“God creates in man holy fear. Satan gives him unbelief, and we often mistake the one for the other. Charles H. Spurgeon

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An Abbreviated History of the Southern Baptist Convention


America owes much to Baptists.  They are the ones who pioneered and   continually fought for religious liberty and separation of church and state in this country.  They are the ones who brought a stabilizing influence to the new world as they lived out their desire to worship and serve the Lord without earthly influences telling them how to do it.  Their desire was to let God’s Word dictate how they lived and worshipped.  Through this fervent desire they were able to pioneer a vision for foreign and world missions; build educational institutions to educate not only pastors but people who desired a God-centered education for whatever vocation they pursued; and give a model of centralized organization that helped to bring together churches and organizations for the promulgation of the Gospel.  If it hadn’t been for a few separatists standing for believer’s baptism by immersion this influence or for that matter this movement might have never arisen or been a force within Protestantism. 
We must not forget that even with all the good that the Baptists have done and are doing, sin “crouches at the door”[1] waiting to devour those who give in in the smallest of ways.  This is the way of the devil.  Scripture says in 1 Peter 5:8 “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[2] Unfortunately, in the mid 1800’s the Baptists let down their guard and a dark shadow fell.  This shadow was so dark and so deep that the organization as a whole was changed forever.  Out of the dark shadow of racism, the Southern Baptist Convention was born.  Three basic questions are worthy of an answer as the Southern Baptist Convention history is told:  1.  What factors contributed to its inception?  2.  Could anything good come out of an organization that was founded because of racism?  3.  What steps are being taken to ensure that racism never happens again within its walls?
The factors that contributed to the split of Baptists in the north and in the South had not only to do with spiritual reasons but physical reasons as well.  None of these issues were new.  One of the largest issues was whether slavery was a moral-Biblical issue or a simply a civil issue.
“In 1711 the Western Association received a question from the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, asking advice about whether to discipline a member who had severely punished a slave for running away.  In their response, the association took a strongly proslavery stance.  They concluded that the practice of slavery is lawful, that buying and selling slaves is nowhere forbidden by Scripture, and that owners may enforce whatever punishments necessary to retain their property.”[3]

The cultures of Northern and Southern Baptists were dissimilar which caused their distinctives to change.  As Dr. Bottoms pointed out in his lecture notes:
“Baptists in the North grew in a compact, industrial society. Millions of European immigrants flooded into the North, especially after 1800.  In the South, Baptists remained mostly rural and agricultural, with most immigrants to the South coming from a Scotch-Irish background. The adoption of camp-meeting evangelism and revivalism in the South increased the number of Baptists there.”[4]

The Baptists in the North were more conservative in worship while the Baptists in the South were more emotional.  Among other items, the preachers were less educated in the South and more educated in the North.  All of these things led to the division between Northern and Southern Baptists.   But there was more…
             “Before 1830, slavery was viewed as an economic system in America. From 1830-1840, abolitionists, primarily in the North, began to agitate for abolition of slavery, and it became a moral issue.”[5]  Pastors began taking sides such as Richard Furman who “both owned slaves and articulated Southern Baptists’ most widely quoted defense of that system.”[6]  But the straw that broke the camel’s back came with the carrying out of the Great Commission.[7]  Yes, the devil used one of the most effective parts of Baptist ministry which was the carrying out of God’s command to make disciples and split Baptists in half geographically.  Two separate events were responsible for this cataclysmic split. 
The first event happened when the Georgia Baptist Convention gave instructions to its executive committee to recommend James E Reeves, a slave-owner, as a missionary to the Cherokee Indians.  When the Home Mission Society Board heard that this was a test case and that Reeves was a slave-owner, they voted after five meetings of deliberation seven to five not to appoint him.  Of course this incensed many of the Southern Baptists and made many wonder if slave-owners could be missionaries at all which brought about the second event with the Foreign Mission Board.  The Alabama Baptist Convention in November 1844 sent a letter of resolutions that insisted on slave-owners and non-slave-owners be given the same rights and privileges.  In December 1844 the board responded in this way: “If any one should offer himself as a missionary, having slaves, and should insist on retaining them as his property, we could not appoint him.  One thing is certain, we can never be a party to any arrangement which would imply approbation of slavery.”[8] 
The fallout from these two events was great resulting in continued rationalizations from Southern Baptists defending slavery, continued attacks from Northern Baptists attacking slavery, and continued attempts at reconciliation from both Southern and Northern Baptists who wanted everyone just to get along.  Robert Torbet writes in his book:
“The southerners did not attempt to defend the evils in the slavery system, but described the institution as an inherited disease to be cured slowly; many justified its continuance on biblical grounds, pointing out that the Negroes’ contacts with white masters brought them in touch with the gospel. Northern abolitionists also argued from the Scriptures, holding that they taught the inherent dignity and worth of every individual in the sight of God and the moral wrong of the enslavement of men by their fellows.  At the same time, others were seeking to bring about conciliation between the two groups.”[9] 

In the Spring of 1845 Northern and Southern Baptists went their separate ways and remained separate.  In 1879 amidst attempts to reconcile the Southern Baptists decided to remain separate from Northern Baptists. 
            Could anything good come out of an organization that was founded because of racism?  Many good things had already come from the Baptists and many good things were to come and many good things continue to come.  The Southern Baptist Convention is the second largest denomination in the world with 16,160,088 members reported in 2011.[10]  It’s annual missions’ expenditures for 2015 were an astounding $1.2 billion.[11]  The truth of the matter is that without the Southern Baptist Convention missions outreach would not be where it is today.  Good and healthy models of how to do world missions would still be in a prototypical stage.  Money spent on social justice that has allowed avenues for all types of missionaries to do work in other countries has all been made possible because of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I think of my own story, an orphan who was adopted by non-Southern Baptist missionaries from a Southern Baptist Hospital in Brazil.  I think of doctors who worked in that same hospital who were saved because of the witness of Southern Baptists but were led to the Lord by non-Southern Baptists.  I think of friends who were able to be missionaries in China, a closed country, as Southern Baptist Missionaries because of its influence and resources.  The Southern Baptist Convention has done much good physically and spiritually in the world even with its sordid history of slavery and racism.
            When looking at Scripture we see that God used imperfect people for his perfect plan.  David was a man after God’s own heart[12] but the sin that he committed would make a regular Christian’s toenails curl.  Jonah was a rebellious prophet but God accomplished the repentance of an entire key Assyrian city with him and in spite of him.  Paul gave testimony of his struggle with the flesh in Romans 7 by saying: “21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.  22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,  23  but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  24a Wretched man that I am!”[13]  In looking at believers today we must conclude the same thing that Scripture puts forth: God will use each believer for His purposes even though they sin.  Sin is an unfortunate part of each and every one of us because of the flesh that we live in and it won’t be until glory that we will be like Christ.
            One of the most remarkable ways that the Southern Baptist Convention has impacted the world is through its takeover of the convention from the hands of liberals who did not believe in the sole authority of Scripture and the deity of Jesus in 1979.  A book written by Harold Lindsell on inerrancy moved many within the Southern Baptist convention.  In his book he wrote that inerrancy was a key component to understanding Scripture in an orthodox manner.  Norman Geisler, J.I. Packer and many others jumped on the inerrancy bandwagon by forming the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.  In October of 1978 the Council crafted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which clearly defined what was meant by Biblical Inerrancy.  This resonated with many of the Southern Baptists who were not content with the liberalism that permeated their organization.  With this bit of momentum Judge Paul Pressler and Dr. Paige Patterson concocted a plan to take the Convention back over by Conservatives who believed in the sole authority of Scripture.  The plan involved sending enough delegates from churches that were conservative to the annual convention so that they could nominate as well as elect a conservative president.  The plan worked and Dr. Adrian Rogers was elected as president of the Convention.
            As a result of that strategy, Rogers began nominating and appointing conservatives to committees that controlled Southern Baptist institutions including Schools and over a period of years their organization once again stood for the specific distinctives that Baptists had originally adhered to.  The Southern Baptist Convention today stands for truth and continues to be a bastion of truth throughout the world. 
But what about the Convention’s racist roots? Where does the Southern Baptist Convention stand regarding its roots of racism and slavery? Specifically, what steps are being taken to ensure that racism never happens again within its walls? The answer to these questions is both simple and complex.  The simple answer is that steps are being taken to rid the Convention of racism. 
One of the most important steps was the election of the Southern Baptist Convention’s first black president, Dr. Fred Luter in 2012[14].  Another step toward acceptance of all peoples by the Convention has been a marked denunciation of past transgressions.  Albert Mohler wrote a spectacular piece on his website called “The Heresy of Racial Superiority — Confronting the Past, and Confronting the Truth” which says:    
Southern Baptists bear a particular responsibility and burden of history. The Southern Baptist Convention was not only founded by slaveholders; it was founded by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument. At times, white superiority was defended by a putrid exegesis of the Bible that claimed a “curse of Ham” as the explanation of dark skin — an argument that reflects such ignorance of Scripture and such shameful exegesis that it could only be believed by those who were looking for an argument to satisfy their prejudices.
We bear the burden of that history to this day. Racial superiority is a sin as old as Genesis and as contemporary as the killings in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The ideology of racial superiority is not only sinful, it is deadly.
I gladly stand with the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in their courageous affirmation of biblical orthodoxy, Baptist beliefs, and missionary zeal. There would be no Southern Baptist Convention and there would be no Southern Seminary without them. James P. Boyce and Basil Manly, Jr. and John A. Broadus were titans of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
But there is more to the story. Boyce and Broadus were chaplains in the Confederate army. The founders of the SBC and of Southern Seminary were racist defenders of slavery.[15]

Along with Mohler, Russell Moore the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) wrote: “We are not the state church of the Confederate States of America… The cross and the Confederate battle flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”[16]
            While simple answers are nice and steps are being taken, the effects of this sin still linger.  As a pastor in the deep South I can testify that the racial divide is still great.  “The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in this nation,””[17] and it is still like that today.  White believers here in the deep South still refer to men and women who were created in the image of God just as they themselves were by reprehensible names and attribute it to culture.  Love and trust for people of color by many white believers in the South is non-existent with some not even acknowledging them.  Not because of their personality!  Not because of their actions!  Not because of bad hygiene!  Simply because of their skin color. 
            Even though this is a history of the Southern Baptist Convention, it is important that we look at how God sees this.  Yes, he has used this Convention greatly, but its sin has caused a great riff in racial relations especially across the South.   The downfall of the Baptists was that they were not looking on slavery as a Biblical issue but as a civil issue.  As believers we must always look at everything through the filter of Scripture which will allow us to see things the way God sees them.  I wrote this on my blog sometime back and it deals with how believers should see other races:
-We know that God created all people in HIS image whether they were Black, White, Red, Yellow and Purple or Blue due to the fact that Genesis 1 does not qualify color, build, look or gender (he actually mentions both male and female). Therefore, each human being should be treated with the same dignity because God created all human beings in His image who were over the fish, birds and animals. “Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
-We know that all people are sinners and that without salvation through Christ all people will die and go to hell. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
-We know that Christ came to redeem all people from the deathly grips of sin. “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) Hmmm, the world, must include the continents of Africa and Asia too eh?
-We know that there will be people from every ethnic group in heaven who will also reign with Christ on the earth. “And they *sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." (Revelation 5:9-10)
-One last note. Most of the people in the Bible were not Caucasian. We see Jews and Greeks and Africans and Mid-easterners. White people were not specifically included in the mix although I am sure there were some especially in Paul’s missionary journeys to Europe.

A FINAL NOTE
To understand that all people of every race and language and nationality will be in heaven with the Lord brings light on how we should act to one another. To understand that all of us were made in the image of God and that he created us uniquely brings light on how we should act to one another. To understand that Christ’s death was sufficient for all of our sins brings light on how we should act to one another. To understand that all we are to do here in this life and on this earth is to bring glory to God brings light on how we should act to one another.[18]

Out of a dark shadow the Southern Baptist Convention was born.  Three basic questions were asked and briefly answered.  The ultimate answer lies in Jesus Christ who has chosen us, redeemed us and sanctified us for His purposes and glory.  Oh each believer carries sin in their flesh but the most beautiful part is that God forgives.  1 John 1:9 tells us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[19]  Yes there are consequences to the sin of the Southern Baptist Convention’s racism but God has used this great institution for His glory. 

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
But he made something beautiful of my life[20]




[1] Expression taken from the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:7

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Pe 5:8.  Logos Software 6.


[3] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1987), 227.

[4] Randy Bottoms, Baptist History and Distinctives PowerPoint Lecture, (Piedmont International University, 2016), 273-274.


[5] Ibid., 309.



[6] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1987), 255.

[7] The Great Commission is found in the following passages:  Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15: Luke 26:44-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8


[8] Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists: Third Edition, (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1963), 291.


[9] Ibid., 292-293.


[10] “Trends continue in church membership growth or decline,” 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, February 24, 2011, accessed October 17, 2016, http://www.ncccusa.org/news/110210yearbook2011.html.


[11] Carol Pipes, “ACP: More churches reported; baptisms decline,” Baptist Press, June 07, 2016, accessed October 17, 2016, https://is.gd/7A281E.


[12] 1 Samuel 13:14


[13] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 7:21–24a.


[14] Barry Hankins and Thomas Kidd, “Southern Baptists cleanse past,” USA Today, June 24, 2012,  accessed October 17, 2016, http://usat.ly/1MbJuHh.    


[15] Albert Mohler, “The Heresy of Racial Superiority — Confronting the Past, and Confronting the Truth,” AlbertMohler.com, June 23, 2015, accessed October 17, 2016.  http://bit.ly/1KSLfG6

 [16] Ruth Graham, “Southern Baptists grapple with racist history,” Aljazeera America, April 1, 2015, accessed October 17, 2016.  https://is.gd/g4HgR6


[17] Billy Hallowell, “Is Sunday Church Service Still the ‘Most Segregated Hour in This Nation’?” Blaze.com, June 19, 2015, accessed October 17, 2016.  https://is.gd/n0dcpZ


[18] Tim Bergen, “The Difference Between Black and White,” Looking at Truth, August 8, 2007, accessed October 17, 2016.  https://is.gd/7YQqLl


[19] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Jn 1:9.


[20] Guy Chambers and Robert Peter Williams,  “Something Beautiful,” (Sung by Bill and Gloria Gaither).

TIM BERGEN

No comments: