Church History

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

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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.

Reclaiming St. Patrick’s Day

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New biography of Patrick by Michael Haykin

We are blessed in our society today to have holidays such as Easter, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day which are filled with Christian significance. Unfortunately, almost all of the Christian meaning for these important markers on the Christian calendar has been forgotten. As much as we Christians like to blame the nebulous society around us, I don’t think it is the “world’s” fault that these holidays have not retained their Christian meaning. Instead, I fault Christians who are either unaware of their heritage or just plain derelict in their duty to educate their children. We shouldn’t expect unbelievers to celebrate Christianity, but we should expect Christians to seek to pass their heritage on to the next generation.

Hopefully you do use the holidays of Christmas and Easter as opportunities to talk to your children about the birth and resurrection of Christ respectively. However, days like St. Valentine’s Day and especially St. Patrick’s Day are often missed opportunities in evangelical homes. Perhaps we’re frightened away by the fact that these individuals are often associated with the Roman Catholic Church. But there is no need to fear Patrick for in him evangelicals have not a foe but a friend.

Patrick was a courageous Christian missionary to Ireland in the 5th century. His story of being kidnapped as a boy in Britain to become a slave in Ireland, his escape back to Britain, and his call as a missionary to return is a fascinating tale of God’s providence and grace. His dedication to the doctrine of the Trinity is both admirable and worthy of emulation. Talking to your children about how Patrick taught the Trinity to the pagans of his day provides a tremendous opportunity to explain this difficult biblical teaching to them. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Likewise, Patrick’s commitment to take the gospel to unreached peoples (Ireland at the time would have been considered the “end of the world.”) is another important teachable aspect of this remarkable life for our children. Read, in Patrick’s own words, his commitment to take the gospel to Ireland:

I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord would grant it to me. (Confession 37)

In short, St. Patrick should be introduced to our children as a courageous missionary hero who believed and taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Many legends are attached to the story of Patrick and though I believe most are grounded in some true events, the discerning reader must be aware of the mixture of legend and history on this early Christian figure. However, we are not dependent merely on legends to know about the life of Patrick. His autobiographical Confession has survived the centuries and is a fascinating recounting of his life.

For those interested in learning more, there is a helpful modern biography of Patrick by Philip Freeman. For parents wanting a good introduction that can be ready by or to their children, I highly recommend Patrick: Saint of Ireland by Joyce Denham. In addition, a recent biography of Patrick has been penned by Michael Haykin Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact.

A few short, but very helpful articles about Patrick’s modern-day relevance are available online.

This post originally appeared on March 17, 2012. It has been lightly edited and reposted today in honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2015.

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.

________________

[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.

Billy Graham’s Favorite Hymn

Yesterday (November 7th) was Billy Graham’s 96th birthday. As Evangelist Billy Graham nears the end of what by any estimation has been a remarkable life, some scholarly analysis is being given to where his life and ministry fit into the broader context of church and American history. One such study is America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by noted American religious historian Grant Wacker. Another, more personal, study of Graham has also appeared recently. It is a collection of the transcripts of the television interviews conducted between Graham and Sir David Frost over thirty years. Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man offers unique insight into Billy Graham and his perspective over the years on everything from biblical issues and contemporary (now historical) events. Between the book’s introduction and its first chapter there is a fascinating short exchange between Graham and Frost from 1997 in which the famous evangelist indicates his favorite hymn. Here’s the exchange:

Frost: What is the hymn that means the most to you?
Graham: You have a hymn in England that I first learned when I was there in the early fifties, “And Can It Be.”
Frost: “— that I should gain—”
Graham: “— that I should gain—”
Frost: “— An interest in the Savior’s blood; died He for me who caused His pain, for me who Him to death pursued.”
Graham: Good for you. That’s the one that is my favorite hymn.

April 1997

Sir David Frost, Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 15.

This hymn by Charles Wesley also happens to be one of my favorites. I wrote a theological and devotional analysis of the hymn here. If you don’t know the hymn already, you should check it out. You can listen to the song and follow along with the theologically rich lyrics below.

The Third Sunday of September of 1978

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Upstairs window is in bedroom where my father was converted.

On the third Sunday of September of 1978, I was four years old. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my mom and dad were having marriage problems. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they decided to go to church and turn over a new leaf. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they were having an argument about the second coming in Sunday School at Bell Avenue Baptist Church in Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, the pastor wrapped up the Sunday School hour by saying, “No matter what you believe about the timing of the second coming, one thing’s for sure. Jesus is coming again and you better be ready. If you’re not a believer you should tell your friends and family that are trusting in Christ good-bye, because when Jesus comes you will be forever separated.” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad was struck with his lost condition and fell under conviction. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad went forward during the invitation and prayed, but could find no peace. He asked God for a sign and for a feeling, but no sign or feeling came. He stayed in the altar until everyone else had gone home and his legs began to ache. Finally, he went home himself still with no peace. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he went up to the upstairs back bedroom of 701 Kingston Street, Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he cried out, “God, I’ve done all I know to do. All I know to do now is trust You!” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad received assurance of his sins forgiven and his life was transformed. He was almost immediately called to preach and within two years was serving as pastor of his first church. My dad’s life was forever changed and so was mine and my siblings.

On this third Sunday of September I am spending the night in the city where my father was converted 3 dozen years ago and I can’t help but think about how different my life would have been had God not saved my father that day. I would likely not have ever met my wife. My children would not exist. I would not be a preacher of the same gospel that saved my dad. On this third Sunday of September I am grateful to God for His providential grace shown on the third Sunday of September of 1978.