jerusalem which are to be sent out to the cities of the first missionary journey. In the post-apostolic fathers the word comes to be applied to the teachings and prescriptions of Jesus.”[4]
  • In the early post-apostolic era, Ignatius wrote that Christians must “be diligent therefore to be confirmed in the ordinances (i.e. commands, orders)[5] of the Lord and the Apostles,” (Magnesians 13.1). Barnabas wrote, “there are then three doctrines (i.e. teachings, commands) of the Lord,” (Epistle 1.6). The Didache reads, “and concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance (i.e. command, order) of the Gospel,” (11.3).

So, how should we understand “the dogma” which Paul and Timothy delivered for observance to these churches? It is clear from this short survey that something anemic like “decision” is a poor fit. It is doubtful the translation law will do; the Jerusalem Council was not a civil body with legislative authority. Perhaps regulation or ordinance is best. To be even more blunt, perhaps we can bring things down to the bottom shelf, so to speak, and drop ordinance in favor of order. After all, the very word “ordinance” means an authoritative decree or a law.[6]

The word originally meant opinion or belief in the early classical period, and its usage gradually morphed into something like judgment, decision or resolution (NIDNTTE, 1:752). But, don’t see evidence to suggest Luke was using the word to convey this weak of a meaning.

Basically, I don’t think you can escape the fact that this was not a suggestion from the Jerusalem Council; it was a decree, an order. Some might seek to soften it and say decision, but I don’t believe you can justify that weak of a translation from the word’s usage in the LXX, the NT or the early apostolic era (contra. NASB, RSV, ESV, NIV).

So, What Now?

I am a Baptist who leans heavily towards a dual-elder congregational view of church government. But, I think there are two ditches to avoid here:

  • Interpreting Acts 15 to be a Baptist business meeting. This is what many Baptists do.
  • Taking an apostolic ecclesiastical situation and imposing it in a post-apostolic era. This is what Presbyterians do.

There are no apostles today. There is no “mother church.” The situation in the Eastern Mediterranean in those days was a one off, a non-repeatable event. Robert Reymond, a Presbyterian, wrote, “Clearly, these congregations were not independent and autonomous. Rather, they were mutually submissive, dependent and accountable to each other.”[7] This is correct. But remember – this was an apostolic situation, not a normative situation. James is dead, and the Jerusalem church is gone. I fear Baptists are reading polity back into Acts 15 that simply isn’t there.

There was no business meeting in Acts 15, and there was no potluck following. Maybe next week.


[1] Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order (Schaumberg, IL: RBP, 2012), 97.

[2] For a grammatical discussion of Acts 16:4-5, see my translation here.

[3] For a full discussion, see Moises Silva, NIDNTTE, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 1:752-753.

[4] Gerhard Kittel, “δόγμα, δογματίζω,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 2:231.

[5] Michael Holmes (The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989]) translated this as “precepts.”

[6] Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003), s.v. “ordinance,” 1a, 1b.

[7] Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 901.

Baptist Identity in 17th Century England

King James I
King James I

English Baptists emerged during persecution in 17th century. Various groups, among them Separatists, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, all tried to court favor with the new sovereign, James I. Separatists were sadly mistaken if they felt they had a friend in King James. McBeth observed “[t]he idea of religious liberty horrified him.”[1] James, that “most dread sovereign” whom God, by “great and manifold” blessings[2] sent to rule over England, was determined to exercise authority over the church as well as the state. He believed it was “the chiefest of kingly duties . . . to settle affairs of religion.”[3] The separatists, however, couldn’t disagree more. They urged King James I to show mercy. “They asserted that every man had a right to judge for himself in matters of religion and that to persecute on account of religion is illegal and antichristian.”[4] James I feared a freedom of conscience in religion might well lead to civil anarchy. He saw a very basic political necessity for religious conformity; a sentiment shared by his Son, Charles I. It was therefore the policy of the Crown to harass and persecute dissenters from the Church of England. Baptist identity in Britain was forged in the midst of this persecution.

John Smyth (1612) stated, in embryo form, the very principles of religious liberty many Baptists continue to argue for today. Essentially, he asserted that Baptists recognized the civil authority of the state, but “would not allow the government to determine or regulate their relation to God.”[5]

“That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions (Rom xiii), injuries and wrongs of man against man, in murder, adultery, theft, etc., for Christ only is the king, and lawgiver of the church and conscience (James iv. 12).”[6]

Other Baptists, such as Thomas Helwys (1612), plainly stated that any man should be free to worship, or not, as he pleased without any interference from the state.[7]

“And we bow ourselves to the earth . . . beseeching the King to judge righteous judgment herein, whether there be so unjust a thing, and of so great cruel tyranny, under the sun, as to force men’s consciences in their religion to God, seeing that if they err, they must pay the price of their transgression with the loss of their souls. Oh, let the King judge, is it not most equal that men should chose their religion themselves, seeing they must only stand themselves before the judgment seat of God to answer for themselves, when it shall be no cause for them to say, ‘we were commanded or compelled to be of this religion’ by the King, or by them that had authority from him . . .”[8]

“For men’s religion to God, is between God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither ma the King be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever; it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”[9]

Leonard Busher (1614) colorfully, but somewhat crassly, compared forced worship to spiritual rape. Busher argued that “regeneration is the result of faith in Christ; and that no king or bishop is able to command faith. Persecution, therefore, is irrational, and must fail of its object; men cannot be made Christians by force.”[10] He wrote:

“. . . to constrain princes and peoples to receive that one true religion of the gospel, is wholly against the mind and merciful law of Christ, dangerous both to king and state, a means to decrease the kingdom of Christ, and a means to increase the kingdom of antichrist . . .”[11]

“And no king nor bishop can, or is able to command faith; That is the gift of God, who worketh in us both the will and the deed of his own good pleasure. Set him not a day, therefore, in which, if his creature hear not and believe not, you will imprison and burn him. Paul was a blasphemer and also a persecutor, and could not be converted by the apostles and ministers of Christ; yet at last was received to mercy, and converted extraordinarily by Christ himself . . . And as kings and bishops cannot command the wind, so they cannot command faith; . . . You may force men to church against their consciences, but they will believe as they did afore.”[12]

Baptists stood on the Scriptures when they declared that men must never have their religious convictions forced.

The Baptists, and other dissenters, had a brief respite during the time of Oliver Cromwell, but that all came crashing down when the monarchy was restored and the Church of England welcomed back as the official state church. Armitage writes that “the Baptists became, as usual, the special subjects of hate, storm and chains; prisons and doom became their gloomy fate.”[13] The Act of Uniformity (1662) decreed that all English ministers be “uniform” in doctrine and liturgy. The Conventicle Act (1664) forbade unauthorized worship services with more than five persons present (beyond the immediate family. Another act forbade ejected ministers from forming new congregations within five miles of their previous residence. King Charles II did declare a year-long moratorium on persecution, provided dissenters register to receive leniency. When the tide of public opinion shifted one year later, these same registers were used to hunt down dissenters![14] Desperate Baptists resorted to all manner of deception and ingenuity in order to simply meet for worship. One desperate plea to the King sums up the Baptist experience in this time of tribulation:

“We dare not walk the streets, and are abused even in our own houses. If we pray to God with our families, we are threatened to be hung. Some of us are stoned almost to death, and others imprisoned for worshiping God according to the dictates of our consciences and the rule of his word.”[15]

In large measure, the modern Baptist identity was forged amidst the persecution in England in the 17th century.



[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1987), 100.

[2] From the “Epistle Dedicatory” to the King James Bible.

[3] McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 100.

[4] John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists,  2 vols. (Texarkana, TX: Bogard Press, 1922; Kindle reprint, 2013), vol. 1, Kindle Locations 4109-4110.

[5] McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 102.

[6] John Smyth, “On Religious Liberty,” from H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1990), 70.

[7] Ibid, 103.

[8] Thomas Helwys, “The Mistery of Iniquity,” from McBeth, Sourcebook, 72. I modernized the spelling myself.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Christian, History of the Baptists, vol. 1, Kindle Locations 4138-4139.

[11] Leonard Busher, “Religion’s Peace, 1614,” from H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1990), 73.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (New York, NY: Bryan, Taylor & Co., 1890; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Archive, n.d.), 603.

[14] McBeth, Baptist Heritage, 115-116.

[15] Armitage, History of the Baptists, 603.

Where Did Baptists Come From? A Brief Case for Spiritual-Kinship

What Saith Baptists?

Where did Baptists come from? There are many different theories out there:

  • English Separatism. Some say that the Baptist identity, as it exists today, is an outgrowth from 17th century English Separatism
  • Anabaptist Origins. Some say that Baptists have their origins in the Anabaptist movement from the 16th century
  • Spiritual-Kinship. Others say that Baptistic churches, to greater or lesser extent, have always existed since the church has been founded
  • Unbroken Succession. Still others claim that there has been a sure, certain and unbroken chain of true Baptist churches since the time of the apostles

This paper will not evaluate each position. I will simply put forth my own modest case for believing in the Spiritual-Kinship view of Baptist origins. This position is simply stated by Jack Hoad:

“Making a full allowance for the failures of those early baptistic witnesses for the truth, we conclude that the Holy Spirit has continually raised up a biblical witness against apostasy and to a surprising extent those upsurges have borne a common testimony, majoring on those principles of faith and order which are characteristically Baptist, or what is even more important, the marks of true apostolic Christianity.”[1]

Thomas Armitage adds:

“So, likewise, the unity of Christianity is not found by any visible tracing through one set of people. It has been enwrapped in all who have followed purely apostolic principles through the ages; and thus the purity of Baptist life is found in the essence of their doctrines and practices by whomsoever enforced.”[2]

“Truth calls us back to the radical view, that any Church which bears the real apostolic stamp is in direct historical descent from the apostles, without relation to any other Church past or present.”[3]

 What is a Baptist?

Baptists are not a denomination, as such. A denomination has a united, common confession and a creed. It has a hierarchy and layers of authority. It has periodic meetings and issues edicts that the churches are required to follow, or be at risk of expulsion. In short, a denomination controls its churches, in some form or fashion. No Baptist ought to submit to this. We’re autonomous, not monolithic. Basically, I think it is safe to say that that the Baptist is not defined by a list of distinctives per se, but by a philosophy of ministry.

“Baptists, let it be repeated, are not in essence a denomination at all. Their ‘stripes’ or ‘spots’ may be deep-dyed but are not all found uniformly and consistently in all those families of Christians called by that name . . . One clear factor, which is emerging in thus ecumenical age, is that Baptists, true Baptists, are uncomfortable bedfellows. Their inherent nonconformity and rugged independence is liable to wreck the best laid schemes to merge into one the many strands of professed Christianity in the world.”[4]

Baptists are concerned with the purity of the church, and simply abiding by what the New Testament says about the church – nothing more and nothing less. Jack Hoad bluntly stated, “the Baptist Identity is therefore defined by the thorough-going submission to the Word of God in everything, with the consequent rejection of all else that has no explicit requirement in scripture.”[5] What does it means to be concerned with the “purity” of the church? This is where the various acrostics of “Baptist distinctives” come into play. All the Baptist acrostics (both BAPTIST and BRAPSIS2) exist to explain what the New Testament teaches about the church. The distinctives do not, in and of themselves, explain the Baptist identity. They are not infallible “marks” of a Baptist. They merely elaborate on what the New Testament teaches about the doctrine of the church.

“From their earliest manifestations, they have been a protest movement against any over-riding authority, whether secular or ecclesiastical. They stand for the simplicity of the New Testament order of local independent churches. Not that they are isolationists for they have readily recognized like-minded churches and sought to express their inherent responsibilities towards each other. They have, however, persisted in there being one only God-appointed basic unit, the local church, with no overlordship of any kind, other than that of Christ Himself, who is the Head of the Church. It is this, taken with the insistence on a regenerate, believing and baptized church-membership, which makes that primary distinctive of Baptist churches. This is the Baptist doctrine of the church.”[6]

To define what a Baptist is, and to therefore answer the question ‘where did Baptists come from,’ it is necessary to set aside detailed acrostics and distill and crystallize what the Baptist philosophy is. They are:[7]

  • The supremacy, sole authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures in all matters of Christian faith and practice, which translates into a complete obedience and submission to . . .
  • The Biblical Doctrine of the Church and a willingness to be always reforming our church polity, practice and philosophy to that ideal

A Baptist believes the Bible is the only place where the doctrine of the church (and all that entails) is taught. The distinctives flow from that principle:

“Where scripture rules there can be no marriage to the state, no shared rule with the magistracy, no subservience of the local church to denominational structures or officialdom, no use of force of any kind to compel faith, no unwilling or unconscious ‘baptisms’ and no compromise with erroneous bodies.”[8]

Notice that Hoad touched on all of the so-called “Baptist distinctives” in this brief explanation. Obedience to Scripture will yield every single Baptist distinctive without exception. Insofar as a local church pursued the NT doctrine of the church, it was a baptistic church.  This is why the so-called Spiritual-Kinship theory of Baptist origins is correct. There is massive evidence that various separatist groups throughout church history have struggled, to greater or lesser extent, to cast off the doctrines of men and follow a distinctly Biblical church polity.

The Struggle for Purity – Separatist Groups

The Novatians

In the mid-3rd century, the Novatian schism arose in the aftermath of religious persecution. Should church members who apostatized during persecution be re-admitted to fellowship? Novatians insisted the apostates not be re-admitted. They were separatists who took church membership seriously. Rome developed her own ecclesiology partly in response to this challenge.

“The Novatianists considered themselves the only pure communion, and unchurched all churches which defiled themselves by re-admitting the lapsed, or any other gross offenders. They went much farther than Cyprian, even as far as the later Donatists. They admitted the possibility of mercy for a mortal sinner, but denied the power and the right of the church to decide upon it, and to prevent, by absolution, the judgment of God upon such offenders. They also, like Cyprian, rejected heretical baptism, and baptized all who came over to them from other communions not just so rigid as themselves.”[9]

Thomas Armitage wrote:

“The Novatians demanded pure Churches which enforced strict discipline, and so were called Puritans. They refused to receive the lapsed back into the Churches, and because they held the Catholics corrupt in receiving them, they re-immersed all who came to them from the Catholics. For this reason alone they were called ‘Anabaptists,’ although they denied that this was rebaptism, holding the first immersion null and void because it had been received from corrupt Churches.”[10]

As Justo Gonzalez has put it, “the issue was whether purity or forgiving love should be the characteristic note of the church.”[11] The Novatians were worried about the purity of the church, and took the Bible’s commands for church discipline and membership seriously.

 The Donatists

This schism was once again about the purity of the church, specifically those who has apostatized amidst persecution. We have more information about these folks than the others. They were concerned about:

  • Church membership (true believers)
  • Separation from impure fellowships
  • Church purity
  • Godly ministers
  • A free church mindset (autonomy)

“The Donatists championed a church which was pure, a church was intolerant of those elements which would contaminate it. A chief emphasis of the Donatists was upon the holiness of the church.”[12]

The tale of the Donatist controversy is too long to tell here, but suffice it to say that they stood firm amidst intolerance and persecution – because they believed what the Bible taught about the church. Augustine, when gentle persuasion failed, turned to force to achieve his aims.

“. . . by his misuse of the words of Luke 14:23, ‘Compel them to come in,’ Augustine, during this time, set forth teachings that would ultimately make him the first widely influential churchman to assert and argue the doctrine that the power of the state can legitimately banish separatist Christians in favor of the Catholic Church and transfer their properties to the Catholics.”[13]

Schaff’s words here are excellent:

“The Donatist controversy was a conflict between separatism and catholicism; between ecclesiastical purism and ecclesiastical eclecticism; between the idea of the church as an exclusive community of regenerate saints and the idea of the church as the general Christendom of state and people. It revolved around the doctrine of the essence of the Christian church, and, in particular, of the predicate of holiness.”[14]

As Beale has observed, “[t]he orthodox Donatists’ only crimes were separation and rebaptism.”[15]

 The Medieval Era

It’s easy to scour historical records, searching for something “Baptist” to hang one’s hat on. “We may attribute to them more light and knowledge than they really believed, thus adopting too rosy-hued a viewpoint.”[16] You see traces of concern for a pure church from groups in the medieval age. The Albigenses thought the Roman Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon.[17] The Paulicans “were really ‘men who were disgusted with the doctrines and ceremonies of human invention, and desirous of returning to the apostolic doctrine and practice.’ ”[18] The Waldensians were likewise very concerned about the purity of the church and believed in separation from false teaching. Pickering concludes that “[i]n the study of these dissident groups, the doctrine of the ‘gathered’ church, that is, the church of the regenerate only, comes to the fore time and again.”[19]

 The Anabaptists

“They thought that the Reformers stopped half-way, and did not go to the root of the evil. They broke with the historical tradition, and constructed a new church of believers on the voluntary principle. Their fundamental doctrine was, that baptism is a voluntary act, and requires personal repentance, and faith in Christ. They rejected infant-baptism as an anti-scriptural invention. They could find no trace of it in the New Testament, the only authority in matters of faith. They were cruelly persecuted in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic countries. We must carefully distinguish the better class of Baptists and the Mennonites from the restless revolutionary radicals and fanatics, like Carlstadt, Muenzer, and the leaders of the Muenster tragedy.”[20]

One scholar says that Anabaptists “were the main forerunners of ‘sectarian Protestantism,’ and their views on religious liberty are today common currency among free church groups.”[21]

In the main, the orthodox Anabaptists believed:

(1) Church members had to be regenerate, and therefore only believers could be baptized. “By baptism the believer comes under the discipline of a Biblical people, and if the door of entrance is closely watched a strong and true church can be maintained.”[22]

(2) Separation. If you’re concerned about a pure church, then it means that separation is sometimes necessary

(3) Church discipline, which is rooted in the concern for the purity of the church and its members. “Spiritual government rests, in the end, upon the threat of expulsion from the congregation of believers: the Ban. In some cases this may have meant social ostracism, but generally it meant the loss of privileges within the brotherhood.”[23]

(4) Soul liberty. Because of incessant persecution, Anabaptists firmly believed that a man ought to be left alone to worship God as he sees fit. For example, Schaff writes that in Zurich the Anabaptists were forced to baptize their infants:

 “The magistracy decided against them, and issued an order that infants should be baptized as heretofore, and that parents who refuse to have their children baptized should leave the city and canton with their families and goods.”[24]

“The blood of these poor people flowed like water so that they cried to the Lord for help.… But hundreds of them of all ages and both sexes suffered the pangs of torture without a murmur, despised to buy their lives by recantation, and went to the place of execution joyfully and singing psalms.”[25]

Baptists have inherited this insistence on religious liberty from the Anabaptists. “The concept of religious freedom was implicit in the Anabaptist movement. They, as well as others within that which has been called the ‘Radical Reformation,’ insisted that one’s personal religious commitment was between himself and God alone and that the nature of the Christian faith, discipleship, and the church demanded complete freedom.”[26]

Estep well remarks, “[i]f we can learn anything from the Anabaptist experience, it should teach us that coercion makes no true Christians, but, as Roger Williams said three centuries ago, only hypocrites.”[27]


There have always been groups throughout the ages who have sought to go “back to the Bible” for their ecclesiology. Insofar as a group actually followed the New Testament doctrine of the church, they were baptistic (to greater or lesser extent). The Baptist “denomination” (philosophy would be a better term) is not an invention of 17th-century English separatism.

Leon McBeth writes that Baptist viewpoints certainly did exist before that time, but “[t]he seventeenth-century Baptists did not invent these doctrines; they rediscovered and articulated them afresh for a new era.”[28] This is specious reasoning. Baptist ecclesiology is Biblical ecclesiology. To say that the Baptist identity did not form until the 17th-century is to suggest that every single local church, to some extent, was not following the New Testament pattern up until that time. Nothing could be more outrageous.

McBeth anticipates this accusation, and retorts that “one should distinguish between faith assumptions and historical evidence.”[29] To follow McBeth’s reasoning, one would also have to conclude:

  • The doctrine of justification by faith first came about during the Reformation. The Reformers didn’t invent the doctrine, but rediscovered and articulated it afresh for a new era. No church must have actually taught the doctrine as a whole before the Reformation, because it wasn’t neatly packaged and systematized until that time.
  • The deity of Christ came about at the Council of Nicea. They didn’t invent the doctrine, but rediscovered and articulated it afresh for a new era. No church must have actually taught the doctrine as a whole before that time, because it wasn’t neatly packaged and systematized until then.

I could go on, but the point is made. Just because a doctrine is systematized at some later date, it does not follow that the doctrine was not taught, believed and practiced prior to that date. If it is a Biblical doctrine, men everywhere have taught, believed and practiced it to some extent. This is why I believe in the Spiritual-Kinship view of Baptist origins.


[1] Jack Hoad, The Baptist (London, UK: Grace Publications, 1986), 24.

[2] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (New York, NY: Bryan, Taylor & Co., 1890; reprint, Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Archive, n.d.), 1.

[3] Hoad, The Baptist, 2.

[4] Ibid, 10.

[5] Ibid, 17.

[6] Ibid, 10-11.

[7] Ibid, 14.

[8] Ibid, 17.

[9] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 8 vols. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2011), 2:196.

[10] Armitage, History of the Baptists, 178.

[11] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, combined ed. (Peabody, MS: Prince Press, 2007), 1:90.

[12] Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church (Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1979), 20.

[13] David O. Beale, Historical Theology In-Depth (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2013), 1:376.

[14] Schaff, History, 3:365.

[15] Beale, Historical Theology, 1:376-377.

[16] Pickering, Separation, 29.

[17] Ibid, 31.

[18] Ibid, 33.

[19] Ibid, 39.

[20] Schaff, History, 7:607.

[21] Franklin Littell, “The Anabaptist Doctrine of the Restitution of the True Church,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 24 (1950), 33.

[22] Ibid, 36.

[23] Ibid, 37.

[24] Schaff, History, 8:82.

[25] Ibid, 8:84.

[26] William Estep, “The Reformation: Anabaptist Style,” Criswell Theological Review 6.2 (1993), 201.

[27] Ibid, 206.

[28] Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1987), 61.

[29] Ibid, 62.