Thursday, March 29, 2007

Andrew Fuller on Baptist Antiquity

The great preponderance of Baptists living between 1609 and 1950 believed that Baptist history began in the first century and was uninterrupted from then to now. The mechanism of that succession was a matter of debate—whether it was something akin to J. R. Graves's theory of church succession or a looser theory of the succession of Baptist thought. But the prevalent modern idea that Baptists sprang from the Reformation either as a brand-new concept in Christian history or as a resumption after a 1500-year hiatus...a miniscule number in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s believed such a thing. What I find interesting is the way that Baptist status as a small sect fostered their approach to history. In the following quote you'll read how Andrew Fuller easily imagined Baptists enduring the Middle Ages without leaving behind any historical record. Perhaps our denominational size enables our present view of history?

Yours I received & therewith Mosheim’s 2nd vol. For wh. I thank you. I have found strange feelings in reading the 1st. I have been used to read in the Old Testament numerous Promises & Prophecies of the Glory of the New Testament state. When I took Mosheim in hand I expected to find the history answer the Prophesy—But alas, I found after the first century little else but cartloads of vain traditions, Persecuting Heretics to death, Broils & Contests about Ch. Preferments, in short comprising every evil work! I sat down quite dismayed till one thought relieved me. It was this. Suppose an historian was to write a History of the state of the Church here in England in the 18th Cent. What would he write? Why, if he was popular and in high place (without wh. his history would not reach many centuries forward) he would tell us who filled the Archbishoprics of York & Canterbury, & who the Bishoprics of . . . . . . . The various veerings about for Ch. Power, the sects of the age &c &c. However we could say Blessed be God pure & undefiled, Religion has been upheld tho’ by an obscure people independent of these Church crawlers. So thought I, doubtless Pure Religion in every period has been carried tho’ perhaps by a people so obscure as seemed unworthy the notice of Ancient Historians, from whom we know the Moderns must derive all their materials. -To John Sutcliffe, Olney, England, from Andrew Fuller, Soham, England, 28 January 1781.


Clyde Key said...


I’m just curious: Is this the basis for J.M. Carroll’s The Trail of Blood? Or was that book developed from later thought?

Clyde Key

Bart Barber said...


I have no reason to believe that Fuller was particularly influential upon Carroll at this point. Lots of people held the same view as Fuller.

Carroll's view was more the church succession view articulated by J. R. Graves. The difference between the two is subtle, but noteworthy. Folks like Fuller or Benedict were perfectly willing to point to the transmission of, for example, believer's baptism through churches that were not Baptist in other areas of their theology (freedom of conscience, or church governance, for example). They were showing the antiquity of a Baptist idea, not the antiquity of Baptist churches per se.

Carroll's book attempted to demonstrate the existence throughout the ages of organized churches that were as Baptist as yours or mine.

By the way, are you the Clyde Key?

Grosey's Messages said...

Thanks Bart,
That is very very helpful.
I have come across interesting material of recent years that supports that idea of Baptisitic churches existing prior to Baptist churches.
I came across a website for a vey early English church in the 1580's that was Baptistic.
Did you know that Sir Francis Drake's father was a preacher with a group outside both the RC and Anglican churches for many years prior to him becoming an Anglican minister? Drake himself also preached evangelistically to his crews twice daily on his ships!
I wonder if he wasn't a baptist before Baptists,.. or maybe an Independant (Congregational) before Independants ?
Hey sorry that the comment stream on Gill went awry. I bet "someone" accuses you of Landmarkism for "showing the antiquity of a Baptist idea, not the antiquity of Baptist churches per se."
Bro. We value your wisdom and sagacity in dialogue and always find your positions encouraging.
Remember to avoid divisive people. :)


Anonymous said...


Thanks for your reply.

THE Clyde Key sounds very pretentious, but I was at TBC when you were there. I've only recently discovered your blog and find it quite interesting. I'll continue to follow it.

Debbie said...

Steve: Give it a rest.

selahV said...

Bart: do you have an email address? Just email me. My address is on my blogsite. Thanks. selahV

Ben Stratton said...


Great quote by Mosheim. I am surprised Fuller overlooked the famous quote by Mosheim on the origin of the Anabaptists:

"The true origin of that sect which acquired the denomination of the Anabaptists, by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion, and derived that of Mennonites from that famous man, to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is consequently extremely difficult to be ascertained." Johann Laurenz von Mosheim, AN ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1860), [Reprinted by Old Paths Book Club, Box V, Rosemead, CA., Second ed.], Vol. II. pp.119, 120.

I personally don't see a big difference between Baptist church succession and a succession of Baptist principles. Think about it. Principles don't exist in a void somewhere. They exist because people are believing and teaching them. Hence if you have a succession of Baptist principles you have a succession of Baptist churches. I don't think any Baptist historian has every tried to show a succession of perfect Baptist churches because there are no perfect churches. Historians such as Orchard and Benedict have tried to show a succession of imperfect churches that nevertheless held to Baptist principles.

selahV said...

Grosey: I think a trip over to actually sums up what you just said to Bart quite nicely. It's soooo worth the read. selahV

selahV said...

opps. that is

Grosey's Messages said...

Thanks for the link SelahV,
Some of our docs prescribe irenic pills for those to whom the fruit of the Spirit is absent.

Bart Barber said...

To All:

Research day today. I'll be offline. Be nice!

Bart Barber said...


I thought you might like this one!

The difference between the two types of succession is significant, I think. For example, looking at the denominational map today, we might say that the Church of Christ denomination is preserving believer's baptism by immersion. Nevertheless, their theology of baptism is wrong, and a dozen other things about them make them decidedly not Baptist churches.

Succession of Baptist concepts could look at a hypothetical church like them from the 1200s and claim the antiquity of believer's immersion without the necessity of claiming them in a succession of Baptist churches. That is the difference.

selahV said...

Bart: I can't believe it! I got that illustration and it cleared up exactly what I was thinking about your original post. You ought to add that comment illustration to your post for idiots like me who are trying to understand the dynamics of Baptist origins. Church of Christ is an excellent case and point. thanks. selahV P.S. this is not a strawman comment.

selahV said...

Grosey: Well said. selahV

Grosey's Messages said...

debbie: *sigh

Ben Stratton said...


I understand your point, but I am not convinced that our Baptist / Anabaptist ancestors were Campbellite Baptists.

Keep up the good work on the blog.

By the way, are you going to get your dissertation published or do you have a book in the works?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, your last sentence was the question "Perhaps our denominational size enables our present view of history?"

I think there is certainly an element of truth in that, and there is an element of practical truth in it (and the reverse) as well. I have spent the last 25 years or so collecting materials on minor Baptist bodies in the United States. It is a fact that some of these churches and associations in some places in the 21st century exist without even their Baptist neighbors knowing about them.

Alan Cross said...

Good post. So, those in power promote the information that they want people to know and suppress the information that they do not want people to know - History is written by the victors, right? You know, it sounds like Fuller could give a great defense for the continuation of miracles throughout the church age, and even things like speaking in tongues as well from this perspective. :)

I think his thesis can prove the antiquity of a lot of things. What do you think?

R. L. Vaughn said...

History is written by the victors, it is true. I can't speak for Fuller, but I would say that it is not that the absence proves anything. When writing historically we can speak of what we have found and what we do know. But we should keep in mind there is a lot we don't know, and pronounce accordingly. For example, I am compiling materials towards a history of Baptists in Rusk County, Texas. From the way it looks at present, I will never be able to write "the oldest Baptist church in Rusk County is..." Something such as "the oldest known" or "the oldest still existing" will have to suffice.