"To destroy a people you must first sever their roots."
Some time ago I was teaching Baptist history in our church. While I always had a love and deep appreciation of the history and heritage of the Baptist, I hadn't made a critical study on the subject. I had read The Trail of Blood by Carroll and the works of men such as Armitage, D. B. Ray, John Christian, Orchard, and S. F. Ford. In the course of our lessons I wanted to bring out more of the Anabaptist than I had at hand. I searched the internet and constantly found sites which placed the origin of the Anabaptists in 1525 with the Swiss Brethren. In my library I have a book entitled The Anabaptist Story, by William Estep, with a decal stating Commemorating the 450th Anniversary of Anabaptism. It is from this book that much of the material on internet about the Anabaptists is drawn. I knew this was wrong and was saddened that such an error was being accepted without challenge. I thought, "Someone should have a rebuttal web site to give the alternative view of the Anabaptists." Whenever I have these thoughts I often have a small voice (figuratively) saying, "Why don't you do it" No, God doesn't orally speak to me.
So I began to read, and read, and read. I talked with others who also had a compassion for our history. They recommended material, gave, and loaned me their books. I noted
the references and footnotes to the works of other authors and decided to research as many of them for myself as I could. I went on a buying binge. I found many rare books, some of which were unknown by my fellow companions of history. For some of the works I could only find portions of the manuscripts. Such as The History of the English Baptist by Ivimey. I could not locate the any of the thirteen volumes of Magdeberg Centuries which is an ecclesiastical history, divided into thirteen centuries. Many authors of ecclesial history made references this work. My research took over three years.
At the outset it was never my intention to repeat the efforts of the historians, but rather to glean from them. It was always in my mind that the subject was the issue of Church Succession. I had to omit much valuable material on points such as the martyrs, secular governments and politics, and the development of aberrations of doctrines and practices. I found stories of horror and beauty. I discovered in many cases not only what people did but why they did it. Many questions were being answered and more were arising. I found some things were not as I had believed and had been taught. I had to change opinions and beliefs about certain churches. If any study is to be of merit it must be based on the truth of the evidence, and I have tried to remain faithful to the facts. An example of this is the Paulicians in their The Key of Truth. In much of the history written by Baptists the Paulicians are highly regarded and given great esteem in the lineage of the Church. But I found their origin in all probability was not apostolic, but centuries later. Moreover, they denied the deity of Christ and believed that He, as a man, was of lower stature than John the Baptist. I found no evidence contrary to this position. Truth is not always pleasant, but it needs to be respected and given its rightful place.
To address church succession we must begin with the foundation of the nature of the church. If the church is misunderstood, then succession is like a wild weed and can go in any number of directions. For this reason the larger part of this work is on the nature of the church. I have investigated, as far as I could, to know and understand all the positions of the church. Using scripture and reason I evaluated each position and the claims made of the church. I took many positions to their logical conclusions and tested them against biblical truths. It is not my intention to belittle or misrepresent those whose positions are different from mine.
Jesus created His church in the first century and set the pattern of the propagation of the church when He gave it the great commission. The church was to go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them with the authority of the trinity, and teaching them to observe all things which He has commanded. The process of the expansion of the church is given in Acts and exhibited in the epistles. The Jerusalem church begat other churches, and those churches begat churches. There is no hint that Christ ever had it mind to duplicate his work and re-create His church in different times and places. When God first created, He rested when the work was done and set in place that like kind would beget after its own kind. So it is with the church. Moreover, no evidence exists, nor is it even implied that the establishing of succeeding New Testament churches was ever through the means of self-creation, or self-constitution. The very concept of self creation in science is thoroughly dismissed. By command and example the church has an unbroken descent, succession, and ancestry from the original chartered Jerusalem church.
In expressing my sentiment of this book I here paraphrase the thoughts of Ivimey when he wrote of his volumes.—"This writer does not expect to disarm criticism, but it is hoped that this work will awaken the attention of the Baptist Ministers and churches to imitate the piety, simplicity, and zeal of their progenitors; who contended earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Let them ever remember that the principles they profess are those for which Baptists were imprisoned, ridiculed and publicly scorned, suffered loss of possessions, and many others who lost their lives."
I realize that many, if not most, folks don't have much interest about the church. If a church pleases them they are quite content with where they are and what they are doing. But if this book stirs the soul to study and grow in the Lord I deem it a success.
I wish to knowledge and thank the many people who have given encouragement and contribution for this book. Especially I want to thank my wife, Alberta, for her hours of assistance and encouragement. In fear of omitting the names of those who have my gratitude, I just say thank you all.
Wm. F. Bekgaard