After the first and second centuries various false teachings arose among certain groups of Christians, giving rise to the formation of a false church that persecuted the true believers. In his book, “The Pilgrim Church,” E.H. Broadbent describes the persecution of the saints by false churches – mainly the Roman Catholic Churchbut since the 1520’s also the Protestant state churches that obtained civil power and followed suit. From his review it is evident that the false church compromised with the world and in consequence accepted the power assigned to it by worldly authorities. Its power was abused to persecute the true believers who would not submit to the authority and teachings of the papal system and those of like mind.
The main heresies of the Roman Catholic Church, some of which were later perpetuated by the large Protestant Churches, are the following:
1. The church is the sole dispenser of salvation through its administering of a false sacramental religion. By way of sacraments such as baptism and the Eucharist, grace is bestowed upon its members. Salvation is equated with baptism, thereby theologically entrenching the heresy of baptismal regeneration. This unscriptural interpretation of baptism is used as justification for the replacement of the biblical baptising of believers with the baptising of infants despite the fact that they do not have the capacity to believe. It was argued that since baptism has the intrinsic power to regenerate a person by washing away his or her sins, it should be performed as early as possible in people’s lives. By accepting and practising this heresy the biblical doctrine of justification by faith was abandoned, thereby introducing, promoting and enforcing nominal Christianity over a wide front. People were baptised into the church without repentance. The result was an outward form of godliness without any spiritual life.
2. An unbiblical distinction is made between a special group of ‘holy men’ and the lay people with little or no religious status. The church is dominated and controlled by an extensive group of ordained priests, bishops and cardinals headed by an ‘infallible’ pope. These officials, and particularly the pope, profess to be Christ’s anointed representatives on earth. They claim that they have the authority to open or close the gates of heaven to people, and are so presumptuous that they even decide on matters of life and death. In the Roman Catholic Church they perform the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, ordination, and matrimony. They are the mediators between the lay people and God, as people can allegedly not be saved unless they are baptised by a priest. To them, there is no salvation outside the church. Many of these heresies are perpetuated in Protestant churches who assign elevated positions to their clergy and also attach saving power to the practice of infant baptism.
3. The establishing of an unbiblical form of church government with legislative and executive powers. By collaborating with and manipulating secular authorities, the false church becomes a state church. Christ is not the head of this Church. The bond between church and state facilitated the oppression and persecution of the true believers and also introduced a period of total compromise with the world. Various heresies permeated the church, thereby accounting for the rapid rise of the false church. With its newly attained power and close association with political authorities the church soon started using its power to persecute and kill the true believers who did not adhere to its teachings and consequently refused to recognise or join its totalitarian structures. With its political backing and military power the false church became a mighty instrument in the hands of Satan in his relentless efforts to obliterate evangelical Christianity. This church resisted the truth of God’s Word, killed millions of believers who testified to these truths, impeded religious and educational development, and in so doing became the ruthless masters of the dark Middle Ages.
This summary of Broadbent’s lengthy book focuses mainly on the struggle of the Pilgrim Church to maintain and preserve the true doctrine of salvation. In the false, Roman Catholic Church, justification by faith was substituted by infant baptism. In the true church, justification by faith was (and still is) strongly emphasised, thereby insisting that all people should confess their sins and accept the Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour. Only after the experience of being born again, they are baptised as believers according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ in Mar 16:16.
The Pilgrim Church re-baptised many people who were already subject to the unbiblical infant baptism in the false church, thereby, during later ages, being labelled Anabaptists (those who re-baptise). Different groups of the true church had different names, such as the Donatists and Waldenses, but all of them practised the baptism of believers. After the Reformation, they were also persecuted by the Calvinists and Lutherans who subscribe to the Augustinian and Roman Catholic institution of infant baptism as a means of salvation.
Deception associated with baptism
The practice of baptising believers after their confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as taught and exemplified in the New Testament, was the only way of baptism during the first century. Throughout subsequent centuries the baptism of those who confessed their faith was adhered to by the true believers, but deceptive teachings about baptism were gradually introduced since the second century.
“The first clear reference to the baptism of infants is in a writing of Tertullian in AD 197, in which he condemns the practice beginning to be introduced of baptising the dead and of baptising infants. The way for this change, however, had been prepared by teaching concerning baptism which was divergent from that in the New Testament; for early in the second century baptismal regeneration was already being taught” (Broadbent 1999:32).
In the third century, churches in Armenia (Asia Minor) who remained true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, distinguished themselves from the worldly churches whom they called “Romans”. They even “denied to them the title of churches, declaring that they had forfeited it by their own union with the State, by the introduction of unbelievers into their circles through the system of infant baptism, by their giving the Lord’s Supper to unbelievers, and by various other evils they had introduced” (Broadbent 1999:65; emphasis added).
The role of Constantine
The official recognition of the Christian church early in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine opened the way to the quick adulteration of the church:
“Constantine himself, while retaining the old imperial dignity of chief priest of pagan religion, assumed that of arbitrator of the Christian churches. The Church and the state quickly became closely associated , and it was not long before the power of the State was at the disposal of those who had the lead in the Church, to enforce their decisions. Thus the persecuted soon became persecutors. In later times those churches which, faithful to the Word of God, were persecuted by the dominant Church as heretics and sects, frequently refer in their writings to their entire dissent from the union of Church and State in the time of Constantine and of Sylvester, then bishop in Rome” (Broadbent 1999:43-44; emphasis added).
Constantine joined the false church and also shared their view on baptismal regeneration. He debated the issue with church leaders about baptism as a means to washing away your sins. He asked them what would happen to the sins committed after your baptism. They could not give him a satisfactory answer to this question; consequently, he decided to postpone his baptism until shortly before his death.
Its union with the state had far-reaching effects on the church. It became false and powerless, and collaborated with the corrupt Roman leaders to undermine civilisation:
“As long as the Church had remained separate it had been a powerful witness for Christ in the world, and was constantly drawing converts into his holy fellowship. When, however, already weakened by the adoption of human rule in place of the guidance of the Spirit, it was suddenly brought into partnership with the State, it became itself defiled and debased. Very soon the clergy were competing for lucrative positions and for power as shamelessly as the court officials, while in congregations where a godless element predominated the material advantages of a profession of Christianity, changed the purity of the persecuted churches into worldliness. The Church was thus powerless to stem the downward course of the civilized world into corruption” (Broadbent 1999:46).
The errors of Augustine
Augustine (354-430) played an extremely important role in condoning the heresies of the emerging Roman Catholic Church and was, more than a millennium later, also followed in many of his errors by some of most prominent Protestant reformers:
“One of the great figures of history meets us at this period. Augustine, whose teachings have left an indelible mark on all succeeding ages… He lived in the time when the Western Roman Empire was breaking up… It was the fall of the Western Empire that led him to write his famous book, The City of God… His view, however, of what the City of God is [namely the Church] led him into teachings that have given rise to unspeakable misery, the very greatness of his name accentuating the harmful effects of the error he taught. He, beyond others, formulated the doctrine of salvation by the Church only, by means of her sacraments [including baptismal regeneration]. To take salvation out of the hands of the Saviour and put it into the hands of men, to interpose a system of man’s devising between the Saviour and the sinner, is the very opposite of the Gospel revelation. Christ says: ‘Come unto Me’ and no priest or church has authority to intervene.“Augustine, in his zeal for the unity of the Church and his genuine abhorrence of all divergence in doctrine and difference in form, lost sight of the spiritual, living, and indestructible unity of the Church and Body of Christ, uniting all who are sharers by the new birth in the life of God. Consequently he did not see the practical possibility of the existence of churches of God in various places and in all times, each retaining its immediate relation with the Lord and with the Spirit, yet having fellowship with the others… His outward view of the Church as an earthly organization naturally lead him to seek outward, material means for preserving, and even compelling, visible unity…“Such teaching, from such an authority, incited and justified those methods of persecution by which papal Rome equalled the cruelties of pagan Rome. So a man of strong affections and quick and tender sympathies, departing from the principles of Scripture… became implicated in a vast and ruthless system of persecution” (Broadbent 1999:47-50; emphasis added).
The church soon became a pagan institution: “The great professing Church had incorporated paganism with its system by the gradual introduction of the worship of the Virgin Mary, and had brought the world into its ranks by its practice of infant baptism” (Broadbent 1999:76; emphasis added).
The Armenian believers
Throughout the Dark Ages, the true church of Christ chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25). The Armenian book entitled The Key of Truth, having been written between the 7th and 9th centuries, describes the beliefs and practices of true believers in that time. About baptism they say:
“Our Lord asks first for repentance and faith and then gives baptism, so we must follow Him and not do after the deceitful arguments of others, who baptise the unbelieving, the reasonless, and the unrepentant. When a child is born, the elders of the church should give counsel to the parents that they may train the child in godliness and faith. This should be accompanied by prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, and giving the child a name. When anyone is baptised, it should be at his or her earnest request. Baptism should be in rivers, or other water in the open air. The one to be baptised should, on his knees in the midst of the water, confess his faith before the congregation present, with great love and tears. The one who baptises should be of blameless character. Prayer and the reading of Scripture should accompany the act” (Broadbent 1999:74-75).
The danger of persecution was always very real in the true church, and elders had to be prepared to face and accept this possibility before being ordained:
“The ordaining of an elder requires great care lest anyone unworthy be chosen. It must be ascertained whether he has perfect wisdom, love (which is chief of all), prudence, gentleness, humility, justice, courage, sobriety, eloquence. In laying hands on him, which is to be done with prayer and the reading of suitable Scriptures, he is to be asked, ‘Art thou then able to drink the cup which I am about to drink, or to be baptised with the baptism with which I am about to be baptised?’ The answer required of him shows the dangers and responsibilities that such men accepted, which none would take on themselves unless there were an earnest love and a will so suffer to the uttermost in the following of Christ and caring for His flock.“The reply is, ‘…I take on myself scourgings, imprisonment, tortures, reproaches, crosses, blows, tribulation and all temptation of the world, which our Lord and Intercessor and the Universal and Apostolic Holy Church took upon themselves, and lovingly accepted them. So even do I, an unworthy servant of Jesus Christ, with great love and ready will, take upon myself all these until the hour of my death.’ Then, with the reading of many Scriptures, he was solemnly and earnestly commended to the Lord, the elder saying: ‘We humbly supplicate, entreat and beseech Thee… bestow Thy Holy grace on this one, who now is come and asks of Thee the grace of Thy holy authority… make him resplendently pure from all evil thoughts… open his mind to understand the Scriptures” (Broadbent 1999:75).
The true Church was encountered in many different countries and was known under various names. On of the well knows groups was the Waldenses who originated in Italy in the 12th century and later also spread to southern France.
“The doctrines and practices of these brethren, known as Waldenses, and also by other names, were of such a character that it is evident they were not the fruits of an effort to reform the Roman and Greek churches and bring them back to more scriptural ways. Bearing no traces of the influence of those churches, they indicate, on the contrary, the continuance of an old tradition, handed down from quite another source – the teaching of Scripture and the practice of the primitive Church. Their existence proves that there had always been men of faith, men of spiritual power and understanding, who had maintained in the churches a tradition close to that of apostolic days, and far removed from that which the dominant Churches had developed.“Apart from the Holy Scriptures they had no special confession of faith or religion, nor any rules; and no authority of any man, however eminent, was allowed to set aside the authority of Scripture. Yet, throughout the centuries, in all countries, they confessed the same truths and had the same practices. They valued Christ’s own words in the Gospels as being the highest revelation… Following Christ was their chief theme and aim, keeping His words, imitating His example. The Spirit of Christ, they said, is effective in any man in the measure in which he obeys the words of Christ… It is only Christ who can give the ability to understand His words. If anyone love Him, he will keep His words. A few great truths were looked upon as essential to fellowship, but otherwise, in matters open to doubt or to differences of view, large liberty was allowed. They maintained that the inner testimony of the indwelling Spirit of Christ is of great importance, since the highest truths come from the heart to the mind; not that new revelation is given, but a clearer understanding of the Word” (Broadbent 1999:119).“In matters of Church order they practised simplicity, and there was nothing among them corresponding to that which had grown up in the Church of Rome. Yet the churches and elders accepted their responsibilities with the utmost seriousness. In matters of discipline, appointment of elders, and other acts, the whole church took part, in conjunction with its elders. The Lord’s Supper was for all believers, and was looked upon as a remembrance of the Lord’s body given for them and at the same time as a strong exhortation to yield themselves to be broken and poured out for His sake. As to baptism… they claimed that little children are not saved by baptism, for, they declared, the Lord says ‘He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved,’ but a child does not yet believe… They did not admit the claim of the great professing Church to open or close the way of salvation, nor did they believe that salvation was through any sacraments or by anything but faith in Christ” (Broadbent 1999:120).
The United Brethren
Another group among the true saints was called the United Brethren. They were ruthlessly persecuted in various places, but later regrouped again:
“In 1463, in the mountains of Reichenau, and again in 1467 at Lhota, there were general gatherings of brethren, at which many persons of rank and influence were present, where they considered afresh the principles of the Church. One of the first things they did was to baptise those present, for the baptism of the believers by immersion was common to the Waldenses and to most of the brethren in different parts, though it had been interrupted by pressure of persecution. They also formally declared their separation from the Church of Rome” (Broadbent 1999:149; emphasis added).
The doctrinal compromise by prominent reformers such as Luther did not solve the problems posed to the true church by Rome. By perpetuating some of these errors, evangelical believers faced continued rejection and persecution – now not only from Rome but also from some of the ‘state churches’ emerging from the Reformation.
“Luther by his mighty strokes hewed a way through long consecrated privileges and abuses, so that reform became possible. He revealed Christ to countless sinners as the Saviour to whom each one was invited to come, without intervention of priest or saint or church or sacrament… Instead, however, of continuing in the way of the Word, Luther then built up a church in which some abuses were reformed, but which in many respects was a reproduction of the old system. Multitudes who looked to him for guidance accepted that form in which he moulded the Lutheran Church. Many, seeing that he did not continue in the way of return to the Scriptures which they had hoped for, remained where they were, in the Catholic Church, and the hopes awakened among the brethren gradually faded away as they saw themselves placed between two ecclesiastical systems, each of which was ready to enforce conformity in matters of conscience – by the sword.“Luther had seen the divine pattern for the churches, and it was not without an inward struggle that he abandoned the New Testament teaching of independent assemblies of real believers, if favour of the National or State Church system which outward circumstances pressed upon him. The irreconcilable difference between these two ideals was the essential ground of conflict. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper took on such importance in the fight only because in the true Church they mark the gulf dividing the Church from the world, whereas in a National Church they are used to bridge it, infant baptism and the general administration of the Lord’s Supper doing away with the necessity for personal faith in the recipients (emphasis added).“Moreover, the powers arrogated to a priesthood alone competent to perform these rites bring the nation under a domination in matters of faith and conscience, which, when working in unison with the State, or civil government, make free churches impossible, and religion a matter of nationality. Such a National Church is very comprehensive. It can include a great variety of views. It can take in unbelievers, and condone much wickedness, and can allow even its clergy to express disbelief in the Scriptures; but, if it has power to prevent it, it will not tolerate those who baptise believers,or who take the Lord’s Supper among themselves as disciples of Christ, because these things strike at the foundations of its character as a national church, though it is not the rites themselves which are the fundamental cause of difference, but the Church question (Broadbent 1999:164-165; emphasis added).
Zwingli and the State Church
Zwingli was another prominent reformer who succumbed to pressure and compromised with the distorted theological concepts of Augustine and Rome:
“Zwingli wrought his great Reformation work chiefly in German Switzerland. In the city and Canton of Zurich he came to exercise a predominant authority. In 1523, he introduced the State Church system into Zurich, and the Great Council received the responsibility of giving decisions in cases affecting the Church and doctrine. This power was at once directed against the brethren (of the Pilgrim Church). A believer named Muller, brought before the Council, said: ‘Do not oppress my conscience, for faith is a free gift of God’s mercy and is not to be interfered with by anyone… So I beg of you, you servants of God, leave me my faith free.’ This was not allowed. The new State Church accepted the principle of the old Church (Roman Catholic) that it is right to act against ‘heretics’ by imprisonment and even death.“In his earlier years, Zwingli had had close relations with the brethren. He had seriously considered the question of baptism and had stated that there was no Scripture for infant baptism. As he developed the movement of reform, however, on the lines of a State Church, depending on the civil power to enforce his decisions, he necessarily drew away from the brethren” (Broadbent 1999:184-185; emphasis added).
(In support of this statement about Zwingli’s doctrinal position and alignment with the State Church, L. Verduin, in his book The Reformers and their Stepchildren, 1964, quotes Zwingli as follows: “Nothing grieves me more than that at the present I have to baptise children, for I know it ought not to be done. If however I were to terminate the practice then I fear that I would lose my prebend. I find it nowhere written that infant baptism is to be practised… However, one must practise infant baptism so as not to offend our fellow men.”)
One of the major groupings within the true church was called the Anabaptists – later only referred to as the Baptists:
“About 1524, in Germany, many of the churches of brethren, such as had existed from the earliest times, and in many lands, repeated what had been done at Lhota in 1467; they declared their independence as congregations of believers and their determination to observe and to carry out as churches the teachings of Scripture. As formerly at Lhota, so now on these occasions those present who had not yet as believers received baptism by immersion were baptised. This gave rise to a new name, a name which they themselves repudiated, for it was attached to them as an offensive epithet in order to convey the impression that they had founded a new sect; the new name was Anabaptist – baptising again” (Broadbent 1999:171).
The Anabaptists were severely persecuted by civil authorities who acted in association with Roman Catholic and Protestant state churches:
“The general reviving stirred by the Renaissance brought many of the assemblies of believers who had been driven into hiding by persecution to show themselves again. An ecclesiastical edict issued in Lyons against one of the brethren said, ‘Out of the ashes of Waldo many new shoots arise and it is necessary to impose a severe and heavy punishment as an example.’ Many believers emerged, too, from the Swiss valleys; they called each other brethren and sisters, and were well aware that they were not founding anything new, but were continuing the testimony of those who for centuries had been persecuted as “heretics,” as the record of their martyrs showed” (Broadbent 1999:172).“In 1527, under the guidance of Michael Sattler and others, a conference was held in Baden, where it was agreed that only believers should be baptised, that the Lord’s Supper should be kept in remembrance of His death, that discipline should be exercised in the churches, that members of the church should not have fellowship with the world, and that it is the duty of the shepherds of the church to teach and exhort, etc… Sattler was active in preaching the Word in many districts, and came, in the Spring of 1527, from Strasbourg to Wurttemberg. In Rottenburg he was arrested and condemned to death for his doctrines. In accordance with the sentence of the Court, he was shamefully mutilated in different parts of the town, then brought to the gate, and what remained of him thrown on the fire. His wife and some other Christian women were drowned, and a number of brethren who were with him in prison were beheaded. These were the first of a terrible series of such executions in Rottenburg” (Broadbent 1999:181-182).“In Augsburg in 1528, Hans Leupold, an elder of the church, was arrested in a meeting with 87 others and beheaded. He composed a hymn in prison which was included in the collection of the brethren. Many of the hymns of these Baptists were written in prison, and exhibited the deep experiences of suffering and of love to the Lord through which they passed. They spread rapidly among the suffering saints, to whom they brought strong consolation and encouragement” (Broadbent 1999:182).
The campaign against Dr. Hubmeyer was an expression of more hatred against the brethren:
“Although the brethren were careful to take the Word as their guide and would not willingly come under the domination of man, they thankfully recognised as elders and overseers in the different churches the men among them who had those gifts of the Spirit which fitted them to be guides. Among them at this time Dr. Balthazar Hubmeyer was pre-eminent… He was baptised, and later, when living near Zurich, was expelled from the country, so continued his preaching in Germany and Moravia… [Later] Humbeyer and his wife escaped, with the loss of everything, from an advancing Austrian army and reached Zurich, but there he was soon discovered by Zwingli’s party and thrown into prison” (Broadbent 1999:173-175).
Efforts were made in Europe to destroy the movement of the true brethren and obliterate their records from history:
“It is often thought that when the Reformation was established, Europe was divided into Protestants (whether Lutheran or Swiss) on the one hand, and Roman Catholics on the other. The large numbers of Christians are overlooked who did not belong to either party, but who, most of them, met as independent churches, not relying, as the others did, on the support of the civil power, but endeavouring to carry out the principles of Scripture as in New Testament times. They were so numerous that both the state church parties feared they might come to threaten their own power and even existence. The reason that so important a movement occupies so small a place in the history of those times is, that by the relentless use of the power of the State, the great Churches – Catholic and Protestant – were able almost to destroy it, the few adherents who were left being driven abroad or remaining only as weakened and comparatively unimportant companies. The victorious party was also able to destroy much of the literature of the brethren, and, writing their history, to represent them as holding doctrines which they repudiated, and to give them names to which an odious significance was attached” (Broadbent 1999:181).
Support during the fiery trials
Draconian laws were enacted to destroy the Pilgrim Church. Emperor Charles V commanded all rulers and officers in the Empire “that all and everyone baptised again or baptising again, man or woman, of an age to understand, shall be judged and brought from natural life to death with fire and sword…” also that any failing to bring their children to be baptised should come under the same law (Broadbent 1999:182).
However, this barbaric campaign against true believers prompted a few evangelical preachers in the State Church to protest against this practice. Pastor Johann Odenbach said, among others, the following to “the appointed judges of the poor prisoners in Alzey whom people call Anabaptists:
“You, as poor, ignorant, and unlearned people, ought to cry diligently and earnestly to the true Judge and pray for His divine help and for wisdom and grace. Then you would not lightly stain your hands with innocent blood, even though Imperial Majesty and all the Princes in the world had commanded you thus to judge. These poor prisoners, with their baptism, have not so deeply sinned against God that He will damn their souls on that account, nor have they acted so criminally against the government and against mankind as to forfeit their lives. For right baptism or second baptism is not such a power as that it can either save a man or condemn him. We must allow baptism to be just a sign by which we acknowledge that we are Christians, dead to the world, enemies of the devil, wretched, crucified people, who seek not temporal but eternal blessings; striving unceasingly against flesh, sin and devil, and living a Christian life. Not many of you judges would know what to say about right or wrong baptism if it came to being bound and questioned under torture. Ought you on that account to be put to the sword? No! … Therefore, dear friends, do not usurp that which belongs to the Divine Majesty, lest the wrath of God should overwhelm you worse than the Sodomites and all evil-doers on earth” (Broadbent 1999:183).
The effect of this strong letter of protest was that those judges refused to pronounce judgement in matters of faith.
Rapid expansion during the 19th century
The persecution of true brethren who practised the baptising of believers continued into the 19th century as many civil authorities acted against groups that were branded as sects by the State Churches. In Germany, Johann Oncken (1800-1884) and his congregation did not escape persecution:
“Studying the Scriptures himself, Oncken gradually came to the conviction that the New Testament teaches the baptism of believers by immersion, and as he considered the numbers of converts and of friends with whom he was associated, the thought shaped itself in his mind that these should be gathered into churches on the New Testament pattern, by which he understood that none but believers baptised by immersion should be admitted as members… The civil authorities in Hamburg soon announced their intention not to tolerate this new ‘sect’ in their city, and Oncken and others had to undergo fines and imprisonment” (Broadbent 1999:349-350).
However, greater religious tolerance gradually set in, allowing for a period of the rapid expansion of independent evangelical churches:
“Oncken and Köbner began to give short courses in Bible study to young men in order to prepare them to become pastors of the churches that were springing up. From this beginning the Hamburg Baptist College developed, giving a four years’ course of training to those about to become pastors. The growing movement was organised in the different countries to which it spread, annual conferences of delegates were held and committees of ‘managing brethren’ appointed to attend to various business. Large financial help was given from America. Oncken was made a missionary of the American Baptist Missionary Society, and so enabled to travel extensively… As churches of German Baptists grew up among the large German population of Russia, they came into touch with older companies of Russian believers who also practised believers’ baptism and in many instances the German Baptists succeeded in absorbing these into their organisation…” (Broadbent 1999:350).
In the early part of the 19th century a number of people were impressed by the importance as well as by the possibility of a return to the teachings of Scripture, not only respecting questions of personal salvation and conduct, but also as regards the order and testimony of the churches. A serious attempt was made to put such convictions into practice. One of these prominent men who came to be impressed with the importance of a literal obedience to the Scriptures was George Müller. During his studies to become a missionary he saw clearly that the Word of God is the believer’s only standard and the Holy Spirit his only teacher (Broadbent 1999:357, 370).
Müller left the Missionary Society: “…he saw it was not according to Scripture that he should be ordained either in the Lutheran or Anglican Church; also that any such established Churches, being a mixture of the world and the true church, contain principles which must lead to departure from the Word of God” (Broadbent 1999:370). Afterwards his life was even more conformed to Scripture: “Listening one day to a conversation among three sisters in the Lord on the subject of baptism, he saw that, though he had always been a strong supporter of infant baptism, he had never seriously and prayerfully examined the Scriptures on the subject, so set himself to do so, and became convinced that the baptism of believers only, and that by immersion, is the teaching of Scripture. Many objections to his now carrying out this command presented themselves to his mind, but being assured that it was the Lord’s will that he should act literally upon His commandments, he was baptised” (Broadbent 1999:371). However, Müller warned against the tendency among some believers to denounce those who were not baptised as believers and who are still members of state churches. (Broadbent 1999:374-375). When confessing our faith in the Lord Jesus we should guard against emphasising certain practises or institutions beyond the significance that Scripture assigns to them.
Another well-known preacher of the 19th century was Charles Spurgeon, who became a famous Baptist pastor in England. He preached with such spiritual power that increasing numbers were attracted to hear him. In preaching, Spurgeon adhered closely to the Scriptures.
“Feeling strongly the hindrance to the gospel caused by the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, he took the bold course of preaching and publishing a sermon on the subject, which exposed him to attack from the large number of Protestant and Evangelical bodies which hold it. The conflict aroused led him a year later to withdraw from the Evangelical Alliance. As Biblical Criticism developed along the line of undermining faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures and came increasingly to influence the Baptist Union, Spurgeon withdrew from that associations also” (Broadbent 1999:399).
The 20th century
The 20th century was a period of rapid expansion of Scripture-based churches and movements in the world. However, it was also a time during which the faith of many people became eroded due to humanistic reasoning:
“Those churches which still make the Scriptures their guide and pattern, and endeavour to act according to this rule, are entirely free from Rationalism, as they have always been from Ritualism. They therefore form a bulwark against unbelief and provide a refuge for souls seeking where they may act in obedience to the Word of God in fellowship with those like-minded. Their increase and their spread into many countries, as well as the fact that fresh churches keep arising spontaneously in parts where the Bible penetrates, is of the greatest importance.“It is also to be anticipated that, as many of the different denominations depart further from the faith, there will be Christians among them who will find themselves obliged to do as so many have done before them, that is, form churches of those that believe, to carry out the teachings of the Word themselves and preach the saving gospel to others” (Broadbent 1999:400-401).
In his Preface to the reprinted version of Braodbent’s book, Dave Hunt says the following about the present situation:
“Ours is a day of ecumenism which seeks to establish an unbiblical unity denying the very separation from error for which the Pilgrim Church suffered and died. Leading evangelicals would have us believe either that the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of salvation has changed, or that it has always been biblical, in spite of its official declarations (consistently for centuries and still today) to the contrary and its persecutions of those who adhere to biblical truth. That persecution is still going on in Latin America, parts of Europe and other places where Rome is strong enough to impose its will.”
Broadbent. E.H., 1931 (reprinted 1999) : The Pilgrim Church – Tracing the pathway of the forgotten saints from Pentecost to the 20th century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Gospel Folio Press.
The Pilgrim Church contended earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude v. 3). Their insistence on the baptism of believers was closely linked to their scriptural doctrine of salvation, based on the command to all people to be born again (Joh 3:3). Only after being born again, the believer can be baptised (Mar. 16:16). The infant baptism of the Roman Catholic Church (courtesy of Augustine and other deluded church fathers) ascribed salvation and eternal security to infants, thereby overriding the critical factor of personal faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour. The sacrament of infant baptism was, from its inception, clearly seen as a means of salvation in the false church. One therefore has to examine the doctrinal background of a certain form of baptism before accepting or rejecting it.
Dave Hunt, who wrote the preface to Broadbent’s book, made the following very relevant remarks on this subject in his newsletter, The Berean Call, of August 2001:
“Most evangelicals are ignorant of the amount of Roman Catholicism carried over into the Reformation in Lutheran and Calvinist churches. I am currently finishing a book about Calvinism (it also deals briefly with Luther) in which one chapter is titled, Calvinism’s Surprising Catholic Connection.“Luther was an Augustinian monk and Calvin a devout Roman Catholic steeped in the teachings of Augustine. Incredibly, both of these leading Reformers admired and continued to follow Augustine until their deaths. It is even more incredible that evangelical leaders today hold Luther and Calvin (and Augustine) in such high regard. Augustine is celebrated as the greatest saint of the Roman Catholic Church, responsible for most of what Rome practises to this day. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin quotes Augustine more than 400 times, often with the phrase, ‘by the authority of Augustine.’ Both Luther and Calvin taught that infant baptism (even if performed by an ungodly, unbelieving Catholic priest) brought forgiveness of sins and made one a child of God. That is why Lutherans and Calvinists despised, persecuted and even killed the Anabaptists who, having been truly born again through believing the gospel of Christ, were baptized as believers. While Lutherans and Calvinists, like Catholics, no longer burn at the stake, they still despise and persecute those who are saved and baptized as believers.”Just last week in New York a man showed me the excommunication letter he received from his Missouri Synod Lutheran Church for having believed the gospel and having been baptized as a believer. He told me of the persecution he has received from church leaders, family and former friends.
The Bible is clear: ‘…what doth hinder me to be baptized?’ The answer was, ‘If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest’ (Act 8:35-39). Clearly, faith in Christ (impossible and therefore unnecessary for a baby) is the prerequisite to baptism.”Even the verse always cited to justify the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration (‘he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved’ – Mar. 16:16) requires believing the gospel before one is baptized. The fact that babies cannot believe the gospel reveals the error of infant baptism, of which there is not one example in the entire Bible. Babies who die go to heaven, those who grow old enough to understand the gospel must either accept or reject Christ.”The two major passages used by proponents to support infant baptism concern the salvation and baptism of Cornelius’s household (Acts 10) and that of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16). It is assumed that in each case there must have been infants and even babies present and baptized. In each case, that assumption is both unwarranted and contrary to the facts.”In Acts 10:44-47… all ‘who heard the word’ had believed and been saved. This passage clearly teaches that there were no infants present (or if there were, they were not baptized) because infants could not have understood and believed the gospel as was the case with all whom Peter baptized. Moreover, baptismal regeneration is once again excluded by the fact that these new converts had ‘received the Holy Ghost’ before being baptized (10:47).”In Acts 16:30-33 it is equally clear that there were no infants present, much less baptized. Paul’s statement to the jailor, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (v. 31) implies that salvation was for those in his house who, like him, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The statement in the next verse that Paul and Silas ‘spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house,’ proves there were no infants present. One does not preach the gospel to babies. All in the house must have been old enough to hear, understand and respond to the gospel in faith and were therefore baptized as believers.”Calvin even taught that infant baptism, if one believed in it, was the one sure way to know one was of the elect; and that the children of the elect didn’t even need to be baptized but were already children of God. Their baptism was not for regeneration but merely to recognize they were already in the church… This is a serious matter. Why should the Calvinist youth, when he is old enough to understand, be challenged to believe the gospel, inasmuch as he has been considered to be one of the elect since he was born? Confirmation merely confirms what infant baptism, or being born into a Calvinist family, already accomplished. Indeed, what need would there be to preach the gospel to anyone since the elect are regenerated without it and the non-elect, being ‘totally depraved,’ cannot understand or believe it?”The above teachings of Lutherism and Calvinism constitute a deadly heresy which has deluded (and continues to delude) millions into thinking they were on their way to heaven while actually headed for hell. It must be exposed and opposed just as firmly and clearly as the false gospel of Roman Catholicism, to which it is closely related.”
One of the best known examples of the martyrdom of an evangelical believer by a Protestant state church is the execution of Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician who exerted himself in defence of the true gospel message. His ‘unpardonable sin’ was that he dared to take a stand against the Reformer, John Calvin by, among others, refuting his doctrine of baptismal regeneration associated with infant baptism and denouncing the concept of the state church. In his book, he said that the redemptive work of Christ was largely invalidated by these false doctrines. The vindictive nature of an apostate Protestant church can clearly be seen in the events surrounding his persecution and death. This account corroborates the accounts documented in Edmund Broadbent’s book. Two international encyclopaedias describe these events as follows:
“Michael Servetus… found that the expression of his opinions, which finally came to include a denial of infant baptism and of original sin, was as obnoxious to the Protestants as to the Catholics… On August 13, 1553, he was arrested in Geneva by the magistrates on a charge of blasphemy and heresy. They consulted the magistrates of all the Protestant Swiss cantons, who referred the matter to their divines. The latter unanimously declared for punishment, Calvin being especially urgent and emphatic on the necessity for putting Servetus to death. Indeed, Calvin had indicated earlier that if Servetus came to Geneva, he would do his best to prevent him from leaving alive. As Servetus refused to retract his opinions, he was condemned to death for heresy. He was burned at the stake on October 27, 1553.” (Servetus, Michael, in: The Encyclopedia Americana: International Edition,1992. Volume 24 p. 584).“Michael Servetus, Spanish physician and theologian whose unorthodox teachings led to his condemnation as a heretic by both Protestants and Roman Catholics and to his execution by Calvinists from Geneva… In [his] book, Servetus argued that both God the Father and Christ His Son had been dishonoured by the Constantinian promulgation of the Nicene Creed, thus obscuring the redemptive role of Christ and bringing about the fall of the church. Servetus felt he could restore the church by separating it from the state and by using only those theological formulations that could be proved from Scripture and the pre-Constantinian fathers… [Servetus was] tried for heresy from August 14 to October 25, 1553. Calvin played a prominent part in the trial and pressed for execution, although by beheading rather than by fire. Despite his intense biblicism and his wholly Christocentric view of the universe, Servetus was found guilty of heresy, mainly on his views of the Trinity and baptism. He was burned alive at Champel on October 27. His execution produced a Protestant controversy on imposing the death penalty for heresy [and] drew severe criticism upon John Calvin…” (Servetus, Michael, in: The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1990. Volume 10, p. 654).
Foxes Book of Martyrs states that Calvin again justified his share in the execution of Servetus after the event, and never publicly confessed it as a sin.
By Rev. E.H. Broadbent
Abstract: A review, with various excerpts, of E.H. Broadbent’s book The Pilgrim Church – Tracing the pathway of the forgotten saints from Pentecost to the 20th century. Comments by Dave Hunt were added.