Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Epistemology and the History of the Church

Epistemology is the branch of science concerned with "how we know what we know?" What can we trust as an accurate source of knowledge? Scripture is the final arbiter of all truth claims. The first verse that comes to mind is James 1:17:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

You might wonder how James 1:17 has anything to do with epistemology. From God comes what is pure and unaffected. Every other "source" has some affect of sin on it and at least the affect of something on it. You can't fully trust any other source but God, so whatever He says about anything you can trust as being the truth.

I've taught history now for 21 years. I teach history a majority of days of every year. I've also done a lot of historical reading. History is what actually happened. I want to repeat that so that you don't miss it. History is what actually happened. In the past, of course. What is written down in what are called "history books" is not always what happened. I've noticed certain trends in what men write that they call history. Men often write a history that backs their desired views of the world. The men who write the accounts of what happened are often the most powerful men at the time or those who have won the battle or the war. Often the men writing the history have an axe to grind. They many times want to make their favorite guys look better than what they were. We see the same kind of varied outlooks in those writing contemporary history. We're not far removed from Abraham Lincoln, but there are wildly different opinions about who the man was. You'll read Christians who treat him as if he were an evangelical and other types of men who revile him. We have a hard enough time getting an accurate assessment of someone still breathing, let alone someone who has been dead for a century or more.

The so-called "history of the church" was written almost completely by Roman Catholicism. How can we know that what Roman Catholic "historians" wrote was true? I go to the Bible and I find that Roman Catholicism corrupted it. They diced up Scripture and spit it back out in an unrecognizable form. I have a hard time trusting their representatives to give me an accurate account of what happened regarding the church or even Christian doctrine. I don't believe that I "know" the history of the church when I "know" what Roman Catholic historians have written.

For some, whatever was published and accepted by the authority represents the academic and scholarly position. To them, if you read what the Catholics wrote on history and doctrine, you know what Christians believed. I don't believe that. About this time, you might be beginning to see me as a bit of a conspiracy theorist. In my opinion, I'm not a theorist on this. I believe it is a fact that Satan would want men to have the wrong view of the church and doctrine, so he would like them to believe the state religion and its historians.

I have a fideistic or presuppositional epistemology (I see them as the same). I believe Scripture. God's Word speaks of the church. It talks about the perpetuity of the church. It explains the nature of the church. The church is an assembly and it has no possibility of total apostasy. We should assume that there have always been New Testament churches since the time of Christ. I don't have to have a written history to believe this. I accept it without the addition of any historic "evidence." I'm a historian who is skeptical of history. I believe that God has made me a skeptic like He does all believers. He says to them to "prove all things." I have to have real evidence, that is, the Bible.

The church should look like, well, the church. Roman Catholicism doesn't walk or talk or quack like a church. I don't see a state church in Scripture. I don't see works salvation there either. I don't see the church persecuting believers anywhere in the Bible. And then I don't see all the other fallacies propagated through the centuries by Roman Catholicism either. What is the Roman Catholic denomination today looks nothing like what I read in the truth, that is, God's Word. It is no wonder that we can read in "history" that Roman Catholicism at the Council of Toulouse (1229) told everyone they could not read the vernacular translations of the Bible. They didn't want anyone checking up on them to see the error. If they did that, some kind of reformation might take place.

Because I know what the Bible says about perpetuity of the church, I look for the record of true churches in history, those that would be independent of the corrupt state organization, Roman Catholicism. I see churches like these in history in every century. I don't know everything there is about them, because these were churches often persecuted by the government and the state religion. They didn't have the convenience of stopping to write their histories. I understand that. What you'll find is that these independent, New Testament churches were Baptist. When they came out the other side after the invention of the printing press, we see that they were Baptist churches. They were called by different names during those preceding centuries, but in the end, they were Baptist.

I feel a little sick to my stomach when I hear men say that Baptists came out of the Reformation, that is, the English separatists theory. They trace their lineage to Luther and Calvin and then to Augustine. They often have many of the same doctrines as well. And they have a more common view of the church as Roman Catholicism than those who believe either a spiritual kinship or chain-link view of church history. They often take an Augustinian view of the church and they are not so hard against infant sprinkling. They many times also believe that the truth was preserved by means of Roman Catholicism. They are often more excited about being fundamentalists than they are about being Baptist. They also might not mind getting together for the gospel and tolerate corrupt teaching and practice to do so. I don't accept this view of history because it clashes with the truth, the Bible.

I'm a Baptist because Baptists are the true churches. They are the churches which remained independent of Roman Catholicism. I'm not Protestant. I was never in Roman Catholicism in order to come out. My legacy stands in the persecuted churches, those who would not bow the knee to Rome. This truth also separates me from most of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has been a movement of interdenominational Protestants. Why be a fundamentalist when one is already a Baptist? Baptist is good enough for me.


Gary Webb said...

Amen. I agree. and, "I are one" - a Baptist, that is.

Joshua said...

And I are one two.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

I still remember the days when I used to try and justify all the wicked acts of the Reformers (and even Catholics during the Crusades) because I felt that this was the history of the Church.

Then I read the Trail of Blood, and everything fell into place for me. Thank you for this post. More Baptists need to approach history with the Bible first, and Protestant historians second.

Jack Lamb said...

Baptist is good enough for me too.

d4v34x said...

I have no problem with either Baptist or fundamentalist or even bible-thumper. But I much prefer Christian.

Anvil said...

If a church is always a local assembly, and not universal, how is it possible that it will never be subject to total apostasy? There are multitudes of examples of individual churches becoming totally apostate after having been solid Bible churches.

If you mean that there will always be a church out there that is solid somewhere, that is all well and good (and I agree), but how can we decide if our current church is headed toward apostasy, especially when the pastor may be saying that his church is the only one that is right, or the remnant, and all others are going apostate? At what point can/must we decide that the current pastor/church is the one wrong by scripture if the individual church itself (which sees itself as the pillar and ground of truth even when it is wrong) is in agreement, but close reading and study of the scriptures indicate otherwise? Should counselors outside the local assembly be sought?

If one can indeed follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and come out of such a church, how is that different from what the reformers did, finding themselves having grown up in or having been taught by churches they now realized were apostate? There may indeed have always been good churches since the time of Christ, but it's also true that some good churches can indeed trace their line back to having come out of apostate churches, just as the reformers did.

Kent Brandenburg said...


What's your point?

Christ's church is local only. The gates of hell will not prevail against His church. We have churches separate from state religion in every generation since Christ was on earth.

The aspect of one of His churches going apostate, we see that in Rev 2-3. Listen to the audio of the panel discussion from our WOT conference. The link is in the top right hand column. You'll see panel discussion on the audio page. We talk about your very situation, relying on scripture.

Thanks for coming over.

Anvil said...

I got a little distracted during my last comment, but my point was at the bottom -- many good churches can trace a part of their lineage to separation from an apostate group, so for all baptists to claim that they have always been independent would be a false claim, even if good churches have always been around. Yes, that means more changes in practice for those churches than the reformers made in their own churches, but the point is the same. I know it's easy for all baptists today to disclaim any heritage from the reformers, but I would bet there would be very few for which that is actually true. If you count the versions of scripture like the Luther and KJV used by these independent churches that came largely from reformers and even some still in the apostate churches, not from complete independents, there would be almost none.

Thanks for the reminder about the panel discussion. I had always intended to get this and listen to it, but I hadn't gotten around to it yet. I don't know all the men, but I have heard you and Pastor Webb speak before, so I figured it would be worth the time to listen.

Anonymous said...

History is what actually happened.

Wait, I thought history was whatever the Catholic religion defined it to be?

You have disabused me of my erroneous notion!

Colin Maxwell said...

Hi Kent,

Are there Baptists in hell? Or Anglicans or Presbyterians?

Voices in unison"

"Oh yes, there are!"

I am a Christian first and foremost and then a Protestant and then a Presbyterian. Being Protestant and Presbyterian isn't good enough for me. Unless I become a Christian, I will never see the Kingdom of God.


Kent Brandenburg said...

Colin and David,

I think being a Christian first is fine---you're relating to soteriology. I'm happy about familial relations between believers. However, when I say "Baptist," I see this as the same thing as Christian. I also understand how that could make a non-Baptist unhappy with me. Baptists today are not all Christians, but I also don't see them as Baptists. I would say almost everyone who reads here and calls himself a Baptist would see it the same way as I do, that is, that Baptists represent NT Christianity.

I'm glad you come over.

Anonymous said...

Would you say that the Baptist are possibly the only ELECT?

Gary Webb said...

I strongly suspect that Pastor Brandenburg gets tried of answering questions like the one you posted. Go back and read what has been written. Does he make any statement about Baptists being the only people who are genuinely saved? Obviously not. What then would be the purpose of your question? Ridicule? Do you ask because you were not able to comprehend what has been written? It is because you are ignorant of Bible teaching and of the history of Bible Christianity through the ages? Or is it because you will not submit your own practice and beliefs to the authority of the Bible & therefore need to mock? Who do YOU believe the elect are?

d4v34x said...

Gary W, there is an legitimate aspect to anon's question. By equivocal use of Baptist/Christian we end up sounding silly saying, "Oh, Bob gives evidence of being a real Baptist, but he's a Presbyterian Baptist."

To push the equvalence that far seems pointless or even silly to some, perhaps justifiably so.

PS Ferguson said...


This is a bit of a rabbit chase. I agree with Colin – Christian and Protestant is good enough for me and the vast majority of the true church in the last 500 yrs, including the KJV translators, Whitefield, Wesley, Carey, Hudson Taylor, Reformers, Puritans, Covenanters, Fundamentalists etc. Ok, so a tiny minority of Baptists seek to distinguish themselves from the Reformation and its influence by arguing they were right all along and Luther walked past the First Baptist of Wittenberg to nail his 95 Theses but the rest of us live in the real world.

I am not sure what Baptists are trying to prove by desperately trying to maintain the fiction that they all belong to an unbroken line of IFB Churches since Acts 2. The vast majority of those who adopt this argument are offspring of those rooted in Reformed Christianity. Anyone from a British background finds themselves in this situation! Do you Kent have an unbroken lineage of Baptist Churches in your heritage back to the NT? I suspect with a surname with Brandenburg that your lineage is traced through the lines of Reformed Protestants before you arrived in California. You are at liberty to dissent from many of the doctrines of the Reformers such as in respect of Calvinism but that does not absolve you from their influence in how you ended up a Baptist today.

When you say “Baptists are the true churches” – are you saying that you are, like Pope Benedict, consigning the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians to having been saved and worshipped in “untrue churches” for the last 500 yrs? You are making a big claim here without the benefit of Providence backing you up for the last 500 yrs.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I assess salvation doctrine and Christian testimony to judge salvation. It barely relates to what I'm talking about, which is ecclesiastical.

The question that I'm interested in, right away, is: "Do you believe in what Jesus said about the church?" Do you believe in the perpetuity of the church? Scripture teaches it and so our view of history ought to match Scripture, rather than vice versa. I'm not hearing anything about that in the comments and it is the elephant in the room.

I'm happy for the gospel as well as any scriptural truth being proclaimed, but what I wrote is what my church and I believe.

Do I have a chain-link succession back to Christ? I can't trace one, no. But I wasn't promised the preservation of a chain-link succession. I believe in a spiritual kinship, which is the view of church history that I take, the same one taken by Thomas Armitage in his two volume, History of the Baptists. And by the way, P.S., I don't care how small we are. I don't count heads to find out what the truth is, like global warming scientists. When David numbered the people, we know what happened.

I believe that we should be obedient, however, to church succession. In other words, our church should come from a church. If I can't trace it back, that's not of a great concern, because I'm acting in faith. If churches look obedient to the Bible, I should assess them as true, NT churches. That's what I do, like Peter did with the Antioch church when he went up to check it out after it got started.

Regarding "Providence backing me up," I have a hefty bit of record saying that Providence does back me up. What I also have is the record of the state church persecuting true Christians, yes Christians, Baptists for their denial of infant sprinkling. We see that as well in American Baptist History with the murder of Baptists by the state church in the colonies. It is why we call our history, 'a trail of blood.'

And yes, I believe that men have been involved in untrue churches. You can't have it both ways. Jesus traveled for 70 miles to receive an authoritative baptism. Roman Catholicism doesn't represent a legitimate authority to pass down authoritative baptism.

PS Ferguson said...

Kent – if you cannot trace your ancestry back through Baptists in every generation then you have come OUT of Reformed Churches influence so it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. I am not a Lutheran but I see my spiritual kinship with Luther and the Waldensians. We can all play the game of words and say that Presbyterians see ourselves as coming out of the lineage of remnant churches throughout the ages preceding the Reformation. The fact is that the reason the gospel came to our towns and villages in Europe was primarily through the influence and stand of the Reformers.

I believe God promised in Scripture to preserve His Words and His people through all ages. I see that He did through the Reformed Churches and the Remnant Churches preceding them. However, note that Providence preserved His Words through the Reformed Churches in the last 500 years. You inconsistently try to alter the pattern to suit your Baptistic presuppositions. None of the English Versions leading up to the KJV or TR Editions were influenced by Baptists so you have a problem with your theory.

Finally, where in the world do you get the idea that Baptising by immersion constitutes a Church being called a true church? If you are going to posit such an extreme view of other Churches and maintain that Scripture has led you to that position you better have cast iron Scripture attestation. So far, you have produced nothing. The Church is a called-out assembly, a religious congregation, a community of members on earth or saints in heaven who are justified by faith alone in Christ alone without works. Unless you are maintaining that non-Baptists are not saved they would be caught within that definition. Baptists should recognise what the Bible says is a church, as a church. A “true church” is merely an expression of “The True Church” and imperfection in some aspects of non-essential doctrine or practice (see 1 Corinthians as good example) does not lead them to be labelled an “untrue church.” BTW - Christ was not baptised in a NT Church as John died before the crucifixion.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You wrote: "if you cannot trace your ancestry back through Baptists in every generation then you have come OUT of Reformed Churches influence so it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise."

I can't trace my ancestry via chain link, but my ancestry is one of spiritual kinship. Do you know the Spiritual Kinship view that differs from the English Separatist view? If I see a river and a rope sticking out on both banks right across from either, then I believe it is the same rope. I can trace my lineage through churches. I'm just saying that I can't see the whole rope. I wasn't guaranteed to have an entire history preserved. I think it is ironic that you, who believe in providential preservation of Scripture, must have some traceable chain link, instead of relying on Scripture for the history of the church like you would the history of the text.

The text and Bible used by the Waldenses, who lived in the valleys of the Alps, was the textus receptus.

Read this post:


Michael Sattler wasn't a reformer. Balthasar Hubmaier wasn't a reformer.

Jesus was baptized by divine authority, because John's baptism was handed down by God. He gathered immersed believers for the first church. That's easy to see in the gospels. How did He sing in the church (Heb 1) if there wasn't a church?

PS Ferguson said...


Do you accept that your roots are from Reformed Churches? You may have jumped ship to an IFB one later in life but to become a Baptist did you come out of a saved Reformed background?

I am not convinced in your argument that Waldensians are IFBers. It is a tad simplistic and does not add up to history. The Reformers actually rebuked them for their compromise with Rome before the Waldensians separated and joined the Confession of Augsburg. The words of the TR may have been preserved by the Waldensians in the Midddle Ages but these Words did not come to you and Bethel Baptist directly but were first recognised, received and settled on by Reformed Churches before being handed down to you. Thats why I reject your argument - it contradicts the history that we all know and believe. The irony is that Baptists are using our arguments and history in order to try and overthrow it.

Here is Dr Francis Nigel Lee's research on the Waldensians:

Martin Luther wrote, "The Waldensians baptize little ones.... They proceed, then, to baptize little children." (M. Luther's Works, Weimer ed., I:172 pp. 81f). The Baptist A.H. Newman, in his History of Antipedobaptism: "The early Waldensian pastors...had scarcely anything in common with Baptists." (A.H. Newman: History of Anti-pedobaptism, Philadelphia, 1897, p. 61.)

Dr. Samuel Miller rightly pointed out in his work Infant Baptism,"the Waldenses in their Confessions of Faith and other writings drawn up between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries...for several hundred years before the Reformation...have indeed written on the subject" and "The great body of the Waldenses, were Paedobaptists."

Miller then cited from Waldensian historians themselves: "'Baptism,' say they, 'is administered in a full congregation of the faithful, to the end that he who is received into the church may be reputed and held by all as a Christian brother.... We present our children in baptism.... The things which are not necessary in baptism, are -- the exorcisms; the breathings; the sign of the cross upon the head or forehead of the infant'" and/or the adult.

Later, the Waldensians embraced the Reformed Faith and in their 1655 Waldensian Confession they state "that we do agree in sound doctrine with all the Reformed Churches of France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland...and others as it is set forth by them in their Confessions -- as also in the Confession of Augsburg."
(1655 Waldensian Confession art. 33 (cf. 29 & 31), in Schaff's Creeds III pp. 757 & 766-69)

The Protestant Augsburg Confession states "that children are to be baptized." It then goes on to, "condemn the Anabaptists, who allow not the baptism of children."

Anonymous said...

P.S. Ferguson - What do you make then of these?

Sleiden, in his General History of the Reformation cites a Waldensian apologetic letter to the King of France, dated 1544,

"We believe that in the ordinance of baptism the water is the visible and external sign, which represents to us that which, by virtue of God’s invisible operation, Is within us, the renovation of our minds, and the mortification of our members through (the faith of) Jesus Christ. And by this ordinance we are received into the holy congregation of God’s people, previously professing our faith and the change of life."

This statement implicitly rejects infant baptism, or more properly, simply ignores it as a valid mode of baptism. It says that baptism is an external sign of the internal "renovation of the mind" associated with faith in Christ. Something an infant is not capable of.

Moreland, in his Churches of the Piedmont, cites a 13th century treatise entitled, "Treatise against Antichrist, Purgatory, the Invocation of Saints, and the Sacraments," a Waldense document, one passage of which specifically attributes the baptism of children to Antichrist.

Robinson, in his Ecclesiastical Researches, notes likewise the Waldensian ignorance of infant baptism, citing a prominent Waldensian liturgy as saying that it does not have,

"...the least hint of pouring or sprinkling on the contrary, there is a directory for the making of a Christian of a pagan before baptism, and for washing the feet after. Thus the introductory discourse of the presbyter delivering the creed, runs thus: "Dear Brethren, the divine sacraments are not properly matters of investigation, as of faith, and not only of faith, but also of fear, for no one can receive the discipline of faith, unless he have a foundation, the fear of the Lord...You are about to hear the creed, therefore today, for without that, neither can Christ he announced, nor can you exercise faith, nor can baptism be administered." After the presbyter had repeated the creed, he expounded it, referring to trine Immersion, and closed with repeated observations on the absolute necessity of faith, in order to a worthy participation of baptism."

In other words, believer's baptism.

It is also noteworthy that the Lateran Council, 1215, specifically counters the Waldensian "heresy" by proclaiming that baptism in water is "profitable for children as for adults," indicating that the Waldenses of the time did NOT believe so.

Mabillon (Vetera Analecta) cites an undated letter from one Enervinus of Cologne to St. Bernard (who lived 1090-1153) in which he states about the Waldenses,

"They do not believe in infant baptism: alleging that place in the Gospel, Whosoever shall believe and be baptized shall be saved."

A number of other medieval Catholic writers also noted the rejection (explicit) of infant baptism by the Waldenses, such as Peter of Cluny (1146), Pictavius (1167), Ermengard (1192), and Alanus (1201), this last writing that the Waldenses say,

"Baptism avails nothing before years of discretion are reached. Infants are not profited by it, because they do not believe. Hence the candidate is usually asked whether he believed in God, the Father omnipotent. Baptism profits an unbeliever as little as it does an infant. Why should those be baptized who cannot he instructed?"

So on, and so forth. Clearly, infant baptism was not part of the Waldensian faith, at least not orginally. They did indeed hold to believer's baptism, just as do today's Baptists.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Ferguson (cont.)

Clearly also, in light of what was actually written about them closer to their own time, many of the sources you cited are simply factually incorrect. Why the confusion in your sources? Much of it is that your sources are later and less direct. Also, the Waldenses, after centuries of pressure, do appear to have joined themselves with the reformed groups toward the end of the 16th century, which included, then, an acceptance of paedobaptism where they had not before. This led many later writers to the unfounded assumption that they had always been paedobaptists.

One other cause for the difference, I think, is that the sources I've cited don't rely on what I call the "Traditional Account" of church history, while yours do.

Th problem with "church history" as we usually see it presented is that it was written by Catholics. Protestants then parrot it uncritically (often unknowingly). Yet, the Traditional Account of church history suffers from the same problems that the Traditional Account in Muslim history does: it is late, it is redacted, and in many cases invented. It exists as a narrative vehicle designed to substantiate the particular sectarian story of the ones who wrote it.

In the Muslim case, it is the story of Mohammed, a prophet from Allah, uniting his Arab people under the banner of Islam, who then, after he died, swept all before them by the power of Allah. The problem is that little to nothing in the actual archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic, and literary evidence from the time this supposedly happened substantiates it. Indeed, the Christians and Jews in the 7th century Middle East, while knowing that the Arabs were filtering in, knew nothing of any great battles such as Muslim tradition records, they knew of no prophet named Mohammed. Indeed, the first evidence for the use of the name Mohammed in an Islamic context dates to seventy years after he supposedly died. In short, it's all redacted, invented, not real. It's the product of an anachronised history invented in a later day, and projected backwards.

The same, I have a feeling, is the case with the Traditional Account of church history. Despite the efforts by Catholics and Protestants to naysay the existence of baptistic "out-groups" all throughout post-Constantine church history, they nevertheless did exist, by you have to search the byways of the literature and evidences to find them, since the Catholics, and the Protestants who follow them in the narrative, have ignored or suppressed them.

Pastor Matt Singleton said...

Hey Kent,
Amen. I thin you hit the nail on the head in regards to church history. I have just posted the 1100 A.D. confession of faith by the Waldensees. Do you know of a source to confirm the date of the creed.
e-mail me at mslv4gd@yahoo.com