SOUTHERN BAPTISTS FOR SOUTHERN HERITAGE
In the Baptist churches of the antebellum South, blacks and whites usually worshiped together. This was not the case in most of the churches in the North.
Fast forward to our modern era, and in the last 15 years or so a new generation of Southern Baptists have arisen. They have been told by the liberals in their leadership that the convention was established as a byproduct of the Civil War by evil slaveholders in the South whose primary missionary enterprise was to promote slavery and whip black people while quoting scripture verses about slaves obeying their master.
Just as their has been a push throughout our nation to purge our history of its founding fathers, so in the SBC there is a movement to purge the convention of any reference to the fact that its founders and early leaders were Southern.
The reality, the history, is a totally different story. As the organizational developments and formal establishment of the Southern Baptist Convention predates the War by a decade and the divisions between Baptists of the South and their brethren in the North a few decades prior even to that.
There were a LOT of things dividing the Baptists of the North from the Baptists of the South. In his history of the Southern Baptist Convention, W. W. Barnes expressed the view that these differences between northern and southern Baptists would have brought separation even had there not been a political division in the country that ultimately resulted in the WBTS.
With all that divided them, believe it or not, the one thing that Baptists, both North and South actually shared as common ground in about equal numbers, was slavery. That is because for every Baptist in the South who wanted to own slaves or run their plantation or mill with slave labor, guess what? There was a Baptist in the North who was in the business of human trafficking, eager to sell slaves.
A minority of Northern Baptist merchants sought the profit involved in importing slaves from Africa while a minority of Southern Baptist planters, the only ones able to use large numbers of unskilled laborers on large plantations in a relatively warm climate, were their customers. At the height of this system, however, two-thirds of the white families of the South owned no slaves at all, and Baptists (who were generally of the lower economic status) owned even fewer slaves than their wealthier Episcopal and Presbyterian neighbors. The number of slave owners in the Southern Baptist churches was about equal to the number of slave sellers in the Northern churches. Likewise, the number of abolitionists in the Southern churches was about equal to the number in the Northern churches too.
So the Southern Baptist Convention, despite all of the revisionist propaganda to the contrary, was not established by slaveholders for the purpose of promoting and expanding slavery. Here is the real story of the establishment and development of what is arguably the greatest missionary enterprise the world has ever seen - The Southern Baptist Convention:
Most early Baptists in America arrived from England in the seventeenth century where the King and the State Church persecuted them for their separatist religious views. Baptists like Roger Williams and John Clarke migrated to New England in the 1630s; Elias Keach and others entered the Middle Colonies in the 1680s; and still others purchased land in the Southern Colonies in the 1680s and 1690s.
The oldest Baptist church in the South, First Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, was organized in Kittery, Maine, in 1682, under the leadership of William Screven. The church moved to South Carolina a few years later. A Baptist church was formed in the Virginia colony in 1715 through the preaching of Robert Norden, and one in North Carolina in 1727 through the ministry of Paul Palmer. By 1740, there were just eight Baptist churches in the southern colonies.
The Great Awakening swept through the American colonies about 1740. Shortly thereafter, Baptists in the South began a period of rapid growth. As George Whitfield, the Anglican evangelist who led the revival lamented, "Woe is me, all of my chickens have become ducks." This was in reference to his converts seeking baptism and membership in Baptist churches.
The principal Baptist leaders in the Great Awakening were Shubal Steams and Daniel Marshall, who were called Separate Baptists. In 1755, these two Baptist preachers from Connecticut and a few of their followers organized a church at Sandy Creek, North Carolina. During the next few years they preached zealously in all the southern colonies, stormed the new western frontier, and provided patterns of church life that Southern Baptists still follow. This rapid spread of Baptists in the South was strongly opposed by the churches in the North because the northern churches were primarilt State churches and were supported by public taxes.
In Virginia Baptist preachers were whipped and imprisoned in the decade before the American Revolution.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed it was against the law to be a Baptist in 12 of the 13 colonies.
Baptists soon became active patriots in the Revolutionary War. With their demands for religious liberty, they included a cry for political liberty. They loyally supported patriots like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington, and received their praise. Baptists in the South played an important role in securing the adoption of religious liberty in Virginia. Like their fellow Baptists in the North, they helped lay foundations for the national Bill of Rights which guaranteed religious liberty for all in the new Constitution of the United States.
After the close of the Revolutionary War, Baptists in the southern states grew steadily during the remainder of the 1700s. A second Great Awakening broke out among several denominations west of the Allegheny Mountains just at the turn of the century. Baptist churches in the South gained many new members as a result of this revival.
Baptists in America, like their English Baptist brethren, desired the larger fellowship and combined ability for missions that comes from associational work. In 1707, Baptists around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, organized the first Baptist association in America by sending messengers from nearby churches. The second association, a daughter of the first, was formed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1751. After this, the number of associations began to increase rapidly.
At first the associations provided a larger fellowship and to allow counsel concerning common problems facing the churches. Associations had no authority over the churches which affiliated with them.
Some Baptists, however, were not willing to relate to an association for fear that their churches might lose some of their freedom and authority. When the Philadelphia Association began a home missions program in 1755, many churches viewed this as another way in which the associations might rob them of their freedom. They began to consider other ways to do mission work which would safeguard the authority of the churches.
One of these new methods came into being in 1792 when William Carey led in the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in England. This kind of missionary body would make it possible for individuals to work together in missions or any other Christian task without surrendering any church authority. Called the society method, it differed from the older associational method by removing the churches from the supervision of the associations in missionary activity. Under this new plan, any Baptists interested in foreign missions could organize an independent society for foreign missions whose membership would consist of those who would make a financial gift for foreign missions. Similarly, those Baptists interested in home missions could organize another independent society for that purpose, or another society could be organized in this way for any kind of Christian work. Massachusetts Baptists adopted such a plan in 1802. Within a decade, most of the associations had turned their missionary programs over to independent missionary societies.
In 1812, Adoniram and Ann Judson and Luther Rice sailed to India as missionaries for another denomination. En route, they studied the Bible and other books carefully, concluding that Baptist beliefs were closer to the New Testament teachings than their former views. All three sought out baptism as Baptists in India. They informed their denomination of this and were stripped of their standing. They sought to become missionaries for Baptist churches in the United States, but there was no Baptist foreign mission society in the nation. So local societies were formed in the North and the South to meet the immediate needs of these new Baptist foreign missionaries.
May 18, 1814, thirty-three messengers representing Baptist churches throughout America met at Philadelphia and formed a national foreign mission society called the General Missionary Convention. Meeting only once every three years, this body was sometimes called the Triennial Convention. The Convention was organized on the society pattern (that is, organizing a separate society for each Christian ministry), although southern leaders sought for several years to change it into the associational type (that is, one denominational body fostering several different Christian ministries). Baptists in America formed a second society in 1824 for tract publication and distribution. In 1832, they organized a home mission society. Seemingly, these Baptists had permanently united on the society model for Christian work.
When Baptists in this country formed the first of their three national societies in 1814, many of their leaders recognized that there were numerous social, cultural, economic, and political differences between the businessmen of the North, the farmers of the West, and the planters of the South. These differences had already brought much political rivalry between the several sections of the new nation. Each section continued to revive old colonial disagreements and wrestled with questions about how the new constitution should be interpreted, what constituted the final legal power, and similar problems.
So naturally, the meetings of the three Baptist national societies in the 1840s brought angry debates between Northerners and Southerners. These debates concerned the interpretation of both the constitutions of the missionary societies and also the Constitution of the United States.
The Northerners in the societies often rejected the appointment of Southerners to receive missionary appointments. The Northern churches also wanted to extend the authority of the denominational body to discipline church members in violation of local church autonomy. The stage was set for separation.
In 1844, Georgia Baptists asked the Home Mission Society to appoint a missionary to guide church planting efforts in Georgia. The appointment was declined. A few months later, the Alabama Baptist Convention asked the Foreign Mission Society to appoint one of their preachers as a missionary. When the society said no, Virginia Baptists called for Baptists of the South to meet at Augusta, Georgia, in May, 1845, for the purpose of consulting "on the best means of promoting the Foreign Mission cause, and other interests of the Baptist denomination in the South."
May 8, 1845, about 293 Baptist leaders of the South gathered at the First Baptist Church, Augusta, Georgia, representing over 365,000 Baptists. They concluded, with expressions of regret from their own leaders and from distinguished northern Baptist leaders, that more could be accomplished in Christian work by the organization in the South of a separate Baptist body for missionary work. The Methodists in the South had already separated from their northern brethren and formed their own denominational body and southern Presbyterians were in the process of doing so too.
Southern Baptist leaders noted that Paul and Barnabas had disagreed over the use of John Mark in mission service, and "two lines of service were opened for the benefit of the churches." These leaders hoped that "with no sharpness of contention, with no bitterness of spirit, . . . we may part asunder and open two lines of service to the heathen and the destitute."
10, 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was provisionally organized under a new constitution, which was ratified the following year in Richmond, Virginia. In their address to the public, Convention president William B. Johnson and other Southern Baptist leaders pointed out that Baptists, North and South, were still brethren; that separation involved only the home and foreign mission societies and did not include the third national society for tract publication; and that this new organization would permit them to have a body that would be willing to appoint Southerners to home and foreign mission fields without the objection of the northern churches.
At the 1845 meeting, Southern Baptists were faced not only with the question of whether to organize a separate body but also with the problem of what kind. Baptists, like other denominations which give final authority to the local churches, have had difficulty in trying to form an effective general body without threatening the local church's autonomy. This was the reason that the association-type plan had been viewed with suspicion by some churches, resulting in the adoption of the society plan for missionary and other Christian work.In safeguarding the authority of the churches, however, the society plan made it difficult to secure unity and effectiveness in denominational work.
Southern Baptists, at their meeting in 1845, deliberately rejected the method of having a separate society for each kind of Christian service. They chose instead to follow the more centralized pattern of the older associational plan to form only one general convention closely related to the churches for all Christian ministries. They felt that they could provide safeguards in Convention operation that would protect the autonomy of the local churches. Rather than form independent societies for Christian ministries, Southern Baptists elected a board of managers to supervise foreign missions and another to supervise home missions, both under the authority of the Convention. Other boards for additional Christian ministries would be formed later by the Convention.
After 1845, Northern Baptists moved even farther toward the society type of organization until 1907-08, after which they began experimenting with a modified associational type of convention. Southern Baptists continued to move toward an associational-type body until 1931 when, by constitutional action, practically all of the remaining society-type characteristics were eliminated from their convention.
Toward the end of the 1850's and especially into the 1860's the northern invasion of the Southern States and its resultant War Against the South; followed by reconstruction; continued sectional rivalry, depressions and inflation, internal doctrinal conflicts, perplexing organizational questions, and - despite these things - remarkable growth and expansion in Christian ministries made up the story of Southern Baptists until 1891.
The War Between the States totally disrupted all of the programs of the Convention. Reconstruction (until 1877) delayed the return to normalcy. Political / sectional differences in other forms continued to mar the fellowship and cooperation of Southern Baptists with Northern Baptists. While the question of reunion was raised by Northern Baptists after the WBTS had ended, Southern Baptists declined to return to the society-type denominational bodies they had left in 1845. Despite this, the Home Mission Society of the North carried on a fruitful program of missions, education, and church, assistance among both blacks and whites in the South during this period. This active work in the South by the northern society provided a formidable rival for the Southern Baptist Convention. Not until the 1880s was the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board able to claim the southern field as its base.
Landmarkism, another important movement in Southern Baptist history, developed in the 1850s led by a preacher, Dr. J. R. Graves. He migrated from Vermont to the South bringing with him the typical New England Baptist fear of conventions. His leadership ensured that the Southern convention would respect the autonomy of its churches for generations to come. I
In 1846, after the first year of operation, the Foreign Mission Board reported that only two missionaries had been appointed to one field (China) and that receipts had totaled only $11,735. By 1891, however, the board had raised a total of almost $2,000,000 and had increased the number of missionaries to ninety-one serving in six fields: China, Africa, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, and Japan.
One of these missionaries in China was Lottie Moon. In 1887, she appealed to Southern Baptist women to make a special Christmas offering for foreign missions. In the following year, the newly-organized Woman's Missionary Union set a goal of $2,000 for this cause and raised $3,315. This was the small beginning of an annual Christmas offering that has raised more than $1,000,000,000 for foreign missions.
The Home Mission Board encountered many problems in its first half century of life. Despite adverse conditions, this board made excellent progress. In its first year, it reported seven missionaries and receipts of $1,824, but by 1891 the number of missionaries had increased to 407 and the receipts for that year to $199,251.
In addition to these two original boards, the Convention elected two other boards during this period, neither of which survived. In 1851, a Bible Board was formed at Nashville, Tennessee, but it was dissolved during the War. From 1863 to 1873, the Convention fostered the first Sunday School Board at Greenville, South Carolina, but it was a casualty of the postwar financial crisis in 1873.
Some Southern Baptists desired to carry on ministries which the Convention preferred not to include as boards. Four society-type bodies were organized outside of the Convention between 1845 and 1891 to support these ministries. A Southern Baptist Publication Society was organized in 1847 and a Southern Baptist Sunday School Union in 1857, but neither survived the War. In 1859, an Education Convention opened the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Greenville, South Carolina. Forced to close during the War, the seminary resumed classes at the close of hostilities, moving to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1877.
The fourth organization developed outside of the board structure was Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention. After many years of activity on the local and state levels, in 1888 Southern Baptist women formed a southwide organization, with Annie W. Armstrong as the first executive secretary.
The close of this period of Southern Baptist beginnings occurred in 1891. Southern Baptists did not separate from the American Baptist Publication Society of Philadelphia at the time the Southern Baptist Convention was formed. This northern society continued to publish books for Southern Baptist writers, provide tracts, and furnish Southern Baptists with Sunday School quarterlies, supplies, and helps for Sunday School teachers. It had many friends among Southern Baptists. When southern leaders in the 1880s proposed the formation of a separate Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, there was immediate resistance from many Southern Baptist leaders. When J. M. Frost, a Virginia pastor, declared in an article in Baptist papers in 1890 that he intended to push for a separate Sunday School Board, he was opposed by a large majority of southern leaders and editors. Nevertheless, after many debates and some sensitive confrontations, Southern Baptists formed their present Sunday School Board [now LifeWay Christian Resources] in 1891 with headquarters at Nashville, Tennessee. The formation of this board marked a new era for Southern Baptists. It signaled the move of the Convention toward becoming a truly denominational body. Through its promotion and financing of many ministries, its development of effective methods for church growth and training, and its unifying effect by providing a common literature for all Southern Baptists, the Sunday School Board rapidly fostered a strong denominational unity that became an important factor in the geographical expansion of Southern Baptists in the twentieth century.
The growth of the Southern Baptist Convention between 1845 and 1891 was substantial. From 365,346 members in 4,395 churches in 1845, Convention affiliation increased to 1,282,220 members in 16,654 churches by 1891. Scores of new ministries had been undertaken by the Convention, and a developing denominational unity gave the promise of effective cooperation through the years ahead.
Southern Baptists have absolutely NO reason to be ashamed of their ancestors, of their Fathers in the Faith, those who established their convention. Likewise, it is the duty of Southern Baptists, and of all Southerners, to make sure that their ancestors would have no reason to be ashamed of their descendants.