It is the 11th of December, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A Happy Monday- I will not be making any statements about Shohei Ohtani and the awful, terrible, no-good Dodgers. I ask that you respect my privacy during this difficult time.
At least there is church history to distract me- and it’s Monday, so we head to the mailbag to answer a question from James in “Somerton, AZ (south of Yuma, near the birthplace of Cesar Chavez and home of a great annual tamale festival)”- Also, Arizona Western College is there- where Bengie Molina of the 2002 World Series Champion Angels played shortstop.
James writes: I've learned that the first of my paternal ancestors to come to America was a Thomas Powell who came to Pennsylvania with the Quakers in 1682, but then broke with them in 1692 as part of the "Keithian schism" and hosted the meetings of the dissenters in his home, eventually organizing as "seventh day baptists" but dissolving by 1700 and rejoining either Quaker or Anglican congregations. I can read all that in the summaries of his life, but I don't understand a lot of what the dispute was about and would appreciate some more context.
OK- so, Thomas Powell owned the home where the Society of Newtown in Upper Providence, Chester County, Pennsylvania, met. These dissenting Christians came under the sway of George Keith. Keith had been a Presbyterian in Scotland, had been arrested numerous times as a dissenter, and had come to the New World to enjoy the freedom in William Penn’s woods to put together a theology more comfortable with the Quakers. He became a very enthusiastic Quaker and a proponent of the seventh day, Saturday, worship. His enthusiasm led to many small churches, such as Powell’s, but Keith’s zeal soon got him in trouble. From a 1770 work, Materials Towards A History of the Baptists, by Edward Morgan, we get two issues that lead to the “Keithian Schism.” One was relatively minor. He believed that Christians should not use the common names of days or months, being that they were named by pagans. It would be month one, day one, etc. The second issue seems to have carried more significance as he began to lean back into his Presbyterianism and disliked the idea that each human had been given sufficient grace, or a divine spark, to effect their own salvation. That, and he thought the church should have written confessions- something the Quakers didn’t practice. He was charged with heresy, but with the lack of confessional documents, he couldn’t be convicted. Point, George Keith. He wrote a confession of faith- a 1691 Statement of Dissent with input from 48 others.
The Society at Newton at the home of Powell followed George away from the Quakers and into what was known as the Christian Quakers or Reformed Quakers. He would frequent the home meetings of these dissenters until he left for England, where he had another change of conviction. He became a convinced Anglican, was ordained, and then sent by the Anglican Church back to Pennsylvania to work as a missionary. He went back to Thomas Powell's home and successfully led them away from the doctrine of Saturday worship. By 1717, the group- what was left, moved up to Birmingham, where they got their own church.
It is a story not uncommon with groups coming from the Reformation and holding to a doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). If the Catholic Church had been so wrong for so long (which is something of a caricature drawn by some Protestants), why not challenge every practice and assumption? And if you can split once, you can split twice. George Keith and his followers, who met at the home of Thomas Powell, seemed keen to search the scriptures themselves and would become prototypes of a certain kind of American evangelical- loosely non-denominational and not so tied to the past that they couldn’t alter their practice and belief when convinced by Scripture.
Thanks, James; I was able to get back into some old material for this question that left me with more information on Seventh Day Baptists than I had before. You can send me your questions- and Christmas ones especially to me at Danv@1517.org.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- a word on an early church from the book of Acts.
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of December 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a very strict Sabbatarian- I have to get Monday’s show to him before Sundown on Saturday. He is Christopher Gillespie
The show is written and read by who knows of Somerton, Arizona, and the mysterious case of the Somerton Man- if you don’t know- spend some time on YouTube- Somerton Man- fascinating. 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.