Vol. 8 No. 3

  The Jesse Mercer Plaza
  Mercer University, Macon Campus 


Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
A Monthly EMagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin




In Response To . . . : Bruce T. Gourley

         "The Land of Nones"

Celebrating 400 Years of Being Baptist: A Free Church Bulletin Insert Series

         "Baptist Contributions to Religious Freedom"

The Baptist Soapbox: J. Brent Walker

         "Biblical Basis for Church-State Separation"

Ministering Together in Community: A Baptist Women in Ministry Series

          Bonnie Oliver Brandon
          "Conflict Resolution: Solving Problems and Crisis in Ministry"

The Baptist Heritage: The Testimony of John Clarke: John Clarke

          "The Testimony of John Clarke, a Prisoner of Jesus Christ in Boston"
Dates to Note: Baptist Events Calendar

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In Response to . . . :  Currently the Interim Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, Bruce has been on the staff of the Center since 2004.  He previously served as a campus minister and professor of church history.  In addition, he is involved in a number of areas of moderate Baptist life through the medium of the Internet.

"The Land of Nones"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           The news is echoing across America: in the land of megachurches and religious-fawning politicians, the fastest-growing faith demographic is ... nones. In a nation known for high religiosity during the twentieth century, the past two decades have witnessed a dramatic decline in the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as religious.
           The statistics are stark. Religion is declining throughout the United States, and the number of Americans claiming no religion (15%) is neck-and-neck with those who claim to be Baptists (15.8%), the second largest religious group in the nation, trailing Catholics (25%).
           The receding tidal wave of religion is revealing empty rural churches and thriving urban coffee shops. (I'd like to see some data regarding how many Americans spend their Sunday mornings in their favorite coffee shop.) Not surprisingly, senior citizens are more likely than not to be the ones sitting in church pews any given Sunday, while most young adults do not darken the doors of church.
           Four centuries ago, an earlier group of nones slowly elbowed their way to recognition within a religiously-dominated landscape. Rejecting openly religious cultures and governments of the colonial era, they adopted an alternative faith identity that church, state, and society dismissed as heresy and even paganism. These nones of old suffered generations of rejection and persecution, yet eventually emerged from their wilderness travails to lead America into a religiously-leveled landscape. While some establishment powers resisted the changes wrought by Baptists and their allies, the die had been cast: the vision of a lowly group of outsiders led America to become the first nation to separate religion from the realm of the state.
            Today's reassertion of individuals who fall outside the parameters of recognized faith expressions hints that once again religion is viewed by many as a detriment rather than a force for good or carrier of truth. Will the decline of religion force America's faith groups to confront the internal causations of their institutional struggles? Will the growing public rejection of institutional faith once again serve to rescue America from the shortcomings and fallacies of religion? Will the better elements of faith and religion move to the public forefront? Will religion as we know it today survive beyond the next generation or two? No one may know the exact answers to these questions, but perhaps the nones harbor insight into what the future of religion in America will look like.

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Celebrating 400 Years of Being Baptist:  The Center for Baptist Studies and the Baptist History and Heritage Society present a twelve-month series of free church bulletin inserts for use in teaching Baptist heritage in the local church during the 400 year anniversary of Baptists. The image below is a copy of one side of this month's pdf document.  You can view each month's feature (in pdf format) here.

Bulletins are
material and
can only be
used for
within a church.
For permission
to reprint any
text or images,
please contact:

Pamela R. Durso 
by email at
or by phone at (678) 547-6095.

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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 J. Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  Walker is both a member of the Supreme Court Bar and an ordained minister.

"Biblical Basis for Church-State Separation"
By J. Brent Walker

               Religious liberty is a gift from God, not the result of any act of toleration or concession on the part of the state. It has to do with what we Baptists call “soul freedom” — the liberty of conscience that we all receive simply by virtue of how God created us and chose to relate to us.
               God has made all of us free — free to say yes, free to say no, and free to make up our own minds about our spiritual destiny.
               Religious freedom has theological import. It goes to the heart of who God is and who we are. So, the fight for religious liberty for all is to ensure against government doing what even God will not do: to violate consciences or to coerce faith.
               Baptists became champions of religious liberty and church-state separation in large measure because we are a people of the Book. For many Baptists, religious liberty is well grounded in Scripture. Its taproot runs deep into the creation accounts in Genesis. The creation of human beings in God’s own image necessarily implies a freedom on our part to choose for or against a relationship with God, voluntarily and without coercion.
               In the New Testament, Jesus speaks forcefully about freedom. Many would assert it was at the very foundation of his ministry. Reading from Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus announces that he had been anointed “to proclaim release to the captives and … to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18) Jesus liberated all who would choose to follow him from the slavery of their sins: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). The apostle Paul preached freedom, as well. To the Galatians he railed against the slavery of legalism. He boldly declared that, “[f]or freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery?” (Galatians 5:1)
              The Bible does not articulate a full-blown doctrine of the separation of church and state. Yet, its seeds are clearly present. Jesus at least foreshadowed the concept when he said “[g]ive therefore to the emperor things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) Jesus’ behavior was consistent with his words. He never took a coin from Caesar or sought the help of Herod in his ministry and mission.
              In many places, the New Testament outlines the contours of the separate realms of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. The church is given the tasks of spreading the gospel (Acts 1:8), teaching doctrine (Matthew 28:20), and discipling believers (Ephesians 4:11-13). The state is divinely ordained to resist evil (Romans 13:3) and keep order (I Peter 2:13-15). Although these realms sometimes overlap and do not necessarily clash, the New Testament bears witness to a two-kingdom world
each with separate duties and each engendering different loyalties.

This essay by Brent Walker is included in a new publication by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty entitled, Religious Liberty is a Gift From God, and available for order from the BJC.

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Ministering Together in Community: A Baptist Women in Ministry Series:  Bonnie Oliver Brandon lives in Memphis Tennessee. She is the executive assistant to the pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Memphis, and serves as the connecting leader of the Baptist Women in Ministry.

"Conflict Resolution: Solving Problems and Crisis in Ministry"
By Bonnie Oliver Brandon

It has been said that battles are waged more often among believers themselves, rather than against the forces of evil in the world. In our ministry efforts, we sometimes run into problems and crises that appear to be waiting just for us. We face problems that defy easy solutions, cause rifts within the community of believers, and make it difficult to say “I’m sorry.” Being imperfect human beings—frail and fallible—we have to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge the fact that we are both quick and slow: quick to anger, quicker to blame, slow to forgive and even slower to forget. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely word, until they have something to forgive.” Ministerial positions or denominational status does not exempt us from conflict. Rather, our positions and status should propel us into the ministry of reconciliation.
            The role of the congregation in building communities where we are safe to be fully human and imperfect human beings is rooted in the context of God’s love. Because we are relational in nature we must find ways to love and forgive each other without instituting boundaries. Although the Bible speaks often about conflicts and how to handle them (Prov. 17:27; Eph. 4:32; Rom. 12:17), scripture does not always answer all our questions when we are confronted with crisis in ministry.
            Because conflict can endanger relationships and because relationship conflicts and disagreements are inevitable, as servants of God we must recognize, manage, and learn the skills needed for conflict resolution. Saying “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love your neighbor as yourself” is easy, but knowing a few basic resolution techniques can help us deal with conflict more diplomatically especially in ministry:

·        Work to become a person of understanding.

·        Use and build good communication skills so that you can control your emotions. Keep a cool head in order to use an even-tempered approach when dealing with others. Remain calm. Manage stress levels as well as recognize and practice nonverbal communication.

·        Look beyond the fault of others to see their need. Be aware of emotions that signal needs and learn to respect others’ differences.

·        Pay attention to the feelings being expressed as well as the spoken words of others in order to hear what others are saying. Develop trust and offer alternative ways to a resolution. Your way is not the only way, even though you or the congregation has done things a certain way for forty years.

·        Choose your arguments and battles wisely.

·        Do not play the blame game, become defensive, avoid conflicts altogether, or demand that you are right.

·        Develop or use a sense of humor to combat bitterness.

·        Learn to end conflicts that can not be resolved.

·        Learn how to forgive others.

·        Learn to love others.

Every little step we take individually and collectively toward reconciliation and loving relationships with other believers is an example of the at-one-ment we have with Christ.  If conflict is handled properly it creates a vehicle of opportunities for growth, strength, and a more unified community of believers and ministry, thus revealing to others and the world the moral, forgiving quality of God’s character in us.

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The Baptist Heritage: The Testimony of John Clarke:  In honor of the 400th anniversary of Baptists, we offer the following testimony from John Clarke, pastor of the Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island, in the mid-seventeenth century.  In 1651 Clarke traveled to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to preach, and was imprisoned in Boston for speaking of his faith. Accused of denying infant baptism and thus being a soul murderer, Clarke answered his accusers from his jail cell, insisting upon religious liberty.
"The Testimony of John Clarke, a Prisoner of Jesus Christ in Boston in the
Behalf of my Lord, and of His People"

By John Clarke

I testify that Jesus of Nazareth whom God hath raised from the dead, is made both Lord and Christ; This Jesus I say is the Christ, in English, the Anointed One, hath a name above every name....
            I testify that Baptism, or dipping in water, is one of the commandments of this Lord Jesus Christ, and that a visible believer, or disciple of Christ Jesus (that is, one that manifesteth repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ) is the only person that is to be baptized....
            I testify or witness, that every such believer in Christ Jesus, that waiteth for his appearing, may in point of liberty, yea ought in point of duty to improve that talent his Lord hath given unto him, and in the congregation may either ask for information to himself; or if he can, may speak by way of prophecy for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the whole, and out of the congregation at all times, upon all occasions, and in all places, as far as the jurisdiction of his Lord extends, may, yea ought to walk as a child of light, justifying wisdom with his ways....
            I testify that no such believer, or servant of Christ Jesus hath any liberty, much less authority, from his Lord, to smite his fellow servant, nor yet with outward force, or arm of flesh, to constrain, or restrain his conscience, no nor yet his outward man for conscience sake, or worship of his God, where injury is not offered to the person, name or estate of others, every man being such as shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and must give an account of himself to God, and therefore ought to be fully persuaded in his own mind, for what he undertakes.

The above quotation is a condensed, edited (to make it more readable to modern readers) version of John Clarke's letter.  A copy of the full version is contained in a reprint of Ill News from New England published by The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc.

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Recommended Online Reading
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Scholar Claims Dead Sea Scrolls 'Authors' Never Existed
TIME Magazine

"Biblical scholars have long argued that the Dead Sea Scrolls were the work of an ascetic and celibate Jewish community known as the Essenes, which flourished in the 1st century A.D. in the scorching desert canyons near the Dead Sea. Now a prominent Israeli scholar, Rachel Elior, disputes that the Essenes ever existed at all — a claim that has shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship."

New Battle Lines on Stem Cells
Chicago Tribune

By reversing political policies regarding stem cells, president Obama ushers in a new era regarding issues of life and death.


Dates to Note: Baptist Events Calendar

April 13-14, 2009, T. B. Maston Lectures sponsored by Logsdon Seminary in Hardin-Simmons University at 7:00 pm on Monday, April 13, 2008, in Logsdon Chapel and 9:30 am on Tuesday, April 14, 2008, in Behrens Auditorium.  Each lecture is free and open to the public. Emmanuel McCall, founding pastor of The Fellowship Group in Atlanta, Georgia, is the guest speaker.

April 14-15, 2009, "The Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State," Macon, Georgia campus of Mercer University. Professor Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University, will deliver the lectures.

May 2-3, 2009, Baptist World Alliance Day. Join the worldwide community of Baptist believers in observance. More information.

June 4-6, 2009, Baptist History and Heritage Society Annual Meeting, Huntsville, Alabama.  Hosted by First Baptist Church, Huntsville. Theme: Events Shaping Baptist Heritage in America. More information.

June 26-28, 2009, American Baptist Churches USA biennial meeting, Pasadena, California. More information.

July 2-3, 2009, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Houston, Texas.  More information.

July 15-18, 2009, International Conference on Baptist Studies V, Whitley College (Baptist College of Victoria), Melbourne, Australia. The conference takes Baptists as its subject matter, but participation is not restricted to Baptists, either as speakers or attendees. The theme is "Interfaces--Baptists and Others," which includes relations with other Christians, other faiths, and other movements such as the Enlightenment. It may be explored by means of case studies, some of which may be very specific in time and place while others may cover long periods and more than one country. Offers of papers to last no more than 25 minutes in delivery (although the full text may be longer) are welcome. Please submit the title to the conference coordinator, Professor David W. Bebbington, Department of History, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4TB, Scotland. A volume of conference papers will appear in the Studies in Baptist History and Thought series, published by Paternoster Press. The college will provide participants with full board over the three days of the meeting and all charges will be kept as low as possible.  Programs and application forms will be available in a few months.

August 6-7, 2009, New Baptist Covenant Midwest Meeting in Norman, Oklahoma. Guest speakers include former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. More information.

September 27-29, 2009, Mercer Preaching Consultation, King & Prince Beach & Golf Resort, St. Simons Island, Georgia.  Featured speaker: Dr. Walter Brueggemann. To register or for more information, contact Terri Massey by email or phone her at 478.301.2943.

October 22-24, 2009, New England Women in Ministry Conference, Massachusetts. Keynote speaker is Rev. Yamina Apolinaris.  To register or for more information, contact Rev. Dr. E. Darlene Williams.

July 28-August 1, 2010, 20th Baptist World Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, Honolulu, Hawaii.  Registration is now open. More information.

If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to this list, please let us know.

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