Free Will Baptists and Slavery

You do not have to be an accomplished student of history to know that slavery in America was one of the most divisive issues  the country faced in the mid-19th century. Eventually, the nation itself split into north and south as did most of the Christian denominations. While the nation was reunited after the War Between the States, many of the religious organizations would remain divided.

Less well known is the fact that while many anti-slavery proponents agreed that slavery was evil, they were far apart in their expectations for erasing that evil. Many, including President Lincoln, sought gradual emancipation of the slaves, and even when freedom was attained these champions of freedom assumed that colonization, preferably in another country, was the most desirable solution.

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Free Will Baptists and Temperance

The 19th century in America was strongly influenced by a series of “benevolent” societies that were a part of the nation’s response to the Second Great Awakening (1795-1805). Strong drink and slavery especially fell under the crusading action of America’s Christian army. Free Will Baptists in New England joined the battle against “demon rum” very early.

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Ministry Support, 19th Century Style

On August 16, 1848, in an article in The Morning Star, a paper published by the Free Will Baptists in New England, George W. Baker outlined a proposed covenant that would bring final solution to the continuing problem of support for the ministers of the denomination. Before reminding his readers that the denomination had fallen behind others in dealing with this concern, he pointed to Scripture to show that ministers of the gospel should live by the gospel.

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The Free Will Baptist Record

“Our subscription list is nearly five hundred. Now why can’t we make it one thousand in the next few months,” the editor wrote in The Free Will Baptist Record. The paper was a monthly, published by the Ladies’ Aid Society of Cofer’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Nashville. The first editor was Mrs. Fannie Polston; associate editor, Pastor Dell Upton; manager, Mrs. Ed Parker.

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David Marks: Sacrificial Ministry

Like others, I spent a good portion of my years in the pastorate grieving at the amount of sacrifice that seems to be a natural part of ministry—tight budgets, long hours, overwhelming congregational expectations. But as I read the early history of the denomination, I am aware that my life is one of luxury when compared with that of the pioneer Free Will Baptist preachers of long ago.

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Standing for the Word

When Free Will Baptists are compared and contrasted with other denominations, attention usually is given to questions of general atonement, man’s responsibility in the salvation experience or the possibility of apostasy. The truth is, however, that one of the most significant contrasts with others is more important than any of the issues mentioned but is seldom considered. This important concern is biblical authority. Until very recently, it could be assumed that most Christians pre-supposed a reliable Scripture and that they agreed that this body of revelation served as the guide for their beliefs and practices.

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Free Will Baptists and Education

Free Will Baptists have a rather splendid and extended heritage in education. Hillsdale College in Michigan, Rio Grande in Ohio, and Bates College in Maine were, along with other institutions of note, founded by Benjamin Randall’s group of Free Will Baptists in New England. Bates College still maintains an excellent collection of the literature of that movement. Of course, these schools lost their identity as Free Will Baptists in the 1911 merger with the Northern Baptists.

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Phenomenal Growth in New England

The First Great Awakening in America (1726-1742) introduced a new type of revivalistic preaching that brought new life to the churches that embraced it, but caused conflict with those who could not accept it. As the revival became more popular and affected more churches, splits were inevitable. Denominations divided into revivalist and anti-revivalist factions and, in some cases, entirely new Christian movements were born.

One such movement was founded by Benjamin Randall.

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New England’s Legacy for Today’s Free Will Baptists

When the New England Free Will Baptists (leaders pictured below left, and at the grave of Benjamin Randall, right) merged with the Northern Baptists in 1911, it seemed an era had ended and a heritage lost. Several schools, the only Free Will Baptist foreign missions program, a publishing house, and a number of able leaders were swallowed up in the new merger. But all was not lost. A remnant of this segment of the denomination in both the Midwest and far West remained true to their original convictions.

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Expectations for Revival

Between the First (1726-1742) and Second (1795-1805) Great Awakenings in America, revivalism experienced a radical restructuring. The first national revival in the colonies had been characterized as a spontaneous outpouring of God’s blessings, while the second seemed to give more attention to the role man plays in bringing about widespread spiritual renewal.

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