You’ve heard kids fighting on the playground, or maybe you were one of those kids a long time ago. Somebody said something rude about your mom, your teacher, or the girl you were sweet on, and you couldn’t let it pass. You lit into the offender and forced him to the ground, punching and yelling, “Take it back! Take it back!!”
Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Most of us just feel a need to hear people recant when they’ve said something too rude to let pass, something that just ain’t so. Playground violence aside, it can be very satisfying when some of the objectionable tall tales spun about Catholicism are publicly refuted. And in my lifetime, at least two have been.
The first of these whoppers is the invention of restorationist Christians, specifically Landmark Baptists, and is known as Baptist successionism. Baptists are NOT Protestants, according to this theory of history. Their spiritual ancestors are not Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, or any of the Reformers; no, they trace their roots directly back to Jesus, John the Baptist and the River Jordan. This version of “history” was popularized by the sermon series of a Baptist preacher, Dr. James Milton Carroll, in a 56-page booklet entitled, “The Trail of Blood: Following the Christians Down through the Centuries – or, The History of Baptist Churches from the Time of Christ, Their Founder, to the Present Day”. Rev. Carroll was not the originator of this tale – he was simply elaborating on the work of 19th-century Baptist writers such as G.H. Orchard and J.R. Graves (who wrote that “all Christian communities during the first three centuries were of the Baptist denomination”). Relying on the “scholarship” of these “historians,” Brother Carroll described the 4th and 5th centuries – you know, the era of the Council of Nicaea, of the discernment of the canon at the Council of Hippo and the Council of Carthage, of Sts. Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine – in terms that would throw serious historians for a loop:
To effectually bring about and consummate this unholy union [of temporal and spiritual power], a council was called. In A. D. 313, a call was made for a coming together of the Christian churches or their representatives. Many but not all came. The alliance was consummated. A Hierarchy was formed. In the organization of the Hierarchy, Christ was dethroned as head of the churches and Emperor Constantine enthroned (only temporarily, however) as head of the church. The Hierarchy was the definite beginning of a development which finally resulted into what is now known as the Catholic, or “universal” church. It might be said that its indefinite beginnings were near the close of the second and beginning of the third century, when the new ideas concerning bishops and preacher-church government began to take shape. Let it be definitely remembered that when Constantine made his call for the council, there were very many of the Christians (Baptists) and of the churches, which declined to respond. They wanted no marriage with the state, and no centralized religious government, and no higher ecclesiastical government of any kind, than the individual church. These Christians (Baptists) nor the churches ever at that time or later, entered the hierarchy of the Catholic denomination. Up to the organization of the Hierarchy and the uniting of church and state, all the persecution of Christianity has been done either by Judaism or Paganism. Now comes a serious change. Christians (in name) begin to persecute Christians. Constantine, desiring to have all Christians join with him in his new idea of a state religion, and many conscientiously opposing this serious departure from New Testament teachings, he begins using the power of government to compel. Thus begin the days and years and even centuries of a hard and bitter persecution against all those Christians who were loyal to the original Christ and Apostolic teachings. Remember that we are now noting the events occurring between the years A.D. 300 and 500. The Hierarchy organized under the leadership of Constantine, rapidly developed into what is now known as the Catholic church. This newly developing church joined to a temporal government, no longer simply an executive to carry out the completed laws of the New Testament, began to be legislative, amending or annulling old laws or enacting new ones utterly unknown to the New Testament.
I hear you snickering. But I know folks who actually believe this pig swill. I know many, many more who many not swallow this exact story, but who believe a modified version of this concerning a “Christian remnant” who survived somewhere, somehow, from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th century (the story is very vague) with their Evangelical Christian beliefs in “sola Scriptura, sola fide, once-saved-always-saved, baptism and Holy Communion as mere symbols, and the imminent secret rapture of all true believers” intact until Martin Luther was called by God to expose the deceptive teachings of the Evil Catholic Church. And every Protestant church I attended over a 45-year period taught that the first Christians believed and preached exactly what our Methodist-charismatic-nondenominational-Lutheran-Presbyterian-Baptist church believed and preached. That last one was a must, because if the first Christians did not believe and preaching what we believed and preached, then we were preaching “a different Gospel” – and that couldn’t be.
Dr. Carroll’s contention was that the Catholic Church pursued true believers (AKA Baptists) to the ends of the earth in an attempt to exterminate them. His explanation for the fact that no historical evidence of the existence of anyone who held distinctively Baptist beliefs, i.e., the above-mentioned “sola Scriptura, sola fide, once-saved-always-saved, baptism and Holy Communion as mere symbols, and imminent secret rapture of all true believers” is that the Catholic Church wiped all traces of their existence from the historical record. However, somehow the Evil Catholic Church did not manage to wipe out all traces of the existence of other groups considered to be heretical, groups like the Donatists, Paterines, Cathari, Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Albigenses, and Waldenses. Needing some kind of proof that his history holds water, Carroll drafts many heresiarchs into the Baptist camp, claiming them as kindred spirits.
Ummm, you might not wanna do that….
But Pastor Carroll had a sermon series to deliver, and an argument from utter historical silence isn’t going to hold anyone’s attention. True, the groups claimed by Carroll as spiritual ancestors all rejected the authority of the Holy Catholic Church. For that matter, so do atheists, Mormons and Muslims – that doesn’t make them Baptists. Other than that commonality, the beliefs of these alleged “proto-Baptists” were all over the map. They put forth various propositions, among them the following:
- Jesus was not God but an angel
- Jesus only appeared to have human flesh – He did not literally “die” on the Cross because He did not literally “live” as a man.
- The material world is evil, and therefore marital relations are evil. Bestiality is preferable to marriage.
- Eating eggs is a mortal sin, since they are the product of sexual intercourse.
- Sins cannot be forgiven after baptism. Once baptized, the safest course is to induce death by starvation, rather than run the risk of continuing to live and perhaps losing one’s salvation.
- Baptism and Holy Communion are the traditions of men and are not to be practiced.
- The Old Testament is not Holy Scripture. The New Testament epistles are not Holy Scripture.
- One would be reincarnated until one reached “perfection,” and a woman’s final reincarnation had to be as a man.
- Crosses should be desecrated because the cross was an instrument of torture upon which Jesus was crucified.
- The ownership of private property is a sin.
Dr. Carroll admits that some of these groups might not have been 100% orthodox, but he explains:
Let it not be thought that all these persecuted ones were always loyal in all respects to New Testament teachings. In the main they were. And some of them, considering their surroundings, were marvelously so. Remember that many of them at that far away, time, had only parts of the New Testament or the Old Testament as to that.
Which, I suppose, explains the bestiality and the aversion to eggs….
1. No reputable Protestant historian believes any of this bullpucky.
2. Protestants such as I once was do not read books written by reputable Protestant historians. They read bullpucky cranked out by the likes of the late Dave Hunt, Loraine Boettner, and Tim LaHaye.
I personally used to read books from the local Christian bookstore, the books by the “popular” authors. I left Protestant scholars for my pastor to read, thinking that that was more his domain than mine. What did I think I was, a theologian?
Carroll’s booklet was published posthumously, so he never had the chance to rethink things and perhaps publish an edition bringing his theories more into line with historical fact. It was left to a fellow Baptist, James Edward McGoldrick, to do that in his 1994 publication of
Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History. McGoldrick investigated the “Trail of Blood” and came to these conclusions:
Among the most vigorous exponents of this teaching are pastors who lack an understanding of historical theology and critical historiography….
Although no reputable Church historians have ever affirmed the belief that Baptists can trace their lineage through medieval and ancient sects ultimately to the New Testament, that point of view enjoys a large following nevertheless. It appears that scholars aware of this claim have deemed it unworthy of their attention, which may account for the persistence and popularity of Baptist successionism as a doctrine as well as an interpretation of church history….
…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 seventeenth century in Holland and England. They are Protestants, heirs of the Reformers.
You might want to keep a copy of McGoldrick’s book handy if you happen to live in an area where Baptist successionism still holds sway. People who wouldn’t take the word of a Catholic, or even of a Protestant scholar, might listen to a former Landmark Baptist warning them that Baptist successionism is a crock.
Even better, as far as retractions go, is the story of Ralph Woodrow, erstwhile proponent of theories proposed in The Two Babylons by 19th-century writer Alexander Hislop. Woodrow was the author of the derivative Babylon Mystery Religion, published in 1966. If you missed these little gems, they are books claiming that the belief system of the Catholic Church can be traced back to the religion of the pagan Nimrod and his wife in the Old Testament. Through a tangled web of historical inaccuracies, conspiracy theories and just plain kooky assumptions, Hislop proposed that Catholicism was actually the original pagan religious system, and Pastor Woodrow backed Hislop up on this, popularizing his theories. Priestly robes, the round wafers of Holy Communion, and virtually every other distinctive of Catholicism are “proved” to have their origins in the Babylon mystery religion.
Then out of the blue, Woodrow’s book was pulled from circulation and a new book, entitled The Babylon Connection?, was published. In it, Pastor Woodrow recounts the events leading to his change of heart. A reader convinced him to double-check the historical “facts” that form the basis of Hislop’s work. Pastor Woodrow writes:
As I did this, it became clear – Hislop’s “history” was often only mythology. Even though myths may sometimes reflect events that actually happened, an arbitrary piecing together of ancient myths can not provide a sound basis for history. Take enough tribes, enough tales, enough time, jump from one time to another, from one country to another, pick and choose similarities – why, anything could be “proved”!
AN HONEST MAN!
On his organization’s website, Mr. Woodrow takes pains to explain what should be (but obviously isn’t) plain concerning the pitfalls of assumption-making:
What may seem to have a connection, upon further investigation, has no connection at all!
By this method, one could take virtually anything and do the same—even the “golden arches” at McDonald’s! The Encyclopedia Americana (article: “Arch”) says the use of arches was known in Babylon as early as 2020 B.C. Since Babylon was called “the golden city” (Isa. 14:4), can there be any doubt about the origin of the golden arches? As silly as this is, this is the type of proof that has been offered over and over about pagan origins.
By this method, atheists have long sought to discredit the Bible and Christianity altogether—not just the Roman Catholic Church.
By this method, one could condemn Protestant and evangelical denominations like the Assemblies of God, Baptist, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Nazarene, etc. Basic things like prayer, and kneeling in prayer, would have to be rejected, because pagans knelt and prayed to their gods. Water baptism would have to be rejected, for pagans had numerous rites involving water, etc.
By this method, the BIBLE itself would need to be rejected as pagan.
In other words, I was wrong – I take it back.
It is important to note that neither McGoldrick nor Woodrow embrace Catholic teaching; they are Protestants who have backed away from the excesses of anti-Catholic pseudo-history. Woodrow still buys into some of Lorraine Boettner’s anti-Catholic misconceptions. But the testimony of these gentlemen is still valuable to us when we speak to those who believe that the Baptist denomination traces its back to John the Baptist, or that the Catholic Church traces her roots back to the false religion of Nimrod. There are, unfortunately, too many of them out there. We can look them in the eye and tell them – It simply ain’t so.
Sez honest Protestants – that’s who!
On the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul
Deo omnis gloria!