BIBLICAL SUCCESSION OR AN
APOSTATE CHURCH REFORMED?
—SOME SOBERING REFLECTIONS
by J. L. Vipperman
The article presented here is an abridgment of an article originally entitled "A Seven-fold Statement Evidencing Church Perpetuity Through the Centuries" written by Dr. Vipperman sometime early this century. Dr. Vipperman was born in the 1880s and died in the early 1960s, and was for a number of years pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Spartanburg South Carolina which was said to be the third largest church in the state at the time. He wrote many valuable articles on the church and on various other subjects, many of which are still unpublished.
This present article is especially timely today in view of the fact that the "eternal purpose" of God is so closely related to this subject (see Eph. 3:10,11), and thus it may be the single most critical body of truth to both the spiritual and physical well-being of the world today. Moreover, the indifference to this subject, which so greatly grieved Dr. Vipperman in his day, has increased ten-fold within the last half-century along with Christian discord and the moral and spiritual crisis we are presently facing.
To every regenerate soul contacted along the journey through time I would like to speak a faithful word. It pertains to the fact that the character of God and the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures is, by the infinite intelligence, joined to the doctrine and fact of church perpetuity or succession from the apostles to the present hour. While the church has journeyed under various names (the Montanists, the Novations, the Donatists, the Paulicians, the Albigenses, the Cathari, the Arnoldists, the Petrobrusians, the Henricians, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and Baptists), it has always held the New Testament norm as a Baptist people. Touching this triumphant and soul-elevating fact, I wish to say a faithful word.
First of all I wish to say that all of us who are fair minded and desirous of knowing fully all the facts involved in this deeply significant and far reaching question of church perpetuity should carefully, prayerfully, and open-mindedly read My Church, by J. B. Moody under the five following points: 1) Church Perpetuity is Scriptural (pp. 132-152). 2) Church Perpetuity is Reasonable (pp. 159-191). 3) Church Perpetuity is Credible (pp. 192-206). 4) Church Perpetuity is Historical (pp. 207-306). 5) Church Perpetuity is Conclusive (pp. 307-325).
THE CHURCH SYMBOLIZED AS A WIFE
I would like to take a second step with you on the Scriptures and church perpetuity. You can but be powerfully impressed, that is to all who love the Lord and Saviour, with the fact of Christ's presenting the church question under the imagery of man and wife as submitted in Ephesians 5:21-33 with Genesis 2:24. This picture, hold in mind, was in the mind of God when the Eden story was being formed, which heads the human race. Here many things rise to claim our reverential attention:
1) The invisible existence [of Eve] in Adam before the external manifestation of her external relation to Adam. So God is here, in symbol and doctrine, pointing out that one must be regenerated, that is, "in Christ" before he is to have a manifested external relation in the church.
2) God had all this in mind as the workings of God in Eden were going on. For instance, to illustrate, the exegetical value of Ephesians 5 pushes you out into the conversion of Paul and the founding of the seven churches of Asia as a thoughtful reading of Ephesians 5 involves and points out.
3) All things and all relations must be subjected to church fidelity (as shown in Eph. 5:21-33; cf. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5-9; Mark 10:6-12). Here, 4,000 years from Eden, Christ is reemphasizing the unchangeableness of the principle of fidelity.
4) Marriage is made to symbolize the relation between Christ and His church. Now note a reflection: If a husband does not do all he can to protect his wife, it is either because he lacks the power or is unfaithful.
THE SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS OF CHURCH APOSTASY
Now Christ promised to be with this wife every day (Matt. 28:18-20). Observe here a question: when one contends for the apostasy of the bride, the wife of Christ, he is thereby saying, doctrinally, that if the wife is dead one man has the same right as another to rise up and take the wife's place since the husband has the right to remarriage in the event of death. So you can see the serious involvements of the question of church apostasy. For a husband to take the love that he owes his wife and give it to a woman who is not his wife would be called a crime unspeakable in the eyes of a blessed society.
Now then, suppose one should take the love he owes to the church of Jesus Christ and bestow it upon an institution which vies with His church and which teaches and practices things which would supplant His church, his offense would be more condemnable than the literal case of husband and wife because one is dealing with the physical while the other deals with eternal and spiritual values. I humbly ask all who love the Lord, ought not we as Christians to be serious and thoughtful indeed about this church question?
Now look at a brief illustration of this principle. "A wife is 'off on a visit.1 To steal the wife's place, a woman circulates the report that the wife has been lost at sea. The woman knows this report is necessary to make room for her. So, every new sect-builder and new sect (and sects now number hundreds) knowing there is no room for another Bride of Christ, while the first is alive or true to Him, proclaim the death or the unfaithfulness of His first Bride" (Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity or History, p. 33).
Now observe this fact: the Lord promised his wife. His bride, that He would be with her all the days (Matt. 28:18-20). Now He could not be with something which did not exist. That is settled once and for all….If Christ could not protect his wife from death it would have to be for one or two reasons: a) because He lacked the power — in which case you de-throne God; or b) He would reveal unfaithfulness — which would entitle her to remarriage. In any event you completely annihilate God, because He could neither tell a story nor be unfaithful (Psa. 89:33; Heb. 6:18-20).
"Someone said that 'Baptist succession has not yet been proven, and we very humbly add that nothing vital depends on proving it."
"Perhaps not. Yet the honor, power, majesty, glory and dominion of Jesus Christ depends on the fact. If succession is not a fact, then those who have fallen asleep in Jesus have perished. He promised to keep His church, and if He has not, either His power or veracity has failed, and in either case, we are without hope in the world. If He did not keep His bride in exile when all the world persecuted her — when she counted not even life itself dear unto her but left all and clung to Him and trusted Him; if He did not keep her then, it was either because He would not, or could not — either of which would be fatal to our hope" (Moody, pp. 149, 150).
ALL "CHURCHES" OF REFORMED OR POST-REFORMATION ORIGIN BASED ON THEORY OF APOSTASY AND REFORMATION
Modern "churches" are essentially based on the infidel assumption of the apostasy, or harlotry of the blessed Bride or church of Christ. Please note that the [belief in the] apostasy or death of the churches of Christ in the Dark Ages or in any other time is the road traveled by some of our own blessed people, and it is lamentable to point out that this is the road also traveled by skeptics. You will please note the following statements: "Voltaire said the church would be extinct before A.D. 1800. Robert Ingersoll, and every infidel lecturer and writer, proclaim the doctrine of the apostasy" (Jarrel, p. 32).
Why does David (II Sam. 12) wish Uriah out of the way? Simply because he wants Uriah's place as husband of Bathsheba. Why do people teach the doctrine of church apostasy or the death of the churches of Christ? Because they thereby say "I am not a church of Christ, and if the churches of Christ died I have as much right to be a church as anybody else." Hence, all of our blessed Baptist people who believe in and teach church apostasy or death thereby say [as do the Protestants] that Baptist churches are not [inherently] churches of Christ and that the death of His [original] churches thereby gives us [a belated] opportunity to lay valid claims to the fact that we are churches of Christ.
The doctrine of the death of the churches of Christ or of religious persecution — each of them say: I am not a church and I will persecute if the opportunity arises. "The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" (John 16:2). Hence the ritualistic Hebrews slew the Son of God and yet at the same time said: "I cannot violate my formal religion (taking the body of Christ down from the cross before the Sabbath) though I can crucify the Son of God without compunction of conscience" (see John 19:31-36).
All outside of our blessed denomination hold either doctrinally or practically to the doctrine of church apostasy. The [theory of] convergence, submergence, amalgamation and identification of all the churches of the New Testament with the Roman hierarchy In the "Dark Ages" Is an absolute contradiction of what the New Testament teaches….
Some within our fold hold, to our sorrow, to church apostasy. You had as well shake a red rag In the face of the sacred animal of the Egyptians as to talk church perpetuity to some of our own people. This Is a great sorrow to us, and a sorrow to them personally, and a sorrow for their lack of Information on the one hand or their unwillingness to believe on the other.
This doctrine is the mark of the perpetuity of new sects and sectarianism (Jarrel, pp. 33-37). So if they did apostatize then they did wrong; and if you follow them, you reject the Bible as a standard of right and follow them in the wrong….
THE INTEGRITY OF CHRIST AT ISSUE
No one ever died in the presence of Christ or could do so. So if Christ did not prevent the death of His churches one of three things or all of them would be true: 1) He would break His vow and fall In the fulfillment of His promise. 2) He would lack power. 3) He would be unwilling to do so — He could have presented their death but would not.
Either one of these items of belief delivers you to Inescapable logical atheism….
Christ in Matthew 16:18 said that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against [ the church ]." How did It come to pass that Christ spoke beyond the extent of His Intelligence, not observing that the gates of hell could prevail against His church? How do you explain that Christ did not know that the gates of hell could prevail against His blessed church and that the gates of hell were able to bring His wife or church to her death as claimed by the errorists of church apostasy.
O Shade of Aristotle, whither hast thou gone? Can you, as a child of God, believe any such folly? Can you deliver your Lord to any such embarrassment? Then, what about Hebrews 6:18f? May I kindly ask you? Are you prepared In the light of these Scriptures to believe that Satan is more powerful than the Son of God and God the Son? Satan would have to obtain the Master's property (Luke 11:21- 23). If the gates of hell can prevail, there Is pronounced an eternal benediction on the hallelujahs of heaven; and the silence of heaven is left to bear witness to the weakness and defeat of God and the strength and victory of hell in an exchange of sovereignty from the Triune God to the prince of power of darkness and thus mock forever the dying groans of God's one and only remedy for sin. Thus there would be brought about the strangest and most absolute reversal in which ... the annihilation and silence of heaven [would be] left to testify to the victory of hell and mock forever the whole theme of redemption.
A CASE OF INSURMOUNTABLE DIFFICULTY
It requires the same power to resurrect as if there had been no existence (Rom. 4:17). New Testament churches are institutions which find their divine origin in the New Testament and, therefore, rest on the Scriptures as the sole and final authority of what they believe and teach, and the Scriptures are the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.
Denominations are human Institutions and organizations which find their origin in the bosom of Rome and therefore rest upon Rome and a traditional interpretation of the Scriptures as final authority of faith and practice.
Churches, being institutions of life, are possessors of divine life (I Pet. 2:4-9). Then to say that they all died is to say that no such institutions are now in existence or are possible, unless men are able to raise the dead — to turn death into life….
If God could not then create [churches] by the agency of John the Baptist or by the apostles He cannot do it now, or else God would change. "He set some in the church, first apostles…."
They were placed therein by God Himself (I Cor. 12:28; Mark 3:14). So how do you now show that human agency is Involved In the creation of a church that died during the Dark Ages or any other period suggested by those who belong to such schools? The church was organized fifteen months before the Lord addressed the apostles in Matthew 16:12-23, and all the apostles had a church membership of fifteen months standing when these words were addressed to them. Why, therefore, would there be all this sentimental twaddle, which has only darkened counsel bywords without knowledge, when a simple question of an anachronism rules the whole contention out of court in the realm of hermeneutics?
If Christ could not by an agent bring into being His churches originally. He cannot, by an agent do so now. Therefore, if the churches all died He will have to repeat the whole story of His entrance into the world or else the world is without New Testament churches.
But if you repeat the incarnation you destroy God (Heb. 7:27; 9:28; I Pet. 3:18; Rom. 6:9,10). "Once for all (Heb. 10:10, 12, 14) reigns and rings out in all the purpose, doctrine and fact of the whole Scripture of truth like the voice of many waters, as the thunderings from Sinai whose craggy head ever lifts itself over the hills of time... saying to all the annals of history and to the endless ages of God's measureless glory In eternity — Once for All! He told death good-bye forever on Calvary (Rev. 1:17. 18) in the dying groans of God Incarnate in the Son. Yes, once, but with an endless effect and an undying efficacy. Christ died for our sins once and for all. Let hell feel its defeat forever and heaven celebrate the undying victory of His death through the sins of the world. One thousand years of resurrection glory will settle on the brow and encircle the head of these New Testament institutions in the world. All the earth should vibrate with the triumphant strain of the wonderful old hymn: "Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power. Till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more." If the church question was scripturally settled practically all of our religious problems and differences would be at an end.
Have you this truth settled in mind?...
Think for one moment: the churches of Christ died? This is the saddest funeral that ever occurred in the thinking of the Triune God. The body of Christ dead! Show the place of its inhumation and there we will go to weep.
Who only could constitute a church? Who only could give a pattern of the Tabernacle and the Temple?
Adam and Eve were not the outcome of the architectural dexterity of man. They came here by no human intervention. Hence the parallel of Ephesians 5 and the churches. The churches of the New Testament are different from Roman Catholicism in pre-reformation times and from Protestantism in the post-reformation time. Adam and Eve were not brought into being by human intervention. Keep this in mind when studying Ephesians 5.
A FACT OF HISTORY
Note the testimony of two outstanding Dutch scholars, Drs. Dermout and Ypeij. "With the archives of Europe before them, Drs. Ypeij and Dermout wrote: 'Gerchied de Nederl, Hervormde Kerk,' in which they say: "We have already seen that the Baptists — those who in former times were named Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites — were originally Waldenses, the men who in the history of the church, in time so far back, have obtained a well-deserved renown. In consequence, the Baptists may be regarded as being from of old the only religious denomination that have continued from the times of the Apostles, as a Christian society who have kept the evangelical faith pure through all the ages hitherto.
"The constitution, never perverted internally or externally, of the society of the Baptists, serves them as a proof of that truth, contested by the Romish church, that the reformation of religion, such as was brought about in the sixteenth century, was necessary, was indispensable, and serves, too, as the refutation, at the same time, of the Roman Catholic delusive fancy, that their own is the oldest church society.' The title of this work in English is 'History of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands.' It was published 1819, at Breda."
Then Jarrel adds: "We have now seen that through the Montanists, the Novatians, the Donatists, the Paulicians, the Albigenses, the Cathari, the Arnoldists, the Petrobrusians, the Henricians and the Waldenses — all essentially identical — the Anabaptists, or Baptists of the sixteenth century have a Church Perpetuity to the church of the first century" [Baptist Church Perpetuity or History, pp. 315,316).
In closing we join Dr. J. Wheaton Smith, D.D., of Philadelphia, in saying: "Why, sir, if between us and the apostolic age there spanned a fathomless abyss, into which the silent darkness of intervening history had fallen, with a Baptist Church on this side, and a New Testament on the other, we should boldly bridge the gulf and look for the records of our birth among the hills of Galilee." So that Baptist churches are neither of human nor of modern origin. "For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth" (Isa. 62:1).