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The Problem of Baptism in History
By Buell H Kazee
Chapter 10

      "Alien baptism" is a term little known to the average church member of this day. Few if any denominations other than Baptists have had any occasion to use it, and for a long time the issue has been subdued among them. Yet, generally speaking, among Southern Baptists there are many preachers and churches who reject "alien baptism" in spite of the fact that the Baptist conscience on this matter is weakening. For those who do not know what the term means, let us explain that it is a label coined among Baptists to distinguish the baptism of other denominations from that of our own churches. To accept as a member of a Baptist church any person on the baptism which he or she received in a church of another denomination is to accept "alien baptism." Even this, of course, is restricted to immersion.

      In my own conversation with pastors of this generation, I find that many of those in Baptist churches would accept "alien baptism" if their churches would go along with them. I find the churches more orthodox on this point than many of their pastors are. With this situation, it is only a matter of time until the churches follow their pastors. Most independent Baptist groups or churches who have left the American (Northern) or Southern Baptist Conventions have usually held out rigidly against accepting alien baptism, yet, there are some exceptions to this rule. It is not our purpose here to discuss the general situation among Baptists on this matter, but since the position we hold is mainly a Baptist distinctive, it becomes necessary to refer to the views and attitudes of that denomination.

      Church history is, like all other history, an account of what somebody sees, and the account becomes at most a conscientious interpretation. In spite of all effort, the historian must write as he sees with the facts which are at his command. The historian has not personally witnessed all that has taken place over the last

two thousand years; he writes what he gleans from what others have left in their writings and attempts to interpret it for the reader. Much that was said and done in history was not recorded, and much that was recorded has been destroyed. Furthermore, the same events, in many cases, may have meanings to some which they do not to others.

      For instance, the Anabaptists may be to some historians a band of foolish radicals, while to others they may be the persecuted heroes of the Cross. The historian's account will magnify or minimize certain events in their lives according to how he evaluates them as a people.

      We see what we want to see. A good illustration of this is a stream near where the author was born, called the Licking River. One might describe it as one of the most crooked rivers in the world, for there is hardly a straight stretch in it. It goes "licking" about among the hills and points along its shores, sometimes going around a long ridge for several miles, yet coming back near enough on the other side for one to cast a rock from the ridge into either section of it. In any account of its course, one could hardly exaggerate its crookedness. Yet, another could just as honestly describe it as perhaps one of the straightest rivers in the world, for it follows a direct straight course from the southeast corner of Kentucky into the Ohio River at Cincinnati.

      Ecclesiastical history can find its radical movements, its fanatics, its false leaders as well as its true, its ignorance and its intelligence, its divisions and its unity, its good days and bad days. It would depend on the evaluation of the historian as to how its events and people would be interpreted. Yet, to some of us, the course of history clear back to the apostles reveals groups of people all along the way who contended "for the faith once delivered to the saints." Whether or not our baptism is successive all the way back, no one can prove: On the other hand, no one can prove that such a succession does not exist.

      To make sure that we see the problem of history, let us suppose that we shall write a history of the Baptists over the last half a century. It would depend entirely on the historian as to who the Baptists really are during that period. Once the writer had finished his work, one can easily see how it would be criticized and rejected by many or maybe accepted and praised by others. Or, let us take a page out of the history of Baptists covering the period back to the Whitefield and Wesley revivals. At that time

there was a division among Baptists over the emotional type of evangelism which characterized these revivals. This resulted in two factions, Separate and Regular Baptists. Later on, these two factions reunited and called themselves United Baptists. Some of them believed that the laying on of hands after baptism was a church ordinance. Others believed that foot washing was a church ordinance. Nearly all the older Baptist churches in Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky were at one time United Baptists, some of them accepting baptizing, the Lord's supper, laying on of hands and foot washing as church ordinances.

      Things have changed. A small group clung to the old name, kept their foot washing as a church ordinance, dropped the laying on of hands, opposed education of ministers, Sunday Schools and other "modern trends," while the large majority of these churches dropped both the laying on of hands and foot washing, developed Sunday Schools, took up mission work, fostered educational institutions and became the progressive Baptists of that and this day.

      Such facts are little known among Baptist church members of today, and most Baptists would deny kinship with many of the Baptists of that day. Thus, it is easy to see how all the facts of history could affect us if we had them laid bare before us. Baptists have not always been right about everything, and many groups of them have been more zealous than wise in some instances. We do not think it necessary to confirm these comments by historical proof, since the history books are open to all, nevertheless we are prepared to do so. Let it suffice to say that, as it is in this present day, there have always been people who bore the name Baptist with whom we would not like to travel. We have always had our radicals and fanatics, our compromisers and liberals, and any position we would take in history could be questioned by somebody. Each of us must take his own position and bear a corresponding responsibility for truth.

      One thing we can be sure of: there has been made available enough reliable historical proof about the people called Baptists to identify them in their beliefs with some religious groups in every age back to the apostles. While history does not make out an ironclad case for successive baptism, it does give a good case for the perpetuity of churches which can be identified with the kind of church specifically recognized as a church in the New Testament.

      The New Testament was not written for ecclesiastical denominations. It envisages only one kind of church, and all its instruction is for that kind of church alone. It makes no allowance for the variety of interpretations which have crystallized into the many denominational bodies of this day. For fifteen centuries there were no denominations except that which grew to be the universal-visible church of Rome plus those local groups here and there in history which opposed this monstrosity. These small groups are found in different times and places under various names, but they were generally identified by the revealing name of Anabaptists. Today these might be called by some, "splinter Baptists." Although they sometimes went to extremes and made many mistakes (a characteristic not unknown in this day), due often to the press of circumstances, we are still deeply indebted to their blood and tears for the heritage of the gospel which we experience and preach in the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ today.

      It was in the sixteenth century that modern denominations began to take form. History is definite about these: Lutheran, Episcopalian, Reformed, Presbyterian and so on with the ever-increasing list of this present day. In the midst of all these divisions, God has kept some churches that were fundamentally like those of the first century, and these have kept the gospel stream pure down to this present date.

      The ecumenical movement of this day envisages the hope of uniting all these groups in one great church, but, in our view, this is but the Protestant trek back to Rome. Watch the remnant if you would find the true churches of Jesus Christ. It will be shown later why these churches cannot unite in such a movement.

      When one raises the question of accepting or rejecting "alien baptism," at once the demand for some qualification of an acceptable baptism arises. This in turn raises also the question of succcssion in baptism. That is, is there in the churches of today a baptism which can be traced back through history in an unbroken line to the apostles? Stating it another way, does the authority of a valid baptism depend on an unbroken line of succession back to the apostles?

      No other problem in this study has consumed as much time and consideration as has this one. In the weariness of the flesh, the author could ardently wish that the problem could be solved by easy and unquestionable proof that there is an unbroken line and that this is our assurance of a valid baptism. But alas! it is not that easy. There are too many other difficulties.

      For example, suppose we could establish an unbroken line of literal baptism, in nearly any age we would find it losing its validity somewhere because it did not remain true to the new covenant gospel. We are quite sure that the Roman Catholic church had for a long time an unbroken line of baptism, but that alone would not make their baptism acceptable to us. And what became of the churches listed in the New Testament?

      Besides, there are many other problems. The question of a qualified administrator arises. Is the administrator of baptism a man or a church? Does ordination give church authority to the man to act on his own, apart from the church, to hear confessions, pass judgment and baptize, as was surely the case with Paul and Barnabas and Paul and Silas? If the Lord had not used the church at Antioch in the expression of His will concerning Paul and Barnabas, could they just as well have gone out by special direction of the Spirit alone, as did Philip who baptized the eunuch? As has been shown, the author believes that these are special cases during the period when the church is developing and maturing. These instances, along wth the selection of the seven to look after the charities of the church, seem to be examples of a gradual participation of the church in the conduct of affairs, yet all of these are still under definite apostolic direction.

      In the light of these problems, let us look at an example or two of evidence used to prove church perpetuity. Let it be understood that this writer believes that the perpetuity of the kind of church generally represented by Baptists is supported by historical evidence. But the proof of baptismal succession is another matter.

      In the book by Roy Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, there is quoted a link connection of "Baptist succession back to Christ." In this quotation we can see the problem of proof for a succession of baptism. (Mr. Mason does not vouch for the authenticity of the quotation, neither does he claim the necessity of a baptismal succession). We shall not give all the quotation, but just enough of it to show the problem.

     Link One. The Baptist church at Dyer, Tennessee, was organized by J. W. Jetter, who came from the Philadelph!a Association.

     Link Two. Hillcliff church, Wales, England. H. Roller came to the Philadelphia Association from the Hillcliff church. See minutes of Philadelphia Association, book 3, item 1.

    Link Three. Hillcliff church was organized by Aaron Arlington, A.D. 987. See Alex Munston's Israel of the Alps, p. 39.

     Link Four. Lima Piedmont church ordained Aaron Arlington in 940. See Jones' Church History, p. 324.

      The links go back through fourteen to the apostle John who baptized Polycarp "on the twenty-fifth of December, A.D. 95," with the reference to Neander's Church History, p. 285.1

      We have no purpose of questioning the authenticity of the account nor of Mr. Mason's use of it. For the purpose of proving church perpetuity, if it is authentic, it serves well. But should one use this quotation to prove a chain of baptism, while this may be quite obviously implied, it does not say who baptized whom or by what authority.

      Another quotation used in the same connection, and, remember, we are not questioning Mr. Mason's use of it, is a statement by the late Dr. J. W. Porter in a book called "Random Remarks," concerning Dr. John Clark, who was pastor "of the first Baptist church in America, located at Newport, R. I." According to Mr. Mason, Dr. Porter says:

"Dr. John Clark received his baptism from Stillwell's church in London, and his church received theirs from Holland, and the Holland Baptists from the Waldenses, and the Waldenses from the Novatians, and the Novatians from the Donatists, and the Donatists received their baptism from the apostolic church, and the apostolic church from John the Baptist, and, John the Baptist from heaven.2
      It is obvious that if one were to use this quotation to prove baptismal succession, it would be lacking in documentary evidence. Even for any use, its documentary force is no stronger
than the author's word (and we highly regard Dr. Porter) because he does not support his declaration with such evidence. Yet, such quotations are about the best we can find to prove a succession. John T. Christian in his A History of the Baptists has amassed more documentary evidence than we can find anywhere else that would support a contention for baptismal succession, and yet, when he comes to "the Episode of John Smyth" and the "Origin of the Particular Baptist Churches," he cites as the most responsible line of Baptists in England the Particular Baptists who took the position that "it was not necessary to prove a succession of Baptist churches."3 He says, "The position of the Particular Baptists meant that for an administrator of baptism they did not go beyond the authority of the New Testament."4 In the context of these quotations Dr. Christian points out that "this body of Baptists have, however, been singularly clear in affirming the long continued existence of the Baptists of England, and elsewhere. They even claim, if it were at all necessary to prove it, that they have a succession more ancient and purer, if humbler than that of the Roman Catholic Church. The witnesses on this point are numerous and weighty."5 This quotation is followed by some documentary evidence on this point.

      This is but an example of the historical sources we have examined to see if a chain of baptism could be substantiated with documentary evidence, but without success. Such a chain of baptism may exist, and, with exhaustive search, it may be possible to prove it. However, even if we could prove as many as half a dozen such cases, and prove them unquestionably, we would still be faced in this day with uncertainties and doubt about the "authenticity" of our baptism on this basis. Why? Well, for one reason, even those churches which contend for a succession of baptism will accept into their membership those whose baptism they cannot prove as a part of the chain. They must do like most of us: make the best examination possible and accept the rest. For this reason alone we cannot be sure about the baptism of all whom we regard as acceptable as church members. The only way a church like this could be sure, if its membership grew to be very large, would be to baptize all who come and refuse to accept letters of recommendation from other churches.

      Be it remembered that we would much prefer that all baptism could be so authenticated, but we see no hope of any such proof. If our conclusion about this be true, then it must have been that the Lord intended that we should base our claim for authentic baptism upon something else.

      Another question closely associated with this problem is the one of church succession. That is, if it be true that a church must have divine authority in its work, and we doubt it not, how is this divine authority transmitted from one to another? That is, can a new church be started without the official grant of another church (sometimes called a "mother church") to organize? Involved in this is also the question of whether or not ordination of a man by one church gives him the authority to organize another church. These questions are meant to probe this whole problem. In the quotation from Roy Mason's book quoted above, we note that it says, for example: "The Baptist church at Dyer, Tennessee, was organized (our emphasis) by J. W. Jetter." Did Mr. Jetter just go out by himself and organize a church, or was he sent out by some church in the Philadelphia Association? And if in either case he did it all on his own without submitting the matter to the "mother church" or the church which had ordained him, how much "church authority" was in the matter?

      Certainly, the only precedent we have is the scriptural example of Paul and Barnabas or Paul and Silas, and none of us knows anything about just what procedure was involved in the organizing or constitution of these churches. It is our own view that most of these early churches were constituted without much form or ceremony. The necessity for more definite form of constitution would come with the crystallizing of church life, no doubt, but none of this was laid down in blueprint by our Lord.

      It is our understanding that most of the mission work of this day is done through the authority of a church delegated to a missionary who can go out to preach in new fields, hear confessions and baptize his converts and constitute churches out of them. On all these questions the author of this book needs light, and we make no pretense toward having all the answers. Maybe others do, but let no one substitute cheap dogmatism for lack of light.

      It seems to us that in many realms the Scriptures do not spell out all the necessary procedures, and that "sanctified judgment"

is a necessity. We all accept it in certain areas. For instance, the Bible says nothing about people moving their memberships from one church to another, nor of a letter of recommendation in such cases. Yet, that is of universal acceptance among Baptists. The ordination of preachers, as far as form and ceremony is concerned, is our own way derived from good judgment. We know not how Paul and Barnabas "ordained them elders in every church" (Acts 14:23), but it seems sensible to have some order about it. God is not the author of confusion, and it becomes us to do His work in orderly fashion even where the order is not spelled out.

      This is where we have arrived at our conclusion about the authority of the church in the administration of the ordinances. We cannot prove succession in baptism in history, yet, to throw the churches out and say that just anybody who has been saved can baptize and administer the Lord's supper is to open the door to a conclusion which makes the New Testament utterances about the church meaningless. There is a right position somewhere closer, much closer, to the Bible than this. This is the position we have taken.

      In this day among Baptists there seems to be a prevailing custom of establishing churches through the "sponsorship" or authority of a "mother church," a very commendable practice, we think, although not spelled out in the Scriptures; but whether or not this has always been done is certainly another matter. It is very likely that back through history there have been many instances where Bible-believing churches thought that the ordination to preach carried with it the authority to judge confessions and baptize, yea, even to organize churches of these newly-baptized converts. It is also likely that through these channels the baptism of many of us has come. For this reason we will need to be reserved in our declarations.

      Let us remember that the torch handed down from one church to another is not one of spiritual magic; it is doctrinal. The ordinances are doctrinal; they are not spiritual experience. They are not only our guides in preaching the message of salvation, but they are also our chart and compass for the order of church life. They are not themselves the gospel, just as circumcision itself was not the covenant with Abraham. They are the signs of the gospel as circumcision was the sign of the covenant. Other nations, Egypt and others, had practiced circumcision. It

was the association of circumcision with the covenant that gave it its meaning. Likewise, it is the association of the ordinances with the church and its message that gives them their meaning.

      Certainly this does not resolve all questions, but neither does any other position. It would be very awkward to try to set up a church without somebody who had been baptized and recognized in a New Testament church. I am thankful that, so far as I know, it does not have to be done in this age. It is even possible that there never has been a time when a baptism which meets scriptural standards could not have been obtained. Since the ordinances are doctrinal, when one finds a church that believes, obeys and declares what they teach, one will likely find the right baptism. At least, one will be commended for trying to be faithful if one makes an earnest search for it.

      We know that there was authority in John's baptism (Luke 20:4ff.), and yet we have no record that John was baptized. Still there was authority in the baptism of Jesus and the apostles and in the churches of their time. Since then, we are dependent on history, the accounts of which have often been destroyed by those who looked with scorn upon the hunted travelers of the faith during the centuries since that early day. One thing in our limited research has impressed us: in every age, those who have held to the basic principles indicated in this study have usually been very concerned about the right baptism. It is quite believable that wherever these doctrines have traveled down through the centuries, they have been borne on the vehicles of baptism and the Lord's supper. As for us, whether or not we can establish the historical chain of baptism, we cannot throw out the high position the Lord has given his churches in relation to the ordinances. It is for us to keep it as straight as we can in our day. And if we come to the place where the churches have no meaningful connection or position of authority over the ordinances, then we shall be forced to consider throwing out the ordinances themselves rather than the churches. Our appeal is not to history but to the Scriptures.

      We hope that one further word will not belabor this subject to its death, and we hope we are not pressing the analogy too far. But this may serve to illustrate what we are trying to say.

      The marriage ceremony or rite of marriage is not actually the marriage itself. It is the sign of order for life in this world. The race of man could well be perpetuated and populated without a

formal rite or ceremony of marriage. However, God has set up a one-man-one-woman arrangement for the perpetuation of family life in this world, and some sort of marriage form is demanded to keep this earthly society in order. Otherwise, all would be confusion.

      Now, it seems to us that this is a good illustration of the rites of baptism and the Lord's supper. They are set in the churches to keep the order of truth and the character of the gospel institution. There could have been children born into the family of God without churches and the ordinances, but the order and perpetuity of the gospel is better served by the symbolic guides which rule the propagation of the message.

      Here, then, is a note of importance. If we go back far enough through the strains of our ancestry, many of us may find an instance of illegitimacy. But this does not break the order of life as set up by marriage and the begetting of children in wedlock. This is the result of the imperfection of man. Even a son or daughter who is begotten through the irregular course of life is still expected to return to the regular order of marriage as what the Lord has ordained for us in this world. It would seem, therefore, that, while there may be instances or periods of irregularity in baptism and the Lord's supper, such irregularities can and should be corrected and returned to the order which the Scriptures indicate for them.

      This was true also of the offerings and symbolic orders of the service of the tabernacle. There were times when the order of service was broken, but the ideal was in the blueprint of God, and a revival in God's Israel always meant a return to the order which the Lord had ordained to perpetuate the gospel which saves men of every dispensation, namely, faith in the sacrifice of the Lamb and the perpetual growth in His nature and likeness. The ordinances seem to follow, in their much simpler order, the same course in church life. Where the order has been broken it can and must be restored.



1 Quoted by Roy Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 110.
2 Ibid., p. 110.
3 John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, (Broadman Press, Nashville: 1922) p. 254.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

[Buell H. Kazee, The Church and the Ordinances, Lexington, KY, 1965, pp. 97-107.]

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