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Baptists in America

Baptists in America

Bill J. Leonard
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    Baptists in America
    Book Description:

    Baptists are a study in contrasts. From Little Dove Old Regular Baptist Church, up a hollow in the Appalachian Mountains, with its 25-member congregation, to the 18,000-strong Saddleback Valley Church in Orange County, California, where hymns appear on wide-screen projectors; from Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, and Tim LaHaye to Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton, and Maya Angelou, Baptist churches and their members have encompassed a range of theological interpretations and held a variety of social and political viewpoints. At first glance, Baptist theology seems classically Protestant in its emphasis on the Trinity, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, salvation by faith alone, and baptism by immersion. Yet the interpretation and implementation of these beliefs have made Baptists one of the most fragmented denominations in the United States. Not surprisingly, they are often characterized as a people who "multiply by dividing."

    Baptists in America introduces readers to this fascinating and diverse denomination, offering a historical and sociological portrait of a group numbering some thirty million members. Bill J. Leonard traces the history of Baptists, beginning with their origins in seventeenth-century Holland and England. He examines the development of Baptist beliefs and practices, offering an overview of the various denominations and fellowships within Baptism. Leonard also considers the disputes surrounding the question of biblical authority, the ordinances (baptism and the Lord's Supper), congregational forms of church governance, and religious liberty.

    The social and political divisions among Baptists are often as dramatic, if not more so, than the theological divides. Leonard examines the role of Baptists in the Fundamentalist and Social Gospel movements of the early twentieth century. The Civil Rights movement began in African American Baptist churches. More recently, Baptists have been key figures in the growth of the Religious Right, criticizing the depravity of American popular culture, supporting school prayer, and championing other conservative social causes. Leonard also explores the social and religious issues currently dividing Baptists, including race, the ordination of women, the separation of church and state, and sexuality. In the final chapter Leonard discusses the future of Baptist identity in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50171-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Bill J. Leonard
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Members of the Little Dove Old Regular Baptist Church, up a hollow in the Appalachian Mountains, contend that their “old-timey” ways validate their claim to be a New Testament community of faith. Services at Little Dove are conducted once or twice a month, attended by no more than twenty to twenty-five people, with preaching by an unpaid, bi-vocational elder (males only). They use no musical instruments, and sing in chant-like plain-song the “shaped-note” hymns of their faith.¹ The preacher holds forth for more than an hour, often abandoning the “sacred desk” (pulpit) to mingle with the worshipers, shaking hands and...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Baptist Beginnings
    (pp. 7-32)

    Amid multiple theories of origin, Baptist beginnings are relatively easy to discern. The movement was born of the upheavals that descended on the British church during the seventeenth century and the accession of the Stuart monarchy, which began with the reign of James I in 1603. The first identifiable Baptist group began in 1608/1609 with a band of Puritan Separatists exiled in Amsterdam. Led by John Smyth (ca.1570–1612) and Thomas Helwys (ca.1550–1615), this band of dissenters originated in England among those Puritans who were convinced that the Church of England had been completely corrupted by Romanist and establishmentarian...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Baptists in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 33-64)

    Baptists in America entered the twentieth century with hope and hesitancy. Progressives like Walter Rauschenbusch looked to the new era as the opportunity for “Christianizing the social order.” Missions-oriented leaders such as Henry Morehouse anticipated a global religious awakening that could produce “the evangelization of the world in our generation.” Fundamentalists like J. Frank Norris understood the moral compromises and doctrinal distortions of modernity as evidence that the return of Jesus Christ was imminent. African American Baptists such as William J. Simmons wondered if the new century would bring liberation or continued discrimination against his race. As the century progressed,...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Baptist Beliefs and Practices
    (pp. 65-90)

    Baptists believe many things. They affirm a variety of doctrines, some shared with other Protestant groups and some distinct to Baptist traditions. Their roots in English Puritanism link Baptists with such classic Reformation dogmas as sola scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), and the priesthood of all believers. Like other reformers, Baptists practice only two sacraments (ordinances): baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Directly or indirectly, they are influenced by Lutheran and Reformed theology, the Radical Reformation, and other Reformation movements that preceded them.

    Certain beliefs, such as baptismal immersion, congregational polity, and local church autonomy, evoke a general consensus...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Baptist Groups: Denominations, Subdenominations, and Churches
    (pp. 91-128)

    More than sixty distinct groups in the United States claim the name Baptist in some form or another. These varied Baptist communions span the country and reflect a surprising diversity of theological positions. Some have roots in the earliest days of the colonial experience, while others are of more recent origin. Some began with other names and as part of coalitions that no longer exist. Many contemporary Baptist groups grew out of schisms that befell their parent bodies. Their numbers give evidence of the old saying “Baptists multiply by dividing.”

    Certain Baptists have embraced denominational and organizational structures willingly, while...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Bible, Ordinances, and Polity: Debates and Divisions Among Baptists
    (pp. 129-156)

    “Where there are two Baptists, there are at least three opinions,” so the saying goes, and that is often true. Baptist churches and denominations sometimes seem to be involved in perpetual controversies locally, regionally, nationally, and interpersonally. In fact, one could make the case that the entire Baptist system of theology and polity creates an ethos in which controversy is not simply possible, it is highly probable. Controversies over the Bible, baptism, communion, church membership, discipline, women in ministry and women’s roles in the church, war, mission action, and ministerial authority, relations with other Christian and non-Christian groups, evangelism, and...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Baptists and Religious Liberty: Citizenship and Freedom
    (pp. 157-182)

    Baptists are among the most outspoken advocates of religious liberty in modern Protestant history. Indeed, it is appropriate to suggest that Baptists were the first English-speaking religious communion to advocate complete religious liberty. They were not satisfied to receive the crumbs of mere toleration doled out by assorted state-supported religious establishments in England and colonial America. Rather, they demanded complete religious freedom for heretic and unbeliever alike. They have often identified themselves with religious freedom and a general support for the separation of church and state, the belief that government should not interfere in matters of religion. At the same...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Ethnicity and Race in Baptist Churches
    (pp. 183-202)

    Baptist beliefs and practices are present among a variety of racial and ethnic groups in the United States. While the majority of Baptists reflect Anglo-Saxon lineage, many come from a variety of ethnic and racial communities, including African Americans, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Japanese, Latinos, and others. They developed churches and schools, as well as associational and denominational connections. Some were assimilated into various Baptist groups while others founded specific ethnically or racially based Baptist denominations. As noted previously, early immigration brought Europeans to America who brought Baptist beliefs with them or accepted Baptist views after their arrival.

    The mid...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Women in Baptist Life
    (pp. 203-226)

    Women have shaped Baptist identity and practice since the Baptist movement began in the seventeenth century. In the believers’ churches women are equal candidates with men for conversion and baptism. Some of the early Baptist communions had women deacons or deaconesses, who carried out particular ministries especially related to women and children. Women were active in the first congregations founded in the United States. Yet in many of these communions they were not permitted to vote or to speak in public gatherings of both sexes. Women were instrumental in founding mission societies, and they went out as missionaries, married and...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Baptists and American Culture: “In the World but Not of It”
    (pp. 227-254)

    When it comes to American culture, Baptists often seem to be opponents of “worldliness” wherever it appears, ever dissenting against the corruptions of the “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Outside observers may suppose that Baptists are unfailingly puritanical in their opposition to anything that is really fun. Many Baptists, past and present, insist that they have a dual citizenship in this world and the next and are called to live according to the “narrow way” (Matt. 7:14) of the gospel. They understand the rigorous ethical standards of Christianity as evidence of the cost of discipleship required of all who are...

    (pp. 255-258)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 259-280)
    (pp. 281-286)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 287-316)