Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we look at the story behind one of America’s preeminent Baptist Churches.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 7th of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Please pardon my own biases when looking at the church in America. And please don’t think that I’m trying to make fun of or belittle when I suggest that today in America, being a baptist isn’t very punk rock.

Sure, no denomination is particularly cool. But I think of baptists as Garrison Keillor thinks of Lutherans: culturally curious. Harmless. A little idiosyncratic.

But being a Baptist in the American Colonies was to put yourself in the crosshairs of the established churches. They were on the vanguard of the religious liberties Americans celebrate today; back in 1651, a man from Rhode Island named Obadiah Holmes. This Baptist pastor, glassmaker, and 5th great-grandfather of Abraham Lincoln was arrested in Boston and whipped 30 times with a three-braided cord for coming into Boston to hold a church service for an informed member who couldn’t come out to Rhode Island.

One of the men watching the whipping was Harvard President Henry Dunster. Moved by the convocation of Holmes, Dunster decided not to baptize his infant son and so was fired. He and his friend Thomas Gould began to lay the foundation for an underground Baptist church in Boston. Dunster would die, but Gould and a few others carried on.

It was on this, the 7th of June in 1665, that two women and seven men founded Boston’s First Baptist church- the charter read:

“in Charlestowne, Massachusetts, the Church of Christ, commonly (though falsely) called Anabaptists were gathered together And entered into fellowship & communion with each other, Ingaigeing to walke together in all the appointments of there Lord & Master the Lord Jesus Christ as farre as hee should be pleased to make known his mind & will unto them by his word & Spirit,”

They met in Gould's house until 1678, when they moved into their first building, a church disguised as a brewery. In 1680 the Boston City Council nailed the doors shut. The church would resume services at that building as Baptists were given some religious freedom- although the Congregational church was the “established” church in Massachusetts into the 1800s.

The church would become famous for the ministry of Samuel Stillman between 1764 and 1807. Stillman became the first Baptist to preach before the General Court and to argue for the separation of church and state and freedom of Conscience (remember, this is an important legacy for American Baptists). The church would also be the first to allow women to vote in church elections, decades before the 19th Amendment gave Women the right to Federal Elections.

The church owl ultimately bought the Brattle Street Church- an elaborate Romanesque building that caused the original congregation to declare bankruptcy. First Baptist purchased the church for 100,000 in 1882. The church is known for its enormous tower and frieze- it was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the same man who designed the Statue of Liberty. The stone carving includes four angels blowing long golden horns, leading to the church being called the “Church of the Holy Bean Blowers.”

First Baptist Church of Boston is one of America’s preeminent historical bodies and is still an active congregation affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. A happy 357th birthday to the church founded on this day in 1665.

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- 1 Corinthians 2:

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord
 so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of June 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a Lutheran who is proudly “culturally curious. Harmless. A little idiosyncratic,” he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show has been written and read by noted non-fan of Boston sports teams since 1986. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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