The Pilgrim Church, Broadbent’s understanding of Augustine

 

As I continue to read E. H. Broadbent’s The Pilgrim Church, I’m finding more that is helpful. 

Recently I took part in an online discussion about John Calvin and Martin Luther, in which they were criticized for continuing the practice of infant baptism after leaving the Catholic Church; and because of their practice of infant baptism, the genuineness of their faith was called into question. The blame for this ultimately landed at Augustine’s feet – these Reformers had refused to set aside his views. This saddened and frustrated me because I know that believers differ about infant vs. believer’s baptism, and that not all who practice infant baptism consider it regeneration.

So, these men were merely men – they sometimes erred. Their views on nonessentials shouldn’t be a test of the genuineness of their faith and eternal destiny. 

1 Corinthians 4:5

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

I just finished reading Broadbent’s analysis of Augustine. He points out issues that are more troubling than infant baptism. One of these is that Augustine held the view that coercion was justified when heretics refused correction. So yes, we respect these men whom the Lord gave to the Church as teachers, but we cannot refuse to critique their views. That is wrong – just as being hypercritical is wrong.

2 Timothy 2:24-25

24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

The following excerpt is taken from the chapter entitled “Christianity in Christendom”, from the hardback edition of the book, published by GOSPEL FOLIO PRESS, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1999. (Emphasis added.)

“Augustine was baptized by Ambrose in Milan (AD 387) and became later Bishop of Hippo (later named Bona) in North Africa (AD 395). His busy life was one of constant controversy. He lived at the time when the Western Roman Empire was breaking up; indeed a barbarian army was besieging his city of Hippo when he passed away. It was the fall of the Western Empire that led him to write his famous book, The City of God. Its full title explains its aim: ‘Though the greatest city of the world has fallen, the City of God abideth for ever.’

His view, however, of what the City of God is led him into teachings that have given rise to unspeakable misery, the very greatness of his name accentuating the harmful effects of the error he taught. He, beyond others, formulated the doctrine of salvation by the Church only, by means of her sacraments. To take salvation out of the hands of the Saviour and put it into the hands of men, to interpose a system of man’s devising between the Saviour and the sinner, is the very opposite of the Gospel revelation. Christ says: ‘Come unto Me’ and no priest or church has authority to intervene.

Augustine, in his zeal for the unity of the Church and his genuine abhorrence of all divergence in doctrine and difference in form, lost sight of the spiritual, living, and indestructible unity of the Church and Body of Christ, uniting all who are sharers by the new birth in the life of God. Consequently he did not see the practical possibility of the existence of churches of God in various places and in all times, each retaining its immediate relation with the Lord and with the Spirit, yet having fellowship with the others, and that in spite of human weaknesses, of varying degrees of knowledge, of divergent apprehensions of Scripture and differences of practice.

His outward view of the Church as an earthly organization naturally led him to seek outward, material means for preserving, and even compelling, visible unity. In controversy with the Donatists, he wrote:

‘It is indeed better…that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved and are daily proving by actual experiment) in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word…While those are better who are guided aright by love, those are certainly more numerous who are corrected by fear. For who can possibly love us more than Christ, who laid down His life for the sheep? And yet, after calling Peter and the other Apostles by His words alone, when He came to summon Paul…He not only constrained him with His voice, but even dashed him to the earth with His power; and that He might forcibly bring one who was raging amid the darkness of infidelity, to desire the light of the heart, He first struck him with physical blindness of the eyes. Why therefore should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return?…The Lord Himself said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in”…Wherefore is the power which the Church has received by divine appointment in its due season, through the religious character and faith of kings, be the instrument by which those who are found in the highways and hedges – that is, in heresies and schisms – are compelled to come in, then let them not find fault with being compelled.’

Such teaching, from such an authority, incited and justified those methods of persecution by which papal Rome equalled the cruelties of pagan Rome. So a man of strong affections and quick and tender sympathies, departing from the principles of Scripture, though with good intentions, became implicated in a vast and ruthless system of persecution.

As I read through The Pilgrim Church, I hope to post more excerpts from it.

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The Pilgrim Church, an invitation to read with me

Since I want to give you something of value, I decided to share things from a book I’m reading, The Pilgrim Church. Edmund Hamer Broadbent, a Plymouth Brethren travelling missionary, is the author. A native of Lancashire, England, he toured many European countries encountering and recording the stories of Christian groups whose desire was to assemble, worship, and be governed according to the standards of the Bible – that is, New Testament worship and governance alone.

Here is a picture of E.H. Broadbent – I’m sure it doesn’t do him justice, although he looks far happier and friendlier than many of the people in older photos I’ve seen.

Here are two excerpts from the hardback edition published under copyright by GOSPEL FOLIO PRESS, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1999. The first is from the Foreword written by Dave Hunt:

“Edmund Hamer Broadbent (1861-1945) lived at a time when documents and books – many of them now lost or very rare – which told the true story of the Christian church could still be found. His scholarship is attested to by the scores of books in several languages available in his day, from which he drew much of the vital information he has passed on to us. The Pilgrim Church of which he writes so eloquently and accurately was persecuted to the death for a thousand years before the Reformation. The story has been almost lost to the present generation and desperately needs to be retold.”

The second is from the first chapter entitled “Beginnings”. As a Christian and a student of writing, I’m impressed beyond measure, even though I can’t agree with all that Broadbent says about the complete autonomy of individual churches. 

 “The New Testament is the worthy completion of the Old. It is the only proper end to which the Law and the Prophets could have led. It does not do away with them, but enriches in fulfilling and replacing them. It has in itself the character of completeness, presenting, not the rudimentary beginning of a new era which requires constant modification and addition to meet the needs of changing times, but a revelation suited to all men in all times. Jesus Christ cannot be made known to us better than He is in the four Gospels, nor can the consequences or doctrines which flow from the facts of His death and resurrection be more truly taught than they are in the Epistles.

“The Old Testament records the formation and history of Israel, the people through whom God revealed Himself in the world until Christ should come. The New Testament reveals the Church of Christ, consisting of all who are born again through faith in the Son of God and so made partakers of the divine and eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

“As this body, the whole Church of Christ, cannot be seen and cannot act in any one place, since many of its members are already with Christ and others scattered throughout the world, it is appointed to be actually known and to bear its testimony in the form of churches of God in various places and at different times. Each of these consists of those disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who, in the place where they live, gather together in His Name. To such the presence of the Lord in their midst is promised and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given in different ways through all the members (Mt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 12:7).

“Each of these churches stands in direct relationship to the Lord, draws its authority from Him, and is responsible to Him (Rev. 2-3). There is no suggestion that one church should control another or that any organized union of churches should exist, but an intimate personal fellowship unites them (Acts 15:36).”

I hope you enjoyed reading this and saw God’s grace at work in the intellect of this dear brother in the Lord who is now with Him. I hope to continue to post excerpts from his book.

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