Baptists- The Story From New England to West Michigan

Baptists- The Story From New England to West Michigan

This post is an assignment from a friend

If you were wondering why I have been doing so many postings on the history of the Baptist denomination the answer is a simple one.  I have a friend who attends a local baptist church and he is the historian for that particular church.  He is putting together a history of that church for an anniversary celebration.  Since he knows I am interested in church history he wondered if I would put together these brief posting to help others understand their church’s beginnings. I accepted the challenge.

From Rhode Island to Grand Rapids, MI

This should be my final post about the Baptists for a while.  Previous posts have dealt with the very beginnings of Baptists and we last left them coming to the new world.  Eventually they settled all over the colonies of America but the person most recall from their studies is Roger Williams, in Rhode Island.

Roger Williams and John Clark are attributed as starting the first Baptist church in the Americas, that church was in Rhode Island.  The Baptists spread quickly to all over the new world, and that’s where I would like now to concentrate on Michigan in general and specifically Grand Rapids, and even more specifically Berean Baptist Church of Grand Rapids.  Many left the colonies and moved their families and lives west into the vast unknown of what we call the mid-west.

The first First Baptist Church and beyond

Records indicate that a man named Orison Allen moved with his wife into what is now Pontiac, Michigan around 1818.

In 1822 the Reverend Elon Galusha started the first baptist church in Michigan on the homestead of the Allens.  Galusha was not a resident of Michigan but an itinerant preacher.

The 1st resident Baptist preacher was Lemuel Taylor, who lived in Stony Creek, in Oakland County.

The New York Convention sent Elkanah Comstock, a missionary, to take charge of the Pontiac church in 1824.  Under the direction of Comstock a baptist church was started in Troy in 1825 and one in Farmington in 1826.

The Michigan Baptist Association was formed in 1826.

Baptist preachers and missionaries moved all over the state.  There were churches established from Kalamazoo to Sault St. Marie.

In 1846 the 1st of Michigan’s theological seminaries was founded in the town of Kalamazoo.

The 1st missionary work done on the Grand River (Grand Rapids) was done by the Reverend L. Slater in 1826-27.  He was sent by the Missionary Union to labor among the Ottawa Indians.

In 1842 the Reverend T. Z. R. Jones was sent to western Michigan by the American Baptist Home Mission Society.

In 1860-61 the first Baptist church in Grand Rapids was founded.

In 1861 the second Baptist church was started.  It was began by a group of people who left the 1st church to form their own church.

Over a few years the attendance of the 2 churches dwindled so they merged to form the Baptist Church of the City of Grand Rapids.  From April 1869 until January 1870 they did not have a pastor to lead them.  On January 1, 1870 the Reverend S. Graves D.D. from Norwich, Connecticut became their pastor.

In 1869 Fountain Street Baptist Church was founded.

In January 1885 R. K. B. Tupper became the next pastor of the Baptist Church of the City of Grand Rapids.

In 1886 a daughter church was started on Wealthy Avenue.

In 1889 another daughter church was started, now called Calvary Church.

The Berean Mission was re-organized and The Chapel at north Coit Avenue was started.

These churches were looking at the spiritual needs of the city and tallied the attendance of church goers.  The total number of Sunday School attenders in the city was recorded as 250 in 1869.  This number had risen by 1894 to 1,814.

Berean Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI

On June 5, 1892 a number of people, 50 in all, started Berean Baptist Church.  They called Reverend D. M. Cartwright as their first pastor.

 

That’s all folks

There’s obviously more to the story of the founding of Berean Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI.  There is also much more to tell of what an impact it has had on the city and the world since 1892.  But that story is for another day.  I will leave that for the historian of the local church to pontificate on.

 

Good night and God Bless

Baptist History part 3: English Reformers/Separatists

Baptist History part 3: English Reformers/Separatists

Where did the Baptists really come from?

I have discussed in previous blog posts 3 of the 4 commonly understood theories of the origin of the Baptist Church.  Now we come to the 4th and final possibility.  Many believe Baptists came directly from the English Reformation movement.  To be sure the actual beginnings are unclear for there is no record of a person or group of people deciding to start their own denomination called “Baptist”.  Like most of the origins of denominations the specific groups were labeled by outsiders with the name for which they would later to be known.

A product of the Protestant Reformation in England

This origin theory traces Baptist thinking and practice back to just after the Protestant Reformation movement.  As reformation thinking and ideas spread throughout Europe, major religious changes were on the horizon.  The Reformation impacted most European countries, such as: Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, France, Spain, and England.  There was growing dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church in England.  King Henry VIII of England got into some trouble with the Catholic Church due to various marital difficulties so in order to solve his problem the best solution was to break from the Roman Catholic Church and start his own church.  This move would give him the freedom to do what he wanted (even if the pope refused his request) because the new ‘church leader’ would be greatly influenced by the king.  So Henry established what is now called the Church of England or the Anglican Church.

Henry VIII contribution to Baptist history

During these times of unrest and reform in England many of those following the ideas of Martin Luther and John Calvin were hoping Henry’s break with Rome would give them the reform and freedom they desired.  This was not to be.  Many English protesters agreed with Luther and Calvin that salvation comes by grace through faith and not through a decision by a local representative of God (the local bishop).  But these same people disagreed with the Reformers about certain other issues.  Some of these issues of disagreement were: church governance (who made the decisions for the local assembly?); the Eucharist (how were Jesus’ body and blood represented in the communion elements?); and baptism (are infants to be baptized into the covenant community or was it strictly for confessing believers?).  These issues, coupled with the need they felt to ‘purify’ English Christianity, were specifically what caused a group of English reformers (called Puritans due to their stress on purifying Christendom) to emphasize believers baptism and therefore be unique in the ever changing landscape of growing denominations.

English Puritans leave for Amsterdam

This purification process failed under Henry and many followers of Jesus were persecuted because of their ‘other’ beliefs, so some fled to a different country in order to escape the abuse coming from either the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church.  A group of people led by a man named John Smyth escaped the English persecutions and fled to Amsterdam.  He was the pastor of a group of believers who taught and preached these new ideas, noting the idea of believer’s baptism.  Some of the documents from that time mention this man John Smyth and call him a Baptist, this may be where the term ‘baptist’ was first used to describe a different group of Jesus followers. Smyth had originally set up an Anglican Congregation but in 1609 he and a fellow separatist, Thomas Helwys, being so convinced of the need for baptism to be by confessing believers they baptized each other and the rest of their congregation.  They were shortly after called Baptists.

Life after John Smyth

John Smyth not long after this left his ‘Baptist’ congregation and attempted to join the Mennonites partially because he had changed his thinking about infant baptism and apologized for baptizing himself (which he admitted was the wrong way to go about his altering of interpretation on that issue).  Without Smyth, Helwys and his congregation drafted the first Baptist confession of faith in 1611.  Following Smyth’s departure the ‘baptists’ grew in numbers in Amsterdam.  Some of this newly formed denomination decided to move to the new world (America) and when they did the Baptist church grew eventually to become one of the largest denominations in America.  Thomas Helwys returned to England as the pastor of the 1st Baptist church in England, this was in 1612.

In the Americas

One prominent name that comes up when discussing the history of Baptists in Americas is Roger Williams.  He was a baptist for a short time and founded a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island in 1638.  He held to many Baptist beliefs, but later left the Baptist church not affiliating himself with any specific denomination.  His church in Providence, however, was the first Baptist church in the new world.  The Baptists grew in number and prominence becoming very well known in America’s history.  Baptists eventually started a wide variety of subgroups within the denomination.  Because of the controversy of owning slaves the Baptist churches split into a northern larger group and a southern larger group.  There are a myriad of subgroups but they mostly come from either the Northern Baptists or the Southern Baptist Convention.

What is my opinion of the history of Baptists?

It is probably pretty obvious, but I find this particular origin story of Baptists to be the legitimate one.  It makes sense that some English Reformers looked at specific doctrines written about by the Reformers and made up their own minds what the Bible said concerning them (which went against almost all other Christians).

Let me know what you thought of this series on the History of Baptists.

If you are member of a specific denomination or would like me to write a short history of that denomination let me know.

I value all comments.

Good night and God bless.

 

 

 

3 Bullet Saturday: The Council of Nicaea

We need to decide some things about our understanding of God, so let’s call a council and decide these issues.

Since humans are finite and God is infinite we just cannot understand all there is to know about God.  We also cannot have a complete understanding about what we do know concerning God.  For instance, we know God is eternal, but what exactly does it mean for a being to exist and have no beginning or ending.  All we humans have ever dealt with are things having a beginning and an ending.  There are all kinds of ideas about God that throughout history have needed to be wrestled with in order to be as biblical as possible.

2 rules concerning understanding and expressing a difficult theological issue.

When I was attending seminary way back in the dark ages (the 1990’s), I was given many words of advice when it came to wresting with, understanding, and expressing ideas about God.  2 of these were rules by which I filter all my contemplation:  1.  say what the Bible says as clearly as possible, 2. say no more and no less than what the Bible says.  It is imperative that one states the issue and the answer clearly and precisely.  It is equally important to not say anything the Bible does not say.

How does this advice play into the Council of Nicaea?

Honestly I believe that since the beginning (yes, even with the Apostles) the followers of Jesus did not fully understand who he was and were really lost for precise expressions of his uniqueness.  So after the apostles died (the last one was John the Apostle who died around AD 100) the followers of Jesus thought about, debated, and argued about the person of Jesus.  One of the most important issues is: is Jesus fully God or just the highest of all created beings?  Around the year AD 300 a man named Arius had decided he had the answer to the above stated question.  Arius was so tenacious about the biblical teaching that THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD that he was convinced (and convinced a lot of others) that Jesus was the highest of all created beings, yet created nonetheless and therefore not eternal.  Arius made this statement about Jesus: ‘The Son of God was a created being, made from nothing; there was a time when he had no existence and he was capable of change and of altering between good and evil’.  Arius emphasized the oneness of God to the detriment of the threeness of God.  He was not comfortable with the idea that ‘the Father was God, the Son was God, and the Spirit was God, yet there was only one God’.

Emperor Constantine assists in the debate

In AD 325 the Roman Emperor Constantine (no not John Constantine, that’s a TOTALLY different guy) called a council of pastors to meet in the city of Nicaea (in modern day Turkey) to debate the issue of the relationship between the Father and the Son and come to the precise biblical statement.

There is so much that could be said (and probably should be said) about the Council of Nicaea who were the main participants, what they discussed, and the conclusions they came to.  But for our purposes let me just state it as simply as I can, the council’s statement which was put into the Nicene Creed:       We believe . . .

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.

(this is just a portion of the creed, but the portion that is pertinent to our discussion here).

The conclusion from the majority of the pastors is that Jesus is fully God and not a created being.

Here are the 3 bullets for the Council of Nicaea:

  • The council was called by Emperor Constantine to produce a definitive statement about the eternality of Jesus.

  • A man named Arius was condemned by the council to be a heretic because of his unwavering denial of Jesus being of the same essence as the Father

  • The council’s conclusion is that Jesus was begotten not made and of the same essence as the Father.

Please tell me a story of how you wrestled with this issue and what helps you in understanding the person of Jesus.

3 Bullet Thursday: Polycarp

Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna

Polycarp (AD 69-155) was the bishop/pastor of the church in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey).  According to Eusebius of Caesarea (who wrote the first history of the Christian church around AD 300) he was a disciple of the Apostle John.  Polycarp was well know to have called Marcion, a leader in Gnosticism, ‘the firstborn of Satan’ because of his gnostic theology.  Polycarp was martyred (burned at the stake which did not consume him so he was stabbed with a sword) for his faith in Jesus before a crowd of onlookers in a stadium.

  • Disciple of the Apostle John

  • Wrote against Marcion a well known leader of Gnosticism

  • Martyred for his refusal to deny Jesus

 

Let me know if this is at all beneficial to your understanding of church history.

I Am Starting Something New: Three Bullet Thursdays

I am going to change things a little on this blog

I have thought long and hard about writing blog posts.  I understand that I have been inconsistent with my postings and am attempting to be more consistent.  But in order to write weekly it will probably end up a bit shorter of a post.  As I am writing I strive to write a minimum of one thousand words (which is not really that much). This many words does require quite a bit of research and note taking.  I am not against researching (in fact I enjoy it) but often I lack time to do it sufficiently.  I think that when doing the research I want to get the correct information and would not want the posts to be inadequate. Therefore to deal with this problem I have decided that many of these new posts will be shorter in length.

I am going to call these new posts “3 Bullet Thursday”

As I think about the topic of Church History and the people who are interested in studying it I imagine those people do not necessarily want to read thousands of words about a person or a topic or an event.   So in order to adapt to this audience I want to make things a little more palatable and easier to remember.

There are thousands of facts and pieces of information about people, places, and events in the annuls of history.  To be honest there is just too much for most people to even want to attempt to learn.  So I am going to give 3 bullets to summarize the important or significant topics of that day.

Some caveats:

It seems to me that one would need a bit of a background (dates a person lived, geographic area they ministered in, short biography) in order to better understand the person.  For instance, I were writing on C.S. Lewis and posted he wrote: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity without informing you he was a teacher of literature in England in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s then the information would be almost useless.  So I will include in the 3 Bullet Thursdays a brief biography to set the stage for the person or event.

I would also like to iterate that I am well of the woeful inadequacy of summing up significant people or events in 3 bullet points.  But I am convinced it will be beneficial to readers if I sum up theologian’s accomplishments in 3 short phrases.  I know ‘real’ church historians will not approve of this ‘boiling down’ of the significant issues but OH WELL it is going to be the way I will approach it.

I Wonder Who Is First (although this would be a great place to say Who’s On First but I will restrain myself)

I guess the first and most important person should be Jesus of Nazareth.

OK here we go:

Jesus was born in Israel around 3 B.C.  He lived as fully sinless life in order to fulfill the requirement God had for the remission of sin.  He died around AD 30 of crucifixion by the Romans and his followers claimed to see him resurrected 3 days after his death.

  • He was the anointed one of Israel sent by God to deliver humankind from their sins.

  • The only way to please God and be accepted by him and go to heaven when you die is to believe that Jesus died for your sins and you need to do nothing to receive forgiveness other than believe through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.

 

 

  • He promised to return to gather his people some day and those who accepted his sacrifice for their sins would spend eternity with him.

 

What information do you think I should have included in this 3 bullet Thursday about Jesus of Nazareth???

Please leave me a comment, I would love to discuss issues with you.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Some Resources For Studying Church History

As I speak and teach about Church History I am often asked about recommendations for people who want to study on their own. To be honest whenever I speak I recommend these books even when people do not ask about them. Some people see me as an ‘expert’ in this area and want to know some of the books and websites that I read to gain information.  My desire is to inform the listeners of some well written (and in some cases not too detailed) books or websites in this field.

What are some of the books I read?

Well, throughout the time I have spent studying and researching in the area of Church History, I have compiled quite a short list of books (my list should probably be longer and is getting longer but right now I consistently rely on a few of my standards).  There truly are a plethora of resources, so from every church historian you would probably get a totally different list.  This is my short list of just a few books that I read on a fairly regular basis.

  • Exploring Church History  by  James P. Eckman.  This book is only around 100 pages in length but it does introduce readers to major characters, movements, and events in the big story of the Church.
  • Christian History Made Easy  by Timothy Paul Jones.  I have used this as a textbook in a high school setting.  The author does a good job of relating the major people and ideas and how they relate to the big picture.  This book is only 200 pages long but includes small thought bubbles with recommendations for further study.  It even gives websites addresses with relevant information.
  • Church History in Plain Language  by Bruce Shelley.  This is probably the most thorough treatment of Church History contained in one volume.  It obviously does not cover all aspect and people but does a very good job covering the information with a ‘broad brush stroke’.

What are some of the websites?

I visit a few websites on a regular basis to acquaint myself with new topics or learn new stuff about topics which I all ready know some things.  As with the books, there are not many sites, but I do visit these regularly.

  • http://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org – This is website from people who publish Christian History Magazine .  It not only gives you information on previous issues of the magazine, but it is broken down into teaching sessions (based on time periods).  These teaching sessions have some excerpts from primary source materials with explanations and discussion questions.  I have used these in class as assignments for my students to be exposed to and interacting with original writings.
  • http://www.didymus.org/ – This is the website from Dr. Byard Bennett who teaches Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids Michigan.  The information Dr. Bennett puts in here is well thought out and intriguing to ponder.  He also quotes prayers from church fathers, which are insightful and inspirational.
  • http://www.earlychristianwritings.com – For reading a translation of original texts from the early church fathers I always go to this website.  It gives you the complete text with little commentary.  It is easy to read the writings to get the flow of the author.

As stated earlier, this is a short list and by no means an exhaustive list.  I read other writings sporadically but this is my go to list.

Last but not least my blog

I also recommend that people read my blog for information about Church History.  I attempt to write on topics in a manner that is not to academic.  I believe many people would like to know more about Church History but do not want to read thousands of pages in hundreds of books.  I see my job as breaking up large amounts of information into bite sized pieces.

Please leave me some suggestions from your reading list.

If you have any additions or recommendations of your own I would love to read about them and recommend them to others.  Please contact me in the comments section so we can communicate.  I would be happy to exchange comments.

Soli Deo Gloria

Which world view do you follow?

People have a difficult time evaluating their own world view.

All people at all times have a grid or filter through which they understand the world.  All information taken in to a person’s mind gets filtered through their worldview.   There are certain things that are possible and certain things that are impossible or at least improbable according to one’s worldview.  One problem  is people have a very difficult time taking an unbiased look at their own worldview in order to evaluate it for its pros and cons. We automatically assume everyone for all time thought about their world in the same way we do, and this is woefully incorrect.  We get so busy experiencing our life that we do not want to examine our preconceived notions to see if they should be rejected or tweaked.

A tale of two worldviews

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of worldviews.  I would like to use 2 as an example of how each includes some aspects and rejects other aspects of differing views.

Worldview #1:  Naturalism – people who hold this view believe that matter and energy are all there is in the universe and because ALL things follow certain laws it is impossible for miracles to occur.  Yet when something out of the ordinary (they would say impossible) happens it is rejected immediately without ever carefully examining the evidence.  According to this view Jesus could not have been raised from the dead because this is an impossibility.  This does not fall into their categories of reality.  Jesus’ resurrection just could not happen because miracles do not happen, therefore Jesus could not rise from the dead.

Worldview #2: Christianity – this worldview says (among other things) miracles can happen and one can use reasoning to examine the evidence and determine the event’s validity.  It is not only possible for Jesus to be resurrection from death, but can be defended through the use of examination and corroborating evidences.  The reliable eyewitness reports (the New Testament gospels) can be scrutinized for their validity and accuracy.  In this worldview, however, certain scientific assertions are rejected out of hand without weighing all of the studies.  Concepts like the neo-Darwinian synthesis are rejected due to lack of convincing evidence. Many will dismiss micro-evolution because of the “disagreement” between science and the Bible.  Often a Christian will say ‘evolution does not happen because it goes against the Bible’, when the differences between micro and macro evolution need to be defined.  As quickly as many non-Christians reject the concept of a supernatural being, a Christian will reject assertions made and proven by science.

I would like to state that one needs to re-evaluate their own worldview to determine if they are merely stating something which comes from the culture or something that is consistent with their basic beliefs. Do people reject the existence of God because they have “proven” to themselves he does not exist or simply because the concept of a god does not fit into their preconceived notions?  Do people reject the idea of an “old earth” because they have made an assessment of the pertinent information to come to a logical conclusion or do they simply reject it because the people they read reject it and ‘the Bible rejects it so I reject it’?

What’s the point?

The point I am attempting to make is this: we all need to take a serious evaluation of our worldview and be able to support our beliefs with legitimate and sound reasoning.  Too many of us (not merely Christians but including Christians) believe something or a set of somethings just because other people believe it, not because the individual came to that conclusion through reasoning.  Often we believe something because people we respect say it’s true, yet we have not taken an unbiased, critical view of this belief.

A shift from Medieval to Modern to Post-Modern to . . .

As I stated in the beginning of this post, most of us believe people through all of history had the same worldview as we, yet this is just not the case.  There seems to be a worldview shift (at least in western culture) periodically at various times.

  • The Medieval Mindset:  If we start chronologically with the Medieval Period (AD 500-1500) there is a way of looking at the world that I would say is more ‘superstitious’ than later periods.  The medieval mindset put more thinking on a controlling god than on the science of ‘how things worked’.  The people back then just did not have the science background to look at how the world worked so they attributed phenomena to ‘evil spirits’ instead what we would now see were a scientific process.

  • The Modernist Mindset:  Somewhere from the 1500’s to the 1700’s (the time of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment) there was a drastic worldview shift.  People changed their thinking from ‘more superstitious’ to ‘more scientific’.  There was a boom  in scientific and mathematical discoveries (actually there was a boom in many aspects of society) which changed the way people thought about their world.  This shift caused them to change the grid through which they evaluate their surroundings.  This worldview stressed logic and reason, where reason replaced faith in evaluating their world.  In this worldview there are objective truths in the universe which can be found through reasoning.

  • The Post-Modern mindset:  Somewhere around 1972 another shift took place.  This one started in art and literature and then moved into academia and eventually to theology.  In this mindset there are no objective truths (and even if there are it is irrelevant), truth is whatever my subjective experiences tell me it is.  Post-modernism is includes moral relativism, but encompasses all of reality.  In the religious realm post-modernism can easily be seen in the Emerging Church movement (a la Brian McClaren).

  • Post-post-Modernism- what comes after post-modernism?  I have no idea, but when I talk to people and do some research I will let you know.  The point for our discussion is Post-Modernism is waning and it will soon (or already is) be replaced by a new worldview.

Why the discussion on worldview?

May goal in discussing this topic is for more people to ask themselves the question, “Do I believe this thing is true, or am I merely following my culture?”  All intelligent people should take a close look at their beliefs, re-evaluate them and strive for consistency in their worldview.