Whitsitt controversy

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by rlvaughn, May 19, 2016.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    One of the controversies Walter B. Shurden discusses in his book Not a Silent People is the controversy over Baptist origins, also known as the Whitsitt controversy. In the 1890s, William Heth Whitsitt (1841-1911) wrote an article for the Johnson’s Universal Encyclopedia, in which he set forth the belief that the Baptists in England began to baptize by immersion in 1641 and previously had not practiced immersion. Before this he had anonymously proposed this theory in New York Independent in 1880. In September 1896 he put out a book on the subject entitled A Question in Baptist History.

    “During the autumn of 1877, shortly after I had been put in charge of the school of Church History at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in preparing my lectures on Baptist History, I made the discovery that, prior to the year 1641 our Baptist people in England were in the practice or sprinkling and pouring for baptism. I kept it to myself until the year 1880...”

    Whitsitt’s “discovery” set off a firestorm which only subsided with his dismissal as president and church history professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He had strong supporters, but perhaps at some point they decided that the survival of the seminary was more important than the theory of Whitsitt. The battle against Whitsitt was led by such men as T. T. Eaton, John T. Christian, and B. H. Carroll. Later commentators would claim that these leaders “won the battle but lost the war”, pointing out that all six of the Southern Baptist seminaries taught as church history the very point Whitsitt raised.

    Did Whitsitt and his followers really win the war? The battle never came into many of the otherwise affiliated Baptist groups, who had been separated from the Convention Baptists long before Whitsitt – even before the Convention was organized. Shortly after the Whitsitt controversy, some Landmark Baptists took their marbles and went to play elsewhere. Landmarkers in the SBC evidently gradually went “underground”, and a Baptist academia full of Whitsitt’s disciples was left to teach Baptist origins as they saw it. Yet well over 100 years later it seems that common Baptists and even young historians within the SBC (and elsewhere) don’t believe that Whitsitt’s word is the final word. A strong “Baptist Identity” movement in the SBC bears some resemblance to Landmarkism, with Wade Burleson calling these folks out as “Neo-Landmarkists” (whether fairly or not). SEBTS Historian Nathan Finn has made a case for a “convergent view” of Baptist origins, noting that “earliest Baptists were aware that they were not the first baptistic Christians since the New Testament era” and advocating “breaking out of the too-simplistic either/or approaches to Baptist origins.” This is still new and held only by a minority of scholars, but Finn stated that he sensed there is a growing trend in this direction. It may not be a matter of “who won the war” but that the war is still to be fought. Finn sums it up this way: “The portrait is too complicated for tidy answers.”
     
  2. Revmitchell

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    Wade Burleson?! Now there is a reliable character.
     
  3. rlvaughn

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    Please note that I am quoting Burleson as an easy to find example and not as an authority. Most, if not all, the Baptist Identity Movement folks in the SBC deny being Landmarkers, and probably rightly so; but many of them posit some kind of existence of baptistic principles off and on throughout church history. One of my main points is that SB historians in the 1950s and 1960s would probably have thought this was a closed issue, while some newer members of their cadre are now willing to think outside Whitsitt's box.
     
  4. Squire Robertsson

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    FWIW, re: Landmarkism
    James M. Pendelton moved north in 1862 to help found Crozer Theological Seminary. Thus, he influenced those who came to be Fundamental Northern Baptists.
     
  5. West Kentucky Baptist

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    The Landmarkers" “won the battle but lost the war" with regard to Southern Seminary and the future of the SBC. Some of the Landmarkers even hoped to control the seminary. John Sampey claimed that T.T. Eaton wanted to be president of the school and others wanted a Landmarker to teach Baptist history. The trustees of the seminary decided to play it neutral and hired E.Y. Mullins, who had been pastoring in the north and hadn't been openly involved in the controversy. However Mullins agreed with Whitsitt's conclusions so this was a loss to the Landmarkers. W.J. McGlohlin begin teaching Baptist history after Whitsitt's resignation and he also agreed with the English Separatism theory, so this also was a loss to the Landmarkers.

    The Landmarkers did gain two additional short term victories out of the Whitisitt controversy.

    First, the pro-Whitsitt men did not openly push their views in the SBC until about the 1940s and post-WWII. For example, C.S. Gardner taught church history some at SBTS during this time and he focused more on sociology than Baptist origins. The trustees and faulty at Southern Baptist schools didn't want another denominational war. While Whitsittism was spreading during this time, it wasn't out in the open, but more underground.

    Second, Southwestern Seminary and New Orleans seminary were started indirectly as a result of the Whitsitt Controversy. B.H. Carroll founded Southwestern and John T. Christian was one of the founders of New Orleans. Both men were key leaders of the anti-Whitsitt forces. Christian would teach Baptist history at New Orleans until his death in 1925. His wonderful "History of the Baptists" was written during this time and published by the SBC, which further shows Whitsittism wasn't been opening pushed during that time.

    However the Landmarkers lost the war because they failed to root out Whitsittism from the SBC. It still existed at Southern Seminary and spread to other places from there. For examples, in 1913 B.H. Carroll hired W.W. Barnes to teach Church / Baptist history at Southwestern Seminary. Barnes was a graduate of Southern Seminary and agreed with Whitsitt's views. Barnes later wrote that Carroll never asked him about his views on Baptist origins. When Southeastern and Midwestern seminaries were started they had pro-Whitsitt men teaching church history from the very start. It also affected the Baptist colleges. I know several Southern Baptist colleges that used Roy Mason's "The Church that Jesus Built" or J.M. Carroll's "The Trail of Blood" as textbooks in the 1930's and 1940's. However by the 1950's, these schools had hired professors trained at Southern Baptist seminaries by pro-Whitsitt men. Whitsittism which had been beaten back in the 1890's had slowly spread until by the 1950's it affected nearly every institution in the SBC. Wendell Rone, a highly educated Southern Baptist Landmarker and historian said that after WWII Landmarkism began the whipping boy of many in the Southern Baptist seminaries.

    From the 1950s to the 1970s, Southern Baptist Landmarkers joined with other conservative Southern Baptists to try and regain control of the SBC from the liberals. There were still plenty of Southern Baptist Landmarkers at this time and most would be surprised at who they were. (R.G. Lee was a strong Landmarker and even W.A. Criswell had Landmark tendencies) Most of the time the focus of this coalition was on the Bible and Inerrancy, although occasionally a Landmark Baptist issue would be brought up at an SBC annual meeting. Of course this leads into 1979 and the SBC Conservative Resurgence. When the conservatives recaptured the seminaries, it opened the door for men with Landmark influences to begin teaching there. So since the 1990's you have some men in seminaries or SBC leadership positions who believe in Anabaptist kinship or a loose form of Baptist Perpetuity.
     
  6. Revmitchell

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    The attempt to try to tie the conservative resurgence in the SBC to Landmarkism is snip a revision of history.
     
    #6 Revmitchell, May 21, 2016
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2016
  7. West Kentucky Baptist

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    Snip.

    I would challenge you to disprove anything I stated.

    What I actually said was those contending for conservative doctrine in the SBC in the 1950s-1970s were a coalition that included many Landmarkers. It also included Calvinists, Dispensationalists, Fundamentalists, and mainline Southern Baptists. After passing powerless resolution after resolution, this coalition finally realized the way to change the SBC was to elect a conservative president, thus the conservative resurgence began in 1979.
     
    #7 West Kentucky Baptist, May 21, 2016
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2016
  8. rsr

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    I would remind the posters that a civil tone is expected in this discussion forum. There will be no name calling and ranting as prevails in some forums. Thank you.
     
  9. rsr

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    WKB is correct in drawing parallels between the Whitsitt controversy and the latest convulsion (whose proper name can be anything from the Conservative Resurgence to the Fundamentalist Takeover, depending on whose ox is being gored) at least in one respect.

    In both cases, there was indeed a large grassroots movement whose members believed that the elites were treating the institutions of the convention (most notably the schools) as their private bailiwicks not answerable to the beliefs of the convention as a whole.

    Landmarkism remained a strong force within the SBC. The first Baptist history book I came across was "The Trail of Blood," purchased from the Baptist Bookstore. After my parents died I ran across a booklet they received when they joined a church in the 1960s, and it was vintage successionism. Even a few years ago I was looking at a pamphlet in the tract shelf at my current church and discovered that contained essentially the same information.

    I grew up in a church, for example, that required baptism in a Baptist church (our longtime piano player, who had been baptized by a Pentecostal church, relented after some years and was baptized in our church). It also practiced a mild form of close communion (it would go so far as to admit other Baptists, but not others, if I remember correctly). The issue usually didn't come up because the church always had Communion on Sunday nights, which curtailed the number of nonmembers who would be there.

    As to Robert's original question, on the main topic I would say that Whitsitt's main contention (that baptism by immersion was recovered ca. 1640) is still the almost unanimous view among SBC historians, and I don't know of evidence that's been turned up since the days of A.H. Newman that would change that.

    Although I lean toward a view that the Separatists were the main source of the English Baptist movement, I have never been comfortable attempting to force all of the sect into the channel. It seemed clear to me that religious opinions of all sorts were floating around in the late stages of the Reformation and it would be silly to think that Baptists didn't drink from more than one well.

    Finn seems to me to approach the matter with good sense. On his blog he wrote that "Though there are few scholars that currently hold this view, I sense there is a growing trend in this direction. I also suspect there are many who basically hold this view, but think they fall into one of the other four categories." I suspect he is correct on that.

    http://betweenthetimes.com/index.php/2009/03/11/toward-a-convergent-view-of-baptist-origins-part-2/

    Does Landmarkism stand or fall on the evidence for or against that English Baptists "lost" immersionism and had to recover it? I don't believe that the "neo-Landmarkers" would concede that or even consider it to the point. They are mostly concerned with alien baptism and open communion, which are/were the concerns of Landmarkers but not limited to them. That is, from an ecclesiological standpoint, both close communion and regular baptism are defensible, if not from a strictly theological or historical view.
     
    • Informative Informative x 2
  10. rlvaughn

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    I don't think so, unless one is a strict chain-link successionist requiring historical evidence to believe it. Most Landmarkers base their ecclesiology on the Bible and consider the historical record fallible.

    I don't think this question, historically, relates to Landmarkism alone and to discuss it in these terms may even skew the issue negatively for many people. Many Baptists in the past (e.g. R.B.C. Howell, C. H. Spurgeon) and some in the present -- who are not Landmarkers -- have considered that there is some kind of perpetuity of New Testament Christianity of which Baptists are a part. W. A. Criswell, often made statements in which he is saying Baptists go back to the New Testament. (His "Saint Patrick was a Baptist Preacher" is an example.)

    My main point in the OP is not that there has been a great new discovery or that Whitsitt's view no longer prevails, but that there is a new breeze blowing that doesn't necessarily consider this a closed issue and may even be willing to put some kind of reinterpretation on the facts. I consider Nathan Finn's "convergent view" to be that, even though he doesn't disagree, as far as I know, with the recovery of immersion by the English Separatists.
     
  11. rsr

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    I think there are really two issues: The history of Baptists in general and the specific point of whether the English Baptists "recovered" baptism.

    I realize they are related, but I think they should be separated.

    First, I think it's about time that Baptists "grew up" on the matter of history. I admire McBeth, for example, but his primary work does show a bias not only against Landmarkers but also "anti-missions" Baptists and even Southern Baptists contra the ABC-USA. His sourcebook, however, was a treasure trove of documentation before the advent of the internet.

    And Christian is an example of a Landmarker bending history to his own ecclesiological bent. The reason he opposed Whitsitt's "discovery," I am sure, was as much due to his ideology as to his research. Whitsitt, of course, was no friend of the Landmarkers, and I am sure he enjoyed poking them in the eye.

    Newman, though dated, represents to me a historian with successionist beliefs who nonetheless rejected claims that he could not prove through documentation. (He agreed with Whitsitt on the facts, but not on the presentation.) To me it was a shame that his influence was mostly lost to the Southern Baptists because he spent so little time among them.
     
  12. rlvaughn

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    I'm not as familiar with Newman as the other two. In a PhD dissertation titled The Historiography of Baptist Origins in Selected Southern Baptist Historians: William Heth Whitsitt, John Tyler Christian, and Albert Henry Newman, Donald Alan Cureton described these men as "three realms of diversity" with "...differing historical methods, superimposed biases, and divergent definitions of Baptists." (p. 166) IIRC, Cureton puts Newman in the "Spiritual Kinship" camp rather than a successionist.

    From James H. Slatton's book W. H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy we find that Whitsitt not only "was no friend of the Landmarkers" but was, though somewhat closeted, not a real friend of Baptist doctrine. Whitsitt's letters and diary reveal a man who regularly criticized his colleagues, Baptist preachers, Baptist churches, Baptist associations and Baptists in general.
    http://baptistsearch.blogspot.com/2010/06/man-and-controversy.html
     
  13. Revmitchell

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    For the record while my most was edited by an admin and suggests there was some name calling I can assure you there was no name calling. Sad to see such behavior.
     
  14. rsr

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    Yes, I misspoke. He's generally in that camp, according to just about everyone who makes such distinctions.
     
  15. The Biblicist

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    While at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary under Dr. Tom Nettles, I did original research at the University Library in Memphis,TN in their microfish bodlein library with regard to Whitsitt's claim that immersion began in 1641. I also read all the works of John T. Christian in response to Whitsitt and George Lofton. My own research verified Christian's conclusions. The archeologoical evidence alone found in several old Baptist church graveyards (The Church in the Hop Garden, etc.)date baptists back long before 1641. I presented the evidence to Dr. Tom Nettles. He never responded. Where is the evidence that Christian was wrong?
     
    #15 The Biblicist, May 24, 2016
    Last edited: May 24, 2016
  16. rlvaughn

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    Was just reading some of Ron Pound's remarks on his research of the Kiffin Manuscript and the Jessey Church records. According to him some the confusion is that the church records must be understood in light of the fact that they at the time did not know of others practicing immersion in England -- rather than it was not being practiced.
     
  17. Jerome

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    Wasn't immersion still in the Anglican liturgy?

    It was the Westminster Divines' Directory for Public Worship (1645) that attempted to dump immersion, dropping the word dip and inserting sprinkle.
     
  18. Squire Robertsson

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    Yeup, it was for infants and they used a triple dip: once on one side, the second on the other, then one face up. I believe it was something akin to how the Greek Orthodox baptize their munchkins.
     
  19. rsr

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    The Directory was a Presbyterian document (originally Scottish) approved by Parliament when the Presbyterians gained the upper hand. It superseded the Book of Common Prayer.
     
  20. rlvaughn

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    I thought so, but I'm no expert on the Anglicans. But I think the distinction in the Jessey church records would be about adult believer immersion as opposed to infant baptism/immersion. A clip from Pound's pdf says, "none having then so Practiced in England to Professed Believers," for example.
     

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