Baptist

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.

Book Review: Baptists in America: A History by Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins

Baptists-in-America.9780199977536.Hero.2

In Baptists in America: A History, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, both professors of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, show how American Baptists have functioned alternatively as outsiders and insiders in American culture. Tracing Baptists from their beginning in the new world as a persecuted minority all the way to their late 20th-century prominence in the culture wars, Kidd and Hankins demonstrate that individual Baptists have often enjoyed acceptance while others have been maligned. It is a compelling narrative expertly told.

The authors are to be commended for not merely painting with a broad brush, but for dipping down into some of the individual stories and weaving the narratives together seamlessly. More than merely descriptive, Kidd and Hankins also delve into how theology shaped practice in particular areas. Most fascinating in this regard is their analysis of how the “soul competency” theology of Edgar Young Mullins (4th president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) accounts for how even progressive Southern Baptists were so little engaged in the Civil Rights movement (221-225).

While excellent overall, as a frequent reader of Baptist history I thought certain treatments were the best I have seen heretofore in an American Baptist survey text. I thought the treatments of “Baptists and Slavery” (chapter 6), “Baptist Schism in the Early Twentieth Century” (chapter 10), “Baptists and the Civil Rights Movement” (chapter 12), and “Schism in Zion: The Southern Baptist Controversy” (chapter 13) were especially well done. What made these treatments unique was the balanced way in which these controversial topics were discussed with an apparent attempt to understand and explain the why and how behind developments that could be viewed both positively and negatively.

Even the conclusion (chapter 14) is fruitful as the authors explore the markers of Baptist identity, briefly discussing important distinctives such as religious liberty, soul liberty, the authority of Scripture, and the separation of church and state. This book focused on the dual nature of Baptists variously and at sundry times as insiders and outsiders. This evidence is surveyed in the concluding chapter; but the authors also seek to drop some conclusions about what makes a Baptist a Baptist. Noting the extreme diversity of Baptists, they rightly show that we cannot “make broad claims about what makes Baptists distinct.” Instead, we should talk about what “most” or “some” Baptists believed and did. Nevertheless, the authors do propose “three features that mark all Baptists throughout history”: (1) Baptism for believers only, (2) independence of local congregations, (3) Willingness to call themselves Baptists (251).

I recommend this book to all who want to understand the history of Baptists in America or the impact of Baptists on American culture (and vice versa). It will serve as an excellent textbook for a history of religion in America or American Baptists elective course on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This book raises all the important issues and will make for a great discussion starter, while at the same time being a competent guide, for the doctrinal and practical issues that have been, and continue to be, debated by Baptists. This book could also prove useful for those from other religious traditions, or “none,” who want to understand the complexity, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, identity of Baptists.

An Unsung, but Influential Sermon in the Rise of the Modern Missionary Movement

On April 27, 1791, Andrew Fuller preached a message at a Minister’s Meeting at Clipstone. The title of the message was “Instances, Evil, and Tendency of Delay, in the Concerns of Religion.” The text was Haggai 1:2, “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” In the sermon, Fuller pleaded with his fellow ministers not to delay in regard to the work of missions and to use means for the spread of the gospel among the nations. It was a bold sermon. Not only was William Carey in attendance, but so too were many of those, as Andrew Gunton Fuller tells us, “who had refused — some of them not in the kindest manner — to listen to his proposal.” [1] Fuller said in part,

Instead of waiting for the removal of difficulties, we ought, in many cases, to consider them as purposely laid in our way, in order to try the sincerity of our religion. He who had all power in heaven and earth could not only have sent forth his apostles into all the world, but have so ordered it that all the world should treat them with kindness, and aid them in their mission; but, instead of that, he told them to lay their accounts with persecution and the loss of all things. This was no doubt to try their sincerity; and the difficulties laid in our way are equally designed to try ours.

Let it be considered whether it is not owing to this principle that so few and so feeble efforts have been made for the propagation of the gospel in the world. When the Lord Jesus commissioned his apostles, he commanded them to go and teach “all nations,” to preach the gospel to “every creature;” and that notwithstanding the difficulties and oppositions that would lie in the way. The apostles executed their commission with assiduity and fidelity; but, since their days, we seem to sit down half contented that the greater part of the world should still remain in ignorance and idolatry. Some noble efforts have indeed been made; but they are small in number, when compared with the magnitude of the object. And why is it so? Are the souls of men of less value than heretofore? No. Is Christianity less true or less important than in former ages? This will not be pretended. Are there no opportunities for societies, or individuals, in Christian nations, to convey the gospel to the heathen? This cannot be pleaded so long as opportunities are found to trade with them, yea, and (what is a disgrace to the name of Christians) to buy them, and sell them, and treat them with worse than savage barbarity? We have opportunities in abundance the improvement of navigation, and the maritime and commercial turn of this country, furnish us with these; and it deserves to be considered whether this is not a circumstance that renders it a duty peculiarly binding on us.

The truth is, if I am not mistaken, we wait for we know not what; we seem to think “the time is not come, the time for the Spirit to be poured down from on high.” We pray for the conversion and salvation of the world, and yet neglect the ordinary means by which those ends have been used to be accomplished. It pleased God, heretofore, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believed; and there is reason to think it will still please God to work by that distinguished means. Ought we not then at least to try by some means to convey more of the good news of salvation to the world around us than has hitherto been conveyed? The encouragement to the heathen is still in force, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved: but how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?” [2]

Fuller’s son records that the “impression produced by the sermon was most deep; it is said that the ministers were scarcely able to speak to each other at its close, and they so far committed themselves as to request Mr. Carey to publish his “thoughts.” [3] The next spring, Carey preached his famous sermon at Nottingham based on Isaiah 54:2-3 calling on ministers to “expect great things from God” and “attempt great things for God.” In 1792, he also published his “thoughts”—An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (PDF). On October 2, 1792, in the home of Mrs. Beeby Wallis, the Particular Baptist Society for Propogating the Gospel Among the Heathen was launched.

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[1] Andrew Gunton Fuller, Andrew Fuller. Men Worth Remembering (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882), 103.
[2] Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher, vol. 1 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 147–148.
[3] Fuller, Andrew Fuller, 104.

“The Church of Christ, who upon Confession of Faith have bin Baptised”: Hercules Collins and Baptist Ecclesiology

This afternoon (November 19th) at 4:30 PM, I will present a paper titled: “The Church of Christ, who upon Confession of Faith have bin Baptised”: Hercules Collins and Baptist Ecclesiology (PDF) at the 66th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in San Diego, California. The paper is part of the Puritan Study Group which has an annual slot at ETS featuring paper on, you guessed it, Puritans and Puritanism. The theme of the annual meeting this year is Ecclesiology and the Puritan Study Group chose to focus on the topic: “A House Divided: Competing Views of Puritan Ecclesiology.” Below is the schedule for the session. I’m not sure if they saved the best ecclesiology for last or the worse paper. Either way, my paper wraps up the session beginning at 4:30 PM.

2:00 PM-5:10 PM
PURITAN STUDIES
A House Divided: Competing
Views of Puritan Ecclesiology
Room: Towne
MODERATOR: STEPHEN YUILLE
(Redeemer Seminary)

2:00 PM—2:40 PM
W. BRADFORD LITTLEJOHN
(The Davenant Trust)
What Makes a ‘Puritan’? Hooker,
Ussher, and English Reformed
Episcopacy

2:50 PM—3:30 PM
MARK JONES*
(University of the Free State)
“The (True?) Gospel Coalition”:
English Presbyterianism in Puritan
England

3:40 PM—4:20 PM
STEPHEN YUILLE
(Redeemer Seminary)
The Primitive Institution of Christ’s
Church: Thomas Goodwin and
Congregational Polity

4:30 PM—5:10 PM
STEVE WEAVER
(Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies)
“The Church of Christ, who upon
Confession of Faith have bin
Baptised”: Hercules Collins and
Baptist Ecclesiology

You can download a copy of the paper I will present here (PDF) and you can order the audio here.

The Man Converted Through His Own Preaching

Elias Keach by Robert White line engraving, 1697 NPG D20943 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Elias Keach
by Robert White
line engraving, 1697
NPG D20943
© National Portrait Gallery, London

In the late seventeenth century, a son of the famous English Baptist pastor Benjamin Keach came to America. Although he was unconverted, Elias Keach posed as a minister to support himself. However, his plan backfired and he came under conviction while preaching one of his fraudulent sermons. Morgan Edwards, an early chronicler of American Baptists, tells the story.

He was son of the famous Benj. Keach, of London. Arrived in this country a very wild spark about the year 1686. On his landing he dressed in black and wore a band in order to pass for a minister. The project succeeded to his wishes, and many people resorted to hear the young London divine. He performed well enough till he had advanced pretty far in the sermon. Then, stopping short, looked like a man astonished. The audience concluded he had been seized with a sudden disorder; but, on asking what the matter was, received from him a confession of the imposture with tears in his eyes and much trembling. Great was his distress though it ended happily; for from this time dated he his conversion. He heard there was a Baptist minister at Coldspring in Bucks county between Bristol and Trentown. To him did he repair to seek cousel [sic] and comfort; and by him was he baptized and ordained. The minister’s name was Thomas Dungan. From Coldspring Mr. Keach came to Pennepek and settled a church there as before related; and thence travelled through Pennsylvania and the Jersies preaching the gospel in the wilderness with great success, in so much that he may be considered as the chief apostle of the Baptists in these parts of America. He and his family embarked for old England early in the spring of the year 1692, after having resigned the care of the church for a considerable time before to the Rev. John Watts.[1]

[1]Morgan Edwards, Materials Towards a History of the Baptists in Pennsylvania Both British and German, Distinguished into FirstDay Baptists Keithian Baptists SeventhDay Baptists Tuncker Baptists Mennonist Baptists, vol. 1 (Philadelpha: Joseph Cruckshank and Isaac Collins, 1770), 9-11.

The First General Assembly of Particular Baptists (1689)

1689 GA Cover PageAfter the Act of Toleration, which was passed by Parliament in 1688 and enacted by the king on May 24, 1689, dissenters began to exercise their new-found freedom to assemble publicly to great avail. In 1689, the Baptists gathered in London for their first national assembly. This group of “divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches” met in London from September 3-12, 1689, and claimed to represent “more than one hundred Congregations of the same Faith with Themselves.”[1] The common faith which distinguished this group of churches is specified on the cover page as “the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance.”[2] This group would further identify themselves in their first meeting by adopting what would become known as the Second London Confession of Faith. This confession was originally composed and published in 1677 having originated in the Petty France congregation under the oversight of William Collins and Nehemiah Coxe.[3] The confession was republished in 1688[4] and subsequently adopted by the General Assembly in 1689. The members of the assembly declared that this confession contained “the Doctrine of our Faith and Practice” and expressed their desire that “the Members of our Churches respectively do furnish themselves therewith.”[5] When the confession was published for the third time in 1699, it included the signatures of thirty-seven ministers and messengers of the Assembly who had allowed their names to be affixed “In the name and behalf of the whole Assembly.”[6] Among the signatories were such men as William Collins, Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, and  Hercules Collins.

The primary purpose of the general assemblies was stated in a letter to the churches printed in the published minutes of the inaugural meeting. The messengers gathered,

chiefly to consider of the present state and condition of all the Congregations respectively under our Care and Charge; and what might be the causes of that Spiritual Decay and loss of Strength, Beauty and Glory in our Churches; and to see (if we might be helped by the Lord herein), what might be done to attain to a better and more prosperous State and Condition.[7]

Accordingly, they spent the first day “in humbling ourselves before the Lord, and to seek of him a right way to direct into the best Means and Method to repair our Breaches, and to recover our selves into our former Order, Beauty, and Glory.”[8] The assembly also issued a call for a day of humiliation and fasting for the churches they represented, to be held on October 10, 1689.[9] The primary function of the assemblies was to provide advice and counsel to the churches. The messengers clearly wanted to disavow themselves from any sense that they were an authoritative body. Indeed, their first declaration was to “disclaim all manner of Superiority, Superintendency over the Churches; and that we have no Authority or Power, to prescribe or impose any thing upon the Faith or Practice of any of the Churches of Christ.” They would go on to state their intention merely “to be helpers together of one another, by way of Counsel and Advice, in the right understanding of that Perfect Rule which our Lord Jesus, the only Bishop of our Souls, hath prescribed, and given to his Churches in his Word.”[10] Thus, much of their time meeting together was spent responding to queries posed by the messengers on behalf of their respective congregations. Their most significant action historically, however, was the adoption of the 1677 Baptist Confession of Faith, which would prove to have a lasting impact on Baptist life and thought down to the present day.

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[1]A Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly Of divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches, met together in London, from Septemb. 3. To 12. 1689, from divers parts of England and Wales: Owning the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance (London, 1689), 1.

[2]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 1.

[3]Petty France Church Minute Book, 1.

[4]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians, (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country (London: John Harris, 1688).

[5]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 18.

[6]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Countrey, 3rd ed. (London: S. Bridge, 1699), back cover; Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 239.

[7]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 3.

[8]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 9.

[9]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 7.

[10]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 10.

Speaking Truth to Power: Thomas Helwys and Our Baptist Heritage

A short Declaration cover pageIn 1612, the proto-Baptist Thomas Helwys published a book entitled A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity. In an original edition of the work preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, there is a handwritten note on the flyleaf of the work addressed to King James I from Thomas Helwys. This volume was apparently a dedication copy to be presented to the King of England. Helwys, who had just returned to England from the Netherlands with a band of baptized believers,* intended to make a statement to the King regarding religious liberty. Apparently, the King received the message as Helwys was unsurprisingly arrested shortly thereafter and languished in the infamous Newgate Prison until he died four years later in 1616. Helwys’ courageous address to the King of England deserves to be read and remembered as we consider the Baptist contribution to religious liberty. Baptists have a rich heritage of speaking truth to power, often at great risk.

Below is a transcription of the text of Helwys handwritten note to King James I and below that is a photocopy of the original.
     Heare, O King, and dispise not ye counsell of ye poore and let their complaints come before thee.
     The King is a mortall man and not God, therefore hath no power over ye immortall soules of his subiects, to make lawes & ordinances for them, and to set spirituall Lords over them.
     If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords & lawes, then he is an immortall God and not a mortall man.
     O King be not seduced by deceivers to sine so against God whome thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poore subiects who ought and will obey thee in all thinges with body life and goods or els let their lives be taken from ye earth.
     God save ye Kinge
Tho: Helwys.
Spittlefeild
neare London.
Thomas Helwys Dedication to King James
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*Helwys and his followers had been baptized by affusion, i.e., pouring as believers.