Three Lessons Learned from Baptist History

All blogging has been put on hold the last few weeks since I received the syllabus for my History of the Baptists class coming up the first week in June. The reading requirement is pretty stout, so I have had to set aside a number of other reading projects I had been working my way through to give my attention to the four volumes of Baptist history we were assigned. I say this not to complain though, because the reading has been excellent! I have learned a great deal already, and am only half-way finished. I’m sure my wife will be happy when I stop peppering her with Baptist facts at the end of each day. John Piper once said that the existence of Hebrews 11 in the canon is tantamount to a divine command to read Christian biography. Besides being merely interesting, I have been encouraged in my work as a pastor in a number of ways through this reading. Briefly (because I have to get back to reading!), here are three ways I have been encouraged:

1. Pastoral Courage: The men about whom I have read were lionhearted in their ministries. They were confident that they were armed with the truth of God’s Word, and so shrunk back at nothing in declaring its whole counsel. What a challenge this is to me, as I know I have breathed in the air of a cowardly culture for far too long. This makes me ashamed of the fear I have felt when preaching hard texts to what I assume  are unwilling ears. How can I cower away from teaching about church discipline, or divorce, or the true marks of conversion, or whatever difficult matter may be at hand because I am afraid I won’t be clapped on the back as much afterward? Some of these men lost their lives for the truth. 

2. Theological Fidelity: Doctrine was not left to the academy for many of these great men. While there were some particularly complicated concepts that were strictly reserved for theological works, the pulpit was the primary broadcasting station for sound doctrine. I am convinced that we (or maybe just ‘I’) shy away from diving into teaching about the Trinity, or election, or the person of Christ, simply because we don’t think it’s worth the effort. It will challenge people to think, and they may not like that. It will challenge us to distill the information in a patient, understandable way, and we might not like that! But when our people can tell you about five ways to have a blessed day, and their eyes glaze over when the Trinity comes up, “this ought not to be so.” Holding to the truth is simply part of what it means to be a Christian, according to the NT letters, and the place where they will learn the truth is from their preachers. This also urges me to place more value on simply reading good theology, without neglecting of other pastoral responsibilities. 

3. Recognition of the Deception of the Human Heart: The most confusing and tragic element of my trip through Baptist history so far has been learning in greater detail about the support of slavery by some of the greatest theologians and preachers in Baptist history. There were men whose doctrine was air-tight, whose personal piety and evangelistic warmth would rival anyone’s, whose powers of communication by pen and in the pulpit were unsurpassed – and yet the defended the institution of slavery publicly, and mourned its passing. To qualify that statement only slightly, they were opposed to the abuse of slaves and rallied for the evangelism and instruction of slaves, but nevertheless, they were defending a morally abhorrent institution. How could this possibly encourage me? It demonstrates the blinding, self-deceiving nature of sin, and so encourages me to ruthlessly examine my own heart in light of God’s Word, and to seek accountability from the church. There is a good chance I am self-deceived about something right now. God help us if we do not heed the words of the book of Proverbs, and seek out instruction and correction constantly, lest we wander away from the path without ever realizing it.

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About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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