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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Response to some good old-fashioned Baptist-bashing OR "We don't believe the Earth revolves around the Sun, either."

Matt Fradd, a Roman Catholic blogger now living in Southern California, has posted[1] a most unfortunate essay about Baptists. In short, Mr. Fradd is concerned with Baptist “successionism,” that is, what Baptists call the Landmarkist controversy.

The argument of the essay is spot-on. The thesis of James Carroll’s Trail of Blood (the source of the Landmark controversy) has been refuted by historians and theologians alike. The idea that there was an unbroken succession of Baptist believers going all the way back to the time of Jesus is ludicrous, which Fradd easily demonstrates. Carroll’s own argument in Trail of Blood, that Catholics suppressed the documentation of Baptist groups in the pre-Reformation generations only lends weight to the idea that the entire Landmark movement was too much conspiracy theory and too little fact.

What is so disturbing to me, though, is that Fradd would spend time on this topic in the first place. By his own admission, “Some (few) Baptists have claimed that they too can trace their lineage back to the time of Christ and the apostles.”[2] First it’s “some,” then immediately “few.” Could we not just go ahead and say that the Landmark movement is all but dead? I would certainly contend that such a small percentage of Baptists (those still clinging to Landmarkism) is less than that of Catholics calling for Papal support of abortion or same-sex marriage. This is a non-issue for Baptists, and certainly a non-issue for Catholics!

What, then, is the point of Fradd’s curious interest in this historical curiosity of Baptist history? Certainly it is to discredit Baptist theology, especially Baptist ecclesiology. Fradd concludes his essay, saying, “We should applaud these Baptists for desiring to be part of the Church Christ established, and then, with gentleness and reverence point them away from fallacious history to actual history, and let the evidence speak for itself.”[3] By casting Baptists as believing in the fallacy of Landmarkism, Fradd hopes to make the Catholic version of Christian theological history seem to be the unassailable home for all those who claim to be a part of Christ’s Church.  What the author doesn’t seem to understand is that Baptists don’t believe this “fallacious history,” and yet we have the gall to believe that we are, in fact, a part of Christ’s Church.

What “evidence” does Fradd believe speaks for itself concerning Baptist theology? Does he mean the Baptist theological tradition of salvation through Christ alone? Or perhaps he references the Baptist theological starting point of the Priesthood of the Believer? Yes, these evidences do certainly speak for themselves, for they are rooted in Scripture and not in the history of either the Catholic Church or discredited Baptist authors.

For Catholics, Fradd’s article is nothing more than an exercise in preaching to the choir – he reinforces stereotypes about Baptists and Baptist theology that have no real basis in contemporary reality, and it is therefore another sad, outmoded example of a Catholic who doesn’t get the Reformation. For Baptists, this is a gross misrepresentation of our theology and should motivate ministers and laity alike to restate their commitment to being a part of Christ’s Church through faith in Christ alone, which is a tradition older than anything Roman Catholicism can claim.

[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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