Pristine Grace

The 400 Year Reign of the Baptist Popes
by Bob Higby
The 400 Year Reign of the Baptist Popes

Editor's note:  I believe there are exceptions (rare)... There have been some congregations with the Baptist name throughout the years that have taught the Gospel and have not lorded over believers' consciences.  This article is referring to baptistism in general.  - Brandan

     The Protestant movement arose in the early 16th century as an attempt to overthrow centuries of corruption and false doctrine in the Roman Catholic church. The heart and soul of the Protestant Reformation focused on a revival of Pauline soteriology, in opposition to the Papal doctrine of justification before God achieved by means of inner transformation--communicated in the clergy-administered church sacraments. The leaders of Protestantism have never acknowledged that the entire system of Roman soteriology was invented and expounded by Augustine of Hippo. There is instead an insistence that Augustinian theology is the very basis of the Reformation. Gus is alleged by Reformed teachers to espouse justification exclusively by the free grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

"His doctrine of the Church he had received whole from his predecessors, and he gave it merely the precision and vitality which insured its persistence . . . The problem which Augustine bequeathed to the Church for solution, the Church required a thousand years to solve. But even so, it is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over Augustine's doctrine of the church." Benjamin Warfield, Studies in Tertullian and Augustine (Baker, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991 reprint, p. 130).

     The fact is that the Protestantism has never left the Augustinian doctrine of the church; it continues to embrace it in its entirety! A revised but distinctly Augustinian ecclesiology of popery continues to be embraced by every Reformation sect. The most apparent manifestation of this reality is the whole history of church tyranny as exemplified in the nonconformist Baptist movement.

    Included in the definition of ‘Baptist’ are all churches with the following sectarian characteristics. Many such churches have dropped the name ‘Baptist‘ from their name but continue to fully embrace historic Baptistic teaching:

  1. An ordained pastorate and/or eldership legitimized by approval of other pastors/elders having the same system of Baptistic doctrine as the one ordained.
  2. Definition of what constitutes a legitimate New Testament church as adherence to a system of doctrine and practice defined by the local pastor or elders.
  3. Membership in the church defined as acceptance of the doctrines of the pastor or elders and a professor’s submission to water baptism by submersion as the sign of entrance into God’s approved visible church.
  4. An unwillingness to join some visible church organized after the Augustinian model of ordained leadership and doctrine is generally viewed as evidence that the rebellious party is not a member of the ’invisible’ church of all the regenerate.

     Like all other Protestants, Baptists profess to be champions of liberty of conscience and the priesthood of all believers. In actual fact, these are not guiding principles of the movement to any significant degree. We must certainly recognize that the apostolic gospel is confessional and therefore must be expressed in definite propositions of truth. These gospel truths cannot be compromised; those who will not believe them cannot be regarded as Christ’s brethren. However, in Baptist tradition the entire confessional basis of a church is viewed as sacrosanct, not subject to correction. This confessional basis always hedges the timeless truths of God’s revelation with a myriad of propositions that have nothing to do with the gospel. The same is true of the traditions of all of Protestantism and, of course, Roman Catholicism. Massive confessions with hundreds of fine points stand century after century without a word of revision. This only evidences that churches holding to such confessions view them as unchangeable in the same practical sense as the scriptures. There is far more allowance for individual belief and conviction in the secular state than there is in churches organized after the Patristic model as perfected by Augustine!

     Baptistism originated 400 years ago (very early in the 17th century), largely as a separatist movement to distinguish themselves from the sectarian mass of nonconformists derisively named ‘Anabaptists’. These had been persecuted by Roman Catholics for many centuries and also Protestants since the advent of the Reformation. Most of them were so steeped in false doctrine that there was little or no difference between them and the Roman Catholics--in the gospel-denying soteriology of works-based assurance that they believed and loved. They also taught that human government was strictly the realm of the devil and that no Christian could participate in it if his/her sole allegiance was to Jesus Christ. So it was very easy for the Protestant movement to dismiss them as radical kooks opposed to the true gospel and also the government. Those who emerged as ’Baptists’ aligned themselves with the Protestant movement on many church-state issues. Though they opposed the notion of a state-church aligned with a particular sect, they believed that Christians could be employees or officers of the state and still maintain a primary allegiance to the gospel as defined in the 5 solas of the Reformation.

     The most basic principles of the original Baptist movement were pure and critically necessary to advance and stand for. There was nothing substantially wrong with the original motive in establishing a nonconformist community opposed to both state-church tyranny and radical sectarianism. But things went awry very quickly. By 1633, a fringe movement of ’immersion Baptists’ was established that broke away from the mainstream and claimed that all other Baptists and ‘Anabaptists’ were improperly baptized by having water poured over the body. Though the promoters of this theory were viewed as a radical lunatic fringe from the start, they quickly gained prominence and took over the entire movement within 10 years. By the time the First London Baptist Confession was formulated in 1645-46, the submersionist movement completely dominated the Baptist churches with no dissent in conscience tolerated. The penalty of nonconformity was dismissal from membership, fellowship, and communion.

     The controversy over submersion led to the full emergence of Baptistism as a movement of popery. Once the physical symbol of complete dunking under water was accepted as the material evidence of having entered into the visible church of God, the Baptists had the ’brass ring’ to distinguish themselves as the true New Testament community in opposition to the Roman Catholics, paedobaptist Protestants, and ’Anabaptist’ radicals who practiced pouring. From that point forward, the movement quickly hardened in conformity to the Augustinian model of what constitutes a true church. There were many Baptist sects that emerged, differing in doctrine almost endlessly. But the basic principles of ecclesiology accepted were espoused by all. In order to prove allegiance to the apostolic gospel, one must submit to the ’church’ and its representative ordained popes who were entrusted by God with the entirety of true doctrine ordained by Him. Failure to do so proved that the rebel is an enemy of the gospel.

     There is no essential difference in ecclesiology between Baptist and Paedobaptist Protestants. They believe exactly the same doctrine; only the formal expression in ’sacrament’ or ’ordinance’ varies. However, since the Baptists claim to be the true nonconformists in relation to the Papacy--while continuing an Augustinian ecclesiology that is foreign to the New Testament gospel, their guilt is far greater in rebellion against the truth of God. The last but most successful remnant of popery in the world is the Baptist movement. As it exists and continues to prosper today, Baptistism is damned by God and will be consumed as stubble in the lake of fire at the judgment. Those participants in the movement who are elect--but deceived as to what constitutes the reality of what it consists of--will be plucked as brands from the burning. Knowing the way God works in history, we know that He will not damn the Baptist movement on earth as He damns it in heaven anytime soon. The reign of the dominating and controlling Baptist Popes over the consciences of men will continue for a long time. The Papacy itself, of which Baptistism is only a child variant in terms of ecclesiology, is still around. We can only assemble in small fellowships akin to the apostolic communities and celebrate our liberation from the tyranny of 19 centuries of church abuse. May we do so in absolute confidence and ascribe glory to God for the incredible and immensely transcendent light of the gospel that He has blessed us with! In the end, the judgment will sit and end the dominion of all forms of popery forever and ever!