The Biblio-Files

bib·li·o·phile (bĭb'lē-ə-fīl') n.

1. A lover of books.
2. A collector of books.


History of the Baptists: Democratic Religion

This is the first book I had to read for History of the Baptists with Dr. Shawn Wright--one down, four to go.

This book is written by Dr. Gregory Wills who teaches here at Southern. I "took him" for my Cooperative Program "class" last Fall. I am not sure that I will take him for anything because most of my history classes are done with. Anyway.

What is This Book For?

By the subtitle you can see that the discussion revolves around Baptists in the late 18th to early 2oth centuries. The main focus (from what I could tell) is early Baptist life in regards to church authority manifested primarily through church discipline. The thrust of the book surveys the rise and decline of church discipline in Baptist churches. Now, this is my first time to really get to know my Baptist heritage. For the most part, I'm shady on the whos, whats, hows, and whys of Baptist history. So, I really can't post a great review on this book in terms of its profundity or how it fits into my church history repertoire overall. I probably won't have a working, conversational knowledge about this subject until after my class in a few weeks. But, let me just tell you some pieces of the puzzle I've put together so far:

- Baptists used to be strict! No chess, backgammon, dancing, cards, circuses, or, even for some, baseball! Strict not just for sin, but for doctrine also. Some Baptists would not accept a baptism if it was performed by a "free-will" pastor (106). People were considered heretics if they did not adhere to Baptist doctrine. Yet, they were not strict because they had a "witch hunt" mentality. This is rooted in their view of church authority. Basically, early Baptists thought that the local church's responsibility was to regulate everything in the lives of their members: doctrine, sin, amusements, etc. Thus, they had a higher sensitivity to sin because they felt they had to. This is where things like, "no dancing" comes from in Baptist practice. Dancing involved worldly amusement, and worldly amusement led to worldly thinking, and worldly thinking led to sin, and sin cannot be tolerated in Christ's church. Follow? It was all about what they believed about authority--they were just trying to protect.

- For early Baptists, church discipline was inseparable from Calvinism. Although one may be terribly offended and never returned to the church because of exclusion, Baptists were not shaken from their duty to discipline because they knew it would always prune and grow the elect. An interesting thought for our day.

- Racism was an issue for many early Baptists.

- In time, for some reason having to do with the war, Baptists stopped being as strict. I will learn more about this in class I'm sure. But, they felt the burden of disciplining people for everything. The surrounding culture was somewhat turned off by Baptist's strictness. Many would go to church but avoid membership because they knew how strict Baptists were.

Some of these main points Dr. Wills might shake his head at in disappointment knowing that I probably missed the point of his book. But, at this point those are the things that I remember off the top of my dome.


This quote I found very interesting because it reveals that there is truly nothing new under the sun. The discussion of culture engagement is not a new discussion. Churches faced cultural change in the early 20th century with the emergence of urbanization.

"After the [Civil] war, southern churches would find more to bless in society, and the society would find religion more congenial. The society became more religious as the churches became less hostile to the society." (123)

There are other quotes but they are either too long or have too big of a context to unpack. If you get a chance, read the account of Caroline and Julia on page 16.

My Recommendation:

On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being "don't bother," and 5 being, "a must read"), I would give this book a 2, depending on your itch for Baptist history. If you are in to this subject then it's a 5. The endorsements on the back say this is one of the books to read regarding Baptist history. But, for the lay person who may have other things to figure out first, 2.

Till the next episode...