Baptist

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.

“Satan…will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians.” J.I. Packer

e&sJ.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God should be required reading for all who desire to understand and discuss the relationship between divine sovereignty and human relationship with its implications for evangelism. It is at once a plea to take Scripture’s teaching regarding both divine sovereignty and human responsibility seriously and a call to declare the gospel indiscriminately to all. In the paragraph below, first published in 1961, Packer presciently responds to the current debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. His words are a stern warning against the tendency of both sides “to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other.”

This is a question that troubles many evangelical Christians today. There are some who have come to believe in the sovereignty of God in the unqualified and uncompromising way in which (as we judge) the Bible presents it. These are now wondering whether there is not some way in which they could and should witness to this faith by modifying the evangelistic practice which they have inherited from a generation with different convictions. These methods, they say, were devised by people who did not believe what we believe about God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation; is that not of itself reason enough for refusing to use them? Others, who do not construe the doctrine of divine sovereignty in quite this way, nor take it quite so seriously, fear that this new concern to believe it thoroughly will mean the death of evangelism; for they think it is bound to undercut all sense of urgency in evangelistic action. Satan, of course, will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians; so he tempts the first group to become inhibited and cynical about all current evangelistic endeavors, and the second group to lose its head and become panicky and alarmist, and both to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other. Both groups, it seems, have urgent need to watch against the wiles of the devil.

J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1961, rev. ed. 2008), 94.