Monday, April 30, 2007

Origin of the term "landmark"

In an earlier post, I defined Landmark ecclesiology as I see it. A reader has brought up the question of the origin of the terms "Landmark", "Landmarkism", "Landmark Baptists". I think the following is basic and fairly accurate.

Baptist minister J. M. Pendleton wrote a series of articles which appeared in The Tennessee Baptist, a periodical whose editor was J. R. Graves. These articles dealt with the "recognition" of Pedobaptist (infant-baptising) ministers, and were later published by Graves as a pamphlet titled
An Old Landmark Re-Set. Pendleton and Graves agreed that Pedobaptist ministers should not be allowed to preach from Baptist pulpits. Evidently, Southern Baptists who disagreed with Graves and Pendleton on the issue of Pedobaptist ministers, took the initiative in labeling those with such convictions "Old Landmarkers". Even if so, Graves had no problem adopting and using it -- and possibly relished it. Read, for example,Graves' preface
to Old Landmarkism, What is it?, a book he wrote in 1880.

From Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopedia: "The origin of the term old-landmarkism was as follows: about the year 1850, Rev. J. R. Graves, editor of the Tennessee Baptist, published at Nashville, Tenn., began to advocate the position that Baptists cannot consistently recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers. For several years he found but few to sympathize with this view. Among the few was Rev. J. M. Pendleton, then of Bowling Green, Ky., who in 1854 was requested by Mr. Graves to write an essay on this question, 'Ought Baptists to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers?' The essay was published in four consecutive numbers of the aforesaid paper, and afterwards in the form of a tract. The title given to it by Mr. Graves was 'An Old Landmark Reset.' The title was considered appropriate, because there had been a time when ministerial recognition and exchange of pulpits between Baptists and Pedobaptists were unknown. This was an old landmark, but in the course of years it had fallen. When it was raised again it was called "an old landmark reset.' Hence the term 'old-landmarkism,' and of late years, by way of abridgment, 'landmarkism'."

Dictionary definitions and Bible verses may also provide context for those unfamiliar with the term as used before its adoption to describe a Baptist ecclesiology.

Landmark: "a prominent or conspicuous object that serves as a guide; something used to mark the boundary of land."

Deut 19:14 - Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Deut 27:17 - Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Prov 22:28 - Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.
Prov 23:10 - Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless:

This question intersects with another point that I want to make about the two previous posts. These historical excerpts do not prove the validity of Landmark ecclesiology. One must turn to the Bible to prove or disprove it. But the excerpts do call in question the oft repeated mantra that "Landmarkism" began with Graves and Pendleton. Certainly the terminology and certain refining points of ecclesiology can be traced to them (particularly Graves), but they did not create something that at least some Baptists before them did not already believe.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

More of the same

Similar to yesterday's post, here are a couple of more examples of "pre-Landmark" Landmarkism. A couple of years ago Bro. Mark Osgatharp called attention to the first one on the Baptist Board.

In his autobiography, Jeremiah Jeter mentions an incident that took place at the 1824 session of the Portsmouth Association in Virginia. Jeremiah Jeter was an opponent of Landmarkism, but his testimony here stands as evidence of "landmark" principles among the Portsmouth Virginia Association. This was before the rise of the movement named Landmarkism.

"Of the proceedings of the [1824 Portsmouth] Association I recollect nothing, except a discussion on the validity of Pedobaptist immersions. In this conflict I fleshed my youthful sword, and was ingloriously defeated. I had associated with Semple, A. Broaddus, and others among the fathers who maintained the validity of such baptisms, and had adopted their views. As this side of the subject seemed to be feebly supported, I ventured, with probably more courage than discretion, for the first time in my life, to engage in religious controversy.

"My rashness evoked the chastening rod of Richard Poindexter. He was about fifty years old, of medium size, of swarthy complexion, possessed of a mind remarkable for astuteness and great self-possession and readiness for extempore debate. Dr. [A.M.] Poindexter, with greater culture and breadth of mind, bore a strong intellectual resemblance to his sire. It may be reasonably supposed that I was overmatched in the debate.

"I remember but a single illustration in the speech of Elder Poindexter. 'Roundness,' he said, 'is essential to a bullet; beat it flat, and it will cease to be a bullet. So certain things - an authorized administrator being among them - are essential to baptism, and without these things it cannot be baptism.'

"I made, so far as I can recollect, no attempt to reply. The association decided by an overwhelming vote that Pedobaptist immersions are not valid baptisms. I was defeated, but not convinced."

This second illustration is from the Elkhorn Association (org. 1785, KY).

"In 1802, the question as to what constitutes valid Baptism, which had been evaded in 1793, was brought before the Association in a different form, and answered as follows:

"'Query from South Elkhorn. -- What constitutes Baptism? Answer. -- The administrator ought to have [been] baptized himself by immersion, legally called to preach gospel, [and] ordained as the Scriptures dictate; and the candidate for baptism should make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and be baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, by dipping the whole body in water.'"-- From
A History of Kentucky Baptists, Volume II, John Henderson Spencer, 1886

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Pre-Landmark" Landmarkism

In his Landmarkism: Doctrinaire Ecclesiology among Baptists (1964), Hugh Wamble concludes that the essence of Landmarkism is belief in the "sole validity of Baptist churches." Others state it this way -- "Baptist churches are the only true churches." It has been (and still is) popular to date the rise of this ecclesiological belief among Baptists with J. R. Graves, J. M. Pendleton, and A. C. Dayton. Yet the following excerpts from The Autobiography of Elder Wilson Thompson show the concept well established before Graves was born and while Dayton & Pendleton were "still in diapers."

This incident following, according to Wilson Thompson, took place at "'Caldwell's Settlement', on the river St. Francis, not far from a village called St. Michael, about sixty miles from the Bethel Church (of which he was a member). The time frame was "during the war of 1812", and "There never had been a Baptist preacher in all that part of the country." He was invited to preach there by a couple living there who were members of the Bethel Church. "A considerable congregation had gathered, and I delivered as plain and pointed a discourse, and as definite as I could. I then explained the circumstances which had led to that appointment, and that I was authorized by the Bethel Church, of which I was a member, and which was located in the district of Cape Girardeau, to give an invitation to any persons wishing to be baptized and become members of the Bethel Regular Baptist Church. I added that if they could give full and satisfactory evidence of the hope that was in them, I was ready and willing to baptize. But I would wish all to understand, that the Baptists alone were by us considered a gospel church, and therefore they received none into their fellowship or communion, except on public profession of their faith in Christ, according to the doctrine of His grace.

"No probationers of six months, no infants who were sprinkled on the profession of their parents, nor any others but believers in Jesus Christ were received. Therefore, all who joined this church must renounce alliance with all other denominations. They should treat all men friendly as men, but have no communion or fellowship with any but the Baptist Church of Christ; for they should look upon all others as the daughters of mystic Babylon. 'I have been thus particular, as I wish to deceive no one,' said I. 'We wish to be understood to say, as did the Lord in reference to this "Mystery, Babylon" (if any of God's people be ensnared by her), Come out of her my people, and be ye separated from her." pp. 152-154

The next account relates Thompson's comments to a young Lutheran. The young man related his experience and desired to join the church, but had been told by his mother "'Cursed is he that is baptized over again'. 'Sprinkling is not baptism,' said I, 'and even the immersion of an unconscious infant is no gospel baptism; nor can any man administer gospel baptism without the legal authority of Christ. This authority He has vested in the true church, as the executive authority of His kingdom, to see to the proper execution of all His laws and ordinances. The proper authority, therefore, is indispensable to gospel baptism, and this no Lutheran has. so you need have no more trouble on that account.''' p. 194

The date of the second incident is not as clear, but probably occurred circa 1816. It happened before Thompson first met missionary to the Indians, Isaac McCoy (cf. p. 196). Both took place 35 years and more before many historians date the inauguration of the Landmark movement (ca. 1851). Both incidents show that at least some of the Regular Baptists in the Midwest believed only the Baptists were valid churches. Perhaps the fact that Thompson identified with the Primitive Baptists after the missions controversy (circa 1830) has caused missionary Baptist historians to miss this source.

Source: Wilson Thompson, The Autobiography of Elder Wilson Thompson, His life, travels, and ministerial labors (Greenfield, IN: D. H. Goble) 1867 [reprint, Old School Hymnal Co. Conley GA 1978]

Resources Online:
Chapter 13, Churches Added in Missouri
Chapter 16, Labor in the Ohio Churches; A Revival

Friday, April 27, 2007

Fuller & baptist antiquity

Bart Barber, aka Praisegod Barebones, posted on Andrew Fuller and Baptist antiquity.

He highlighted how Fuller was able to easily consider that the baptist faith was so insignificant to historians that they could have forgotten to mention it or not known it. Click above link to read from Fuller's letter.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On the late massacre in Piedmont

by: John Milton (1608-1674)

VENGE, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundred fold, who, having learnt thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

'On the Late Massacre in Piedmont' is reprinted from English Poems. Ed. Edward Chauncey Baldwin. New York: American Book Company, 1908.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

John A. Broadus on "Should Women Speak... Mixed Public Assemblies?"

Broadus' answer was "no". He also wrote "As to crying out against the Bible for teaching 'the subjection of woman,' leave that to Ingersoll."

I think the following is interesting in light of the recent SWBTS/Klouda controversy and other controversies over the basic premise.

"One other point. Some will say, 'if we undertake to carry out such strict views, they will be found to conflict with the work which some women are almost everywhere doing as teachers of male Bible classes, as professors in co-educating colleges, and sometimes as missionary workers in foreign fields.' I shall not now inquire how far these practices conflict with the apostle's prohibition. But if any of them do thus conflict, then instead of being relied on as precedent to set aside the apostle's authority, they ought themselves to be curtailed and corrected."

Still Sacred Harp out there

I guess I've been on a mission with "Baptist blogs" lately and haven't written much about singing. I have attended two good Sacred Harp singings in the last two weekends -- County Line at Cut-n-Shoot and Pine Grove in Rusk County. This coming weekend will be the annual Southwest Texas Sacred Harp Singing Convention at Bethel Primitive Baptist Church in McMahan, Texas. This is always a great singing. Y'all come!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The church and child molesters

In Such Were Some of You, Matthew Hall blogs on the church and child molesters -- recently in the news re Baptists, and a continuing concern for all.

Thoughts on this?

Monday, April 23, 2007

"Keeping the law"

"Those who think that they can somehow keep the law or fulfill conditions of obedience are ignorant of both the rigors of the law and the weakness of their own flesh." -- Mike McInnis (elder) Grace Chapel, O'Brien, Florida (e-mail Fri 15 Dec 2006)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Baptist origins -- straw poll

I'd like to ask my readers to participate in a straw poll concerning Baptist views of Baptist origins. If you are familiar with the writings of any on the following list of Baptists, would you give your opinion of what view of origins that you think they held -- Outgrowth of English Separatism, Influence of Anabaptists, Continuation of Biblical Teachings, Succession of Baptist Churches, or Chain-link Succession?

Some of the views are readily discernible (e.g. not many hesitate on Whitsitt or Carroll), while others may be justifiably placed in one category or another (e.g I've seen Newman classified as Influence of Anabaptists and Continuation of Biblical Teachings). I just want to get your opinions. I realize that some of the names may be obscure to some of you, while others are well-known to all. A few are not historians, but have written works investigating a view (or views) of Baptist origins. Even if you don't know about some of them, please don't fail to comment on those you do know. If you want to just list them as you see it, do so (e.g. Gilpin = Chain-link Succession); or if you want to justify your choices, feel free to do that. If you'd like to add someone you feel is significant, please do that also. Finally, if you'd like, give your own opinion of when Baptists originated. I’m looking forward to your thoughts. Thanks.

Thomas Armitage
Robert A. Baker
David Benedict
William H. Brackney
J. M. Carroll
John T. Christian
Milburn Cockrell
J. M. Cramp
Thomas Crosby
William Davidson
William R. Estep
John R. Gilpin
James Wyatt Griffith
Sylvester Hassell
Jack Hoad
Winthrop S. Hudson
Michael Ivey
Joseph Ivimey
Ollie Latch
Bill Leonard
H. Leon McBeth
Albert Henry Newman
G. H. Orchard
Ernest Payne
Adam Taylor
Robert G. Torbet
A. C. Underwood
Henry Clay Vedder
W. T. Whitley
William H. Whitsitt

P. S. If you know of someone who is well-qualified to comment on this, please invite them over to the blog to give their opinion.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Barber on Gonzales versus Carhart

Gonzales v. Carhart, Bart Barber's take on the Supreme Court decision on partial birth abortion.

Humility, O sweetest grace

Humility, O sweetest grace
ere unto mortal given
Did ever in all the earth
or even up in heaven
Expression find in any act
so grand as at the time
When Jesus washed His servants' feet,
how humble and sublime.

Oh King above all other kings,
before whom angels fall
The Master of the Universe
the ruler over all
The Master washed the servants' feet
thus by example taught
That we should wash each other's feet
and plainly said we ought.

Oh is there now in all the earth
a scene so passing fair
As when the faithful of the Lord
to upper room repair
Where peace and joy from round the throne
come down our souls to greet
While gladly there we honor Him
and wash each other's feet.
-- H. M. Riggle

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Be present at our table

Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and everywhere adored;
Thy creatures bless, and grant that we
May feast in paradise with Thee.

We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food,
For life and health and every good;
By Thine own hand may we be fed;
Give us each day our daily bread.

We thank Thee, Lord, for this our good,
But more because of Jesus' blood;
Let manna to our souls be giv'n,
The Bread of Life sent down from Heav'n.

John Cennick (1718-1755) published 1741.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ordinance of Baptism (Baptizing the dead)

“Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord,” Acts 10:47, 48

The ordinance of baptism, in reference to the church of God , sets forth something of an experiential character very strikingly. In the first place, as baptism is a burial, it is not normal to bury anyone until he is dead. No living person is put into the grave and buried. In like manner, no sinner has a right to the ordinance of baptism until he is dead. I speak not of the death of the body. Of what death, then, do I speak? The death of which the apostle speaks: “I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” It is the soul that is dead to the law, dead to all hope of salvation and justification by works of righteousness. Are you dead, my friends? If you are not dead in this sense, you have no right to the ordinances of God’s house; the command does not belong to you.

About eighteen years ago…,I met an aged pilgrim in a narrow passage, quite unexpectedly, and having shaken hands with me, he said, “I hear you are going to baptize before you leave the town.” “Yes,” I said, “I am, on Thursday night.” Then, in a rather sharp and hurried manner, he said, “Well, Sir, are you going to baptize the dead or the living?” The question came to me in a rather novel form, and I was for the moment at a loss for an answer. After a short pause, however, I saw the old man’s design, and I said, “I hope I am going to baptize both the living and the dead. They are dead to all hope of saving themselves by works of righteousness, but they are alive to God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” -- JOHN KERSHAW, 1853

From Shreveport Grace Church bulletin, March 11, 2007

MY opinion on continuation/succession

I presented a series of posts on various views of Baptist origins, attempting to present these views fairly without inserting my own views and opinions. Whether I accomplished this will be for the reader to decide.

It does not follow that I have no opinions on the subject of Baptist origins. Here are a few of them.

I believe in a continuation of the New Testament faith from the life of Christ to the present.

I believe that at present such as view is not historically demonstrable.

I believe in said continuation based on my interpretation of certain Scriptures (e.g. Dan. 2:44; Matt. 16:18; 28:18-20; Eph. 3:21) and not based on history.

I believe that attempts to force the promise into an ecclesiological system -- such as chain-link succession -- can be detrimental to the churches holding the New Testament faith. I believe the Scriptures present the promise of continuation but not exactly how God would do it. To become dogmatic on the
how is to go beyond the Scriptures.

I also have the following idea on tracing continuation/succession.

The study of Baptist history begins with Baptists in the present and attempts to follow them backwards as far as possible. I believe this is good and proper. But I believe the tracing of the promise of Jesus to be always with His church would properly begin in the New Testament and move forward. If I were doing this (though I don't have the time, means, or skills), I would begin with a New Testament study formulating the identity of the New Testament church. It might look something like this -- a body that would have a view of God as sovereign and creator; which sees the sacrifice of Jesus the Son of God as efficacious and atoning (including rejecting works for salvation and salvation totally of grace); which holds to the sufficiency of Scripture, with emphasis on the New Testament, as the rule of faith and practice; which understands the church as a gathered body of immersed believers, and holds the ordinances to be without any saving power; and maybe a couple of other things. Then I would begin looking for this kind of visible representation of the New Testament faith from the N.T. and progressing through history.

Just an idea on which I've been thinking.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ending Baptist succession

I thought the following was both pointed and humorous, and appropriate in light of the posts I've been making.

"If Baptist succession be the bad thing some brethren say, then certainly it ought to be given up. There should be no more of it.

"The churches now in existence ought to have no succession. When a new church is organized, it should have no sort of connection with other churches, or relations to them. Let churches be organized anywhere, anyhow, by anybody. Just let people be believers, and let them baptize each other and start a church. This does away with Baptist succession. And if it be the bad thing that is charged, it ought to be done away with at the earliest moment. Those who oppose Baptist Succession have no logical ground to stand on in organizing a church out of material furnished by other churches, and with those baptized by regularly ordained Baptist ministers." (T. T. Eaton, quoted by Milburn Cockrell, in Scriptural Church Organization, Second Edition, pp. 57-58).

Thanks to Mark Fenison, who posted this on the Historic Baptist Symposium

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why are Baptists still discussing their origins?

Why are Baptists still discussing their origins? For the last hundred plus years, major Baptist seminaries, though varying on minor details, have fairly consistently taught that Baptists originated in England in the early 1600s. Why does anyone think otherwise? I can think of a few possible reasons why we are still discussing the when of Baptist origins.

The theological/historical divide. There is a great divide at the far ends of the spectrum. For some Baptists, their understanding of certain verses of the Bible require a perpetuity of the New Testament faith throughout the centuries. For
others who think the Baptists are no more the New Testament church than the Methodists or Presbyterians, there is no theological motive to question the prevailing notion of Baptist origins. Also, the nature of historical argument is that of research, discovery and interpretation. Historical argument is always subject to revision; it is written by fallible humans. For even those not driven by theological concerns, there will always be the changing winds of reinterpretation of the evidence. Historians enjoy being the discovers of new things. Or as Samuel Butler said about historians altering the past...

Barring major new discoveries of original documents, there will probably always be, from the historical standpoint, a seeing through the glass darkly. Both historians and non-historians notice this, as a writer in an internet forum observed, "It seems to me that Baptist denomination doesn't have a very clean beginning like our Lutheran friends or our Wesleyan friends who can point to a founder. We can just point to groups of founders and churches." Even historians who hold the 16th or 17th century origin of Baptists have pointed this out. In Baptist Origins Revisited: a Study of the Dual Influence of English Separatism and Dutch Mennonite Theology upon Seventeenth-century English Baptists (Doctor’s Dissertation, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2002, p. 1) Matthew D. Wohlfarth noted, "As opposed to Lutherans, Anglicans, and most other distinctive expressions of Protestantism, the emergence of Baptists is shrouded within a variety of influences and movements." William H. Brackney, in The Baptists, writes: "There will never be an answer which satisfies all or even most Baptists since there is no date, no place, and no person to whom all can look with complete confidence as the locus classicus of the movement." (p. xvii)

Finally, there is the lack of agreement on Baptist identity -- "What is a Baptist?" If we cannot define what a Baptist is, how will we know when we see one in an historical record? Within the varying camps of Baptist origins, there are varying ideas of what constitutes Baptist belief and a Baptist church.


I am adding the following as a compliment to the above post on why Baptists are still discussing their origins. I just finished reading The Historiography of Baptist Origins in Selected Southern Baptist Historians: William Heth Whitsitt, John Tyler Christian, and Albert Henry Newman, a PhD dissertation by Donald Alan Cureton. I think the following is apropos. Each man in Cureton's study is representative of a different view of Baptist origins: Whitsitt - English Separatism; Christian - Succession; Newman - Spiritual kinship. What Donald Cureton describes concerning these men as "three realms of diversity" is probably generally true of others.

"...differing historical methods, superimposed biases, and divergent definitions of Baptists." (p. 166)

Friday, April 13, 2007

What others say about Baptist origins

Voices from historians and others in different groups within the Baptist denomination show the similarities and differences of Baptists on their origins

John Smyth early English General Baptist (1600s): "I deny all succession except in the truth ...There is no succession in the outward church, but that all succession is from heaven."1

A Confession of Faith of certain English people, living at Amsterdam: "That there is no succession in the outward church, but that all the succession is from heaven, and that the new creature only hath the thing signified, and substance, whereof the outward church and ordinances are shadows (Col. ii. 16, 17), and therefore he alone hath power, and knoweth right, how to administer in the outward church, for the benefit of others..."

John Spilsbury, early English Particular Baptist (1600s): "There is no succession under the New Testament, but what is spiritually by faith and the Word of God."

John Spittlehouse and John More, early English Baptists (1600s): "But that you declared the very truth in so saying (though not wittingly) I shall prove further from Scripture, where Jesus Christ promises to be with it to the end of the world, Matt. 28:20. Ergo, It was to have a continuance unto the end of the world. And if so, then during the aforesaid time of 1260 years. Again, If continued a Church, then in all the Essentials, Substantials, and Circumstantials that appertained unto it, (so far as there was need of, in its then condition) as aforesaid. Again, I would gladly know any one Church (in that which we now call Christendom) that can produce the like hidden condition, as the Church now scandalously termed Anabaptists. And much more in that it is so clearly discovered to be so near, yea even one and the same with the Pattern of the first Church that was erected by the commands of Jesus Christ, and the practice of the Apostles." -- from
A Vindication of the continued succession...

Adam Taylor, historian of the English General Baptists: "But we may be permitted to state a few facts, which will prove that, in all ages of the church, there have been Baptists, who have heartily joined with the first Baptist, John, in pointing sinners 'to the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world'." (Taylor, History of the English General Baptists).

Charles H. Spurgeon, English Baptist preacher (1800s): "We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents." -- As cited on
The Reformed Reader

Ollie Latch, General Baptist, History of the General Baptists: "Many interesting, but profitless labors have been expended in times past to the tracing of Baptist churches back through the historical lag of the centuries (p. 1)." "The stream of Baptist history shows clearly that all Baptist movements have had their stem in the work of Smyth and Helwys (p. 75)."

John T. Christian, Southern Baptist,
A History of the Baptists: "I have no question in my own mind that there has been a historical succession of Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time (pp. 5, 6)."

William Wright Barnes, Southern Baptist, in The Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, Vol. I -- Baptists originated with John Smyth and Thomas Helwys (p. 135).

R. G. Lee, Southern Baptist: "...all Christians today should believe that Baptists began their denominational life under the ministry of Jesus." (tract "Perpetuity of Baptist Churches" by Abington, cited in The Southern Baptist Convention by Fletcher)

J. S. Newman, Primitive Baptist,
The Baptists in All Ages: "Any church that can be traced back to some man as its originator is not the 'one church' of the New Testament. It is said by a man inspired (Dan. 2:44) that the church was set up by the God of heaven and that it 'shall never be destroyed' and it 'shall stand forever.'...As the church was established upon Jesus as its foundation, and as it cannot be moved, destroyed, prevailed against, and must stand forever, we have positive proof that the one church has been in existence ever since the days of those kings (p. 2)."

Michael Ivey, Primitive Baptist,
A Welsh Succession of Primitive Baptist Faith and Practice: "They embraced the Old, primitive Baptist creed, which is the word of God, the only rule of faith and practice. They joined or affiliated themselves with churches whose unbroken succession of authorized baptism and true faith is traced back to Christ."

Roy Dearmore, Independent Baptist, Biblical Missions: "Unaffiliated Baptist churches have existed continuously, carrying out the great commission, since the founding of the first Baptist Church (Baptist in doctrine and practice) by Christ in Jerusalem about 26 A.D." (Preface)

Chris Traffanstedt, Reformed Baptist,
A Primer on Baptist History: The True Baptist Trail: "Let us start with the basic premise about Baptist history: the modern Baptist denomination originated in England and Holland in the early seventeenth century."

1. It is always good to review the context of the statements, as well as any modifications or changes the persons may have made in their positions. E.g., John Smyth became dissatisfied with his baptism and applied to the Waterlander Mennonites, evidently as he thought, as those who had (or possibly had) church succession. (e.g. Christian, Ch. 16 "The difficulty in the mind of Smyth was...the proper succession.")

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Continuation of Baptist churches or baptistic principles

The continuation theories of Baptist origins address when Baptists came into existence, but also delve into hypotheses of how the Baptists continued from the beginning to the present. Continuationist theories hold in common that there have been successive groups of baptized believers from the time of the New Testament to the present – or at least a continuation of the New Testament faith.

Identified in our
views of Baptist origins outline are two categories, with appropriate subdivisions: (1) Continuation of biblical teachings and (2) Succession of Baptist churches. I have further tried to link these continuationist views with William Wright Barnes' identification of four views of succession.

Unlike the restoration theories, each of which gain their distinction from the other based on when the Baptists started, continuation theories agree that the Baptists (or the Baptist faith) began with Jesus Christ. The distinctions in the continuation theories are primarily theological and theoretical matters (rather than historical), disagreeing on details of how the Baptist faith passed from the days of the New Testament to the present.

The theory of a continuation of Biblical teachings appears to agree with Barnes' "spiritual succession". The continuation of Biblical principles theory views the continuity in a more indirect fashion than the linear thinking of the continuation of Baptist churches theory. Advocates do not claim a succession of Baptist churches, but rather that the faith and practice now identified with the modern Baptists existed from the time of Christ to the present. Nathan Finn describes it this way "...often the claim is made that there has been a perpetuity of Baptist principles, which cannot necessarily be historically verified by looking at a succession of churches, but nevertheless is accepted by faith." This view often finds "spiritual kinship" between baptistic groups throughout history without identifying them as Baptists. It emphasizes the principles rather than the people. Somewhere on a blog I can't locate right now, Ben Stratton observed that it would be odd to have a continuation of Biblical teachings without some people who held and taught those teachings (sorry, Ben, if my memory of your statement isn't too exact).

I subdivided the Succession of Baptist churches viewpoint. Once again, this is not to indicate a disagreement over when the Baptists started, but a theoretical/theological difference over how Baptists churches are perpetuated. The difference therefore in categorizing "church perpetuity" and "chain-link succession" is the difference of how the Baptist faith was transmitted. Chain-link succession requires some sort of organizational succession from one church to the next (kind of like a relay runner handing off a baton). It may be viewed as church succession (succession of church organizations); apostolic succession (succession of valid ordinations); baptismal succession (succession of valid baptisms); or even a combination of all three.

Though he mistakenly calls it
Landmarkism, Tom Ascol succeeds in defining a baptismal chain-link succession as "a particular view of baptist origins that requires a certain kind of historical succession in order for present baptist expressions of church to be valid. In the case of baptism it would argue that only those are properly baptized who have been baptized by a proper administrator, who himself has been baptized by a proper administrator, who himself...(you get the picture)." -- Recommendations and observations on the attempt to remove a conservative IMB trustee "Apostolic" succession requires a succession of valid ordinations. Many older Baptist associational articles of faith require a valid ordination for administering the ordinances (See Sandlick District Association of Virginia, for example). A recently coined terminology -- Essential Mother-Daughter Authority -- describes one popular church succession view of chain-link succession which mandates that a Baptist Church (daughter church) may only come into existence by the vote of an existing Baptist Church (mother church).

Church perpetuity and chain-link succession share more similarities than differences, so much so that some would dispute listing them separately. It might be argued that chain-link succession is a systematized form of church perpetuity. Baptist church perpetuity, in its simpler forms, is not concerned with the details of how the church continued from the New Testament times to the present, but with the fact that it did. Some Baptists who hold the idea of church perpetuity outright reject the concept of a chain-link succession. This creates a difference in polity of church organization. For example, many who hold Baptist church perpetuity (but reject chain-link succession) believe a group of baptized believers can come together and organize themselves into a Baptist congregation, with no need of a "mother church" vote or authority.

According to Philip Bryan, "The oldest and most generally accepted theory of Baptist origins has been the successionist theory." --
A Critique of the English Separatist Descent Theory in Baptist Historiography Chapter I, Theories of Baptist Origins I do not have data on this, but it is definitely my impression that until the 20th century, ideas of a "Baptist faith" perpetuated from the days of Christ was the prevailing view of both Baptist historians and rank-and-file Baptists.

Bryan also writes, "William Morgan Patterson...has concluded that successionist writers wrote from an apologetical and polemical approach and that their conclusions were based upon a priori reasoning and not scientific methodology." The expected promise of continuation/continuity/perpetuity is believed based on passages such as Matthew 16:18 ("...and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [my church]"); Matthew 28:20 ("I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world"); and Ephesians 3:21 ("glory in the church...throughout all ages"). Patterson is correct in stating that these theories are founded on a priori reasoning -- if he means a belief held before the fact of historical research. These theories are not historically driven; they are "a-historical" in the sense that they begin with the Bible rather than historical research. They are Biblical theologies of the church that rest on Biblical exegesis and interpretation. This doesn't invalidate their historical research or conclusions, any more than scientific research is invalid because the researcher believes in creation. It does cause non-successionists to view them with suspicion -- especially in the case of polemical writings.

Possible implications of this view
Baptist polity – Since continuity does exist, a new Baptist church is formed with some connection to prior baptism, ordination or church authority.
Baptist history -- Baptist history begins with Jesus Christ forming His church during His personal ministry on earth, and continues to the present – whether seen or unseen, known or unknown.
Baptist identity -- Baptist identity is based on the basic faith and practice of New Testament Christianity. A "true church" is one which holds this faith and is part of this historical continuity.1

Shared elements
The continuation of Biblical principles theory shares with multiple origins the idea of theological/spiritual kinship of various unconnected groups who have been a part of the continuity of New Testament faith and practice.2
With restoration, continuation shares the element that Baptists have some sense of continuity (whether for 400 or 500 years, or 2000).
As noted in
Tuesday’s post, the Converging streams or multiple origins view may share some elements with succession. A theological conservative holding a multiple origins view agrees with continuation theorists that Baptist identity is based on the faith and practice of New Testament Christianity (though they may not agree on exactly what the that faith and practice is).

1. A "true church" movement is any church or group within Christianity that claims to exclusively represent the true faith and order of Jesus Christ and His apostles. Many "true church" groups assert this only in reference to their church doctrines, polity, and practice (e.g., the ordinances). Primitive Baptists, Landmark Baptists and the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, for example, believe they are successors in a line of true churches linked back to the first century. A few denominations go further, holding that they [their denomination] are the only true Christians. The "Spurling/Tomlinson" Church of God, the Stone-Campbell restoration movement, and some others represent a variation in which the "true church" apostatized and was restored, in distinction to the idea of apostolic or church succession. [Note: this last paragraph will sound like Wikipedia because it is a revision of something I wrote for an article there.]

2. In Philip Bryan's opinion "...what Torbet has called the 'Anabaptist kinship' theory is actually what Barnes has included as a succession theory: 'spiritual succession'." He further notes that "...Patterson has included the 'spiritual kinship' theory as a variation of the 'successionist' theory" in "A Critique of the Successionist Concept in Baptist Historiography," Th.D. dissertation, Baylor University, Waco, 1956.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

This day in 1612

Since this is "time specific" and I've had it saved awhile, I'm breaking into the "Baptist origins" series with something a little different. Perhaps y'all need a break anyway. The post below in based on the Wikipedia entry for Edward Wightman, part of which I wrote:

Edward Wightman (1566 - 1612) has the peculiar distinction of being the last person in England to be executed for heresy by burning at the stake.

In 1611, Wightman presented a petition of his beliefs to King James. For his trouble, he was tried and found guilty of heresy. He was given the sentence of death on December 14, 1611. The charges against him included that he believed "the baptizing of infants is an abominable custom; that the Lord's Supper and baptism are not to be celebrated as they now are in the Church of England; and that Christianity is not wholly professed and preached in the Church of England, but only in part." These charges were doubtless true, and many wild charges were added to them. Some contemporaries said that if Edward Wightman held all the opinions he was accused of, he would have been either an idiot or a madman. Further, they added, if true, he ought to have had sympathy rather than a cruel death.

Wightman was tied to the stake and his body burned on April 11, 1612. In that same year Thomas Helwys wrote
A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity, a plea for religious liberty in England. 1

A few were executed for religious reasons after Wightman, but he was the last person to be burned at the stake in England.

1. Search "Google Books" for Helwys' "Mystery of Iniquity". I think you will find it is a free book you can read online.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Restoration views of Baptist origins

In my opinion, Spontaneous origination centers on how a Baptist church may come into existence. The continuation and restoration theories of Baptist origins, while they may also address how, both purport to address when Baptists came into existence.

Restorationist theories hold in common that there have not been successive groups of baptized believers from the time of the New Testament to the present. Conservative Baptists who hold this type of theory reject a historical continuity of Baptist churches or Baptist believers, but nevertheless believe that the Baptist faith is built on New Testament principles. As Nathan Finn writes, "...theological conservatives who hold to the post-apostolic origins of modern Baptists agree with continuationists that New Testament Christianity was baptistic." More ecumenically-oriented theological moderates who agree with conservatives on the late origins theory of the Baptists may nevertheless vary widely on the nature of the Baptist faith. Tim Bonney, addressing this in an internet forum, states, "While Baptists hope to model ourselves off of New Testament practices, we are no more the New Testament church than the Methodists, Presbyterians, or any other reformation or radical reformation related denomination." This view really seems to reject the idea that there is any particular New Testament identity or polity to "restore".

In our views of Baptist origins outline, I identified three sub-groups that I believe fit this restoration category -- Outgrowth of English Separatism, Influence of Anabaptists, and Converging streams (or multiple origins).

According to the Outgrowth of English Separatism view, the Baptists grew out of a Separatist movement in the Church of England. In this view, the Anabaptists' influence upon early Baptists is considered from minimal to non-existent. Within this camp there are variations as to the exact point of Baptist beginning. For some it is traced to 1609, when John Smyth, Thomas Helwys and others embraced believer's baptism. For others in this camp, the Baptist denomination does not start until 1641, when certain English Separatists accepted immersion as the mode of baptism. William H. Whitsitt of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY pioneered this viewpoint in the late 1800s. The English Separatist view of Baptist origins is currently the most widely accepted view of Baptist origins, and has been (at least in the academic community) for about a century. Writers holding this viewpoint include William H. Whitsitt, Winthrop S. Hudson, and H. Leon McBeth.

According to the Influence of Anabaptists view, some of the early English Baptists were influenced by some Anabaptists. This view holds that the direct origin of Baptists was from English Separatism, but that this origin was influenced by earlier Continental Anabaptism and contact with the Dutch Mennonites, Collegiants, etc. Writers holding this viewpoint include A. H. Newman and William R. Estep. Though marginalized by the English Separatist theory's dominance, interest in the Anabaptists' influence on the rise of the English Baptists is making a comeback. The title of the first article in Truett Seminary's Journal of Church and Mission, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 2006) hints of some of that interest: "Contemporary Anabaptists Historiography and Theology and the Broadening of Baptist Identity" (by Rady Roldan-Figueroa).

According to the Converging streams or multiple origins view,1 the Baptists owe their rise to multiple converging factors. Nathan Finn explains it this way: "Think of the Baptist tradition as a great river, like the Amazon. Into that river flows a number of tributaries. These tributaries are separate from each other and are not themselves the river but they feed into the river. Once they flow into the river, they create something that is related to them in some respects but at the same time is entirely different; the river is the sum of all its tributaries. This is what I would argue happened with 17th century Baptists–they were a totally new movement (river) influenced to varying degrees by a number of other movements (tributaries)." It is possible that some might argue for this view as a main category among views of Baptist origins. I chose to place Converging streams under restoration theories based on its shared elements with the other two restoration theories. This idea seems to be fairly new and in its growth stages. So it remains to be seen what role it will play in the future of Baptist historiography. John T. Christian, well-known successionist historian, seems to indicate that some idea of multiple origins is compatible with his brand of successionism: "It must be borne in mind that there are many sources of Church History...For example it is undoubtedly true that the Waldenses originated in the West and the Paulicans in the East, and that they had a different history. In later centuries they came in contact one with the other, but in origin they were diverse. Any effort to treat them as one and the same people is misleading. In my judgment both parties were Baptists. The above distinction will account for many minor differences, and even today these sources will be found coloring Baptist history." (A History of the Baptists, by John T. Christian, Vol. I, Preface)

Renewed interest in Anabaptist role in Baptist origins may be influenced by several things, from ecumenical interests to renewed historical interests to anti-Calvinistic bias. For an example of the first, "Any conclusion reached on this matter will have significant ecumenical implications, for one’s position can indicate how one views other denominations. Reestablishing lost ties with Anabaptist roots will accomplish much in bringing the believers of the 'free churches' into a closer unity. The evidence cited in this essay ought to be enough to concede that the Anabaptist influence cannot be dismissed. With this clear foundation, Baptists can enter the ecumenical dialogue well aware of their history, their origins, and their modern kin in the Christian world." (
General Baptist Roots in the Radical Reformation: an examination of a vexing question, by Eric Barreto). But ecumenical interests also have influence on the other views. For example, Winthrop S. Hudson felt the need to view Baptists as Separatist Puritans rather than Anabaptists "if unnecessary obstacles are not to be placed in the way of ecumenical discussions". (W. S. Hudson, "The Ecumenical Spirit of Early Baptists," in the Review and Expositor, LV (April, 1958), 182-95)

An influence on the thinking in this area is the rising Calvinistic and Reformed movements in the Southern Baptist Convention and among other Baptists. Opposition to this rising Calvinism might encourage some to find Baptist antecedents to the Calvinistic English Particular Baptists. Promotion of this Calvinism might encourage some to overemphasize the influence of the Calvinistic English Baptists. (Personally, I would find it hard to say we could overemphasize them, since they are our direct ancestors. But an inordinate affection could cause people to stop their study at that point with no interest in any antecedents whom they fear might hold some "skeletons in the Calvinistic closet".)

Lastly, a nod and a nudge to the rise of the scientific movement in historical research, which helped install the English Separatism view as the foremost view of Baptist history for a century. Prior to the "scientific movement" and the work of William H. Whitsitt, much supposed "history" of the Baptists might well be considered sectarian promotionalism. Whitsitt's question, though it aggravated many, served to send Baptist historians looking for original documents as opposed to relying on secondary sources and repeating what others had said. A down-side of the "scientific method" is that it must of necessity not consider the supernatural -- the movement of God in history. Its restriction to observation assumes no outside forces at work in history, and works from a naturalistic secularistic mentality. This is more than the Christian historian can accept. Another down-side is its touted lack of bias, when that is not necessarily the case. In his dissertation investigating the historiography of Whitsitt, Christian and Newman, Donald Cureton points out that Whitsitt's objectivity could have been clouded by his "excessive desire for reputation" as an original discoverer, and the fact that he was a soldier in the war against Landmarkism. (pp. 95-96)

Possible implications of this view
Baptist polity -- Though antecedents may exist, there is no need of prior baptism, ordination or church authority to form a new Baptist church.
Baptist history -- Baptist history begins with particular groups of believers adopting believers' baptism.
Baptist identity -- Baptist identity is both theological and historical, based on the common elements of these groups identified as Baptists.

Shared elements
With spontaneous origination, restoration shares the element that Baptists can start independently of any historical continuation or succession.
With continuation, restoration shares the element that Baptists have some sense of continuity (whether for 400 or 500 years, or 2000).

Influence of Anabaptists view shares with the Converging streams or multiple origins view the idea of more than one point of influence and origin.
As noted above, the Converging streams or multiple origins view may share some elements with succession, when continuation notes the reunion of "Baptist streams" that had flowed in different directions.

1. In Anabaptist studies, this type of origins view is often called polygenesis.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Spontaneous origination of Baptists

The three main categories listed in the Baptist origins outline below are continuation, restoration, and spontaneous origination. I want to mention the last one briefly and the move on to the two main categories and their subdivisions.

Spontaneous origination has been mentioned from time to time in relation to Baptist origins. This idea, as stated by Brackney (The Baptists, p. xvii), is that "Baptists originate whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit calls forth a congregation which conforms to literal Biblical revelation, regardless of historical antecedents or relationships with other groups."
Nathan Finn addresses this some on his blog . This kind of origin is "spontaneous" in that any group of people might come to the conviction that the Bible teaches the baptism of professing believers by immersion and could by that be made Baptists. Someone stated it this way: "The Baptists simply appeared and started up on their own without any succession or connection..." A down-to-earth expression of this might draw from John the Baptist's words to the Jews, "God is able of these stones to raise up Baptists."

This view should not be dismissed, for there are those that hold it. But we should recognize its basic difference from the other two views. While most views and sub-theories of Baptist origins may knit together Baptist history, Baptist identity, and Baptist polity, the spontaneous origination view does not particularly address when Baptists originated, but only how. In this sense this idea seems to be a theological construct that addresses a platform of Baptist polity -- how Baptists may come into existence (or how a church may be organized), without addressing when Baptists as we know them arose historically. This view removes itself from the idea of continuity. Both the restoration view and the continuation view agree on the existence of some kind of a historical continuity of Baptists. One believes that continuity starts at a distance from the New Testament era and the other believes that it starts from the time of Christ. According to the spontaneous view of Baptist origination, it can come at any time without any reference to any preceding group. In a sense it is "ahistorical", being unconcerned with any historical development.

Possible implications of this view
Baptist polity -- There are no antecedents of baptism, ordination or church authority needed to form a new Baptist church.
Baptist history -- Baptist history exists whenever and wherever a group of believers form a free congregation practicing believers' immersion.
Baptist identity -- Baptist identity is solely theological, independent of any historical precedent.

Shared elements
With restoration, spontaneous origination shares the element that Baptists can start independently of any historical continuation or succession.

1. By this I mean the view itself. Those individuals who hold the view may be interested in Baptist history.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Views of Baptist Origins

Outline of various views of Baptist origins, presented in a chronologically-oriented format

  • Continuation

    1. Continuation of biblical teachings (spiritual succession)
    2. Succession of Baptist churches

      1. Church perpetuity
      2. Chain-link succession

        1. Church succession (succession of church organizations)
        2. Apostolic succession (succession of valid ordinations)
        3. Baptismal succession (succession of valid baptisms)

  • Restoration

    1. Converging streams/multiple origins
    2. Influence of Anabaptists
    3. Outgrowth of English Separatism

  • Spontaneous origination

Tomorrow (d.v.) we will begin to look these categories of Baptist origins.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Classifications of Baptist Historians

The following lists are compiled from various sources of historians and theologians giving what they believe are the different views of Baptist origins. I have tried to include references that are online so you can look at them.

The Baptist Heritage by H. Leon McBeth
1. The outgrowth of English Separatism
2. The influence of biblical Anabaptists

3. The continuation of biblical teachings through the ages
4. The succession of organized Baptist churches through the ages

A Primer on Baptist History: The True Baptist Trail by Chris Traffanstedt
1. English Separatist movement

2. Anabaptist Influence
3. The Continuation or Successionist view

A History of the Baptists by Robert G. Torbet
(as presented by Philip Bryan)
1. The successionist theory

2. The Anabaptist spiritual kinship theory
3. The English Separatist descent theory

A History of the Baptists by Robert G. Torbet
(as presented by R. E. Pound)
1. The John the Baptist, Jordan River and Jerusalem Theory

2. The Anabaptist-Spiritual Kinship Theory of Baptist Origins
3. The English Separatist Descent Theory
4. The John H. Shakespeare Theory

[Note: Differences between Bryan & Pound on Torbet are that (1) Pound uses Torbet's original "John-Jordan-Jerusalem" terminology and Bryan takes the "successionist" term from a later revision of the book; and (2) Pound views "the Shakespeare theory" as a separate theory, while Bryan views it as a sub-theory under English Separatist descent.]

William H. Brackney in Baptist Life and Thought and The Baptists
1. Unbroken line of Baptistic churches
2. Affinities with the Continental Anabaptists
3. Arising out of English Puritans/Separatists
4. Spontaneous origination as called forth by the Holy Spirit

The Question of Baptist Origins by Nathan Finn
1. The "spontaneous origins" view

2. "Landmarkism", or Baptist succession
3. "Anabaptist kinship" view
4. "English Separatist" origins view
5. "Multiple origins" view

In addition to these, in The Southern Baptist Convention: 1845-1953, William Wright Barnes gives four variations of historical succession:
Church succession
Apostolic succession
Baptismal succession
Spiritual succession

Tomorrow I will give an outline that is an attempt to synthesize the different theories into a manageable (and hopefully helpful) format. Then we will look at some of the different views.

P.S. -- Or perhaps I won't give an outline! :-(
Does anyone know how to format an outline on Blogger?? I can't figure out how to do it.


Wow! It's almost noon on Saturday April 7th, and it is snowing here in East Texas. We don't get much snow in the Winter, but here it is -- coming down in big ol' flakes -- on Easter weekend 2007. It's too warm to stick though, unless the temperature drops rapidly. It's 40 degrees.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The study of Baptist origins

What is the study of Baptist origins?

Simply put, to study Baptist origins is to study when Baptists as we know them had their beginning. Yet the study of Baptist origins encompasses more than just answering "Did Baptists start in Canaan land in AD 27 or England AD 1641 (or somewhere in between)?" That would be the simplistic and seemingly natural approach, but it’s just not that simple. Baptists are never that simple! If they began in AD 27, how did they get from there to here? Why were they not called Baptists back then? If they began in AD 1641, can they truly be New Testament churches? Did the truths they hold exist before that time?

The discussion of Baptist origins transforms into a discussion of its interconnected points: (1) Baptist history – not only when did it start, but how did it get from there to here, from point A to point B; (2) Baptist identity – Just what is a Baptist, anyway? (3) Baptist polity – How should we constitute a church? Who should baptize? Further, it knits itself into our ecclesiology and theology (doctrine). If New Testament churches haven’t been here since AD 27, just what did Jesus mean when He said the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and just what is the nature of the church anyway? To whom or what did He make that promise?

“Perhaps this is going to be harder than I thought. Why should I study views of Baptist origins, or Baptist origins at all for that matter?” In his novel Erewhon Revisited, Samuel Butler wrote, “It has been said that though God cannot alter the past, historians can...” This must be where the Baptist historians come in, right? Don't like the past. Rewrite it.

No, there are good reasons to study Baptist history and origins other than finding ways to change it! We should study Baptist origins to add to our knowledge. We should study it to understand Baptists. Who are the Baptists? Why aren’t they all the same? Understanding a Baptist groups’ views of Baptist origins helps explain some of the beliefs of the group (e.g. Separatism vs. Ecumenism). Understanding their history may help explain some of the practices of the group. We should study Baptist origins to appreciate our heritage. Those who know something of the trials and hardships, triumphs and glories, faults and foibles – as well as the writings – of their ancestors are better positioned to appreciate and learn from them. We can learn from their experiences and their testimony, both positively and negatively.

What are some of the differing views of Baptist origins? There are probably about five theories, with sub-theories beneath those with varying emphases. All may be fairly represented by two broad categories – restorationist theories and continuationist theories.1 Milburn Cockrell wrote, "A person who believes that a church pops up here and there with no organic connection to any other church, and a man who believes that there has been a link-chain of churches (one church starting another church), do not believe one and the same thing." --
Observations on Church Organization

Restorationist theories hold in common that there has not been a successive groups of baptized believers from the time of the New Testament to the present. Continuationist theories hold in common that there have been successive groups of baptized believers from the New Testament times to the present.

Why are there so many different views of Baptist origins? Because we are Baptists!! And as Baptists we feel compelled to disagree, don't we?

Actually, there are probably two main reasons why we have two broad differences of opinion about Baptist origins, with competing theories and sub-theories under these. History and theology. There are different opinions and interpretations of the historical knowledge we have of the Baptists, and there are different opinions and interpretations of the theology we hold concerning the church as seen in the New Testament. And -- these two can act like magnets, at times attracting one another and at times pushing each other away. They do affect one another. Some historians seem to write with an air of having in hand a documentary of exactly how the Baptists started in the 1640’s, while others reinterpret history to fit their theological presuppositions.

"Baptists today should know about Baptist historians and their views about Baptist history and succession. This is what I call the historical consensus. A Baptist's historical theology includes the historical consensus. All students of Baptist history should realize that theology shapes the historian's views.(emphasis mine, rlv)" --
Some Critical Lectures on Baptist Succession by R. E. Pound

A third reason, from the historical standpoint, is obscurity of records. Brackney on p. 15 of Baptist Life and Thought wrote: "Since present documentation is scarce, complete validation of any of these theories must await further discoveries of primary source materials..."

I don't intend to try to solve all the problems and answer all the questions, but over the next several posts to investigate what are the main different views of Baptist origins.

1. I am indebted to Elder Mark Osgartharp, pastor of Lakeview Missionary Baptist Church in Wynne, Arkansas, for the naming of these two categories.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Whitsitt controversy

One of the controversies Shurden discusses in his book Not a Silent People is the controversy over Baptist origins, aka the Whitsitt controversy. In the 1890s, William Heth Whitsitt (1841-1911) wrote an article for the Johnson's Encyclopedia, in which he set forth the belief that the Baptists in England began to baptize by immersion in 1641 and previously had not practiced immersion. Before this he had anonymously proposed this theory in New York Independent in 1880 (or at least later claimed several of such editorials). In September 1896 he put out a book on the subject entitled A Question in Baptist History.

"During the autumn of 1877, shortly after I had been put in charge of the school of Church History at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in preparing my lectures on Baptist History, I made the discovery that, prior to the year 1641 our Baptist people in England were in the practice or sprinkling and pouring for baptism. I kept it to myself until the year 1880..."

Whitsitt's "discoveries" set off a firestorm which only subsided with his dismissal as president and church history professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The battle against Whitsitt was led by such men as T. T. Eaton, John T. Christian, and B. H. Carroll. Later commentators would claim that these men "won the battle but lost the war", pointing out that all six of the Southern Baptist seminaries taught as church history the very point Whitsitt raised.

Did Whitsitt and his followers really win the war? The battle never came into most primitivistic Baptist groups, who had been separated from the Convention Baptists long before Whitsitt -- even before the Convention. Shortly after the Whitsitt controversy, some Landmark Baptists took their marbles and went to play elsewhere. Landmarkers evidently gradually went "underground" in the SBC, and a Baptist academia full of Whitsitt's disciples was left to teach Baptist origins as they saw it. Yet well over 100 years later it is becoming evident that common Baptists and young historians within the SBC (and elsewhere) don't believe that Whitsitt's word is the final word.

In the next several posts, we will consider what are the various theories of Baptist origins.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Baptists and controversy

In Myth: Baptists Believe in Doctrinal Uniformity, Robert N. Nash wrote, "Baptists love controversy...Sometimes we are a bit like a pair of siblings who fight each other tooth and nail until somone else comes along and joins the fray. Sometimes we forget our differences and battle the common enemy. Without an enemy, though, we are perfectly content to pound on family members." Yes, we resemble that remark! Sometimes we may think of other Baptists more like red-headed step-cousins than real family, but I think we can get the point. We do love controversy.

In 1972, Walter B. Shurden wrote a book entitled Not a Silent People: Controversies that have shaped Southern Baptists. In it he discusses various controversies that took place within the context of the Southern Baptist Convention (or if predating it nevertheless affecting it). After presenting the controversies, he concludes with "lessons from Baptist controversies." Here are 4 lessons he thinks we learn from Baptist controversies.

1. "Controversy is inevitable among Baptists." Shurden pointed out the Baptist ideas of freedom and democratic congregational government are bound to make room for controversy. Also with this freedom comes diversity, and with diversity controversy.

2. "Controversy is painful but profitable." Shurden pointed to English Baptist John Clifford belief that the evils of controversy are temporary and the benefits permanent. We learn learn from it [sometimes I wonder! :-D ]

3. "Controversy is often embodied in powerful personalities." For better or worse, we know this to be true. Many Baptist controversies are named after a central figure -- e.g. "Whitsitt controversy", "Norris controversy", "Hayden controversy" -- or at least have one or more prominent names associated with it -- e.g. Spurgeon and the "Downgrade controversy"; Graves and "Landmarkism"; Parker, Fuller, Taylor, et al. and the missions controversy.

4. "Controversy is never finally and absolutely settled among Baptists." Baptists are a priesthood of believers and congregations who head is Christ -- there is NO central authority and NO final word from such an authority.

What have you learned from a Baptist controversy?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Broadus, societies, true church

The following is an excerpt from John Albert Broadus from Hershael York's blog "Confessions of a Pastor." Jason Fowler, archivist in the library at Southern Seminary, Louisville, KY, found the following in the James Petigru Boyce collection. Read the entire e-mail at Broadus on the requirements to be a true church.

"As to my 'syllogism.' In Homiletics, under Argument, I put on the board many specimens of argument, chiefly about real and religious questions (as more intelligible and useful), such as Romanism, Pedobaptism, close communion, etc. The last 2 sessions I have added an argument for “Landmarkism,” as an example in which if the premises be granted, the conclusions must follow, and the only question is whether the premises are true. Somehow so I put it: 1. No one has the right to preach unless he is authorized by a church. 2. Pedobaptists societies are not churches. Therefore, Pedobaptist churches have not a right to preach, and we ought not to recognize them as preachers. I said that if I believed both premises, as many esteemed brethren do, I should stand up to the conclusion squarely, as they do. That some brethren deny the 2nd premises, and some deny both. That I for my part fully admit the 2nd, but do not believe the 1st. And then I both times said I introduced this matter, on which our brethren are divided in opinion, merely as an illustration of argument, and I think it a good one, and not because I wanted anyone to adopt my views."(1)

Broadus indicates that he believes Pedobaptists (infant baptizing churches) can only be considered societies and not true churches. In this point he agrees with Landmarkism, doesn't he?

(1) Letter, John A. Broadus to James P. Boyce, 15 July 1876, James Petigru Boyce Collection, Archives and Special Collections, James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky

Monday, April 02, 2007

Unaffiliated Landmark Baptist churches survey

I completed a survey of unaffiliated Landmark Baptist churches in 2001. After weeding out duplicates and/or churches for which I discovered some denominational affiliation, my total was 1305 churches. I compiled no membership statistics for these churches, but, based on the average size of churches from known landmark Baptist statistics (ABA, BMAA, etc.) the membership of these churches should be approximately 200,000 (155 is the number I used for the average). I also identified 35 associations that hold landmark ecclesiology - 3 general associations, 1 state association, and 31 unaffiliated local associations (the 3 general and 1 state also have local associations affiliated with them). In those 35 associations I identified 3657 churches with 569,338 members. Most of those statistics were from the year 2000, but, for 8 or 10 of the local associations, the latest stats I could find were early 1990’s. If these numbers are combined with the independent churches, there are almost 5000 churches that hold Landmark ecclesiology, representing about 770,000 members. I am of the opinion that there are probably twice as many unaffiliated independent landmark Baptists as I have been able to identify.

Add to these facts, that groups of Baptists often identified as primitivistic (Central Baptists, Duck River/Kindred Baptists, Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Regular Baptists, and United Baptists) usually hold an ecclesiology in practice like Landmarkism (they do not accept baptisms from other orders, do not use ministers from other orders, and practice closed communion, hold successionism etc.), churches in the United States holding this form of ecclesiology probably number 8000 to 10,000 with over 1,000,000 members. These primitivistic churches are not normally identified as Landmark Baptists because the term is usually limited to missionary Baptists. This also does not consider that a number of churches in the Baptist Bible Fellowship, Southwide Baptist Fellowship, World Baptist Fellowship, and even the Southern Baptist Convention would identify with this doctrine and practice. This shows that, while perhaps a small grouping compared to the total number of Baptists in the United States, Landmark-type Baptist ecclesiology does have an important place in American Baptist life.

In my attempt to make sense of the 1305 unaffiliated independent landmark Baptist churches on my list, I developed seven categories to note some of the differences between the churches - Covenant Landmark, Direct Mission, Independent Fundamental, Old Time Missionary Baptist, Sovereign Grace, Unregistered Baptists, and Unknown. These categories are somewhat arbitrary (I place the churches in the categories rather the churches placing themselves) and fluid (many of the churches could legitimately be placed in two or more categories). The decision to place a church in a category was based on what I thought seemed to be her primary emphasis that made her stand out and/or seemed to guide her in her choice of fellowship with other churches. I am listing below a link to represent these categories and the total number of churches placed in each category. Remember that each link is representative of a single church and may not represent other churches in the same category. It is possible that some of the churches in a category would fellowship with churches that I have placed in another category. Another possibility is that some churches placed in a category might not fellowship with other churches in the same category.

Covenant Landmark - 28 churches. These churches might be described as believing that only Christians in landmark Baptist churches are part of the New Covenant. They might not choose to describe themselves this way. Be sure to check out the website.
Direct Mission - 61 churches. Many of these churches have an historical connection to the gospel mission movement of missionary to China T. P. Crawford. I placed these in a separate category because I felt that their landmark principles of mission work was the chief reason they choose not to participate in associations or fellowships.
Independent Fundamental - 386 churches. These churches are very much heirs of the traits developed from the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the early 1900’s. They are the same as others commonly thought of independent fundamental Baptists, but with a stronger local church emphasis on baptism, Lord’s supper, and pulpit affiliation, etc.
Old Time Missionary Baptist - 176 churches. These churches place a strong emphasis on a definite salvation experience, and usually have a mourner’s bench in or near the front of the church. They tend to usually not have as strong objections to associations and fellowships as some unaffiliated Baptists, and are often found closely fellowshipping with other Old Time Missionary Baptists that are in associations.
Sovereign Grace - 419 churches. These churches place a strong emphasis on the doctrines of grace, usually known as TULIP or five-point Calvinism. I think most of these churches would not fellowship with other churches that do not hold the doctrines of grace (and most Landmark churches not holding TULIP would not fellowship with them).
Unregistered Baptist - 35 churches. These churches could probably all be placed in the independent fundamentalist category. But I found a strain of Landmarkers that are asserting that churches should not incorporate or otherwise cooperate with certain requirements of the government (e.g. Indianapolis Baptist Temple). Some of these believe that the registration and cooperation with governmental tax laws, etc. causes a church to “lose its candlestick” (no longer be recognized as a true church).
Unknown - 200 churches. These are churches which I believe meet the basic requirements to be called “Landmark,” and yet I found no outstanding features (or did not have enough information) to classify them. In this group are probably some who themselves observe Landmark practices such as closed baptism, closed communion and non-pulpit affiliation, and yet do not strictly draw the line of fellowship on these issues.

These unaffiliated independent Landmark Baptist churches are scattered throughout the United States, with especially strong areas being in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas. The Sovereign Grace Landmarkers are very strong in Kentucky, but also surprisingly strong in states like West Virginia and Ohio. The Covenant Landmarkers have their strongest base on the west coast. They draw their lines of fellowship on the covenant issue, but not on whether a church is independent. So they are often found fellowshipping with Covenant Landmarkers in the ABA, etc. The Independent Fundamental Landmarkers have great strength in Texas, probably partly because of the influence of J. Frank Norris and Louis Entzminger. Old Time Missionary Baptists have their greatest strength in Tennessee and Kentucky, with a good showing in Missouri as well.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ghost members

A few days back, I entitled a thread Landmarkism Under Fire, re the book by that title.

In "Appendix VI, Terms" in Landmarkism Under Fire, Elder Settlemoir mentions "ghost members":

"Ghosting members. Ghosting members is a term I have borrowed to describe a procedure by which some churches receive members who are not present, never have been present and never will be present in the assembly where they are supposed to be members. Such churches receive these members by proxy and carry these members on their roles by proxy and letter them out by proxy! The church does not even know these members nor do these members know the church! They are therefore not under the discipline of the church. These ghost members have no voice in the church. Ghosting members is usually done for the purpose of granting EMDA. The Ghost members will, at the time of constitution, be granted letters stating they are members in good standing (which is not true) and they will be lettered out to form the new church. Churches who can defend this as a scriptural procedure will have no problem baptizing a baby on the proxy faith of its god-parents!"

*No this is not an April Fools' joke!