When I was growing up, my pastor believed in and taught the heresy of Landmarkism. It didn’t make sense to me, and I rejected it before I knew why. Landmarkism says that the original church practiced and worshiped a certain way, but others began to pervert the practices and established a false church. The true church went into hiding while the official church rewrote history. Finally, a reformation happened and the Baptists re-emerged in prominence and continue to this day. My pastor explained it like a horse entering the forest: we saw it go in and we saw it come out, so we assume it was the same horse. According to Landmarkism, congregations of other denominational varieties are merely religious gatherings, or “societies,” with no claim to the title “church.” According to English Baptist pastor G. H. Orchard’s assertion in his book, A Concise of the Baptists (1838):

During the first three centuries, Christian congregations, all over the East, subsisted in separate independent bodies, unsupported by government, and consequently without any secular power over one another. All this time they were Baptist churches…

A better doctrine is that the early church simply formalized itself and became orthodox for about a thousand years, forgetting the truth of the early Gospel. On study says that we remember only half of what we learn, and our children only learn half of our half, until very quickly there is only a sliver of truth left. That is what happened to the Catholic church until the mid-1400s, when the printing press allowed the Bible to be reproduced in mass quantities, instead of being hand-written by cloistered monks.
As people began to read the truth for themselves, a Spirit-led reformation broke out all over Europe. Martin Luther got the most attention, in part because he was so vocal in his protestations against the established state church they called him a Protest-ant (Protestant). But there were others, Zwingly, Huss, (Moravian), about a dozen groups in all, all over Europe. It was a true Reformation. One of those groups taught that infant baptism was a wrong reading of scripture, and should be a full-immersion symbol of new birth; these re-baptizers, these ana-Baptists, believed in holding fast to the Word of God, the scriptures, as final authority.
During the Thousand years of Roman Catholic prominence, the gospel came to people who didn’t read. So the church installed stained glass windows that told Bible stories, and commissioned statues of Bible heroes, and sermons were preached using those statues and windows, so the parents could pass on the Bible truths.
(see examples at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stained_glass_windows#Medieval_glass)
Instead, the people began to worship the windows and the statues. One of the reforms, especially by the Baptists, was to remove those icons, those windows and statues. Some took to building plain white churches with clear windows and no ornamentation at all.

The Roman Catholics and Protestants alike persecuted the Anabaptists, resorted to torture and other types of physical abuse, in attempts both to curb the growth of the movement and bring about the salvation of the heretics (through recantation). The Protestants under Zwingli were the first to persecute the Anabaptists. Felix Manz became the first martyr in 1527. (Wikipedia)

In Holland, in 1608-1609 Puritan Separatists were being persecuted for not following the teachings of the state church.  However, when the Puritans made their way to the New World, to the Massachusetts colony, these Puritans soon began to establish their own form of a state church, one that didn’t accept true freedom of religion.  Roger Williams and others escaped south to Rhode Island, but persecution continued.

In 1651, John Clarke and two of his church members, John Crandall and Obadiah Holmes, courageously traveled from Newport, Rhode Island, to Lynn, Massachusetts, to conduct a worship service in the home of William Witter, a blind and aging Baptist. The police interrupted the worship service and arrested Clarke, Crandall, and Holmes.  They took them to Boston to be tried for breaking the intolerant laws of Massachusetts. Friends paid fines for Clarke and Crandall, and they were released. But Obadiah Holmes refused to let his fine be paid. As a result he was lashed thirty times with a “three-coarded whip” on Market Street in downtown Boston. At the end of the humiliating whipping, Holmes looked to the civil magistrates and said, “You have struck me as with Roses”

Persecution continued.  William Screven, who had emigrated from England to New England in the 1640s.  When he was in his 40s, in January of 1682,  he was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Boston so that he might establish a church in Kittery, Maine, which he did on September 25 of that year.  In 1696, because he would not compromise on doctrine, Rev. Screven and the congregation moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and became  the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, which is the oldest Baptist church in the South. Rev. Screven died in 1713 and was buried on his personal property.

Baptist influence is clear in our constitution. The Rhode Island Baptists lobbied Thomas Jefferson for protections of religious freedom and freedoms of speech. He was persuaded, and included them as the first 2 statements of rights, the first 2 amendments to the Constitution. It was not a freedom from religion, but a freedom to practice without a government telling its people what it could or could not do in its worship.

(next:  Other Confessions)

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