American Baptist Achievement
C. Oscar Johnson
Pastor Third Baptist Church, St. Louis, and
President of the Northern Baptist Convention
"Character is determined by ideals and achievements. If we would know the place of Baptists, we must consider their historic greatness, their heroic fidelity to human liberty and their part in the life of the world. Our principles develop a type of character and life which tends to make men potent factors in achievements worth while." So wrote George W. McDaniel in his book, "The People Called Baptists."
We are met here on this historic occasion, to observe a Centennial of the Baptist History in Oklahoma. It is fitting, therefore that we give place to the consideration of American Baptist history and achievement for the one hundred years now closing. It is easy to determine a date as to the end of a century of time and to recount achievements which have been wrought in that period. It is impossible, however, to name a definite time for the beginning of that century. Movements and occurrences which come several years prior to the beginning of the century project themselves into the period under consideration.
Looking at one hundred years of our Baptist Achievement in America, we discover that these important events had their beginning prior to 1832. Let us look, then, for just a moment at the records of those things which greatly influence the one hundred years now closing.
Baptists were from sturdy stock. They had known the lash of persecution. They had fled from their enemies to places of safety. They had been confronted with persecution and difficulties in the new world. All of these things only served to fit them for the larger fields of service for God and man.
"Baptists have been pioneers in so many fields that to enumerate these might seem to assume a braggart spirit. But a statement of irrefutable facts must be taken as dispassionate and impartial. Baptists have always been champions of civil and religious liberty. Roger Williams, who took ground in advance of his Puritan compeers on the subject of personal liberty, being banished from the colony of Massachusetts, went to the present site of Providence, Rhode Island, where he founded what is regarded by some as the first Baptist church in America, and the first commonwealth on earth in which there was absolute civil and religious liberty. The framers of the Constitution of the United States caught the spirit of Roger Williams and as a result we have a country which has been the refuge of the persecuted and oppressed of all nations. Article VI, on religious liberty, in the American Constitution was introduced into it by the united effort of Baptists in 1789. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, guaranteeing freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to petition, was adopted largely through the activity of Baptists. They took the initiative in a letter to President Washington and a month later Madison, with Washington's approval, presented the amendment." (McDaniel).
Any review of Baptist achievement of the past one hundred years would not be complete without at least reference to the share which they have had in the achievements, common to American people. When we remember that in 1832 the America we now know was still very largely in the wilderness state, that a little more than one hundred miles of railroad had been built, that highways were little more than paths through the forests, or mud holes through the valley, and that the conveniences seemingly so necessary for our day were not even dreamed of, the natural question arising is, "Whence Came the America of 1932?"
The answer to that is that men and women imbued with the pioneer spirit, chopped their ways through the forests, wrested their livelihood from the ground, spanned the burning sands of the desert, suffered the rigors of winter and the scorching heat of the summer and at the fearful toll
of human life have made possible that which we now see and enjoy. In all of this our Baptist forebears had their share. As they camped on new territory Baptist churches and Sunday schools were planted. In this regard Baptists have to their credit the honor of the first evangelical church west of the Mississippi and the first evangelical church in the great Northwest in the Oregon country. The romantic story of what these sturdy Baptist people contributed in the material development of America in the past one hundred years would occupy much more time than we can give it.
Along with the subduing of the forests and developing and settling of the land, the last one hundred years has witnessed the greatest advance of science in all history. Inventions, discoveries, conveniences, too numerous to mention, have come. Again Baptists have had their share in all of this, - the sons of these noble sires, who early in their residence on this Continent, saw that education must be a part of the plan for the future generations and so founded and fostered the educational system of which we are so proud today. These sons made their contributions in the realm of science during the last one hundred years, giving those things to society without which life would indeed seem impoverished today.
To continue in this field is a temptation. In fact, I stand upon this platform today, having covered the distance between Saint Louis and Oklahoma City in a little more than three hours, because of the contribution of science to our modes and methods of transportation during the past century. But proud as Baptists are of their share in these areas, this is not their major achievement.
The past century has witnessed great political changes. A people so recently from the lands beyond the seas, ruled by monarchs, must find a way of self-government. This called for careful consideration of the constitution, laws, and institutions of justice. From these have come the greatest single document ever formulated by man since the days of Moses for the government of the people - The Constitution of the United States. The Baptists had an important
part in the framing of this, the Magna Charta of our land. Noble men have served in political office. Of governors, senators, congressmen and presidents Baptists have contributed a fair and worthy share. But our achievement of the past century has not been primarily political. While believing in the separation of Church and State, we have not contended that that separation should be so complete that neither had any share in the work of the other. Baptists have been at all times loyal and patriotic citizens.
With this brief background, may I consider the achievements of the century in the religious realm particularly?
Prior to 1832, a young man with his young bride, had set sail from the shores of New England for a port beyond the seas. The story of this young man's reading and study during the voyage, his conversion to the Baptist position, his baptism at the hand of a Baptist preacher, at Calcutta, is known well, but needs to be repeated here because that incident affects the history of the past century as it has been made by Baptists. That was in 1812. His co-laborer, Luther Rice, having come to the same conviction, left Adoniram Judson to begin work in the foreign land while he came back to stir up the Baptists in the homeland with a view to supporting the work. The call was heard from Maine to South Carolina, across the hills to the Mississippi. Luther Rice went arousing Baptists everywhere to heed the call to send the gospel to those to darkness. Thus the American Baptist Missionary Movement began. The American Baptist Foreign Mission Society was organized to send the Good News to the ends of the earth. It is significant here to note that the work of sending the gospel to foreign lands was undertaken before the work of promoting missions at home. It has ever remained largely true that the greatest stimulus to Home Missions is the active support of Foreign Missions.
Ten years after the formation of the Foreign Mission Society, there was organized a Society for the printing of tracts, and portions of the Scripture. This Society was destined to have a wide influence in writing the history for the next one hundred years. From a very small beginning,
the Society now known as the American Baptist Publication Society has grown to be a great and mighty power in the spread of the gospel to all the ends of the earth.
As I speak in this beautiful Southern City today, it is of importance to note that this Society was largely Southern in its organization, that for the first year of its existence the money which was given for operation all came from the Southland, except $133.00, and that the majority of the printed material was used in the Southern territory. The Society has always been interested in the spread of the gospel, whether North or South, and those early investments from Southern donors have brought back a thousand fold in Southern territory.
One of the men who assisted greatly to organizing this Society was John Mason Peck - a name that looms large in the last century. With a burning zeal to carry the gospel of Christ to the new settlements, he came west, pushing his way on with great difficulty and much suffering, as far as the Mississippi, where true to his inner vision he began to plan for the education of the youth, and at Rock Springs, Illinois, he founded Rock Springs Academy. While felling a tree in the forest one day, a visitor asked Mr. Peck what he was doing. He replied, "I am hewing a theological seminary out of the forest." There now stands at Alton, Illinois, Shurtleff College, a living memorial to the vision and work of this noble pioneer, John Mason Peck.
Eight years after the organization of the American Baptist Publication Society, there was organized through the efforts of John Mason Peck and Jonathan Going, the American Baptist Home Mission Society. It is this organization chiefly which I represent here today. There is no more romantic story in the annals of American history than the story of the achievements of the American Baptist Home Mission Society in its one hundred years of existence.
On June 20, 1831, Jonathan Going came West to spend three months visiting John Mason Peck. "Five eventful years had passed since that historic night in Worcester when their hearts burned within them as they caught the vision of a stupendous work ahead. The great missionary statesman
had a long story to tell, so these two Christian scouts traveled and talked through the next three months about the great work that awaited the coming of additional missionaries into the western area. At last after traveling large portions of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, united in purpose and program, the two friends separated in September, at Shelbyville, Kentucky. There Mr. Peck wrote in his journal: 'Here we agreed on the plan of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.'" It was not until on May 1, 1832, however, that the organization was completed. During the first year of its history the Society reported fifty missionaries in service.
From exceedingly small and unpretentious beginning, this Society gave itself to possessing new territory for the Kingdom of God. It became the friend of the Indian and the Negro. Here in your own noble state are positive evidences of the effectiveness with which this noble agency has wrought. Its work developed rapidly. Its scope has been nation-wide and beyond - not a church in any city west of the Mississippi in our northern territory but has been aidsd in its beginning by this Society. Many churches in the Southland received financial support in the early years of its existence. During the century, its work has been more complex - the maintaining of the work in many communities, where the gospel would not be preached except for the aid of this Society. The work of preaching the gospel to new Americans, as they come to our shores, has come to be an important part of its program. The distribution of the gospel in many different languages is in itself a very interesting story.
I am happy to bring you the greetings of this organization which has meant so much to you here in Oklahoma and which today is rejoicing in the achievements of this great state for the Baptist cause but more especially for the cause of Christ.
In 1876 the Society determined to build at least one school for the Indians and three years later steps were taken to establish such an institution. In the spring of 1880 it began its life. In 1882 sixty-eight pupils were in
attendance and several of these were studying for the ministry, "The plans for a higher and larger school were launched by Almon C. Bacone, a graduate of Rochester University, who went to Indian Territory in 1878 to become a teacher in the Cherokee Male Seminary, a tribal school at Tahlequah. He soon felt the need of a Christian school that would serve the Five Tribes and opened one with three students in March 1880. The Society voted December 13, 1880, that Professor A. C. Bacone be appointed principal of the Indian Normal and Theological School at a salary of one thousand two hundred dollars for twelve months, provided that one-half the amount be paid into the treasury designated for this service. Prom this humble beginning, backed by the faith and vision of a far-sighted man with true missionary spirit, has come one of the largest single enterprises in Indian missions."In 1881 Principal Bacone felt that the school should be more centrally located, and accordingly visited the Creek Council, in session at Okmulgee and asked for a grant of land on which to build a school. He found that the Methodists and Presbyterians were there with a similar request, and when the matter was presented to the Council it was promptly turned down. Professor Bacone prepared to leave for Tahlequah, a disappointed man, when William McCombs, a member of the Creek Council and a Baptist minister, begged him to remain, as he believed the vote would be reconsidered the next day. Mr. McCombs, with the aid of two native ministers, Methodist and Presbyterian, spent the night trying to influence other members of the Council not to permit the vote to stand, because it would put the Creeks in the position of being opposed to education. At the reconvening of the Council the next day, the man who had moved to table the request made by the representatives of the three denominations, moved that the Council reconsider and without any further discussion the vote was passed, first by the House of Warriors and then by the House of Kings. The bill was signed by the principal chief, and Principal Bacone returned to Tahlequah with a grant of one hundred sixty acres of land within the Creek Nation
to the Home Mission Society for a building of a school Principal Bacone, J. S. Murrow and Daniel Rogers, a general missionary for many years, were appointed by the Society as a committee to select the new site for the institution. These 'Three Immortals,' as they are called in the Five Tribes, chose a hilltop site tbtree miles from the town of Muskogee and Principal Bacone began his endeavors to obtain the necessary funds for a school Building." - (White)But the past century has not all been sunshine. There have been dark and ominous clouds and history records how they have broken in all their fury and have left devastation in their wake. These new ventures in Home and Foreign Missions were not to go undisturbed. The forces of Satan could not permit that to go unchallenged. The particular point of attack came in the question of slavery. Soon jealousy, criticism and hatred crept in and while it was largely in the political and business world, at the same time it had its tentacles reaching out into the religious realm as well.
It seemed impossible to continue as things had gone, so in 1845 it was deemed best for the two sections to pursue their separate ways. The great Southern Baptist Convention was consequently established and the remainder of the century tells the marvelous story of the success which has accompanied their efforts. The Foreign Board, the Home Board, later the Sunday School Board with its tremendous ability to reach, through the printed page, thousands and thousands of people - all of these have written chapters rich in accomplishment into the history of this century.
Then came the Civil War. Its cut was deep into the life of all people. Baptists did not escape, but that cut was not too deep, or the chasm too wide, for the Baptists on either side to reach their hand across in fraternal love and service. The century went on, until a dozen years ago, we were plunged into the midst of a fearful conflagration. Baptist boys, the sons of those who wore the blue and the gray, all dressed in khaki marched away. Many of thtem did not return. Those who did, came back to their fireside, in the North and South. They discovered that many of the old prejudices, hatreds and misunderstandings had
vanished. So once again the American Baptists came to think and to pray about the task assigned them by their captain - the Lord Christ - and to conclude that they must do it together.
Thus we look back over the century and well may the Baptists rejoice in the things which they have been permitted to do for God, - well may they be proud of those noble pioneers who lived and labored to the end that we might today have such a challenging position in the religious world, being the largest group of the evangelical Christians in all the world.
But one question remains. As I conclude, I bring this personal inquiry: "What is our attitude to the century just beginning as we view it in the light of the one just closed?" While the wildernesses have been charted, and for the most part removed, and the sandy deserts have ceased to be a barrier, the challenge to risk life in missionary endeavor has largely disappeared, still the next century challenges this generation to build upon the foundations which have been laid - a superstructure able to stand the tests such as the world has seldom known.
[From E. C. Routh, The Story of Oklahoma Baptists, 1932. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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