Landmarkism or Trail of Blood
One of the 4 theories of the history of the Baptist Church has been labeled the ‘Trail of Blood’. It asserts that there is an unbroken succession of Baptist Churches from the time of Jesus’ apostles to the present day. Adherents claim Baptists have existed since the time of John the Baptist.
This view was put forth in a pamphlet in 1931 entitled ‘Trail of Blood’. It was written by J. M. Carroll. He looked through church history and concluded that since Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “. . . I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” this meant that there would be a church holding to Baptist beliefs throughout all of history.
The Landmark Baptists claim some of the well known churches in history as their predecessors. Of these predecessors there are: the Montanists, the Cathari, the Albigenses, the Paulicians, the Waldensians, the Novatians, and the Anabaptists.
A summary and evaluation of the Trail of Blood
I would vehemently disagree with these conclusions for one significant reason ALL but one (the Waldensians) were not only labeled heresies by the church but they taught unbiblical theologies.
The Montanists believed they were direct recipients of words of faith from the Holy Spirit (when one spoke in their trance they were speaking the exact words of the Spirit); The Albigenses were an offshoot of the Cathari and both believed in a cosmological dualism (there are 2 equal gods: one good and one evil, who continuously fight for supremacy over the world), the Paulicians also held to many Manichean theologies like the aforementioned dualism; and the Novatians believed that the lapsed (those who denied Christ under persecution, or knowingly sinned) were not allowed to reenter their church, for they wanted a pure church.
I would affirm there have been people and sometimes groups of Christ followers who believed what was understood as true biblical truth for their time, but I deny that there is an unbroken line of ‘Baptists’ throughout history. But this is one of the theories as to the origin of the Baptist Church.
As I speak and teach about Church History I am often asked about recommendations for people who want to study on their own. To be honest whenever I speak I recommend these books even when people do not ask about them. Some people see me as an ‘expert’ in this area and want to know some of the books and websites that I read to gain information. My desire is to inform the listeners of some well written (and in some cases not too detailed) books or websites in this field.
What are some of the books I read?
Well, throughout the time I have spent studying and researching in the area of Church History, I have compiled quite a short list of books (my list should probably be longer and is getting longer but right now I consistently rely on a few of my standards). There truly are a plethora of resources, so from every church historian you would probably get a totally different list. This is my short list of just a few books that I read on a fairly regular basis.
- Exploring Church History by James P. Eckman. This book is only around 100 pages in length but it does introduce readers to major characters, movements, and events in the big story of the Church.
- Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones. I have used this as a textbook in a high school setting. The author does a good job of relating the major people and ideas and how they relate to the big picture. This book is only 200 pages long but includes small thought bubbles with recommendations for further study. It even gives websites addresses with relevant information.
- Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This is probably the most thorough treatment of Church History contained in one volume. It obviously does not cover all aspect and people but does a very good job covering the information with a ‘broad brush stroke’.
What are some of the websites?
I visit a few websites on a regular basis to acquaint myself with new topics or learn new stuff about topics which I all ready know some things. As with the books, there are not many sites, but I do visit these regularly.
- http://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org – This is website from people who publish Christian History Magazine . It not only gives you information on previous issues of the magazine, but it is broken down into teaching sessions (based on time periods). These teaching sessions have some excerpts from primary source materials with explanations and discussion questions. I have used these in class as assignments for my students to be exposed to and interacting with original writings.
- http://www.didymus.org/ – This is the website from Dr. Byard Bennett who teaches Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids Michigan. The information Dr. Bennett puts in here is well thought out and intriguing to ponder. He also quotes prayers from church fathers, which are insightful and inspirational.
- http://www.earlychristianwritings.com – For reading a translation of original texts from the early church fathers I always go to this website. It gives you the complete text with little commentary. It is easy to read the writings to get the flow of the author.
As stated earlier, this is a short list and by no means an exhaustive list. I read other writings sporadically but this is my go to list.
Last but not least my blog
I also recommend that people read my blog for information about Church History. I attempt to write on topics in a manner that is not to academic. I believe many people would like to know more about Church History but do not want to read thousands of pages in hundreds of books. I see my job as breaking up large amounts of information into bite sized pieces.
Please leave me some suggestions from your reading list.
If you have any additions or recommendations of your own I would love to read about them and recommend them to others. Please contact me in the comments section so we can communicate. I would be happy to exchange comments.
Soli Deo Gloria