WHAT IS CHURCH PERPETUITY ?
As the New Testament church is defined in Chapter II, of this book, I refer the reader to that instead of here defining it.
Webster defines perpetuity: “The state or quality of being perpetual…Continued existence or duration.”
The late and lamented scholar, J. R. Graves, LL. D., wrote: “Wherever there are three or more baptized members of a regular Baptist church or churches covenanted together to hold and teach, and are governed by the New Testament,” etc., “there is a Church of Christ, even though there was not a presbytery of ministers in a thousand miles of them to organize them into a church. There is not the slightest need of a council of presbyters to organize a Baptist church.”
And the scholarly S. H. Ford, LL. D., says: “Succession among Baptists is not a linked chain of churches or ministers, uninterrupted and traceable at this distant day… The true and defensible doctrine is, that baptized believers have existed in every age since John baptized in Jordan, and have met as a baptized congregation in covenant and fellowship where an opportunity permitted.” To this explanation of Church Succession by Drs. Graves and Ford, all believers in Baptist “Church Succession” fully agree.
As the term “Succession,” from its being used by Romanists, may mislead the uninformed into the belief that Baptists believe the Apostles have been succeeded by apostles and hierarchal bishops —bishops who have received the Spirit from the laying on of the hands of the Apostles, and, then, episcopal grace, the phrase “Church Perpetuity” is preferable to the phrase “Church Succession.” The apostolic office terminated with the death of the last of the Apostles. It was intended only for the closing of the New Testament canon and the organization of the first churches. The New Testament, and other church history, certainly teach there were no other bishops in apostolic churches than pastors of one congregation — the diocese and the diocesan bishop having been born in the third century.
Every Baptist church being, in organization, a church complete in itself, and, in no way organically connected with any other church, such a thing as one church succeeding another, as the second link of a chain is added to and succeeds the first, or, as one Romish or Episcopal church succeeds another, is utterly foreign to and incompatible with Baptist church polity. Therefore, the talk about every link “jingling in the succession chain from the banks of the Jordan to the present,” is ignorance or dust-throwing.
The only senses in which one Baptist church can succeed another are that the church leads men and women to Christ, then through its missionaries or ministers baptizes them, after which the baptized organize themselves into a Baptist church; or, in lettering off some of its members to organize a new church; or, in case the old church has fallen to pieces, for its members to reorganize themselves into a church.
All that Baptists mean by church “Succession,” or Church Perpetuity, is: There has never been a day since the organization of the first New Testament church in which there was no genuine church of the New Testament existing on earth.