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“Reformed Theology and the Southern Baptist Convention: Historical Precedent or Revisionist Heterodoxy

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Liberty University

“Reformed Theology and the Southern Baptist Convention:
Historical Precedent or Revisionist Heterodoxy

A Research Paper Submitted to Dr. Jonathan Yeager in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
The Course CHHI 525

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

by
Jeffery S. Cully

Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina
July, 2014

Table Of Contents
Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………….3
Reformed Baptist Origins……………………………………………………………………...4
Colonial Baptists………………………………………………………………………………5
Charleston Tradition………………………………………………………………………….7
Sandy Creek Tradition………………………………………………………………………..10
Southern Baptist Convention………………………………………………………………..12
Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………...15
Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………………...17

Introduction
While Arminians have through the years attempted to lay claims of exclusivity that theirs is the primary soteriological doctrine of the Southern Baptist Convention, history demonstrates otherwise and these assertions have a revisionist inflection that is in opposition to the autonomous nature of Southern Baptist congregations.
It is not this papers intent to engage in the pros or cons of any given doctrine as it pertains to soteriology, but instead illustrate that what is seen by some as a modern incursion of Calvinism upon the Southern Baptist scene is in fact not without precedent and has a long standing tradition among many of this denominations most ardent practitioners.
The Southern Baptist Convention is no stranger to controversy having in its 169 year history been at the center of disputes that have unfortunately at times led to division among its members and guided its course for generations. From the more recent inerrancy debates of the twentieth century to the schism of nineteenth century Landmarkism, Southern Baptists have shown themselves passionate about where they stand on issues. In June of 2006, Dr. Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary engaged in an amiable and enlightening debate over one such issue that has in recent years become center stage among Southern Baptist theology; the proliferation of reformed theology within Baptist seminaries and congregations. While their respective positions were one of opposition to the other, the most important aspect agreed upon was that Calvinism should not lead to divisiveness among the congregation. There are those however that argue the very real possibility for a schism exists among the SBC, especially in light of the growing popularity of such reformed pastors as Matt Chandler, David Platt and Francis Chan, whose brand of evangelical Calvinism has been met by some, opposed to its rapid spread, with a rather vitriolic rebuke. This has resulted in the battle lines being drawn among some camps, each claiming their respective history as the sole legacy for the Southern Baptist Convention. For this very reason there is a justification to examine the historicity of each positions claim and the impact it may have upon the SBC.
It is again, not the agenda of this author to engage in theological debate aimed at arguing for or against the merits of a given soteriology. However an examination of the political, social and doctrinal influences affecting the early practices of American Baptists, can establish if in fact Calvinism played a role, if any, in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.
By exploring the historical ancestry of the Baptist church within the Southern American states during the period between the seventeenth through nineteenth century, and in particular its relationship to the Charleston and Sandy Creek traditions, there should develop a sufficient amount of data to answer the thesis question.
Reformed Baptists Origins The seventeenth century saw a proliferation of religious Protestantism throughout Europe where once there only existed the dominion of the Roman Catholic Church. There were the Germanic principalities and enclaves who were primarily controlled by the Lutheran Churches whose origins were directly descended from Luther the great reformationist himself, while Papal influence remained solidified throughout southern Europe among the Italians, Spaniards and French.
Farther North the Reformed churches in the tradition of Calvinism found strong support among those living in Switzerland, the Netherlands and most especially Scotland with even a sizable minority in France as well.
Meanwhile in England, the Anglican tradition had begun under the banner of the Church of England after having separated itself from the Roman Catholic tradition during the 1530’s; a response by Henry VIII to Pope Clement VII’s refusal to annul the kings marriage with Catherine of Aragon. It is from the last of these, during the Elizabethan period, that the rise of English Puritanism can be seen culminating in disillusionment with the reign of James I and finally revolution under Charles I.
Originally disgruntled Calvinist elements within the Anglican Church, these radical Protestants known as Puritans would eventually evolve into a loose confederation of Presbyterians, Separatist and Congregationalist who in essence were as much a political movement as a religious one.
It was from these first separatist and Congregationalist that the rise of General Baptist under the guidance of John Smyth is seen as well as the eventual planting of the first Baptist church in England in 1611 under the leadership of Thomas Helwys. Definitively Arminian in theology, the General Baptist were the first of two Baptist traditions to form in England, the second being that of the Particular Baptists (Reformed) whose origins are tied to the moderate separatist Henry Jacob and his JLJ church from which, in the 1630’s, would evolve the first Particular Baptist church in London. Colonial Baptists With the pursuit of religious liberties and freedoms being sought within the American colonies, the irony of a Puritan New England entering into the same type of compact between governmental and ecclesiastical authorities from which they fled, was not lost on those with more separatist leanings. And so it was in 1638 after having fled Massachusetts as a result of his attempted arrest and deportation to England, Roger Williams now residing within his established colony of Providence in what is today, Rhode Island, chartered the first Baptist church in the Americas. While it was a relatively small body comprised of practitioners from both General and Particular traditions that first immigrated to the colonies, in America these two entities maintained separate identities from each other. Whereas in England the General Baptist foothold antedated that of the Particulars, the opposite would be true in the colonies with the founding of the Providence church by Williams who adhered to a Calvinistic theology.
Based upon Williams short period with the Baptist Church, there are those however, who assert that the honor of the first Baptist Church planted in America should be attributed to another Calvinist, John Clarke who founded a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island around the same time as Providence Baptist Church. Clarkes tenure as a Baptist minister, on the other hand lasted for over forty years until his passing in 1676. The majority of the Newport church, as well as Clarke himself were Particular, however there did exist among the ranks some aligning as General Baptist and eventually in the mid 1660’s a schism occurred with twenty-one members leaving to form their own church, advocating a general redemption along with the laying on of hands and restrictions against singing.
The second half of the seventeenth century would see progressive growth of Baptist churches throughout New England in places such as Swansea, Kittery and even Boston, with most a composite of General and Particular practitioners. Persecution of Baptists was still a reality in New England, however strides were made among Particular Baptists, there as well as in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania; especially in Philadelphia which became a center of Baptist activity, eventually leading to the formation of the Philadelphia Association in 1707. However, for one Particular Baptist minister in Kittery, Maine, new horizons awaited and so it was in 1696 that veteran pastor William Screven would move his established congregation to Charleston, South Carolina where the first official Baptist church in the South was chartered becoming one of two major tributaries leading to the establishment of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Charleston Tradition To allude to the idea that the migration of the Kittery congregation to Charleston constituted the arrival of the first Baptists to the region, would be a misgiving and not stand under the weight of scrutiny; especially in light of evidence demonstrating that there already existed at least thirteen families who were either General or Particular Baptists. Never the less it was under the leadership of Screven that the emerging Southern Baptist identity began to unfold more so than any growth in numbers. Indications are that Screven did engage in some circuit preaching resulting in conversion, however by his own account the First Baptist Church of Charleston in 1708 numbered no more than approximately ninety parishioners. His influence upon the soteriology of the Southern Baptist tends to be his biggest contribution during this time frame, having promoted the “correctness” of a Calvinistic theology as well as adopting a modified version of the London Confession in 1700 as a primary doctrinal creed of the church. Upon Screven’s passing in 1713, the Charleston church would go through a succession of rather non-descript or forgettable pastors until 1725 with the arrival of Thomas Simmons, a non-Calvinist, whose 22 year tenure was one of division and controversy, eventually leading to the schism between General and Particular Baptist, who until now had been cooperative with one another. In 1736 Isaac Chanler would be called upon to pastor the newly constituted Particular congregation now chartered as Ashley River, it’s own distinct church.
In 1740 one event would stoke the embers of tension that had been smoldering among the General Baptist and moderate and staunch Calvinist of the Particular camp; the arrival of George Whitefield and the Great Awakening. Of course the leaders of the Great Awakening were Calvinist and Whitefield being no exception was received favorably by the majority Particular Baptist and other dissenters alike; the exception being the General Baptist who opposed him. Eventually the evangelical emphasis of the Great Awakening lead to these Baptist factions, ‘Particulars and dissenters,’ to take names more reflective of their ecclesiastical stance; Particular Baptists being called Regular Baptists and the dissenters Separate Baptist. In 1747 Thomas Simmons died leaving the pulpit at First Baptist Church of Charleston empty for two years and with a roster of less than a handful, before the arrival of Oliver Hart in 1749 who would reverse the tide. In that same year Isaac Chanler would die as well leaving Charleston and Ashley River pastor less. In 1750 Hart, a Calvinist, would be installed as pastor for both the Charleston and Ashley River churches and by the following year would preside over the Euhaw and Welsh Neck congregations as well having established a cooperative association known as the Charleston Association. From meager beginnings, Hart would see steady growth through his thirty year ministry at Charleston, and by 1770 the association consisted of over twenty churches with 871 members; this for a population of 11,000. With the onset of the American revolution, Hart who was both a patriot and politically active was forced to flee British occupied Charleston, never to return. The swinging of the theological pendulum which had become common throughout the Southern colonies, would now rest upon Richard Furman, an evangelical Calvinist, raised in Charleston, and who in 1787 at the age of thirty-two would become pastor. An anomaly of sorts Furman’s theological stance is a matter of debate, some seeing him a staunch Calvinist, who was merely drawn to the emotionalism of the Separate Baptist, others an adherent whose baptism under Joseph Reece, speaks for itself. Either way the doctrinal differences between Separate and Regular Baptist had moderated by this time and Furman was able to bring an evangelistic fervor to the Charleston congregation while maintaining a formal atmosphere to both his preaching and worship. Furman also supported formal Baptist education and as well the creation of the first national Baptist organization, the Triennial Convention, of which he would became its first president. Furman however, was a slaveholder who in 1822 issued a formal defense of the Southern practice further alienating Northern abolitionists and revealing the religious and cultural divide that began to exist between North and South. The stage was set for what would eventually become one of the largest Baptist movements ever. Charleston’s Baptists were not the sole influence upon Southern Baptists, however as another evangelical tradition and product of the Great Awakening made great strides to the immediate North.
Sandy Creek Tradition In the late summer and fall of 1740 George Whitefield’s first preaching tour would take him through Hartford and other Connecticut communities. It was during one of these sermons that a young farmer by the name of Shubal Stearns would experience a spiritual regeneration leading him to evangelize others into becoming ‘born again’ as well. He would pastor as a Separatist Congregationalist until attending a prayer meeting with Baptist minister Wait Palmer, who upon answering lingering questions Stearns had on baptism and conversion, converted along with his family, becoming a Separate Baptist. Along with his brother in law Daniel Marshall and a new evangelistic zeal, Stearns set out for Virginia, where he met with little success before settling in the Granville district of North Carolina and on November 22, 1755 forming the Sandy Creek Baptist Church. Stearns and Marshal would travel extensively throughout the district preaching an experiential Gospel that often involved enthusiastic praise and worship, and an incorporation of hymns and other spiritual songs, not commonly used by Regular Baptist. It was in the context of this eighteenth century revivalism, a reformation of sorts occurred where the evangelical message of the Separate Baptist was appealing to the average man who lacked any formal doctrinal education, but nonetheless had the ability to practice his faith with heartfelt emotion. What differentiated the Separate Baptist from Regular Baptist was less centered on doctrinal issues as with evangelical outreach, preaching style, liturgy and the practice of the nine rites. The attraction was plainly evident as witnessed by the phenomenal growth of the Sandy Creek Association which by 1758 consisted of three churches; Sandy Creek, Abbott Creek and Deep River. Within three years Stearn and Marshall’s ministry had accumulated over nine hundred congregants, with six hundred of them members of Sandy Creek. In time the continued growth of the Sandy Creek Association and its eventual thirteen churches could be felt throughout the North Carolina and Virginia back country as well as parts of South Carolina. By 1770 the North Carolina Provincial Governor William Tyron was engaged in the quashing of the, “Regulators,” an anti-government movement of farmers and tradesmen that took to arms to fight for honest government and a relief from burdensome taxation. Tyron’s troops, for some time were encamped at Sandy Creek and as a result the congregation dwindled to little more than a dozen parishioners as members migrated to Tennessee and other areas free of persecution.
Shubal Stearns would pass away the following year, and soon after, Daniel Marshall would move his family to Georgia, where he would continue the work started in North Carolina before himself passing in 1787. Their legacy remains however, as seen through the vestiges of contemporary Southern Baptist practice.
The suspicions and differences between Separate Baptist and Regular Baptist would tend to melt away as both sides gradually worked toward cooperation and understanding. Separate Baptist would in time soften their stance on confessions and Regulars would practice liberty pertaining to the more zealous aspects of Separate Baptist practice and ultimately both would unite upon the basis of the Philadelphia Confession. By 1788 Baptists within Virginia and North Carolina were united, which would gradually occur in South Carolina and Georgia as well.
Southern Baptist Convention While great strides had been made towards the unity of Baptists and the establishment of mission boards and other organizational aspects, division remained between Baptist of the North and South, most specifically over the issue of slavery. Driven by the perception of unfair treatment of Southern Baptist despite the assurances by the Home Mission Society of neutrality, Georgia Baptist conducted a test case involving the submission of slave owner James Reeve as a candidate for missionary service. In addition the Baptist State Convention of Alabama sent a letter to the Triennial Convention, point blank asking if slaveholders would be accepted as missionaries, going as far as questioning the authority of the Convention to be the sole authority on this issue. The HMS response to the Georgia Baptist was one of refusal to vote upon Reeve, based on it not being a real case, whereas the Triennial Convention responded that it was in fact within their authority to determine missionary suitability and alluded to slavery as being incompatible with missions work.
The final shots had been fired in an ever growing Baptist schism that would lead to the birth of a new organization comprised of Southern Baptists, who would forever change the face of Protestantism both the Americas and the world. And so it was On May 8, 1845, the first Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia, hosted 293 delegates representing eight Southern churches, during which a constitution was drafted, naming themselves the Southern Baptist Convention.
This new organization of Southern Baptist, went immediately to work forming the Foreign Missions Board, which had been one of the major issues of debate with Northern and Southern Baptist and while still remaining autonomous, the local and state conventions established closer connections with the SBC through its various agencies and boards.
By 1850 over one million congregants claimed membership with the Southern Baptist Convention which had accepted a Calvinistic confession of faith and were actively engaged in promoting it’s doctrines within its various articles and periodicals.
As the Southern Baptist Convention continued to evolve the foundational influence of Calvinistic theology is readily apparent through the words of its first president James Boyce who in July of 1856 gave his now famous inaugural address, “Three Changes in Theological Education.” Hollingsworth sums up Boyce’s position well when he writes:
The address was a call to the newly-formed Convention to establish an institution of higher learning that would contribute to the education of its ministers. Boyce apparently felt that among Baptists, theological seminaries such as Rochester and Newton did not do an adequate job nor train an adequate number of ministers for Baptist churches. His primary concern, however was theological. Boyce heralded the need for a Southern Baptist institution that would, among other things, stave off the influence of false doctrine. In this address, he mentioned two particular: Campbellism and Arminianism.

The result was historical to say the least, with in the fall of 1859 the establishment of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. James Boyce would remain its President and Chairman of Faculty until his death in 1888 setting a standard of Reformed theology that remains with this institution to this day. Other influential leaders such as John Dagg would make important contributions to the Calvinistic curriculum of Southern Baptist seminaries with his “Manual of Theology” and establish Evangelical Calvinism as the mainstay of theology during his tenure as President of Mercer University in Georgia. Baptist leaders such as W.B. Johnson, Basil Manly Sr., and the famous preacher and educator John Broadus, who as well would later become President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, each Calvinists, made a lasting impact upon the identity of the college and Baptist theology. Finally, the Calvinistic influence upon Baptist education and practice was not limited to a certain few Southern states but could be felt as far West as Texas and into the turn of the century with the renowned Southern Baptist preacher and founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, B. H. Carroll. A fierce opponent of Campbellism and hyper-Calvinism Carroll would some years after his death in 1914, come to be called by some “the most influential theologian among Southern Baptist.” At the center of Carroll’s theology are the doctrinal themes of election, original sin and effectual calling in which Carroll’s decidedly Reformed interpretation can be witnessed in his writings. His discourse on election found in Ephesians 1, aptly reveals his Calvinistic stance when he writes:
I take up the first one-election. What is it? Abstractly it means choice. Concretely there may be and election of a nation, like Israel, for a national or typical purpose, but that is not what he is discussing here. He is discussing the election of individuals or persons. When did this election take place? Before the world was. As it took place then, and as we were not existing then, in whom did it take place? We were elected in Christ. To what end were we elected? That we should be holy and without blemish in love. That is what the text says about the election.

Conclusion The distinctives of the Southern Baptist Convention stand apart from the majority of ecumenical and religious entities that make up Protestantism. Its passionate defense to the local autonomy of a congregation and liberty in the practice of worship are in direct response to the persecutions under which Baptists came to be. It is in this liberty that in the truest sense the priesthood of all believers is able to come to fruition for all men, regardless of position or religious education. This freedom is protected both by the Baptist faith and the spirit of cooperation and unity that it fosters. The question now becomes one not of origins of soteriology, but as to whether this should be an issue over which to divide. An honest examination of the historical record illustrates that the Southern Baptist Convention was founded upon key Calvinistic doctrines, with the infusion of ecclesiastical traits that lent itself towards evangelism and expository preaching meant to elicit an emotional response. Even the most resolute detractor of Calvinism cannot deny this is the theological tradition under which the Southern Baptist Convention was founded and remained the standard well into the turn of the twentieth century. No amount of revisionism can change this fact. Instead the focus should be in learning the lessons of our forefathers by humbling ourselves and embracing a unity by which we are in one accord; less concerned with the mechanism of one’s salvation, then the role we play in bringing about that person’s salvation through the preaching of the Gospel.

Bibliography
Bill, Leonard. Baptists in America. New York: Columbia Universtiy Press, 2005.
Carroll, B.W. Baptists and Their Doctrines. Nashville: Broadmand & Holman Publishers, 1999.
Chute, Anthony L. Evangelism, Education and Cooperation Among Calvinistic Baptist of the Old South: An Examination and Assessment of the Work and Writings of Jesse Mercer. PhD. Dissertation, Deerfield: UMI Dissertation Publsihing, 2002.
Cook, Matthew W. The Impact of Revivalism Upon Baptist Faith and Practice. PhD. Dissertation, Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertation Publishing, 2009.
Dever, Mark Edward. Representative aspects of the theologies of John L. Dagg and James P. Boyce: Reformed Theology and Southern Baptist. ThM Dissertation, Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertations Publishing, 1987.
Gaustad, Edwin, and Leigh Shmidt. The Religious History of America. New York: Harper One, 2002.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol. II The Reformation To The Present Day. New York: Harper One, 2010.
Harvey, Paul. "Baptists." In Blackwell Companions to Religion: The Blackwell Companion to Religion in America, by Blackwell Publishing. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2010.
Hill, Jonathan. History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Hollingsworth, Mark Barrington. James Petigru Boyce: Southern Baptist Soteriology in the Reformed Tradition. ThM Dissertation, Ann Arbor: Umi Dissertation Publishers, 2007.
Kaufman, Wil and Heidi Slettedahl MacPherson. Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics and History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005.
Kendall, Robert Tillman. "The Rise and Demise of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention." Order No. 1304757, University of Louisville, 1973. In PROQUESTMS ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text, http://search.proquest.com/docview/302683099?accountid=12085. (Accessed June 20, 2014).
McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville: B&H Academic, 1987.
McGrath, Alister. Christianitiy's Dangerous Idea. New York: Harper One, 2007.
Paschal, George Washington. History of North Carolina Baptist Vol. II. Raleigh: The General Board North Carolina Baptist State Convention, 1955.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. Hill 2006, 268
[ 2 ]. Ibid, 256
[ 3 ]. Gonzalez 2010, 193
[ 4 ]. McGrath 2007, 137
[ 5 ]. McBeth 1987, 32
[ 6 ]. Ibid, 44
[ 7 ]. Gaustad and Shmidt 2002, 66
[ 8 ]. Ibid, 69
[ 9 ]. Kendall 1973, 34
[ 10 ]. Ibid, 35
[ 11 ]. Kaufman and MacPherson 2005
[ 12 ]. McBeth 1987, 139
[ 13 ]. McBeth 1987, 139
[ 14 ]. Kaufman and MacPherson 2005
[ 15 ]. Gaustad and Shmidt 2002, 90
[ 16 ]. Kendall 1973, 37
[ 17 ]. Cook 2009, 32
[ 18 ]. Cook 2009, 41
[ 19 ]. Kendall 1973, 38 and Cook 2009, 43
[ 20 ]. McBeth 1987, 218
[ 21 ]. Ibid
[ 22 ]. Gaustad and Shmidt 2002, 105
[ 23 ]. Ibid
[ 24 ]. McBeth 1987, 204
[ 25 ]. Cook 2009, 54
[ 26 ]. McBeth 1987, 219
[ 27 ]. Cook 2009, 67
[ 28 ]. Kendall 1973, 60
[ 29 ]. McBeth 1987, 220
[ 30 ]. Bill 2005, 29
[ 31 ]. Bill 2005, 29
[ 32 ]. Cook 2009, 74
[ 33 ]. Ibid
[ 34 ]. Paschal 1955, 48
[ 35 ]. Bill 2005, 18.
[ 36 ]. Harvey 2010
[ 37 ]. McBeth 1987, 230
[ 38 ]. Paschal 1955, 48
[ 39 ]. Ibid
[ 40 ]. Cook 2009, 79
[ 41 ]. Paschal 1955, 69
[ 42 ]. McBeth 1987, 233
[ 43 ]. Ibid
[ 44 ]. Bill 2005, 29
[ 45 ]. McBeth 1987, 387
[ 46 ]. McBeth 1987, 387
[ 47 ]. Kendall 1973, 63
[ 48 ]. Bill 2005, 29
[ 49 ]. Chute 2002, 9
[ 50 ]. Hollingsworth 2007, 17
[ 51 ]. Hollingsworth 2007, 17
[ 52 ]. Dever 1987, 37
[ 53 ]. Hollingsworth 2007, 67
[ 54 ]. McBeth 1987, 445
[ 55 ]. The irony cannot be lost in the fact that the current president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Paige Patterson is a Dispensationalist and anti-Calvinist, both of which Carroll was vehemently opposed to. The very same Dr. Patterson who engaged in debate against Dr. Mohler in 2006.
[ 56 ]. Carroll 1999, 10
[ 57 ]. Carroll 1999, 13
[ 58 ]. Ibid, 121

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