One, Holy, Baptist, and Apostolic Church?


March 6, 2013 by mattfradd

James Milton Carroll  (January 8, 1852 – January 10, 1931).

James Milton Carroll (January 8, 1852 – January 10, 1931).

I have always found the historical argument for the Catholic Church utterly compelling:

1. Jesus Christ established a Church (not several, or several thousand).

2. The only Church which can trace its lineage unbroken to the time of Christ and the apostles is the Catholic Church.

3. And therefore, Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church.

Why am I a Catholic? Because I wish to belong to the Church which Christ himself established, the Church of which he said, “the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).

Baptist Successionism?

Some (few) Baptists have claimed that they too can trace their lineage back to the time of Christ and the apostles.

This idea was popularized in the early 20th century by Baptist pastor, and historian, James M. Carroll who wrote a book entitled Trail of Blood. In it Carroll claims that the Baptist church, as it is known today, descended through history under different names, such as the Anabaptists, Montanists, and Novations.

at first, this may sound tenable, but when you actually look at these groups, and what they taught, you see very quickly that their theology was anything but Baptist.

The Anabaptists denied that a person is saved by faith alone.[2]

The Montanists taught that “God, not being able to save the world by Moses and the Prophets, took flesh of the Virgin Mary, and in Christ, His Son, preached and died for us. And because He could not accomplish the salvation of the world by this second method, the Holy Spirit descended upon Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla, giving them the plenitude which St. Paul had not (1 Corinthians 13:9). [1]

The Novations refused readmission to communion of baptized Christians who had denied their faith. [3]

“For proponents [of Baptist Successionism], writes Fr. Dwight Longenecker, “the fact that there is no historical proof for their theory simply shows how good the Catholic Church was at persecution and cover-up. Baptist Successionism can never be disproved because all that is required for their succession to be transmitted was a small group of faithful people somewhere at some time who kept the flame of the true faith alive. The authors of this “history” skim happily over the heretical beliefs of their supposed forefathers in the faith. It is sufficient that all these groups were opposed to, and persecuted by, the Catholics.”

Thankfully intellectually honest Baptists, such as James McGoldrick who was once himself a believer in Baptist successionism are conceding that this “trail of blood” view is, frankly, bogus. McGoldrick writes:

Extensive graduate study and independent investigation of church history has, however, convinced [the author] that the view he once held so dear has not been, and cannot be, verified. On the contrary, surviving primary documents render the successionist view untenable. . . . Although free church groups in ancient and medieval times sometimes promoted doctrines and practices agreeable to modern Baptists, when judged by standards now acknowledged as baptistic, not one of them merits recognition as a Baptist church. Baptists arose in the 17th century in Holland and England. They are Protestants, heirs of the reformers. (Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History [1994], 1–2)

We should applaud these Baptists for desiring to be part of the Church Christ established, and then, with gentleness and reverence point them away from fallacious history to actual history. For as convert, John Henry Newman wrote: to be steeped in history, is to cease to be Protestant.

10 thoughts on “One, Holy, Baptist, and Apostolic Church?

  1. Thanks for this, Matt. I knew about the secessionist view, but had no idea that Carroll retracted his own views!

  2. floyd davis says:

    Excellent !!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Jed says:

    I find that there is always the illogical analogy given in arguments against a group you disagree with, that because they have changed opinions over the years they are somehow a different group. If this were actually true then the “Catholics” would not even be Catholics because there views have changed greatly from the time of Christ.

    That being said I am a baptist and I agree that the secessionist view is incorrect…however like many denominations the baptist trace there roots back to many different groups some of which were the ones you mentioned. Not that we are them but that we are just as much them as we are anything else.

    Finally, in this time of rampant sin and doubt of the church I do not understand why we are still being divisive on these issues. True there are many differences between the Catholics and the Baptist and all the other denominations out there, but what we need in these time is to “agree to disagree” on issues that have nothing to do with our ultimate future, and focus on what matters in our faith. We should trust that God and his Grace will be enough to cover our incorrectness so that we can band together in these troubled times.

    • mattfradd says:

      Jed, thank you for your comments.

      Your first point was that just because a group changes its opinions over the course of time does not mean that it is not the same group. Here, I think, we need to distinguish between discipline and doctrine. While discipline can change, doctrine cannot.

      Examples of the former would be, for example, certain elements in our worship, or how we explain things (we almost certainly have a more developed understanding of the Trinity than the apostle Peter) or whether Catholic priests can marry or not.

      By doctrine I mean “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Though doctrine can develop, that is, we can come to a greater understanding of that which was “once and for all delivered to the saints,” it cannot change.

      The examples I raised above were clearly matters of doctrine: denying that a person is saved by faith alone (clearly not a Baptist doctrine), refusing readmission to communion to those who had denied the faith. . .There are many more examples I could offer.

      Therefore, as I concluded in the article, the Anabaptists, Montanists, and Novations (to name only a few) were not Baptist.

      I defy you to show me one infallible doctrine that has changed in the Catholic Church in over 2000 years. If you succeed, then I will concede that the Catholic Church is not the Church of 2000, or 1500 (or however long ago) years ago.

      Regarding your final point. I appreciate that you desire find areas of common ground. That is praiseworthy and I’m on board with that! You are right, there is much more that we (Catholics and Baptists) agree on, than what we disagree on. We should rejoice in that fact.

      However, if truth is objective, we can’t pretend that our differing opinions on, say, the Eucharist, the role of the Pope, the nature of Baptism etc. do no matter, they do.

      Thanks again for your thought out comments.

      • Jed says:

        Thank you for your reply to my reply…just as a final mention, my point is not that truth is objective. On the things Baptist and Catholics disagree on I did not mean to imply that is was not important or objective. Clearly in the end someone will be correct and the others incorrect, but in most of these cases we will not have a definitive answer until we get the opportunity to speak with God “face to face”. So, while we should absolutely seek for the truth and be deepening our wisdom by study and discussion with one another we also need to accept that we may never agree and that the things we disagree on will not keep us from going to heaven.

        All in all I respect your opinion and enjoy your perspective on these issues. I will do some study on the Catholic church and shoot you a message with what I find.

      • kapanalig says:

        Whenever I had the chance to talk to our Christian brothers who belong to different denominations, we just could not agree. I am a Catholic by the way. I always hear what Jed says about seeking the truth. As if there is no chance to find the absolute truth here on earth and the only way to find certainty about the salvation is when we are already talking ‘face to face’ with God. I find it weird though when we ‘agree to disagree’ and yet we all believe in the same scripture which tells about unity in the Lord, in one faith and in one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Do you have any recommended references that there is a way that ‘we all’ to be with the Truth while we are still here on earth?

  4. I’ll be upfront. I’m not a Catholic. I haven’t decided on any particular affiliation for my Christianity. Currently, I enjoy the knowledge from all denominations and sections of Christianity. However, I do believe the truth to be important.

    The most crucial part of Christianity, to me, is God’s word, “The Bible.”

    Who assembled the bible?

    I believe all sections of Christianity agree the Catholic Church did.

    If that is true, then it would be reasonable to deduce that God entrusted his “Church” with his word, to ensure his voice spread the world, and is kept accurate.

    Given the Catholic Church can trace its lineage back to the time of Christ that is further evidence to suggest it is God’s chosen church.

    The other thing I consider is, was it necessary for Martin Luther to split the church based on his findings. Given the warnings in the bible about splitting the church, I would say no.

    Does that necessitate, and invalidate all other denominations and sections of Christianity?

    Personally, from visiting many different Churches from all denominations, and seeing Christ in people’s eyes, I would say no. There are the thousands of testimonies from evangelicals on how Jesus has changed their lives for the better.

    Some Churches, however, have become more about “Entertainment” than worship, and I do fear that is not a good thing as it allows people to easily lose their way.

    It’s becoming more evident a section of society sees the church as a “Get Together” rather than about “God”. In today’s paper, it was announced, “The Sunday Assembly” Britain’s first Atheist Church is about to go global. A church without God. Hence the inherent danger of allowing a church to become more about entertainment and or a “Get Together.”

    In many ways, I can see why the “Catholic” church has been slow on the uptake of modern-day music, and changing the order of service, to be more theatrical. When going to a Catholic service it is clear and evident throughout the whole preceding the focus is on God without distractions. Sadly, some find that boring. I don’t go to church to be entertained, I go to further my relationship with God.

    On the flips side, I’ve seen many improvs by pastors helping people come to Christ. While they are in-built with many dangers, they do help people. Same goes for the Christian music the songs can fill people with the Holy Spirit and draw people to accepting God.

    If someone, however, felt the need to go to church, and I didn’t know the area they lived in, I would recommend they attend a Catholic service. See it doesn’t matter where they are in the world, I can be assured, to some degree, the service will be the same there as it is in the Catholic Church down the street. The church isn’t run by “Pastor Jon Doe” it is run by an organisation entrusted with “God’s Word.”

    I do agree with Jed in the issue with Christianity attacking itself. While truth is important, you have to consider the ramifications of leaving people bewildered with the bickering, finger pointing and fighting going on within the community. It leads people to Atheism. It doesn’t help. Being trained in sales, I was always taught never talk down the opposition, just explain the features of what you offer. As such, I believe Christians should spend more time talking about the benefits of their beliefs, rather than attacking each other.

    There are plenty of Atheists and Agnostics to introduce Jesus Christ to.

  5. Jean says:

    I love your articles but your site is entirely in English, if you could do the French version, we can of course speaking as well enjoy your teaching

  6. Hem Haw says:

    “The only Church which can trace its lineage unbroken to the time of Christ and the apostles is the Catholic Church.”

    Don’t several other churches have apostolic succession too, though? I’m thinking of Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, and (arguably) Anglicanism and the Moravians.

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