Baptist Studies Bulletin January 2011

A Monthly Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today

[Vol. 10, No. 1]

Editor: Bruce T. Gourley, executive director, Baptist History & Heritage Society

The Baptist Studies Bulletin (BSB) is a free online journal produced by the Baptist History & Heritage Society (BH&HS) and offering scholarly analysis, informed editorials, book reviews, and special features for subscribers. You may access previous issues to or subscribe or unsubscribe from the BSB. Republishing of articles is allowed, but please provide credit and a link back to the Baptist Studies Bulletin.

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“Baptists and the American Civil War”
by Bruce T. Gourley

“Doing Ministry Baptist Style: The Priesthood of Believers”
by Carolyn D. Blevins

“BH&HS Annual Conference Pre-Registration”
May 19-21, Dallas Baptist University

“New Books for Baptist Reading”

Roger A. Bullard, The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson, North Carolina, 1860-2010

“Notes and Quotes”

Dates and Events


by Bruce T. Gourley

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, a bloody conflict over black slavery that yet defines the American South. One cannot analyze the South, many historians argue, without talking about race – and one cannot talk about racism in the South apart from the narrative of slavery, Civil War, Jim Crow laws, and the ensuing struggle for civil rights.

Stamped forever into the American conscious and national identity, the Civil War also re-configured Baptists in America. The broad contours of Baptists and the Civil War were reflected in white Baptists of the South losing the religious and cultural battle over slavery. The God-ordained will for the races – white supremacy and black slavery – as fervently preached and defended by many white Baptists of the South was, to their great dismay, defeated by the opposing view of biblically progressive, racial equality advocated by many white Christians in the North.

By May 1865, the white southern religious landscape lay in tatters. Heresy had won and liberalism triumphed, in the eyes of white Baptists in the South. The South’s Bible had been ripped apart. White southern theology was mangled beyond recognition.

As northern Christians white and black celebrated the triumph of a God of love and justice – and by the thousands relocated southward for the purpose of helping freedmen establish churches, schools and other institutions – white Christians in the South, faced with what had once been unimaginable, dusted off the mantle of white supremacy and trudged forward. The moral battle had been won, they assured themselves: right they had been in defending the just cause of slavery, but God in his providence saw fit to punish the South for other reasons.

Within a few years after the end of the war, a new, defiant historical narrative began taking shape in the collective mind of the white South. Slavery disappeared as the cause of the war. States’ rights emerged as the primary reason for the terrible conflict. And in religious circles, biblical literalists turned their attention from defending slavery to criticizing textual criticism and science.

Black Christians, meanwhile, increasingly assumed command of their own destinies, or at least to the extent that a culture yet built upon white supremacy would allow. In the pre-war South, black Baptist slaves had often worshipped in the same congregations as their white masters. By the end of 1867, integrated congregations were few, a situation that remains to this day in the South.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the war that is always lurking within – and often near the forefront of – the collective consciousness of our nation. For African Americans, the Civil War stands as an important high water mark in a long, agonizing story of redemption and liberation that was not fully resolved until the late 20th century.

For white southerners, however, the Civil War as often remembered is far different than the reality of that era. The secession celebrations that we are now witnessing across the Deep South represent the conflict in a far different way than did the white slaveholders who led southern states to secede from the United States and form a confederation of “slaveholding states.” Gone are the declarations of the preservation of black slavery as the cause of the war, replaced with glorious but vague ideals of “states rights.” Many white citizens of the South, in short, are celebrating the self-righteous myth the region constructed in the aftermath of wartime defeat to symbolically redeem itself of sin.

Historical reality is, at times, disturbing. Baptists North and South of the Civil War era were clear in their own words and pronouncements: the Civil War was about black slavery, the “peculiar institution” that by that time underpinned the economy, culture and society of the South – and which many if not most white Baptists of the South were certain was the will of God.

Misguided religious convictions of the past raise uncomfortable questions today. Who are the proper formulators and guardians of the will of God? As Baptists, what have we learned from the dark hours of our past? What have we yet to learn, and put into action?

Beginning this month, the voices of Civil War era Baptists return in a digital project, “Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words” ( The project is a day-by-day journal of the Baptist experience, North and South, during the Civil War era. The voices of the past brought back to life in this project offer insight into religious and national struggles of our own day, including racism, politics, theology, and Christian nationalism. The daily entries are suitable for personal consumption, and are also useful for teaching aids in university and small group settings.

I encourage you to listen to and learn from these voices.


by Carolyn D. Blevins

The following article is an excerpt from a pamphlet of the same name, published by the Baptist History & Heritage Society (BH&HS) and the William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society. The BH&HS offers an extensive selection of pamphlets, booklets and books designed for use in local churches and university classrooms, as well as for personal study.

As Christianity grew over the centuries, the hierarchical role of priests began to reassert itself. A special priesthood, rather than a universal priesthood, became the approved way for people to reach God. Priests once more became the approved way for people to reach God. Sometimes, the church erroneously insisted that the people had access to God only through the special priesthood.

About 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a devout Roman Catholic monk, became convinced that the New Testament taught that all believers were priests. According to Luther, “Christ has made it possible for us . . . to be . . . his fellow priests.” Therefore, Luther insisted that all individuals should be able to read the Bible on their own. Everyone should be able to pray to God directly. No person could stand between a person and God. This faithful German monk rediscovered the biblical emphasis that all Christians had equal access to God. Moreover, Luther said, all Christians had responsibility for their own relationship with God. No one could relate to God for another. Following Luther, the priesthood of all believers began to be reemphasized among some Christians.

About 400 years ago, Baptists emerged as a branch of Christianity. Early Baptist leaders agreed wholeheartedly with Luther. JOHN SMYTH and THOMAS HELWYS led a group of people in England to separate from the Church of England. The group wanted to have a voice in the life of their church. The group eventually became the very first Baptist church. In Differences of the Churches of the Separation, Smyth insisted that the church is a “kingly priesthood” and that the saints (or Christians) are “kings and priests.” Thomas Helwys declared that a person’s religion was between God and that person.

John Smyth and Thomas Helwys launched Baptist life on the principle that priesthood was shared by all Christians, not relegated to a few. From their earliest days, Baptists had no office of priest. From the beginning of Baptist life, every person was considered a priest. Individuals continued to be of primary significance in Baptist life. One of the earliest Baptist confessions of faith, the 1644 London Confession, stated: “And all his servants are called . . . to bring their gifts God has given them . . . according to the effectuall [sic] working of every part” of the church. The 1677 Second London Confession affirmed that all members were bound to further the good of the church by exercising their gifts to promote communion, love, and edification in the community of faith.

Baptists in America addressed the same priority in the 1833 New Hampshire Confession. This statement defined the church as a body of baptized believers which exercised “the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his word.” Southern Baptists used similar language whey they adopted the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message describing the church as a congregation of baptized believers “exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his word.” Baptist seminary professor E. Y. MULLINS’S distinctive work, The Axioms of Religion, stressed the importance of the doctrine of soul competency. Soul competency is not self-sufficiency; it is competency under God. The competency comes from the Spirit of Christ in that person. One’s religion is a very personal relationship-between that soul and God. No one intervenes. One person cannot repent, accept salvation, or obey for another person.

The individual’s direct access to God could not be more clearly stated than in Mullins’s warning: “Whenever a church interposes between the child and the Father, through sacrament, through human priesthood or hierarchy, through centralized government, through authoritative oligarchies of any kind in spiritual affairs, it ceases to conform to the kingdom of God, and becomes a juvenile court or orphanage instead.” Mullins’s words are thought provoking. Orphanages are places for children with no parents. When a person’s access to God is denied, that person becomes an orphan separated from the Father.

One person or group simply cannot claim more spiritual privilege than another. There are no spiritual classes when relating to God. All believers are children of God. Of course, churches will have ministers or officials to perform certain duties, but they are not the masters of the life and faith of other believers.

Mullins insisted that the autonomy of the believer is an intrinsic part of grace. The personal relationship with God is his grace to us. Because each believer has a personal relationship with God, believers work together in the community of church as brothers and sisters, not as masters and servants.

Carolyn D. Blevins is retired professor of Religion, Carson-Newman College.

BH&HS 2011 Annual Conference, May 19-21, Dallas Baptist University

Theme: “Baptists and Education”

Pre-registration is now 0pen for the Conference

Featured speakers will be Stephen Stookey and John Ragosta. Stookey is Professor of Christian History at Dallas Baptist University. Ragosta is a historian and lawyer who is currently an instructor at the University of Virginia School of Law. He is author of the newly-published Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2010).

In addition, there will be a panel discussion of “What is a Baptist University?” featuring:

Bill Bellinger (Baylor University)
Brad Creed (Samford University)
Sherilyn Emberton (East Texas Baptist University)
Sheila Klopfer (Georgetown College)
Gail Linam (Dallas Baptist University)
Mark Tew (Howard Payne University)

Also, breakout sessions will feature presentations on a variety of topics. (See breakout sessions here.)

Pre-registration and hotel information is available on the BH&HS web site.


by Bruce T. Gourley

Roger A. Bullard, The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson, North Carolina, 1860-2010 (Durham, NC: BW&A Books, 2009, 494 pages, hardcover).

A tapestry of people and events mark the story of local congregations, and Roger Bullard, retired professor of religion and philosophy at Barton College, does a remarkable job of tracing and explaining the woven strands that comprise the 150-year history of First Baptist Church, Wilson, North Carolina.

Birthed in 1860 on the eve of the American Civil War, Wilson FBC barely survived its infancy, only to experience a stunted childhood during Reconstruction. Yet from its pulpit learned men – including Wake Forest University professor William Hooper – ably steered the young congregation. The year 1878 marked a major turning point: a season of “Pentecost” propelled FBC forward into a secure future.

While pastors lead, laity are the heart and soul of a congregation, and Bullard’s account throbs with the imprint of lay persons young and old, famous and little known. Collectively, pulpit and pew in this small-town church reflected the progressive trajectory of an early twentieth-century Southern Baptist Convention, evidenced in church programs and committees, fading disciplinary practices, funding of mission work, choir robes, a new downtown building, and the inevitable suits, ties and dresses characteristic of a First Baptist congregation.

The mid-twentieth century years were the golden era of Southern Baptists, as well as for FBC Wilson. Yet another new sanctuary, printed newsletters, softball teams, youth ministries, and an education building were all signs of modern progress. Yet as was the case with many congregations, fundamentalist inroads in SBC life of the last two decades of the century led the largely moderate church to gradually lose interest in the Convention.

Bullard’s engaging account of the history of FBC Wilson, in a final sense, reflects the irony of congregational story-telling. While many details of the church’s 150 years are preserved for posterity’s sake and give perspective to that which the congregation now is, much has nonetheless been lost in the passing of time. Bullard mines that which has been preserved and probes the uncertainties, crafting a community portrait that is ultimately Baptist, clearly human, and intriguing even at the junctures where memories long ago faded away.



“You are performing a great service, giving historians and others access to sources of which most (of us) are not aware or to which we do not have easy access. I did a first sampling, on the slavery question. I’m hooked. I will be spending many hours with the materials – maybe “there went my summer.” I’ll do what I can to call attention to the site.” Martin E. Marty, Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity in the University of Chicago Divinity School, on the new “Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words” digital project.

“The church can go, long since the preserve of a flower-arranging few; the local shop can go, since the distant hypermarket’s cheapness is worth the petrol; but the vanishing of a pub means, by common consent, the loss of the beating heart of a community, in town or countryside.” A not-so-subtle commentary on the lack of influences of churches in twenty-first century Britain, in an article entitled “Time, gentlemen,” in the December 18-31, 2010 edition of The Economist.


Upcoming events of interest to Baptists

Feb. 21-23, 2011ChurchWorks Conference hosted by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (First Baptist Decatur, GA)

March 25-26, 2011Cooperative Baptist Fellowship North Carolina General Assembly (First Baptist Church, Asheville)

April 7-9, 2011 — “The King James Bible and the World It Made,1611-2011“, a conference of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion

April 9, 2011Delaware Valley AU Second Annual Church-State Issues Symposium (National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street, Independence Mall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

April 11-12, 2011T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Lectures (Logsdon School of Theology)

April 14-15, 2011 — Baptists Today Judson-Rice Dinner – honoring Randall Lolley (FBC Raleigh, NC)

April 29-30, 2011Kentucky Baptist Fellowship Spring Gathering (Buechel Park Baptist Church, Louisville)

April 29 – May 1, 2011 25th Convocation of the Alliance of Baptists, Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky

May 12-14, 2011Celebrating 100 Years of Baptist Witness in the Cradle of Civilization (Nazareth, Israel)

May 19-21, 2011Baptists and Education, BH&HS Annual Conference (Dallas Baptist University, Texas)

June 23-24, 2011Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly (Tampa, Florida)

We welcome submissions to this list of Baptist events.