Saturday, March 03, 2007

The argument of theological differences

Something I'm reading and something I re-read this week intersected in a way to cause me to write down these thoughts. I'm reading The Tailor-King, which is a re-telling of "the rise and fall of the Anabaptist kingdom of Munster" by Anthony Arthur. The Anabaptist kingdom of Munster is a story of radical Anabaptists run amuck, but Anabaptists nonetheless. This unfortunate series of events was used for centuries to "tar and feather" all Anabaptists. I have no intention of doing so. But to deny any connection between the peace-loving non-resistant Anabaptists and the radicals at Munster who defied a feudal war-lord (aka Bishop von Waldeck) and proposed to violently set up the Kingdom of God on earth is an historical mistake. In fact, a disciple of Jan Matthias (the instigator of Munster) baptized Obbe Philips, who ordained and probably baptized Menno Simons.

A popular trend in Baptist studies is what might be called the "argument of theological (or doctrinal) differences." This "argument of theological differences" is used to support the idea that there was no connection between the early English Baptists and the Continental Anabaptists -- their doctrines are different, therefore there is no connection. Winthrop Hudson provides a good example of this line of thinking. Hudson stresses the Baptists' rejection of certain features of Anabaptist life and thought -- opposition to civil magistracy, the holding of public office, military service, oaths, and going to court -- as evidence that "Baptists Were Not Anabaptists" (The Chronicle, Vol. XVI, No. 4, Oct. 1953, p. 172.).

Mark Osgatharp puts this in perspective in "Twisted Historical Logic" (Baptist Board, 3 Aug 2003): By applying the modernist revisionist historical "logic" to more modern circumstances, we can see just how absurd their conclusions are.

1. Campbellites and Baptists are at theological odds - therefore Campbellites didn't originate among the Baptists. But Campbellites did originate among the Baptists. There are many Campbellite churches existing today which were originally Baptist churches.

2. Charismatics and Baptists are at doctrinal odds - therefore Charismatics didn't originate among the Baptists. But the reality is that there are many charismatic churches that were at one time Baptist churches. As a matter of fact, when the Assemblies of God denomination was first organized there was a whole local association of Missionary Baptist churches in north Arkansas that went over in mass into it's organization.

3. The "General Baptist" denomination in America is an Arminian body - therefore they did not originate among the Calvinistic Baptists. But they did originate among the Calvinistic Baptists. The founder of this group [Benoni Stinson] was sent as a missionary out of a Calvinist Baptist church in Indiana. After establishing a new church he openly declared his opposition to Calvinism. Later, the churches that grew out of this movement abandoned the doctrine of eternal security as their founder had abandoned Calvinism.

4. Modernist Baptists and Bible Believing Baptists are at diametrical odds, therefore they have no historical kinship. But, as we all know, they do have historical kinship. Baptist churches that were once doctrinally sound are now theologically bankrupt. There are even churches where the membership is split between Christians and modernists.Ironically, the Baptists who are the most theologically destitute are the very ones who would disown some group in the past because they don't pass Baptist doctrinal muster! -- [Excerpt from the thread "Twisted Historical Logic", Mark Osgatharp, on]

I find it amusing that often the most narrow Baptists in faith and practice -- who will not fellowship those who do not dot their "i's" and cross their "t's" in the same manner -- are often the quickest to embrace any old heretical group as an ancestor if they practiced adult immersion; while, on the other hand, the most theologically diverse and ecumenical Baptists reject some quite similar ancient baptistic folks as not meeting their criteria to be "real" Baptists.

Hudson's "argument of theological differences" may rest partially in a bias and certainly fails to entertain the complexity of the Anabaptist movement on the European continent. Bro. Osgatharp illustrates the failure of this argument to the meet the muster. It is a prop that needs to be pulled out of the English Separatist descent theory. If one cannot prove a tie between the English Baptists and Continental Anabaptists -- or can prove there is not one -- then discuss the historical evidence. But the historically untested use of the "argument of theological differences" might just as well prove that some Baptist church of the same name in the same place is not the one that was begun there 200 years before.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Oops! Where's the content? I'm having problems with this crazy blog site and have ever since I changed to the Beta version.

R. L. Vaughn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amity said...

Any ideas on HOW the anabaptist (Baptist) presence in Britain came to be historically (for I do not doubt there is a connection)?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Amity, old English is out of my area of expertise, but perhaps I can give you a few things to consider.

Much of the "Baptist beginnings" in England in shrouded in mystery. So much so that, though I agree with the Anabaptist connection, strictly historically speaking I can agree with William Brackney: "Since present documentation is scarce, complete validation of any of these theories must await further
discoveries of primary source materials..." (Baptist Life and Thought, p. 15)

A great deal has been based on the
"Kiffin Manuscript", attributed to Baptist preacher William Kiffin (1616-1701). There is variance between this and another "Kiffin Manuscript" (or maybe more than one other) which varies in certain particulars (you might try googling "Kiffin Manuscript". According to the first mentioned KM, an Englishman named Richard Blount (or Blunt), who was conversant in Dutch, was sent to Holland and received baptism from a Dutch Anabaptist group called the Collegiants or Rhynsbergers that practiced believer's baptism by immersion. According to the KM, Blount was baptized, returned to England and baptized another, and they baptized others.

Michael Ivey discusses some of this in his Welsh Succession...
If I remember correctly, Bro. Michael tries to go around the English connection and traces American Baptists through the Welsh Baptists.

A lot has been put on the Kiffin manuscript, while perhaps not enough energy put into studying other firsthand accounts of the early English Baptists of that day. Such Baptists at Henry Denne, Henry D'anvers and John Spittlehouse seem to believe in a succession that includes the Anabaptist connection. In "A Vindication of the Continued Succession of the Primitive Church of Jesus Christ...", John Spittlehouse addresses the question from a theological viewpoint. If I understand him correctly, he sees the Continental Anabaptists as the church coming out of the wilderness after the 1260 days (i.e. years) of Rev. 12:6. Many Baptists today probably won’t interpret the 1260 days that way, but regardless, it shows how he viewed Baptist history and the Anabaptists.
Spittlehouse & More, Continued Succession