Category Archives: History

A Southern Solution to Racial Violence

I was born in Texas.  I was raised in Mississippi.  I live in Tennessee.  I am not racist.

If, by that criteria, you think I am, well…bless your heart.

ema2The recent event in Charleston, South Carolina, at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, has caused the debate, discussion, and accusations of racism in America to heat up.  It’s being bantered about at great length in the media, and talking heads are stopping just short of reaching across the desk to strangle their opponent.  The media, and even some of our national and state leaders, see a problem.  It seems as though they’ll not stop until tension has escalated and we’re all staring at our TV screens, wringing our hands and hoping someone will save us.

History is a Teacher

The popular solution, it seems, is to rid the public square of all things Confederate.  Dixie, the Rebel Flag, and bronze busts of Confederate Army generals are being blamed.  Apparently, if these things aren’t displayed and revered, then people like Dylann Roof won’t walk in shoot black people because…well…they’re black.

For the record, I am against the public display of the Confederate flag on public property and at national and state facilities.  I am not, however, in favor of erasing our history. By that, I mean . our collective history as a nation.  We need to know our history, if for no other reason that we won’t repeat it.  Forgetting our history and wiping it from public view will not benefit us.  It can only hurt us, and may doom us to go down that road again.

The Cesspool known as the South

The other popular solution seems to be to cast an permanent pall onto the South and its people, writing the region off as permanently cast into the mold of racism.  The usual mode of those who stereotype Southerners is to portray us as ultraconservative, non-progressive,  dim-witted folks who can’t catch up to the rest of the nation.  We’re portrayed as backwards, uneducated types who just don’t get it.  We have a Southern drawl and eat everything fried.  We are the problem, it seems, with the rest of the nation.

Jonah Goldberg, writing in the National Review, calls it “anti-South bigotry.”  In his article, he states, “There are few subjects that ignite more casual, uninformed bigotry and condescension from elites in this nation than Dixie.”  Phrases like “cesspool of hate” and “the enemy of all that is decent and good” are quoted in his article as observations about the South.  While Goldberg does redeem the South in his article, it is apparent that a less than favorable attitude towards the South exists in those Northern elitists.

Racism, or Racist

Regardless of what the media and others would have us do, I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and say that there is no institutional, endemic, or pandemic racism in America.  This nation has worked hard to make racial equality part of its laws, policies, procedures, and public life.  We have come a long way.  Regardless, racists are plenty.  There are those who hate a man because of the color of his skin, who think their race is superior to those who look different.  Removing war relics and changing history will not stop these people and their ilk.

As I said earlier, I’m not a racist.  I worship with African-Americans and Hispanics. I have friends who are Muslim.  My son lives with an Asian.  I don’t base anything on ethnicity or the color of skin.  On the flip side of the coin, I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to fear for my life, or to be treated differently, or to be refused service.  Regardless, I will not be part of treating someone differently because of who they are or what they look like.

The Ultimate Solution

The ultimate solution – the one which supersedes the ones mentioned earlier – is the gospel.  We are – all of us – created in the image of God and we are called to love each other as Christ loved us.  You and I, as unholy and wretched as we are, receive the love of Christ without condition.  To love Christ means we’re to love others – even a racist like Dylann Roof.

The people in Charleston are doing just that.  Instead of accusations and riots and more hate, they cling to unity and forgiveness and love, the very thing the Apostle Paul calls us to do in 1 Corinthians.  For the folks who want to blame history, or the character of Southerners, it is difficult to comprehend the one change that will solve the problem of senseless acts of racial violence.  It’s a deep-seated, transparent, life-altering change of the heart.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Commentary, History

Church History: Baptists and Religious Freedom

The Baptists were accused of presenting false charges of oppression in order to prevent the colonies from uniting in defense of their liberties. (p. 53)

Baptists in America in and around 1774 were trouble.  Not only had they taken the stand that believer’s baptism by immersion was the only way to build the true Church, but they had also become vocal regarding religious liberty.  This was, they felt, a God-given right for man.  It would allow them to practice their faith openly and freely without the fear of penalty from those within and without the state-sponsored Congregational Church.

Enter Isaac Backus.  In the 1881 Baptist Encyclopaedia (ed. by William Cathcart), Backus is credited with furthering Baptists beliefs, both believer’s baptism and freedom to worship.  Born in 1724, in Norwich, Connecticut, Backus was raised by a mother who leaned toward Separate Baptist beliefs.  Early in life, when Backus became a believer during the Great Awakening, he reluctantly joined the Congregationalist Church in  Norwich, citing its “lack of discipline and its low state of religious feeling.”

Soon after, Backus and others separated from the church in Norwich and began meeting on their own.  These attenders, who were labeled “New Lights” because of the enthusiasm they felt for their faith and worship, began to meet in 1748 with Baptists who were also affected by the revivals of the Great Awakening.  Their belief in believer’s baptism and the paedobaptist belief of Backus’ Congregationalist members soon became a topic of “agitation.”  Backus, at first hesitantly accepted believer’s baptism, but soon after “was enabled to put aside all doubts and perplexities on the subject and come out unreservedly for baptism through a profession of faith.”

in 1756, Backus became pastor of the Baptist church in Middleborough.  “At the time, Baptists were subject to much oppression and persecution by the civil powers of Massachusetts,” and Backus took on the banner of religious freedom for Baptists in New England.  He was chosen as a delegate, along with other Baptist pastors, to convene in Philadelphia to address the Continental Congress regarding religious liberty.  It states that Backus…

…read a memorial setting forth the grievances and oppressions under which the Baptists labored, and praying for relief therefrom. The result of this effort on the part of the New England Baptists to obtain religious freedom was hurtful rather than advantageous.

After Congress adjourned, the rumors flew.  Reports regarding the statements made by Backus and others were slanderous and untruthful.  They were, essentially, accused manipulating Congress to prevent colonial unity.

Backus continued to pursue religious liberty for years, meeting with Founding Fathers and others, and laid the ground work for religious liberty in our Bill of Rights and national life.  Baptists owe him much.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Politics

The Correct Way to Worship in the Church

The correct way to worship in the church.

That’s a loaded statement.  And, it’s one we need to discuss.  While the answer may elude us, and more questions may arise than answers, the way we worship in our various churches is a serious matter that needs to be part of a larger conversation that includes culture, society, and the rise of secularism we’re witnessing right now.

Our ship is taking on water, and some, instead of bailing, are filling up the boat by the bucketfuls.

Identifying the Problem

In our worship meetings, it is often difficult to distinguish between worship of an almighty God and the concert arena.  All manner of elements have become part of our worship, and it is difficult to distinguish between the sacred and secular.  What is part of one can easily be imported from the other.  Music, with it’s performance cousins sound and lighting, are at times indistinguishable from the concert in the arena.  Preaching, too, can resemble a self-help book or an afternoon “fix-your-life” TV show.  The line between sacred and profane is, at times, blurred at best.

If you’re an 80 year-old, don’t blame me.  It’s not my fault.  And, I (a 53 year-old), will certainly not place blame on those 20-something year-old worship leaders.  We – all of us – have simply repeated history.

It’s His Fault

The line between sacred and secular in our worship services was blurred a long time ago by a guy named Constantine.  In the early 4th century, Constantine, the emperor of the Roman world, legalized Christianity.  No longer were Christians persecuted for their beliefs.  No longer were they seen as a problem in the empire.  Instead, Christians, who had to make a deliberate decision to follow in The Way, could come out into the open and live their faith.  They were free…and free to worship.

What once was done in secret in a believer’s house, could now be done in the middle of the city in the temple.  Preachers could wear their robes, singers could sing louder, and everyone could attend the weekly gathering of saints.  From the catacombs to the city square, believers made the joyous procession to worship God.

However, the gatherings that once focused on the “writings of the Apostles”, to praying, to giving alms, to caring for the widow and orphan, and breaking bread to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, became infected from the outside.  All those who now freely came brought with them their previous pagan practices and slowly, surely incorporated them into Christian worship.  What was once a singular expression of believers was now being corrupted by a pagan, or secular, society.

The Liturgy

In the book Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views, Timothy Quill, a Lutheran pastor, proposes a focus on the historic Liturgy of the church.  The liturgy is simply the elements included in worship, and may be a word many are unfamiliar with.

Liturgy – from the Greek leitourgia – is used in the New Testament man times whenever worship is discussed.  The word literally means public service, and in the early church referred to the acts of worship.  It’s from that Greek word that we get ‘liturgy’, and it is used to describe what we do as a church when we worship.

Before you dismiss the word, thinking that your church doesn’t incorporate a liturgy in its Sunday gatherings, know that your church does indeed have a liturgy.  It may be an unintentional liturgy, but it’s a liturgy, nonetheless.

Think about your Sunday morning service.  How does it usually begin? An upbeat song?  And then, what usually follows that? A prayer? And then, some more songs, and so on?  That pattern, that weekly way of doing worship at your church is a liturgy.  It’s the accepted way and followed by your congregation weekly, and it says a lot about your church.

Quill tells us that “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church.  Liturgy articulates doctrine.”  That means how you worship says much about what you believe.  Some churches observe communion every Sunday.  Others will have a time set aside for manifestation of spiritual gifts.  Others will sing a few songs, then hear an hour-long sermon.  Still, others will read scripture from a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel.  All of it says much about what is important to you and your church.

What Liturgy Should Do

In his article, Quill clearly states that liturgy is not style.  Music is not limited by preferences.  Preaching, too, is not a stylistic issue.  While we all have preferences, we can’t equate those to liturgy.  Liturgy has one purpose, and that is to reflect the gospel.

In some churches, the liturgy will be divided into the liturgy of the Word (preaching and scripture) and the liturgy of the Table (the Lord’s Supper).  Within these two parts is the opportunity to express the gospel – who God is, who man is, what Christ has done, and how we respond.

Quill goes on to say that the liturgy provides “a common biblical and theological understanding of how man acts in God’s presence and, more importantly, how God has chosen to be present and how God acts towards those gathered in his name.”

My Conclusion

A liturgy will help us stayed focused on God and the gospel.  It will help us, too, keep the secular influences out of our worship, an act of public service that is unique to believers who celebrate the gospel.  If we are to be an influence in our society, then we must focus on what makes us different and what gives us hope – God’s salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Focusing on the gospel in our worship is the correct way to worship.  Any time we stray from that, and allow something other than the gospel to be proclaimed and lived, we become no different from the pagans.

Let our liturgy proclaim the gospel.

2 Comments

Filed under History, Music, Worship

Church History: The Beginning of Baptists

The recent release of Baptists in America: A History, by Baylor University faculty Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins, landed on my desk this past week.  I love history, and I love my faith, so I couldn’t wait to crack it open and see the historical perspective of these two historians.

As I get into the reading, I can’t help but think that, as a whole, Baptists don’t do a good job remembering, or teaching, our heritage.  Other denominations have a deliberate method of teaching beginnings and beliefs, but Baptists have never been a group to look back.  Other than academia, few opportunities exist for the layperson to discover why and how we’re Baptist.  I think sometimes we just assume we’ve…well…always existed.

Two Fundamentals of the Baptist Faith

Baptists, then and now, have championed 2 fundamentals of their faith – believer’s baptism by immersion, and separation of church and state.  These two things are non-negotiable to Baptists.  As a group which defends the authority of the Scriptures and is faithful to its direction, Baptists believe that baptism by immersion follows profession of faith.  It is an ordinance that is both scriptural and historical, seen in the accounts of converts in the early Church.  Not until Augustine (5th c.) was infant baptism solidified.

In an age when state-sponsored church was the norm – even in the colonies – Baptists sought to meet freely without persecution.  Because Baptists rejected infant baptism, Anglicans and Congregationalists viewed them as unorthodox and frequently imprisoned, punished, or levied extra taxes for those who preached and met as Baptists.  Needless to say, Baptists waved the banner of separation of church and state and helped to facilitate this in our Constitution.

Our Origin

A common view is that Baptists had their beginning in the Anabaptist Church which formed in the 16th century after the Reformation.  Others reject this view and trace the origins of Baptists back to the English Separatists of early 17th century.  Kidd and Hankins even mention the followers of Menno Simons, a 16th century Catholic priest who rejected infant baptism because it lacked Scriptural proof, who was a proponent of believer’s baptism and preached it to his followers, known as Mennonites.

Although Kidd and Hankins don’t really settle on one specific, singular origin for the Baptist faith in their history, they do mention the Anabaptists, Mennonites and the English Separatists to point out the reformers who were ardent supporters of believer’s baptism.  I think it’s fair to say, though, that Kidd and Hankins favor the English Separatists as the first flowering of the Baptist Church, and this is based on both the amount of material presented as well as the narrative they present.  It was the English Separatists who fled persecution in England for a more favorable and friendly reception in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1608.  This would be the first named Baptist church.

Here is the impetus that moved individuals to create a new sect of believers:

By the early seventeenth century, some radical Separatists concluded that complete purity in the church demanded a rejection of infant baptism.  Infant baptism reflected an inclusive, geographic view of church membership that both Roman Catholics and Anglicans embraced, introducing the children of Christian families into the church as quasi-members.  But what if those children never experienced conversion?  The practice necessarily brought into the church people who, according to the Calvinist view of Puritans and Separatists, were not members of the elect, the chosen people of God.  Baptists sought to clear up this confusion, and to foster a pure church membership, by baptizing only those who had actually experienced conversion (p. 5)

1 Comment

Filed under Books I'm Reading, History

Church History: Has our worship strayed too far?

Throughout ecclesiastical history, there have always existed those who sought purity in the church.  The aim, of course, was to worship correctly, and in accord with scripture.  Whenever the Church has veered off course, corrections were attempted to supposedly make things right.  The Reformation, among other things, marked a return to the centrality of preaching in worship.  The American Restoration Movement,  which grew out of the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century, sought to unify all Christians and return the Church to its New Testament form, especially in regard to worship.

If we want to know if we’ve corrupted worship in the Church, we need to return to the beginning.  While the New Testament gives us bits and pieces of direction for worship, the scriptures are silent regarding a complete liturgy.  Many would expand on this, discussing old covenant and new covenant comparisons; still others would point us to the belief that New Testament worship points to a lifestyle and less to a form (a view I would hold to).  Regardless, while that discussion is beyond the scope of this history lesson, it serves us well to return to the early New Testament Church.

In A.D. 150, Justin Martyr, a defender of the Christian who lived during Christian persecutions and was himself persecuted by Roman authorities, gives us the earliest account of what the actually did when they gathered to worship.  In his First Apology, he writes,

On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the “Amen.” A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun) he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught these things, which we have offered for your consideration.

Dr. Everett Ferguson, professor of Bible at Abilene Christian University, gives us a line-by-line explanation of Justin Martyr’s account in How We Christians Worship (Christian History Institute, issue 37).  It’s a thorough explanation of the practice of Christians not far removed from lives of the first Christians.

Has our worship strayed too far from the early Church? One thing is clear – the early Church was focused on several things: reading scripture, applying it to life, celebrating their salvation by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus, and taking care of those in the church.  The other thing is this: in today’s church, we may be more concerned about what we get from worship rather than what we give.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Worship

The Origin of Communion Grape Juice

In our church, we celebrate two ordinances that are central to who we are as Christians – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  In Matthew 26, Jesus instituted the meal as they were eating the Passover meal, saying that we should “Take, eat…” and “Drink of it, all of you…” as a way of remembering the sacrifice he would perform the next day.  Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Christians make this an important part of their liturgy, or their worship, out of obedience to Christ’s command, remembering the ultimate sacrifice that paid our sin debt. It’s a simple command, and a simple thing to do, and throughout ecclesiastical history, believers have observed the Lord’s Supper.

A Simple Command…A Complex Practice

Yet, as simple a command as it it is, Christians have a placed upon this ordinance various practices and meanings as they gather to observe the sacrifice.  Some call the meal symbolic, while others view it as a means of grace.  Some are served in the pew, and others go to the altar to receive the elements from the pastor or priest. Some drink grape juice from a disposable cup, and some drink wine from a common cup. And, even the ordinance itself has different names – the Lord’s Supper, communion, or eucharist are names that all refer to the same event.

Though the differences of practicing the Lord’s Supper are many, one simple thing has always baffled me as a Southern Baptist…why do we use grape juice instead of wine?  Many churches use wine in their observance, and seem to do so without issue.  Yet, Southern Baptists hold fast to grape juice.

“Lips that touch liquor…”

In the 19th century, American society was beset by all sorts of problems – and alcoholic drink was blamed for everything immoral in society.  In America’s God, author Mark Noll describes the influence of Presbyterian minister and American Temperance Union co-founder Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) who preached a series of sermons on “the Nature, Occasions, Signs, Evils and Remedy of Intemperance.” (296)  Beecher blamed the use of alcohol for “the moral ruin it works in the soul.” (297)  He appealed, too, to civil policy when he blamed alcohol for the harm it did to “the health and physical energies of a nation”, “national intellect”, and “the military powers of a nation.”  Beecher was not alone in his campaign.  Revivalist Charles Finney and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union joined him in the fight against alcohol.  This battle hymn summed up their cause:

And where are the hands red with slaughter?
Behold them each day as you pass
The places where death and destruction
Are retailed at ten cents a glass.

In the 1881 Baptist Encyclopaedia (ed. William Cathcart), it is clear that Baptists were part of the movement to rid society of alcohol use and the subsequent ills associated with it.  It states,

The position of the Baptist denomination on the temperance reform is indicated by the repeated action of leading Associations declaring, in emphatic terms, their approval of total abstinence.  No Baptist church in the Northern States would receive or retain in its membership any one engaged in the manufacture or sale of the beverages, neither would it accept as a member the house-owner who rented his property for such purposes.  Let Christians live in the practice of total abstinence…and may God hasten the abolition of their manufacture and use throughout the whole earth.   

Practice What You Preach

Because of the efforts of the temperance societies, churches faced an issue.  How could they preach against the use of alcohol, yet serve wine in communion?  After all, every church – even the Baptists – used wine in the remembrance meal. There had to be a solution.

To avoid a fermented grape juice, the only solution was to press grapes prior to the Sunday of the Lord’s Supper and use the fresh juice in the service.  That, however, presented many issues.  One, it took many, many grapes to render enough juice for the church; two, grapes were not plentiful to everyone everywhere; and three, pressing the grapes for juice was labor-intensive. As a result, church members had to look elsewhere.

In 1869, Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch followed the lead of Louis Pasteur, who, in 1864, discovered the process known as pasteurization.  Welch applied this process to grape juice to prevent fermentation and spoilage.  Welch’s son, Dr. Charles Welch, a Methodist layman, quit his practice of dentistry to  market the “sacramental wine” to churches.  Needless to say, in the age of the temperance movement, sales skyrocketed.

Since then, Baptists (and others), have used the non-alcoholic grape juice in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  I suppose that’s one less thing to feel guilty about.

Leave a comment

Filed under History

Separation of Church and State: Jefferson Got It All Wrong

bibleI have been a firm believer in the idea of “separation of church and state.”  As I have read, and studied, and experienced, and read again, separation of church and state seems, to me, to be a necessity.  I do not want our government establishing an “official” church or theology.  Nor do I want them to keep me from gathering in a building to worship.  I want the freedom that the First Amendment guarantees.  It states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For the purposes of this post, I’m more interested in the first idea regarding religion.  The phrases “establishment of religion” and “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” are the two concepts that are key here.  Lest you think this is not an issue, think again.  Our nation has dealt with establishment and free exercise more than you think.

History tells us so.

In the 17th & early 18th centuries, “established” religion existed.  The Congregational Churches in New England, whose roots were borne from our Puritan ancestors, prohibited any worship or gathering by those who professed beliefs otherwise.  Theirs was a tentative mix of government and religion, since the laws in their community were enacted and enforced by church leaders.  In other words, the government officials were church leaders.

The same could be said for the colonies in the south, where Anglican churches flourished.  If you were a Baptist, or a Quaker, or, heaven forbid, a Catholic, you best prepare yourself for time in the stockade in the public square.  Roger Williams, an early Baptist leader, experienced this first-hand, fleeing to the safety of Rhode Island where he established a community where religious liberty was a hallmark.

Baptists, who preached believer’s baptism – the belief that baptism follows conversion (as opposed to infant Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800baptism) were among those most often persecuted.  As a result, they wrote a letter to then president Thomas Jefferson, expressing concern that their state constitution did not provide the tenets of religious liberty.  These Baptists, from Danbury, Connecticut, asked Jefferson to intervene.

Jefferson’s response was, and still is, historic.  In his response, he says,

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

There it is – “a wall of separation between Church and State” – the phrase that has since been used to interpret laws and establish policy.  The problem is, that’s not what the First Amendment sought to accomplish.

We can all agree that our nation should not establish an official religion.  We live in a nation that establishes itself as a democracy, not a theocracy.  Nor does our nation prohibit anyone from worshipping on any given day or place in a manner that they see fit.  Baptist, Presbyterians, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists – all worship freely without fear.

Yet, over the years, our nation has misinterpreted the First Amendment, like Jefferson, as a law that prohibits not only the the influence of government on religion, but vice versa – the influence of religion on government.  Philip Hamburger, in his book  Separation of Church and State, says

…there is reason to wonder why the religion clauses of the First Amendment differ from the words with which these clauses are most commonly interpreted…Yet, the phrase “separation between church and state” has also pointed to something more dramatic – a distance, segregation, or absence of contact between church and state.

While the First Amendment had no intention of building “a wall of separation”, it has been replaced by a legal interpretation that found its birth in Jefferson, and others.  The First Amendment does not prohibit the disassociation of religion and government, it only prohibits the establishment.  Religion must be free to express itself in every corner of this nation – from our schools to our courthouses to council meetings to congress.  The free exercise of religion should abound “from sea to shining sea.”

In this time, when culture and society are moving away from God and a biblical morality, the First Amendment allows for those whose religion calls for them to “go and make disciples.”  There is no separation.  There is freedom.

And, always remember, love.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Commentary, History