Sightler Publications

Sightler Publications

Sightler Publications

Notes to my students in Baptist History at Tabernacle Baptist College, 1990-2005


 A few things need to be said to illustrate the extent and importance of the movement for separation from the Roman Church. The Novatian churches were mainly in Italy and Asia Minor, and the Donatist churches mainly in North Africa and Italy. The Novatians began when Novatian in 251 A.D. was rejected as pastor of the church at Rome, because he insisted on church purity and rebaptism of those who had lapsed from the faith under persecution of the Roman emperors, who required that they be worshipped as a god. How was the church to deal with those “lapsi,” or lapsed ones? There were those who had purchased from the magistrate false certificates that they had offered a pagan sacrifice to the emperor as well as those who had actually performed the sacrifice, a practice in which even some bishops had engaged. Novatian's opponent was Cornelius who was lenient and lax in regard to church purity. Cyprian of Carthage took the side of Cornelius. Both believed in the power of the church to forgive sin and that salvation was not possible outside the communion of the organized church. Cornelius argued for a judicious use of "the power of the keys" in forgiving the lapsed after a period of penance. The Catholic position was one of clemency granted by the church. Novatian believed only God could grant forgiveness from sin through the intercession of the Lord Jesus. The corruption of the church at Rome began in earnest with the election of Cornelius as bishop of the church.

Novatian was excommunicated by Cornelius and immediately established a church at Rome. His churches were in France by 254 AD (G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of the Baptists, p. 65), in Phrygia by 306, in Constantinople by 390, and in Alexandria by 400. These were the forerunners of the Waldensian and Albigensian churches. By 306 A.D. the Novatian church was found in Phrygia, and by 390 A.D. there were three Novatian churches in Constantinople. They were found even in Alexandria, because Cyril of Alexandria closed the Novatian church there in 412 A.D.

Now a few more points about Constantine. When he conquered Maxientus and became emperor in 313 A.D. he issued a statement of toleration and temporarily stopped the persecution which had been so severe under Diocletian and Decius. But by 314 he had appointed imperial commissioners to settle questions of orthodoxy in the churches. Naturally he wanted to include the separate churches under his influence, and he issued his edict against the Donatist churches in 320 A.D. By 315 he had begun to call himself the external bishop of the church and changed its constitution to conform to that of the state. In 319 he relieved the clergy of the duty to pay taxes and eventually provided state pensions for the bishops. This shows the gradual growth of the state church or sacral society system and how it subjugated the churches. Constantine also introduced splendor into the liturgy and architecture of the Roman church including such things as paintings and images and statues, so that the churches came to resemble pagan temples. It should be noted that the Roman church, descended from the impure church of Cornelius, compromised and went along with his changes. There is an interesting statement in G. H. Orchard's book, A Concise History of the Baptists, on p. 57, that the bishops began to encourage clapping or applause from the congregation. It is amazing to see how modern megachurches and pentecostal and probably some independent Baptist churches are going down this garden path all over again.

Constantine's sister was Arian and so she did not believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God. She and Arius persuaded Constantine to allow Arius back into the church after he had been condemned by the Nicene council in 325 A.D. Eusebius was involved in this scheme to tolerate Arius, just as Origen before him had been semiarian. Athanasius, who led the arguments for the Deity of Christ at the Nicene council, was ordered by Constantine to accept Arius again as a full member of the church. Athanasius rightly refused and was himself exiled by Constantine.

In 352 A.D. Constantius became emperor. He also was Arian. He sent 4000 troops to exterminate the Novatians in Pamphlagonia (SE Turkey), but the poorly armed Novatian peasants whipped his regular troops, although several of their churches were destroyed. Valens, also an Arian, became emperor in 375 A.D. and issued a decree which declared the Novatian churches closed and their ministers banished.

In 413 A.D. the emperors Theodosius and Honorius issued an edict declaring that all persons rebaptized and the rebaptizers should be put to death. Albanus and several other Novation ministers were soon executed for the crime of anabaptism (Orchard p. 60-61). Augustine was probably the person who persuaded Honorius to give the edict. In a council at Mela in 416 and again at Carthage in 418 those who denied that forgiveness from sin came from infant baptism were declared accursed (anathema).

In 432 A.D. the emperor Celestine took possession of all Novatian churches in Rome and so forced the dissenters to worship at first in private houses and finally to flee to the mountains and valleys of Northern Italy at the foot or Piedmont of the Alps, where they became known as the Vaudois or valley people. These people in later years were called Waldenses, but their existence and location and doctrine were thus fixed some 700 years before the appearance of Peter Waldo in 1170 A.D. In 476 Rome fell to the Goths, and the Dark Ages are said to have begun then, although one could say they began in 251 A.D.

The word ekklesia, translated church in the KJV, means called out to assemble, not called out to separate, although the Bible teaches the church is to be separate from the world.

The Lord Jesus Christ established the church and is its only foundation.


    Matthew 16:15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
    16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
    17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
    18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

That rock of course was Christ and not Peter, as the following New Testament verses show.


    I Peter 2:4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
    5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
    6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.
    7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
    8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.


    I Corinthians 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
    2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
    3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
    4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ promised to build up his church and gave the church 8 things for its edification or for its building up.


    1. Church Discipline Matt. 18:17
    2. The promise of the Bible Matt. 23:34 and John 16:13
    3. The Lord's Supper Luke 22:19-20 and I Cor. 11:23
    4. The Great Commission Matt. 28:19-20
    5. The giving of the Holy Ghost, privately in John 20:22 and publicly in Acts 2:1-2
    6. Deacons Acts 6:1-5 and I Tim. 3:8-13
    7. Rest from persecution Acts 9:31
    8. Apostolic teaching Acts 20:32

Paul brought the Gospel to Europe, he was in Rome, he mentions intending to go to Spain, he did visit Phillipi, Macedonia, and Illyricum. Pudens, a Roman senator, married Claudia, who was the daughter of a Welsh king, Caractacus, who had been captured and taken to Rome. Claudia and Pudens are said to have brought Christianity to Wales at a very early time.

The Roman road system was quite remarkable in its extent-from throughout Britain in the west, to the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers in the east, and from the Danube river in central Europe to as far south as North Africa. The total length of hard-surfaced highways constructed by the Romans has been estimated to be well over 50,000 miles, much of which is still visible today. Some of the most famous Roman roads in Italy were the 160 mile Via Appia, or Appian Way, which ran southeast from Rome down through Taraentum, the Balkans, and then straight to the Adriatic coast; the Via Aurelia, running northwest up to Genoa; the Via Flamina, that ran northeast to the Adriatic; the Via Aemilia, that crossed the Rubicon; the Via Valera, eastward from Rome; the Via Latina, that ran southeast. Because Rome was the hub of the system, we have the now famous saying “All roads lead to Rome.”

The Roman roads were also noted for the high quality of their construction, straight, cambered for drainage. Along with natural stone, they often used a form of concrete made from volcanic ash and lime. The vast Roman road system facilitated Roman military conquest; the troops on foot could move quickly. It also made possible the efficient administration of the conquered territories.

Roman roads also served Christianity. Although the early Christian suffered tremendous persecution, the roads permitted the apostles and preachers to travel easily. Paul, a Jew who wrote many of the New Testament books, was a Roman citizen. Acts 22:25-29

Christianity came to Britain during the first century, through the family of Caractacus, and in particular through the ministry of his daughter Claudia.


    Romans 15:12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
    13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
    14 And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
    15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
    16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
    17 I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
    18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
    19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
    20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:
    21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
    22 For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.
    23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
    24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
    25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
    26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
    27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
    28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.

    Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
    II Tim. 4:21 Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.


The Roman names in this passage can be easily seen.

 
The Roman Army under Julius Caesar in 55 BC invaded Europe and went through France and much of Britain. But the Romans were not able to carry their conquest north of the Rhine river nor to Wales. The Roman system of government and the Roman church came along in the path of the Roman Army. So these areas later were not dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and Wales and the North of the Netherlands provided places of refuge for Baptists from Roman persecution. In the providence of God the Tyrolean Alps or the Piedmont of Italy and Southern France also were places of relative refuge from persecution by the Roman church.

There were a number of groups which sprang up as a reaction to apostasy within the early church. These are the spiritual kin of modern Baptists.


  • The Montanists 150 AD

  • The Novatians 250 AD

  • The Donatists 325 AD

  • The Paulacians 700 AD

  • The Vaudois(valley people) or Waldenses 500-1400 AD

  • The Albigenses 1200 AD


All these groups were called heretics and Manicheans by the Roman church. But the charge was not true. All the groups listed above believed:


  • The absolute authority of the Bible and the rejection of church traditions of human origin.

  • The church is local and visible.

  • The local church is autonomous.

  • Church purity was insisted upon with a new profession and rebaptism for those who lapsed from the faith under persecution from Decius and Diocletian, who had required emporer worship.

  • That Baptism and the Lord's Supper are symbolic ordinances.

  • All rejected infant baptism and the sacral society which joined church and state.

  • All rejected the mass and the Roman church and purgatory.

  • All baptized adult believers only.

  • All rejected the Roman hierarchy


The word Anabaptist was first used about 413 AD by Honorius and was in the Justinian Code of 539 AD, which prescribed a death penalty for those who rebaptized. So the words Anabaptist and Baptist are truly ancient.

In about 100 AD Platonic philosophy began to infiltrate the leaders of the church. The first person to combine the word catholic (universal) with church was St. Ignatius about 100 AD. If the church is universal it must have a universal government or a hierarchy. So the idea of a universal church is the basis for all hierarchy. Ignatius said that apart from the hierarchy there is no church. Bible verses opposed to hierarchy are Matt. 23:8-10, I Peter 5:3, Rev. 2:6 and 2:15. Later Cyprian of Carthage in 250 AD said “extra nulla salus ecclesiam”, outside the church is no salvation and so made a connection between salvation and the sacraments of the church, so that the church “owns” and dispenses salvation by those sacraments. Salvation in the Roman church is regarded as corporate and not an individual thing.


  • The Roman church believes the church is universal and visible.

  • The Protestants believe the church in universal and invisible.

  • The Baptists believe the church is local and visible.


Three methods of church government are:


    1. Congregational. This has always been practiced by Baptists. It was also the form of government for the Puritans from 1620 until their adoption of the Saybrook Platform of 1708, which made them Presbyterian in polity and government. Baptists have always insisted on the right to call their own pastors and that the members own the property of the church. They are as autonomous and independent as they wish to be.
    2. Presbyterian. In this form of government the local church is subject to the decisions of a synod and is not truly autonomous and completely self governing. Presbyterians have never truly repudiated and association between church and state and before and during the American revolution accepted the authority of the state to license ministers to preach and were also willing to accept religious taxes from the state to support their church.
    3. Prelatical. This is government by a prelate, or bishop or hierarchy. The hierarchy generally owns the property. This is seen in the Roman church, the Episcopalian church, and the Methodist and some Pentecostal churches. The Roman church in Europe was everywhere a state church. The Episcopalian church was the state church in England. Both were supported by compulsory religious taxation.
The three views of Baptist succession or perpetuity are:

    1. Spiritual Kinship. This is the view that modern Baptists are the spiritual descendants of the Novatians, Paulacians, and Waldenses mentioned earlier. Even though those groups did not call themselves Baptist they did reject infant baptism and allowed baptism of believers only, by immersion.
    2. Landmark view or chain link succession. This view maintains that a succession of Baptist churches can be traced back to the apostles and that the only valid administration of baptism must be done in a church which takes this view of Baptist history. Both the spiritual kinship and landmark views maintain that the Baptist church is the only true New Testament church and we believe that it is.
    3. Protestant Baptist view. This view was first introduced by William Whitsett, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in about 1898. It maintains that the Baptists began in England about 1640 under Smith and Helwys. It is adhered to by most Baptist and interdenominational schools, and its acceptance necessarily leads to the opinion that the Baptists are an offshoot of the Reformation and English separatists. We reject that view.

The 7 sacraments of the Roman church are:

    1. Infant Baptism
    2. Confirmation
    3. Mass
    4. Penance
    5. Marriage
    6. Holy Orders
    7. Extreme Unction

A sacral society is one based on an official state church which sees salvation as sacramental rather than by the new birth by grace through faith alone. It is necessarily theocratic. Church and State are mixed and intermingled. Entrance to the sacral society is by a rite of works, usually infant baptism and confirmation. The United States is the only country in the world which has never had a state church, and this is because of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The great Baptist preacher John Leland helped greatly to bring about the Bill of Rights.

The Inquisition began in Spain in 1231 AD, reached its height about 1478. In 1452 it became known as the Holy Office. The Inquisition expelled all Jews from Spain in the 1400's. Most of them found refuge in England and Holland. It was drastically scaled back after 1834 and is now known as the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith. The Inquisitors answered only to the Pope. The first question asked of anyone brought before the inquisition was “Have you been rebaptized?” The Roman church has prohibited and discouraged the reading of the Bible by its members and has resorted to confiscation and destruction of vernacular Bibles translated not into the dead Latin language but into the natural language of the people. It has preferred that its members learn about Biblical subjects through art and statues, idols if you please.

Transelementation was approved somewhere between 252 and about 500 AD. It is the conversion of the water to a means of grace by the prayer of a priest. Transelementation was the basis of the first sacrament infant baptism, which begins the process of sacramental salvation. It was also the necessary precedent for transubstantiation. That is why many early Baptists in America said that “infant baptism is the badge of the whore.”

Transubstantiation was approved by Council of Nicea in 787 AD. It means conversion of the wafer into the literal body and blood of the Lord by a prayer of a priest. It is the basis of the Roman Catholic Mass and makes communion a means of grace.

Crossing in Baptism was the pouring oil on the water of baptism so as to make the shape of a cross. This was necessary to make the water a means of grace. It was still the practice of the Episcopalian church when the Puritans separated from it.

The immaculate conception of Mary began to be taught in the 5th century and became an official dogma in 1854. The bodily assumption of Mary into heaven began to be taught in the 6th century and became a required article of faith in 1950. The infallibility of the Pope began to be required to be believed in 1870.

Calvin and Zwingli in 1530 established a council of 200 in Zurich which was a Protestant Inquisition and persecuted Baptists and introduced the 3rd baptism (1st infant, 2nd believer's, 3rd death by drowning at the hands of the council of 200). Calvin burned Michael Servetus at the stake on falsified charges.

In 1311, the Council of Ravenna allowed aspersion of sprinkling. Until that time all baptism, even infant baptism, had been by immersion. In 1550 a change to sprinkling was allowed in the Anglican church in England.

There were four great European events in history which brought many Baptists, Mennonites, Hugenots, and Puritans to America.

    1. The Great Puritan Migration 1625-1640 by which England lost 75,000 people who would not accept the catholicizing acts of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud's famous saying was “no bishop, no king.” In other words the monarchy and the church were interdependent and each needed the other. Unfortunately the Puritan and later the Congregational church kept infant baptism and gradually church purity was lost. They also came here for religious freedom but then established a theocracy and did not grant freedom of worship to Baptists and Quakers.
    2. The Thirty Years War 1618-1648 which involved all of Europe and produced many refugees who found their way to the New World.
    3. The Revocation of the Edict on Nantes in 1685 which had been proclaimed in 1598 by Henry IV. This resulted in the expulsion of the Hugenots from France.
    4. English mercantilism and England's supercilious attitude to Scotland brought about persecution of the Scots, Irish, and Scots-Irish 1700-1770. Many of the Scots-Irish came to the backcountry of the Southern colonies.

These events influenced the outlook of Baptists and other dissenters in America before the revolution. Many of the colonists or their grandparents had had direct and very unpleasant experience with the theocratic despotism of the Catholic and Protestant churches of Europe. That was true of John Sevier of Tennessee, leader of the Overmountain men and hero of the Battle of Kings Mountain. His grandfather, Valentine Sevier, had been a Hugenot forced out of France by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The great expectation of many patriots in the revolution was that it would bring an end to the union of church and state and to the persecution of dissenters by the established churches. In New England the established church was the Congragational church, which was essentially Presbyterian in its government by the time of the revolution. In Virginia and North and South Carolina the established church was the Episcopalian church. Official state churches, supported by religious taxes, had been the pattern of things in Europe for centuries. The end of this unholy union was a goal of many of those who fought for independence in the revolution.


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