Around 300 AD many of the believers were persecuted for their faith. During this time the authorities demanded that many of the church leaders turned over their bibles. Many did, many did not. Those that did turn their’s over to be burned were labeled traditors by much of the church. The group called the Donatists, led by Donatus Magnus, treated these traditors quite severely. They even went so far as to say that anyone who was baptized by one of these pastors who had turned over their scripture in order to preserve their life, had recieved a failed baptism. Their refusal to accept the baptism performed by these pastors led to a controversy that was eventually dealt with by Augustine himself. Augustine, in his writings, claimed that baptism was found to be appropriate, not because of the character or position of the “officiant” of baptism, but rather baptism found its authority in the originator of baptism, Christ.
In light of this, isn’t it interesting to think that we may be re-living this entire experience again from a slightly different vantage point. Let’s hope that the church today can understand anew that baptism is an affiliation with Christ and not a sign of a partnership with a church.