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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


The Nature of Succession

D. B. Ray

From Baptist Succession: A Handbook of Baptist History, 1871

All well-informed Baptists are agreed in the belief that we as a people have continued from the time of Christ until the present. In other words, they hold and teach the perpetuity of the Church of Christ. They believe that the Baptist succession exists; that there has been no period of time since the death of Christ when Baptists have not existed.


But Baptists do not claim "apostolic succession" because they admit that the apostolic office expired with the death of John the beloved. There was no more necessity for the apostolic office when Christianity was fully established and the canon of revelation completed. Neither do we claim Popish succession, for this is only the succession of Antichrist.


But while some agree that the Baptist succession does exist, or that a succession of Baptists has continued from the time of Christ to the present, yet they, at the same time, deny that the succession can be proved. This is wholly inconsistent; for no one has the right to believe that which cannot be proved. There can be no intelligent faith without evidence. If we have no evidence to prove a succession, it is out of the question to affirm that we believe in the existence of such succession. It appears that the taunts of our opponents have caused some of us almost to surrender our birthright.


They tell us that this claim to succession is a "Popish principle" a "mark of the Beast," etc. But shall we reject a Bible doctrine because it has been perverted by the Church of Rome? Shall we reject the divinity of Christ because this is held by the Church of Rome? Shall we reject the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper because these have been perverted by the Church of Rome? Or shall we give up our church organization because the Church of Rome, professing to be the Church of Christ, has become the most cruel ecclesiastical despotism which has ever disgraced the name of Christianity? Shall we reject all currency because of the counterfeit? And shall we surrender the perpetuity or succession of the "everlasting kingdom" of Jesus Christ because the Catholics have inaugurated the Popish succession of Antichrist?


But again, we are told that there is no importance whatever attached to the doctrine of succession; that it makes no difference whether we are in the succession or not, if we hold the Bible doctrine at the present time! But no man can hold the Bible doctrine of church organization who denies the succession. No man can be in the church or kingdom of Jesus Christ who is not in that kingdom which has the succession from the apostolic age. Is it not important to know that the words of Jesus Christ have been verified which are recorded in Matt. 16:18, "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"?


Is it not important to know that the Church of Christ, which is the "pillar and ground of the truth," has been "kept by the power of God" as the beacon-light of the world through the dark ages, while the masses of mankind were wondering after the Beast? Is it not important to know that the more than fifty millions of martyred saints, whose blood has been poured forth like rivers, or whose bones have bleached upon the mountains and vales of Europe, and whose ashes have been scattered to the four winds of heaven, were members of the Church of Christ? Or shall we say, it makes no difference with us whether they fell as martyrs of Jesus Christ or died as members of Antichrist?


It is no new doctrine among Baptists to claim the succession of the churches of Jesus Christ. The author of the Religious Encyclopedia says: "They [Baptists] think that the Christian church, properly so called, was not visibly organized in the family of Abraham nor in the wilderness of Sinai, but by the ministry of Christ himself and of his apostles…All this time there were Baptist churches…A succession of the Novatians, or the true church, has continued down to the Reformation." (Rel. Encyc., p. 188)


Joseph Belcher says: "It will be seen that the Baptists claim the high antiquity of the commencement of the Christian church. They can trace a succession of those who have believed the same doctrine and administered the same ordinances directly up to the apostolic age.” (Re. Denom. in E. & A., p. 53)


Mr. Benedict says: “The more I study the subject, the stronger are my convictions, that if all the facts in the case could be disclosed, a very good succession could be made out. “ (Ben. Hist. Bapt., p. 51)


Dr. Howell says: “I assert that from the days of the apostles to the present time the true, legitimate Baptist Church has ever been a missionary body.” (Letters to Dr. Watson, p. 3)

 

John L. Waller says:


“Here we rest our cause; the case is made out. The doctrine of reforming the Papal Church is unwarranted by Scripture and unsupported by history.


“The Church of Christ was persecuted, but never overthrown; cast down, but not destroyed. It was built upon a rock, against which neither the powers of darkness nor the seductions of Satan, transformed into an angel of light, could prevail. Poor, persecuted, obscure, and despised, still the true friends of the Redeemer maintained the great truths of our holy religion, unterrified by opposition and unseduced by corruption.


“And the honor of being the witnesses for the truth and the Word of God, when the civilized nations of the earth had bowed in blind and servile obedience to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, in sustaining in undiminished radiance and splendor the altar-fires of our holly religion during the long and dreary darkness of the world’s midnight, belongs to the Baptists.


“This is confessed by their enemies; and thus in them is fulfilled the predictions of the prophets, and illustrated that promise of the Savior, ‘that the gates of hell should not prevail against his church.’”


The succession was also maintained by the Baptist martyrs of past ages. One important object in pointing out our denominational history is to stimulate the zeal of modern Baptists by the heroic examples of our ancient brethren and sisters, who sealed their testimony with their blood, by showing that they suffered the loss of all things earthly for the same principles which distinguish us as a denomination. In other words, our principles have been handed down to us at a cost of the lives of millions of our brethren and sisters who loved the Church of Christ more than life itself. Like Abel, being dead, they yet speak to us of the glorious things concerning the kingdom of Christ, and still continue to bear witness against every form of Antichrist.