Church History

Were the Novatians Early Baptists? Novatian's Reversal

(Read the series.)

What did Novatian really think about lapsed apostates? Could they ever be re-admitted to fellowship? Some irresponsible historians have painted a false picture in their writings. One of these men is G.H. Orchard, who wrote:

Novatian, with every considerate person, was disgusted with the hasty admission of such apostates to communion, and with the conduct of many pastors, who were more concerned about numbers than purity of communion.1

To Orchard, Novatian was a pious, principled Baptist—a man who exercised an influence of “an upright example, and moral suasion.”2 The fundamental question is this—is there any circumstance where an apostate may be re-admitted to fellowship in a local church? Is any amount of repentance sufficient? Or, are these believers cut off from fellowship, let alone membership, in a local church? Novatian believed the sin was unforgiveable. J.M. Cramp accurately summed up the issue:

Novatian held that apostacy was a sin which disqualified them from again entering into church fellowship, and to secure a pure community, he formed a separate church, which elected him for its pastor.3

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Were the Novatians Early Baptists? Part 2

Read part 1.

The doctrine of baptism

Baptists believe the New Testament teaches that baptism is only for a believer, by immersion, upon a profession of faith, as a step of obedience and public testimony. Baptists do not believe baptism is a means of grace or regeneration. Novatian disagreed with all of these propositions.

On the Apostolic Tradition (possibly written by Hippolytus) records the practices of the church in Rome in the early third century.1 Since the Decian persecution, and the subsequent Novatian schism, took place during the early to late 250s AD, the Apostolic Tradition is a very important resource for understanding how the church at Rome likely operated in Novatian’s day. It is a fact that the church practiced infant baptism:

You are to baptize the little ones first. All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak. With regard to those who cannot speak for themselves their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family, should speak. Then baptize the grown men and finally the women, after they have let down their hair and laid down the gold and silver ornaments which they have on them. Nobody should take any alien object down into the water.2

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Were the Novations Early Baptists?

Were the Novatians Baptists? Many Baptists like to claim the Novatians as their own. Landmarkers believe the Novatians were Baptists through and through. For example, J.R. Graves (1880) declared “that all the churches of Christ, before the ‘apostasy,’ which took place in the third and fourth centuries…were what are now called Baptist churches” (Old Landmarkism: What is It? Kindle Locations 2235-2236).

Thomas Armitage, the great Baptist historian, rightly said this was a rash characterization (1890, p. 482). If the Novatians cannot be claimed as direct descendants, can they be claimed as the distant spiritual kin of modern-day Baptists? Some Baptists would agree.

Much of what has been written of the Novatians by Baptists of any stripe is at best a gloss, and at worst completely incorrect. As an example of the latter, G.H. Orchard, a Landmarkist, wrote (1855):

One Novatian, a presbyter in the church of Rome, strongly opposed the readmission of apostates, but he was not successful…. Novatian, with every considerate person, was disgusted with the hasty admission of such apostates to communion, and with the conduct of many pastors, who were more concerned about numbers than purity of communion. (p. 53)

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Book Review - Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact

If you grew up in American evangelicalism, like I did, your grasp of church history, especially of the church fathers, may be relatively weak. Like a good fundamentalist, I grew up knowing all about D.L. Moody, George Whitfield, and Billy Sunday. I also had heard of Martin Luther and John Calvin, although I had more suspicion of them. But the church fathers were Roman Catholics from who knows when, and they didn’t have anything to teach me.

This idea, mind you, was “caught,” not “taught.” Church history has much to teach us, and the church fathers wouldn’t so easily fit into the mold of Catholicism as we know it. The early church fathers, especially, are worthy of study, and to them we owe thanks for an orthodox understanding and articulation of such important doctrines as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Overview

Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD), a Greek-speaking Bishop in what is now Turkey, was so important a figure in the fight for biblical orthodoxy, that he is remembered as Basil the Great. He may be the most significant church father that most people haven’t heard of. Athanasius gets more notoriety for defending the Trinity contra mundum (against the world), but Basil was right there with him. Basil’s writings against the Arians, and his work On the Holy Spirit, helped to provide the church with some of the terminology that would eventually make up the orthodox definition of the Trinity: “one essence, but three persons.”

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Christian Movies - Ministry or Menace? (Part 2)

After reading part one of this two-part series, and seeing all the good things accomplished by Christian films, one might wonder if anything could or should be wrong with them or if any negative aspects could or should overshadow the positive ones.

It was evident in the “Who’s Who in Religious Films” article that Youth for Christ lauded the Christian film industry as beneficial for missions and evangelistic efforts. However, those familiar with A.W. Tozer know that he was unsympathetic to that viewpoint. Tozer’s seven arguments against Christian films were abridged in Youth for Christ Magazine along with Evon Hedley’s seven arguments in favor of Christian films in an article titled “Christian Movies? The Pro and Con of Religious Films.” The pro arguments of Hedley and con arguments of Tozer in that 1954 article are summarized below.

A church service using a Christian film “is geared to the drawing in of the net for people to seek Christ as Saviour or to offer their lives as missionary volunteers.” Even though the entertainment world shows religious films in the theatre, the best place for them is the church where the service is planned for evangelistic purposes.

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Christian Movies - Ministry or Menace? (Part 1)

In January 1954, Youth for Christ Magazine, in the article “Who’s Who in Religious Films,” spotlighted key people and organizations involved in Christian film production. Around this same time, A.W. Tozer wrote “The Menace of the Religious Movie” in which he opposed the use of Christian films to portray spiritual or biblical dramatic performances. Youth for Christ was in favor of Christian films because of the decisions for Christ that accompanied them. However, they also recognized that there was opposition and sought to quell it by highlighting the positive aspects they saw with Christian films.

Below is a summary of the “Who’s Who” article presenting the justifications and rationale of those involved in and supportive of Christian films at that time.

The Early Days

C.O. Baptista was credited with pioneering the Christian film idea in the late 1930s. Baptista said that while using an object lesson during Sunday school “he suddenly caught a vision of what that same object lesson could do if presented as a motion picture in churches.” Baptista produced dramatic films, sermon-type pictures, and animated films. Reportedly, “hundreds of professions of faith” resulted from the showing of just one of his dramatic films.

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