Rom 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

THE EARLY CHURCH

During the first few centuries of the church no central organisation was found.  Each congregation was autonomous, but fellowshipped with other churches.  Converts were made by preaching (evangelising).  When a new convert made the decision to become a ‘Christian’, he or she was baptised by immersion in water for the forgiveness of their sins without delay.  The main worship service was held on the first day of the week (Sunday) when the Lord’s Supper was taken by all the believers as a memorial of Christ.  Under the Catholic church the Lord’s Supper became a sacrifice of Christ held at each mass.

When the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great legalised Christianity from 313 onwards the church became popular with the pagan masses.  These people brought their own doctrines into the church while through Constantine the churches began to take on a more formal organisation following the pattern of the Empire.  With the collapse of the Empire it was very difficult for the organised (Catholic) church to impose its will on Europe and even less so in the East.  Under such conditions it was possible for the true church to exist, but only for awhile.

From around 900 onwards the Catholic church became far more dogmatic in it’s opinions and doctrines which resulted in a defence of the Gospel from both inside and outside the Catholic church.

In France and Italy at this time many leaders in the Catholic church were getting increasingly concerned about the teachings and the growing power of the pope.  By the year 900 congregations were being formed which were separate from the Catholic Church.  The Catholic concept of the clergy was abandoned and no objection was found if those employed full time wished to be married.  No special distinctions were made between those who were full time and those who were not.  All believers were equal in Christ.

Evangelists were baptising believers into Christ, starting congregations throughout Europe.   Each congregation was autonomous, with no hierarchy out side the local church.  They met together on Sundays, often in their homes, to share together the Lord’s Supper as a memorial.  

After the Norman conquest of England of 1066, French became the official language of England.   The territory of William the first of England extended from the Scottish borders across to Normandy and Italy.  For the next two to three centuries ‘English’ kings would spend more time in away in France and elsewhere than in England (as fans of Robin Hood well know).  With a common language and an absence of border controls these true Evangelists of Christ were able to spread His Gospel across much of Europe, England and even into the East.

At first the response from the Catholic church in an unsettled Europe was slow.  When the threat was realised the penalty for these evangelists was being burnt alive. 

Records of the Catholic persecutions give us but few names, but we do know about the efforts of Gundulphus who lived around 1025, Berengar of Tours, died 1088, Pierre de Bruys, executed 1140, Arnold of Brescia who lived around 1100, and Henry of Toulouse who was possibly executed by burning around 1150.

It is wrong to confuse Reformation with Restoration.  The Restoration has always been around, the Reformed churches started after 1520. The Reformed church in Europe and England sought to destroy New Testament congregations with as much vehemence and hatred as that shown by Nero in the first century.

When quoting from early witnesses and from the people themselves it must be remembered that most grew up Catholics and quite often reached high positions within Catholic orthodoxy before questioning the Catholic Doctrines.  It often took a number of years for them to reach their conclusions.  As a result it is possible by editing the information about them that virtually any conclusion can be made.  Many of these people such as Berengarius, Wycliffe and Tyndale are known to have rejected transubstantiation and other Catholic teachings, and as a result in most church histories these are shown to be early Protestant Reformers.  What is less well known, almost to the point of secrecy is that they also seem, unlike the Reformers, to have rejected infant baptism in favour of believers baptism.  The followers of these people rejected and left the Catholic church in favour of the church of the Bible, the church of Christ.

The earliest date for Christianity arriving in Britain has been set at the year 37 although other historians date it later at around the year 58/63.  Eusebius the fourth century historian says “The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Brittanic Isles”.  Tertullian Says “The regions of Britain which have never been penetrated by Roman Arms have received the religion of Christ”.

The Historian Crosby says that Claudia Ruffina was a British convert to Christianity.   She was wife to Pudens, a Roman Senator. Crosby says this is the Claudia mentioned by Paul in 2Ti 4:21.

Early Christianity spread from Asia Minor to Europe and into southern Britain independent of Rome.  During the fourth century the Celtic church had evangelised well into Europe and as the Roman Empire collapsed much evangelising from the Celtic church took place without hindrance from Rome.   While the Roman Catholic church was evangelising southern Britain, Celtic missionaries from Wales were evangelising Europe!  The Christianity of Britain was of early Palestinian influence and not the later Roman, in origin.

The British king Lucius (king of Llandaff possibly south England) was converted to Christianity during 167 and turned to Rome instead of the native British church.  It was Lucius the son of Toilus who built up Camulodunum (It had been burnt down by Boadicea during her revolt).  It later known as Colchester, his capital city.  It was through Lucius that Roman influence first started to find its way into Britain.

The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great was of British descent.  It was Constantine who legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire between 311 and 312 being the first Christian Emperor (died 337).  His mother Helena was married to the Roman Senator Constantius who was sent to Britain as a Legate. Constantine’s grandfather was king (most likely a duke or earl, being made a puppet king under the Roman Legate) Coel, of Colchester (of nursery rhyme fame ‘Old king Cole’). Constantine whilst brought up by a Christian mother did not receive baptism until shortly before his death.  This is evidence, though weak, that during this period baptism was not being universally used for infants.  Constantine was made Emperor at York after his father died, his father having been a Caesar.  Modern historians deny that Constantine was of British descent, but the evidence is very strong for his being English and having a Christian background.  After the Apostles, Constantine has possibly had more influence on Christianity than anyone else.  Through Constantine and the legalisation of Christianity, paganism entered the church, saint worship, etc.

It was in the year 469 that the Saxons invaded south east Britain overthrowing Christianity. Possibly the Christian king Arthur the Great was the last Celtic (pre-English) king to oppose the Angles and Saxons.  Christians fled to Cornwall and Wales.  About the year 596 Augustine arrived in England and started to convert the Saxons, baptising in rivers by immersion.  There is no mention in Britain of the baptising of children prior to Augustine.  The baptism of Augustine may have been triune immersion as opposed to single immersion of the Celts.  It would therefore appear that infant baptism (triune immersion) arrived in England around the year 600.

Baptising in Britain’s church buildings did not begin until about the year 627 when king Edwin built a baptistery, to be baptised in.

In the year 689 king Inas, Ine or Iva of the West Saxons made the law that infants should be baptised (triune immersed) within thirty days of their birth.  He also made it an offence to break Sabbath laws and gave the right of sanctuary in church buildings.   Further laws or church councils (synods) in Britain confirming immersion as the, or a, mode of baptism were passed in 821, 1106, 1172, 1195, 1200, 1217, 1220, 1224, 1240, 1287, 1306, 1422, 1547, 1564 and 1571.  In 1603 a cannon was passed in the Church of England declaring both immersion and aspersion acceptable modes, although aspersion had been practised previously.  In 1645 sprinkling was declared favourable and from this date immersion in the Church of England would disappear.

In the early seventh century the Catholic-Augustinian inspired massacre took place at Bangor with the loss of around 1200 members of the Celtic church.  Bede says that small groups of independent Christian congregations were still in Wales, despite Catholic efforts to stop them.  The last part of England to fall to the Catholics was Cornwall.

There is good evidence that Celtic churches believed in the universal priesthood of believers, believers immersion, and autonomous congregations with elected Elders and Deacons.   Celtic monks often had their own homes, were married and had secular employment, not considering themselves to be monks but Christians.  (The term monk seems to come from later Catholic historians).  There is evidence that ‘believers’ immersion along with infant immersion continued up to around 1000 AD in the Church of England, and then only infant immersion continued, this ceased from approximately 1620.  From between the 1620s and 1640s onwards the practice of the church of England has been infant sprinkling or pouring.  The German Reformer Martin Luther (died 1546) practised the immersion of children and taught that this was the correct mode, he also concluded at one time that believers baptism was correct, but his Augustinian theology prevented him from teaching and practising this. At first from the evidence the Celtic church was biblical, then in time fell away before becoming part of the Roman Catholic Church.

 

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