Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Local Only Ecclesiology, Baptist History, and Landmarkism

Sometimes I get spam email from a character in an African country, who wants to help me out financially.  Maybe you've deleted some of these letters too, knowing they're a fraud.  And then I get these letters from parachurch organizations or representatives who want to help me and my church.  I like the scriptural analogy I first heard from Bobby Mitchell---they're just another oxcart.  The oxcart was there to help Uzzah and his group of workers carry the ark.  A big help that provided, huh?

My alma mater, another parachurch organization, wants to help pastors and churches with a new online theological journal.  I'm not saying you can't find anything good there if you leave the bones and gristle.  However, in Maranatha's second only edition, I've got to call foul on a bit of propaganda in the form of The Landmark Controversy: A Study in Baptist History and Polity by Fred Moritz.   Early Maranatha, the Cedarholm and Weeks years, from the late 60s to the mid 80s, was local only in its ecclesiology.  Dr. Weeks taught every course associated with the church:  Baptist history, Baptist polity, Acts, and Revelation.  He savaged the universal church concept.  There wasn't anything close to acceptance of that belief.  For Baptist history, we used John T. Christian's A History of the Baptists, which is a Baptist successionism text.  I should also inform that Dr. Cedarholm would preach annually an anti-landmarkism sermon.  That sermon (usually ten points) was always curious to me.  Why?  I had never met one of these people he was preaching about.  I knew if I ever did, that I shouldn't be one, but I was still waiting for that.

In hindsight, I think that Dr. Cedarholm's anti-landmark sermon was because of criticism that Maranatha was a landmark school, a typical pejorative used against someone local only in his ecclesiology.  They didn't have actual proof against the ecclesiology, so they did the name calling that was typical of fundamentalism.  The landmark sermon wasn't for the students.  It was for the people out there, giving Maranatha deniability, that it was not "Baptist bride."  I also believe that Dr. Cedarholm's treatment of landmarkism was dealing with a strawman.   What stuck out in his sermon was not to be a "chain-linker."  The chain-link position did seem impossible.  I couldn't fathom that there were those who thought they could trace a tangible, visible lineage of their church all the way back to Christ.  I believe now that the reason it seemed so odd was because that wasn't what "landmarkers" actually believed.  Chain-link, like Baptist brider, and even landmarker, were part of the ad hominem attack on those believing local-only ecclesiology.

Maranatha published two books ever.  One was Evaluating Versions of the New Testament by Edward Fowler, in which Dr. Cedarholm in the preface says he's TR only, a bit of history now denied by Maranatha revisionists.  The other was a hardback two volume set of Armitage's History of the Baptists.  Maranatha considered Armitage to take a different view of Baptist successionism, called the spiritual kinship view.  Maranatha taught spiritual kinship, which is still Baptist successionism.  Maranatha sold the Challenge Press, local only books in its bookstore and we read them for Weeks' classes.  I'm talking about S. E. Anderson's The First Baptist and The First Church, and then Roy Mason's The Myth of the Universal, Invisible Church Exploded.  Baptist successionism is simply saying that there have always been churches with Baptist distinctives, that true churches always existed from today back to Christ, and that today they are Baptist churches.   Spiritual kinship says that we can trace the succession back spiritually.  Chain-link, according to the attacks, would be that you can find the church that came from the church that came from the church all the way back to the Jerusalem church.

I have not met one of these chain linkers, and I'm guessing that neither has Fred Moritz.  Chain linkers are fictional boogeymen.  Here's what landmarkers believe, as I understand them.  They believe that churches come from churches.  They believe that Christ gave the first church His authority and His authority is Scriptural and important.  Churches are given authority not just vertically, but horizontally.   You don't have to trace your church all the way back, but you should be looking to see if your church was started by a church, which was started by a church.  These "chain-linkers" don't believe authority came from Roman Catholicism and, therefore, Protestantism.  That line of churches is not the line of New Testament authority.  If the church was not started by a church, they question what they see as an important aspect of authority.  To act in faith, someone should be baptized by authority.  To act in faith, a church should be started by another true church, one that has authority.  This position is still a faith position.  It trusts Matthew 16:18, the promise of perpetuity.  I don't have a problem with the position I've just explained.  I take it myself.  I also don't have a problem with spiritual kinship.  As it stands, I don't think it is strong enough, but it is trusting Scripture as to the perpetuity of the church.

Fred Moritz is a recent addition to the Maranatha faculty.  I always, always had respect for Fred Moritz.   I liked hearing him preach, when I heard him.  I read both of his books on holiness and separation and liked a lot of what he wrote.  They were worth reading.  They would be especially good if people practiced them, which I would say they never do in fundamentalism.  Fred Moritz himself doesn't practice his own books.  I didn't know that until I was forced to encounter Moritz when he was the executive director of Baptist World Mission.  I was expecting him to do what he wrote, and was surprised when he didn't.  That was part of my "When I Left Fundamentalism" series here at this blog.

I believe Moritz wants to separate Maranatha from its history of local church teaching.   I believe he wants that characteristic of Maranatha to be eradicated.  I would say that it is gone already, but this is to scorch the earth upon which the local only teaching once sat.  What is sad about it is that he uses Dr. Weeks to do it at the end of the article.  Most probably don't care, but I do.  It's sad.  Maranatha deserves what it's getting, but again, it is sad.  Moritz himself has been a long time advocate, proponent of universal church teaching.  At one time, Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary published a journal and in either the first or one of the early editions, Moritz wrote an article promoting the teaching of the universal, invisible body of Christ.  The whole article was about that.  What I'm saying is that he is definitely the wrong man to be writing on this subject.  He's always differed than Maranatha, never been supportive of their historic position, and would have reason to want to rid it of that teaching.  Many will cheer what he's done.  I don't.

In the article itself, Moritz is attempting to portray landmarkism and really local only ecclesiology (because he doesn't really differentiate them) as novel in history, and in that sense, cultic.  That teaching, he is asserting, began with James R. Graves in the mid 19th century and it was merely a reaction to rise of Campbellism among the Baptist churches of America at that time.  He's also saying that it's the influence of covenant theology (which I'll get to later).  Moritz is using history, and I say "using" purposefully, to  make his point.  It is not much of a theological or biblical article.  I would consider myself at least a bit of a historian, because of my reading and my teaching it for over 20 years.  I care about history.  I know that history can be used in many different ways for almost any purpose that someone wants.  We can use information to make what happened to look like something else actually happened.  It's an easy way to discredit.

Moritz says that Graves was a controversialist by nature.  The tenor of the article is that Graves was destroying the Baptist churches in America with his teaching.  That is only an opinion.  Calvinists often believe that non-Calvinists are destroying churches.  Mormons believe that all true churches were lost until they came along.  When Jonathan Edwards' father-in-law, Solomon Stoddard, instituted the half way covenant in the New England, he thought he was helping churches.  That Graves was destroying churches is only an opinion of Moritz.  See, I believe Moritz himself is a controversialist, based on his own standard, and I know that first hand.  Jesus said that broad is the road to destruction and narrow the road to life eternal.  All the broad road people think that the narrow roaders are controversialists who won't fit in.  Outstanding old and historical sources say that Graves was a giant and have a positive view of him.  I'm not saying that Graves invented successionism any more than Darby invented dispensationalism, and I think those two are a good parallel.  You'll hear Calvinists say, "the reformed doctrine of justification," as if the reformation invented justification.  It's not a correct view to say that Baptist successionism was a reaction movement to Campbellism.  Baptist successionism is biblical teaching.  Christians should believe it.

In future articles, I will break-down Moritz's journal article.


Baptist Believer said...

A wonderful and much needed post. I look forward to your break-down.

demapastor said...

thank you,
an interesting read. will continue reading the series

Unknown said...

Good article. Looking forward to more. I have a Baptist
" Succession " book with a copyright date of 1652! All
Graves did was re-introduce the Baptists of his day with the their own historical position. For example: the book by J.H. Grime, entitled, " History of Alien Immersion and Valid Baptism ." He quoted dozens of doctrinal statements from
Baptists and proved " Landmark " principals before J.R. Graves was ever born. One problem with the " Universal Church Heresy " is that it makes church membership and salvation the same thing. Just like Catholicism and Protestants. They interpret metaphors as literal . Very harmful to truth.