The Limitations Of HIstorical Study

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by Mark Osgatharp, Sep 18, 2003.

  1. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    When approaching the study of "history" we must be careful not to confuse the historical record with history itself. History itself is the sum total of all events that actually occured in the past. The historical record is the sum total of men's attempts to preserve history in written form.

    While history itself is 100% complete and 100% accurate, the historical record has severe limitations on it's ability to convey an accurate knowledge and understanding of history. Some of these limitations are:

    1. THE PAUCITY OF THE HISTORICAL RECORD COMPARED TO THE RICHNESS OF HISTORY. The sum total of the historical record, even were it totally accurate, represents only a very small portion of what actually occcured in history. Though we could do an exhaustive study of the historical record, our knowledge and understanding of history would still be extremely limited.

    2. THE IGNORANCE OF THE HISTORIAN. This problem is closely aligned to the first. The historian can only write from his own first hand knowledge, oral knowledge gained from others, or the writings of other historians. Therefore he must remain ignorant of all historical events not available in his sources and this ignorance will be reflected in his own historical writings.

    3. THE BIAS OF THE HISTORIAN. It is virtually impossible for a human being to rise above his biases when expounding or writing about any given subject. Even if one historian might, he has no gauratee that his sources wrote with an unbiased pen. Therefore the whole historical record is suspect.

    4. THE DECEIT OF THE HISTORIAN. Some historians are simply dishonest and deceitful in their handling of the facts.

    5. THE ACCIDENT OF THE HISTORIAN. Even if a historian could rid himself of bias and deceit, he is still subject to accidental errors of interpretation, transcription, and printing.

    6. THE LANGUAGE BARRIER. Language is constantly changing. A word that "means" one thing today may "mean" a totally different thing tomorrow. A word that "means" one thing in one man's mouth may mean something else in another man's mouth, even today.

    One of the greatest problems of both historical and Biblical exegesis is the faulty assumption that words have inherent meanings. No word means anything other than what some man used it to mean and we have no gaurantee that any historical record uses words in their common usage (if it can even be said that there is any such thing as "common" usage of words).

    The language limitation is magnified when we cross from one language to another. It is further magnified in the study of religious movements and historical theology because of the very fact that religious terminology is used with such a wide range of interpretations.

    A sheep is a sheep any where in the world. But atonement, salvation, baptism, church, and even "God" can mean a dozen different things to a dozen different writers.

    I remember reading the statement somewhere that Jacob Arminus was a "mild Calvinist." And yet in most contexts "Calvinism" is considered the very antithesis of "Arminianism." Anyone familiar with the extant records of Baptist history knows full well the ramifications that varient uses of the term "Calvinist" could have on our understanding of the Baptist heritage. ;)

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  2. Doubting Thomas

    Doubting Thomas
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    Which explains the inherent problem in the "baptist successionist" paradigm. Proponents of such a view take their presuppositional beliefs/interpretations regarding baptism and lay them as a grid on church history. When they cannot find representatives of their beliefs in church history, they conclude that the historical record is inadequate. They never stop to think whether or not its their presuppositions and interpretation of Scripture (particularly baptism) which may be inaccurate, and that those early Christians who believed differently about baptism may have had the right interpretation after all.
     
  3. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    Here I provide a concrete example of the limitations of the historical record that I described above. A book was recently published titled "Landmarkism Revisited." It was written by Robert Ashcraft, an American Baptist Association pastor from Little Rock, Arkansas. Brother Ashcraft has also authored a complete history of the American Baptist Association as well as the Arkansas State Association of Missionary Baptists.

    "Landmarkism Revisited" purports to be an historical update on the Landmark Baptist movement. Chapter seven of this book is titled "Contemporary Landmarkism" and contains a section describing "Neo-Landmarkism."

    "Neo-Landmarkism" is a lately invented term, used prejoratively to identify Landmark Baptists who are hostile to the modern programs, such as AWANA, Promise Keepers, and Evangelism Explosion, that have invaded the Landmark Baptist churches in the past two decades.

    To begin with, the term "Neo-Landmarkism" itself is a biased term which was conceived with malice towards those who have vocally opposed certain innovations among Landmark Baptists. One of the primary issues in this controversy has been AWANA which is most certainly a lately conceived program; and yet those who stand in opposition to it are called "Neo" Landmarkers????

    In his description of "Neo-Landmarkism" Robert Ashcraft makes the following statement:

    "They are generally opposed to any form of presenting the gospel, apart from pulpit presentation by a gospel preacher."

    I personally confronted brother Ashcraft with this statement and challenged him to provide me with the name of one man who fit this description; he responded that he thought I did.

    I assured him I did not and challenged him to name another man who was "generally opposed to any form of presenting the gospel, apart from pulpit presentation by a gospel preacher." He gave me the name of another man who I knew believed no such thing. He could provide the name of no other.

    To my knowledge, there is no Landmark Baptist preacher, "Neo" or otherwise, who is "generally opposed to any form of presenting the gospel, apart from pulpit presentation by a gospel preacher."

    And yet this statement is now part of the "historical record." Even if brother Ashcraft should retract this statement in a future edition of his book, the books already distributed will remain and years from now, if the Lord delays His coming, someone will read that in the late 20th century there arose a group of Landmark Baptists who were,

    "generally opposed to any form of presenting the gospel, apart from pulpit presentation by a gospel preacher."

    Hmmmmm? Just think of the ramifications that could have on "Baptist history" as it is currently understood.

    Could it be that just maybe a man, or group of men, would scheme to garner up money to send men to newly opened business venues in new frontiers and foreign lands, where they would start lucrative schools and hospitals and colporture endeavors......and that they would brand anyone who refused to pay them tribute as "anti-mission"?

    How long, oh Lord? [​IMG]

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  4. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    So are you saying that an unbiased study of the Scriptures would prove that the Baptist position on baptism is incorrect according to the Bible? Are you suggesting that infant baptism is Scriptural after all? If so, maybe you would care to give us your sound exegesis of the Scriptures on the subject of infant baptism.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  5. Doubting Thomas

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    I am merely suggesting that there have been many more Christians throughout history that would suggest that baptismal regeneration and even infant baptism are scriptural. Many of those would consider that the Baptist position is the incorrect one. They have in various ways demonstrated their cases from scripture and they also point to historical evidence being on their side. (Several have made the scriptural case for the necessity of baptism for salvation on the "Other Religions" forum on this board, so I will not rehash what was written there). Perhaps you should at least consider that the possibility that you might be wrong rather than automatically dismissing the historical record as inadequate just because it fails to support your belief in "baptist successionism".
     
  6. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    Doubting Thomas,

    And perhaps you should at least consider the possibility that you might be wrong and that the Baptist position is the Scriptural position after all; in which case there can be no doubt that the promise of Christ to be with His people as they evangelize, baptize, and instsruct "even unto the end of the world" is a promise of baptist church perpetuity - the lack of historical documentation for their existence notwithstanding.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  7. Doubting Thomas

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    :rolleyes:
     
  8. Mark Osgatharp

    Mark Osgatharp
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    :rolleyes: </font>[/QUOTE]Doubting Thomas,

    I have never claimed to be able to prove Baptist succession by historical documentation, any more than I can prove:

    </font>
    • the Genesis account of creation</font>
    </font>
    • the flood</font>
    </font>
    • the Exodus</font>
    </font>
    • the virgin birth</font>
    </font>
    • the resurrection</font>
    I believe these things because they are in the word of God. I believe succession because it is in the word of God.

    It seems to me that you live up to your name. Unless you can see and feel His scars you will not believe. :eek:

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  9. Doubting Thomas

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    Umm...the gospels are historical documents and Christianity is a historical religion. The historical Church who determined the canon of scripture had a historical belief in baptism that was far different from yours. The apostolic church fathers--who were historical figures, who had the teaching of the historic apostles ringing in their ears, and who were martyred in history for their faith--had a different interpretation of baptism and Jesus' promise (Matt 16:18) than do you.

    "Baptist Successionism" can neither be found history nor in the historical Church's interpretation of the word of God. The burden of proof is on you, my friend.
     
  10. Mark Osgatharp

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    And how do you know that what you identify as "The historical Church" was not that of which John spake when he said,

    "They went out from us, but they were not of us"?

    While it may be true that Baptist succession cannot be proven by the historical record, it is not true that it isn't found in the historical record.

    I wouldn't give you a sack of hog dung for your "historical church" nor it's "interpretation of the word of God." I find a Baptist church in the Bible and a promise of Baptist perpetuity in the Bible and therefore I will believe it no matter what historical document you wave before my eyes.

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  11. Doubting Thomas

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    How do you know that what you identify as the "Baptist Church" was not that of which John spake when he said, "They went out from us, but were not of us?" Is it because of your subjective interpretation of Scripture?



    Of course, all sorts of individuals/groups find all sorts of strange doctrines in Scripture. Perhaps the historical church wouldn't give a "sack of hog dung" for your interpretation of God's Word. The point is that without objective historical evidence the only proof you have that your interpretation is correct is your own subjective opinions.
     
  12. Matt Black

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  13. Mark Osgatharp

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    Doubting Thomas and Matt Black,

    I thought you fellows were Baptists, not Roman Catholics.

    Baptists interpret history in light of the Bible, not the Bible in light of history. What you are calling "objective historical evidence" is nothing other than Roman Catholic propoganda.

    Well, of course there is a lot more historical propoganda to prop up the Catholic church than there is to prove a succession of Baptist churches - because the Roman Catholic church subjected all who would not bow the knee to Rome to unrelenting persecution and committed their writings to the flame.

    I stand ahgast that any man calling himself a "Baptist" would refer to Catholic tradition as "objective historical evidence." The next thing you know you'll be crying out,

    "Kill them all, God knows his own."

    :rolleyes:

    Mark Osgatharp
     
  14. Matt Black

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    So tell me how you have got your New Testament, then? BTW, this may surprise you, but most Baptists and indeed Christians do regard the church as being pretty much 'kosher' until the 5th century - this doesn't make us Catholic anymore than the Cathars not being Catholic makes them Baptist

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  15. Doubting Thomas

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    That's pretty laughable considering that the same historical evidence that mitigates against "baptist successionism" also debunks the notion of some infallible grand pooh-bah allegedly ruling over the universal church during the first millenium.

    Again, that is an anachronistic notion considering there was no Roman Catholic institution per se until after the great schism in 1054 (although the Western church was evolving in that direction for some centuries before that). The Inquisitions and Crusades (for the most part) took place in the second millenium. Seems like you've bought more Roman Catholic propoganda than I have.
    :eek:

    Now you're just being ridiculous. :rolleyes:
     
  16. Doubting Thomas

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    Good point. [​IMG]
     
  17. R. Charles Blair

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    Mark - This chain began with a superb discussion of the issues of historical documentation. Thanks for that - some of the rest of the debate (on all sides) deteriorated a bit, but I'll be copying the first item for my files.

    R. Charles Blair - Ro. 8:28
     
  18. R. Charles Blair

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    Speaking of historical documentation for anything - I've just printed off 12 pages of this specific dialog, and my post did not print off! So (even though I'm looking at it) anyone who ran a print-out might not see it. Everything else is there. How many other items have disappeared, by accident or by intent, over the centuries? If the state religion kept the records, can we really expect them to keep items that contradict their viewpoint? Most of our folks were too busy doing evangelism while trying to stay alive for a while to do a lot of record keeping; what they did write was sometimes used to light the fires by which the state religion sent them on to the next world because of their rejection of state-sponsored "baptism." As to how we got our NT - lots of folks made hand-copies of what they had. Many non-state groups had a "canon" as well, and their quarrel with the state-sponsored canon was not over the books usually considered canonical, but that the state group kept adding to those by their tradition! -- R. Charles Blair - Ro. 8:28
     
  19. Jonathan

    Jonathan
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    Is this THE Charles Blair, the retired DOM in West KY? If so, we are in the presence of greatness here!

    My father Don says hello Brother Blair.
     
  20. Taufgesinnter

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    So are you saying that an unbiased study of the Scriptures would prove that the Baptist position on baptism is incorrect according to the Bible? Are you suggesting that infant baptism is Scriptural after all? If so, maybe you would care to give us your sound exegesis of the Scriptures on the subject of infant baptism.

    Mark Osgatharp
    </font>[/QUOTE]I don't agree with them at this point, but the early Christian writers appear to have been unanimous in embracing baptismal regeneration.
     

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