Unfortunately some do still hold to the claims of Baptist successionism and this belief ends up being a distraction from Jesus Christ The circular reasoning of Baptist successionism makes it almost impossible to convince the Baptist successionist that his church's is teaching contrary to the Scriptures. Most Baptist successionists are very anti-Roman Catholic but their line of argument really isn't much different. The Roman Catholic church believes it is the one true church based on a questionable succession of bishops going back to the Apostles. They teach that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter. Later Roman Catholic dogma gets read into the early church fathers and the New Testament. When a Roman Catholic is questioned about this later doctrinal development that appears contrary to the Scriptures he will make the claim that the person who wrote this book of the Bible was a member of the Roman Catholic church and so they would never contradict Roman Catholic dogma. They insist that all passages must be read in a way that conforms with Roman dogma.
The Baptist successionist finds his own legitimacy through a supposedly unbroken line of Baptist churches going back to the Apostles. Unlike the case of the Roman Catholics, this line of succession is not just questionable, there is no historic record of it at all. The Baptists Successionist starts with the presupposition that his church is teaching the truth, point to Christ's promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, and then claims that there MUST be a continuous line of churches teaching what his church teaches. The lack of historical evidence is explained by saying that the historical records were destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church.
The problem in both the Roman and Baptist cases is that the Scriptures are no longer the final authority--what the particular church teaches is the final authority. What the particular church teaches is read back into the Scriptures. Many of these Baptist churches also teach KJV-onlyism but they are always reading their own church's traditions into the KJV. They don't believe that "baptism doth also now save us" (1 Peter 3:21) or that it is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). In fact if you taught either of these things they would accuse you of teaching the "heresy" of baptismal regeneration. They don't teach that the Lord's Supper is the body and blood of Christ. It doesn't matter to them that all the historical records indicate that everyone in the early church took the Scriptures literally and taught that the Lord's Supper is the body and blood of Christ and that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.
The rest of this post will tediously go through the claims made in J.M. Carroll's popular pamphlet The Trail of Blood. There are some more recent pamphlets like this one by Thomas Cassidy but they basically just parrot Carroll's work.
The introduction to the book is written by Clarence Walker.Walker begins by quoting sources that speak of persecution of the anabaptists. Many of these acts are real and inexcusable. But its not as if the anabaptists have no blood on their own hands. Many of the anabaptists were violent revolutionaries. The anabaptist John of Leyden got his own army together and took over Münster. He made himself king, kicked out dissenters, and set up a strange polygamous theocracy. Much of the Baptist literature would have you believe that Baptists were always persecuted and never persecutors but history says otherwise. Much of the literature will also tell you that Baptists have always promoted the separation of church and state but this just isn't true.
I haven't taken the time to research all the quotes that are merely in regards to the persecution of Baptists. I'm more interested in the quotes that make claims that there was a continuous line of persecution of Baptists back to the time of the Apostles. The most interesting quote is that of Cardinal Hosius. Hosius was a Roman Catholic, the quote is dated from 1524, and he is said to have been the President of the Council of Trent. According to Walker quoting Carroll, Hosius wrote:
"Were it not that the baptists have been grievously tormented and cut off with the knife during the past twelve hundred years, they would swarm in greater number than all the Reformers." (Hosius, Letters, Apud Opera, pp. 112, 113.)So according this "quote" the Baptists had existed for at least 1200 years. Ben Townsend provides a vey detailed analysis of this "quote." Townsend notes that there is no "Apud Opera" in Hosius's writings. "Baptist" was also not a term that was used at that time. They were referred to an anabaptists. Hosius was not the "President" of the Council of Trent. He was delegate. Also, the Council of Trent was not even taking place in 1524. It took place between 1561-1563. It appears that what is actually being provided is a paraphrase of a paraphrase found in Baptist magazine. Townsend was able to locate what he believes is the original quotation written in 1563 by Hosius in Liber Epistolarum 150, titled “Alberto Bavariae Duci.” Townsend sent the Latin to an expert for a translation. This is the result:
"For not so long ago I read the edict of the other prince who lamented the fate of the Anabaptists who, so we read, were pronounced heretics twelve hundred years ago and deserving of capital punishment. He wanted them to be heard and not taken as condemned without a hearing." (by Carolinne White, Ph.D, Oxford University, Head of Oxford Latin)The actual quote does not provide evidence that there was continual persecution of the anabaptists for the 1200 years before this was written but that some of the same errors of the Baptists were declared heresy 1200 years before this was written. Hosius believed that the Anabaptists were committing some of the same errors as the Donatists did 1200 years prior to that. I'll compare the teachings of the Donatists and the Baptists later. The next quote of interest is by Sir Isaac Newton who reportedly said:
"The Baptists are the only body of known Christians that have never symbolized with Rome."There is no reference to verify this quote and without context its difficult to determne what Sir Isaac Newton was trying to say. After doing some research I found some Baptist successionist sites that did provide a citation and said that this quote appears in the Memoirs of Whiston,page 201. Whiston was a student of Isaac Newton. Both were Arians. The book can be read online and there is nothing about Newton or the Baptists on page 201 and nothing that resembles the quote above. The only place I found in the book where Newton and the Baptists are mentioned together is on page 206. Whitson writes about how he became convinced that only those who have been catechized should be baptized, wrote a paper a paper about it and sent it to Isaac Newton (I updated the spelling in the quote:
"I sent this paper also, by an intimate friend, Mr. Haines, to Sir Isaac Newton, and desired to know his opinion : the answer returned was this, that they both had discovered the same before : nay, I afterward found that Sir Ifaac Newton was so hearty for the baptists, as well as for the Eusebians or Arians that he sometimes suspected these two were the two witnesses in the Revelation."The next quote of interest from The Trail of Blood is from the Lutheran historian J.L. Mosheim. It says:
"Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay secreted in almost all the countries of Europe persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of modern Dutch Baptists."The quote does not say that there is an unbroken line of Baptist churches that date back to the time of the Apostles but that there were theologically similar groups that existed before the time of the Reformation. But once again we don't have a citation. I found some Baptist successionist sites that have an even longer "quote" but still without citation:
"Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay secreted in almost all the countries of Europe, persons who adhered tenaciously to the principles of the modern Dutch Baptists...the origin of Baptists is lost in the remote depths of antiquity...the first century was a history of Baptists."
The only thing that I could find by Mosheim that even comes close to page 200ff. BOOK IV. CENT. XVI. SEC. III. PART II. CHAP. III. of The Institues of Ecclesiastical History:
The modern Mennonites affirm that their predecessors were the descendants of those Waldensians who were oppressed by the tyranny of the papists; and that they were a most pure offspring, and most averse from any inclinations towards sedition as well as from all fanatical views. On the contrary, their adversaries contend that they are descended from those turbulent and furious Anabaptists, who in the sixteenth century involved Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and especially Westphalia, in so many calamities and civil wars; but that being terrified by the dreadful fate of their associates, through the influence of Menno Simonis especially, they have gradually assumed a more sober character. After duly examining the whole subject with impartiality, I conceive that neither statement is altogether true. In the first place, I believe the Mennonites are not altogether in the wrong, when they boast of a descent from those Waldensians, Petrobrusians, and others, who are usually styled the Witnesses for the truth before Luther. Prior to the age of Luther, there lay concealed in almost every country of Europe, but especially in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland, and Germany, very many persons, in whose minds was deeply rooted that principle which the Waldensians, tho Wycliffites, and the Hussites maintained, some more covertly and others more openly; namely, that the kingdom which Christ set up on the earth, or the visible church, is an assembly of holy persons, and ought therefore to be entirely free, not only from ungodly persons and sinners, but from all institutions of human device against ungodliness. This principle that such a church as they had formed an idea of, would never be established by human means, indulged the hope that God himself would in his own time erect for himself a new church, free from every blemish and impurity ; and that he would raise up certain persons, and fill them with heavenly light for the accomplishment of this great object. Others, more discreet, looked for neither miracles nor inspiration ; but judged that the church might bo purified from all the contaminations of evil men, and be brought into the state that Christ had intended, by human efforts and care, provided the practice and the regulations of the ancient Christians were restored to their pristine dignity and influence...Whether the origin of this discordant sect which caused such mischief land, or in Holland and Germany, in some other country, it is not important to know, and is impossible fully to determine. In my opinion, this only can be affirmed, that at one and the same time, that is, not long after the commencement of the reformation by Luther, there arose men of this sort, in several different countries. This may be inferred from the fact, that the first leaders of any note among the Anabaptists were, nearly all, founders of distinct sects. For though all these reformers of the church, or rather these projectors of new churches, are called Anabaptists, because they all denied that infants are proper subjects of baptism, and solemnly baptized over again those who had been baptized in infancy ; yet from the very beginning, just as at the present day, they were split into various parties which disagreed and disputed about points of no small importance. The worst part of this motley tribe, namely, that which supposed the founders of their ideal and perfect church would be endued with divine powers and would work miracles, began to raise great disturbances in Saxony and the neighbouring countries, in the year 1521, under the guidance of Thomas Munzer."
What Mosheim actually says is that just prior to the Reformation there were groups who taught "that the kingdom which Christ set up on the earth, or the visible church, is an assembly of holy persons, and ought therefore to be entirely free, not only from ungodly persons and sinners, but from all institutions of human device against ungodliness." Also note that according to Mosheim these groups descended from the Waldensians and Petrobrusians. The Waldensians were started by Peter Waldo who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for preaching without permission in the early 1180s. Waldo did not deny that infants should be baptized. He gave up his possessions to the poor and focused his attention on morality. Some of his spiritual descendants did deny infant baptism but others did not. Many of his descendants joined the Lutheran and Calvinist churches after the Reformation. The Petrobrusians were founded by Peter of Bruys in the 12th Century. Peter of Bruys rejected the Old Testament. He encouraged and practiced physical violence towards the clergy and taught that church buildings should be destroyed. He did teach that only those who have confessed their faith should be baptized but taught that it is a requirement salvation making him more a forerunner of the Campbellites than the Baptists.
The next "quote" of interest is attributed to the Edinburg Cyclopedia:
"It must have already occurred to our readers that the Baptists are the same sect of Christians that were formerly described as Ana-Baptists. Indeed this seems to have been their leading principle from the time of Tertullian to the present time."Once again no citation is provided. This one took more work to find but find it I did.
If opposition to the mode in which baptism is commonly administered be the distinguishing characteristic of this sect, Tertullian, who lived about the end of the second century, may be accounted one of its earliest founders. A short time afterwards, Agrippinus, a Carthaginian bishop, and many of the neighbouring clergy, re jected the baptisms which were then administered, and rebaptized all those who joined this society. Cyprian and his followers adopted the same sentiments in the third century. From Carthage these opinions migrated to the East, and Firmilian, bishop of Casana, and many other bishops in Asia, re-baptized. The Novatians and Donatists likewise condemned baptism as then commonly administered, and embraced the sentiments of those who re-baptized. The ostensible reason which all these persons assigned for this conduct, was the wickedness of those who were universally admitted to baptism, and which, in their opinion, rendered the ordinance altogether invalid...But though there were many individuals, and even some small societies, who maintained the opinions, and deserved the appellation of baptists before the Refor mation, yet it was only about that period that the insulated members were collected into one body, were properly organized, and attracted the attention of Europe...It must have already occurred to our readers, that the baptists are the same sect of Christians which we formerly described under the appellation of ANA BAPTISTS. It is but justice to acknowledge, that they reject the latter appellation with disdain and main tain, that as none of the adopted by churches are consonant to scripture, the baptism of these churches is in reality no baptism. Hence, in their opinion, they do not rebaptize. Indeed, this seems to have been their great leading principle from the time of Tertullian to the present day. According to them, something essential to baptism, either in the subjects, or in the administrators, or in the mode, was omitted, which rendered the rite altogether nugatory ; and hence they asserted, that their baptism was the first that was administered to such as were proper subjects of it."You can read what Tertullian wrote about baptism here. Tertullian taught baptismal regeneration and didn't reject infant baptism as being an illegitimate baptism. He did teach that he thought it would be better if baptism were delayed so that the baptismal sponsors would not fall into sin by failing to keep their promises and doesn't seem to believe in original sin so he doesn't believe the unbaptized child is in danger. He also advises against the unwed being baptized. What the Edinburg Cyclopedia is actually saying is that since the time of Tertullian there have been those who argued that a real baptism didn't take place if there was something wrong with the "subjects, or in the administrators, or in the mode" that made baptism invalid. The Encyclopedia is not saying that there is a continual line of churches who believe what the modern day Baptist does. It's saying that since the time of Tertullian there have been those who thought that the way baptism was commonly practiced in the church was not good enough and made the baptism "not real" and so a "real" baptism needed to take place even though they disagreed with one another as to what made it "real."
All the relevant quotes in support of Baptist successionism are taken out of context and distorted. It's as if they are all bad paraphrases of someone else's bad paraphrase.
To Be Continued...