A Better Paradigm For The Study Of Baptist History

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by Mark Osgatharp, Dec 9, 2005.

  1. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    H. Leon McBeth has categorized the Baptist historians into the follow four groups:

    1. The outgrowth of English Separatism.
    2. The influence of biblical Anabaptists.
    3. The continuation of biblical teachings through the ages.
    4. Succession of Baptist churches.

    I propose the following categories as a more accurate and helpful paradigm:

    1. The restorationist theory. These are the historians who see the Baptists as a restorationist movement. This group embraces both #1 and #2 of McBeth's categories. It can can be subdivided thusly:

    a. Those who see the Baptists as an outgrowth of 17th century English separatism.
    b. Those who see the Baptists as an outgrowth of the German Anabaptists and who see the Anabaptists as a product of the Protestant Reformation.

    Writers in this category are Whitsitt, Dexter, Torbet, McBeth, Estep and others.

    2. The continuation of Baptist churches theory. This model holds that the churches established by Jesus Christ and His apostles were baptist in doctrinal character and that there has been a perpetual continuation of such churches from the time of Christ. This category embraces #3 and #4 of McBeth's categories.

    Writers in this category include Crosby, Robinson, Benedict, Goadby, Van Braught, Vedder, Armitage, Cramp, Ray, and Christian.

    Though all of these writers see a continuance of baptistic churches from the time of Christ, with few exceptions they deny the necessity of continual succession to valid church life. They simply reported what the average man would find if he attempted to make a study of anti-pedobaptism in history.

    Failing to find an iron clad documentation of baptistic church succession they did not fabricate one. Finding that there is historical evidence that baptistic churches have existed from the times of Christ, they reported their findings.

    The fact that most of these writers did not hold to successionism as a theological dogma is evidence that they did not write with bias, but were attempting to compile an honest historical record.

    Henry C. Vedder is an interesting case in this matter because he was not only a non-successionist, he was a non-Christian. He was a full fledged theological modernist. None, therefore, can accuse him of writing with a bias toward Landmarkism or Baptist successionism.

    Though I am, myself, a strict successionist in doctrine, I am keenly aware of the impossibility of documenting the succession. I am also keenly aware that some men, in attempting to "prove" the succession, have fabricated history where none exists. Such cannot be truly considered "historians" but rather apologists, and sometimes not very honest ones.

    I think it is no less certain that some in the restorationist camp have written with an equal bias toward dis-proving successionism because it is a doctrine so hateful in our "pluralistic" society.

    Having said all that, I would like to engage some of you on the restorationist side of this question in a discussion of church succession from a purely Scriptural perspective. Any takers?

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  2. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Bro. Mark, your paradigm has a lot of merit. Unless I am mistaken, there is no view of Baptist origins that will not fit under these two broad categories. It seems that all think either the churches started sometime in the centuries after the time of Christ, or that they in some way are a continuation of what Jesus started.

    These broad categories can then be subdivided somewhat as you envision, thus demonstrating the commonalities between various viewpoints. I think there is a position that fits between #3 and #4 (assuming they are as I understand them to be), which I refer to as church perpetuity (as opposed to a strict "chain-link" succession). There may be other variations as well.

    Restorationist seems like a good title to me, although it seems that some of the most liberal may not even really think there was an original (New Testament) church to restore.

    Concerning bias, I think it is hard for most anyone to come to the table without a certain amount of bias (IOW, predisposed to find their own viewpoint). Vedder might be a notable exception to this rule. What I have seen, though, is that in recent years the tendency has been to paint continuation/successionist historians as biased, while the restorationists are free from it. What possible reason could they, as Baptists, have for presenting their own denomination as starting 16 hundred years this side of Christ? Landmarkism, its associated "separatism", and its residual effect on the largest body of Baptists in the world (SBC) has been a chief factor in foiling the ecumenical outlook and program with and to which many of these historians are connected and committed.
     
  3. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    I would be interested in any other lists of theories of Baptist origins. In addition to McBeth's, which Mark lists above, here are a few more:

    Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists </font>
    • 1. The Successionist theory</font>
    • 2. The Anabaptist spiritual kinship theory</font>
    • 3. The English Separatist descent theory</font>
    William Wright Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention: 1845-1953 gives four variations of historical succession:
    </font>
    • 1. Church succession</font>
    • 2. Apostolic succession</font>
    • 3. Baptismal succession</font>
    • 4. Spiritual succession</font>
    Carl J. Diemer, Jr. (Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, from his course syllabus, History of Baptists)
    </font>
    • Anabaptist Spiritual Kinship Theory (Armitage, Benedict, Newman)</font>
    • Successionist Theory (Christian, Cramp, Crosby, Ford)</font>
    • Perpetual Witness Theory (Estep, Himbury, Underwood)</font>
    • English Separatist Descent Theory (Patterson, Robinson, Torbet)</font>
    I listed Diemer's categorizations by author, since I am not familiar with him and expect some of you will not be.

    Stephen Prescott, (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
    This list uses a few different expressions, but is little or no different from McBeth's:
    </font>
    • 1. Anabaptist Kinship</font>
    • 2. An Outgrowth of English Separatism</font>
    • 3. Perpetuity - Open Bible Theory</font>
    • 4. Successionism - John/Jersusalem/Jordan Theory</font>
    Also here is a link to a somewhat biased presentation of origins delineated under McBeth's four categories (by Bruce Gourley):
    Views of Baptist Origins
     
  4. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    I think I filled the "three J's" in backwards. Look like all others list this as "Jerusalem-Jordan-John".
     
  5. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    "Such a perspective on this vexing question should have important implications in this complex world. Any conclusion reached on this matter will have significant ecumenical implications, for one’s position can indicate how one views other denominations." - Eric Barreto

    GENERAL BAPTIST ROOTS IN THE RADICAL REFORMATION: AN EXAMINATION OF A VEXING QUESTION
     
  6. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    I think that the historians who come closest to writing with an unbiased view are those, such as Armitage, Crosby, Robinson, Benedict, Cramp who assert the continual existence of Baptists but who deny successionism as a necessary doctrine. I think the very reason these men deny successionism as a doctrine is because they knew too well the impossibility of documenting it.

    That doesn't say much for their faith in the promises of Christ, but it does say something for their honesty as historians.

    I think you hit the nail right on the head. And I might add that the restorationists have chiefly worked within the framework of the higher educational establishment within which there is a tremendous pressure to conform to the inclusionist mentality; and so the advocacy of any viewpoint that puts one in the position of separatism is stictly taboo.

    There is a book titled "What Americans Believe And How They Worship" which has been widely distributed. There is a statement in it which confirms what you are saying and reflects the pressure placed on Southern Baptists to relent from their traditional exclusionary mentality. The book says:

    "A large percentage of Protestant leaders consider the Southern Baptist Covnention to be the 'problem child of American Protestantism.' To be sure, these churches show evidence of vigorous health. The possess a very high degree of devotion to Christianity, and the statistics of their growth are impressive. Their rate of membership gains has been well above the national average. Their Sunday School enrollment steadily increased in a period when a declining birth rate produced a decrease in most denominations. In 1960, they reported a total of 1,406, 326 tithers. And in the 1956-60 period 'nearly 10,000 new churches and mission' were established.

    But the credit of such a record is not enough, in the opinion of many observers, to blot out the debit of an intransigent inistentence that only the ways of Southern Baptists are scriptural. Most Southern Baptists insist that their faith and it only is ordained of God; their plan for a united Church is for all Christians to become Southern Baptists."

    The author goes on to castigate the Southern Baptists for refusing to join the National Counsel of churches and for invading "Northern Baptist" territory with church planting endeavors. It is interesting to note that in the introduction the author, J. Paul Williams, gives credit to Winthrop S. Hudson, a restorationist Baptist historian, for reviewing his manuscript.

    Now can you imagine how a Southern Baptist "professor" would react to such criticisms in the environment of American acedemia? Can you imagine a Southern Baptist historian standing up in the middle of that sort of bombast and asserting that Baptists have a succession directly from Jesus Christ!

    Even the famous novel, Elmer Gantry, makes mockery of the concept of Baptist succession and exclusivity. There can be no doubt that there has been a concerted effort in acedemia, going at least back to the days of William Whitsitt and Henry Dexter, to ridicule and mock the idea of a Baptist succession.

    Even the Mennonites, who formerly held to successionism through the Anabaptists, Waldenses, and back to Christ, revised their history and embraced a restorationist theory of their origins.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  7. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    I have searched online for an understanding of Carl Diemer's "Perpetual Witness Theory" in relation to Baptist origins. I haven't found anyone else using the term. Have any of you heard of it? The words make it seem like McBeth's #3, "The continuation of biblical teachings". But McBeth would put Estep under his #2, while Diemer has Estep with the Perpetual Witness Theory. Any ideas, insights?
     
  8. Erasmus

    Erasmus
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    Just wanted to toss this out there, McBeth was my primary professor and advisor for doctoral work. He wrote the foreword to two of my books. For most Baptists, McBeth's groupings are the most accurate. They are also the ones based on the most modern research.
     
  9. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    A typical example of the Baptist restorationist crow of superior learning.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  10. Erasmus

    Erasmus
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    No, only those who wish to learn and are not afraid to learn.
     
  11. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    More typical high minded psuedo-intellectual hype.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  12. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    Erasmus,

    If Mr. McBeth is so superior in learning, why doesn't he understand a simple Bible statement like, "Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak"?

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  13. Dr. Bob

    Dr. Bob
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    I would opt for the 4 categories just for more accuracy.

    Those four give better classification options. Why lump us English Separatists in with AnaBaptists of any sort? We are different for a reason, so no need for some general category that would artificially cojoin us.
     
  14. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Dr. Bob, I understand your point. But the point I made in the second post would not do away with the four classification options. It would keep these options as sub-divisions under the two broad categories, which would exist to clarify relation between the tighter categories. For example, something like this, borrowing from Mark's names above, and just imagining a bit:

    VIEWS OF BAPTIST ORIGINS
    </font>
    1. Restoration
      </font>
      • </font>
      • Influence of Anabaptists</font>
      • Outgrowth of English Separatism</font>
    2. Continuation
      </font>
      • Continuation of biblical teachings</font>
      • Succession of Baptist churches
        </font>
        • </font>
        • Church succession</font>
        • Baptismal succession</font>
        </font>
     
  15. MattC

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    Dr. Diemer would fall under your heading of restorationist, emphasizing English separatism with some influence from the anabaptists.
     
  16. Erasmus

    Erasmus
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    How would the dynamic change in the 21st Century? Where would modern Baptist claim their heritage?
     
  17. rlvaughn

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    Hi, Matt. Welcome to the Baptist Board. Hope to see you come back and post more in the Baptist History forum.

    I am assuming that your comment here is referring to the personal position of Dr. Diemer on the matter. Is that correct? Thanks.
     
  18. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Since this was separated by a few posts and went to the second page, I'm not sure of the reference of your question. Dynamic of what? The paradigm or something else?

    As far as the second question, I would guess most modern Baptists would claim their heritage as "restorationists" of one type or another, with most of them accepting the current majority view. But I am unsure if that is exactly what you're asking.

    Restorationist is a pretty "powerful" term in reference to Baptist origins. I doubt many like the connotation, especially the Campbellite one. But if we do not have a continuation of teachings/history through the ages, we truly are restorationists, whether we like to think so or not. We are either restoring (re-establishing) or continuing the church. Of course, we run into the problem of confusing this usage with the more technical use of the term referring to churches which originated in the US and Canada in the early 19th century.
     
  19. MattC

    MattC
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    Thanks for the welcome. [​IMG] Yes, that's Dr. Diemer's personal position on Baptist History. I've been a student of his for several years and have taken his History of Baptists class.
     

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