Some of God’s People were known as Paulicians – I Peter 1:1-5

audio version

I’ve selected I Peter 1:1 as our text because it relates to a couple of important points. First, there is the word “parepidemos” followed by “diaspora” – “the scattered strangers.” This takes us back to WHO the people of God ARE in respect to this world. We are pilgrims on our way to the Celestial City – this world is not our home. “Our citizenship is in Heaven from whence we look for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are strangers scattered across the United States and the world with a limited time and a limited ministry. It is not our commission to build dynasties – denominations, Christian countries and governments. Our task is to glorify Christ in the church to which He has brought us. And this is precisely the point of this entire series of messages.

My second purpose in selecting this text is to be found in the areas to which Christianity had recently spread. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Please try to picture today’s country of Turkey. Pontus and Bithynia were districts within today’s Turkey, bordering on the shore of the Black Sea. Asia, Galatia and Cappadocia were essentially the rest Turkey, extending all the way from the Aegean Sea east toward Iran, Iraq and the Caspian Sea. As we see in the Book of Acts, the gospel of Christ rapidly moved north, as well as other directions. From Jerusalem it went to Samaria. Saul of Tarsus was saved trying to persecute Christians in Damascus, Syria, north of Israel and Samaria. Then he became one of the leaders of the church in Antioch even farther to the north. Beyond Antioch was Cappadocia – or as parts of it were later known – “Armenia.” Without a doubt Cappadocia and Armenia were evangelized, and gospel churches were planted there.

Now, if you have your copy of “The Trail of Blood” which I passed out two weeks ago, please turn to the chart inside the back cover. Notice on the left side of the lower half of the chart we have various names. Beginning in the middle of 3rd century, about 250 AD, we read the names “Montanists” and “Novatians.” These were groups of saints, one beginning in Africa and other in Italy, which retained the original doctrines of Christ and the Apostles. They were true churches, used by the Lord to maintain His promise of church perpetuity and purity. Before the beginning of the 4th century you will see the name “Donatists” extending for several centuries. Some of those names are hard to read, because they are spread out trying to show how long they existed. There are a few other names in those early centuries which we may address later. But there beginning with the grey area, denoting the “Dark Ages” you will see another name – “Paulicians.”

It is to these Paulicians that we refer this evening.

Once again, most of the information we have on these people comes from the writings of their enemies. The Catholic church hated the Paulicians and therefore wrote some of the most awful things about them. But time has brought to light one particular Paulician document, and honest secular historians from among both the Baptists and Protestants have been able to separate the historical wheat from the chaff.

In Armenia, about the year 660 AD there was a young gnostic thinker named “Constantine.” He is not to be confused with the emperor with that name. The man was an heretic, a follower of the Persian prophet Mani, or Manes, the creator of “Manichaeism.” Manichaeism combined the religions of Zoroaster, and Gnosticism with bit of corrupted Christianity. It basically taught that in creation there is a battle between two equals – light and darkness; good and evil. It denies the deity of Christ, the omnipotence of Jehovah, the inerrancy of the Word of God and just about every other doctrine which we hold dear. This Constantine was a Manichean, in the same what that Saul was once an unsaved Pharisaic Jew.

In the year 660 Constantine sheltered a Christian who was fleeing Mohammedan captivity in Syria. In gratitude to his host, the man gave to Constantine a copy of the four gospels and the epistles of Paul. Gibbon, the author of “The Rise and Fall of Roman Empire” wrote: “These books became the measure of his studies and the rule of his faith; And the Catholics, who dispute his interpretation, acknowledge that his text was genuine and sincere. In the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul, his faithful follower investigated the creed of the primitive Christianity, and whatever maybe the success, a Protestant reader will applaud the spirit of the inquiry.” In essence, this secular historian with his Protestant background, says that Constantine went back to the original doctrines and practices of Biblical Christianity. Gibbon and others often used the word “reformer” when speaking about this Constantine, and in a sense this was true, but as the Lutheran historian Mosheim says, the churches which are identified with this man restored the pure apostolic doctrines and churches. He says that Constantine picked up the seeds of Bible Christianity which were planted in Armenia in the beginning of the Christian era.

In some ways eastern Turkey and her mountains is like central Europe and the Alps. The remote valleys provided a place for God’s truth to be sheltered and protected. John Christian wrote: “The Paulician churches were of apostolic origin, and were planted in Armenia in the first century.” Then he quotes Gibbon, “Through Antioch and Palmyra the faith must have spread into Mesopotamia and Persia; and in those regions become the basis of the faith as it is spread in the Taurus mountains as far as Ararat. This was the primitive form of Christianity. The churches in the Taurus range of mountains formed a huge recess or circular dam into which flowed the early Paulician faith to be caught and maintained for centuries, as it were, a backwater from the main for centuries.”

One of the peculiarities of the Paulicians was their especial love of Paul and his epistles. This was the basis for the name which was applied to them. Often, as new churches were established, they weren’t called “Calvary Baptist” or “First Baptist,” they took up New Testament names like “Ephesus,” “Thessalonica,” “Sardis,” and “Philippi.” And quite often new converts changed their names to Paul’s companions – “Titus,” “Timothy” and “Lydia.” Their love of Pauline doctrine provided their enemy with a name for the movement.

Because Constantine was becoming popular and powerful, teaching doctrines which undermined the growing Catholic doctrines and practices, both Rome and Constantinople began a counter-attack. And because Constantine had been a Manichean, that was the charge used against him. Do you suppose that Paul was ever described as “that renegade Pharisee”? J. M. Cramp wrote; “Manichaiesm was looked upon as a concentration of all that was outrageously bad in religious opinion, and it became the fashion to call ALL heretics Maniceans. Hence many excellent men have been so stigmatized whose views and practices accorded with the word of God.” The Paulicians, Donatists, Albigenses and nearly every other Baptistic group have been called “Manicheans” at some point or other by Catholicism. One of their people, Bossuet wrote of them: “This so hidden a sect, so abominable, so full of seduction of superstition and hypocrisy, not withstanding imperial laws which condemned its followers to death, yet maintained and diffused itself.” In other words, it refused to be destroyed despite all that Catholicism could do.

The effect of the Paulician doctrine was not stopped by the name-calling. So the Emperor sent, Simeon, one of his officers with a strong military force to Cibossa, to arrest Constantine. Gibbon says, “by a refinement of cruelty, they placed the unfortunate man before a line of his disciples, who were commanded, as the price of their pardon and proof of their repentance, to massacre their spiritual Father. They turned aside from the impious office; the stones dropped from their filial hands, and of the whole number only one executioner could be found, a new David, as he is styled by the Catholics, who boldly overthrew the giant of heresy.” However, says Gibbon, this Simeon was so moved by Constantine and his friends that eventually he was converted and embraced the doctrines which he had been commissioned to destroy. Thus, he became a Paulician in more than one way.

Armitage says that vast number of Catholics were converted. In fact the influence of the Paulicians was so strong that it created a war between Rome and Constantinople. The Eastern branch of Catholicism became convinced, for a time, that idol worship was sinful. In 726 Leo Isauricus, the Emperor, issued an edit prohibiting idolatry. The Roman Pontiff saw this as an attack upon his spiritual authority, and Catholic blood was shed. Unfortunately disorder was restored and the state church turned its swords again on the Paulicians. In 832 the Empress Theodora instituted an organized persecution which culminated in the deaths of more than one hundred thousand Paulicians in Armenia. And in a real historical anomaly there was a time when the Paulicians lived among the Muslims, the Mussulmans, to save their people from total extermination – genocide.

What did the Paulicians believe? Was it Baptist doctrine?

As early as the 11th century mention was made of a Paulician document called the “Key of Truth” but up to that time it had never been found. Then in 1891, Frederick Conybeare, a fellow of the University College, Oxford, no friend of the Baptists, was making a study of the history of Armenia, and the Lord led him to a copy of the “Key of Truth.” He was able to obtain a copy from a library in Edjmiatzin and eight years later he produced a translation. For the first time the Paulicians were able to defend their theology. And they openly denied that they were Manicheans.

J.T. Christian says, “Turning to the doctrines and practices of the Paulicians we find that they made constant use of the Old and New Testaments (and nothing more).. They had no orders in the clergy as distinguished from laymen by their modes of living, their dress, or other things; they had no councils or similar institutions. Their teachers were of equal rank. They strove diligently for the simplicity of the apostolic life. They opposed all image worship which was practiced in the Roman Catholic Church. The miraculous relics were a heap of bones and ashes, destitute of life and of virtue. They held to the orthodox view of the Trinity; and to the human nature and substantial sufferings of the Son of God. Baptist views prevailed among the Paulicians. They held that men must repent and believe, and then at a mature age ask for baptism, which alone admitted them into the church. ‘It is evident,’ observes Mosheim, ‘they rejected the baptism of infants.’ They baptized and rebaptized by immersion. They would have been taken for downright Anabaptists.”

I. K. Cross summarized his study of the Paulicians this way – They held tenaciously to the sacred writings. They were especially concerned with the writings of the apostle Paul, determined to build their churches upon his teachings, and their ministers tried to follow in his footsteps to the extent that they adopted the name of his followers as their own. They totally rejected all relics and image worship. They demanded a genuine experience of salvation before admitting any for baptism. This is what is commonly called today “believer’s baptism.” Their churches were independent and self-governing. They accepted only baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances of the church, and baptized by dipping or immersion. They rebaptlzed those who came to them from other communions, identifying them in the eyes of their enemies as “anabaptists. “ They believed they were in succession from the churches of the apostles. They believed, and practiced, purity of church discipline, causing them to be called “cathari.” They brought their faith across Europe to the Reformation.

What was that last point? – “They brought their faith across Europe to the Reformation.”

In the year 970 the Eastern Emperor John Tzimisces gave permission and support to a group of Paulicians to move from Armenia to Thrace the most eastern part of Europe across the Bosporus. North of Thrace was Romania and to the west was Macedonia and the Adriatic Sea. Tzimisces granted to the Paulicians, total religious liberty, and in turn those people granted it to others. And from there the doctrines of the New Testament were spread across Europe.

J. T. Christian says, “It was in the country of the Albigenses, in the Southern provinces of France, that the Paulicians were most deeply implanted, and here they kept up a correspondence with the brethren in Armenia. The faith of the Paulicians lived on in Languedoc and along the Rhine as the submerged Christians of the Cathars, and perhaps also among the Waldenses.” The Catholics did everything in their power to eliminate the Paulicians and to destroy all their literature, but the people themselves prospered and spread.

“Eerdmans’ Handbook on Christian History” also brings the Paulicians from Armenia to France: “The Paulician movement which spread in Armenia from the seventh to the twelfth century… came to Bulgaria in the tenth century and helped to develop the Bogomils who flourished in the Balkans in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The latter movement in turn stimulated the …..heresy of the Cathars or Albigenses. who were dominant in southern France and northern Italy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.”

Douglas, who edited the “Dictionary of the Christian Church,” points out they were “influential at least until the twelfth century, even spreading to Italy and France. Probably they developed into and amalgamated with sects like the,,,,_ Bogomils, Cathari, and Albigenses. The Crusaders found them everywhere in Syria and Palestine. Anabaptists in the sixteenth century had contact with apparent Paulicians.

William Whitsitt, was an heretic Southern Baptist Professor who advocated that the origin of Baptists and the revival of Baptist immersion in England came through John Smythe. He would not be expected to look with favor upon the Paulicians as a part of our Baptist heritage. Nevertheless professor Whitsitt, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared that the Waldenses joined the Catharists, and the Catharists were earlier called Paulicians, Alblgenses, etc ….

J.T. Christian tells us that “after the year 1000 the Paulicians began to make their appearance in England. In 1154 a body of Germans migrated into England, driven into exile by persecution. A portion of them settled in Oxford. William Newberry tells of the terrible punishment meted out to pastor Gerhard and his people.” Six years later another company of Paulicians entered Oxford, and he tells of some of the terrible punishment these people suffered. Then Jones declares, “This no doubt accounts for the Anabaptist teachings that kept appearing in England before the sixteenth century, as well as Baptist churches being found there prior to this century as well.”

Goadby tell us that “passing under different names – Paulicians, Vaudois or Waldesnses, Abigenses, Berengarians, Arnoldists – these godly men kept alive some glimmer of light amongst all this darkness. About the eleventh century they rapidly multiplied on the Continent and in the following century came over to England in great numbers. So England heard the teachings of these people who kept alive the original faith during the dark ages.”

Most of the true believers in Europe and their churches for the last thousand years have rarely been called “Paulicians.” They bore a variety of other names. But they apparently owe their doctrine to the people who were called “Paulicians” in Armenia and Thrace. In other words, some of God’s people in days gone by have been called “Paulicians.”