Monday, November 11, 2013

The Falsehood of English Separatism

Many who profess to be Baptist today claim the English separatist view of Baptist history.  They say that Baptists began during and as a part of the Protestant Reformation.  And yet they are "Baptists."  I ask, "How?"

Just as examples, Roman Catholics don't teach immersion for believers only, don't believe justification by faith, don't teach premillennialism, don't believe in separation of church and state, and much more.  Protestants came out of Roman Catholicism.  Just as examples, Protestants don't teach immersion for believers only, don't teach premillennialism, don't believe in separation of church and state, don't believe in congregational form of church government, and much more.  English separatist "Baptists" came out of the Protestant Reformers.

Just as an example, English separatists immerse believers only, don't practice infant sprinkling.  Why?  The English separatist might say, "Because the Bible teaches it."  So Protestants didn't teach that and before that, Roman Catholics didn't teach that.  How far do we have to go back to find believer's immersion?  Is it third, second, or first century?  So did we have at least 1200 years of apostasy on baptism and more or less on several other doctrines?  Is this what God said would happen?

English separatists say we don't know if there were any true churches from the second or third century until the 17th century.  In other words, they teach a total apostasy, just like the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Christ.  If the Bible is true, this can't be true.

Here's my take on English separatism.  I'm not alone on this.  Rank and file Baptists have believed that they trace their lineage back to the first century.   Many historians have espoused this.  I don't care what you call it, but they have believed that there were always true churches, not something bigger than a local church that existed to preserve the truth, but several individual churches, which remained separate from something bigger than a local assembly, something hierarchical, or something like a state church.  English separatists have called this a populist position, and rejected it as wrongfully a priori.  They say history can't sustain it, so the scholarly, defensible position is English separatist, even if it contradicts both the Bible and, therefore, a Christian world view.

Let's consider this as it relates to Baptist belief in the 19th century United States, and in particular, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The first Southern Baptist seminary was fittingly named The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, because it was, well, that.  There are at least five others now in the Southern Baptist Convention, but it was the first and at that time, the only.  It is no longer the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but it is still called that (SBTS).

The SBTS began in 1859 in Greenville, SC under the leadership of James Petigru Boyce.  In hindsight, 1859 was a bad year for anything to get started in the South.  It closed during the Civil War, stayed a short while in Greenville at the campus of Furman University, and then moved to Louisville, KY in 1877.  For such a long history, the SBTS has had only 8 presidents including its present, Albert Mohler.  The shortest tenured presidency was that of William Heth Whitsitt (1895-1899), and his short stay related directly to English separatism.  The explanation of English separatism, Whitsitt, and liberalism at SBTS and in the Southern Baptist Convention all dovetail.

William Heth Whitsitt, born in 1841, was a third generation Baptist, and at the age of 14 he joined the Mill Creek Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.  When Whitsitt was a boy, his family received The Tennessee Baptist, edited by James Graves beginning in 1846.  Graves preached many times at Mill Creek with Whitsitt in attendance.  Mill Creek itself practiced closed communion.   When he was 16 in 1857, Whitsitt began college at Union University in Murfreesboro, TN, a state Baptist institution.  It was there at Union, that Whitsitt became attached to J. M. Pendleton.  J. R. Graves preached his ordination sermon, shortly after which, Whitsitt joined the Confederate army as a private, and was later promoted to the chaplaincy.   He served four years in the military and in 1866 began attending the University of Virginia.  The next year he joined the SBTS in Greenville.

I want anyone reading to pay special attention to this point in Whitsitt's life.  After two years of study at Southern, he enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1869, and then in 1870 at the University of Berlin.  Whitsitt came to Germany when the historical-critical, scientific method, was predominant in the treatment of the Bible, where traditional positions were to be questioned.  Independent thinking was prized.  Whitsitt became convinced of these.  His professors were Karl Friedrich August Kahnis and  Christoph Ernst Luthardt, among others.  He did not attend a Baptist church, but the American chapel where King Wilhelm and Count Bismarck also went.  When he came home with a big debt, he looked for a pastorate as employment, but was looked at with suspicion by churches.  Instead, in 1872, he was hired by the SBTS to teach.  Whitsitt took delight in the ecumenical spirit of the Greenville church attenders and the peace between religious denominations, regularly participating in pulpit exchanges between Episcopalians and Methodists.  Whitsitt reflected his German training, contending that theology should enter the lists with the other sciences and defend itself as them.

Whitsitt was characterized in his teaching at Southern by a reliance on the scientific method.  For this reason, his teaching was often unique to what others said about the same subjects.  That made him popular with students.  He became president of the SBTS in 1895 and in the same year he was assigned by Johnson's Cyclopedia the article on the Baptists.  There he made public some of his research from his German studies.  Whitsitt asserted that there had not been an unbroken history of adult baptism all the way back to the time of Christ.  This appeared to Baptists to undermine their legitimacy and authority, and was causing attendance and monetary issues at SBTS, so Whitsitt was forced to resign in 1899.  This is the beginnings of the English separatist theory, so it is a new position that arose from the influence of German rationalism upon William Whitsitt.

About twenty years earlier, Whitsitt proved his chops, staking his scholarship and independence, by clashing with Graves over alien immersion.  Whitsitt took his own ecclesiology to its logical end, accepting baptisms other than Baptists according to his spiritualization of the church and his spirit of ecumenism.  This was not a historic or biblical position.  It reads like an axe to grind.  Cloistered in the seminary and opposing an aging and diminishing leader, it was an incremental step for Whitsitt that could elevate his own status, protected by the tenure of a parachurch organization.

Easily the SBTS could be considered the earliest and most liberal of the Southern Baptist seminaries.  It lead the liberal surge of the SBC.  The rise of other seminaries easily could be related to this attack on a biblical Baptist history position, especially the founding of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas in 1908, under the leadership of Benajah Harvey Carroll, the older brother of  James Milton Carroll, who wrote the Trail of Blood.  Both Carrolls were local only in their ecclesiology and the SWBTS quickly became the largest of the Southern Baptist seminaries in a conservative resurgence, certainly reaction to SBTS.  Carroll published 33 volumes of works, and is best known for his 17-volume commentary, An Interpretation of the English Bible.

The churches, the rank and file Baptists, the majority, for the 19th century and much of the 20th century were local only in their ecclesiology, like they were conservative in their theology.  Academia, the parachurch graduate school crowd, refers to it with the obvious pejorative "populist."  When you have the population believing one thing and then the schools, influenced by German rationalism, turning to liberalism, believing something else, do you see that as the trustworthy position?  The English separatist position is the new position, and its obvious that its founders were fond of spiritualizing the Old Testament and ecumenical.  Could their "history" be a product of their education and science?  It reads just like it.  There is a reason the "populists" believed like they did -- they got it from the Bible and from their preachers in the pillar and ground of the truth.  This is the position of faith.  English separatism like many other scientific views is the viewpoint of doubt.

There is no guarantee in the Bible for a preservation of history.  However, there is a biblical position for the interpretation of history.  If you read Isaiah 40 to 46, God through Isaiah says to view the past according to the present and the future according to the past and the present according to the past with a view for the future.  All of this interconnects.  We can't be right about history without starting with the Bible.  Only the Bible connects all three -- past, present, and future.

A catholic "church" was corrupt and just got worse.  The truth wasn't preserved through Roman Catholicism.  Baptism, the Lord's Supper -- what we might call the Baptist distinctives -- these were preserved through churches separate from Roman Catholicism.  That's a biblical view that matches up with biblical ecclesiology and eschatology, even soteriology.  There's no way that a belief in justification by faith ended in the second or third century and then started up again during the Reformation, but that's the view of an English separatist.  It's not true and it shouldn't be trusted.  It's also a convenient invention for people to redefine ministry in order to justify positions and careers.

31 comments:

Ken Lengel said...

Kent,

I found two interesting quotes as well from the same time period with Graves by the American Baptist Publication Society. In their Madison Avenue letters in 1967, two of the authors, Crane and Buckland wrote the following respectively.

Crane - on the local church position:
"It is a very fixed habit of Baptists, offended at the mechanical and artificial ecclesiastical unity which has been constructed by other Christian denominations, and much in love with the mutual independency of their own separate societies, to repudiate the name of church as applied to their entire body, and to affix it to their local communities alone." p. 61.

Crane states it was a "very fixed habit" not to refer to churches as other than local churches.

Buckland - on the prospective gathering of believers in the future, referencing Christ's rule over the body of believers in the future.

"May the day soon come, when God’s word shall rule one universal church of believing souls, holding to “One, Lord, one Faith, one Baptism,”" - p.336

For the record, I don't know Don very well, but have read and agreed with much of what I have read of him. However, I thought the title and logic of Duncan's post was faulty. I believe Don tried to soften it in his referencing the post by saying their is a connection, but as I said, systems like Mormonism and Roman Catholicism have "connections" to certain truths but it does not prove their origin.

Thanks,
Ken Lengel

Ken Lengel said...

My apologies, the Madison Avenue Letters were written in 1867. (I hurt my hand and wrist playing football and my typing skills of hunt and peck failed me.)

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Ken. A characteristic of churches independent of Roman Catholicism, true New Testament churches, yes, Baptist churches, is local only ecclesiology. They see the church as only local. That wouldn't be enough if it weren't taught in the Bible.

Ken Lengel said...

I agree. I think what people miss is that those individual churches that chose to exist apart from Roman Catholicism did so BECAUSE they did not believe in a universal, visible church. Their independence was the natural outworking of their belief of the Scriptures. Protestants, on the other hand, knew that the only way to compete with Roman Catholicism was to create a universal, "invisible" church, which would permit them to both challenge RC beliefs as well as validate their own existance.

Herbert Stewart wrote in his book on Modernism of the lengths the Reformers knew they had to take their dogma in order to establish themselves apart from Catholicism.

He wrote: "It was rather the sort of time when only the iconoclast is effective, when superstition can be dispelled only by a rival superstition, when cautious mediators between old and new are little understood and less respected. Dogmas had to clash before the limit to all dogma could become even an object of inquiry." p.77 (Modernism, Past and Present)

The only position that could compete with a universal, visible church would be a universal invisible one.

I agree though, that while we look at all of this history, it is because we start off from the Scriptures and consistent hermeneutics will lead believers to a local only position. When we lose sight of how history pressed upon others to change the doctrine, rather than trusting the Word for the doctrine in its pages alone, it is then when we can fall away from biblical truth. History can define how we followed Christ, but never how we should follow Him.

Bobby Mitchell said...

Excellent work. I appreciate it.

George Calvas said...

Kent wrote:

"Thanks Ken. A characteristic of churches independent of Roman Catholicism, true New Testament churches, yes, Baptist churches, is local only ecclesiology. They see the church as only local. That wouldn't be enough if it weren't taught in the Bible."

You continue to write around biblical truths that is AGAINST what you say, yet you ignore them. Here is another:

2 Corinthians 8:18 And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches;
19 And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind:

If you have the desire to learn, and I believe I have the Spirit of God as you, then who is this "brother" sent from THE CHURCHES to go and "administer" (v22) the declaration of all the churches throughout Macedonia (v1) about GIVING an offering for the saints that be in JERUSALEM??

Your not truly interested in the balanced truth about the church working together as an assembly of local churches united together for the cause of EQUALITY (just to name one- v11-14)?

But, most of the churches would not want to lose some of the "fat" that has been built within the body of Christ here in America to help, for example, the poor body of believers in Africa who sit under roofs hung up by simple posts, with women and orphans all around that have had very little to eat.

Ah, the awful truth of giving for an equality among all the churches is something the Lord our God will "ask of an account (Eccl 7:27)" when the saints go before the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Joshua said...

George,

That verse doesn't help your case. Multiple local churches agreed to send a guy they had all heard of and trusted with the money. This doesn't demand a universal church at all. Independent local assemblies help each other out and cooperate all the time.

Who needs a universal church for that? My church is friends with other churches. There are men in those churches that if large sums of cash needed to be collected and carried, we'd be happiest if it was Brother so-and-so who was entrusted with it because we know of his testimony.

George Calvas said...

Joshua,

What it "demands" is to look at the totality of scripture so that you can understand that the church was organized to work together, each local church recognizing the authority of one toward another.

This typical local church ONLY mentality put forth by IFB and others like them has as its roots in a form of independance not found in the scriptures.

Don Johnson said...

I would point out that the Landmarker teachings of J. R. Graves are dated from 1851, sixteen years before the letters Ken cites. You need to get past 1851 to prove your case.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ken Lengel said...

Don,

New England Separate Baptists had the same beliefs of a local only church designation in the Scriptures. They were most likely where Graves learned of this doctrine, but men like Isaac Backus and John Leland were well before the time of Graves.

Backus wrote this in 1773. "Christ has instituted none but particular churches." A Discourse, Concerning the Materials, the Manner of Building and Power of Organizing of the Church of Christ (Boston: John Boyles, 1773)

Thanks,
Ken

Don Johnson said...

Ken, are you sure that "particular" means "local"? I've heard the term as a reference to five-point Calvinism, i.e., "Particular Baptists" as opposed to "General Baptists." So... more information needed.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ken Lengel said...

I believe some Separate Baptists of New England and Particular Baptists did merge later on, but I am certain that he was referring to local church in the reference to "particular". If I recall I think many Separate Baptists became Regular Baptists. However, just because we refer to some churches from the past as having been "Particular Churches" doesn't change the quote. Particular Baptists were Calvinists who believed in particular atonement. That being said, it would not suffice to suggest the quote means "Christ has instituted none but particular atonement churches." I think the quote speaks for itself. None of his other writings would suggest that either.

If you read Isaac Backus, I think you will find he strongly supported the biblical precept of local only churches, independent from any other church, visible or invisible.

Thanks,
Ken

George Calvas said...

Ken wrote:
"If you read Isaac Backus, I think you will find he strongly supported the biblical precept of local only churches, independent from any other church, visible or invisible."

You cannot find the local church only precept in the bible. You must read into the scriptures, as do Calvinists, to form that doctrine.

Don Johnson said...

If you click here, you will find some information on Backus. He appears to be definitely thoroughly Calvinist in his theology. Hope that link works!

I have found some references that indicate that Graves was influenced by New England Baptist theology, but would like to get more context. I am not sure that what he meant is what they meant.

Still, the important issues here are not the historical ones, but 1) What does the Bible actually teach? and 2) What is the significance of this doctrine for Christians in local churches today?

I think we agree on those questions, although we disagree on the answers for #1. You are welcome to jump in on my posts where I am dealing with the biblical data and show me where I am wrong. On the historical question, it is possible that "local only" did not originate with Graves, but so far I have not seen conclusive proof of that proposition.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ken Lengel said...

Don,

I would agree that we agree on the questions, and history is informative, pertinent, but secondary to the discussion. I would be glad to look at your posts to discuss further.

I have one more interesting thing to note, as I thought to research this in the last few days.

As we look to the Scriptures for the author's original intent, as that is our goal, to know what the writers meant, an interesting thought hit me.

Would Paul have even thought of the concept of "invisibility" in the first century to construe that meaning in his writing? Upon further study, the origin of "invisible" as a concept can only be attributed back to the 14th century, 1300 years after Paul wrote.

Just an interesting thought to ponder!

Thanks,
Ken

Don Johnson said...

On the point of "invisible", I agree with Ryrie that "invisible" is a poor choice of words. "Universal" is better, and I think that Paul did conceive of that.

BTW, per Kent's post above, I thought I'd mention that the first place my wife and I lived after we got married was on Whitsitt Street in Greenville. There is a whole section of streets named after Southern Seminary professors just off downtown and we lived in an apartment above a little old lady's house.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

George Calvas said...

It is amazing what the Holy King James Bible can clear up without any references to history:

Ephesians 1:Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

1> Since he wrote to the saints (not the elders or the bishops) at Ephesus, how do you get a ONLY local church doctrine from this?

Are any one of us "saints at Ephesus"? According to Acts 20, there were more than one local church in and around Ephesus, so which body of saints is he referencing here?

Oh, I see you "read into" this that local only churches were established and that he is speaking to saints of every local church within Ephesus? How does that apply to you since you are not part of the "local churches" at Ephesus?

----------------------------
15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,

So, he is speaking to the saints of v1 and making reference to the fact of those saints of Ephesus and there love unto ALL the saints. Who are these other saints? What kind of love did they have toward them? Why and how was this love of them established?

You see, you have to read into the scriptures to build a doctrine of "local church only". The church of Jesus Christ included EVERY local church that was of his body, each and every one having a heart of love one toward another.

Bobby Mitchell said...

George Calvas said, "According to Acts 20, there were more than one local church in and around Ephesus, so which body of saints is he referencing here?"

George,

I'm looking at the Holy King James Bible, Acts 20 to be precise. I'm searching for the portion there that states that there was more than one local church in and around Ephesus. I hope you are not adding to the Bible with your statement.

By the way, when you say "the holy King James Bible" I notice you are using the singular. Is that because there is only one holy King James Bible? Is it the "universal, invisible HKJB"? Or are you using the singular to refer to any Bible which is a holy King James Bible?

You really should let Acts 19 and 20 be your background for your understanding of who Paul was writing to in Ephesians and what Paul was writing about there when he deals with the doctrine of the church in that Epistle.

George Calvas said...

Ok, let us see what Acts 20 says:

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

So, who were these elders (plural) of the church (singular)?

28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

He called these elders, overseers, and either they were a plurality of elders (a presbytery) of one church, or they were bishops (overseers) of more than one local assembly.

How readest thou this?

Bobby mitchell said...

I read it just as written. One church with more than one elder.

George Calvas said...

Bob wrote:
"I read it just as written. One church with more than one elder."

Therefore, the pastor never runs a church, but rather a presbytery of elders oversee the feeding of the church.

That is how you read it, eh?

----------------------------

Bob wrote:

"By the way, when you say "the holy King James Bible" I notice you are using the singular. Is that because there is only one holy King James Bible?"

Of course there is only one. It is the one used to quote the verses under examination.

How many do you believe exist?

-----------------------------
Is it the "universal, invisible HKJB"?

Please explain you question. It is visible and universal just like the body of Jesus Christ.
-----------------------------

Or are you using the singular to refer to any Bible which is a holy King James Bible?

Any Holy King James Bible from 1611 to the 1769 is THE Holy King James Bible. The one that the body of Christ uses today is the last revision

What is your point?
================================

d4v34x said...

How many do you believe exist?

I myself have owned more than half a dozen different copies in the 40 odd years I've been alive.

Bobby said...

George,
I read it just as I stated.

To help you understand my other point: The King James Bible refers to any bible that is a King James. Bible. There is no invisible, universal KJB. That is a silly notion.

There is the NT church, which is any particular NT church. The notion of a universal, invisible church is worse than silly.

d4v34x said...

Bobby,

So no indvidual churches have been prevailed against by the powers of evil?

How can Jesus' promise only be about the church in the abstract?

Bobby said...

The gates of hell do not prevail against the Lords churches, but He has revealed that HE has the authority to remove His presence, thus resulting in their losing the status of being one of His candlesticks. Feel free to see this in Rev 2,3. Certainly any NT church can yield to sin to the point that they grieve Him to the level of Him departing. Is this really difficult to see, or do you just not want to? What is it about the idea of the universal church theory that is so seductive and appealing? I think it goes hand in hand with the other gospel, other spirit, other Christ that Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians. It is another way to be moved away from the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus.

d4v34x said...

So the members and leadership succumb to evil to the point that the Lord removes his presence. But the gates of hell are not (momentarily) prevailing in that skirmish.

I don't buy it. And I don't think that's a reading of Rev. 1-2-3 that one would come to without Local Only presuppositions.

Of course you may say the same about my presuppositions leading me. But false gospel/another christ connections are unnecessary and, frankly, just bad form.

George Calvas said...

Bobby wrote:

"What is it about the idea of the universal church theory that is so seductive and appealing?"

What do you mean theory? The collective body of the church, which meet in local assemblies is that way as to not DIVIDE the body into INDEPENDENT churches that have there own agendas.

The only thing "seductive and appealing" is the Nicolatian attitude of pastors who love to have the preeminance and run all aspects of the church, especially THE MONEY! One thing I have learned over the years is if a local church does not have a presbytery of elders overseeing it, it is nothing more a Diotrophes who squelches anything that does not meet HIS agenda! Just like the Lord that hates that mindset, I also hate it with a perfect hate.

As an elder, I can submit to any man (bishop, evangelist, pastor, teacher, etc.) when that man is also submitted to me and my gifts within the body.

That is why every independent church read into the scriptures "local church" when they see THE CHURCH in the same way a Calvinist reads into the scriptures "limited atonement" when they see the word "all" in context to salvation.

Bobby said...

D4 said, "But false gospel/another christ connections are unnecessary and, frankly, just bad form."

I understand your dislike of that, but I stand by it. There is one Lord Jesus Christ. He is the founder and builder of the true NT church, the local, visible NT church. The other is a counterfeit and is not of Him. If it is not of Him then it is of another. It is the church of "another Christ" just as another gospel is of another Christ.

George,

Interesting. Revealing.

Kent Brandenburg said...

D4,

I don't believe anyone believes that the promise of Jesus is in the abstract. The point of the generic use of the singular noun is not abstract. That, in fact, is the point of the universal church, so you've got that all turned around.

Think of it this way. If I said, "The phone will never be destroyed." Does that mean that no particular phone will ever be destroyed? Lots of phones are destroyed, but the phone is still around. It's still a correct statement.

Here's another one. "The fly will never be alleviated." Lots of flies are alleviated every year, but the fly won't. This isn't in the abstract. Real flies still exist. The fly still exists. The do-do bird doesn't. When I say "the do-do bird doesn't exist," I am saying that there are zero do-do birds, not one in particular. Is that abstract? No.

What we're explaining, I'm saying, is normal. If I say, the church is suffering today, am I talking about something abstract? No. It's still real, still occurring in the particular, even though I'm speaking generically. This is normal language that we use all the time.

It's what Bobby was doing with George on "the King James Version." He was making light of the fact that George himself was using English like the KJV uses it. George didn't catch it. It would seem that anyone reading would have understood that, but it missed George. When George says, "the King James Version," he doesn't mean a universal invisible KJV, but is using the generic use of the singular noun, just like the KJV itself uses. I use "the King James Version," but I own about five copies of it. Which one is "the King James Version"? Each one is.

Which one is "the church"? Each one is.

This is why Bobby says this is simple, but people want to make it difficult to keep their doctrine alive.

d4v34x said...

Bro. B.,

Ok, so not abstract but the generic. The promise is about the institution? There will always be at least one true local church around.

But Jesus' promise isn't about a generic. It's about His one church. "I will build my church."

There are houses, and then there is the house I own. It is my house. It is a specific house.

But you are reading Jesus to essentially say "I will ordain a type of institution of which at least one true iteration will always be extant and thus the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

Or do I still not comprehend you?

Kent Brandenburg said...

D4,

I'm happy you're reading here, but you're still not getting it. When Jesus said, "my church," to the hearer, He was differentiating His ekklesia, His assembly, from others. His ekklesia was differentiated from the Greek city state, from any town meeting (like we see in Acts 19), and from the congregation of Israel. It's a new institution, His ekklesia. Plus it is in fact His, church is. It's not mine or yours, so we should all keep that in mind. It's not a merely human organization. Each is headed by Jesus. Jesus walks in the midst of His churches. (Rev 1:19-2:1; Mt 18:17-18; 28:19-20).

If Jesus' assembly was not local, then why does He only refer to something local in every other of his 21 or so usages? Jesus never uses it, except as local. This, by the way, is how I exegete, the hermeneutic I use, for every other passage or doctrine. Why is there a separate hermeneutic for this? (Unless you're covenant theologian, and then this is a more common hermeneutic)