"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"

November 2004                 Vol. 3  No. 11

Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

Walter B. Shurden, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Bruce T. Gourley, Associate Director, The Center for Baptist Studies

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:


I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "Saints of Mine"

The Baptist Soapbox: Henlee Barnette

         "Why I am Proud to Be a Liberal"

Emails from Baptists around the World: Regina Claas

         "Baptists in Germany Today"

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole

         "Saint Don's Day"

The Baptist Spirit: Strengths and Challenges: Charles W. Deweese

         "Global Baptists and Liberty"

What I Am Learning in My First Year as a Baptist Female Pastor: Robin Norsworthy
"Lessons Learned While Finding My Pastoral Voice"

BSB Book Review:  A Genetic History of Baptist Thought, by William Brackney

         Reviewed  by Fisher Humphreys

The Story of Primitive Baptists: John G. Crowley
"A Primitive Baptist Association"

Dates to Note: Upcoming Events


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"Saints of Mine"

By Walter B. Shurden


I believe . . .

that some Baptist saints, both living and dead, never will receive their due from Baptists in America. They will go down, after my generation passes, in relative obscurity because of "The Controversy." But some of us knew them, studied with them, broke bread with them, heard them pray and preach, and mostly stood in awe of them. They are saints of mine.

I almost named my only son "Stagg" because of the impact Frank Stagg had on my life. One of the foremost interpreters of the New Testament among Baptists in the twentieth century, he may get a small scholarship named after him at the McAfee School of theology. He deserves more!

Dale Moody taught hundreds and hundreds of students theology at Southern Seminary. Fundamentalists drove him out of the school to which he had devoted his very life. Has anybody anywhere named anything after Saint Dale? He deserves more!

Wayne Oates dominated the study of pastoral care in theological life for almost four decades. But even more, he helped scores and scores of us through troubled times, about which there will be no public reporting. Yes, there is an institute named after him, but will any of the Baptist schools memorialize Wayne Oates for the future? He deserves more!

Penrose St. Amant was a leader of theological education among Baptists on two continents and an animated teacher of church history. The Whitsitt Society has an annual lecture for him that few people know anything about. He deserves more!

And Henlee Hulix Barnette! Henlee died only a couple of weeks ago at 93. Death has lots of things wrong with it, but one among them is terrible timing. Henlee’s autobiography is due out of Mercer University Press shortly. We had hoped he would live long enough to read his own story, but, sadly, it was not to be. A cornpone professor of Christian Ethics at Southern Seminary for three decades, Henlee was one of a kind. Hiding a mountain of intelligence behind a southern drawl that he picked up at Sugarloaf Township, North Carolina, Henlee had, at the very center of his life, an old fashioned religious experience that catapulted compassion into the forefront of the rest of his years. I heard several years ago that Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond was working to honor Henlee in a lasting way. I hope it comes to pass. He was a Baptist saint who knew almost nothing about piousness and much about holiness.

One of the very last things that Henlee ever wrote follows this article. Discovered among his papers, it was intended to be an op-ed piece but was never published. What a final piece! Read "Why I Am Proud to Be a Liberal" as the swan song of Saint Henlee. He deserves his own day of sainthood.

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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 the late Henlee Barnette, longtime professor of Christian Ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  Written as an op-ed piece but was never published, this is one of the last articles, maybe the very last, that Henlee ever wrote.  In many ways, it summarizes his life.


"Why I Am Proud to Be a Liberal"

By Henlee Barnette


Liberal-bashing has become a favorite pastime. Religious fundamentalists and extreme talk show hosts are at it continuously. They deconstruct and demonize those who do not agree with their ideology. Rush Limbaugh is the "top gun" in bashing Democrats. He calls them idiots, imbeciles, fools, liars and nuts. He calls women feminazis and babes.  Other talk show hosts, who are wannabes, echo the same sophistry.

I am proud to be a liberal and to be identified with the liberals.  Below I state why.

1. I am a liberal because they have compassionate character. All seven dictionaries in my house characterize a liberal as someone who is free from prejudice, favoring more civil liberty and generous. Moreover, liberals favor policies of reform and progress.

2. I am a liberal because our Constitution is liberal. "We the people" produced the Constitution "to promote," among other things, "the general welfare," and to secure the "Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." The Declaration of Independence declares that Americans are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" - and when the "Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it." Over half of the Amendments to The Bill of Rights have to do with human rights, progressively achieved. These documents of democracy are progressive and call for reform in government when it fails to preserve and practice these values.

3. I am a liberal because I know what it is like to work under a conservative and an oppressive economic system. In the "good old days" (1925-1935) I worked in a cotton mill ten hours per day, five and one-half days per week. Beginning pay was eighteen cents per hour. There was no medical care, no retirement program, no minimum working hours, and no minimum wage. A worker could be fired for no reason at all. All members of the family had to work to survive. This was so-called "free enterprise." Progressive liberals changed the system and we now have legislation that provides a quality of life more in harmony with the principles of The Constitution, the Declaration, and the Bible. Practice of these principles saved us from revolution that plagues other nations.

Neo-cons denounce economic and social progress led by liberals: minimum wages and working hours, Medicare, Social Security, and welfare for the poor. (Conservatives oppose welfare for the poor, but not for the corporate welfare.) Ironically, they gladly accept these government services for their retired parents and grandparents and will for themselves when they become older. Too, they argue for less big government and fiscal responsibility. But that is changing with the Bush administration. Government control of all areas of our lives is occurring and we have the largest US debt in history.

4. I am a liberal because Jesus was one. (See my article "Jesus was a Liberal," Baptists Today, Nov 20, 1997.) His mission was one of liberation. He was anointed to preach the good news to the poor, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:16-19).  Jesus came to liberate us from sin (Matt 1 :21). He is a liberal because He put human need above ecclesiastical law (Mark 3:1-6; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5).

Jesus liberates little children (Mark 10:14). He liberated women by providing them with a place in His ministry (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40-41). They financially supported His ministry (Luke 8:2-3), stood by Him at the Cross (Matt 27:55-56; John 19:25-27) and were first to witness His resurrection and to carry the joyful news to the deserting disciples (Matt 28: 1-10).

Jesus was a liberal because he was inclusive. He included Gentiles in the embrace of His grace and the orthodox sought to kill Him (Luke 4:16-30). Jesus was ecumenical. His disciples discovered someone casting out devils in Jesus' name but did not follow Him and they tried to stop him. Jesus rebuked their narrow view (Luke 9:49- 50). As Christians we are all one in Christ so "that the world may believe" (John 17:21). For these reasons and much more I am a Jesus liberal who puts love above law, righteousness above ritual, justice above injustice and mercy above meanness.


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Emails From Baptists Around the World: An Email on Baptists in Germany Today.  The Reverend Ms. Regina Claas is the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Germany.


"Baptists in Germany Today"
By Regina Claas


             In 1849 Johan Gerhard Oncken founded the first Baptist Union of Germany. At the time of Oncken’s death in 1884 the Union counted 165 churches and more than 30,000 members. Under political pressure during the Nazi regime, churches of Baptist, Elim and “Brethren” tradition formed today’s Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany, which is a member of the Baptist World Alliance. The majority of the churches (about 80%) is of Baptist origin.

            Currently 854 local churches with a total of 85,000 members belong to the Union. There are many other Baptists in Germany.  For example, a great number of believers are immigrating from the former Soviet Union and forming their own fellowships, but only a few of them are fully integrated into the existing German Union.

            Some of the oldest churches, situated in inner cities, are today battling with a decline in numbers. They are also aging. Young families have left the city and moved to the “Green Belt” suburbs, starting new and vibrant churches but leaving the “mother church” desolated. Other factors of urbanization also contribute to this development. While these battling churches have few opportunities to celebrate new conversions and baptismal services, in other areas of our country churches are growing and attracting seekers. An average of 2,000 baptisms per year does not reflect the total growth, as more and more people attend worship services and other church gatherings, but are reluctant to commit themselves to baptism and to church membership. Non-denominationalism is a trend not to be underestimated.
            A few years ago our Union underwent a severe crisis. The Lord has been merciful and has helped us through. We are now in a process of spiritual renewal and internal reconstruction, combined with stringent financial management. Lean management and effective delegation to many volunteer leaders and co-workers help us meet our goals. We have had to concentrate our work, but we have not reduced our most important task of winning people for Christ.
            Friendship evangelism and contemporary methods of sharing the Gospel are changing the face of our churches. Many influences from ecumenical movements and para-church organizations enrich the activities and contribute to our main purpose of engaging in the mission of Christ, i.e. evangelism, world mission and diaconal work.
           This year we launched a campaign to encourage our local churches in their efforts to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many churches have few members and little strength.  These churches need encouragement to persist and move on under difficult circumstances. Fresh ideas and methods, but also support in manpower and finances, are crucial. Internet assistance, teams of evangelists travelling to churches and working with them, leadership training, mission trips of our partners from the U.S. and elsewhere are among the activities of the campaign.
           Social ministries remain a vital part of church life. Baptist hospitals, day care centers, programs for single parents, care for the aged and disabled, activities for the unemployed, substance abuse rehabilitation programs and providing food for poor families help local churches address today’s pressing social issues.
           World mission has always been at the heart of our Union. The emphasis however has shifted from a sending union to a union doing world mission in partnership, both ends contributing as well as receiving.
           Of course there are many differences among our churches, differences in size and style, but also theological and cultural differences. Unity in Christ is our highest priority. We therefore try to discuss issues of controversy in an open and loving manner, seeking consensus where possible and agreeing to differ in opinion in lesser issues.

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Bible and Poor

Baptists, The Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole is a Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi where he delights in ministering alongside the poor. "Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, served Baptist churches for twenty-five years. Among the churches he has served are First Baptist Church, Macon, GA, First Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, MS.


"Saint Don's Day"
By Charles E. Poole

              I am writing these words on November 1.  For over one thousand years, November 1 has been the fixed date of All Saints’ Day on the Christian calendar.  When I was the pastor at First Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, I walked across the street one day to St. Joseph’s Church to ask Father John Cuddy to educate me on the origins and meaning of All Saints’ Day.  Father Cuddy told me that, in an effort to honor the memory of significant saints, the church started having “saints’ days” relatively early in church history (St. Peter’s Day, St. Stephen’s Day, St. John’s Day, etc.).  At some point, though, the church realized that there were more saints in the church than there are days in the year, so the church developed the idea of “All Saints’ Day” to honor all those lesser known believers who deserve a day of their own but won’t ever have one. 

            Today, on All Saints’ Day, I want to write about one of those saints.  His name is Don.  He is a member of Sweet Rock Missionary Baptist Church.  Every Monday, he leads the singing and I preach the sermon at an inner-city community of faith called Stewpot.  (Don can play a piano like Gabriel can play a horn.)

            Don lived on the street for nearly a decade of his adult life.  He has known the absolute poverty and danger of homelessness; night after night, year after year.  But now, by the grace of God, the care of others and Don’s own hard work, he has a home.  And he uses his amazing gifts and his more amazing story to lift the lives of the poor, the outcast and those who are as homeless as he himself once was. 

            Don is a Baptist saint; a Baptist saint who embodies everyday what the Bible says about caring for the poor.  He’s like most of the saints you and I know; not nearly famous enough to have his own saint’s day, a day named Don on the Christian calendar.  Which proves, once more, why we Baptists need a day every year to honor all the saints who deserve a day of their own, but won’t ever have one. 

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The Baptist Spirit

The Baptist Spirit: Strengths and Challenges: Charles W. Deweese, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, writes this section of BSB. An articulate and passionate Baptist, he identifies the historic Baptist Spirit in America.

"Global Baptists and Liberty"

By Charles W. Deweese


            The Baptist World Alliance will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2005, and Baptists worldwide will gather in the centennial Baptist World Congress meeting in Birmingham, England to celebrate the united efforts of more than 200 Baptist bodies around the globe. Conspicuously, the Southern Baptist Convention will be absent as a member body. The SBC, a dynamic component of the BWA and its Congresses for 99 years and the leading source of funds for BWA ministries, rejected and de-funded the BWA in 2004 because the BWA’s historic freedom emphases did not match the SBC’s control orientation.

Which pattern is right for Baptists: freedom or control? An examination of the Official Reports containing addresses made at Baptist World Congress meetings between 1905 and 1955 quickly shows that Baptists on an international scale favored liberty in pronounced fashion. The following summarizes the essence of a few key points made across a 50-year period:

1905—Augustus H. Strong (USA), Baptist theologian and president of Rochester Theological Seminary, hammered home the importance of absolute liberty of conscience.

1905—John Clifford (England), the first BWA president, asserted that no barriers can come between the soul and God.

1911—J. H. Rushbrooke (England), who would hold numerous BWA positions, including general secretary in 1928-1939, observed that Baptists strongly defend the position of individualism.

1923—G. Teofilo Vickman (Spain), president of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Spain, asserted the universal priesthood of all believers, opposed state-churches, and affirmed that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

1923—Helen Barrett Montgomery (USA), an ex-president of the Northern Baptist Convention, declared Jesus to be the great emancipator of women.

1928—E. Y. Mullins (USA), president of the BWA and of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, waxed eloquently on the right of private judgment.

1928—N. J. Nordstrom (Sweden), principal of Bethel Theological Seminary in Stockholm, discussed the non-binding nature of confessions of faith.

1934—A. W. Beaven (USA), former president of the Northern Baptist Convention, claimed that Baptists should have no man-made creeds.

1939—J. N. Tennent (Scotland), past president of the Baptist Union of Scotland, presented the biblical basis for the priesthood of all believers.

1947—Mrs. Edgar Bates (Canada), a noted Baptist leader, presented a powerful statement in behalf of freedom in the Baptist world mission.

1947—Gunnar Westin (Sweden), professor at the University of Uppsala, urged that Baptists remain committed to freedom of thought.

1950—Arnold T. Ohrn (Norway), BWA general secretary, laid out the role of Christ as the anchor of freedom.

1955—Santiago Canclini (Argentina), a noted Baptist leader, enumerated the risks of liberty—and the necessity of taking such risks.

If any Baptist today still needs to be convinced that liberty is better than control, perhaps this universal Baptist voice in behalf of liberty can serve as the turning point.          

The implications of this slice of world Baptist history are as plain as day for contemporary Baptists who favor theological conformity, separation from Baptists who refuse to buy into their party line, a gradual fusing of church and state, and a determined oppression of women in ministry. Although Christ is the great emancipator, although the apostle Paul claimed there is no difference between male and female, although Baptists worldwide through the BWA have made freedom the Baptist calling card, and although Baptists at their best appreciate diversity, the SBC, captive to the personal agendas of misled leaders, moves forward as if Christ, Paul, the New Testament, the BWA, and the hundreds of Baptists martyrs who have died for freedom really just do not matter anymore. To that attitude, 50-years worth of Baptist World Congress addresses say five words: “It’s not Baptist! It’s wrong!”
Freedom is right. Inherent in creation, authorized by Christ, mandated by scripture, central to Baptist principles, and defended by Baptists worldwide, freedom rests on solid rock. BWA Congresses have taught us that Jesus meant what he said when he launched his ministry in Nazareth in the synagogue on the Sabbath by reading from the book of Isaiah that the Spirit of the Lord had sent him to proclaim release to the captives and to set free those who were oppressed (Luke 4:18).


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The Mercer Preaching Consultation '04
has been rescheduled

St. Simons Island, King and Prince Hotel
DATE:  November 21-23, 2004

To register for The Mercer Preaching Consultation, send check ($50 per person with spouse attending for an additional $25) made payable to "McAfee School of Theology," marked "For 2004 Preaching Consultation," to Sharon Lim, Mercer University, 3001 Mercer University Drive, Atlanta, GA 30341-4115.

(There is no registration form. Your letter and check will suffice.)

To register at the King and Prince, call 800-342-0212 and request reservations for The Mercer Preaching Conference. A credit card will be needed to reserve the room. There will be a choice of rooms, oceanfront or not.


What I  Am Learning in My First Year as a Baptist Female Pastor: The Reverend Robin Norsworthy is pastor of University Baptist Church in Montevallo, Alabama.  A graduate of Mercer University and McAfee School of Theology, Norsworthy describes what she is learning in her first year as the senior pastor of a local Baptist church.

"Lessons Learned While Finding My Pastoral Voice"

By Robin Norsworthy


            I have almost completed my first year of ministry at University Baptist Church in Montevallo, AL. In a conversation with one of my Presbyterian colleagues about this article, he commented, “Robin, won’t it be nice when you’re just a pastor, not a ‘female’ pastor.” That day will come, but female pastors are fairly new in Baptist life, so for now I am okay with being a "female" pastor.  

            Here are some of the things I am learning and discovering in my first year:

·         I love to preach! In the past I preached occasionally and drew great satisfaction from the study and preparation. At first I worried that weekly sermon delivery might diminish the joy I derive from preaching, but to my delight each new week brings a new challenge and new discoveries.

·         Because worship preparation and pastoral care take so much time and energy, my Sunday afternoons are a wonderful time of respite, a big contrast to my weekly routine. My husband and I intentionally plan our afternoons for rest and enjoyment with one another whenever possible. 

·         I am learning not to worry about Christians who do not agree with female pastoral leadership. Thankfully those who disagree have not affected my ministry so far. I constantly look for ways to bridge the gap and build positive relationships with them.    

·         I appreciate my weekly ecumenical lectionary group which has become a great source of encouragement and support.

·         Keeping a balance of female and male leadership in our church is a challenge, but extremely important. It took years for women to gain a voice in the church, but now we must ensure the male voice continues to be heard as well.

·         My most important ministry is one of presence. I play with my congregation members, love them, support them, encourage them, mourn with them, sing with them, laugh with them, and minister alongside them with great joy.

·         My congregation appreciates it when I admit my inadequacies and seek more education in any particular area to enhance our ministry together.

·         Every situation does not require immediate attention. Feelings get hurt often in the church family and sometimes allowing things to cool from a boil to a simmer before attempting to talk things over works best. 

·         I must minister out of my authentic self (which happens to be female).

·         God must be at the center of my being. Prayer is a necessity, not an option.   

·         I must never take for granted the awesome privilege of leading a congregation in ministry.


          In her book, Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard tells about buying communion wine. Dillard contemplates the whole process from buying it to serving it on the communion table. What makes ordinary wine into Holy Communion element? Likewise, I ponder the movement from ordinary wife and mother to God’s called messenger. May I always enter the pulpit remembering my awesome responsibility to search for new discoveries about the mystery of God’s holiness!

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Are you a Baptist Minister interested in a week-long sabbatical of supervised

reading in Baptist Studies? Click here for more detail.


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BSB Book Review: 

BSB presents a review of the recently published book, A Genetic History of Baptist Thought, written by William Brackney and published by Mercer University Press.  Brackney teaches historical studies in the Department of Religion at Baylor University and directs the Program in Baptist Studies.

Fisher Humphreys, Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, reviews A Genetic History of Baptist Thought.

            William Brackney has mined four sources to write the first-ever survey of British and North American Baptist thought: confessions of faith, hymns, the writings of pastors and editors, and the writings of academic theologians. In support of his proposal that Baptists have an identifiable theological heritage, he identifies seven genetic traits they all display.

            First, they accept the authority of Christ: “All Baptists understand a personal experience with Christ as essential to a definition of true Christianity” (529). Sometimes Baptists become so Christocentric the doctrine of the Trinity suffers.

            Second, Baptists give priority to the Bible. This is as true of Baptist liberals such as William Newton Clark as it is of Baptist Fundamentalists.

            Third, Christian experience is important. This is as evident in Baptist theologians such  as E. Y. Mullins as it is in Baptist music.

            Fourth, Baptists share a modified Reformed theological tradition. I suppose this means that Baptists who reject Calvinism are in the Reformed tradition in the way James Arminius was in the Reformed tradition in the Netherlands.

            Fifth, Baptists care deeply about a believers church: “One joins the people of God on God’s invitation through personal response” (534).

            Sixth, Baptists are evangelical and gospel-oriented: “Baptists have not been a quiet people about their positions on sharing the love of God in Christ, justice, mercy, and human rights” (535).

            Finally, Baptists care deeply about freedom.

            Brackney’s first chapter is a magisterial review of confessions. Here he wrote that the final sentence in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (“The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ”) is a product of Neo-Orthodox influence (52), but elsewhere (307) he wrote that the liberal William Newton Clarke “interpreted Scripture in light of Christ.” I suspect that interpreting Scripture in light of Jesus is not original with either liberalism or Barthianism.

            Brackney’s second chapter is on music; I welcome Brackney’s decision to include this important source for our understanding of Baptist thought.

            The third chapter is about early British Baptist pastors and writers.  This chapter goes through the work of John Clifford (d. 1923), and there is no subsequent chapter on later British pastors. Brackney expresses special appreciation for John Bunyan, “the most widely read Baptist of all times” (107). Brackney’s evenhandedness is evident in his descriptions of people as different as John Gill and Andrew Fuller, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon and John Clifford.

            The fourth chapter is on British Baptist academic theologians and is organized by schools: Bristol, Midlands, Regent’s Park, and Spurgeon’s. This surprising arrangement provides an interesting angle of vision.

            Chapter 5 is about American Baptist pastors and editors, North and South, from John Clarke of Newport through Isaac Backus, the historian Morgan Edwards, the free-will Baptist Benjamin Randal, the hyper-Calvinist Daniel Parker, the Landmarkist J. R. Graves, and the champion of the deeper life movement, A. J. Gordon. This chapter by itself confirms one of Brackney’s principal theses, namely, that Baptist thought is diverse. I would have welcomed a discussion of John Leland’s thought here.

            Chapter 6 is about American Baptist schoolmen, organized by schools: Brown, Newton, Colgate, Rochester, Chicago, Cobb (Freewill Baptist), and Crozer.

            Chapter 7 is about Southern Baptist schools: Mercer (principally John L. Dagg), Furman, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (especially James Boyce, E. Y. Mullins, and Dale Moody), and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (principally W. T. Conner and James Leo Garrett). I wish that in this chapter Brackney had given attention to the work of W. O. Carver and Frank Stagg, among others.

            Chapter 8 is a splendid overview of African American Baptist traditions. Chapter 9 is an insightful overview of Canadian Baptist traditions.

            Chapter 10 is about individual theologians in North American since World War II: Carl Henry, E. J. Carnell, Bernard Ramm, “pilgrim theologian” Clark Pinnock, Millard Erickson, James Wm. McClendon, Harvey Cox, W. A. Criswell, Jerry Falwell, and Billy Graham.

            In the final chapter Brackney provides his analysis of Baptist genetic traits.

            This is a great book by a learned and influential historian, and I recommend it enthusiastically to all who care about the Baptist theological heritage.

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13 Day Baptist Heritage Tour         July 25 - August 6, 2005
Birmingham, England

The Baptist Heritage Tour includes the Centennial Congress of the Baptist World Alliance.
It is organized by Dr. Drayton Sanders, Chairman, Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia.
Dr. Johnny Pierce of Baptists Today and Dr. Walter Shurden of The Center
for Baptist Studies will accompany the tour.  For information contact
Dr. Drayton Sanders at 706-226-2349 or at


The Story of Primitive Baptists: John G. Crowley, a life-long Primitive Baptist with a Ph.D. in history from Florida State, is Professor of History at Valdosta State University and author of Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South, 1815 to Present.

"A Primitive Baptist Association"

By John G. Crowley


            I attended the 2004 session of the Alabaha River Primitive Baptist Association, held November 5-7 at Rome Church, Ware County, Georgia.
            On Friday and Saturday much of the meeting was devoted to the annual business of organizing the association, the format of the business sessions remaining identical to that in Baptist minutes from the early nineteenth century. The business went forward in great harmony, and the statistics revealed the largest increase in membership in many years.

            Interspersed throughout the business sessions were hymns and several sermons. The introductory sermon, on the parable of the Good Samaritan, was delivered in the best of their passionate, rhythmic, highly allegorical style, and became the theme of all the other sermons of the sessions, with each minister ringing changes on it. A number of young people, several of them church members, hung upon the preaching with all the intensity of their elders. The recent election was ignored, although several prayers besought mercy for those caught up in war.

            Southeastern Georgia is a stronghold of both Lloyd's Primitive Hymns, and the Cooper Revision of the Sacred Harp. The meeting resounded with the intense hum of ancient modal melodies sung in complex harmony. The effect of such singing brings to mind the remark of John Leland that during the Great Awakening in Virginia, the "singing was more blessed among the people than the preaching."

            On all three days, the services were followed with enough food to feed the Pope's mule, with the meal itself accompanied by spontaneous bursts of favorite hymns.

            On Saturday afternoon, the congregation repaired to the Satilla River for the baptism of two new members, the crowd at the waterside reinforced by relatives and friends not at the earlier services. The presiding minister recounted the conversion experience of a young man being baptized, which had been clinched by an apocalyptic dream. Many hymns accompanied the baptismal service, and I noticed some of the younger people in tears as they shook hands with the newly baptized.

            The Sunday service was entirely devoted to worship, and concluded with the "parting hand," accompanied as always by the realization that some in the congregation will not be there the following year.

            The Primitive Baptists have declined in recent years, but every now and again they see that the bush is not consumed, and still burns with the old flame.

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Dates to


Dates to Note


November 21-23, 2004, The Mercer Preaching Consultation, The King and Prince Hotel, St. Simons Island, GA. For details go to and click "Conferences."


July 27-31, 2005, Centennial Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, Birmingham, England. To register email , phone 703.790.8980, or fax 703.893.5160.

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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.

Order Form

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