AN American student seeking from German scholars, an account of the origin and history of the Baptist Denomination, was warily answered, "The history of that sect has never been written."
While Baptist scholarship has lacked the interest, or opportunity to gather evidences extant in different languages and localities of Europe, of a succession of apostolic, or Baptist churches, Pedobaptists scholars have no motive to trace an ecclesiastical succession which would prove their affiliation with Antichrist. Two works just published by the Baptist Publication Society, claim the antiquity of the Baptist church. "Baptist History," by Dr. W. R. Williams, in the title of one of its chapters, " Our Churches under the Ban of Antichrist," claims by all the authority of his great learning a "Baptist Succession." "The Church in the Wilderness," more explicitly claims the perpetuity of the Baptist or Apostolic Church, and points out different lines of its possible succession from the apostolic age to our own times. The question of such succession depends for its solution on the interpretation, as well as the discovery of facts. Jones, Orchard, Benedict, Cramp, and others, believe facts already established, sufficiently attest the perpetuity of the Apostolic Church, and the Baptist Denomination, generally have accepted their interpretation and conclusion. While others, with no fuller investigation, and no wider range of facts have been disposed
to abandoned the claim to a Baptist Succession even disparaging its importance. By Baptist Succession, we mean Apostolic Succession. The essential Apostolic church is the only accepted definition of the Baptist church. The local association of believers instituted by the apostles, is the only standard of ecclesiastical order and discipline, Baptists feel amenable to; only what was essential in those apostolic communities is properly distinctive of the Baptist denomination. If then the Apostolic church ever disappeared from the earth, Baptist Succession disappeared with it. But if the Apostolic church has always continued, Baptist Succession is proved. Let us consider the grounds on which this Succession may be claimed.
1. This claim is felt to be necessary to establish apostolic authority. The Papacy bases her claim to apostolic institution upon a supposed unbroken historical succession from the times of the apostles. Protestants in the time of the Reformation to vindicate their ecclesiastical character, endeavored by learned treatises to trace for themselves, an essential apostolic succession. And no historical denomination, unless Baptist are an exception, claim apostolic constitution, who do not also claim apostolic succession. It seems to be generally conceded that a community unable to trace such a descent or indifferent to it, must lack apostolic order and sanction. That Christ's order and sanction must be derived through appointment and succession from him. That any institution not deriving its order and authority through his appointment, is not his church. Hence all denominations to justify their present order have claimed for it an essential apostolic descent. It would seem strange that Baptists the only people now having the apostolic order, and therefore the only people who could possibly have an apostolic succession, should be the only people to abandon this claim, or be indifferent to its sanction and prestige the only people to admit their church is without apostolic descent a mere modern institution. The Baptist denomination makes no such weak concession. If she did in making it, she would expect an early disintegration and absorption by some denomination who could trace and appreciate an apostolic succession and authority.
2. Assuming as Baptists do, that the Apostolic church was a Baptist church, the presumption of its continuance is so great as to be set aside only by positive isproof. Pedobaptists denying the Baptist character of the Apostolic church; may, rightfully demand full positive proof both of the apostolic origin and succession of the Baptist church. But Baptists conceding the origin, the succession inevitably follows, unless shown to have been interrupted. But the
proof of any interruption of that original order of churches has been challenged and waited for in vain. When and where did the last Apostolic church become extinct, breaking the succession of Baptists churches? In what century can it be shown there were not thousands of such churches sheltered in the wilderness from the rage of Antichrist? Who has the termerity to declare there was ever a time when not a single Apostolic or Baptist church remained on the earth? If then, the apostolic order of churches never ceased, the succession of Baptist churches was never interrupted. And we may continue to rejoice in apostolic succession as well as in apostolic origin and character.
3. Assuming further, the Apostolic or Baptist church, was an institution, and not a mere casual assembly, and we have an additional presumption in favor of its continuance, so strong that nothing less than positive disproof can set it aside. If the original church was only a casual assembly, as claimed by some modern sectaries, its succession could no more be identified than a succession of casual political assemblies or extemporized social gatherings. But if the church was an institution as all historical denominations claim, and that institution was formulated by the ordinances of Christ, its succession may be traced in conformities to these ordinances. By the very force of instituted order its perpetuity is assured. As Civil Government is a divine institution and cannot cease to exist without civil anarchy, and as the family is a divine institution and cannot be abrogated without social disorder and misery; so the church was instituted as a permanent order of religion, and the force and fitness of its appointment assure its perpetuity. Any interruption of its order would be a reflection upon the wisdom and authority of the lawgiver. As eure as the Apostolic church was an institution it must have continued in unbroken succession throughout the ages.
4. The succession of the Apostolic or Baptist church, was assured by the promise of its founder that, "The gates of Hell should not prevail against it." This promise must have contemplated the church iu her two-fold character as described in the New Testament both as a spiritual fellowship and as an institution. There is no more reason for overlooking its application to the organized church than to the spiritual body. It can mean no less than that the rage of persecution shall neither exterminate the universal spiritual church, nor banish from the earth the instituted church of Christ. Though persecuted, it should not be destroyed. Though driven into the wilderness, it should survive there. If there was a time when
the last church was overthrown and no covenanted fellowship of believers remained on the earth, divine promise must have failed. If on the other hand, the promise was verified, the succession of Apostolic or Baptist churches never ceased.
5. The very simplicity of the Baptist, or Apostolic church, as forcibly urged by the author of the "Church in the Wilderness," makes its extinction almost inconceivable without the extinction of Christianity itself. If Christianity continued, it must ever have tended strongly to assume its own perscribed and normal order. The Apostolic church was that normal organization. However dispersed, believers would ever be seeking reunion and organization, according to Christ's laws. So that when believers were found free from external dictation, they would in the first effort of loyalty to Christ, restore his church. Aud where two or three in faith's communion united, observing the order and worship of Christ, there was the essential Apostolic, or Baptist church. It is hardly possible therefore, to believe there has been any period of the Christian era, when Baptist churches have not existed in great numbers in some part of the earth. While the extinction of the last of them seems to us altogether incredible. Negative proof would avail nothing toward discrediting a succession of such churches. As well deny the perpetuity of civil government, because through some periods, no annals of states are found; or, deny succession of families because family tables have not been preserved, as to deny a succession of Apostolic churches, because Antichrist dispersed them, or destroyed their records. We no more doubt a succession of such churches, than we doubt the inevitable succession of families and states in the earth.
6. The uninterrupted operation of the spiritual forces, creating the Apostolic, or Baptist church, must inevitably have insured its succession. If the word and spirit of God created a particular type of church in apostolic times, and they create the same type of church in our time, so surely as these forces continued to operate through the intervening ages they must have produced the same type of church. If these forces never ceased to operate, the succession of the Apostolic, or Baptist churches never ceased. As the same plates produce the same book in the tenth or hundredth edition as in the first, so same typal spiritual forces must have produced the same order of churches in all ages. As we do not doubt the continued operation of these spiritual forces in some part of the earth, we believe in a succession of Apostolic, or Baptist churches to our own time.
7. The prevalence of Baptist principles throughout the centuries as shown by scholars, proves a necessary succession of the churches, those principles formulate. Those jealously maintaining the independence of the church; the sole authority of the Scriptures as the rule of faith and practice; the spiritual character and discipline and the baptismal order of the church, must have been Baptists. The churches they constituted, must have been Baptist churches. To call them Pedobaptist churches while practicing, even suffering and dying for Baptist principles, would be a logical absurdity and a base calumny. Exceptional interpretation or observance can no more discredit their Baptist lineage and character than those of English, Scotch, German, or American Baptists. The reproaches heaped on Montainists, Donatists, Novatians, and Earlier Waldenses, are no greater, nor from more unpredjudiced sources than those heaped upon Christ and his apostles, Luther and his coadjutors, Whitfield and Wesley, our German Baptists, and all leaders of revivals. If there has been any succession of Christ's church, it must have been through the great religious bodies persecuted by Antichrist to vindicate a fictitious claim to apostolic succession. If there has been any apostolic succession, it must be traced through these great dissenting communities, or through Papacy. As no Protestant admits a succession through Papacy, it must be accepted through these Protestant bodies. But it is ascertain that these bodies were Anti-Pedobaptist-anna-Baptist, as that they were Protestant. Any succession, therefore, through them must be "Baptist Succession." If it be urged, the evidence of their Baptist character are rather meagre. We answer the evidence of their Anna-baptism are not meagre. And if Anna-Baptist, they were not Pedobaptist. Moreover, the evidences are not meagre considering they have survived the destruction of annals by Antichrist, to vindicate her rival claim to apostolic succession. Besides the facts complained of as few, are formative, and demonstrate certain order and organization. From a single bone, the naturalist determines a species of animal; from the classification of a few fossils, he constructs a Museum of Natural History; from the study of fossils in different parts of the globe he distributes the animal races in their several habitats over the earth and through successive periods.
So the candid ecclesiastical historian may find distinctive principles enough to identify and distinguish the Christian from the Anti-Christian communities through successive ages, and in different lands. The name Anna-Baptist, attributed as a reproach, has always identified Anti-Papal and Anti-Pedobaptist communities. And where we
discover among them church independence, Scriptural doctrine, spiritual character, and baptismal order, we find Baptist churches. And our conclusion is based on as certain grounds as that, on which the naturalist has reared the science of zoology, and distributed the habitats of the animal races over the earth, and through different periods.
The importance as well as the fact of the succession of Apostolic, or Baptist churches, has been overlooked. Only through them has the lordship of Christ been most signally maintained against Antichrist, and the regenerating power of Christianity most conspicuously illustrated. The greatness of England and America, has arisen from the order and discipline of ten thousand independent homes. So throughout Christendom, the highest industry, thrift, contentment, social purity, charity and happiness, and the highest culture, freedom, and progress have eminated from independent Apostolic churches. The greatest, most comprehensive, and beneficent reform of the world would be the superseding of all other religious institutions, state establishments, and hierarchies, by the simple, spiritual, independent order of Apostolic, or Baptist churches. The prestige of the divine appointment and perpetuity of the apostolic order of churches, would greatly aid their restoration. The fictitious claim of Papacy, challenges the devotion of millions. The true claim of Baptists, vindicated, will inspire a more intelligent, if not a more enthusiastic devotion. Let then, our apostolic succession be more confidently claimed and celebrated. Families boast of illustrious descent. States celebrate the names of their founders. All faiths canonize their prophets. The Hebrews never ceased to reverence Abraham and Moses. Our Lord came not to abrogate the law and the prophets, but to interpret and fulfil them. He recognized the inevitable succession of prophets, and dispensations of religion. We can no more find truth without antecedent utterance than a tree without roots. A theology which has no affinities with the past, is an imposture. A church without succession, is Antichrist. The true church is not a modern institution. It has descended from the institution of the apostles, to our times. It can no more be discredited by loss of annals, than a state by inability to identify an historical succession of states from the Roman Empire, or the Hebrew commonwealth, or a family by inability to trace its descent through a succession of marriages from Paradise. In either case an essential unbroken succession is certain. That succession we may magnify though all the historical connections may not be traced.
Disparagement, or neglect of a noble ancestry, savors of ignorance, or self-conceit. Men may be flattered by the reputation of having founded a new party, or championed a new sect, who lack the humility or magnaminity to honor their predecessors. If the sentiment that has honored Luther in literature, song, painting and statue, through centuries is justified, should we not celebrate the name of Humeyer, his peer in learning and logic, and his superior in Christian character and loyalty to Christ? Is ignorance of the heroic testimony and sufferings of Montainists, Donatists, Novatians, and Waldenses, through centuries hazarding their lives for the name of Jesus and the order of his church; and through whom alone the Apostolic doctrine and order of Christianity have been preserved to us, creditable either to our intelligence or our professed devotion to the truth?
============= W. W. Everts. Chicago.
[From Henry G. Weston, editor, The Baptist Quarterly, October, Volume XI, 1877, 409-415. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on W. W. Everts, Jr.
Baptist History Homepage