Baptist

Charles Spurgeon on “Duty-Faith”

2020-04-22 09.22.38On May 8th, 1864, Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon from Titus 1:2 provocatively titled “What God Cannot Do!” The text refers to God who “cannot lie.” After denouncing the pervasiveness of lying among humans (including an interesting reference to the deceitfulness of King James “whose name dishonours our English Bible”), Spurgeon expounds upon the text’s teaching of the impossibility of God lying. The “first practical conclusion” drawn from the text in the final point of application touches upon the issue of whether it is a duty for sinners to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Spurgeon finds help against the hyper-Calvinistic teaching that since sinners lack the ability to believe the gospel, they are not therefore responsible. Spurgeon infers that the Scripture’s teaching that God cannot lie requires one to hold to “duty-faith.”

Brethren, if it be so that God cannot lie, then it must be the natural duty of all his creatures to believe him. I cannot resist that conclusion. It seems to me to be as clear as noonday, that it is every man’s duty to believe truth, and that if God must speak and act truth, and truth only, it is the duty of all intelligent creatures to believe him. Here is “Duty-faith” again, which some are railing at, but how they can get away from it, and yet believe that God cannot lie, I cannot understand. If it be not my duty to believe in God, then it is no sin for me to call God a liar. Will anyone subscribe to that—that God is a liar? I think not; and if to think God to be a liar would be a most atrocious piece of blasphemy, then it can only be so on the ground that it is the natural and incumbent duty of every creature understanding the truthfulness of God to believe in God. If God has set forth the Lord Jesus Christ as the propitiation for sin, and has told me to trust Christ, it is my duty to trust Christ, because God cannot lie; and though my sinful heart will never believe in Christ as a matter of duty but only through the work of the Holy Spirit, yet faith does not cease to be a duty; and whenever I am unbelieving and have doubts concerning God, however moral my outward life may be, I am living in daily sin; I am perpetrating a sin against the first principles of morality. If I doubt God, as far as I am able I rob him of his honour, and stab him in the vital point of his glory; I am, in fact, living an open traitor and a sworn rebel against God, upon whom I heap the daily insult of daring to doubt him. O my hearers, there are some of you who do not believe in Christ; I wish you would look at your character and position in this light. You are not trusting in Christ for your salvation. Remember, “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar;” those are John’s own inspired words, and you are, every day that you are not a believer in Christ, virtually writing upon your doorpost, and saying with your mouth, “God is a liar; Christ is not able to save me; I will not trust him ; I do not believe God’s promise; I do not think he is sincere in his invitation to me to come to Christ; I do not believe what God says.” Remember that you are living in such a state as this, and may God the Holy Ghost impress you with a sense of the sin of that state, and feeling this your sin and misery, I pray God to lead you to cry, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” This, then, is our first practical conclusion from the fact that God cannot lie.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “What God Cannot Do!” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 10 (1864), 261-262.

The entire sermon is available online from The Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Seminary.

“A Tailor, a Tinker and a Cobbler”: Guest Post by Austin Walker

keach__19608.1422658601Today is 29 February. It is a leap year. So was 1640.  On 29 February 1640 in the remote Buckinghamshire parish of Stoke Hammond Benjamin Keach was born to John and Joyce Keach. He became a prominent preacher in London after 1668. He was the most prolific writer among the Particular Baptists in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, and one of the men who convened the 1689 National Assembly of Particular Baptist churches, signing the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

At his trial before the Aylesbury Assizes in 1664 he endured rough justice, was subsequently fined and pilloried. The rector of Stoke Hammond had brought Keach to the attention of the authorities, belittling him as an uneducated tailor, ‘and one that is a teacher in a new fangled way.’ In the indictment read out at his trial, he was charged with saying (among many other things) that ‘Christ has not chosen the wise and prudent men after the flesh, nor great doctors and rabbis: not many mighty and noble, saith Paul, are called: but rather the poor and despised, even tradesmen and suchlike…’

Twelve years previously on 28 November 1628, in the parish of Elstow in neighbouring Bedfordshire in a cottage near the hamlet of Harrowden, John Bunyan was born. His fame is greater than that of Benjamin Keach. He too was an ordinary man, a tinker by trade. He also suffered for his Christian faith.

Over a hundred years later, 16 August 1761 in the village of Paulerspury, in neighbouring Northamptonshire, William Carey was born. By trade he was a cobbler. He of course became famous as the man who took the gospel to the Indian sub-continent.

A tailor, a tinker, and a cobbler: ordinary men who became decided and influential Christians. The grace and power of God equipped them to be preachers of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Keach was right, ‘God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence, 1 Corinthians 1.27-29.

Austin Walker

If would like to read more about Keach then get hold of The Excellent Benjamin Keach, Joshua Press, 2015. Be sure you obtain the second edition.

200th Anniversary of Buck Run Baptist Church

Cover of BRBC History

Cover of forthcoming history of Buck Run Baptist Church

On January 31, 1818 (200 years ago today), the “Baptist Church of Christ at Buck Run” was constituted. The initial meeting was held in the home of Isaac Wilson near Buck Run Creek on the Forks of the Elkhorn in Franklin County, Kentucky. Wilson was one of twenty-one charter members of the church. Present at this gathering were some of the most prominent of the Baptist preachers in Kentucky. The pioneer preacher William Hickman was there and served as the moderator for the meeting. Silas Mercer Noel, a Circuit Court Judge turned preacher and one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Frankfort two years earlier) was there and served as the clerk for the meeting. Also present as a charter member was the inimitable John Taylor and his wife, Elizabeth.

Like all Baptist churches of the period, the church was formed with two primary documents—a confession of faith (what they agreed to believe together) and a church covenant (how they agreed to live together). Baptist churches are not formed based on geography or genealogy. In other words, a person does not become a member of a Baptist church simply by living in a certain area or by being born into a particular family. Baptist churches believe in what is called regenerate church membership. This means that only professing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who give credible evidence of that profession are admitted as members. Therefore, the only reason a Baptist church can exist is if a group of believers come together sharing a common set of beliefs (a confession of faith) and an agreement of how these believers are going to dwell together (a church covenant).

Although similar in form and content to other churches’ founding documents, the Buck Run documents were principally authored by the legendary Pioneer Kentucky Baptist preacher John Taylor. The sixty-five-year-old Taylor had by this point been laboring in gospel ministry for forty-five years. He was a well-respected leader among the Baptists who had seen many converted through his preaching and had helped to establish many churches. Taylor would later write that, in the constituting documents adopted by Buck Run, “the creed of my own heart on these subjects, is very [sic.] fully expressed.” He went on to say that these ideas were not a recent revelation to him, but instead reflected his “unwavering opinion from my youth.” In these documents, Taylor declared, one could “see the complexion of my whole soul in theology.” Although he had considered writing an explanation of the beliefs contained in these documents, he said “they stand explicit for themselves.” In these beliefs, Taylor said, “I have lived long, by them I expect to die, which I hope is not far distant.”[1]

Taylor would live another seventeen years to the age of eighty-four years. Those extended latter years were given in service to the Buck Run Church. A contemporary young man whose job it was to ring the court house bell to announce the beginning of preaching services for the various churches in the Frankfort area reminisced of how often he “hammered That old Cort [sic.] house Bell For … old man Tailor [sic.], “the Father of the Buck Run Church.”[2] Clearly, Taylor was recognized as the founding father of Buck Run by those in the community.

To read the church’s founding confession of faith, see here.

If you would like to pre-order a copy of this history, please comment below and I will send you the information on how to secure your copy at the special pre-release price of $25 (it will retail for $40).

[1] John Taylor, A History of Ten Baptist Churches, 2nd ed. (Bloomfield, KY: Will. H. Holmes, 1827), 199-200.

[2] Frances L. S. Dugan and Jacqueline P. Bull, ed., Bluegrass Craftsman: Being the Reminiscences of Ebenezer Hiram Stedman Papermaker, 1808-1815 (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1959), 80.

Articles of Faith of Buck Run Baptist Church (1818)

Article 1

Article 1 of the Buck Run Confession (1818)

On January 31, 1818, the Buck Run Baptist Church on the Forks of the Elkhorn in Franklin County, Kentucky, was constituted with twenty-one members. Like all Baptist churches of the period, the church was formed with two documents—a confession of faith (what they agreed to believe together) and a church covenant (how they agreed to live together). These documents were principally authored by the legendary Pioneer Kentucky Baptist preacher John Taylor, who was called by a contemporary “the Father of the Buck Run Church.” Taylor said that in these eight articles “the creed of [his] own heart on these matters is fully expressed.”

The confession as it appears in Buck Run’s Minute Book reads:

1st There is but one true and living God – the maker and preserver of all created things, visible and invisible; and that in this adorable Godhead there are three personal relations, a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And these three are one – equal in glory, dignity, eternity, and power. Though, as to the true humanity of Jesus Christ, He is often spoken of in the New Testament as inferior to the Father.

2nd That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as stated in their canonical books, is the uniform doctrine of faith; and that this sacred volume is the only infallible rule of all our faith and practice.

3rd That by the disobedience of the first Adam, all his posterity became guilty, and sinful in every part; and helpless as to any aid they can give, in the great work of converting their own souls.

4th That according to God’s foreknowledge, previous to time, he did predestinate his people to life, and they being chosen in Christ before the world began, He did as our second Adam, the Lord from heaven, assume their nature, yet without sin when he became incarnate, and by his obedience and atoning sacrifice brought in everlasting righteousness for the rebellious and where said blessed merit is imputed or applied to them, they are thereby justified before God and being efficaciously called by his grace shall finally persevere therein to eternal happiness and glory.

5th Since the day of the Apostles, there is no higher ecclesiastical authority on earth than the congregated worshiping church of Christ being God’s heritage here below, there [sp.] right is to govern themselves by their own voices, select their own officers as Bishops and Deacons, who are their servants for Christ’s sake. So that no conclave of bishops or any counsel [sp.] appointed by themselves or even their own officers have a right to lord it over the church.

6th That as it is appointed for men once to die so there shall be a resurrection of the just and unjust on which awful day Jesus Christ will judge all men in righteousness; when the wicked shall go into everlasting punishment and the righteous into life eternal.

7th We consider baptism valid only by profession of faith and immersing the whole body under water.

8th We most seriously consider the preaching of repentance, and the invitations of the gospel to all characters of men to be one of the most interesting subjects of the gospel ministry, and that they who persecute, neglect or disobey, the gospel more highly aggravate their own guilt.

Indian Creek Baptist Church, Cynthiana, Kentucky (Audio included)

received_2102075659817998.jpegIn the year 1790, the Indian Creek Baptist Church (Harrison County) was founded. They applied for membership to the Elkhorn Baptist Association the same year. They would remain in the Elkhorn Association until 1813 when they were founding members of the Union Association of Baptists. They were founded by Augustine Eastin, a man who later became a Unitarian under the influence of a governor of Kentucky who was a member of the Cowper Run Baptist Church where Eastin pastored.

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The church claims to have the longest run of continuous worship west of the Alleghenies. Indian Creek as experienced a revitalization in the last fifteen years or so through the ministry of Pastor Tom Moore. I was privileged to speak this past Sunday at their annual
Legacy Celebration. The theme this year was Kentucky Baptist history. I delivered two lectures/sermons for the event. I was asked to speak on Kentucky Baptist history, but it was in the context of a local church worship, so I tried to combine both. Below are links to the audio of the attempts.

  1. “The First Kentucky Baptists”
  2. “The Great Revival”

You should be able to download the MP3s.

 

Should Baptists Celebrate the Protestant Reformation?

This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, usually dated as having begun on October 31, 1517, when a German monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses for discussion on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. For this reason, many Baptist churches, including the one where I pastor, are preaching this month through the Solas of the Protestant Reformation, which summarize the key theological contribution of the Reformers that are still embraced today by Baptists (See below for a listing of the Solas.).

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century was many things, but it was not anything less than a recovery of the gospel. Imperfect men like Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in France and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland brought reformation and revival by emphasizing once again the authority of Scripture and a gospel of salvation of Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone so that God receives all the glory. Thus, the theology of the Reformation can be summarized by the following phrases:

  • By the Scriptures Alone / Sola Scriptura
  • By Grace Alone / Sola Gratia
  • By Faith Alone / Sola Fide
  • By Christ Alone / Solus Christus
  • To God Alone Be The Glory / Soli Deo Gloria

One result of the Protestant Reformation was the formation of the  Church of England (this was slightly more complicated due to Henry VIII’s involvement). Many within the Church of England continued to work to purify the church and some separated to form independent congregations. These independent congregations became either congregational or presbyterian in their church government. Among these separate congregations in the early to mid- 17th century, a number of the pastors and members of these churches became convinced by their study of Scripture that believers were the only proper subjects of baptism, then later that immersion was the only proper mode according to New Testament command and practice. These new Baptist churches which were formed are the direct spiritual forebears of modern-day English and American Baptist churches. For this reason, the core doctrines of the Reformation summarized in the Solas should be extremely important to us as Baptists.

This is not to say that the Reformers were perfect (they weren’t) or that we agree with everything they taught (we don’t) or that there were not other groups prior to and during the Reformation that held to similar convictions as we do about regenerate church membership, immersion of believers, separation of church/state, etc. (there were). The Anabaptists of sixteenth-century Europe are one noble example. There were other groups throughout the medieval period that were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church, but it is virtually impossible to reconstruct a line of “Baptist” churches dating back to the first century (though many have tried to do so, the Trail of Blood being the most notorious example). Many of the groups who practiced believers’ baptism were not orthodox in other areas of doctrine more central to biblical Christianity (Trinity, person of Christ, justification by faith alone, etc.). These are not my brothers no matter what they believed about baptism.

The seventeenth-century English Baptists were not interested in proving that they were descendants of the Anabaptists or any other group from the medieval period (In fact, they distanced themselves from the Anabaptists.). For them, as it should be for us, it was sufficient to follow what the Scriptures teach and to establish churches according to the pattern found in the New Testament. By following the authority of the Scriptures in establishing their churches they were more consistent in their application of the principles of the Reformation than even the magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) had been. So, Baptists are more Protestant than other Protestants, not less. We do not celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation because the key leaders were flawless. They were deeply flawed men who deserve critique and correction. We celebrate the Reformation because the core truths recovered are timeless and are the foundation of our Baptist identity.

New Edition of Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life

TTTH-Front-Cover1FP-300x450A little over a month ago, a new edition of Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life was released by Founders Press. The book by Baptist historian Tom Nettles was originally released by Calvary Press in 1998. This first edition was instrumental in my own education about Baptists’ use of catechism historically. I could never have guessed when I first read this book that I would be involved in a future edition of it.

Due to my doctoral work on Hercules Collins under Dr. Nettles, he invited me to contribute material on Collins’ Orthodox Catechism to the new edition. My contribution was to provide a complete, edited transcription of the catechism and a substantial chapter-length historical introduction to the work. This amounts to 75 pages of the 328 page work.

The book is available for order directly from Founders Press.

Below is my expression of appreciation to Dr. Tom Nettles (He insists that I call him Tom, but I struggle to do so.) from the Foreword:

I would first like to express my appreciation to Tom Nettles for including me with him in the second edition of this important volume. I must confess that I share Tom’s love for catechisms, largely due to his influence on my life. In fact, like for so many others, it was when I read the first edition of this volume that I became convinced of the importance of catechisms in Baptist life. Therefore, it is a distinct honor to have had the opportunity to pursue doctoral studies under the primary author of this volume and now to contribute in a small way to this second edition. My prayer is that this new edition will lead to the continued recovery of the use of catechisms in Baptist life today.

I appreciate the following endorsements of the work from men who I greatly respect.

“As this superb collection shows, Baptists have made ample use of catechisms throughout their history, and they still have practical value for building up God’s people today. I welcome this volume and cheer it on!”

Timothy George
Founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University
and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture

“Tom Nettles’ Teaching Truth, Training Hearts is a helpful introduction to the rich tradition of Baptist catechisms. All who desire to better know their faith, and to more effectively pass it on to the next generation, will benefit immensely from this book.”

Jason K. Allen
President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary & College

“Passing sound theology from one generation to the next is a matter of vital importance for developing strong Christians. The time-tested use of catechisms has been proven to be a most effective tool for this safe transfer. Here is a collection of ‘the best of the best’ Baptist catechisms that have shown themselves to be an invaluable teaching aid in instructing both children and adults, new believers and seasoned disciples alike. This book is a treasure house of Bible doctrine that will benefit all who plunge into its concise statements of core scriptural truths.”

Steven J. Lawson
President, OnePassion Ministries

Hercules Collins on the Hypostatic Union

Hercules Collins (1647-1702) made clear his own personal commitment to this union of two natures in Christ in his own writings. Among his 36 recommendations to preachers on how to rightly handle the Word of God in The Temple Repair’d, Collins included an explanation of how scriptural language often reflects this understanding of the union of the two natures.

In holy Scripture you will sometimes find that which properly belongs to one Nature in Christ is attributed to another by virtue of the personal Union; hence it is that the Church is said to be purchased with the blood of God; not that God simply consider’d hath Blood, for he is a Spirit; but it is attributed to God, because of the Union of the Human and Divine Nature. Moreover, it is said that the Son of Man was in Heaven, when he was discoursing upon Earth: Here that which was proper to the Godhead and the Divine Nature, is attributed to the Human Nature, because of the Union of the Natures.

Here Collins’ commitment to the hypostatic union becomes an important hermeneutical principle. He indicated the importance of explaining this in one’s preaching “with all the clearness imaginable,” because this doctrine “is so necessary to Man’s Salvation.” For Collins and his fellow Particular Baptists, doctrine mattered. Indeed, the salvation of individuals depended upon the proper explication of the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Collins considered the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures to be at the very core of orthodox Christianity.

In his Marrow of Gospel-History, Collins extols the theological truth of the hypostatic union in poetic terms. While attempting to describe the unique identity of the virgin born God-man, Collins expressed wonder at the mystery of the incarnation.

But yet that King, and holy Thing,
Which was in Mary’s Womb,
Was God indeed, of Abr’am’s Seed,
True God, and yet true Man.
Who understands, how God and Man,
Should in one Person dwell?
One Person true, yet Natures two,
But one Immanuel.

Collins does not seem to know how to explain the mystery of the incarnation, but he is committed to affirming and rejoicing in this divinely-revealed truth. Later in the same work, Collins expressed a similar amazement at how God was able to preserve Jesus as a man from the effects of original sin.

And tho this Man from David sprang,
He’s pure without, within:
And tho is made of Abraham’s Seed,
Hath no Orig’nal Sin.
Pow’r Infinite can separate
Between the Virgin’s Sin,
And Virgin’s Seed, for there is need
Christ be a holy Thing.

The sinlessness of Christ was important to Collins because the God-man had to be fully human, yet sinless in order to atone for the sins of other humans. Collins knew that it was the mystery of the divine-human union which preserved Jesus from the effects of original sin. He expressed the connection between the union of the two natures and the sinless of Christ and mankind’s salvation in the following verse.

A King of Peace, and Priest most high,
Who offer’d once for all;
Not for his own, but others Sins,
Himself, not Beasts did fall.
The Peoples Covenant thou art,
In Substance, Person, Name;
And hence art called Immanuel,
Two Natures, Person one.

Once again the important issue for Collins was how this doctrine relates to the doctrine of salvation. Humans need a savior who is simultaneously divine, human, and sinless. This is precisely the kind of savior which Collins saw set forth in Scripture. Therefore, this doctrine was of central importance. In the end, the never-ending union of the divine and human natures of Christ serve as an illustration of the eternal union between God and his elect because of the work of Christ.

That tho by Sin Man’s separate
From God, the chiefest Good,
Yet now in Christ united are;
Man shall live still with God.
And if the Union cannot cease,
Call’d Hypostatical;
No more can that ’tween God and his,
Because ’tis Eternal.

A Parable of the Law and the Gospel (Christian in Interpreter’s House)

In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes a scene in which Christian enters the house of one called “Interpreter” (who represents the Holy Spirit). In this house he is shown many “profitable” things. The first such is a picture of a true minister of the gospel. The second thing shown to Christian was a dusty room:

Then he took him by the hand, and led him into a very large parlor that was full of dust, because never swept; the which after he had reviewed it a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to sweep. Now, when he began to sweep, the dust began so abundantly to fly about, that Christian had almost therewith been choked. Then said the Interpreter to a damsel that stood by, “Bring hither water, and sprinkle the room;” the which when she had done, it was swept and cleansed with pleasure.

Christian: Then said Christian, What means this?

Interpreter: The Interpreter answered, This parlor is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the Gospel. The dust is his original sin, and inward corruptions, that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first, is the law; but she that brought water, and did sprinkle it, is the Gospel. Now whereas thou sawest, that so soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room by him could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to show thee, that the law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, Rom. 7:9, put strength into, 1 Cor. 15:56, and increase it in the soul, Rom. 5:20, even as it doth discover and forbid it; for it doth not give power to subdue. Again, as thou sawest the damsel sprinkle the room with water, upon which it was cleansed with pleasure, this is to show thee, that when the Gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then, I say, even as thou sawest the damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean, through the faith of it, and consequently fit for the King of glory to inhabit. John 15:3; Eph. 5:26; Acts 15:9; Rom. 16:25,26.

Brief Survey of Historical Background to Church Discipline in Baptist Churches

Tonight for an open forum on church discipline sponsored by the Franklin Baptist Association I was asked to give a brief historical survey of church discipline in Baptist life. Below are my prepared remarks.

First, and most importantly, it is biblical. It was commanded by Christ for His church (Matthew 18:15-19). It was practiced in the early church (1 Corinthians 5) and throughout church history. Others will address the scriptural basis for the practice, so I want to focus on why church discipline has historically been important to Baptist churches.

Baptist churches have especially been concerned about the issue of church discipline because of our commitment to a regenerate church membership. When English Baptist churches began to form in the 17th century, they were different than their Church of England counterparts precisely because they were composed only of baptized believers. This was in contrast to the national church whose individual churches were made up of everyone who lived in their parish.

Since Baptist churches were committed to a regenerate church membership, only baptized believers showing evidence of being born again were allowed to be members of their churches. Since these churches weren’t composed together of all adults and their children living in geographical proximity to the church, they were united together by a common confession of faith (what we believe) and covenant (how we agree to live together).

This is foundational! We don’t have any grounds for our existence if we are not united around a confession of faith and a church covenant. We need to recover these documents. You likely had to have them to incorporate or constitute, but sometimes they just get relegated to the archives. These are important documents for you to use in recovering your church’s identity.

Since Baptist churches were composed of members who agreed to certain doctrines and a certain way of life, whenever members deviated from those doctrines and way of life, there was a means to remove them from membership. This is vital because church membership is a church’s testimony that we believe an individual is a Christian. If that person can deny essential truths and/or live in unrepentant sin, there is no reason to believe that person is a genuine believer. To allow them to remain as a church member is to contribute to that individual’s self-deception. Or course, church discipline isn’t just excluding members. It isn’t merely corrective, but is also formative. I’ll let others explain that later.

For the earliest Southern Baptists, church discipline was essential to healthy church life. A popular and influential church manual in the nineteenth century gave three reasons for church discipline:

  1. The Glory of God.
  2. The Purity of the Churches.
  3. The Spiritual good of the disciplined.

So important was church discipline that the early nineteenth-century Baptist theologian, John L. Dagg (1794–1884) said, “When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” This may explain the powerlessness of our churches today!

One of the most common questions I’m asked whenever I talk about church discipline is, “Does anyone really do that anymore?” American Baptist Historian Greg Wills has addressed the issue of the decline of church discipline in the late nineteenth century:

After the Civil War, Baptist observers began to lament that church discipline was foundering, and it was. It declined partly because it became more burdensome in larger churches…. Urban churches, pressed by the need for large buildings and the desire for refined music and preaching, subordinated church discipline to the task of keeping the church solvent. Many Baptists shared a new vision of the church, replacing the pursuit of purity with the quest for efficiency. They lost the resolve to purge their churches of straying members.

No one publicly advocated the demise of discipline. No Baptist leader arose to call for an end to congregational censures. No theologians argued that discipline was unsound in principle or practice. No “freedom” party arose to quash the tyranny of the redeemed. It simply faded away, as if Baptists had grown weary of holding one another accountable. Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion, 9.

So, as Baptist churches became more prominent and big city, they increasingly lost the will to practice church discipline. But church discipline continued to be practiced well in to the early 20th century in rural areas in the south. Before I came to Frankfort, I served as the pastor of a small church in East Tennessee that was founded in 1908. Their church minute book was filled with cases of church discipline prior to World War II. When I was teaching the church and leading the church to embrace church discipline, this minute book was a tremendous resource to answer the question, “Would our church ever practice church discipline?”

Jan. 21, 1923 – Received acknowledgment by Littlefield of being drunk. He said he was guilty and sorry. No further action was taken.

March 4, 1923 – Charge against Mcfaller for drunkeness, a move and second to withdraw fellowship from him. What is the difference? Repentance

Oct. 13, 1923 – A charge against Homer Rogers for unchristian conduct and gave him till next meeting to report to the church.

Nov. 10, 1923 – Gave Homer extra month.

December 9, 1923 – Homer removed from church roll. Charges brought against Guyder.

Jan. 12, 1924 – Guyder removed from church roll.

Sept. 25, 1924 – Guyder restored to church roll.

March 7, 1925 – If a member comes to S.S. and leaves before preaching they are to be dealt with.

July 11, 1925 – Charges preferred against Pete Williams for denying the faith of the missionary Baptist doctrine. Withdrew fellowship. Charges preferred against Herbert Ryans for public drunkeness and swearing. Withdrew fellowship.

Oct. 11, 1925 – Deal with any members missing more than 60 days in Church service without legal excuse.

Jan. 17, 1926 – Charge against Gladys Underwood for fornication, removed. 25 people removed for Covenant breaking.

Feb. 20, 1926 – Motion to withdraw fellowship from Genette Golf for denying the faith of the missionary Baptist.

July 17, 1926 – Tommy Richeson removed for transporting whiskey.

April 17, 1927 – 4 charged w. nonattendance, 1 charged with unchristian conduct, 1 excluded for drunkenness.
Minute Book of West Broadway Baptist Church, Lenoir City, TN

Eventually, even the rural churches were influenced by their urban counterparts and the practice of church discipline faded as churches became more concerned about being viewed as successful by our culture than being faithful to Christ. It is hoped that now, as our churches are increasingly not cultural acceptable that we will return to the Scriptures to find our true measure of success in our submission to Christ’s authority over His church. Perhaps this will be the means that God uses to bring the long-desired revival to our churches.