*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 5th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A happy Labor Day to all who labor- whether or not you’re getting the day off. Back to the mailbag, just for today this week- here is part of a message from James in Duluth.
I have kind of a silly question- but can you explain the Baptist church to me? It seems like that is the catch-all for so many Christians near me, and while some are part of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), not all are.
First- I am assuming Duluth, Minnesota, home to Robert Alan Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan. Also, the home to Trampled by Turtles- a great bluegrass band with a good cover of Pixies' “Where is My Mind,” among other tracks. There are four other Duluths- in Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, and Washington State.
Ok- this is a good question. And one that sometimes vexes me in a way that others don’t. The Baptists are hard to nail down; at least in the American context, this is on purpose! I have also spent time in circles where “Baptist” is a bad word or the butt of a joke- I think denominational jokes are lazy- ok- let’s break down the Baptists.
Baptists come out of the radical reformation tradition, not Lutheran nor strictly Calvinistic. BUT- and this is where some people get antsy- the early baptists divided into two camps- the “particular” and the “general.” These words refer to the group's doctrine of atonement. A “particular” Baptist believes that the atonement was for the elect only, while the “general” Baptist held to a general atonement for all people but only applied to some.
The particular Baptists would be more Calvinistic- and sometimes you’ll see “Reformed Baptist”- this means “particular Baptists” usually without the separatist tendencies of the other Baptists. You might see some Baptists repping the year 1689 in their online bios and such- this is a reference to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of that year that was particularly Calvinistic in its theology (besides the doctrine of Baptism).
The Separatist Baptists tend to hold to a congregational polity- that is, there is no external authority beyond Scripture and the local church body.
There were Baptists in the Netherlands in the early 1600s- these would be separatists that fled England (think of the Mayflower- these were not Baptists- but English separatists who fled to the Netherlands before making their way to Plymouth Rock).
The rapid growth and spread of Baptists have to do with their international flavor- from the New World to the growing Baptist missionary societies- as seen in William Carey and others.
In America, Baptists largely argued for the separation of church and state and the place of religious freedom- as a Christian minority, it would be in their best interest. The first Baptist church in the colonies was founded in Rhode Island by Roger Williams- the man booted out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Now- a regular listener to this show may know that there are few things I love more than a good old-fashioned family tree for an American denomination. I’m like ten-year-old me memorizing the back of baseball cards when it comes to this stuff- and perhaps, this is why like James in Duluth, I too get thrown off by Baptist history. Sure, we can delineate the National Association of Free Will Baptists from the Baptist Missionary Convention- but these associations are usually secondary to the individual churches and Christians themselves.
In some ways, Baptist history makes you do the kind of history that I think we should be doing for more American churches- seeing their association to a larger body as secondary and examining the local church and its history first.
Many non-denominational churches look like Baptist churches because they adhere to the same congregational polity- that is, the calling of a pastor and the creation of a church doesn’t need approval from a desk somewhere but can instead pop up as the Spirit leads.
The SBC is its own beast- it has been declining for years now and has been a kind of catch-all for generally evangelical and conservative Baptists- we will be getting back to “meet a real life,” and I’m hoping to get someone from the SBC on to explain it to all of us.
Thanks for the question, James- you, too, can send your questions to my first name and last initial at 1517 dot org.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from 1 Timothy- that great confession of faith in chapter 3:
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows Duluth, Georgia, as the birthplace of the titular star of his favorite tv show, “That’s So Raven.” He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who remembers Raven as the little girl from the Cosby Show but never caught up with her Tween hit show where I think she was psychic (?) 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.