Baptismal Succession And Baptismal Authority
Note: We believe that Baptist churches are true churches of Christ, and that churches of Baptist faith and practice have existed since Christ established the first local, New Testament church during His ministry. This belief was well presented and well defended by Dr John Christian in his “History Of The Baptists.” This belief can be held to without subscribing to linked chain successionism, or the baptismal authority succession as presented by many Landmark Baptists.
The nineteenth century antebellum South saw a controversy arise in Baptist churches. This controversy was led by J.R. Graves and J.M. Pendleton and was a battle against what was called “pulpit affiliation”. Baptist churches were allowing men to preach in their pulpits who had not been baptized by immersion. Graves and Pendleton rightly considered this to be something that should not have occurred. Their premises, however, were not right premises. The “Landmark” which they sought to “reset” is that of Baptist succession and the sole authority of Baptist churches to baptize. It is the aim of this article to show that there were Baptists before the time of Graves and Pendleton who embraced neither their idea of baptismal succession, nor that of a Baptist church being the sole authority when it comes to baptism.
John Gill (1697-1771) was an English Baptist, Biblical scholar, and pastor. “His first pastoral work was as an intern assisting John Davis at Higham Ferrers in 1718 at age twenty one. He was subsequently called to pastor the Strict Baptist church at Goat Yard Chapel, Horsleydown, Southwark in 1719. In 1757, his congregation needed larger premises and moved to a Carter Lane, St. Olave’s Street, Southwark. His pastorate lasted 51 years. This Baptist Church would later become the Metropolitan Tabernacle pastored by Charles Spurgeon.” (See Gill’s biography at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library http://www.ccel.org/g/gill/ ) Gill wrote millions of words on theological themes. He wrote a commentary on the Old and New Testaments as well as a two volume systematic theology, and much more. Over two centuries have passed since Gill’s death, but his influence lives on due to his great scholarship.
Gill did not embrace the idea that is held by many Landmarkers that baptism joins one to the local church:. “..men must be believers before they are baptized; and they must be baptized before they become members; and they cannot be members till they make application to a church, and are admitted into it.” (The preceding quote and the following from http://pbministries.org/books/gill/Practical_Divinity/Book_2/book2_01.htm
Last accessed 02/22/2010) Neither did he believe that baptism was performed only by the authority of a Baptist church, saying,
“When I say it is not a church ordinance, I mean it is not an ordinance administered in the church, but out of it, and in order to admission into it, and communion with it; it is preparatory to it, and a qualification for it; it does not make a person a member of a church, or admit him into a visible church… Admission to baptism lies solely in the breast of the administrator, who is the only judge of qualifications for it, and has the sole power of receiving to it, and of rejecting from it; if nor satisfied, he may reject a person thought fit by a church, and admit a person to baptism not thought fit by a church; but a disagreement is not desirable nor advisable: the orderly, regular, scriptural rule of proceeding seems to be this: a person inclined to submit to baptism, and to join in communion with a church, should first apply to an administrator; and upon giving him satisfaction, be baptized by him; and then should propose to the church for communion .. and so the way is clear for his admission into church fellowship. So Saul, when converted, was immediately baptized by Ananias, without any previous knowledge and consent of the church; and, it was many days after this that he proposed to join himself to the disciples, and was received (Acts 9:18, 19, 23, 26-28)…”
Note that Gill supports his contention for baptism at the hands of an administrator instead of by church authority by appealing to the case of Saul in Acts chapter nine. Gill demonstrated from this passage that Saul was baptized at the hands of Ananias and then presented himself to the church. Gill also presents the authority for baptism as being the authority of God. The Landmark teaching on the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is that Jesus gave the church the authority to baptize. Gill states that baptism “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” is truly being baptized by their authority because the one being baptized has submitted to God's authority by faith in Jesus.
“I shall next consider the author of it; and show, that it is not a device of men, but an ordinance of God; it is a solemn part of divine worship, being performed in the name of the Three divine Persons in Deity, Father, Son, and Spirit, and by their authority; in which the name of God is invoked, faith in him expressed, and a man gives up himself to God, obliges himself to yield obedience to him, expecting all good things from him.”
“..it is ordered to be administered in the name of all three, Father, Son, and Spirit. Which, among other things, is expressive of divine authority, under which it is performed.”
Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) was a baptist theologian, missionary advocate, and pastor in England. He was of great encouragement and help to William Carey as he sought to strike out and do mission work. His word is to be taken as the word of one who loved God’s Word, God’s people, and God’s church.
(For more information on Fuller see http://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/fuller/fuller.htm )
The time of Fuller’s life was before the Landmark controversy arose, and he seems to have not been a believer in a linked chain succession of baptisms, or church authority in the administration of baptism.
“Baptism is a Divine institution, pertaining to the kingdom of the Messiah, or the gospel dispensation. John received it from heaven, and administered it to the Jews, who, on his proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, confessed their sins. Jesus gave sanction to it by his example; and after his resurrection, when all power in heaven and earth was committed to him, he confirmed and extended it to believers of all nations.”
(Andrew Fuller, Works of Andrew Fuller, pg 728; Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA)
In this particular passage from the works of Fuller we see no references to either successionism or authority, unless one stops to consider that he does present Christ as being the authority over baptism.
We also notice that Fuller did not think it wise to seek a formula for how a church should be established. Most Landmarkers require a “mother church” who formally authorizes and establishes a new church plant. Fuller said,
“We have no particular account, for instance, of the original formation of a single church, nor of an ordination service, nor in what order the primitive worship was generally conducted.”
(Andrew Fuller, Works of Andrew Fuller, pg 831; Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA)
“..to attempt to draw up a formula of church government, worship, and discipline, which shall include any thing more than general outlines, and to establish it expressly on New Testament authority, is to attempt what is utterly impracticable.”
(Andrew Fuller, Works of Andrew Fuller, pg 831; Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA)
Fuller's further statements inform us that he had no problem with an informal manner of establishing a church.
“The missionaries, arriving at the scene of action, would first unite in social prayer and Christian fellowship; and this would constitute the first church.”
(Andrew Fuller, Works of Andrew Fuller, pg 832; Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA)
This is far different from the typical approach of most Landmarkers with whom I am familiar. When we consider his statements, Fuller would probably contend that the Landmark position on establishing churches and the authority of baptism is not the Biblical position, but an imposition upon the churches. Fuller also spoke about succession, and obviously did not count it to be of great importance.
“Such, I conceive, is the state of things with respect to the apostles and succeeding pastors. There were never any men, or set of men whatsoever, that were, properly speaking, their successors. Nor was it necessary that there should, seeing every thing which they did (excepting what was extraordinary, in which none can succeed them) was lawful for every pastor to do in his immediate charge.”
(Andrew Fuller, Works of Andrew Fuller, pg 833; Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA)
James Robinson (J.R.) Graves
J.R. Graves “(b. Chester, Vt., Apr. 10, 1820; d. Memphis, Tenn., June 26, 1893). Preacher, publisher, author, and editor. He influenced Southern Baptist life of the 19th century in more ways, and probably to a greater degree, than any other person. As an agitator and controversialist of the first magnitude, he kept his denomination in almost continual and often bitter controversy for about 30 years.” (http://www.reformedreader.org/rbb/graves/gindex.htm Accessed 03/02/2010)
Graves was a very outspoken advocate of Landmarkism, both in the pulpit and in print. In the late 1850’s Graves was brought before the First Baptist Church of Nashville, TN on charges of slander. He was found guilty and censured as a member at that time. Instead of humbly submitting to the censure of the church, Graves declared the minority which supported him the true church, withdrew, and started a new church! S.H. Ford wrote of this saying,
“After careful consideration and counsel amongst the prominent members of the First Church, Nashville, it was decided to arraign Graves before the church on charges of slander. The names already mentioned were the expected witnesses, and their statements were sought and forwarded. Instead of accusing Graves of slander, Fuller acknowledged that he was right in his criticisms, and that he fully deserved them. The others were used as witnesses against him, and it was supposed that a case was made out.
Graves had many strong friends in the church. Among these was A. C. Dayton, the author, and Shackelford. Twenty of these on the advice of Dayton, seeing that the disposition of the case was already decided, and that Graves would be excluded, entered a demurrer; declared that the majority were acting contrary to scriptural precept as laid down in Matthew; announced themselves, that is, the minority, to be the church,, and virtually excluded the majority. This action was at once published, with the reasons for it. The majority was denominated “Howell’s Society.” But the church proper went on with the trial and Graves first and then all the minority were expelled. Thunder and lightning! How the news flashed along the wires, was published in all papers, was denounced by Graves’ friends, was dwelt upon with glow of joy by the Methodist journals. “Graves had come to his deserved end―expelled, disgraced, his power broken, his influence gone.
But wait! While the course of the minority, and especially of Graves, in not squarely standing the trial to the end, was blamed by nearly all well-informed Baptists, and Graves and Dayton were soon made to see their mistake in this and a different, scriptural and rational course was taken. The minority formed themselves into a new church. They called a very large independent council which after several days of investigation acknowledged them as an independent scriptural church of the Baptist faith and order. The association and the general associates [association?] to which both churches belonged, ratified this action. The First Church withdrew from these bodies, and the new church remains to this day.
And then came a general discussion in the papers, in pamphlets, in books, of the finality of the act of a church in expelling a member. Must not every church, in fellowship with the one which expels, respect and abide by its action; or is every church so distinct and independent that it can receive into fellowship any one deemed fit, without regard to the action of any other church? In other words, shall one church decide for, or control the action of every other church? Public opinion among Baptists, generally settled down on the principle, expressed in a circular of the Long Run Association at Louisville, Ky., that though proper regard should be paid to the action of a church excluding a member, yet if on a fair investigation, it had concluded that the expelled member can be fellowshipped by the church to which he applies, the church has the right to receive him. The right of one independent church to expel without appeal, proves the right of another church to receive without appeal. The circular was quoted in nearly all the denominational journals with approval, and adopted by several associations. It may be said that this is now the doctrine of Baptist churches generally.” (http://www.reformedreader.org/rbb/graves/biography-ford/chapter06.htm Accessed 03/02/2010)
After all of the writing and preaching about the authority of the local, New Testament, Baptist churches, Graves disregarded that authority. As far as we know, Graves never showed any respect for the judgment of R.B.C. Howell, a man his elder as well as his pastor, nor the judgment of the church whose authority he said that he believed was of God. Instead we find political maneuvering and resistance to said authority. Whatever else may be said about Graves and his teaching, he was not consistent with it in this respect.
James Madison (J.M.) Pendleton
James Madison Pendleton, D.D., was born Nov. 20, 1811, in Spottsylvania Co., Va. On the fourth day of March, 1891, he closed his eyes in death, in his eighty-first year. He died as he had lived, a Landmark Baptist. He stated in his Reminiscences, page 104, that he did not think his position on that question had ever been answered, and that he was of the same opinion in 1891, the year of his death, as he was in 1855, the time he wrote it. He was laid to rest in the cemetery at Bowling Green, Ky., March 6 (1891). (See http://baptisthistoryhomepage.com/pendleton.j.m.by.bogard.html for a biography of Pendleton.)
Near the beginning of the Landmark controversy Pendleton wrote “An Old Landmark Reset”. (See http://www.reformedreader.org/history/anoldlandmarkreset.htm for an online version of this pamphlet.) The original issue that “An Old Landmark Reset” sought to deal with was the practice of pulpit affiliation, or Baptists allowing Pedo-baptists to share their pulpits. Through all of the argument, Pendleton never sought to establish a Biblical argument for church authority in baptism. Neither did he present an argument from Scripture or history for a linked chain succession of baptisms from the days of John the Baptist and Jesus. These arguments would have been mighty weapons in his arsenal of arguments, but he did not use them? Was it because he was not aware of these arguments? That is doubtful. Was it because he lacked the intelligence to use these arguments? Again, doubtful. Why, then, did he not use such strong arguments (They would be strong if they had Biblical support.)? Let the reader consider this question.
In an appendix to “An Old Landmark Reset”, Pendleton says, “While it is true that authority to preach must, according to the New Testament, come from a Gospel church, it is equally true that authority to baptize must come from the same source.” (J.M. Pendleton, pg 37, An Old Landmark Reset)
It is very interesting that the issue of authority never came up in the body of “An Old Landmark Reset”, and is only seen in this appendix. Why did Pendleton not found the whole of his argument on this issue of church authority? If it were held to be true by all, or if it were a point easily established by Scripture, it would have been the very thing which would have vanquished his opponents. Why did Pendleton not use this argument? Perhaps we’ll never know.
Until after the nineteenth century this writer found no Baptist confession listed by Lumpkin (W.L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith; Judson Press) that demonstrates a belief in baptismal succession or baptismal authority as held by those who hold to the Landmark position.
A.H. Strong (1836-1921) an American Baptist minister and theologian who wrote a very large, scholarly, and influential systematic theology. (See http://www.ccel.org/s/strong/ for a brief biography.)
“Upon the person newly regenerate the command of Christ first terminates; only upon his giving evidence of the change within him does it become the duty of the church to see that he has opportunity to follow Christ in baptism. Since baptism is primarily the act of the convert, no lack of qualification on the part of the administrator invalidates the baptism, so long as the proper outward act is performed, with intent on the part of the person baptized to express the fact of a preceding spiritual renewal (Acts 2:37, 38).
(Strong, A. H. (2004). Systematic theology (948–949). Bellingham, Wa.: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)
In other words, Strong believed that what was necessary for the validity of baptism was that a person be immersed as a believer.
Having briefly touched on a few things in a very simple manner, I shall confess that my studies have found the Landmark/Baptist Bride position to be a weak one when the historical data is taken into account.