header image
Home arrow 50 Yrs Among The Baptists arrow Witnesses For Authority
Witnesses For Authority PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sister Cheri Thomas   

The first Western civilization known to have developed the art of navigation at sea was the Phoenician Empire, some 4,000 years ago. Early sailors accomplished nautical navigation by making observations of the sun and stars to estimate directions. Latitude can be estimated by measuring the angle of degrees of altitude of the North Star above the horizon. Longitude is much harder, and could only be grossly guessed at, as it's measurement is made by comparison of the difference in time between the location of the traveling ship between any two given points. Measurement of time was highly inaccurate, and even being off by a factor of 10 minutes per 24 hours would translate into a computational error of 150 miles or more per day. This severely limited global navigational abilities, and pilots assiduously sought to overcome this hindrance through the centuries. One of the early methods they develo ped an d employed was in the keeping of navigational logbooks, or journals.
In the Middle Ages, sea pilots kept and utilized a "rutter", a word likely derived from the French routier and the Dutch ruiter, meaning "something that finds a way". It was a pilot's log book kept by nautical navigators. Pilots' rutters were highly classified, jealously guarded, and greatly desired documents that were actually considered State secrets in those days. Keep in mind that Spain, England, Holland, and France were all in fierce competition with each other for control of the high seas in terms of military and trade might. These rutters contained the cumulative nautical navigational knowledge and experience of the Pilot(s) who had written them. Often they were handed down from Master to Apprentice Pilots, and were greatly cherished for the invaluable information contained therein. The rutter was essential, but woe unto the Pilot who looked to the rutter rather than to objective navigational m ethods to determine his way! The North Star was the true and infallible rule; the rutter merely communicated experiences of those who had gone before.
Ahh, but therein is the rub! For the information contained in the rutter was only as true and worthy as the intellectual integrity of the Pilot who wrote it. Though they undertook to set down as scrupulously exacting and accurate information as was possible, they were influenced greatly by the level of education, superstition, political and religious climate and events of their day. In old ones found in museums today, one can observe such entries as "Here there be monsters.... ", and similar notations, which really means, "we don't know what we saw, but beware."
Modern nautical navigation techniques, while still utilizing sea charts, do so for different reasons, in this age of satillite technology and Global Positioning Systems. Nautical navigators today can calculate their precise location to within a few feet, and the use of the rutter has vanished into history.
The Bible is our infallible rule of navigation; our "GPS", our never-changing "North Star". The Bible is Sola scriptura; our sole and final authority in matters of faith, doctrine and practice. I have never heard a true, orthodox, orderly Old Baptist say otherwise.
Does this mean that the "rutters" of those that have gone before us are without value, then? I don't believe so. While it is imperative to clearly delineate what these writings are not useful for, I believe that it is of value to define what good purpose they do serve.
Consider the battle of Thermopylae. Some 7000 Greeks held off nearly 80,000 Persians for three days, and did so with such ferocity and success, that their fame lives on today. The entire Persian force was subsequently destroyed in a pitched naval battle, and retreated in defeat and disgrace, returning to their home. (Yes, I know the legend of the 300, but likely closer to the truth is that there were some 300 Spartans, some 700 Thespians, and some 6000 other Greek allies, including those conscripted from Thebes.)  The military strategies used then and the example of their courage in the face of overwhelming odds is still considered and studied by modern military strategists to this very day. Is there use and value in the study of this "rutter" of history? Undoubtedly so. Would this information serve to rule or influence how the military is governed in our day? Of course not.
There is much to be gleaned and learned from the objective study of our own history. The paths that our forefathers have tread before us are indeed fraught with human error, superstition, false information, and failed perspectives. Their writings are subjective accounts of personal experience and actions, and have been set down with various amounts of emotion and exactitude. They are also a "rutter" of landmarks of experience and events that we can learn from, if we have and utilize intelligence, discernment, common good sense, and sharp understanding of the proper use and purpose of such information. As Paul exhorted his sons in the ministry to "be ye followers of me", so should we also diligently consider the paths tread by our forefathers insofar as their example of lives lived in service to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
Sister Cheri Thomas


Next >


The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.