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.