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The doctrine of a chain-linked succession has been alleged to be, and is often perceived to be, a weak position when considered from a historical standpoint. First of all, it has always been a chief and fundamental doctrine of true Baptists, that the Bible must be the absolute and final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Chain-link successionists have been accused of "Baptist popery," and of un-churching those not considered to have been properly organized. Moving the inspired word of God to the left hand, and interpreting it with a history book or writings of men in the right hand, bears far more resemblance to popery than does earnestly contending for one’s Bible-based convictions. The teaching of church authority in church organization and chain-link succession does not "un-church" any more than preaching the gospel of grace "un-saves" those who profess salvation by works. They either are or they are not. What we may say, whether right or wrong, does not alter the facts.

We may have problems defending the doctrine of a pre-tribulation, pre-millineal rapture from a historical stand-point, but I believe it is taught in the Bible. There have undoubtedly been many churches with a misunderstanding in eschatology that were nevertheless true churches. There have probably been many churches with a less than desirable, or faulty, knowledge regarding church authority and succession that were still true churches. I suspect that by God’s grace many have properly acted in the establishing of other churches without a full understanding of the matter. Praise be to God, that He has many times quickened and granted repentance and faith to persons without their realizing that He had chosen to do so before the foundation of the world. The new believer may not realize that the reason he believes is that, in regeneration, God caused his stony heart to become "good ground" (Matthew 13:8). As he learns these things, he gives God the glory. So it is, too, that Christ can perpetuate His true churches in the absence of a proper understanding of it. Recorded history may speak of churches being formed when persons covenanted themselves together, or of churches having been gathered by the tireless efforts of Brother This or Reverend That, but when a chain-linked Baptist succession is taught and understood, the honor is given to God in His churches through Christ, who is the builder of them.

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21)

When the Baptist histories written by man are considered objectively and open mindedly, the so-called "problems" are far fewer and smaller than usually perceived. When speaking or writing upon a certain subject, we may often be less particular and less careful with our words that are relevant to an associated matter, when the associated matter is not being presently addressed or perceived to be an issue of dispute at the time. As a reader or listener, it is difficult to avoid the effect of one’s own opinions, bias, and background upon one’s understanding and interpretation of the words of another.

On page one of Baptist Church Perpetuity, W.A. Jarrel quoted J.R. Graves in an effort to discredit or to disclaim the doctrine of chain-link succession. He wrote:

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."

The book was published the year after Graves’ death, so we are deprived of a specific response from him, but I believe the point that J.R. Graves was making in that statement was that there is no authority possessed by "a presbytery of ministers" in regard to church organization. There is certainly nothing in the statement that is contrary or incompatible with a chain-linked, church authority type of succession. The absence of "a presbytery" does not signify the absence nor lack of approval of another church or other churches. W.A. Jarrel’s own remarks, on the next page, demonstrate his bias in regard to church succession. On page 2, he wrote:

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 very fact that some writers in the last century have made such remarks as that of Jarrel’s is, in itself, proof that the doctrine of a chain-linked church succession is not something that "originated in Kentucky in the last fifty years," as some present day opponents of chain-link authority are declaring. A more accurate assessment of J.R. Graves’ mind regarding the subject at hand must come from the consideration of all his writings. J.R. Graves and S.Adlam wrote The First Baptist Church in America, which presents documented proof that the first Baptist church in America was "Not founded or pastored by Roger Williams, and his invalid baptism never transmitted to any Baptist Church." On page 177 of that book, J.R. Graves wrote:

If then, the last remains of the only thing called a Baptist Church, with which Williams had any connection or anything to do, vanished from the earth so soon, having in the days of Mather no successor, the reader must conclude that Williams’ society was not the prolific mother of the Baptist Churches of New England, much less of America, for it never had a church child—it was itself an abortion.

J.R. Graves does not seem to have had any inhibition or objection toward speaking of a "mother" church or of "a church child." On the next page, Graves further concludes that Williams was not founder and never was pastor of the present church at Providence, Rhode Island:

. . . since, as has been proved above, the only "thing" like a church with which he had any connection, had but an experimental existence, without having originated another church or leaving a successor.

The "thing like a church" started by Williams was disbanded and it was several years later that the existing Baptist church at Providence was organized. Further evidence of J.R. Graves’ beliefs in regard to church organization is found on pages 28 and 29 of the same book where he writes of the "destructive irregularities" associated with baptism without proper authority, and in the context of church organization:

Certainly, intelligent Baptists can not be so "bewitched" by human opinions and sophistries, or influenced by partialities and prejudices, as to surrender these fundamental principles and thereby let in a flood-tide of destructive irregularities that would, in a generation, sweep the churches of Christ from the face of the earth. God forever forbid it. These gross irregularities are condoned and confirmed as valid by the Providence church and its friends under the plea of necessity, and "necessity knows no law!" But there was no necessity in the case. There was a regular Baptist Church at Newport, only twenty miles from Providence, several of whose members lived even beyond Boston. Old Father Witter resided in Lynn, Mass., and had Mr. Williams been at heart a Baptist, he and his followers could have been baptized and received regularly into its membership, and had they wished to have constituted a church at Providence, they could have been dismissed by letter and organized one in due order. . . .

There we have in his own words what J.R. Graves considered "due order" in regard to church organization and how it will be followed by those who are "at heart a Baptist." On pages 35 and 36 of Old Landmarkism: What Is It? , J.R. Graves declared the right to "organize churches" to be one of "The Divine and inalienable rights of a Christian Church – alone." On page 36 he wrote:

If the church alone was commissioned to preserve and preach the gospel, then it is certain that no other organization has the right to preach it—to trench upon the divine rights of the church. A Masonic Lodge, no more than a Young Men’s Christian Association; an Odd-Fellows’ lodge or Howard Association, no more than a "Woman’s Missionary Board," have the least right to take the gospel in hand, select and commission ministers to go forth and preach it, administer its ordinances and organize churches.

What would J.R. Graves think of an attempt by two or three scripturally baptized believers "to trench upon the divine rights of the church" in merely covenanting themselves together in disregard of church authority and "due order"? One Baptist editor has written:

Those who are trying to blow brethren out of the saddle of orthodoxy by their insistence on chain-link successionism need to read these historians and their Bibles. They need also to produce evidence that what they insist upon in others THEY CAN PROVE IRREFUTABLY from Scripture and history for their own baptism and their congregation. Will your church bear an investigation of its historical links? Can you prove link-chain succession for your church for at least 400 years? 1,000 years? 1,500 years? To what church in the New Testament can you trace your lineage? Can you show which church, if it is not the Jerusalem congregation, voted to start the church named in the New Testament to which you trace your church?

On page 85 of Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, J.R. Graves wrote:

Nor do we admit the claims of the "Liberals" upon us, to prove the continuous existence of the church, of which we are a member, or which baptized us, in order to prove our doctrine of church succession, and that we have been scripturally baptized or ordained. As well might the Infidel call upon me to prove every link of my descent from Adam, before I am allowed to claim an interest in the redemptive work of Christ, which was confined to the family of Adam!

Certainly, not all Baptist writers and historians have endorsed or understood the doctrine of a chain-linked succession of church authority. Many admit to only a succession of baptism and/or doctrine. The same is true among Baptists today, but that does not negate the existence of the doctrine among us then any more than now. Some teach it, some hate it, and some just aren’t sure. Truth is seldom popular. Many of the favorite quotations of those who seek to discredit a chain-linked succession with writers of the past do not dispute it, when kept within their context, but in fact, are in our favor. One such favorite is that by David Benedict on page 51 of the 1848 edition of A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, where he wrote:

I shall not attempt to trace a continuous line of churches, as we can for a few centuries past in Europe and America. This is a kind of succession to which we have never laid claim; and, of course, we make no effort to prove it. We place no kind of reliance on this sort of testimony to establish the soundness of our faith or the validity of our administrations.

But there is more on that same page 51. David Benedict also stated:

The more I study the subject, the stronger are my convictions that, if all the facts in the case could be disclosed, a very good succession could be made out.

It is not my purpose to prove, nor intention to pretend, that all or even most Baptist writers of the past were in full agreement with our views on chain-link succession. I do believe that several have been misinterpreted and misrepresented by those trying to discredit chain-link successionism as something of recent origin, as hyper-landmarkism, and incompatible with historical Baptist doctrine and practice. I suspect that in many cases, Baptist writers of the past may have appeared somewhat timid of endorsing a chain-link succession in reaction to the misrepresentations of those who opposed the doctrine and made it out to be the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession. They were afraid of anything that might seem to identify them with the doctrines of Catholicism. On page 83 of Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, J.R. Graves wrote:

Landmark Baptists very generally believe that for the Word of the Living God to stand, and for the veracity of Jesus Christ to vindicate itself, the kingdom which He set up "in the days of John the Baptist," has had an unbroken continuity until now. I say kingdom, instead of succession of churches, for the sake of perspicacity. Those who oppose "church succession" confuse the unthinking, by representing our position to be, that the identical organization which Christ established—the First Church of Judea—has had a continued existence until to-day; or, that the identical churches planted by the apostles, or, at least, someone of them, has continued until now, and that Baptist ministers are successors of the apostles; in a word, that our position is the old Romish and Episcopal doctrine of apostolic succession. I have, for full a quarter of a century, by pen and voice, vehemently protested against these misrepresentations, as Baptists have for twice as many more, against the charge of teaching that no one can be saved without immersion, and quite as vainly; for those who oppose us seem determined to misrepresent, and will not be corrected.

It has been said that those who make history are usually not the ones who write about it. I have observed that many historical accounts of church organization have been written by persons of a later generation at the occasion of a church anniversary, or by the historian of an association. Those accounts are usually written in more romantic, fanciful, and sentimental language than would be used in the writing of church "minutes" and tend to give emphasis to ancestors who "covenanted together" or "formed themselves" and to the efforts of preachers who gathered them, or to the accomplishments of an association. When the actual minutes of the church organization can be read, the recognition of church authority is that which is emphasized. In the preface of A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, published in 1813, David Benedict wrote:

I have found it somewhat difficult to determine how to manage the business to my own satisfaction, respecting the histories of individual churches. There are now in all the Associations upwards of two thousand; to have given a detailed account of the origin, progress, and present circumstances of every one, would have made the work too voluminous and costly, and the narratives would have been so similar, that there would have been too great a sameness in them, to make them generally interesting.

For practical reasons, when writing of the finer details such as church organization, historians have been generally limited to second hand information obtained from relatives and associations of those written about. Later, in the same preface, David Benedict wrote:

My desire has been, to record on the page of history, important events, which were fast sinking into oblivion; to arrange in one view those which were already recorded, and to place the history of the American Baptists on such a foundation, that it may be continued by the future historian.

I have found it difficult in many cases, to fix the date of events, which have been taken from the enfeebled memories of the aged, or from documents in part obliterated, and throughout indefinite and obscure. Cases have not unfrequently occurred, where aged people could not perfectly agree among themselves respecting things which transpired in their youth. Correspondents have communicated accounts, which did not always agree with each other. Young men have stated things according to tradition, and old men according to their remembrance.

The account of the church in Providence, Rhode Island, as recorded by David Benedict, favors the myth that the first Baptist church in America was founded and pastored by Roger Williams at Providence. In The First Baptist Church in America, J.R. Graves gave documented proof that such is not the case. On page 485, volume1, 1813 edition, of A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, David Benedict wrote:

Thus far the history of this church has been transcribed from its records, which were set in order in 1775, by Rev. John Stanford, now of New York, who was then preaching with them. This account, up to Dr. Manning’s beginning in Providence, is found almost in the same form as here stated in Morgan Edward’s MS. History, &c. prepared in 1771. It was published in Rippon’s Register in 1802, and as it is well written, I have chosen to copy it without scarce any alteration.

J.R. Graves recognized some inconsistencies and errors in the account and in the course of his investigation and research of the matter, he visited David Benedict at his home in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. On page 21 of The First Baptist Church in America, J.R. Graves wrote the following in regard to their discussion of the matter:

Touching the conflicting claims of the Newport and Providence churches above referred to, and his verdict in favor of Providence, expressed in his History, he remarked, that "it was his rule not to go behind the records of the churches. His verdict was in accordance with the records of the Providence church. If he had erred he had been misled by those records, and with no intention to disparage the claims of the Newport church. He admitted to the growing perplexities that had for years confused and unsettled his mind as to the correctness of Mr. James [John] Stanford’s history of the Providence church, compiled without any church record, and a full century after its origin. It would not be strange, but indeed probable, that errors, and not a few, would occur."

The record of the organization of the Welshtract Church has been used by some in dispute of a chain-linked succession. It is a good example of how that we can so easily take the words of others and, even unconsciously, make them seem to say what we want them to. It is easy, with good intentions, to read more into what an author has written, or to what a historian has recorded, than what was intended.

In 1701, sixteen people were organized as a Baptist congregation in South Wales, and came, as a complete body with Thomas Griffith as pastor, to America on the ship named James and Mary. In History of the Welsh Baptists, J. Davis says, on page 72:

In the year 1701, he [Thomas Griffiths] and fifteen of the members of the church went to America in the same vessel. They formed themselves into a church at Milford, in the county of Pembroke, South Wales, and Thomas Griffiths became their pastor in the month of June, 1701. They embarked on board the ship James and Mary, and on the 8th day of September following, they landed at Philadelphia. The brethren there treated them courteously, and advised them to settle about Pennepeck. Thither they went, and there continued about a year and a half. During that time twenty-one persons joined them, but finding it inconvenient to abide there, they purchased land in the county of Newcastle, and gave it the name of Welsh Tract, where they built a meeting-house, and Thomas Griffiths labored among them as their pastor till he died, on the 25th of July, 1725, aged eighty years.

Notice that Davis stated that "they formed themselves into a church," a statement similar to that which is often made in the various "Baptist histories" that we read. On pages 106 and 107 of The American Baptist Heritage in Wales, we have, preserved by Joshua Thomas, the following account of the "extracts" translated into English by later members of that congregation from their records which were kept in Welsh until 1732:

In the year 1701, there was a number of the members of the Baptist churches in the counties of Pembroke, Carmarthen, and Cardigan inclined to emigrate to Pennsylvania. Having consulted among themselves, they laid the case before the churches, who agreed to grant them leave to go. But the churches considered that as they were sixteen members and one of them a minister, it would be better for them to be constituted a church in their native land; they agreed and did so. Being thus formed into a church, they gave them a letter of recommendation for their reception as brethren, should they meet any Christians of the same faith and practice. They sailed from Milford-Haven in June that year, and arrived in Philadelphia in September.

They met with kind reception from the church meeting at Pennepec and Philadelphia. They spent about a year and a half in that vicinity, in a dispersed way. These new comers kept their meetings weekly and monthly among themselves: but held Christian conference with the other church, with which they wholly agreed but in the article of Laying on of hands, to which the newcomers strictly adhered: but the majority of the other church opposed it. In the year and a half that way they had two and twenty added to them, which probably made 38. But at the end of this term, these with others from Wales, purchased a large tract of land in Newcastle county on Delaware, which in their own language, they called Rhandiry cymrn, but being turned into English, Welshtract. This was in the year 1703, and in the same year they built their meeting house. In the extract the names of the sixteen are given, there Thomas Griffiths is called pastor; and Elisha Thomas is called Elijeus Thomas. There also they give the names of the two and twenty added, as above. . . .

The record that ". . . they laid the case before the churches, who agreed to grant them leave to go. But the churches considered that as they were sixteen members and one of them a minister, it would be better for them to be constituted a church in their native land; they agreed and did so. Being thus formed into a church, they gave them a letter of recommendation for their reception as brethren, should they meet any Christians of the same faith and practice" is very consistent with the beliefs of chain-link succession and the doctrine commonly referred to as "church authority." It sounds formal and official to me. They very well may not have voted by an up-lifted right hand, they may have nodded their heads, taken turns speaking their minds on the matter, signed their names, or whatever, but we can see that that church was organized with the intention and approval of already existing churches. As to such questions as whether that the consent of two churches gave them "double authority," surely common sense reveals the absurdity of the question.

And on the next page:

There were thirteen added to them the first after their abode at the Tract, two by letters from Wales, and eleven by Baptism, and in a few years they became numerous, many were added to them from different churches in Wales, and large additions yearly by personal profession before the church; so that in a few years a hundred and twelve were added to the first thirty-eight, and many of these were gifted brethren, in all 150. But probably some had died.

Also on page 108, Thomas says:

Mr. Morgan Edwards, author of the Materials [Materials Toward a History of the Baptists of Pennsylvania], in a letter to the writer of this dated 5th Nov. 1784, says "Mr. Joshua Edwards was born in Pembrokeshire Feb. 11th 1703, landed (in America) about 1721, was ordained July 15th 1751, was alive in 1772, had eleven children, but had not the particular care of any church." Then in the same letter he informs, that about the year 1737, about thirty members from Welshtract removed to Peedee, in South Carolina, and there formed a church in 1738, which church is now (said he then) shot into five branches, that is Cashawa, Catfish, Capefear, Linches Creek, and Mar's Bluff or Cliff. Mr. Joshua Edwards is one of the ministers who served those churches lately.

Mr. (now Dr.) J. Jones, in a letter of June 1784, said that he assisted at the constitution of a branch of Welshtract church, in Nov. 1780. That new church is called London tract; the minister Mr. Thomas Fleeson. He mentions another church formed out of it, but does not give the name.

Statements above, such as that the church at Peedee "shot into five branches," and "he assisted at the constitution of a branch of Welshtract church," and "he mentions another church formed out of it," are consistent with the teachings of a chain-link church succession.

For several years, many Baptists came to America from Wales and England. Many Baptist preachers were sent from the congregations there, to work in America. From pages 76 and 77 of The American Baptist Heritage in Wales is the following letter of recommendation, which is a sample of the order practiced among the Lord's congregations:

South Wales in Great Britain

The church of Jesus Christ meeting at Swansea, in Glamorganshire, teaching believers baptism, laying on of hands, the doctrine of personal election, and final perseverance. To any church of Christ Jesus in the province of Pennsylvania, in America, of the same faith and order to whom this may concern. Send Christian Salutation: Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied unto you from God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dearly beloved, Brethren in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Where as our dearly beloved brethren and sisters by name, Hugh David, an ordained minister, and his wife Margaret, Anthony Matthew, Simon Matthew, Morgan Thomas, Samuel Hugh, Simon Butler, Arthur Melchoir, and Hannah his wife, design by God's permission to come with Mr. Sereney to the fore said province of Pennsylvania: This is to testify unto you, that all the above names are in full communion with us, and we commit them, all of them to your Christian care, beseeching you therefore to receive them in the Lord, watch over them, and perform all Christian duties toward them as becometh Christians to their fellow members. So we commit you and them to the Lord, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you and them up in the most holy faith. May the God of peace ever sanctify you wholly, and that your, and their spirits, souls, and bodies, may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ shall be the earnest prayers of your brethren in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel.

Dated the 30th of the 7th month 1710: signed at our meeting by a part for the whole:

Morgan Jones, John David, William Matthew, Jacob Morgan, Owen Dowle, Morgan Nichols, John Howell, Hugh Matthew, Robert Edwards, John Hughs, Philip Matthew, Thomas Morgan, William Morgan, (and another name not legible).

Now, notice the next paragraph, which was written by me on page 299 of Fully After the LORD. It was written in support of the belief of chain-link church succession and in reference to the churches mentioned above. I held the same beliefs then that I do now in that matter. I can now see that some day someone could take such a statement as that and try to show that I believed that a number of baptized believers could form themselves into a church without the intent and approval of an already existing church. That is not, and was not, my belief.

By migration, sometimes by choice and many times by persecution, and the mission efforts of these and other congregations and their descendant congregations, God used them to take the truth into New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, the Carolinas, and other surrounding territories. People who were saved by God's grace and baptized under the authority granted these congregations by Jesus, covenanted themselves together and were organized into new congregations of Jesus' after the New Testament pattern.

My statement there that "people who were saved by God's grace and baptized under the authority granted these congregations by Jesus, covenanted themselves together and were organized into new congregations of Jesus' . . ." was in no way meant to imply that they did so without the intentional efforts and approval of other churches, but assumed as a given that "after the New Testament pattern" demands the presence of proper church authority in the matter.


There may be instances wherein Jesus has removed the candlestick from a congregation by causing His true disciples to "come out from among them" (2 Corinthians 6:17). That being the Lord’s doing, the authority came out with them even though they may have been a small minority and dispossessed of the property. Even in such a case, the wise and God honoring action is to unite with another church that is sound, or to seek its approval and guidance, and reorganize.