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The Baptist Position in the Twentieth Century

by George W. McDaniel

(Excepts from the book entitled, The People Called Baptist, originally published 
in 1925 by the Sunday School Board fo the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Introduction--A Noble Ancestry

The name "Christians" was first applied, in derision, to the followers of Christ by enemies at Antioch. The name "Baptists" was first given, in ridicule, by Pedobaptist opponents of the people who rejected the baptism of babies. Both names, like the cross, have been changed from marks of shame to badges of honor.

To be well born is to enter life with advantages. Baptists are justly proud of their parentage--the New Testament. They have an ancient and scriptural origin. Certain characters in history are named as founders of various denominations: the disciples began with Alexander Campbell, the Methodists with John Wesley, though Wesley never left the "Church of England," the Presbyterians with John Calvin, the Lutherans with Martin Luther, and the Church of England with Henry VIII and Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer in the reign of Edward VI. Not so with the Baptists. There is no personality this side of Jesus Christ who is a satisfactory explanation of their origin. The New Testament churches were independent, self-governing, democratic bodies like the Baptist churches of today. We originated, not at the Reformation, nor in the Dark Ages, nor in any century after the apostles, but our marching orders are the Commission, and the first Baptist church was the first church at Jerusalem. Our principles are as old as Christianity, and we acknowledge no founder but Christ.

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Baptists are like the immortal marines--every one is a volunteer. There is not a conscript among them. They should be more strongly bound together than any other religious group, because each one entered its bonds of his own accord. Common convictions cement them. They believe, therefore they speak and act. They are rooted and grounded in the New Testament.

I. Their Origin is Scriptural

The first Baptist churches were the churches of the New Testament. It is not necessary to prove apostolic succession. It is of more importance to identify our churches today with those of the first century than it is to trace the history through the centuries when there was no recorded history. The woman was driven into the wilderness for a season (Rev. 12:6). To illustrate: After the war General Lee lost a beautiful mare, whether strayed or stolen he did not know. He advertised for her, describing her color and size in detail. Deacon William Campbell, of Essex County, Virginia, read the advertisement and saw near his home an animal that exactly answered the description. He wrote General Lee, who sent his son from Lexington to investigate. As soon as he saw the animal he said, "That is father's mare." It was not at all necessary to follow the tracks of that mare from Lexington to Essex. The main thing was to identify her with the one that was lost. The Baptist churches of the New Testament were local, independent, self-governing, democratic organizations. The Baptists of today, and they alone of all peoples in Christendom, answer precisely to that description.

II. Their Doctrines are Scriptural

Two symbolic ordinances did Jesus establish and enjoin--baptism and the Lord's Supper. They are the most eloquent preachers God ever ordained.

Baptism preaches a sermon under three divisions on the necessity for regeneration: (1) It speaks of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; (2) it portrays the sinner's death and burial to sin and resurrection to walk in newness of life; (3) it prophesies that these bodies, after they are dead and buried, shall rise again. It compasses the past, present, and future. Nothing but immersion is adequate to this, and nothing but immersion is in the New Testament, the ablest pedobaptists themselves being witnesses. A minister preached a sermon in which he undertook to show that "in" and "into" did not mean immersion. He said, "John did not baptize Jesus in the Jordan, but close to, near by, round about Jordan. Philip and the eunuch did not go down into the water, but close to, near by, round about." An Irishman in the congregation arose at the conclusion of the sermon and said, "Your Reverence, your sermon today has brought me much comfort. It explains many mysteries which have long perplexed me. I could never understand how Jonah could live in the whale for three days and nights. Now I see that he was not in the whale, but close to, near by, round about, swimming in the water. The Bible says the three Hebrew children were cast into the fiery furnace and I wondered how they lived. You have explained it. They were not actually in the furnace, but close to, near by, round about, where they could warm themselves. We read that Daniel was cast into the den of lions and why they did not devour him was a mystery to me. But he was not in the den at all, but only close to, near by, round about where he could hear them roar and feel no harm. Then, your Reverence, I am a very wicked man and have long been afraid of future punishment. You have relieved my apprehension. When the Bible says the wicked shall be cast into hell with all nations that forget God, I shall henceforth interpret it as meaning that I shall not actually go to hell, but only close to, near by, round about." That Irishman had the truth in his wit. It is perilous to explain away the Scripture.

The Lord's Supper, the other ordinance, is a sermon under three divisions upon the atoning death of Jesus: (1) It says that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures; (2) it emphasizes our spiritual subsistence on him; (3) it expresses the hope that he will come again. Like baptism, the Supper compasses the past, present and future. In its proper observance memory, faith, and hope are operative. It is not a sacrament. It is emblematic of the atoning death of Jesus and preaches the doctrine of spiritual subsistence on him. When Jesus said, "This is my body," he no more meant his actual body than he meant a literal door when he said, "I am the door"; or a grape vine when he said, "I am the vine"; or a macadam road when he said, "I am the way "

The Romanist doctrine of transubstantiation is untenable. How can an officiating priest change inert matter into both soul and deity when the Creator himself did not form man's soul from matter? If Christ died once for all, how can he die again every time the "mass" is celebrated? If Jesus ascended into heaven to remain there until the final restoration of all things, how can he be bodily present in the bread and wine? If Jesus meant what he said, "All ye drink of it," why does the priest withhold the cup from the people? Does not such practice violate the unity of the ordinance by excluding the wine from laymen though Christ used both emblems to set forth his doctrine? Are not the worship and adoration of mere matter, bread and wine as God, idolatry? Dr. J. R. Graves and a Catholic priest were debating the subject of the Lord's Supper. The Catholic priest argued that when the priest blessed the elements they became the actual flesh and blood of the Lord. In his rejoinder Dr. Graves held up a glass of wine and said to the priest: "When you bless this it becomes the blood of Christ. If the blood of Christ it cannot be contaminated?" The priest assented. Taking from his pocket a bottle of poison, Dr. Graves poured its contents into the wine and said to the priest: "You bless and drink half of this glass and I will drink the other half." The priest did not drink.

Historically, the order of the ordinances was, first, baptism, and then the Lord's Supper. Logically, it should be so, because birth, symbolized in baptism, comes before nourishment, symbolized in the Lord's Supper. Neither ordinance has any saving efficacy. They are for the saved, and by their scriptural observance we keep alive and promulgate vital truths of the gospel. We do not bury a man to kill him; we bury him because he is dead. We do not bury him by sprinkling a little dirt on him; we put him under the ground. Had there been no perversion of the mode of baptism, there had been no question of restricted communion. Others must bear the responsibility for changing the meaning and mode, and for the subsequent controversies.

III. Their Course Has Been Consistent

For the simple truth of the New Testament they have stood and suffered and died. In the Old World where the state controlled the church, as in England, or the church controlled the state, as in Rome, bonds, stripes, imprisonment, and execution were their lot. In the New World it was little better until the acceptance of their principles made it so. The Episcopalians in Virginia and the Congregationalists in New England denied the freedom of conscience. The Baptists suffered severely. Patrick Henry rode from Hanover County to Fredericksburg, fifty miles, without remuneration to defend three imprisoned Baptist preachers. His better known speech in old St. John's had no more of dramatic power and convincing effect than his defense of these preachers. He entered the court room during the reading of the indictment by the prosecutor. After the prosecutor ended his brief, Henry took the paper and launched into a speech which moved the audience to sighs and tears and evoked from the judge the order, "Sheriff, discharge these men." Read two paragraphs of that speech.

"May it please Your Worship in a day like this, when Truth is about to burst her fetters; when mankind are about to be aroused to claim their natural and inalienable rights; when the yoke of oppression that has reached the wilderness of America and the unnatural alliance of ecclesiastical and civil power are about to be dissevered--at such a period when liberty, liberty of conscience, is about to wake from her slumberings and inquire into the reason of such charges as I find exhibited here today in this indictment--if I am not deceived--according to the contents of the paper I now hold in my hand--these men are accused of preaching the gospel of the Son of God. Great God!

"May it please Your Worship, there are periods in the history of man when corruption and depravity have so long debased the human character that man sinks under the weight of the oppressor's hand--becomes his servile, his abject slave. He licks the hand that smites him. He bows in passive obedience to the mandates of the despot; and, in this state of servility, he receives his fetters of perpetual bondage. But, may it please Your Worship, such a day has passed. From that period when our fathers left the land of their nativity for these American wilds--from the moment they placed their feet upon the American continent--from that moment despotism was crushed, the fetters of darkness were broken and heaven decreed that man should be free--free to worship God according to the Bible. In vain were all their sufferings and bloodshed to subjugate this New World if we, their offspring, must still be oppressed and persecuted. But, may it please Your Worship, permit me to inquire once more, For what are these men about to be tried? This paper says for preaching the gospel of the Saviour to Adam's fallen race!"

Joseph H. Crooker, Congregationalist, in his book, Winning of Religious Liberty, discussing the persecution of the Baptists in Connecticut, says: "It was in many respects far more reprehensible than the punishment of the Quakers. The Baptists were then as now an exceedingly earnest, orderly, God-fearing people. There were many points of contact between them and the Congregationalists. But there was radical difference respecting baptism. They rejected infant baptism, not as a mystical right, but as a seal and symbol of conversion and because they have a more generous view of God's providence and man's nature, children did not need to be christened to be saved from hell fire."

Governor Endicott, of Massachusetts, being asked by John Clarke what law of God or man he had broken, replied, "You have denied infant baptism and deserve death." Hezekiah Smith was "warned off from God's earth" by the sheriff of Haverhill, Mass. Two Baptist students were expelled from Yale College for attending the Baptist church at Canterbury, Conn., during vacation. There was a time when Baptist students at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, were inconvenienced and hampered in their desire to attend a Baptist church. There was an unjust discrimination against all Protestant boys when they entered the academy.

(In Bancroft Hall Order No.77, issued early in May, 1919, by the naval authorities, the above discriminations were modified in response to Baptist protests and petitions. Except that the chapel service is on the Episcopal order, though somewhat changed, there seems now to be religious equality. Mr. Charles T. Bagby, a Baptist layman of Baltimore, was instrumental in securing the abolition of the injustice done Baptist students and others. We are happy to notice the government's willingness to heed our protests in this particular. Secretary Daniels and Rear Admiral Scales manifested a fine spirit of fairness in dealing with our protests.)

Through all the periods of religious persecution, of the union of church and state, growing out of the heresy of infant baptism, there sounded one clear, consistent, courageous, convincing voice crying: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. The Church is a spiritual body, the State is a secular body; you cannot unite the two without irreparable injury to both. The soul is free. Man's supreme duty is to God. The State cannot lay its finger upon the conscience." By and by that voice was heard and heeded. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life, even unto death."

The first government in the world that allowed full liberty of conscience from principle to all men was established by Baptists in Rhode Island. James Madison, graduate of Princeton and preparing for the Episcopal ministry, was so shocked by the mistreatment of Baptists and so moved by their preaching through prison bars that he abandoned the ministry and became the political apostle of religious freedom in Virginia and America. The Baptists were the only denomination who supported him unwaveringly. Others helped in dis-establishment, but when it was proposed to assess taxes for all religious bodies, to use one of Billy Sunday's expressions, "They fell for it." Madison said the Presbyterian ministers were "as ready to keep up an establishment which is to take them in as they were to pull down that which shut them out." Baptists have never believed in, or countenanced, the union of church and state. If all the people in Richmond were Baptists but one, that one would be as free in religion as the screaming sea gull of the sea. Aye, and if I were the only person in Richmond who held to believers' baptism, soul freedom, and a church polity of the people, for the people, and by the people, I would stand like Athanasius until a sufficient number concurred in those fundamentals to organize a gospel church.

IV. Their Mission Has Prospered

God has turned their misfortune into fortune. The Kaiser looked upon the ruddy, stern faces of countless American youths and inquired, "What ship brought so many of those Americans over here?" "The Lusitania, Your Majesty." Strange as it may sound, the persecution of the Baptists gave religious liberty to America. It drove Roger Williams into the wilderness where he could found the first free church in a free state in the history of the world. It awakened Jefferson and Madison and their co-laborers to the iniquities of the union of church and state, and brought about dis-establishment. Dr. J. L. M. Curry was seated next to the British statesman John Bright at a dinner in London. Mr. Bright inquired, "What distinct contribution has America made to the science of government?" Dr. Curry thought a moment and mindful of other democracies that had sprung up in Europe, replied, "The doctrine of religious liberty." Bright thought a moment and remarked, "A tremendous contribution." Yes, it was the greatest contribution of the New World to the Old, of America to civilization, and it was pre-eminently a Baptist contribution. Bancroft correctly says: "Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was, from the first, the trophy of the Baptists."

The most popular book of 1918, written by a Spaniard, contains this sentence, "The philosophy of modern democracy is lay-Christianity." That is a striking statement of the Baptist position. We reject and oppose sacerdotalism that puts a priest between a soul and God, sacramentarianism that makes the ordinances vehicles of grace, and ecclesiasticism that puts a church between a sinner and salvation. We insist upon the right, ability and duty of each soul to approach God directly through the one mediator, Christ. We recognize no "orders" in the ministry and no such distinctions as "clergy" and "laity." All are brethren and equal in Christ. The application of the Baptist principle would abolish priestcraft and kingcraft.

In World War I the world was convulsed in a struggle for the rights of the people. The man who was in the conflict from the first, who perceived the issues more clearly than any other, whose frankness alarmed the Turks, and whose fearlessness heartened the Christians, whose courage infuriated the Hohenzollerns, and whose determination unnerved the Hapsburgs, whose appeals kept the British workmen in the factories and placed Foch at the head of the allied armies, whose lips voiced the most distinctly Christian sentiment of any peace envoy, whose heart beat in unison with the heart and whose hand joined with the hand of President Wilson in a pledge to punish the wrong-doers and bind the nations into a brotherhood that will cultivate peace and good will, instead of war and hate; that man is our Baptist brother, Lloyd George. He said: "Tell the Baptists of America we are fighting for Baptist principles in this war." Are not these principles for which blood has been shed, and lives sacrificed, worth living for in America and in the world?

V. Their Attitude Toward Unionizing

The attitude of Baptists towards unionizing the denominations is simple and clear. We are ready to unite tomorrow upon the New Testament as the sole authority of faith and practice. In 1699 the Baptists of Philadelphia replied to a letter from the Episcopalians invitatory to a union that two things "absolutely necessary in order thereunto" must be shown from Holy Scripture: "First, that the foundation of your church, with all the orders, officers, rites and ceremonies, is of divine institution"; second, "that you give us clear and infallible proof from God's holy word that our Lord Jesus Christ hath given power and authority to any man, men, convocation or synod to make, constitute and set up any other laws, orders, officers, rites and ceremonies in his church, besides those which he bath appointed in his holy word; or to alter or change those which he bath therein appointed." This Baptist reply remains unanswered to this day. We will never unite upon an extra and anti-scriptural program framed in New York or elsewhere, as directors would merge corporations. It is amusing to see the unionists set up their Procrustean bed and begin lopping the large and stretching the small to make all uniform. An Episcopal bishop said in San Antonio, Texas, some years ago: "There ought to be but three denominations in the world: the Catholics, standing on one side for the authority of the church; the Baptists, standing on the other side for the authority of the Bible; all the other denominations should be united, for the difference between them is the difference between tweedledum and tweedledee." He was correct. There we take our stand and cannot surrender or compromise our convictions; nor would we have others do so. Jesus did not pray for organic church union when he prayed that prayer in the seventeenth chapter of John that "all might be one." They were all baptized believers. They were one organically. They had uniformity without unity of spirit. Jesus prayed for unity of spirit, for freedom from rivalries, jealousies, animosities and antipathies. We pray the same prayer and seek to answer it by endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace. Though we speak the truth, sometimes the unwelcome truth, we do so in love.

VI. Their Attitude Toward Governmental Interference

Their attitude toward governmental interference is now what it was in 1776, namely: religion is not within the purview of the civil power. The question is not, Is religion necessary to the well-being of the State? but, Is religion advanced by government control or interference? The third assistant secretary of war went beyond the proper bounds when he affirmed "the whole desire of the department is in the interest of breaking down, rather than emphasizing denominational distinction." It is none of the government's affair how many denominations there are so long as they obey the Constitution of the United States. The government's only concern with them is to see that they enjoy their guaranteed rights. The government should know that the rights we waive in war times will still be held tenaciously and proclaimed fearlessly. The experience of history teaches that whenever the government has touched religion it has corrupted it. The logical end is the definition by the government of what the privileged may preach. This no Baptist can accept. It behooves us to read again our history, to baptize our minds afresh in our immortal principles, and to contend earnestly, though lovingly, for the "faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." "With malice towards none and charity towards all; with faith in the right as God gives us to see the right"; asking nothing for ourselves that we do not concede to all others; regarding every soul as a human brother and every saved soul as a Christian brother; with loyalty to the truth as it is incorporated in the New Testament and with allegiance to Jesus Christ, our only Lord,

      We lift our banner to the air, 
      And swear to guard our legacy.

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