Expert Answer Forum
Baptists QUESTION from Patrick December 18, 1999 -I have a good friend who is Baptist and she has recently taken interest in learning about what her religion is all about. She told me that in her search she learned that the Baptist Church did not stem from the Catholic Church or the Reformation in anyway. In fact, she told me this research said that the Baptist Church dated back to the original Church of Christ like the Catholic Church. Can you shed some light on this? Thank you and have a wonderful Christmas. Patrick
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin on January 5, 2000 I apologize for taking so much time in getting back to you. I worked in the retail sector during the holiday season, which left me totally exhausted, and I am ill at the moment. Slowly but surely I am recovering from the bustle.
Now, back to your question.
If you asked any historian of religion where the Baptist Church originated, they would tell you in the seventeenth century; they would say that they were spiritually descended from the Reformation, and, if they wanted to go back further, they would say that it grew out of proto-Protestant heresies like the ones promoted by Wycliffe.
This doesn't look good for the Baptists. If they were only founded in the 17th century, how could they be the Church of Christ?
In order to support their claim to being Christ's Church, Fundamentalist Baptists deny that they were founded in the 17th century. They say that their Church goes all the way back to Christ and it has always existed through various groups. This is the theory of Baptist Successionism.
Baptist Successionists and Catholics both have what I term an apologetical chain of logic in order to make their claims for the True Church. Those of you who have studied apologetics have a good grasp of it. In attempting to prove the historicity of the True Church, Catholics do not make any theological claims prior to the examination of the historical sources. You do not have to believe in God or in Jesus to examine the sources and come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the original church founded by Christ. The Church's claim can rest entirely on secular interpretation. In fact, any believer in Jesus who recognized the necessity of belonging to Jesus' Church would almost certainly become Catholic if they did examine historical documents.
Baptist Successionists do it backwards. They make certain theological claims first, then they interpret history to fit that theological claim. It's natural for our beliefs to shape our conclusions, but twisting statements to fit our theological beliefs, ignoring inconvenient facts and misinterpreting events without reference to the context is intellectually dishonest.
Baptist Successionists believe the Christ founded a Church with Baptist beliefs, which survived underground between the 5th and 17th century. This theory is popularized by a 56-page booklet called Trail of Blood, based on lectures by J. M. Carroll, a Baptist Preacher. It continues to be published by the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, According to Steve Ray, close to two million pamphlets have been distributed since it first appeared. I have personally seen this pamphlet quoted a number of times on newsgroups.
Trail of Blood is divided into five lectures. The first four lectures concern the Baptist Church in Europe from the establishment of Christianity up to the 19th century. The fifth deals with Baptist persecution in America. The pamphlet attempts to show that this Baptist Church, which has always existed, is neither Catholic or Protestant, and has been persecuted by both. This history of persecution is known as The Trail of Blood.
The author of the pamphlet sets out ten marks of the Church of Christ. The following is the list of these ten marks, quoted from the conclusion:
1. A spiritual Church, Christ its founder, its only head and law giver. 2. Its ordinances, only two, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. They are typical and memorial, not saving.
3. Its officers, only two, bishops or pastors and deacons; they are servants of the church.
4. Its Government, a pure Democracy, and that executive only, never legislative.
5. Its laws and doctrines: The New Testament and that only.
6. Its members. Believers only, they saved by grace, not works, through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
7. Its requirements. Believers on entering the church to be baptized, that by immersion, then obedience and loyalty to all New Testament laws.
8. The various churches--separate and independent in their execution of laws and discipline and in their responsibilities to God--but cooperative in work.
9. Complete separation of Church and State.
10. Absolute Religious liberty for all.
Note that the author states that sometimes these marks will be terribly disfigured, i.e. that some groups will not completely be in accord with the modern Baptist belief or practice. Also, some groups will not bear all ten marks. This is the intellectual loophole on which this historical theory rests as you soon shall see. The author claims that in the first centuries of the Church, church and state became united and bishops began to usurp powers; and that Baptist practices such as baptism of believers by immersion only were suppressed, and the True Christians began to be persecuted in 426 AD. I have not been able to discern exactly why that date was chosen as the author does not justify his choice. This date is the beginning of The Dark Ages, the period in which the True Christian Church was suppressed by Catholic (and later) Protestant Churches.
Throughout the ages, the True Christians were known under various names-- Donatists, Waldenses, Albigensians, Anabaptists, among others. It seems that the author co-opts any group which was ever persecuted for heresy and calls them Baptists. He does not make the claim that these churches sprung organically from one another-- he explicitly denies the doctrine of apostolic succession--- all he claims is that these churches have always existed. Another interesting loophole is that there is practically no explicit doctrinal standard by which to gauge whether a particular group should be considered baptistic. The only standard is the New Testament and that only. Fundamental differences in doctrine matter little, yet Jesus promised the Church that he would be with them until the end of the Age. If two churches hold contradictory doctrines, how can they both be of Christ?
The three loopholes which Trail of Blood allows-- that the churches may not bear all the marks of the True Church, that some marks may be disfigured, and the lack of doctrinal standard, allows Baptists, to claim Albigensians as members of the Church of Christ. A truly ridiculous claim. Although the Albigensians, or more accurately, the Cathari, bore a number of baptistic traits as laid out by the pamphlet, many of their doctrines and practices deviate from mainstream Christianity. They included:
Jesus was an Angel disguised as a man
an evil demiurge created the world, and therefore all matter is evil
* reincarnation for those who are not Perfect
* sexual intercourse is evil
* rejection of baptism by water; baptism by laying of hands *
to become Perfect, i.e. a member of the Church, one had to receive the consolamentum, and accept to live a celibate and highly ascetic life, subsisting on a vegetarian diet
* rejection of oaths In my opinion, it is quite hypocritical for anyone to claim that Albigensians were a New Testament church, yet accuse Catholics of not being true Christians, as Fundamentalists often do. The dualist philosophy which underlies this religion has nothing to do with the New Testament; it is independent of it. Catharism is scarcely Christian in doctrine. Yet Baptist Successionists blind themselves to this fact and claim that they were True Christians. Sure, the Albigensian faith in the Bible was was disfigured but it satisfies the criterion of believing in the New Testament, and therefores qualifies it as a baptistic church. Oddly enough, Lutheran churches, which are probably closer to Baptist churches in theology and practice than the Cathari, are excluded, probably because they were an established Church. This particular disfigurement of the Lutheran Church is conveniently not overlooked, so as to create the distinction between the Baptist Church and the other Protestant churches of the Reformation.
The Trail of Blood puts forward a number of false, illogical and unsubstantiated claims, making it unreliable as a historical source. I have tried many times to argue with Baptist Successionists on the Internet and show their error, without great success. I have tried to show that the historical record does not support their claim. Confronted with the evidence, they invent more logical loopholes in order not to have to deal with it. First, they say that history is unreliable anyway (even though they learn history in school and believe it) and that you can't put your trust in man-made documents. Secondly, they practice a kind of historical fideism, whereby they claim the True Church has always existed, even the historical evidence is non-existent or contrary to their claim. I find that it tends to be the uneducated who are duped into believing these kinds of myths, and their own ignorance works against them.
I am linking this document to the electronic version of the Trail of Blood, as well as Steve Ray's article on Baptist Successionism, which goes more in depth that my post. I think you should read Steve Ray's article first and then the Trail of Blood, to be better informed of the content-- he explains the beliefs of some of the groups mentioned in the pamphlet. On-line apologists should bookmark this document for reference because you meet the claims of Baptist Successionism every now and then and it's good to be able to counter-check certain historical claims-- you can be certain that if a statement is made in Trail of Blood, you should triple-check it with reliable sources to be certain it's not false. I earnestly exhort anyone who knows of a Catholic who is being seduced into Fundamentalism to show Steve Ray's article and to counter the claims as much as you can, before it's too late. Debunking the historical myths behind Baptist Successionism is a good way of creating a sense of mistrust towards anti-Catholic missionaries. Hopefully, potential Fundamentalist converts will stop and think if Fundamentalists can't even get their history right, why should I trust them?
God Bless, Suzanne
Steve Ray's Article on Baptist Successionism.
The Trail of Blood
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