*** Notes for Today’s Show ***
It is the 31st of May 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
For today’s mailbag, we have a question from Ben in Lino Lakes Minnesota
I’ve noticed a trend in the names of Baptist churches in my area. Baptist churches that are predominantly African American tend to have the word “Missionary” in the title. This seems to be the case even if the Black churches are in the same Baptist denomination as other predominantly white congregations. I’m guessing there is a story here, and I thought you might know what it is.
There are few things I love as much as untangling the wild and wacky denominational family trees of American church bodies. It’s a strange obsession.
First: we are dealing with Baptists and Baptists don’t like the word “denomination” They are “conferences”. The reason for this touchiness is that Baptists have long held that the autonomy of the local church is paramount. Historically, for American Baptists, the autonomy of the local church, the separation of church and state, and believers' baptism are the 3 main markers. But this obviously changes as schisms turn the group into a veritable alphabet soup of convention names.
The short answer to this question:
There are two African American Baptist conventions that are historically part of the “missionary movement”. These are the National Baptist Convention of America and the National Baptist Convention U.S.A.
The root of this “missionary movement” is the mission/anti-mission debates, largely in the south in the 19th and early 20th century.
Antimissions? Yes, aka “particular” “hard shell” “primitive” “strict” “old school” etc… as opposed to the “missionary” or “general” or “free”.
The anti-missions movement was a peculiar southern phenomenon associated with Calvinism, anti-Revival sentiment, and a particular fundamentalist zeal against “tract societies” and para-church organizations. Of course, these cranky fellows still exist today, but “anti-mission” is just a bit too much on the nose.
Some denominations use initials to fight- the Baptists use 19th-century language. “Missionary” would come to connote a Baptist church that engaged in evangelism, embraced the Sunday school movement, and often worked with other churches. The language of “Missionary Baptist” as a convention/denomination and that taken up in particular church names has its background here.
The answer to questions about church names and denominations is never easy with clear-cut answers, but the quick answer is that these churches tend to keep the word “Missionary” to symbolizes their relative ecumenical position vis a vis the more sectarian or fundamentalist baptists. But, with the principle of individual autonomy for churches, the best answer to any particular name is probably found inside that particular building.
The last word for today is becoming something of a common last word when I’ve been researching church schisms. This is a timely word, again, from Jesus’ praying to his Father in John chapter 17:
“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 31st of May 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite lakes include Lino, Random, and Ricky. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose favorite lakes include Arrowhead, Land O’ and Greg of King Crimson fame. I am 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.