Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 24, 1953
NUMBER 33, PAGE 2-3b

Baptist Scholars On, "Baptist Church Succession -- Fact Or Fiction?"

Paul Foutz, Sweetwater, Texas

Mr. F. C. Powell, of Lamar Street Baptist Church, Sweetwater, Texas, in a recent conversation with a member of the Church of Christ, said, "We Baptists can trace our church through every year and century all the way back to the first century and apostolic time. I have a book which establishes Baptist Church Succession and proves there have been baptist churches in every century since New Testament times."

Thomas Armitage (one of the greatest Baptist historians and scholars): "The attempt to show that any religious body has come down from the apostles an unchanged people is of itself an assumption of infallibility and contradicts the facts of history. — The truth has been held by individual men and scattered companies but never in unbroken continuity by any sect as such. The writer, therefore, refuses to be bound in his investigations by an iron obligation to show a succession of people who have held all the principles, great and small, of any sect now existing. — When Roger Williams left his followers they were in great trepidation lest they had not received baptism in regular succession from the apostles, as if anybody else had. They heard, however, that the Queen of Hungary had a list of regularly baptized descendants from the apostles and were half persuaded to send their brother, Thomas Olney, to obtain it at her hands. Still, on second thought, they could not swallow this dose of the essence of popery and concluded not to make themselves ridiculous. Thus, once more, wisdom was justified in her children, under the application of the radical anti-Romish principle that the New Testament is the only touchstone of Christian history. The men who obey it in all things today, the men who have obeyed it since it was written, and the men who wrote it, are of one flock, under the one shepherd whose holy body John buried beneath the waters of Jordan." (Quotations "Hebrew of the Baptists.") Now, from the same Baptist historian in his "History of the Baptists." — "Little perception is required to discover the fallacy of a visible apostolic succession in the ministry, but visible church succession is precisely as fallacious and for exactly the same reasons. The Catholic is right in his theory that these two must stand or fall together. And many who are not Catholics think that if they fail to unroll a continuous succession of regularly organized churches, they lose their genealogy by a break in the chain, and then so fail to prove that they are legitimate Apostolic Churches. Such evidence cannot be traced by any church on earth, and would be utterly worthless if it could, because the real legitimacy of Christianity must be found in the New Testament and no where else .... The very attempt to trace an unbroken line of persons duly baptized upon their personal trust in Christ or of ministers ordained by lineal descent from the apostles, or of churches organized upon these principles, and adhering to the New Testament in all things, is in itself an attempt to erect a bulwark of error . . . Pure doctrine as it is found uncorrupted in the word of God is the only unbroken line of succession which can be traced in Christianity. God never confided His truth to the personal succession of any body of men. — Uninterrupted succession is a specious lure, a snare set by sophistry into which all parties have fallen. — The pretense that any one communion now on earth can trace its way back to the apostles in one line of fidelity and purity of New Testament teaching is to contradict all reliable history" (End quotes — Armitage).

Dr. G. A. Lofton (outstanding Baptist preacher, scholar, writer, and historian) went to England to make a thorough study of Baptist history, and after much research, testified in his book, English Baptist Reformation, that he could not find a Baptist church or churches at all any farther back toward New Testament times than A.D. 1607. In his Church History of the Baptists he says, "Crosby, with all the English Baptist writers I have ever read, repudiates the doctrine of visible church succession, in any form among Baptists." (Page 77) On page 113 Lofton speaks of the "Unprovable and impossible doctrine of Baptist Church succession." On page 36 of the English Baptist Reformation this Baptist Doctor says, "Historical citations regarding the Anabaptists are found as far back as 1538, a hundred years before we hear of Baptist churches." (and he fixes 1611 to 1614 as the earliest at which any authentic history of the Baptist Church, as such, begins.) On page 8 the same Baptist scholar and historian says, "It is here devoutly wished that the Baptist denomination, founded by our Anglo-Saxon fathers (not by Jesus Christ and His inspired apostles — editor) in tears and blood, may rise to wider fields of usefulness and progress and grander achievements." Then on page 254 he says, "John Smyth founded a church upon the Baptist model, believer's baptism and a regenerated church membership; and, organically speaking, this was the beginning of the present denomination of Baptists, though begun with an unscriptural form of baptism." (Editor's Note: Smyth baptized (??) himself by sprinkling or pouring? What happens to the link in the chain — baptized by regular ordained Baptist preacher?)

H. C. Vedder (Baptist scholar and historian) says, "The history of the Baptist Church cannot be carried, by a scientific method, farther back than the year 1611 when the first Anabaptist church, consisting of Englishmen, was founded in Amsterdam, by John Smyth, the Se-Baptist. This was not, strictly speaking, a Baptist Church, but it was the direct progenitor of churches in England that a few years later became Baptist, and therefore, their history begins there. A history of Baptist churches going farther back than the early years of the 17th century would, therefore, be in the highest degree unscientific. The very attempt to write such a history now would be a confession of crass ignorance, either of the facts as known, or the methods of historical research and the principles of historical criticism, or of both." (Short History of the Baptists — Pages 4 and 5)

Benedict (Baptist historian and scholar) in his History of the Baptist Denomination, page 51 says, "I shall not attempt to trace a continuous line of churches, as we can for a few centuries past in Europe and America. This is the kind of succession to which we have never laid claim, and of course, we make no effort to prove it." On page 304, the same historian says, "The first regularly organized Baptist Church of which we now possess any account (or record) dates from 1607." In Benedict's "History of All Religions," page 198, we read, "The peculiar sentiments of this denomination having spread so much among people of all opinions, to affirm that a man is a Baptist, proves nothing more than he rejects infant baptism, and holds to believer's baptism by immersion; he may be a Calvinist or Arminian, a Trinitarian or Unitarian, a Universalist or Swedenborgian, for some of all these classes come under the broad distinction of Baptists."

Dr. A. H. Newman (Professor of church history in Baylor University and SW Baptist Theological Seminary from 1901 to 1913) wrote two large volumes, A Manual of Church History. In this work he does not refer to a Baptist Church or Baptist churches prior to the 17th century. If there had been one in existence during those early centuries, if they could be traced and found in every century, he was obligated to have informed us about them. But like Dr. Lofton, he found that history is silent concerning them beyond the 17th century.

Dr. Geo. W. Northrup, who was President of Chicago Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the ablest professors of church history says, "The idea of an unbroken succession of regular Baptist churches from the days of the apostles to our day is sheer historical fiction. I should prefer to undertake almost any other intellectual achievement conceivable."

William Williams, of Greenville Theological Seminary, says, "There can be no doubt of the fact, that in our so-called histories of the Baptists, many souls are claimed as Baptists, which if now reproduced, would not be acknowledged and fellowshipped by any church or association, e. g. the Novationists, Donatists and Paulicians. Up to and including the 16th century there are no Baptist churches that can be called Baptist churches (unless we accept the Menonites with some errors). As history now stands (what future researchers will develop we cannot tell) it is impossible to trace any train of Baptist churches from the days of the apostles until now."