John Murton was one of Baptists' most significant early figures. Following the imprisonment of Thomas Helwys, Murton assumed leadership of the earliest English Baptist church, and like Smyth and Helwys, Murton defended foundational Baptist teachings--religious toleration, congregational governance, and believer's baptism. Joe Coker's article focuses on the question of religious toleration, specifically on the sources Murton employed in developing his defense, demonstrating that Murton cited the Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and Catholic writers who advocated for religious toleration. Coker therefore makes the case that early Baptists were not mere Biblicists, relying on scripture alone to defend their beliefs. Moreover, he recounts the influence of Murton's writing on the American colonies. Further, Coker invites readers to consider the possibility that friends aided the imprisoned Murton in completing his writings.
David Holcomb explores the role of the 1954 Johnson Amendment and Baptist responses to it. In effect, this mid-twentieth-century United States legislation banned churches from direct intervention in political campaigning by threatening loss of tax-exempt status. The amendment thus kept pulpits from becoming stages for campaign rallies during election season. Baptists who believed in separation of church and state welcomed this guideline. However, as many Baptist pastors have publicly aligned themselves politically in recent years, many of them have favored overturning the Johnson Amendment. Sustaining the amendment has become a major issue in current church-state debate. Holcomb helpfully describes the origins and intent of the amendment, its impact in American political and religious practice, debates over its interpretation, and representative examples of both earlier and current Baptist perspectives on these legislative guidelines.
Daniel Rhodes' article engages the contested terrain of the historiography of Anabaptist origins. He notes the debate between scholars such as Strubind who focus on the theological/ecclesiological content of Anabaptist teaching and those like Snyder who insist that the Anabaptists cannot be understood apart from the social and political contexts that shaped their options. Given this framework, Rhodes favors Snyder but seeks to nuance the debate by offering evidence regarding both Anabaptists' limited social-economic status and also emphasizing their turn to a radical view of scripture as their only authority, which provided the basis of their separation from both the Roman Catholic empire and the newly emerging Zwinglian form of Christianity. Rhodes argues that the law articulated and published by the empire on March 6, 1523, provided the crucial backdrop for both Zwinglian and Anabaptist formation: whereas Zwingli conformed more closely to the requirement of the Edict and worked with civil authorities, the Anabaptists radically separated from them. Rhodes' article effectively raises the question of social and political constraints in the formation of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century new Christian groups, such as Anabaptists and Baptists.
Baptists cherish their autonomy, but from their early history Baptist churches cooperated in forming associations to achieve some of their tasks. Peter Lumpkins and Jerry Pillay have examined hundreds of confessions of faith adopted by Baptist associations in the southern United States during the nineteenth century. Their findings show a growing departure from Calvinist language and an increased emphasis on Arminian affirmation of free will in the associational confessions. They further challenge a common assertion that the participants at the 1845 Augusta organizational meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention were all Calvinists. Lumpkins and Pillay contend that the theological views of the SBC organizers were mixed. The focus of the founders was their racial conviction, not their theology. This article offers a contribution to the ongoing conversation on the nature of Baptist identity.
Weighing on Baptist minds during the twentieth century was the perennial question of social justice. Charles Dollar writes about Hazel Brannon Smith, a journalist whose views on race changed dramatically. Reared Southern Baptist in the deep South, she sang in the church choir, was married in the church, and grew up accepting traditional southern social assumptions about race. Following the Brown v. Board of Education decision on education (1954), she argued that the states--not the federal government--should have the power to dictate educational policy. However, during the era of the 1960s, she shifted dramatically, adopting activist reform positions on Civil Rights and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for her writing. Her religious outlook also experienced massive revision. She said that early in life she accepted a common southern view that God was the "original segregationist," but she reversed her religious arguments, writing that "when we reject other human beings on the grounds of race, we are rejecting God who made them even as he made us." Smith emphasized the brotherhood of all and the biblical claim that all are made in the image of God. Although some Southern Baptists made this shift in their religious and social outlook a half century ago, many did not.
Modern Baptists have put enormous effort into the foreign mission enterprise. The final two articles highlight the work of women who devoted their lives to this task. Rubi Elizabeth Barocio Castells pays tribute to the women who served the Baptist cause from its early days in Mexico. She recognizes in Susan E. Jones and Luz Heath the beginnings of a religious lineage that helped shape her own religious identity today. Early Baptist work in Mexico was sponsored by the northern Women's Baptist Home Missionary Society. One of the prominent features of the society was its effort to train and employ national leaders for mission work as well as sending trained personnel from the United States. This article narrates the work of two women who collaborated in the early stages of Baptist planting in Mexico. Jones attended the Missionary Training School in Chicago in 1893 and then went to serve in Mexico. Luz Heath, her close associate in Mexico, was a national worker. Laboring together they achieved much. The progressive policies of the Baptist Home Missionary Society facilitated the establishment of the Mexican Baptist Convention early in the twentieth century.
Ron West narrates the life story of Faye Pearson, Baptist missionary to Taiwan. Pearson worked first with Chinese college students (1968) and then in 1981 was called to teach seminary students at the Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary. Pearson was skilled in the Chinese language and naturally comfortable with interpersonal cross-cultural relationships. In 1989 the Southern Baptist Convention's Foreign Mission Board Area Director asked Pearson to be the field associate for the Southeast Asia region, which included Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong, making her the first woman to serve in this position of leadership. In 1992 her role expanded even further when she was named regional director for East Asia. She worked well with leaders of the Chinese churches as well as with the American missionaries. Pearson resigned when the Foreign Mission Board changed its strategy, but in spite of new gender restrictions, in practice she had already proven her leadership capabilities for mission work in the SBC. Returning to the United States, she taught at Southwestern Theological Seminary and at Baylor University before retiring. Her life was filled with service and leadership on behalf of the Baptist missionary enterprise.
On a final note, I have had the pleasure of serving as editor of Baptist History and Heritage for the past two years. I am grateful to John Finley and the officers of the society for granting me this opportunity. I am particularly grateful to Jackie Riley and Ruth Pitts for contributing their superb editorial skills to each volume of the journal. I also want to acknowledge the conscientious work of the unnamed article reviewers whose efforts invariably help to improve the quality of the journal. I thank Michael Williams, who has served as our book review editor for fifteen years, and I am grateful to David Holcomb who now has assumed this position. I am delighted that my colleague, Joe Coker, has been named the new editor of Baptist History and Heritage.
Bill Pitts is professor emeritus in the Department of Religion at Baylor University.
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|Publication:||Baptist History and Heritage|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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