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A Sermon on Church Identity PDF Print E-mail
Written by John R. Daily   


Primitive Monitor -- June, 1918

Delivered by Elder John R. Daily, at the Lebanon Church, Mount Summit, Indiana, May 12, 1918
    As this church was constituted ninety years ago, the brethren have insisted that I deliver an address on “Church Identity and History.” Compliance with this request is attended with some degree of embarrassment, because of having with us these precious brethren in the ministry whom I esteem so highly. I am sure, however, that they know my feelings in the matter. I have said to some of my friends that I did not know whether this effort should be considered a sermon or a lecture. At any rate, I humbly trust the Lord will enable me to so deliver it that what I say will prove edifying and comforting to the children of God.
    I will call your attention to four passages of scripture. The first is Daniel 2:44: “In the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break into pieces and destroy all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” The second passage is Daniel 7:18: “But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom and possess it forever, even forever and ever.” The first passage was spoken by Daniel, in connection with his interpretation of the kings’ dream of the great image, and the second, in connections with his relation of his vision of the four beasts. Both had reference to the same kingdoms and to the setting up of the church. You will observe that Daniel says that the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but that the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and shall possess it forever, even forever and ever. It was not to be given to the world, but to the saints of the Most High. The third passage is the declaration of Christ as recorded in Matthew 16:18: “Upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The “Rock” I understand to be, Christ revealed in the experience of his children. The “gates of hell” means the power of Satan and the world; all opposing powers. The other scripture I desire you to notice is Heb. 12:28: “Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may sere God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear.”
    It is not my purpose to undertake an elaborate treatment of these texts. I merely quote them as a foundation upon which to build. In speaking of the kingdom which cannot be moved, reference is had to the former dispensation in contrast, which is mentioned by the apostle as being shaken. What cannot be moved, never will be moved. AS it is declared that the kingdom or church of Christ should stand forever, it will stand forever. As he said the gates of hell shall not prevail against is, so as to destroy it, it never has been destroyed, and never will be. All other references in the Bible to this subject are in perfect agreement with the scriptures I here present. It is the teaching of the word of God, then, that the church set up by Christ has not become extinct, and never will. That very church is in existence to-day. It shall be my contention in this discourse that this church is the Primitive Baptist Church. I want it understood, however, that we do not confine Christianity to this church in saying that it is the only church of Christ. There are children of God in all the churches with which I am familiar, and may who do not belong to any denomination. One does not have to belong to church to be a child of God. In fact, no one is entitled to a place in the church until he is born of God. A great many make the mistake of supposing that we must become members of the church to be children of God. That is not true. In saying that people do not belong to the true church, we do not unchristianize them.
    The church set up by Christ has never suited the world. The world has never been pleased with its doctrine and practice. Many attempts have been made to change the church to suit the world, but these attempts have always ended in failures. Either the party making the attempt went to nothing, or a new organization or denomination was formed. Jones says in his church history: “As the church at Jerusalem was the first Christian church established by the ministry of the apostles, so it was designed to serve as a pattern, in its faith and order, to all succeeding churches to the end of the world.” Christ knew what the people would need in all ages, and arranged to meet their needs in the church he set up. He did not authorize changes to be made to suit the world, as its customs and advancement might seem to require. His church had no worldly auxiliaries, but consisted of a band of baptized believers, united under the simple rules laid down by him for their observance.
    There was but one denomination claiming to be the church of Christ from the time it was set up by him till the year 251. Near the middle of the third century, Philip was Emperor of the Roman Empire and Fabian was pastor of the church in Rome. Fabian was a man of noble character, so much so that Philip entrusted to him much treasure. Philip died so was succeeded by Decius, who was not favorable to the church. Under his reign a great persecution broke out. He demanded that Fabian deliver the treasures Philip had placed in his charge. He did not receive as much as he expected, and ordered that Fabian be put to death. He was, accordingly, beheaded January 20, 250. From that time till some time in 251, the church at Rome was without a pastor. Many irregularities had crept into the church. In fact, there were irregularities in the church in the days of the apostles. Paul wrote his two letters to the church at Corinth to correct the mistakes they had been making in that church. But there was a party in the church at the time of which I am now speaking, who were in favor of very loose discipline. Multitudes flocked into the church in times of peace who had no experimental change, and in times of persecution these would go out and join in the worship of idols. Then, when a reign of peace returned, they came pouring back into the church again. There was a preacher  in the church at Rome who zealously contended for strict church discipline and for a regenerated membership. His name was Novatian. Cornelius, another preacher, was in favor of admitting great numbers without regard to their character. In 251 and election was held in the church and Cornelius received a majority of the votes and was elected bishop, or pastor. Novatian protested against this disorder and withdrew, and a large number followed his example in that church and many in different parts of the country. The opposite party claimed to be the Catholic church; that is, the universal church. Up to this time the name “Roman Catholic” was unknown, and there was no such person as “pope” as I shall hereafter show.
    The Novatian party called themselves Cathari; that is, the “pure” – setting up the claim of being the pure, original church of Christ. They were called by their adversaries “Novatians” after their acknowledged leader. One of these Novatians, the Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge says: “Novatians, a numerous body of Protestant dissenters from the church of Rome, in the third century , who, notwithstanding the representations of their adversaries, have some just claims to be regarded as the pure, uncorrupted, and apostolic church of Christ. They called themselves “Cathari”, that is, Pure; but they received their name Novatians from their leader, Novatian, who, in the year 251, was ordained the pastor of a church in the city of Rome, which maintained no fellowship with the (so called) Catholic party.” The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge is a great work. It was not gotten up by Baptists. The books from which I shall quote in this address I have in my library. I have sixteen volumes of Church History, besides a number of encyclopedias and theological dictionaries. All of these, except one, Elder Hassell's’, were written by persons who were not Primitive Baptists. I remember when yet young of reading Orchard’s History, and took great interest in it. From that time to this I have taken interest in the study of church history. Mr. Robinson, in his Ecclesiastical Researches, in giving an account of this first rupture in the church, says, “In the end, Novatian formed a church, and was elected bishop. Great numbers followed his example, and all over the empire Puritan churches were constituted and flourished through the succeeding two hundred years. Afterwards, when penal laws obliged them to lurk in dark corners, and worship God in private, they were distinguished by a variety of names, and a succession of them continued till the Reformation.”
    When the severe laws and the persecutions by the Catholic party compelled the Novatians to “lurk in dark corners and worship God in private,” as Robinson says, multitudes  of them fled to the valleys of northern Italy and Switzerland; the valley of Piedmont and other hiding places, where they became known by the name of “Waldenses,” which meant valley dwellers. The name is not derived from Peter Waldo, as some have asserted. The valleys occupied by them were fertile, and afforded them protection for a time from the persecutions of their enemies. They spread into France and other parts of the country and became known by different names. The name “Anabaptists” was given them because they baptized those who came over to them from the Catholic party. Anabaptists means rebaptizers. They disclaimed the name. They contended they did not rebaptize, for those who had belonged to the Catholics had never been really baptized. One baptism is enough. But baptism performed by those who are not the church of Christ, is not baptism properly, whether administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion.
    A name is not essential to the identity of the things named. The name of a town may be changed, but it is the same town; a man marries a woman and she takes his name, but she is the very same woman. So, the identity of the church does not depend upon the name. It depends upon the doctrine and practice of the church; it’s faith and order. In Perrin’s History of the Ancient Waldenses, Albigenses, and Vaudois, is said, “The same people; that is, people substantially agreed in faith and practice, were called by different names derived from their places of residence; from the names of distinguished leaders, and from a variety of minor circumstances: as, Albigenses, from their principal seat being in the neighborhood of Albi, France; Bohemian Brethren, from their being found in great numbers in Bohemia; Cathari, or Puritans, from their opposition to the corruption of Papacy; Leonists, or Poor Men of Lyons, from their chief residence in the city of Lyons; Petrobrusians, Arnoldists, and Henricians, from the names of distinguished ministers and leaders, and a variety of other appellations familiar to students of ecclesiastical history.”

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