Democratic Religion, An Interaction (4/4)

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chapter 7

  1. Entitled “Associations, Creeds, and Calvinism”, this chapter speaks of just those things. Wills discusses the development of associations between churches that held similar creeds which were, much of the time based on Calvinist views.
  2. As stated above, Wills develops his discussion of associations first and foremost and then goes on to discuss the autonomy of the local church. Associations, it seems, were very strict when it came to a fellow church’s creed. Calvinism or the lack thereof (i.e. Arianism) were very important; these views and doctrinal principles allowed or disallowed churches to be in association with one another. There was a sort of interchurch discipline going on; although everyone stood for the autonomy of the local church, they seemingly chastised a congregation by disallowing them to be part of their association if they held differing views on election and the perseverance of the saints, etc. Explaining further the importance of creeds, Wills explains that they were seen as a means of unanimity. The Baptists, said by many to be a ‘creedless’ denomination, did indeed have creeds/confessions, but held that Scripture had the only true authority.
  3. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to find that I was in agreement with the Baptists this time! Throughout the book I have found myself huffing and puffing at the mindless and heartless actions executed and beliefs held by my Baptist predecessors; however, I found it nice to hear that the Bible has long since been held as the only authority.
  4. A lesson learned in the heretofore chapter concerns creeds and the mere setting forth of what one believes. The Baptists of the past were very ardent in stating that they had no creed other than the Bible (although Wills goes on to say that Baptists endorsed creeds later on and saw them as necessary to provision of purity). This caused warring amongst fellow Christians that could have verily been avoided. Thus, in future ministry, I hope to lay aside all pride and stubbornness and to simply explain why I believe what I believe, to be honest in so doing, and to respect others (of Christian denominations in particular) for doing as they see fit in similar respect.

Chapter 8

  1. In discussion of the transformation of the way that Baptists ‘did’ religion, Wills mentions at length the decline of discipline and other noteworthy changes that took place thus.
  2. It seems that the clearest identifying factor of change in the churches was the decline of discipline. Wills explains this briefly and goes on to discuss the drawbacks and obvious disadvantages to church discipline; he explains how it was never a practice that was loved by the congregation, but was simply kept up out of necessity in maintaining purity and the cause of Christ. He then relates a lengthy discourse on dancing and other worldly amusements. It seems that the laxity of disciplining dancers was a main indicator in that discipline was falling by the wayside. This lack of discipline was spurred on by the growth of the church attributed to youth and younger members while those very members were the ones involved in the violation of dancing. Churches feared losing their young membership, and would rather allow a few offenses here and there than to do so. Wills develops his discussion of the transformation of democratic religion even further with an incorporation of urban religion. He then brings the reader to a point of resolve as he discusses the coming efficiency and progress and the new democratic religion.
  3. I found this chapter less surprising, and perhaps, in one sense, more settling to my soul. One thing that I did find surprising was the replacement of the pure church with the efficient church. This is somewhat puzzling to me as I feel that purity should come before efficiency. However, as Wills goes on to explain this notion, efficiency was seen in light of purity.
  4. At one point in this chapter, Wills relays that ‘fiddling and dancing had become so commonplace and popular in southern society that some members of the church believe them to be harmless’. That is a scary statement, don’t you think?!! I think it scary simply because it is essentially saying “if it is popular culture and an accepted part of our society, it should be condoned and tolerated of our membership. I find this appalling! What would this mean for us today?! Thoughts such as this one entirely changed the way that our Baptist predecessors executed discipline; they began to allow things to go undisciplined because modernity called them okay. Now, what I am not saying is that I think dancing and fiddling sinful. However, what I am saying is that I hope in future ministries and those I am currently a part of, that we never fail to evaluate everything on Biblical terms. Our society is not to be the ‘rule’ by which we live; Christ is!

Wills, G.A., Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003


Democratic Religion, An Interaction (3/4)

July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chapter 5

  1. Wills’ thesis in this chapter is that of the African-American Baptist churches.
  2. Discussing how African-American Baptists viewed church authority and discipline, Wills explains that the African-American Baptists upheld ecclesiastical authority perhaps with even more rigor than did white Baptists. He also discusses the separation of blacks and whites into different congregations and churches and black responsiveness to whites and vice versa.
  3. Most surprising to be in this chapter was the prideful stubbornness on the part of white church leaders in their dealings with black church members and leaders. Just the way in which they continued to view themselves seemingly as ‘patron saints’ to black churches is ludicrous! Whites continued to view themselves superior, even in religion. Why this is surprising to me, I am not so certain; I mean it is infantile and overtly presumptuous on the part of the white church leaders and members.
  4. I have to be thankful to God that we have come very far since these times and now we do not believe that one race worships more fervently than another or is superior to another in religious matters, or any other matter. However, I think it is something that we still have to be careful to avoid in our ministries today: the race of superiority, I mean. I hope to one day see multiple races truly worshiping God together in unabashed, full-out praise to the one God of all…who created us all equal!

Chapter 6

  1. The main stream of thought in chapter 6 is that of Baptist exclusivism. Entitled “Freedom, Authority, and Doctrine”, this chapter hits on each area in order to illustrate and accentuate exclusivism.
  2. Wills develops his theme of exclusivism by discussion of popular theology and much talk about orthodoxy, which Baptist felt compelled to maintain at all cost. Discipline, as a means to exclusiveness is also mentioned at length to allow the reader to understand exactly what is involved in maintenance of orthodoxy (i.e. traditional and Biblical doctrine). Exclusivity may not have been sought outright, but it was definitely an effect caused by allegiance to Calvinist doctrine, purity within the church, and submission to ecclesiastical authority. This led to a discussion of heresy and defecting from Baptist theology and life to other denominations. This meant a difference in or a change in doctrine, and, in the eyes of Baptists, called for extreme measures.
  3. I suppose the element I found most surprising was that of the two ways to get out of a Baptist church: “excommunication and death”! To me that is so harsh and seemingly preposterous. Why? Well, I suppose that I think it okay for someone to be part of a Baptist church growing up and be a member there and then perhaps relocate and find a church that is perhaps a Christian church by denomination and desire to join there. However, I must agree with something said in the chapter that served to validate Baptists’ rigor in this matter. Something was said to the effect of changing one’s doctrine and beliefs; in essence, forfeiting one’s membership in one denomination in pursuit of another membership within another denomination means changing one’s mind about beliefs that can be quite pivotal. I think that many times the doctrine of a church is not really understood by those pursuing membership which leads me to my answer to question 4.
  4. I hope then to make it very clear to those who wish to join, just exactly what they are joining into. To help them to fully understand the doctrinal principals and truths of the church is of great importance. How can they be in true fellowship with the others of the congregation/body if they do not know around exactly what that fellowship is built upon?

Wills, G.A., Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003

Democratic Religion, An Interaction (2/4)

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chapter 3

  1. This chapter focuses on ecclesiastical authority. Not unlike the previous chapters, discipline is a central theme.
  2. Concentrating on ecclesiastical authority, Wills develops this theme by looking at the means by which such authority was carried out, namely through disciplinary actions. It seems submission to such authority was a requirement for piety. Wills takes a look at accusations and confessions (namely in the ‘days of discipline’), forgiveness or the repentant soul, excommunication (also exclusion), and restoration. Throughout all of this ‘drama’ as Wills calls it we see the church’s authority being played out and as of primary importance.
  3. Most surprising or perhaps simply most appalling to me was the discussion of forgiveness on the part of the church’s democratic congregation of members. The church seeing it impossible to grant forgiveness, and thus withholding forgiveness in certain situations is audacious! God is the one who forgives our trespasses, and what’s more, we are taught by Jesus in what we call the “Lord’s Prayer” to forgive those who trespass against us in order that we may be forgiven by God!…And what of treating others as we wish to be treated?!! I find this most surprising because it seems outright ludicrous on the part of the church to assume such responsibility that is only God’s in reality.
  4. From this chapter, I must say that I learned much on my true role as a believer. I feel that the church of the past failed to see her limitations and limited God as such. I haven’t the power to forgive one’s sins and in future ministries which I am a part of I hope to teach that only God has the power and might to forgive sins. Also, the mortification and shame that churches chided sinners with was outright repulsive. Yes, rebuke is a positive thing that brings about restoration; however, mortification and shame have no real place as a public practice in dealing with a member’s sins.

Chapter 4

  1. The effect of gender roles and race relations on church democracy and discipline is the central matter of this chapter.
  2. Wills explains how moral discipline was upheld beyond limitations of gender and race; moral discipline was of primary concern. Expounding on the role of women in the church, involvement in benevolent societies, and as the upholders and stewards of moral discipline allows the reader to see the intricate roles played by women in Baptist history. Elaboration on the disparity between men and women shows the injustice in Baptist history. Wills then focuses on the issue of race. African Americans and White-Anglo Americans were viewed very differently in all regards. It seems that while the church advocated ecclesiastical equality, they fostered social inequality; and, it is seen clearly just how unimportant equality was to them even within the church by looking at the seating arrangements within congregations. Blacks were looked upon as children, and thus were to be fostered and parented by their masters in all things and ways spiritual; although this sounds nice and innocent, it is a mere working out of the belief that the ‘blacks’ were incapable of working out their faith on their own, and needed the aid of their more learned masters. In the end, however, the most important thing was to uphold the ‘democratic authority’ of the church.
  3. Surprising to me was the role women played in missions. I had no idea that they fueled the fire for missions to a much greater extent than men. As a woman, seeking to continue ministry in a foreign mission setting that is a very neat piece of our history to know! I suppose the reason that this is surprising to me is mere ignorance in thinking women subordinate to men and men leading the way as I’d heard of William Carey, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice spurring missions on.
  4. One lesson learned is that of equality. It seems that our Baptist predecessors thought themselves quite egalitarian, while utilizing scripture to support segregation and understanding of “roles”, extending to both race and gender. The reality is that they were double-sided and, as I must see it now, hypocritical: they sought egalitarianism within the church, but fought for segregation and hierarchy in society at large. In my future ministries, I hope never to think myself doing one thing and to overlook blatant hypocrisy and double standards! There are many fine lines that one must be careful not to cross in the quest to be equal and not show favoritism; I pray to be mindful of such.

Wills, G.A., Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003

Democratic Religion, An Interaction (1/4)

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment


Chapter 1

  1. The thesis of Wills’ opening chapter is that of exclusivism and the vehicle of discipline as a means to such exclusivism. Wills shows how evangelical exclusivism was played out most vividly through discipline.
  2. Wills develops his thesis throughout the chapter by explaining the intricate realities of church discipline and how it was played out in history. He explains how discipline was at the center of church life, separating the holy from the unholy and the converted from mere ‘members of a congregation’. Discipline discriminated between true believers and hypocrites. It was a means of producing and maintaining purity within the church. The church was to be completely separate from the world. Wills goes through a series of modes by which discipline was executed to create a democratic religion.
  3. I found it surprising just how harsh church discipline was and how it was so closely tied to retro-Calvinism. The reality of the elect in extreme Calvinistic thought caused the regenerate to feel that church discipline served to either bring one back into the fold, or reveal their true identity as unregenerate and hypocritical (not truly of the elect). I do agree with church discipline to a point; however, presuming that it serves to separate the goats from the sheep is a little hasty and harsh. Something else I find surprising is the discussion of authority and loss of individuality; baptism was indicative of crossing into a life of submission to the authority of the church and out of a life of personal moral freedom. This seems odd to me because it sounds much like an authority that the protestant faith was striving to leave when she split away from the Church of England. It simply seems ironic.
  4. One by-product of the church’s strict discipline of converts was a lack of willingness on the part of church-goers to convert to Christianity through Baptism and become true members of a church. The rigorous discipline did not apply to them as long as they were mere members of the congregation and nothing more. The lesson I think we must learn is that discipline can serve to scare seeking hearts away from church involvement as they see an obvious advantage to not becoming a true member of the church. With this in mind, I hope to be part of a church that admonishes one another among her members and seeks to teach and admonish all those who come into the church doors. I would like to practice discipline, but not in a non-Biblical fashion as I feel was going on in our Baptist history.

Chapter 2

  1. The thesis of chapter 2 is closely tied to that of chapter one as it involves a discussion of discipline as a means of creating and maintaining purity within the church. At this point in history it seems that purity was sought through ‘repristinating’ the church.
  2. Looking carefully at the desire of the church to be as pristine as possible (i.e. like the churches started by the apostles themselves), Wills explains how discipline was a means to bring about such a primitive church. They sought to conduct religion on a scripture-only basis, excluding modern man’s innovations. Church authority was held by the local church, and not some outside, overarching party. The exercise of discipline amongst a body of believers was a means of honoring God; holiness and the preservation of purity were the main goals of such discipline. Freedom was highly esteemed, but only that which was built on purity which was, in turn brought about by discipline. Wills then tied together the ideas of discipline and revival. He explained how the reality of revival was intricately wedded to the practice of discipline within the local congregation and how, without such discipline, blessings would not result. Historically, blessing and revival follow the exercise of discipline.
  3. Most surprising was the discussion of discipline and revival. I actually have never considered the possibility of rebuke as a cause for revival; however, I know that in my own personal walk with Christ, it is true that when a sister or brother has admonished me in some area, that has brought forth a spiritual awakening and revealing of my sin and thus, a revival in my own heart. So, I suppose I had just never thought of that on a larger scale, but it may just make sense. However, I must hold to the belief that outright slandering and shaming of another faithful church member, before having approached them in a ‘Matthew 18’ way seems unbiblical to me and I have seen this type of public rebuke result in anything but revival.
  4. I hope to realize that the purity of the church, and especially God’s reputation, is paramount and should be held in the highest of esteem. Wishing to plant churches in which Christ is the center, I pray that the members can and will truthfully and lovingly admonish one another, just as they encourage one another. I pray never to be a congregation that prides herself in discipline and fails to see the relevance in helping someone in their walk with Christ…i.e. to get back on track if they’ve had a spiritual setback. / To add, I hope to be part of a church(s) that are able to maintain purity and uphold God’s glory, even if it means expelling a denying, unrepentant member. I just hope to see this happen as a last resort, only after striving to bring this stray sheep back into the flock.

Wills, G.A., Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900. Oxford University Press, USA. 2003

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