The Succession of Truth
By Milburn Cockrell
"Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him." (Acts 8:29-31)
    You will note that I have chosen the the strongest word of three: succession; perpetuity; and continuity.
    "Continuity" means "the state or quality of being continuous, a continuous or connected whole" (Webster's American Family Dictionary, page 209).
    "Perpetuity" means 'the state or character of being perpetual, endless or indefinitely long duration of existence" (ibid., page 706).
    "Succession" means "the coming of one person or thing after another in order, sequence, or in course of events, a number of persons or things following one another in order or sequence ... a progressive replacement of one ecological community by another until the climax is established" (ibid., page  933).
    While the last word "succession" is the strongest and best, it must not be pushed too far, seeing individuals and institutions can co-exist for some period of time. I like the word because it suggests an organic connection between persons and communities. But the word "continuity' also suggests "a continuous or connected whole." So it would not be wrong to use it.
    I wish to convey by my use of "succession" two things:
    First, God has never been left without a witness for the truth.
    Second, there has been an organic connection between these witnesses for the truth. One person taught another person, and one institution begat another institution. God has preserved His truth from one generation to another.
  Truth is ancient, and its gray hairs connect it to Him who is the Ancient of Days. It is unerring, for it points to the One who said: "I am ... the truth" (John 14:6). It is glorious and triumphant; it prevails and conquers all its foes. When all of its enemies lie dead, it keeps the field and sets up trophies of victory. Evil men and demons may oppose the truth, but they can never dispose of it. Truth is the same in all ages. It can live in the region of death invincible, incorruptible, and immortal. Neither the sword of the tyrant, nor the pen of an infidel, can destroy it. The truth is safe under the protection of its divine Author.  The heavens shall be dissolved (II Peter 3:I2), but not the truth which came from Heaven.
    Never in any age of human history has God been left without a witness for the truth. First, there is the ever abiding witness of nature. The visible creation declares an invisible Creator (Romans 1:18-20). It sets forth His eternal power and Godhead, and it leaves man without excuse for being an atheist.
Nature declares His glory (Psalms 19:1-4), and it reveals His providing mercy (Acts 14:14-17; Genesis 8:22). While it is an incomplete witness of truth, it is still a faithful witness (Psalms 89:37).
    Second, there are human witnesses of truth. From Adam to the flood, there were men like Enoch (Hebrews 11:5; Jude 14-15) and Noah (Hebrews 11:7; II Peter 2:5). From the flood to the close of the Old Testament period, there were men like Abraham (Isaiah 41:8; Hebrews 11:17-19; John 8:56), and Moses (Numbers 17:7-8;18:2; II Chronicles 24:6; Acts 7:44). The nation of Israel witnessed of the truth to the Gentile nations (Isaiah 43:8- 12). There were also the prophets and priests of the Old Testament (Acts 10:43). Even during the so-called "Four Hundred Silent Years" there were the Maccabees.
    In the beginning of the New Testament period there was John the Baptist (John 1:7-8, 15; 3.26) and Jesus Christ (Isaiah 55:4; John 3:34; 18:37; I Timothy 6:13; Revelation 1:5; 3:14). Just before leaving this earth, Christ appointed His church to be a witness for the truth. (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8). The churches will continue in this role until the rapture of the saints.
    When the churches are removed from the earth by the rapture, there will be Enoch and Elijah (Revelation 11:3) and the 144,000 Israelites (Revelation 7:14; Daniel 12:8; Matthew 24:14) who shall bear witness to the truth. These will convert many Gentiles (Revelation 7:9-14) which will become witnesses (Revelations 20:4). Near the end of the seven year tribulation period when many witnesses
are dead and others in hiding, an angel will witness for the truth (Revelation 14:6-7).
    In the millennium there will be many witnesses for the truth. Israel will witness to the living Gentile nations on earth (Isaiah 2:1-4; 66:19), and many will be converted to the truth (Psalms 65:2; 72:8-11; Isaiah 66:23; Daniel 7:27; Joel 2:28).
    Never during the sweep of the ages will God ever be left without a witness for the truth. "For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." (II Corinthians 13:8).
    The Bible is the only book in the world that contains the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This includes both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus Christ said: "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The psalmist declared: "The judgments of the LORD are true and righteousness altogether" (Psalms 19:9). Again he wrote: "Thy word is true from the beginning ..." (Psalms 119:160)  When I speak of the Bible I mean the Masoretic Hebrew Text and the Textus Receptus Greek text, and the faithful translations made from these texts. Any of these are "the scripture of truth" (Daniel 10.21) and "the word of truth" (II Timothy  2:15).
    In order to understand the revelation of God in the Bible, we need someone to guide us into all truth. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Philip asked him: "Understandest thou what thou readest?" (Acts 8:30). And the eunuch replied: "How can I, except some man should guide me?" (Acts 8:31). The Lord did not send an angel from Heaven to teach the eunuch, but an evangelist  from the church at Jerusalem. Neither did the Lord bore a hole in the head of the eunuch and pour in knowledge directly from Heaven.
    We cannot learn without a teacher. He who seeks to be his own scholar in heavenly literature has a fool for a teacher. The eunuch was a man of high political office, and he valued a teacher of the Word such as Philip. He knew he could not profit from the Scriptures unless he in some measure understood them (Matthew 13:51; I Corinthians 14:16-17). To have a right understanding of the Scriptures, he needed someone to guide him.
    God's elect are teachable. They realize their ignorance and infirmities. "That which I see not teach thou me" (Job 34:32). "Give Instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:9 cf. Zechariah 4:13-14). Apollos, though a man eloquent in the Scriptures, condescended to be taught in private by a man and his wife. (Acts 1826). It is written in Acts 11:26: "And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people."
    I believe the Bible teaches the need for religious education. This is one of the reasons I am a missionary Baptist instead of a Hardshell Baptist. God's plan is for one person to teach another person the truth, and for pastors to teach whole churches.
    In II Timothy 2:2 it is written: "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."  Timothy had learned the truth from Paul (I Timothy 1:2). This truth had been learned "among many witnesses"  which were other preachers and members of the church where Paul had preached and taught. Timothy was to teach other teachers, who would still teach other teachers. There is seen here four generations of teachers There is the idea of a continuous process, or an organic succession of truth. There are no missing links here - no spontaneous generation of teachers who had to be jump started because the truth had died out and God had been left without a witness.
    Paul was an ordained missionary of the church of Antioch (Acts 13:14), and Timothy was an ordained pastor (I Timothy 4:14). Thus II Timothy 2:2 can mean no less than that there would always be a link chain of faithful elders in faithful churches across the centuries. The truth would be preserved by these unimpaired from one generation to another. The term "others" naturally includes the rising generation of ministers in the churches, but it needs not to be restricted to ministers, since the entire congregation must be the recipient of their teaching. This line of true churches and true ministers would come down in a link chain unbroken from the days of Jesus Christ until the rapture.
    Each church is to ordain only faithful men who are able to teach the truth to the ministerial office. If a man lacks these qualifications, the presbytery has no right to recommend that he be ordained to the church, and the church has no right to ordain an unfaithful man. The Lord has doubly guarded the ministerial office from an intrusion of heretical and incompetent men, by requiring that he be not only selected by the act of the church, but that he be approved by the presbytery (Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-4; 14:23; I Timothy 4:14; 5:22; II Timothy 1:6; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 6:2).
    Attention must be given to the raising up of a new generation of dedicated spiritual leaders. This is why we have churches, Bible schools, and Christian colleges. Well trained ministers in well taught churches carry on a continuous process of spiritual reproduction until the Lord's appearing.
    Some brethren see no need of this. They brand any person who sees such a need as a heretic and a fool. Possessed by the spirit of the historical critical method of interpreting the Scripture,  they say, "This would require a link chain of valid baptisms, scriptural ordinations, and true churches. We do not have the historical records to prove this back to the apostolic age."
    To this objection I would say that the Lord promised to preserve His truth by true ministers and true churches. The lord did not promise to preserve the records of all of these to convince all skeptics and critics. Men either believe what the Bible says, or they do not. I cannot trace by historical records my ancestry back to Adam. Am I therefore to assume I have no organic connection with Adam and that my great grandmother was an ape? I do not have in my  possession the original copies of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. Am I therefore to assume that my King James Version has no organic connection with what Isaiah and Paul wrote? I could go on, but I will not, for such is not necessary.
    One's view about the succession of truth determines which view he holds as to Baptist beginnings. I can do no better than to quote from the Southern Baptist historian, Albert W, Wardin, Jr. He writes: "There are at least three different views on Baptist origins. One position, which may be called, 'Baptist Successionism,' begins with Jesus Christ and the first church in Jerusalem, if not with John the Baptist. It traces a succession to the modern Baptist denomination through groups of various names which existed  outside the Roman Catholic Church, claiming that each group held to basic Baptist beliefs. A second view, a modification of the first position, may be called, 'Anabaptist Spiritual Kinship.' This position maintains that various groups, holding common spiritual principles but not necessarily organically related, have existed from Apostolic times to the period of the Anabaptists and modern Baptists. A third position,  'English Separatist Descent,' believes that Baptists developed from the Protestant Reformation, separating themselves from English Congregationalists who in turn had separated from the Church of England" (Baptist Atlas, page 5).
    To the best of my knowledge, there is not yet many among us who hold to the third view. Hence I shall concern myself with the first two views. The successionist sees an organic connection by a link chain of churches perpetuating themselves under various names. They trace their history through Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, Paulicans, Albigensess, Petrobrussians, Henricans, Arnoldists, Waldenses, Anabaptists and modern Baptists. The spiritual kinship man sees in these groups basic principles of Baptists,  but no organic connection between them. When the Montanists died out in Phrygia God jump started the Donatists in Africa by direct authority from Heaven. This idea resembles the "Big Bang" theory of evolutionists.
    Successionism is a chain of true ministers in true churches reproducing themselves across the centuries. Spiritual kinship is a succession of principles and practices, popping up here and there in different countries of the world. There is clearly an organic connection between churches in the first view, but no organic connection in the second. Spiritual kinship men hold that as the devil destroyed the Donatists, God, to get Himself out of an embarrassing situation, opened up a man's head in another part of the world and poured the truth into his head. Then "bang" and you had a New Testament church with direct authority from Heaven!
    The spiritual kinship theory leaves many unanswered questions. How did a solitary man in Europe hear the gospel of truth, if there was no organic connection between him and a true New Testament church? Did his baptism and church come down directly from Heaven? Can you have a scriptural church without Bible baptism? Will self baptism do? If churches can be started by direct authority from Heaven, why send out missionaries to establish new churches? Are the hardshell brethren right about missions? If churches are self constituted by the direct authority from Heaven, are Protestant churches true churches? What about community churches and Bible churches? How can we be sure such organizations did not have direct authority from Heaven, seeing there is no need of a succession of true churches?
    Thomas Treadwell Eaton once said: "If Baptist succession be the bad thing some brethren say, then certainly it ought to be given up. There should be no more of it The churches now in existence ought to have no succession. When a new church is organized, it should have no sort of connection with other churches, or relations to them. Let churches be organized anywhere, anyhow, by any body. Just let the people be believers, and let them baptize each other, and start a church. This does away with Baptist succession. And if it be the bad thing that is charged, it ought to be done away  with at the earliest moment. Those who oppose Baptist succession have no logical ground to stand on in organizing a church out of materials furnished by other churches and with those baptized by regularly ordained ministers. If Baptist succession be sacredotalism and sacrarmentialism, then surely we ought not to think of practicing it, and thus keep up the dreadful isms" (Cited by J. B. Moody in My Church, pages 189-199).
    The spiritual kinship theory holds that for God to have preserved His churches by a succession of true churches, valid baptisms and scriptural ordinations would put too great a strain upon the omnipotence of God. But to preserve principles and practices among men would not overpower Almighty God. The kinship brethren do not tell us how you can have Baptist principles and practices without having Baptist churches to carry out these principles and practices.
    Call me what you will. I am a Baptist Successionist and always have been. I believe the work of the apostles of Christ remains (John 15:16) as Jesus promised. Their work remains because there has always been true valid baptisms, and true churches upon earth, just like the ones they founded in the first century. These churches have preserved the truth as it is in Christ and the Book of Truth (the Bible). How could churches preserve the Bible without any organic connection with each other? Let the spiritual kinship brethren give the answer.
   In the patriarchal age the teaching of truth was mostly confined to home (Job 1:4-5). This was continued into the Mosaic dispensation (Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 6:7-9; 11:19-20; Psalms 78:l-7). This teaching of truth in the home continued even into the New Testament Testament dispensation. (II Timothy 1:5; 3:15; Titus 2:3). As father and mother taught son and daughter the truth, God's truth had a succession from one to another.
    The nation of Israel had priests who publicly taught the people (II Chronicles 17:7-9; 35:3; Nehemiah 8:9; Malachi 2:7). There was a succession of truth in that nation. There were also special theological schools for the prophets at Naioth (I Samuel 19:20), Bethel (II Kings 2:3) Jericho (II Kings 2:5,15), Gilgal (II Kings 4:38), and most likely Jerusalem (II Kings 22:14; II Chronicles 34:27). Individual believers taught other people the truth (Psalms 51:12-13; Daniel 12:3).
    In the New Testament we see Christ as the Master Teacher who practiced what He preached (Acts 1:1). "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, ..." (Matthew 4:23). "Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught." (John 7:14 cf. Luke 24:27).
    Before leaving this world Jesus Christ committed the public teaching ministry to His church: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."  (Matthew 28:19-20).
    John Gill comments on the words, "I am with you alway, even unto the end at the world," thusly: "... meaning, not merely to the end of their lives, which would be the end of the world to them; nor to the end of the Jewish world, or state, which was not a great way off, though this is sometimes the sense of this phrase; but to the end of the present world, the universe: not that the apostles should live to the end of it but that where as Christ would have a church and a people to the end of the world, and the Gospel and the ordinances of it should be administered so long, and there should be Gospel ministers till that time; Christ's sense is, that he would grant his presence to them, his inmediate disciples, and to all that should succeed them in future generations, to the end of time ..." (Exposition of New Testament, Volume I, page 377).
    In the Book of Acts and the epistles we see the churches doing what Christ commanded them (Acts 5:42; 21:28; Galatians 6:6).
    God has preserved His truth from generation to generation  in the homes of true believers, by a God fearing nation and by New Testament churches. There has always been true churches with God called ministers who taught the next generation. This is why we have true churches today, who continue to hold up Jesus Christ who is the Truth. It will continue to be so until Jesus comes.
    Evolutionists speak of "missing links" between man and beast. Some Baptists speak of missing links in the chain of our Baptist succession.  These anti-successionists say, "You cannot connect the European Anabaptists with the English Baptists," or "You can't get Baptists across the English Channel." Let these followers of William H. Whitsitt scream and shout there is no such thing as Baptist succession back to Christ. Notwithstanding all the efforts of our foes, there is no break in the chain of the succession of true churches and true ministers since the time of the apostles. Baptists are the only people on earth who reach all the way back to John and Jordan. The gates of Hell have never prevailed against our churches which existed across the centuries independent of the Church at Rome.
    Why has God preserved the truth in the Bible? Because it has been preserved and propagated by true churches and true ministers in every age since the ministry of Jesus Christ. Christ said He would preserve the truth in His churches. I had rather take His word on the matter than the critic of Baptist succession.
If Christ has failed to preserve true churches and true ministers on this earth, then He lied and there is no truth on earth today!
    I wish to conclude this article with the words of two Baptist successionists of the past. The first is D. B. Ray. He wrote: "No point in history has been found, this side of the days of Jesus Christ on earth, where the Baptist denomination had it's origin. Notwithstanding all the efforts of bitter foes, no break has yet been discovered in the chain of Baptist succession. There has been no point of time since the apostolic age, when it can be said, in truth, there was no witness for Christ on earth holding the faith and practice of Baptists ... The Baptists are the only people on earth who claim as succession from the apostolic age, independent of the Church at Rome; and as Jesus Christ has a church against which the gates of Hell have never prevailed, which has existed independent of the Romish hierarchy therefore the Baptists are really the only claimants to this succession" (Baptist Succession, page 406). I agree totally with this statement from Brother Ray, notwithstanding the fact that W. A. Jarrell disputed it (See Baptist Church Perpetuity, page 2).
    James Alfred Shackelford stated: "Baptists have never held to the doctrine of apostolic succession but have generally believed in church succession, and have always claimed that all authority is vested in the churches as the executives of Christ" (A Compendium Of Baptist History, page 122).
    My last witness is Robert Barclay, a Quaker historian. He wrote: "We have strong reasons for believing that on the continent of Europe,  small hidden societies, who held many of the opinions of the  Anabaptists have existed from the time of the Apostles. In the sense of the direct transmission of divine truth and the true nature of spiritual religion, it seems probable that these churches have a lineage or succession, more ancient than the Roman church (Inner Life of Religious Societies of the Commonwealth p. 12). Any man who denies Baptist church succession is more poorly informed than a Quaker.

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