Baptist records are a direct reflection of Baptist attitudes and theology. On the American frontier, Baptists spread like wildfire during the Second Great Awakening (1790-1830). However, records were not always kept for those converting in revival meetings.
Reasons Why Baptists Were Poor Record Keepers
Historically, many frontier ministers were not professionally trained. They “received a call from God” to preach and that was their credentials. A literate frontier minister was secondary to the “call to preach.” The reason for this is based in the idea that a person’s salvation was based upon a personal experience between the individual and God. Literacy was not the focus as salvation and God’s word was open to all people.
Aligned to this is the importance of the local congregation. If patterned after the ancient New Testament Church, then the local congregation of believers was qualified to their own inspiration. They were fully capable of interpreting and living the principles of the New Testament.
As the frontier was settled, congregations established, and education more available, records were generated. This helped document members, transfers in and out, donations, and disciplinary actions. All record keeping was at the judgment of the local congregation. The believers, as the congregation, together make up the body of Christ. The local congregation is a sacred Baptist concept.
Baptist Theology and the Records Left Behinds
In Baptist theology, salvation is an experience based upon the faith and confession of the believer. It is not based upon baptism. Baptism is by total immersion as a sign of commitment, faith and admission into the church. A record of the “believer’s baptism” may or may not have ever been kept.
An excellent introductory text is Bill J. Leonard’s Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers: Exploring Christian Faith (2009). For the development of Baptist doctrine see James Leo Garrett’s work Baptist Theology: A Four Century Study (2009). For contemporary in-depth systematic theologies representing a general Baptist or Baptist-Calvinistic perspective, I recommend:
Akin, Daniel L., ed. A Theology for the Church (2007). Position: Southern Baptist Convention; revised edition due in 2014.
Bird, Michael F., Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (2013). General evangelical approach by an Australian Baptist theologian.
Enns, Paul, The Moody Handbook of Theology: Revised and Expanded (2008). Position: conservative evangelical and dispensationalist.
Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology (3rd ed., 2013). Position: Baptist-Calvinistic and General Protestant.
Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology 4 vols. (2002-2005). Position: Baptist-Calvinistic, conservative evangelical. His four volume series is now condensed into one.
Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (2000). Position: Baptist-Calvinistic, Charismatic and General Protestant.
Lewis, Gordon R. and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology: Historical, Biblical, Systematic, Apologetic, Practical (1996). Position: conservative Baptist.
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