Skip navigation.

Baptist Church History (Part 4) - 1st Century Churches; Montanists; Novatians; Donatists

|

For a master copy of the outline, click here: Baptist Church History

X. The lineage of true Baptist churches from the 1st to the 21st century
1. The first century churches
A. John the Baptist was the first Baptist (Mat 3:1).
i. John opened up the New Testament church era (Luk 16:16).
ii. John was the first to announce the arrival of the kingdom of God/heaven (Mat 3:2) which is the NT church (see Section II).
B. Jesus built His church in Jerusalem (Mat 16:18).
i. Prior to Jesus' ascension into heaven, He gave the apostles a commission to preach the gospel and baptize people in all the world (Mat 28:19-20; Mar 16:15).
a. They were to start in Jerusalem, then go to Judea, then Samaria, and finally to the uttermost parts of the world (Act 1:8).
b. They did it (Mar 16:20).
c. The gospel went to all the world (Col 1:6) and to every creature (Col 1:23).
d. They so effectively fulfilled Jesus' commission that it was said by their enemies that they had turned the world upside down (Act 17:6).
ii. The Jerusalem church had about 120 members on the day of Pentecost (Act 1:15).
iii. The Jerusalem church quickly grew to over 3000 members on the day of Pentecost (Act 2:41).
iv. Within a short time 5000 more were added (Act 4:4) and their number was multiplied many times over (Act 5:14; Act 6:1; Act 6:7).
C. The church in Samaria.
i. There arose a persecution of the church in Jerusalem which scattered the church throughout Judea and Samaria (Act 8:1).
ii. Philip the evangelist when down to Samaria, preached the gospel, and started a church there (Act 8:4-5; Act 8:12 c/w Act 9:31).
D. The church at Antioch.
i. Those that were scattered from the persecution in Jerusalem when to Antioch preaching the gospel and a church was started there (Act 11:19-26).
ii. It was at the church in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (Act 11:26).
E. The churches of Asia.
i. From the church in Antioch, the apostle Paul was sent on several evangelistic trips (Act 13:1-2).
ii. Paul preached the gospel and started churches throughout Asia and Greece.
a. 1st trip - Act 13:3-14:26
b. 2nd trip - Act 15:40-18:22
c. 3rd trip - Act 18:23-21:16
F. Paul preached the gospel in Rome and a church was started there (Act 19:21; Act 28:16; Rom 1:7).
G. Paul endeavored to go to Spain as well, but the scripture doesn't say if he made it or not (Rom 15:24,28).

2. The Montanists (2nd - 10th centuries)
A. The Montanists were named after their prominent leader, Montanus.
B. They were found in Asia and northern Africa from the 2nd to the 10th centuries.
i. "In historic times Phrygia comprised the greater part of Asia Minor. “Montanism” appeared there about the middle of the second century.

"Montanism enrolled its hosts and was one of the greatest Christian influences throughout the early Christian centuries. As there was at the time, when Montanism arose, no essential departure from the faith in the action, the subjects of Baptism, church government or doctrine, the Montanists, on these points, were Baptists.

"Of the Montanists, Armitage says: “Tertullian and the Montanists denied that baptism was the channel of grace.” (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 69)
ii. "Guericke: “The Montanists maintained themselves as a distinct sect down to the sixth century..." (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 240)
iii. "Gieseler says: “The Montanists in Asia continued down to the tenth century."" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 240)
iv. "Möller says: “But Montanism was, nevertheless, not a new form of Christianity; nor were the Montanists a new sect. On the contrary, Montanism was simply a reaction of the old, the primitive church, against the obvious tendency of the day, to strike a bargain with the world and arrange herself comfortably in it.” (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 76)
C. Montanus was opposed to the Gnosticism, which was prevalent in the days of the early church.
i. "Against “Gnostocism, Montanism was the shyest and most self-sufficient.” Gnostocism was, at that time, the great and dangerous enemy of true Christianity. Another well-known historian says: “Among those hostile to the Alexandrian school, is to be numbered Montanus. His aim evidently was to maintain or to restore the scriptural simplicity, nature and character of the religion of the New Testament with a constant reliance on the promise of the Holy Spirit.”" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 69)
D. The "church father", Tertullian was a prominent Montanist.
i. "The corruption of the church, with which Tertullian stood connected at Carthage, was more than a match for his reforming zeal, he consequently quitted it, and united himself to the Montanists, about six years after he had given them his views on baptism. In this society Tertullian's principles met encouragement; his austerity was indulged; and the purity of communion sought in the old church, was realized in its wished-for sanctity. A separate congregation of these people was formed by him at Carthage, which continued two hundred years. Tertullian's method of admitting members with the Montanists, was by severe examination, and they rebaptized all such as joined them from other communities." (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 73)
ii. "It was at Carthage in Africa, however, that the sect gained a real foothold. There it won its most illustrious convert in Tertullian (q.v.), who began his progress toward Montanism c.206 and finally broke with the church in 212-213." (Montanism, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 15, p.775)
E. The Montanists, like Baptists, believed that only regenerate people (believers) should be church members.
i. "Armitage: “The one prime idea held by the Montanists in common with Baptists, and in distinction to the churches of the third century was, that the membership of the churches should be confined to purely regenerate persons; and that a spiritual life and discipline should be maintained without any affiliation with the authority of the State. Exterior church organization and the efficacy of the ordinances did not meet their idea of Gospel church existence without the indwelling Spirit of Christ, not in the bishops alone, but in all Christians. For this reason Montanus was charged with assuming to be the Holy Spirit, which was simply a slander.”" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 74-75)
F. The history of the Montanists, like many other Christian groups, is largely told by the Catholics and publications which are sympathetic to Catholicism which serve as Catholic propaganda, such as the following:
i. "It was now obvious that the Montanist doctrine was in fact an attack on the Catholic faith; even though some Christian teachers seem to have advocated treating it leniently, the bishops of Asia Minor gathered in synods and finally excommunicated the followers of Montanus, probably about the year 177, under the leadership of Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia." (Montanism, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 15, p.775)
ii. "Its destruction as a sect was tragic, for, when they were proscribed by a decree of Justinian, the Phrygian Montanists shut themselves in their churches and burned them down. (Montanism, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 15, p.775)
iii. "Some liberal Protestant scholars have argued that as the church was becoming more at home in the world and was developing a philosophical theology, a more elaborate penitential and sacramental system and a more tightly knit ministry, the Montanists arose and protested in the name of primitive enthusiasm. The Catholic Church was then created. There is little evidence, however, to support the notions either that Christianity underwent a revolution in the course of the 2nd century or that the Montanists were trying to recover a primitive ideal." (Montanism, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 15, p.775)

3. The Novatians (3rd - 6th Centuries)
A. The Novatians were named after Novatian, a prominent pastor who was converted at Rome in 250AD. They were spread throughout the Roman Empire.
i. "When Decius came to the throne in 249, he required by edicts all persons in the empire to conform to Pagan worship....Decius's edicts rent asunder the churches, multitudes apostatized, and many were martyred. In two years the trial abated, when many apostates applied for restoration to Christian fellowship...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." (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 52-53)
ii. "“The occasion of the schism was the election of Cornelius bishop of Rome. Novatian was elected by a minority who objected to the lax discipline favored by Cornelius.” Scriptural church discipline, consecrated church membership and church purity, being the issues between Cornelius and Novatian, in their candidacy for the pastorate of the church of Rome, the election of Cornelius was equivalent to a repudiation, by the majority of that church, of these marks of a scriptural Church. There being no other course left, the scriptural minority of that church, led by Novatian, withdrew fellowship from the unscriptural majority." (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 77-78)
iii. Novatian withdrew himself from every brother that walked disorderly (2Th 3:6).
iv. "Robinson says: “The case is briefly this: Novatian was an elder in the Church of Rome. He was a man of extensive learning, and held the same doctrine as the church did, and published several treatise in defence of what he believed. His address was eloquent and insinuating, and his morals were irreproachable. He saw with extreme pain the intolerable depravity of the church, Christians within the space of a very few years were caressed by one emperor and persecuted by another. In seasons of prosperity many rushed into the church for base purposes. In times of adversity they denied the faith and ran back to idolatry again. When the squall was over, away they came again to the church, with all their vices, to deprave others by their example. The bishops, fond of proselytes, encouraged all this, and transferred the attention of Christians from the old confederacy for virtue, to vain shows at Easter, and a thousand other Jewish ceremonies, adulterated, too, with paganism. On the death of Bishop Fabian, Cornelius, a brother elder, and a vehement partisan for taking in the multitude, was put in nomination. Novatian opposed him; but as Cornelius carried his election and he saw no prospect of reformation, but, on the contrary, a tide of immorality pouring into the church, he withdrew and a great many with him. … Great numbers followed his example, and all over the empire Puritan churches were constituted, and flourished through the succeeding two hundred years. Afterward, when penal laws obliged them to lurk in corners and in private, they were distinguished by a variety of names and a succession of them continued until the Reformation.” (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 86-87)
B. The Novatians were spread far and wide for several centuries.
i. "The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia says: “In the fifth century the Novatians had … many churches … the party lived on until the sixth or seventh century.” (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 239)
ii. "The Novatians extended throughout: “the Roman Empire, from Armenia to Numedia, in Spain. They were especially strong in Phrygeia, where the Montanists fused with them, and in the great cities, Constantinople, Alexandria, Carthage and Rome.”" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 77)
C. The Novatians were Anabaptist/Baptist in practice.
i. "To remove all human appendages, the Novatianists said to candidates, "If you be a virtuous believer, and will accede to our confederacy against sin, you may be admitted among us by baptism, or if any catholic has baptized you before, by rebaptism." They were at later periods called anabaptists." (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 55)
ii. "J.M. Cramp, D.D., whom Dr. Armitage pronounces, “A sound theologian and thoroughly versed in ecclesiastical history.” “We may safely infer that they abstained from compliance with the innovation, and that the Novatian churches were what are now called Baptist churches, adhering to the apostolic and primitive practice.”" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 88)

4. The Donatists (4th - 8th Centuries)
A. The Donatists were named after a prominent leader in the 4th century named Donatus and were widely dispersed across northern Africa.
i. "“The Donatists agitation arose in north Africa, A.D. 311, in what are now known as the Barbary States; but it centered in Carthage, Numidia, and the Mauritanias. Its field covered nearly seven degrees of north latitude, immense centers of commerce and influence, soils and climate, marking a stretch of land 2000 miles long by about 300 wide, reaching from Egypt to the Atlantic and fringing the Atlas mountains, the Mediterranean and the desert …Mensurius, Bishop of Carthage, manfully opposed the mania which led thousands to court martyrdom in order to take the martyr’s crown; because he thought it savored more of suicide than of enforced sacrifice for Christ. But he died in 311, and Caecilianus, who was of the same opinion, was ordained in his place, with which election a majority were dissatisfied. Others were displeased because he had been ordained by Felix, who was charged with giving up the Bible to be burnt, and a division took place in the church. The retiring party first elected Majorinus, their bishop, who soon died, and after him Donatus, of Caste Nigrae. This party was greatly increased and was read out of the Catholic body, Constantine taking sides against them.”" (W.A. Jarrel (quoting from Armitage's Baptist History, pp. 200-201), Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 89)
ii. "Their influence must have been considerable, since as Mr. Jones remarks, "There was scarcely a city or town in Africa in which there was not a Donatist church."" (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 89)
iii. "Despite almost continuous pressure from the successive Roman, Vandal and Byzantine rulers of north Africa, the Donatist church survived until the extinction of Christianity in north Africa in the early middle ages." (Donatists, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 7, p.580)
B. The Donatists were very similar to the Novatianists and Montanists in doctrine and discipline.
i. "The Donatists and Novatianists very nearly resembled each other in doctrines and discipline;" (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 86)
ii. "Historically, the Donatists belong to the tradition of early Christianity that produced the Montanist and Novatianist movements in Asia Minor and the Meletians in Egypt." (Donatists, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968 Ed., Vol. 7, p.581)
C. The Donatists were Anabaptists by definition, in that they rebaptized Catholic converts.
i. "They [Donatists] baptized converts from paganism, and they re-baptized all those persons who came over to their fellowship from other communities;" (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 86)
ii. "Fourthly, they [Donatists] baptized again those whose first baptism they had reason to doubt. They were consequently termed Re-baptizers, and Anabaptists. Osiander says, our modern anabaptists were the same with the Donatists of old. Fuller, the English church historian, asserts, that the Baptists in England, in his days, were the Donatists new dipped: and Robinson declares, they were Trinitarian Anabaptists." (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 87)
iii. "“Like the Novatians, they insisted on absolute purity in the church, although they allowed that penitents might be readmitted into their communion. Their own churches they regarded pure while they denounced the Catholics as schismatics, who had no fellowship with Christ, and whose sacraments were therefore invalid. On this ground they rebaptized their proselytes.”" (W.A. Jarrel (quoting from Kurtz' Church History, vol. 1, p. 246), Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 90)
iv. "...in maintaining that the sanctity of their bishops gave their community alone the full right to be considered as the true, and pure, the holy church; and in their avoiding all communication with other churches from an apprehension of contracting their impurity and corruption. This erroneous principle was the source of that most shocking uncharitableness and presumption that appeared in their conduct to other churches. Hence they pronounced the sacred rites and institutions void of all virtue and efficiency among those Christians who were not precisely of their sentiments and not only rebaptized those who came over to their party from other churches, but even with respect to those who had been ordained ministers of the gospel, observed the severe custom either of depriving them of their office, or obliging them to be ordained the second time.” Who can not see in this the picture of the Baptists of our own times and see the denunciation of Mosheim the very words of present Baptist opponents?" (W.A. Jarrel (quoting from Mosheim's History, part 2, ch.5, sec.8), Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 91)
D. The Donatists rigorously practiced church discipline.
i. "“The Donatists maintained that the church should cast out from its body those who were known by open and manifest sins to be unworthy members.”" (W.A. Jarrel (quoting from Neander's Church History, vol. 2, p. 205), Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 93)
ii. "Dupin, a Roman Catholic, says: “The Donatists maintained that the true church ought to consist of none but holy and just men. They confessed the bad might be mixed with the good in the church, but only as secret sinners, not as open offenders.”" (W.A. Jarrel (quoting from Baptist Layman's Book, p. 19), Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 93)
E. The Donatists, unlike the Roman Catholics, were not infant baptizers.
i. "Says Armitage, “Long says: ‘They refused infant baptism.’” Long was an Episcopalian and wrote a history of the Donatists. Guy de Bres said: “That they demanded that baptized infants ought to be baptized again as adults.” Augustine, replying to the Donatists: “Do you ask for divine authority in this matter? Though that which the whole church practices is very reasonably believed to be no other than a thing delivered by the Apostles, yet we may take a true estimate, how much the sacrament of baptism does profit infants, beg the circumcision which God’s former people received.” Osiander, says: “Our modern Anabaptists are the same as the Donatists of old.” Fuller, Episcopalian: “The Anabaptists are the Donatists new dipt.” As the Anabaptists were especially noted for opposition to infant baptism, Fuller’s statement is very clearly against the Donatists having baptized infants. Bullinger is often quoted as saying: “The Donatists and the Anabaptists held the same opinion.”" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 95-96)
ii. "Bohringer, a late biographer of Augustine, says: “Infant baptism is the only point of difference between Augustine and the Donatists, and this grew out of the Donatist notion of the church.”" (W.A. Jarrel (quoting from Church in the Wilderness, p. 42), Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 96)
iii. "Augustine presided over a council of 92 ministers, which aimed at the Donatists, Montanists and Novatians, declared: “We will that whoever denies that little children by baptism are freed from perdition and eternally saved, that they be accursed.”" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 97)
F. The Donatists were opposed to the union of church and state and they were therefore persecuted, not the persecutors.
i. "The interested part that Constantine took in the dispute, led the Donatists to inquire, What has the emperor to do with the church? What have Christians to do with kings? or What have bishops to do at court? Constantine, finding his authority questioned and even set at nought by these Baptists, listened to the advice of his bishops and court, and deprived the Donatists of their churches. This persecution was the first which realized the support of a Christian emperor, and Constantine went so far as to put some of the Donatists to death." (G.H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, page 86)
ii. "History clearly shows the Donatists utterly opposed to persecution and the union of church and State. Petillian describes a true church as one which “does not persecute, nor inflame the minds of emperors against their subjects, nor seize on the property of others, nor kill men.” Benedict says the Donatists “uniformly represented their community” as the one “which suffers persecution, but does not persecute.” “A people who suffer persecution, but do not persecute was their stereotyped and cherished motto.” “Nowhere in all church history, can be found a more non-resisting people under the assaults of their enemies except by arguments.” “They were treated as rebels by Macaries, the Roman general, and his mission and policy were to hurry them into the Catholic church, peaceably if he could, forcibly if he must.” In their controversy with the Catholics “one often finds repetition of the following pertinent questions of the reformers: ‘What has the emperor to do with the church? What have the bishops to do at the palace? What has Christianity to do with the kings of this world?’” “At an early period this persecuted people entirely renounced the church and State policy, and, of course, ‘What has the emperor to do with the church?’ was their reply to the offers of royal bounty.” (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 102-103)
iii. "Guericke says: “The emperor sent them money for distribution as a loan, but Donatus Magnus, sent it back with the obstinate protestation against the union of church and State.”" (W.A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 103)

For a master copy of the outline, click here: Baptist Church History