"Fear" may be too strong a word, but there is clearly a decided aversion to any positive discussion of any idea of Baptist antiquity before the 17rh Century. Good people who gladly wear the name "Baptist" are shy about anything that smacks of "Landmarkism" in today's dialogue. "Calvinism" can be discussed, sometimes even rationally! Use of various translations may engender a warm discussion, but the parties usually part friends, though possibly friends who agree to disagree. But let the "Trail of Blood" be introduced into any Baptist dialogue today, and the match hits the gasoline.
For years I have wondered, "Why is this true?" As described in an earlier "blog," I was a "Landmarker" before I was saved (if you haven't read that one, just ask for it), and my puzzle has been why something so clear and evident to me seems so difficult for so many good people, folks I count as friends. Like the earlier post, this is not designed for more heated argument, but simply in the spirit of fraternal discussion. Any responses, positive or negative, will be valued and considered carefully.
In sorting through written and oral discussions of this subject for years, I have gradually "boiled down" what has been said against any form of perpetuity, succession, or continuity of New Testament churches through the "Dark Ages" to three basic views. Trusting they are fairly stated here, they seem to "cover the waterfront" of doubt and denial on this subject. If I've missed one, please let me know!
1) The question is irrelevant. Wherever the Spirit quickens the word in the hearts and minds of two or three gathered together, there is "church," regardless of what has gone before or what may follow. No succession is necessary or even worthwhile. After all, the Catholics have a "succession of Popes," with lot of historical documentation, but we don't accept that.
2) The question is moot. No historic succession can be proved, so it is just "endless genealogies" for us to attempt to discuss the idea. Besides, some of the groups usually cited were heretics, and would not be accepted by Baptists today.
3) The question is based in a false assumption, namely that succession is of "local churches," which are come and go. There is perpetuity in the universal church, first through the Catholic (visible) church, then after the Protestant Reformation through the universal (invisible) church. Baptists are merely part, and a late part at that, of the Protestant movement, and the sooner we accept that the better.
If I have missed a line of reasoning, feel free to point it out. My responses to these are far from "verbally inspired," but for what they are worth here they are.
Would those who hold view I think that way on any other important matter? To illustrate my point, here is a fine young couple, regular at church, both professing Christians with a healthy outlook on life. They casually mention to their pastor that they are living together, not legally married because "The Spirit led us to be together. After all, we love one another and love the Lord. What's wrong with it, preacher?" "Authority", you say, and they respond "We have the same authority you had to start this church that ministers to our life style!"
Or here is a 16-year-old, again regular in church, apparently "spiritual," whose father is a driver's ed instructor. The young person has been trained in the mechanics of driving, has been behind the wheel with dad along, and knows the "rules of the road." "Preacher, I'm headed for a vacation-going out west for a ski trip!" "Family going together," you ask? "No, I'm driving myself." "But you don't have a license!" "Pastor, you've taught us that all that legalism is Old Testament stuff. I know what I'm doing and you say we have real freedom in grace. Why are you concerned?" "Authority," you try to say, and realize the futility of your case.
Or here is a person with some medical training, competent and intelligent. You have some fairly mild, brief illness, not sure just what, and mention it. Your friend says "I'll write you a prescription. Do you want a 'placebo,' a poison pill, or penicillin? After all, they're all the same." When you question your friend's authority to write any prescription, the response is the same as the earlier cases. And the parallel to "three modes of baptism" is clear enough.
This line of reasoning could be extended, but let these cases suffice. It should be pointed out that the objection also overlooks the question of succession of Scripture; without churches, how did the text survive and come to the two or three? Now, what about the second objection? First, historical succession isn't quite so difficult to document as some feel, though it isn't really necessary. Bible believers who hold the doctrine of creation agree that we are all descended from Adam through Noah, though documentation after the Scripture up to William the (Norman) Conqueror and his Domesday Book are pretty sketchy. But we know there were people there, and we have their characteristics, and evidently those of Adam and Eve; while we may enjoy tracing our ancestors we don't need to do so to believe that we are human beings. But some of these groups were heretics? By whose standards? And by what documentation?
Surely their illegal conventicles, hidden from the state religion, were more like the churches of the New Testament than the formal trappings and trimmings of the "Holy Roman Empire" which persecuted them!
And that brings us to the third objection; can we really believe that a persecuting organization which insisted that everyone in a given state had to be "baptized" in infancy and added to the state roster and the "church roll" at the same time could be a valid successor to the meek and lowly Nazarene Whose followers were driven from pillar to post, first by Jewish rulers, then by Roman? And how do the various Protestant Reformation groups differ from medieval Catholicism except for the issue of control - who is in charge? After all, their state churches also persecuted Anabaptists.
Here I hope I am wrong, but one ground of opposition to finding our ancestry among these groups may be just at this point. The common lot of all these groups, from Montanists to the varied groups known as "Anabaptists" in the 16th Century, was persecution. Is it possible that underlying the formally stated objections is a realization that "All who would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer tribulation," that "through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God," that if we declare our heritage through such ostracized and unrecognized groups we also may suffer their fate? It is no doubt more pleasant to be the pastor of a congregation which enjoys community recognition and even exercises political and social leadership in its area, than to be forced to seek refuge in hiding, knowing that imprisonment or even death could well be the next step. As I say, I trust that is not the motive, and even wonder if I should say it, but my long-standing question cries out for an answer.
R. Charles Blair, December 2014 - Pastor,
Poplar Grove Baptist Church
[From an essay by the author. Used with permission. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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