Chapter Three: Baptist Beginnings in America and Confessionalism in the Early Nineteenth Century
Now that a definition of strict Calvinism has been discussed in chapter two, along with examples of not only what a strictly Calvinistic confession looks like (PCF and Asplund’s abstract), but also how an association worded its article on election so as to avoid the doctrine of Unconditional Election expressed in the PCF (Broad River association), the stage is set to discuss some contextual factors affecting the Baptist movement in early America.
The historical record shows that while strict Calvinism played a major role—perhaps a domineering role—in the theological makeup of American Baptist soteriology beginning at the turn of the 18th century, it does little justice to the immense diversity of Baptist independence to ignore the obvious differences the evidences indicate were present between Baptists who held strict Calvinism on one hand and Baptists who embraced a significantly modified Calvinism (i.e. mild Calvinism or non-Calvinism) on the other.109 As the evidence in this study unfolds, a confessional shift appears on the horizon in Baptist subculture as far back as the early 1800s that predictably would press the reset button so far as strict Calvinism ruling the soteriological beliefs of the majority of Baptists was concerned.
While few, if any, question whether strict Calvinism had its theological claws embedded deeply within American Baptist life in 1800, strict Calvinism was far from the universally accepted salvific scheme many assume existed among Baptists until well into the 19th century, and some indicating well into the 20th century (Ascol & Finn, 2011, p. 136). Rather Baptists wrangled over Calvinism at the very beginning of the 19th century, and even before. Much of the conflict about Calvinism that took place was occasioned by the rise of Separate Baptists in New England who later migrated south into Virginia, the Carolinas, and Kentucky.110 Indeed in many ways, Separate Baptists represented well the Baptist movement from its inception into Colonial America, a movement not monolithically minded. As W. W. Sweet notes concerning Providence Baptist Church, presumably the first Baptist church organized on American soil, “Some of the leading members held Arminian views, others were strict Calvinists” (Sweet, 1942, pp. 128-129).111
Baptists in America entering the 19th century
According to some estimates, Baptists entered the 19th century with a mere hundred thousand or less. By the century’s end, however, Baptists had saturated both the south and western frontier by the thousands, even millions. “In America Baptist membership grew from some 100,000 to 313,000 during the first half of the [19th] century and climbed to over 3 million by its end” (Bebbington, 2010, p. 84). Similarly, H. K. Carroll argues that by 1893, White Regular Baptists in the north numbered 800,450 while White Regular Baptists in the south had grown to a staggering 1,280,066 (Carroll, 1893, pp. 22-30).112 In 1707, about 20 Baptist churches existed with approximately 500 members, “or about 1 to 530 of the population” (Boyd, 1957, p. 53). By 1814, the Baptist ratio to population had remarkably gained 1 to 47. Over the century, Boyd claimed Baptist churches increased to 1,835 congregations with approximately 179,657 members, attributing the growth of Baptists from the 18th century until well into the 19th century to several factors including the establishment of Baptist schools, spiritual awakenings, Baptist publications, foreign missionary movement, and even the persecution Baptists endured by the Church of England (Ibid, pp. 53-83).
Beginning with the close of the 18th century, N. Hatch persuasively argues that within the post-Independence War era between 1780-1830, American Christianity was just as significantly impacted in the United States as was the politics of the newly found nation (Hatch, 1989, p. 6). Trending away from centralized authority, religious populism wildly reigned in the newly established republic. Resulting from what Hatch called the “democratization of religion,” David Bebbington concludes that a period of “extraordinary divisiveness” entered the evangelical world, including the Baptists. “Strong-minded souls who confidently carved out their own path in religion threatened the unity of denominational structures” (Bebbington, 2010, p. 85).
Among the five distinctive religious traditions affected by and influential in the rise of the general populace coalition “doing theology for themselves,” Hatch places Baptists (Ibid, pp. 4; 21). As America successfully revolted against its mother country, so now “The 1790s also witnessed fundamental challenges to the legal profession, orthodox medicine, and the [Christian] ministry as an office” (Ibid, p. 27). And, according to Hatch, given the aura of independence American culture was then experiencing, an all-out war on Calvinist orthodoxy seemed inevitable. “To the rebellious leaders of populist religious movements, nothing represented ecclesiastical tyranny more than the Calvinist clergy. […] In the face of efforts of Calvinist coalitions to buttress Christian civilization, populist religious leaders worked with equal determination to withstand the control [Calvinists maintained] …and launched a ferocious crusade against every facet of Calvinist orthodoxy” (Hatch, 1989, p. 170).
Accordingly, Hatch and Bebbington seem to show the incipient socio-trends away from Calvinism even before the beginning of the 19th century which, if they are correct, appears to question any pronounced confidence that strict Calvinism had an impregnable grip on American Baptists before 1845. It should be noted, however, that the successful struggle for independence from Britain that America accomplished should not necessarily be interpreted as primary in understanding why Calvinism was suffering setbacks in American Protestantism, especially among Baptists. Neither Hatch nor Bebbington seems to adequately account for the rugged theological individualism Baptists embraced from the very beginning of their existence. Baptists were born and bred in the cradle of dissent. As Roger Williams had insisted as a fundamental Baptist principle, each man “reserved to himself the rights of conscience, which no number of the ‘major’ part might touch, and That at once was made an inalienable right” (Boyd, 1957, p. 21; Italics original). For Baptists, the notion of cooperate democratic rule on one hand and individual conscience on the other was intrinsically embedded within their free church tradition. Or, as Walter Shurden later says more colloquially, “Here Come the Battling Baptists” (Shurden, 1972, pp. 11-19).
Furthermore, Baptists were theologically divided among themselves over Calvinism well before Hatch’s notion of the “democratization of religion” in the post-Independence War era (1790-1830). Controversy over Calvinism existed in the first Baptist church on American soil established in 1638/1639. Recalling Sweet’s note above, “Some of the leading members held Arminian views, others were strict Calvinists” (Sweet, 1942, pp. 128-129). Porter Burbank suggests that beginning with the banishment of Roger Williams from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “different views of the Atonement and Christian theology generally” have existed among Baptists, “some inclining to Calvinistic, others to Arminian, sentiments” (Burbank, 1849, p. 74). Burbank goes on to summarize that “generally there was but one denomination of Baptists in America till the origin of the Freewill Baptists, a little more than sixty years ago” (Ibid).
Within this “one denomination” of Baptists, however, Baptists fought over Calvinism though those who adhered to strict Calvinism appeared to out-number those who theologically questioned some of its key tenets. Scott Bryant concurs but insists the variations in Baptist life during the colonial period cannot be dismissed. In fact, according to Bryant, various groups of Baptists with numerous nuances of soteriology defined the colonial Baptist landscape. “To ignore the theological variety of the Baptist churches that existed prior to the [Great] Awakening is to disregard a number of Baptist congregations that should not be forgotten when telling the Baptist story. From their beginnings in America, Baptists have not exhibited one monolithic Baptist theology, but a variety of Baptist theologies that when examined in full produce a true picture of the Baptist tradition in colonial America” (Bryant, 2007, pp. 9-10).113 David Benedict had previously claimed: “FROM nearly the beginning of the Baptists in America, there have been some, who have opposed a number of the principal articles in the Calvinistick [sic] creed. For a long time, most of these brethren resided in Rhode-Island and its vicinity, where their history has been related” (Benedict, 1813, p. 410).
CHAPTER ONE: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
1.2 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.3 PROBLEM STATED AND RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
1.4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.5 PRELIMINARY LITERATURE REVIEW
1.6 TRAJECTORY OF THE RESEARCH
CHAPTER TWO: WHAT IS CALVINISM?
2.2 CALVINISM IN BAPTIST LIFE
2.3 DEFINING CALVINISM FOR PURPOSES OF RESEARCH
2.4 DETECTING CALVINISM IN BAPTIST SOURCES
2.5 STRICT BAPTIST CALVINISM AND THE PHILADELPHIA CONFESSION OF FAITH
2.6 STRICT BAPTIST CALVINISM IN ABSTRACTS OF FAITH REFLECTING THE PHILADELPHIA CONFESSION AND ALTERNATIVE CONFESSIONAL TRADITIONS
CHAPTER THREE: BAPTIST BEGINNINGS IN AMERICA AND CONFESSIONALISM IN THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
3.2 BAPTISTS IN AMERICA ENTERING THE 19TH CENTURY
3.3 BAPTIST DEMOGRAPHICS
3.4 THE RISE OF SEPARATE BAPTISTS AND THE IMPACT ON CONFESSIONAL CALVINISM IN THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
CHAPTER FOUR: THE NEW HAMPSHIRE DECLARATION OF FAITH: A DELIBERATE MOVE AWAY FROM CONFESSIONALLY STRICT CALVINISM
4.2 THE NEW HAMPSHIRE DECLARATION OF FAITH (1833, NHC)
CHAPTER FIVE: NINETEENTH CENTURY ASSOCIATIONAL CONFESSIONS AND EXAMPLES OF CONFLICT OVER CALVINISM IN THE SOUTHERN STATES
5.2 CONFESSIONS AND CALVINISTIC CONFLICT IN THE SOUTHERN STATES
CHAPTER SIX: THE FORMATION OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION AND CONFESSIONAL CALVINISM IN THE SOUTHERN STATES
6.2 THE MEETING AT AUGUSTA, GEORGIA IN 1845
6.3 THE PHILADELPHIA CONFESSION, SOUTHERN STATES, AND ASSOCIATIONS REPRESENTED IN 1845
6.4 CONCLUSION: STRICT CALVINISM, THE PHILADELPHIA CONFESSION, AND THE FORMATION OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION IN 1845
CHAPTER SEVEN: BAPTIST CONFESSIONALISM AND ASSOCIATIONS IN THE SOUTHERN STATES IN THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY
7.2 SOUTHERN STATES ORGANIZING THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION IN 1845: SELECTED ASSOCIATIONS AND CONFESSIONS IN THE LATTER 19TH CENTURY
7.3 SOUTHERN STATES SYMPATHETIC TO ORGANIZING THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION IN 1845: SELECTED ASSOCIATIONS AND CONFESSIONS IN THE LATTER 19TH CENTURY
CHAPTER EIGHT: CONFESSIONAL CALVINISM IN BAPTIST ASSOCIATIONS AMONG THE SOUTHERN STATES IN THE 19TH CENTURY: SUMMARIZING THE RESEARCH AND FINAL CONCLUSION
8.2 SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE EXAMINED AND FINAL CONCLUSION
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT