"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"

July  2003                 Vol. 2  No. 7

Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

Walter B. Shurden, Executive Director and Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Greg Thompson, Associate Director, The Center for Baptist Studies

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Robert Richardson, Coordinator, Mercer Certificate Program in Baptist Studies

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:


I Believe . . . : by Walter B. Shurden

              “Baptists and Public Prayer”

The Baptist Soapbox: by Dan Vestal

         "Being Baptist: A CBF Perspective"

BSB Book Review Specials: Paul Simmons’ Important New Handbook

            Reviews by Ron Sisk and Annette Hill Briggs

Baptist Firsts: by Charles Deweese

             The First Seventh Day Baptist Church in America

Baptists in America and Church State Issues: by Brent Walker

           "Faith-Based Funding is Bad News for Baptists!"

Baptist Women in America: by Carolyn DeArmond Blevins

              Getting a Voice in the Southern Baptist Convention

Baptist Spirituality in America: by Loyd Allen

              “A Baptist Spirituality of Conversion”

Baptist Hymnody and Worship in America: by  Harry Eskew

              "The Beginnings of Baptist Hymnody and the Church Ordinances"   

Baptist Articles: by Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants

             Articles on Community, Individualism, and Justice

Baptist Books: by Bruce Gourley

             Malcolm Tolbert on the Church; James Tull on Landmarkism

Baptistville: by Greg Thompson

             Happenings in Baptistville


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I Believe

I Believe . . . by Walter Shurden

“Baptists and Public Prayer”

I believe . . .

      that one of the most important, inspiring, and  neglected  elements of Baptist worship is public prayer. Those ministers and laity who give special attention to praying on behalf of the church and for the church render spiritual service to us all.

      Public prayer is not the same as private devotions, though there is a very important place for the latter. When one leads the church in prayer one is praying on behalf of the church. The correct pronouns for public prayer, therefore, are plural, not singular. It is always “We pray,” not “I pray.” It is always the church at prayer, not simply the individual before God.  

      Public prayer takes creativity, planning and work, as do sermons and anthems. One place where we can find help in our public praying is in books of prayers. For years two such books have been among the most valued in my library. The first is John Baillie’s 1949 little book called A Diary of Private Prayer. As the title indicates, it is a book of private prayers. However, these prayers are easily adapted to public use. More important, these prayers can teach one how to pray and for what to pray.

      Maybe the single most used book in my library other than my Bible is Where Cross the Crowded Ways: Prayers of a City Pastor by Ernest T. Campbell, the former pastor of The Riverside Church in New York City. At one time in his ministry his eagerness to preach led Campbell to short-change his preparation for his Sunday morning pastoral prayers. The prayers of George Buttrick at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City changed all of that. Buttrick’s prayers made Campbell’s eyes “glisten with tears of joy and penitence” and thereby elevated the role of public prayer in Campbell’s ministry.

      Only within the last month have I discovered a new book of prayers that rivals Campbell’s book in my eyes. It is Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. Very different from Campbell in form and style,  Brueggemann shares with Ernest T. Campbell a poetic charm, a profoundly spiritual soul, and a freshness of language that arrests and probes.  Baillie, Campbell, and Brueggemann, all non-Baptists, can help enrich Baptist public prayers, an aspect of Baptist spirituality that needs help.

      Speaking of Baptist spirituality, you will find Loyd Allen continuing the column on that subject in the next six months of BSB. Joining Allen as new writers for BSB are Brent Walker on church/state issues, Harry Eskew on Baptist hymnody and worship, Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants on Baptists and periodical literature, and Bruce Gourley on Baptist books. Carolyn DeArmond Blevins continues her series on “Baptists and Women” and Charles Deweese continues writing about “Baptist Firsts.” Our thanks to them all!

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Baptist Soapbox

The Baptist Soapbox : Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist Therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin (though sometimes they are). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Daniel Vestal, National Coordinator, The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Atlanta, GA.

"Being Baptist: A CBF Perspective"

By Daniel Vestal 


         It is possible to define “Baptist” in numerous ways. Some define it from an HISTORICAL perspective. Baptist is a faith tradition born out of an historical context and shaped by historical circumstances.

         Like all Christian faith traditions the Baptist tradition gives witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Baptists share a common commitment with other followers of Jesus to the historic Christian faith. They also share a common commitment with one another to certain biblical truths that have defined their heritage and tradition. These include commitments to the priesthood of all believers, the authority of Scripture for faith and life, freedom of conscience, the autonomy of every local church, believer’s baptism, religious liberty and the separation of church and state. The Baptist faith tradition is still strong and vibrant.

         Others define Baptist from a DENOMINATIONAL perspective. In faithfulness to their principles the “nerve center” in Baptist life lies in the individual believer and in the local church. However, from their beginning Baptist churches and individuals have held to the concept of voluntary cooperation and formed themselves into associations/unions/conventions/societies/alliances/fellowships for witness and ministry. The idea of organized and organizational cooperation is not new to Baptists.

         Within the Baptist faith tradition there are hundreds of structures and systems in which Baptists work together. In more recent time the word “denomination” has come to be equated with a particular organized Baptist body, whereas for CBF it seems more accurate to say that each of these organizations is a part of the Baptist denomination.

          Still another way to see Baptists is from a GLOBAL perspective. Estimates vary, but there are perhaps as many as 50 million Baptists worldwide. In some places they are a small persecuted minority and in other places they are intertwined in the majority culture. Globally Baptists share commitments to historic principles but are diverse in theology, leadership, worship and liturgy. A global perspective is foundational for collaborative mission and enriching fellowship.

          For the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship all of these perspectives on being Baptist are important, but the one that is most important is the CONGREGATIONAL perspective. Our mission is to serve churches as they discover and fulfill their God given mission. With a commitment to our faith tradition and the principles it has championed, as an organized body within the Baptist denomination and with a global view we want to be a resource to and for local churches.

          Our passion is the health and welfare of Baptist churches. Our vision is congregations being the presence of Christ locally, globally, cooperatively. Our strategy is to network, empower and mobilize churches. We partner with schools in theological education to prepare future congregational leaders and we partner with a number of institutions to strengthen the witness of churches.

          Why is our focus so centered in congregations? Because we believe that this is where the Great Commission will be fulfilled and where the Great Commandment will be lived out. Peace, reconciliation and justice will come in the world as churches incarnate the life and ministry of Christ and proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and deed. 


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BSB Book Review

BSB BOOK REVIEW SPECIAL: The Southern Baptist Tradition -- Religious Beliefs & Healthcare Decisions by Paul D. Simmons. Paul D. Simmons is Clinical Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Philosophy. One of Baptists’ leading ethicists in North America, Dr. Simmons wrote this book as part of the “Religious Traditions and Health-Care Decisions” handbook series published by the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith, and Ethics. To secure a copy of Simmons’ book write: The Park Ridge Center, 205 West Touhy Ave., Suite 203, Park Ridge, Illinois 60068-4202. Reviewing Dr. Simmons’ book are Ron Sisk, a seminary professor, and Annette Hill Briggs, pastor of a local church.


Reviewed by Ronald D. Sisk, Professor of Homiletics and Christian Ministry, North American Baptist Seminary, Sioux Falls, SD: 

       Paul Simmons has spent a lifetime doing ethics in the Southern Baptist context, carving out his career in the midst of that fractious and often fratricidal bunch. Concentrating his research and writing in bioethics, he’s seen his own livelihood severely affected by fundamentalist intolerance of his views.

       It’s to be expected that he spends the first portion of this pamphlet attempting to set Southern Baptist positions on healthcare issues within the larger context of the Baptist wars of the past quarter century. Specific battles in those wars have often centered on issues such as abortion regarding which Simmons has frequently found himself in a minority in the SBC.

       Simmons does a good job of characterizing the chaotic nature of what historian Bill Leonard calls the fragmentation of the SBC. In the process he exhibits both the SBC left’s suspicion of evangelicalism and one typically Southern faux pas. He doesn’t seem to know that ABC no longer stands for American Baptist Convention but rather for the American Baptist Churches in the USA.

       When he reaches healthcare issues, Simmons’ survey of the Southern Baptist field becomes deft and authoritative. He points quite correctly to the tension between Baptist tradition in which “decisions, like relationships, are primarily personal,” and the attempt of the current powers in the SBC to impose a single orthodox view of various biomedical issues.

        The abortion debate is a key component in this struggle. Simmons maintains that most Southern Baptist individuals, “take a moderate stance toward abortion.” That is, they tend to believe such decisions should be left to a woman and her doctor, within reasonable bounds. Convention statements for the past twenty years have strongly endorsed a “sanctity of life” approach to the issue, in effect joining SBC efforts to those of the Religious Right and of Roman Catholics.

        On this issue as on virtually every other issue in bioethics Southern Baptists do not speak with one voice. Convention efforts to enforce uniformity have failed. Both the Texas Christian Life Commission and the breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship articulate more moderate views. A signal characteristic of recent years is that the SBC in its “official” statements and resolutions will take an extremely conservative position on virtually every healthcare issue.

         Simmons points out repeatedly though that Baptist beliefs such as freedom of conscience and the priesthood of the believer mean many individuals and groups are quite willing to state alternative views. He does not elaborate what goes without saying, which is that the vast network of Southern Baptist hospitals, physicians, colleges, chaplains, and churches make thousands of specific healthcare decisions every day. While personal faith and biblical understanding are often very important indeed as those decisions are made, Convention pronouncements seldom are.


Reviewed by Annette Hill Briggs, pastor, University Baptist Church, Bloomington, IN:

         Having read Dr. Simmons' handbook from cover to cover, I asked myself: "Is the healthcare provider now adequately prepared to recognize and address the spiritual needs of his or her Baptist patients?" His attempt is commendable, given the distance he must traverse in order to address the strident doctrinal positioning of Southern Baptists while simultaneously attending to the lesser known but more realistic faith experience of rank and file Baptist folks.  

        In the end, I believe, Dr. Simmons' work falls short of the assigned aim

but not due to any deficiency on his part. Rather, it falls short because it can do no other. However accurately Dr. Simmons portrays the SBC, he depicts an institution whose self-description, in my view, is hardly descriptive of the Baptist believer in a hospital bed.

         Regarding particulars, I found the sections on the history, polity and

theology as balanced, clear and well-stated as any available outside a textbook. He does a better than fair job at differentiating that history and polity from the experience of a Baptist person in need of spiritual guidance and care in a medical setting. As he writes, "(Baptists). . . will draw on their reading of Scripture, the wisdom and strength experienced through prayer, the shared stories and specialized knowledge of physicians and nurses and the guidance of pastor and family." In times of illness, people do not draw on church history or doctrinal statements. For medical care, they draw on doctors' expertise. For spiritual care they draw on scripture, prayer and fellowship. I appreciate Dr. Simmons' emphasis of this point.

        The bulk of the work is devoted to Baptist beliefs regarding specific

medical conditions and issues such as genetics, organ transplant, abortion and HIV.  Some of these have been clearly addressed by SBC leadership in the form of public statements and resolutions, and Dr. Simmons covers this angle thoroughly. What's missing is the much needed advice for healthcare givers in the presence of ordinary Baptist folks who are sick or facing difficult decisions about care. I would have liked him to explore the patient-to-congregation and patient-to-pastor relationship as resources through which a doctor might learn about his/her patient and how to help him make decisions and deal with his illness.     

         I found Dr. Simmons' research notes a bit sparse. For instance, his suggestion that "there are and have been Southern Baptist physicians and others who have assisted persons to die," is based on a seventeen year old survey of physicians in the state of Washington in which 38 patients obtained doctor assisted suicide means. Thirty-eight cases in Washington state 17 years ago is quite a stretch to Simmons' assumptions about Southern Baptist doctors.  

         He cites works that are forty and fifty years old. While newer is

not necessarily better, in the realm of healthcare decision making, it is critical. I would like to have seen later research accounting for the spiritual components of healing and how patients of various spiritual backgrounds respond to treatment. Do Baptist respond differently? How might heath care workers adapt their care to Baptists? 

         As a pastor, a good portion of my time is spent in the company of Baptist people who are ill. More than once I've silently wished their doctors and nurses might listen and hear what words cannot say. For what Dr. Simmons has contributed toward that effort I am grateful.

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Baptist Firsts

Baptist Firsts: Charles W. Deweese, Executive Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, writes this section of BSB. He identifies some of the “firsts” in Baptist life in America.


"The First Seventh Day Baptist Church in America"

By Charles W. Deweese


        Not all Baptists worship on Sunday; Seventh Day Baptists worship on Saturday. They cite the Bible as the basis for their practice (e.g., Gen. 2:2-3; Exod. 16:23-30, 20:8-11; Isa. 58:13-14; Ezek. 20:19-20; Matt. 5:17-19; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 4:16, 23:56; John 14:15; Acts 13:14, 42-44; 16:11-13; 17:2-3; 18:4-11; Heb. 4:9-10).

        Today, only a few dozen Seventh Day Baptist churches exist in the United States, but this minority Baptist tradition is highly significant because of its emphasis on freedom of thought and conscience.

        The first Seventh Day Baptist church in this country took life in Newport, Rhode Island, on December 23, 1671 (old calendar). That day, seven persons—four men and three women—entered into and signed a covenant to form that congregation.

        Stephen Mumford, the first-known Seventh Day Baptist in America, had arrived in 1664. Mumford and his wife did not join the First Baptist church of Newport because that church did not observe the seventh day for worship. He may have led members of the Newport Church to accept Seventh Day views.

        Some of the persons who formed the first Seventh Day Baptist church in America had been members of the First Baptist Church of Newport, such as Samuel and Tacy Hubbard. They had accepted the Seventh Day Sabbath in 1665.

        The covenant that these Seventh Day Baptists signed in late 1671 noted that they "gave themselves up to God and to each other" and included a pledge to "Walk together in all God's Holy Commandments and the Ordinances according to What the Lord had Discovered & Should Discover to us."

        Seventh Day Baptist churches have existed in America for more than 330 years. That is a huge achievement for a minority Baptist tradition. That tradition epitomizes one of the noblest traits of the Baptist experience: the right to read the Bible, reach personal conclusions, and dissent from the norm. December 23, 1671, was a very important day for Baptists at large.

        For further information about Seventh Day Baptist history, contact Don A. Sanford, Historian, Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, P.O. Box 1678, Janesville, WI 53547-1678.


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Church State Issues

Baptists in America and Church State Issues: a column on hot button  issues related to religion and government written by J. Brent Walker, Executive Director, The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.


"Faith-Based Funding is Bad News for Baptists!"

by J. Brent Walker


We all want to do right. Helping others is at the heart of our social conscience. However, government funding of religious ministries is the wrong way to do right.

The so-called “charitable choice” legislation has been one of the most hotly debated topics in recent years and continues to be a decisive issue for many. Those favoring the separation between church and state understand why these policies threaten our much-cherished religious liberty. Baptists particularly should be concerned about the threats posed by government funded religion.

Charitable choice is the name of legislative initiatives that allow the government to fund social service ministries of pervasively religious organizations and houses of worship. While government and religious groups—such as Catholic Charities and Jewish Federations—have a long history of cooperation, they have traditionally worked together with constitutional safeguards in place.

Charitable choice offers financial support to ministries in which the religious identity cannot or will not be separated from the service. It goes beyond careful non-financial cooperation between houses of worship and government. It also goes beyond traditional government support of religiously affiliated entities that provide secular services. Charitable choice changes the face of government aid to religious social services, permitting all religious organizations to compete for government social service funding, regardless of whether they integrate religion into their social service programs.

Why is charitable choice funding a bad idea? When the government funds religion, it violates the conscience of taxpayers who rightfully expect the government to remain neutral in religious matters. Knowing that the government always seeks to control what it funds, Baptists have long rejected government’s handouts for their religious activities. Since charitable choice allows government to provide taxpayer-funded social services through pervasively religious institutions, it creates a high risk that tax dollars will be used to fund religious worship and education. Government subsidization of religion also diminishes religion’s independence and, therefore, its prophetic witness. Charitable choice also permits religion-based employment discrimination in programs funded with taxpayer dollars. Finally, charitable choice generally promotes religion in ways that violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which forbids the government from advancing religion or becoming entangled in religious affairs.

There are ways—both constitutional and ethical—to do works of “charity” and to provide “choice.” These include spinning off non-profit affiliates to perform government-funded social services, encouraging increased private giving through legislation to expand deductibility of charitable contributions, and fostering careful non-financial cooperation between government and houses of worship. These better ways make for a win/win situation in which social services can be delivered by religious organizations and the autonomy of houses of worship can be protected, all without violating the constitutional and historic Baptist principles that protect religious liberty.

Baptists want to do right—to help those in need. Let’s do it the right way. For further information, or to get involved with the Baptist Joint Committee, contact us: website:  mail: 200 Maryland Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002; phone: 202-544-4226.

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Baptist Women

Baptist Women in America: a column on the specific role of Baptist women in America by Carolyn DeArmond Blevins, Professor of Religion, Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, TN.


"Getting a Voice in the Southern Baptist Convention"

By Carolyn DeArmond Blevins


     Controversy swirled around women in Baptist life at the beginning of the twentieth century. Speaking in public and voting privileges were the issues. Many Baptists approved of neither. So it might seem odd that at their 1904 session the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) voted unanimously to “hear” Myrtle Morris who was heading for Cuba to establish a school for the deaf. The convention did not violate proper decorum of the day by asking her to speak in the traditional sense. It voted to let her interpret in sign language a song to be sung by a man. The occasion is worth noting since women were not permitted to address mixed audiences. Myrtle was allowed to “speak” since she couldn’t be heard.

        Robert H. Coleman tried his best to give women a voice in 1917 when he made a motion at the SBC that women be voting messengers. His reason was clearly stated: “Whereas, In so pure a democracy as a Baptist church, all members have equal privileges; and Whereas, Women constitute so vital a part of the membership of our churches, both in numbers and in workers;. . . .”The motion was defeated; but it passed the next year, giving Southern Baptist women voting privileges two years before they won the right nationally.

        Voting gave women a voice in decisions brought before the Convention. Many decisions however, were made on committees and boards. Minnie K. James recommended in 1921 that all Convention committees and boards include thirty-three percent women, a reasonable request since women comprised more than half the membership of many churches and therefore the convention. Her request was never realized. Fifty-two years later in 1973 a recommendation that boards and commissions have at least twenty percent women was defeated. By the end of the twentieth century Minnie James’ request had yet to be met.

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Baptist Spirituality

Baptist Spirituality in America: a column on the distinctive spiritual emphases of Baptists in America by W. Loyd Allen, Professor of Church History and Spiritual Formation, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia.


“A Baptist Spirituality of Conversion”

by W. Loyd Allen


         During my dissertation-writing days, people often asked, “What’s it about?” When I answered, “Baptist spirituality,” an awkward pause often followed. I generally eased the tension by saying, “It doesn’t have to be a long dissertation, and you don’t have to have a good spirituality to have a distinctive one.” During the next few months in this space, I plan to debunk a few of the stereotypes that produced those awkward pauses and my defensive answer.

         For example, instant-gratification conversion and Baptist spirituality are not inseparable. Personal encounter with the divine, which is central to all Christian spirituality, is often associated among Baptists with conversion as a single point in time rather than a process. Streamlined evangelism in American revivals produced this understanding of conversion as instantaneous rather than progressive.

         Baptist history shows this was not always the accepted norm. John Taylor (1752-1835) apologized for the unseemly haste of a Mrs. Clark, who wept and prayed for three hours before obtaining “deliverance from her guilt before she left her knees.” Taylor guessed this unseemly haste could be explained by some prior concern for her soul Mrs. Clark must have had, though he did not know the particulars.

         Warmly evangelical Baptists once resisted the abbreviation of personal reflection and community counsel that Methodist efficiency instituted in camp meeting conversions. In derision of the abridged conversion processes, Baptist William Davis wrote sarcastically: “The Baptists . . . are the greatest bunglers that I have ever known. I have been attending their Associations for many years, but I have never known a soul convicted, converted, and finished off at a single meeting; but the Methodist can convict, convert, and finish off from 50 to 100 souls at a single camp-meeting.”

         Copying Methodist methods, Virginian Jeremiah Bell Jeter (1802-1880) promoted the first Baptist camp meeting in the Northern Neck. This means of evangelism was “so much at variance with views and tastes which had long prevailed among the brethren that they could scarcely look one another in the face without laughing” as they prepared the grounds. The success of this venture, however, “slew all the prejudices” against camp meetings held by Northern Neck, Virginia, Baptists. This numerical achievement in gaining new converts soon slew the prejudices of American Baptists almost everywhere. Instantaneous conversions came to be the norm in Baptist life in the United States.

          Today, more and more Baptists are interested in the kind of continuing conversion of life so familiar to historic Christianity before revivalism. Rising interest in the spiritual disciplines explored by Baptist authors such as Dallas Willard, Glenn Hinson and William Clemmons are evidence of this. They are opening new avenues into old territory: a Baptist spirituality of conversion as an ongoing process rather than a singular point in time.



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Baptist Hymnody

Baptist Hymnody and Worship in America: a column on historic worship practices of Baptists in North America and their contemporary relevance for Baptist life written by  Harry Eskew, Emeritus Professor of Church Music, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  Dr. Eskew taught at NOBTS for almost four decades and is a prolific writer on Baptist hymnology.


 "The Beginnings of Baptist Hymnody and the Church Ordinances"

By Harry Eskew


         The first Baptist hymnal to be compiled and published in America appeared in 1766, ten years before the Declaration of Independence. The beginnings of hymn singing among Baptists can be traced back to the London pastor Benjamin Keach, who as early as 1691 led his congregation to sing hymns in worship services. Keach maintained that singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs was a "Gospel ordinance" taught in the New Testament.

            The first American Baptist hymnal has a long title typical of the historical period in which it was published: Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Collected from the Works of Several Authors. Its compiler is unknown. Published in Newport, Rhode Island and often referred to as the "Newport Collection," the hymnal is divided into three sections according to occasions:

      I.    On Baptism (16 hymns)

     II.    On the Lord's Supper (74 hymns)

    III.    On Various Occasions (48 hymns)

         The first section reflects the Baptist emphasis on believers' baptism. The large number of hymns in the second section likely is related to the one occasion mentioned in scripture when Jesus and his disciples sang following the Last Supper. Keach also used this scripture as a basis for introducing the singing of hymns by his congregation following the observance of the Lord's Supper.

         This early Baptist emphasis on the singing of hymns for the ordinances is in great contrast to today's practice. A cursory comparison of this hymnal with the most recent hymnal of Southern Baptists, the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, reveals a 75% decrease in the number of hymns on Baptism (from 16 to 4) and an almost 80% drop in the number of hymns on the Lord's Supper (from 74 to 15). One cannot help but ask what changes in Baptist identity are signaled by such a dramatic change in the repertory of hymns.

         As was usual in hymnals until the latter nineteenth century, the Newport Collection contained no music. Music was published in separate collections known as tunebooks, which were used as textbooks in singing schools and included tunes sung in churches. The earliest American hymn tune now in common use was composed in 1792 by a Massachusetts Baptist, Oliver Holden, and published in his Union Harmony, or Universal Collection of Sacred Music (Boston, 1793). Known as CORONATION, Holden's tune is widely sung to Englishman Edward Perronet's "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name." For the writing of hymn texts among Baptists in America, one must look to primarily a later period, the nineteenth century, which we will come to later in this series of articles.

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Baptist Articles

Baptist Articles: Notes of journal articles: what they say, don’t say, almost say, and mis-say about Baptists. The following periodical notes are written by Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants, John F. Loftis Professor of Church History, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.


        Community is a persistent theme in recent religious writing--the lack of community, the need for community, historical attempts that failed. Still, there is a consensus that Christians have focused too much on the individual to the detriment of the common good, which needs to be defined anew in the 21st century.

        Two Baptist publications discuss earlier visions of unity and expanded community by Baptist leaders that failed. Richard H. Clossman’s article, “Ante-bellum Dream of a St. Louis Baptist Minister – ‘But we are now two parties’,” in American Baptist Quarterly, Vol. XXII, March 2003, No. 1 discusses Samuel W. Lynd and his failed vision of “fraternal unity among Baptists” embodied in the Western Baptist Theological Institute at Covington, KY established in 1840. Clossman argues that even though Lynd’s dream was not achieved in the failed Institute, the dream of “fraternal unity among Baptists is worth remembering.” Enlarging the Baptist understanding of community is still a goal to pursue.

        The Baptist Quarterly, Vol. 40, April 2003 includes a review article by Keith Clements entitled “Making a Denomination” where Clements analyzes Peter Shepherd’s book, The Making of a Modern Denomination: John Howard Shakespeare and the English Baptists 1898-1924. Clements points out that for all of Shakespeare’s organizational gifts and tremendous influence on English Baptist life, he failed to achieve his dream of a united Free Church of England, which would join the Anglican Church to form one Church of Christ in England.

        While these earlier dreams of an expanded community for Baptists were not realized, current literature is once again calling all Christians to dream of an expanded horizon of community. The Spring 2003 issue of Baptist Peacemaker (Vol. 23, No. 1) is entitled “Imagine…Building a Culture of Peace”. In that issue, Evelyn Hameman’s article, “Reaching the Margins to Build a Culture of Peace,” asserts “Community is the foundation necessary to building a culture of peace”(p. 10). Hameman reviews the Western cultural emphasis on the individual, but now states that a culture of peace can only be built by expanding our understanding of community to include all those on the margins. Christians need to recognize their connections to people they do not know and live accordingly.

       Before one idealizes community, though, it is worthwhile to read Erich Geldbach’s article, “Baptist-Jewish Relations: Some Observations from a German Point of View,” found in Baptist History and Heritage, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, Spring 2003. Geldbach articulates that in struggling for community Christians err in identifying the culture with the church. His emphasis based on the Baptist experience during the Holocaust is that Christians always need to remember that the Gospel is not “a pillar of the prevailing culture”(p. 24), but, instead, Christians are empowered by God to be counter-cultural. Counter-cultural today can mean seeing ourselves in community with those on the margins and working for justice and quality of life for all people.

       Elaborating on the issue of justice is the June 14, 2003 issue of The Christian Century devoted to the theme, “The Widening Gap–Income and Inequality.” Especially helpful to any church who wants to study justice for all and expanding the Christian understanding of community are the articles by Harlan Beckley, “Mind the Gap,” and Walter Bruggemann, “Inventing the poor.” Beckley analyzes in a succinct, readable fashion four books dealing with the widening gap in income distribution and health care from theological, ethical, sociological and government program perspectives. He argues that the isolation of sufficient income hinders many Christians from knowing about poverty, why people are poor, and how privileged isolation can contribute to the widening gap in income and health care. Beckley urges Christians to “agree with others about justice and the common good without compromising the integrity of their faith or their individual religious freedom.”(p.25) He realizes that a concept of the common good needs to be redefined and that Christians need to contribute to the public discourse about a just society for all people. Walter Bruggemann reviewed Peter Brown’s book, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire. Bruggeman’s analysis is that Brown’s book proves how Christian leaders of an earlier time “demonstrated how the primal language of the church could perform as a public language” (p. 31). He urges Christians today to do this in the public discourse as the common good is being redefined.

       Finally, the Spring 2003 (Vol. XXIV, No.2) issue of Leadership is devoted to “Community Transformation: Making a lasting difference in the place where your church lives.” Two articles demonstrate practically how churches have redefined the common good, expanded their understanding of community and transformed both the church membership and the community in which the church lives. “A Whole New Attitude” by Robert Lewis points out that before his church could impact their community they had to change their understanding of the purpose of being Christian and the Church. John Beukema in his article, “Like a Good Neighbor,” analyzes six very practical keys for a church to be a better neighbor within the community in which it exists.

       These articles and books blending current church praxis, historical reflection on failed attempts at community, and analyses of the nature of the common good give Baptists ample material for expanding their understanding of community and for contributing to the broader public discourse. Self-study and encounter leading to transformed action are contributions we can make now.

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Baptist Books


Baptist Books: brief book notes written by Bruce Gourley, a former campus minister, author of The Godmakers, the present Online Editor of Baptists Today, and a Ph.D. student in Southern History, Auburn University.

Malcolm O. Tolbert, Shaping the Church: Adapting New Testament Models for Today, Macon, GA, Smyth & Helwys, 2003, 171 pages.

            “We’re a New Testament church!” This refrain is often heard in Baptist circles even as many Baptist leaders increasingly glorify the Mega-Church and CEO Pastor model. Malcolm O. Tolbert argues that appeals to the early church are more often self-serving than legitimate. According to Tolbert, community was the basis of the New Testament church. Today, individualism and technology have fragmented community, resulting in many Baptist churches being focused on membership rather than members, doctrinal correctness rather than faith, and denominational exclusivity rather than the universal Body of Christ. However, God’s agenda of creating community remains steadfast in the midst of changing times. Tolbert’s insistence that no one denomination can rightly claim to be the New Testament church is timely. Shaping the Church offers practical biblical advice rather than packaged answers. This book is recommended for pastors and lay people who are concerned about the state of 21st century Baptist churches.

James E. Tull and Morris Ashcraft, High-Church Baptists in the South: The Origin, Nature and Influence of Landmarkism, Macon, GA, Mercer University Press, 2000, 182 pages.

            More than any other group, Landmarkers trumpet Baptists as being the one true New Testament church. This volume is a revision of Tull’s influential 1960 dissertation (A History of Southern Baptist Landmarkism in the Light of Historical Baptist Ecclesiology), edited and with a preface by Morris Ashcraft. Tull’s death in 1989 left the revised work unfinished. Ashcraft put finishing touches on the manuscript, including a preface which casts the Landmark (or “High-Church”) movement in light of the current Southern Baptist fundamentalist controversy. This highly-readable volume traces the manner in which Landmarkism led many Baptists to equate the local Baptist church exclusively with the Kingdom of God, and any “affiliations” outside the local Baptist church – within or without Baptist life – as Antichrist. Scholarly yet straightforward, High-Church Baptists is well-documented and serves as an excellent introduction to the birth and lasting influence of Landmarkism in Southern Baptist life.

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Baptist Myths: A New Pamphlet Series

A series of eleven pamphlets that address negative perceptions held towards Baptists in popular American culture. These pamphlets are suitable for individual study, church classes, and academic courses. They are jointly published by the Baptist History and Heritage Society, The Center for Baptist Studies of Mercer University, and the Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society. Editor: Doug Weaver; Associate Editors: Charles W. Deweese & Walter B. Shurden. The pamphlets will be available for distribution by August 15, 2003, in time for fall church and school classes.

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Baptistville: Conferences and Lectures


 A Pastor’s Workshop: Dealing With the Hot Potato Church/State Issues Today:

A Morning With Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee

Sponsored by

The Center for Baptist Studies

Mercer University

Thursday, 4 September 2003


Vineville Baptist Church
2591 Vineville Avenue
Macon, Georgia


Cost: Free

For more details , go to our Home Page, click Conferences.


Mercer Preaching Consultation


 The Center for Baptist Studies

and McAfee School of Theology


September 28-30, 2003


St. Simons Island, Georgia

King and Prince Hotel


Cost: $50

(Registration and refund deadline September 15, 2003)

For more details , go to our Home Page, click Conferences.


Teaching and Preaching the Baptist Heritage in the Local Church

 October 17, 2003

 Mercer University

 Macon, Georgia

Religious Life Building


Leaders: Dr. Walter Shurden,

                The Reverend Greg Thompson,

                Dr. Pam Durso,

                The Reverend Robbin Mundy,

                Dr. Quinn Pugh


Cost: $25

For more details, go to our Home Page


Call for Proposals


God, Democracy and U.S. Power:

Believers Church Perspectives



How do Christians in the Believers Church tradition,

living in a democracy that is the world’s dominant power,

understand their witness to God?


This fifteenth gathering in the series of Believers Church Conferences

is being hosted by Eastern Mennonite University and Bridgewater College

in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

with assistance from the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office,

Church of the Brethren General Board Washington Office and

the Baptist Joint Committee,

Thursday-Saturday, September 23-25, 2004.


deadline for proposals: October 1, 2003


for more information or to submit proposals:


Nate Yoder

Eastern Mennonite Seminary 

Harrisonburg, VA 22802


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 Visit The Center For Baptist Studies Home Page.