In November my sister-in-law, Bonita DePree, who lived in Indianapolis, went home to be with the Lord. Barbara went up to be with her almost a month before her death. I flew up for the funeral and her pastor, Marc Monte, and I were asked to conduct the funeral.
I had known Pastor Monte, who is pastor of the Faith Baptist Church in Avon, for a few years but was never able to get to know him. After the funeral we were able to have some good fellowship together. As we talked he recommended a book to me, The Coming Destruction of the Baptist People by James R. Beller. When I got home I ordered a copy and read it.
Mr. Beller's thesis in the book is that our Baptist heritage is being systematically eroded and soon Baptist people will have no idea that Baptists are not Protestants. His idea of Baptist heritage is threefold, "ancient ancestry, revival heritage and American principles." Even now few people have any idea of the part Baptists played in the establishment of religious liberty in America.
Presbyterians know the names of John Calvin, John Knox, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennett and John Witherspoon. Methodists know the names of John and Charles Wesley, Sam Jones and Gipsy Smith. Fundamentalists know the names of Dwight Moody, J. Wilber Chapman and Billy Sunday. Why then do Baptists not know their ties to the Donatists, the Waldensians, the Paulicians, John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, Shubal Stearns, John Leland, Isaac Backus and a host of others?
Beller makes the statement, "Until 1899 every Baptist historian in the world acknowledged the Baptists as ancient people tracing their principles back to Christ and His disciples." Then he lists the Baptist historians who do:
John Spittlehouse (1652)
Theilman J. Van Braught (1660)
Henry D'Avers (1670)
Thomas Crosby (1740)
Isaac Backus (1770)
David Benedict (1813)
Joseph Ivimey (1830)
G.H. Orchard (1830)
J.M. Cramp (1868)
William Cathcart (1887)
Thomas Armitage (1888)
J.M. Carroll (1901)
John Taylor Christian (1926)
Reason One - Baptists
The first reason Beller gives for the demise of Baptist heritage is some Baptists, beginning with one William H. Whitsitt. Whitsitt was a professor and eventually president of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1896 he wrote an article about the Baptists for Johnson's Encyclopedia in which he said that the English Baptists did not begin to baptize by immersion until 1641, when a portion of the "Anabaptists" began immersing. This "Theory of 1641" set off a firestorm of opposition and Whitsitt was proven wrong many times over and was dismissed from Southern Baptist Seminary in 1898. However, historians A.H. Newman, W.W. Barnes, W.J. McGlothlin and Henry Vedder followed Whitsitt into the next generation. And, in the twentieth century Baptist historians Robert Baker, Leon McBeth, Walter Shurden, Robert G. Torbet, James Edward McGoldrick and others all marched lockstep with a man who was proven wrong in his own generation.
Reason Two - Fundamentalism
The second reason Beller gives for the demise of Baptist heritage has been "Fundamentalism." It was an accidental blow but it happened. He points out that as Baptists, being both Fundamental and Baptist, we have been drawn into Fundamental heritage to the forsaking of Baptist heritage. For example, you have heard of the great revivals of Finney, Moody, Sam Jones and Billy Sunday. But, I doubt that you have heard of the great Baptist evangelists: Jeremiah Moore, Shubal Stearns, Daniel Marshall, Abraham Marshall, Samuel Harriss, John Waller, John Taylor and Jeremiah Taylor.
You probably did not know about Shubal Stearns, a converted New England Congregationalist who migrated to North Carolina. He began preaching to a congregation of 17 in central west North Carolina when revival broke out. He soon had 17 preachers whom he trained and sent into Virginia and South Carolina. Within one generation 1,000 churches were started and within two generations 5,000 churches were started. Many Baptist churches today are a direct descendants from Stearns' revival.
Baptist people today have seldom heard of people like:
Rachel Thurber Scammon
Daniel and Martha Marshall
William and Sara Murphy
or Hudson Taylor
Many Baptist preachers have attended Fundamentalist schools, like Moody and Bob Jones. These schools are not Baptist and graduates come away with the "Baptists are Protestants" philosophy. Fundamental heritage has overtaken our Baptist heritage.
Reason Three - Christian Schooling
The third reason Beller gives for the demise of Baptist heritage has been our Christian School system. Christian schools have been training our children for several generations but few to none have taught or teach the part that Baptists played in the establishment of religious liberty in America. Our religious liberty certainly did not come from theologians like Martin Luther or John Calvin. These men did not believe or teach personal or religious liberty.
Beller reviewed all the major Christian curriculum for Christian schools and home schooling, Bob Jones, Alpha-Omega, A Beka, Landmark, ACE, Bill Gothard and Christian Liberty Home School, and did not find one that gave a true accounting of Baptist heritage.
I realize this article has turned into a book review but this is a book every Baptist should read, especially every Baptist preacher. What Beller says is true and we are in fact in danger of losing our Baptist heritage. The book is 120 page paperback and is an easy read with a big impact. You may order it online at http://21tnt.com/pfp/. The cost is $12 plus shipping.