New Member Orientation

                                                 

                                                     Foreword

 

                                                                            Since I first entered the pastorate, I often have felt the need for a small book on                                                                                         church membership to place in the hands of members to help them know the                                                                                             meaning of their membership and understand the doctrines and polity of Baptists.                                                                                     Being unable to find such a book, I decided to prepare one. Several months ago an                                                                                     edition was published privately, and I quickly found that other pastors and church                                                                                   workers felt the same need. Orders came in from a number of states, and several                                                                                       thousand copies were sold. For such a response I am humbly grateful to the Lord,                                                                                     and now that larger opportunity comes for the little book through its publication by                                                                                   Broadman Press, my prayer is that it may have a useful ministry in the work of many                                                                               of our churches.

 

                                                                            The book is necessarily brief, many things being omitted; but an effort has been made                                                                               to discuss the more important things a member should know. It should be studied                                                                                     with Bible in hand since, in order to save space, most Bible references are given but                                                                                   not quoted. If the book proves a blessing in that it helps someone to be a better                                                                                           Baptist, its purpose shall have been achieved.

                                                                           

                                                                         

JOE T. ODLE

                                                                       

June, 1941

   

Foreword to Revised Edition

 

More than twenty years have passed since the first edition of this book was published. During that time over one million copies have been printed, and the book has been used in churches throughout the United States and in mission fields around the world. Portions of the material have been translated into at least five foreign languages, and a Chinese edition was published in Hong Kong.

 

There have come numerous reports of souls won to the Lord, of saved persons being led into church membership, and of members rededicating their lives because of the book. Thousands of pastors have distributed it, and hundreds of thousands of new church members have studied it either individually or in new member classes.

 

For the widespread ministry the Lord has given the book, I am humbly grateful. My prayer is that this revised edition will find an even larger place of service as it assists pastors in teaching new members the true meaning of membership in a Baptist church. If it does this, it will continue to accomplish the purpose for which it was prepared.

 

JOE T. ODLE

 

September, 1962

 

Contents

 

1. The Meaning of Church Membership

 

2. The Church Covenant

 

3. Christian Growth

 

4. Baptist History

 

5. Baptist Doctrine

 

6. Baptists and Other Denominations

 

7. God’s Plan of Church Finance

 

8. Baptist Churches at Work

 

1. The Meaning of Church Membership

 

“I’m now a member of a Baptist church.”

 

Millions of persons utter these words with a joy in their hearts that is inexpressible. They have found Christ as Saviour, their sins are forgiven, and there is peace in their souls. As Christians they have obeyed the Lord’s command to follow him in baptism and unite with his church; they have found great happiness in this new relationship.

 

Many, however, who speak those words fail to comprehend their significance. Sometimes they live for many years without ever seeming to learn the real meaning of membership. This should not be true. Every member should know the seriousness and sacredness of his commitment. It is surprising that so many hold membership without realizing their privileges and opportunities or accepting their obligations. Surely this is not because of a determination to be indifferent. They have not been brought face to face with the real meaning of church membership, nor have they had it various aspects laid on their hearts. In this chapter and throughout this booklet, we seek to set forth some of these things.

 

Just what is this organization to which you belong? It is a New Testament church. Dr. George W. McDaniel defined a local church as “an organized body of baptized believers equal in rank and privileges, administering its affairs under the headship of Christ, united in the belief of what He has taught, covenanting together to do what He has commanded, and co-operating with other like bodies in Kingdom movements” (The Churches of the New Testament, p. 23).

 

The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest institution that the world has ever known. Christ established it during his personal ministry, and he is its Head (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18). He promised that he would be with it through the ages and that the gates of hell should not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18; 28:20). To it he gave the Great Commission and the ordinances, and for it he went to the cross (Matt. 28:19–20; 1 Cor. 11:23–26; Eph. 5:25). He loved the church, and he wants his churches to honor and glorify him as his representatives on the earth (Eph. 3:21; 5:25–27).

 

The Lord’s churches have the greatest task ever assigned to any individual or group in the world’s history—carrying the glorious gospel of Christ the Saviour to every nation and tongue. No other commission like that has ever been given or will ever be given. In carrying out this work, the churches have done more for the world than all the governments ever organized, all the other institutions ever established, or all the armies ever assembled. World history has been changed by the work of Christ through his churches.

 

We see then that we have a great privilege in being members of Baptist churches. They are churches with a glorious beginning, a blood-written history, an illustrious present, and a future as bright as the promises of God. They are churches that have held true to God’s Word through persecution and tribulation and whose members have been numbered among the faithful. They are churches that today have a membership of more than twenty-five million, and are growing rapidly as they carry the true gospel message to a lost world. Truly it is a privilege to be a member of a Baptist church.

 

Membership also brings us great opportunities. These include opportunity for fellowship in the finest company that can be found and opportunity for Christian growth, development, and training through the various departments of the church organization. We have opportunity for Christian service through the church in the name of Christ to those at home and around the globe. Where else can we find such opportunities to live for God and our fellow men?

 

Membership places upon us an inescapable obligation—an obligation to make the church and its work first in our lives. It is an obligation to use our time and our talents for the glory of God, an obligation to support the work with our presence, our influence, and our means. Churches are never stronger than their membership; and a membership of worldly, careless, negligent, stunted Christians will prevent a church from accomplishing much for the Lord. There is need for every member to be consecrated, trained, and enlisted in active service. We are under obligation to be the very best members possible under the leading of the Lord.

 

We see then that membership is a privilege and an opportunity that entails great obligations. Too many members have not learned these things. Their churches mean little to them, and they mean little to their churches. Dr. E. P. Alldredge, who for many years served as secretary of the Department of Survey, Statistics, and Information of the Baptist Sunday School Board, once said that 60 percent of the members of the average church were unenlisted. That condition must be changed. Won’t you help change it by making your membership really count for Christ?

 

2. The Church Covenant

 

The church covenant is a voluntary agreement by members of a Baptist church whereby they promise to conduct their lives in such a way as to glorify God and promote the ongoing of his church. Every member should study it carefully, refer to it often, and seek to live by it. It clearly outlines the obligations of church membership. The form of covenant in wide use in Baptist churches is as follows:

 

Covenant

 

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another, as one body in Christ.

 

We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church, in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the gospel through all nations.

 

We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to religiously educate our children; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all tattling, backbiting, and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage; and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour.

 

We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Saviour to secure it without delay.

 

We moreover engage that when we remove from this place we will, as soon as possible, unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

 

Basis of Covenant

 

The obligations of church membership outlined in the covenant are all scriptural, as may be seen from the following study.

 

I. Salvation and Baptism (John 1:11-12; Matt. 28:19–20).

 

II. Duties to the Church

 

1. To walk together in Christian love (John 13:34–35).

 

2. To strive for the advancement of the church and promote its prosperity and spirituality (Phil. 1:27; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Cor. 7:1; 2 Peter 3:11).

 

3. To sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrine (Heb. 10:25; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:23–26; Jude 3).

 

4. To give it pre-eminence in my life (Matt. 6:33).

 

5. To contribute cheerfully and regularly (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:6–7).

 

6. To carry my membership when I move and be active in church work wherever I live (Acts 11:19–21; 18:24–28).

 

III. Duties in Personal Christian Living

 

1. To maintain family and secret devotions (1 Thess. 5:17–18; Acts 17:11).

 

2. To religiously educate the children (2 Tim. 3:15; Deut. 6:4–7).

 

3. To seek the salvation of the lost (Acts 1:8; Matt. 4:19; Psalm 126:5–6; Prov. 11:30).

 

4. To walk circumspectly in the world, and to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment (Eph. 5:15; Phil. 2:14–15; 1 Peter 2:11–12).

 

5. To avoid gossip and excessive anger (Eph. 4:31; 1 Peter 2:21; Col. 3:8; James 3:1–2).

 

6. To abstain from sale or use of liquors (Eph. 5:18; Hab. 2:15).

 

7. To be zealous in our efforts for Christ (Titus 2:14).

 

IV. Duties to Fellow Members

 

1. To watch over one another in love (1 Peter 1:22).

 

2. To pray for one another (James 5:16).

 

3. To aid in sickness and distress (Gal. 6:2; James 2:14–17).

 

4. To cultivate sympathy and courtesy (1 Peter 3:8).

 

5. To be slow to take offense, always ready for reconciliation (Eph. 4:30–32).

 

3. Christian Growth

 

Every child of God should desire to grow spiritually. This is scriptural, for 2 Peter 3:18 says, “Grow in grace.” When we are saved, we do not immediately become full-grown Christians but are only “babes in Christ.” As “babes” we are commanded to “grow.” To remain a “babe” is a shame and a tragedy. Only by growing spiritually can we please God and glorify him in our lives.

 

How can a Christian grow in grace? A large book, or a series of sermons could be written on this subject, so we cannot give a comprehensive discussion here. The following principles, however, can be outlined.

 

1. Be sure that you are born again. Certainly you cannot grow spiritually if you are not a child of God. The Lord said, “Ye must be born again.” We are born again when we repent of sin and commit ourselves to Christ our personal Lord and Saviour. Make sure of your salvation.

 

2. Unite with one of the Lord’s churches, and go to work for him. Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. He wants us to love it and give ourselves to it. You cannot expect to grow spiritually if you do not obey the Lord’s first command to you as a Christian—to unite with his church. You cannot live as good a Christian life outside the church as in it. Make your church the most important interest of your life. Attend the services, and participate in the activities. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first” the work of the Lord. We must do this to grow.

 

3. Cultivate your devotional life through Bible study and prayer. The Bible is God’s Word to us. Read it daily. Read it through. Read it by books and by subjects. The more you read it, the more it will mean to you. You will thus be better equipped for service to the Lord. Prayer is God’s child in conversation with him. The Bible says, “Pray without ceasing.” Pray daily. Pray about everything. Pray as you work. Have a secret place of prayer. Establish a family altar in your home—a time when all the family is gathered together for Bible reading and prayer. We cannot grow spiritually if we do not develop the devotional life.

 

4. Make much of Christian fellowship. Let your closest friendships be with other Christians. Visit their homes and invite them to your home. Such fellowship is rich and blessed and will be a great strength for you in resisting temptation and growing spiritually.

 

5. Separate yourself from the world (2 Cor. 6:14–18). The world is against God (1 John 2:15–17). We are in the world, but we must not be of the world. Let us separate ourselves from everything that is worldly, everything that would hinder our work for Christ. As long as we hold on to worldly things we cannot grow spiritually.

 

6. Use and cultivate your talents for the Lord. Every Christian has abilities which he can use for God. Use your ability to speak, to sing, to handle business, to bring joy to needy hearts, to teach, to organize, or whatever your talent may be. The church needs that which each member can do. Dedicate yourself to Christ today (1 Cor. 12:12–31).

 

7. Read good books and other Christian literature. Every home should have religious books and periodicals. Subscribe for the denominational weekly paper and mission journals. Do not let the wrong type of books and other literature have a place in your home.

 

8. Be honest toward God in the use of your money. Every Christian’s income belongs to God. At least a tenth of it should be brought to God’s house regularly. If you are dishonest toward God in matters relating to money, your spiritual growth will be stunted. Study carefully chapter 7 of this book.

 

9. Exercise self-control. Satan is ever seeking to hinder our Christian lives and the Lord’s work by bringing jealousy, ill-temper, and selfishness into our hearts. Church work has often been hindered by some Christian who sought to be “bossy” or was noncooperative. Such a spirit is of the devil. If it appears in your life, destroy it by Bible study and prayer.

 

10. Seek the counsel and help of your pastor. He is one of the best friends you can have. God has set him in the church to aid you, to teach you, and to lead you. Confide in him. Work with him. When you are in trouble, he will be ready to help you. When you are tempted, he will fight with you in your battle with Satan. When you need spiritual counsel or guidance, you will find no better earthly friend than your pastor. As you walk with him, you will be walking closer to God; seek his fellowship.

 

11. Live for Christ one day at a time. Each morning you awake to find that God has given you a new day to use for him. Live for him every minute of it—in your business, at your job, in your home, in your social relationships, and wherever you are. Live for him in the quiet moments, those times when you are alone. This does not mean that you will neglect the responsibilities of your business or home, but it does mean that you will so live that the spirit of Christ is manifested in your life.

 

Live for Christ twenty-four hours a day. If you fail, as you sometimes will, confess your sin in repentance and ask God to help you overcome it. Sometimes Christians give up when they fail once. That is not God’s way. His Word says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Peter denied the Lord, but he did not turn away in despair. He came to the Lord in repentance and was forgiven. Later he became the mighty preacher of Pentecost. Do your best to resist the tempter: but if you sometimes fail, do not give up. Get up, get right, and go on. As you live for Christ one day at a time, you will soon be living weeks and months and years for him. This is the way of victorious living.

 

12. Win others to Christ. The greatest work in the world is soul-winning. Every Christian can and should bring others to the Saviour. This work saves souls from hell, brings joy on earth and in heaven, and is the greatest means of Christian growth. Dedicate yourself to it today, and ask God to guide you. Pray for lost persons that you know. As God leads you, talk to them about their spiritual needs. Tell them about your own experience of salvation. This was Paul’s method. Everywhere he went, he gave testimony of his glorious conversion. Use the Bible in talking to the lost. Pray with them. Lead them to pray for themselves. When they have found the Saviour, lead them to confess him openly and unite with the church. This work will give you the greatest joy you have known as a Christian (Psa. 126:5–6).

 

Other things could be said about growing in the spiritual life, but space does not permit. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, and he will lead you into greater spiritual knowledge and blessings day by day. Spiritual growth is possible. Seek it.

 

4. Baptist History

 

Baptist churches seek to follow the pattern of Christ’s church in the New Testament. Baptists thus believe that their history began with Christ and the apostles. This often has been proclaimed by Baptist historians and preachers. It is one of the most glorious claims ever made for any church. Most Baptists believe that both the Bible and history substantiate its truth.

What is the meaning of such a claim for Baptists? It does not mean that the Baptist denomination can be traced by name back to Christ. Also, it does not mean that there has been found an unbroken chain of baptisms, churches, or ministers. It does mean that from the days of Christ until now, no date can be cited, no place designated, and no founder named, with the positive assertion, “This is where Baptists began!” It also means that in every age from New Testament days until the present time, Christ’s church has continued to exist. There have been churches holding essential New Testament principles such as those held by Baptists today.

In a book such as this we can give only a brief outline of the beginning and history of Baptists. If the reader desires to make further study, there are numerous splendid volumes available. Consult the church librarian or the pastor concerning them.

I. The Beginning of the New Testament Church

1. Christ established his church during his personal ministry here on the earth. This is one of the things which he definitely said he would do: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Before Christ left the earth, he stated that the work he had come to do was finished (John 17:4; 19:30).

The first members were the apostles (1 Cor. 12:28). Jesus took these men, who had been baptized by John the Baptist, and formed them into his church. Before he left the earth, this church had a membership of about 120 (Acts 1:15), an organization, the ordinances, a commission, and a treasurer. On Pentecost the three thousand saved and baptized were “added” to the church, which was already in existence. This church was a local, visible body.

2. In the Greek New Testament the word translated “church” is ekklesia. George W. McDaniel, in his book, The Churches of the New Testament, said that it is used 109 times to refer to the Lord’s church. He held that in 93 cases it designates a local church; in 14 cases, the church as an institution; and twice, all of the saved together in glory (pp. 296–99).

When the word “church” is used of an institution, it does not mean one big universal church but an institution made up of individual churches. When we speak of “the home” or “the school” we do not mean one big universal home or school. Nor is there one big church. The New Testament never speaks of a group of churches as “the church,” nor are the words “universal” or “invisible” used with reference to the church anywhere in the New Testament. If there is a sense in which all of the saved make up a universal, invisible church, it has no real existence until it is assembled in glory.

The way Jesus used the word ekklesia or church also reveals that the church he established was a local, visible body. He used the word 22 times: 3 times in Matthew and 19 times in Revelation. In 21 of those 22 uses Jesus clearly was speaking of a local church. In the other use (Matt. 16:18), he said, “I will build my church.” There is no reason to believe that he was thinking of something altogether different from the local, visible body of which he spoke in all of the other references. Evidently here he was thinking of the church as the institution which he was about to establish. When that institution is an actual reality, however, it exists as local, visible bodies.1

3. Churches like this first church have continued to exist from that day to the present time. Christ promised that they would not cease to exist. He said that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” his church (Matt. 16:18). He said that it would be in the world to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). If the words of Jesus were true (and we know that they were), then there have been New Testament churches in existence in every age since Jesus spoke. They will continue to be in the world until he comes again. In the brief historical sketch in section III of this chapter, we show how Christ’s promise did not fail.

II. Finding New Testament Churches Today

Since New Testament churches, like those set up by our Lord, are in the world today, how may they be identified?

1. New Testament churches must have four things true concerning their origin and doctrine. (1) They must have the right founder—Jesus Christ. (2) They must have been founded in the right place—in Palestine, where Christ lived,. (3) They must have been founded at the right time—during the earthly ministry of Jesus. (4) They must be teaching the doctrines the Lord gave his church in the New Testament.

Churches which cannot meet these conditions can hardly be the churches the Lord established. Can any churches meet such requirements? Where did the various denominations begin? The following table, showing the origin of some of the denominations, is prepared from the statements of historians. Similar facts could be given concerning every other denomination except Baptists.

Denomination                          Founder                                      Place                                   Date

Roman Catholic                       Pope Leo I                                  Rome                                   4402

Lutheran                                  Martin Luther                             Germany                             1520

Episcopal                                 King Henry VIII                           England                               1534

Presbyterian                           John Calvin                                 Switzerland                        1536

Congregational                       R. Browne                                   England                               1581

Methodist                                John Wesley                               England                               1740

Disciples (Church of Christ)  Alexander Campbell                  U.S.A.                                   1827

Mormon                                  Joseph Smith                             U.S.A.                                    1830

Christian Scientist                 Mary B. Eddy                              U.S.A.                                    1879

2. A study of this historical table will quickly reveal that it would be difficult for any of these denominations to prove that its churches are the true New Testament churches established by the Lord while he was here. Even if historical records are not considered, the doctrinal test is enough. For example, how can churches which teach sprinkling for baptism or sprinkling of babies, neither of which is found in the New Testament, claim that they are true New Testament churches?

3. Does this mean that Christ’s promise of perpetuity did fail and that there are no true New Testament churches in the world? Baptists do not accept such a conclusion. They believe that their churches are New Testament churches because of their doctrines, their organization, and their practices. Many of them also believe that Baptists have a historical relationship with churches in every age since Christ.

Some Baptists believe that the doctrinal claim is all that is necessary—that the authentication of a Baptist church is its acceptance of the New Testament as its sole and final authority. Many of these, including numerous modern scholars, say that Baptist history can only be traced back to the Reformation period; but they recognize that Baptist principles do reach back to Christ.

Other Baptists, and others who are not Baptists, believe that there is a kinship between the Baptists of today and groups through the ages who have held to basic New Testament truth. The following quotations reveal this position:

John T. Christian (Baptist): “I have no question in my own mind that there has been a historical succession of Baptists from the days of Christ to the present time” (A History of the Baptists, pp. 5-6).

George W. McDaniel (Baptist): “Baptists are justly proud of their parentage—the New Testament. They have an ancient and scriptural origin. . . . There is no personality this side of Jesus Christ who is a satisfactory explanation of their origin” (The People Called Baptists).

Alexander Campbell (Disciple or Church of Christ): “The Baptists can trace their origin to Apostolic times and can produce unequivocal testimony of their existence in every century down to the present time” (Debate with Walker).

John C. Ridpath (Methodist): “I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist church as far back as AD 100, though without doubt there were Baptists then, as all Christians were then Baptists” (quoted from W. A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, p. 59). If all Christians were then Baptists, what kind of churches did they form? Baptist churches, of course.

Ypeij and Dermount (Dutch Reformed Church): In 1819 the king of the Netherlands appointed these men to write a history of the Dutch Reformed Church, and to investigate the claims of the Dutch Baptists that they could trace their history back to Christ. These men wrote in their report: “We have now seen that the Baptists who were formerly called Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites, were the original Waldenses, and who have long in history . . . received the honor of that origin. On this account the Baptists may be considered as the only Christian community which has stood since the days of the apostles, and as a Christian society which has preserved pure the doctrines of the Gospel through all the ages” (quoted from Christian, History, p. 95).

Mosheim (Lutheran): “The first century was a history of the Baptists.”

Cardinal Hosius (Roman Catholic): “If the truth of religion were to be judged by the readiness and cheerfulness which a man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinions and persuasions of no sect can be truer or surer than those of the Anabaptists; since there have been none for these twelve hundred years past that have been more grievously punished” (quoted from G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists, p. 364).

4. Whether the historical relationship can be established or not, we can certainly say that Baptist churches of today are New Testament churches, in their doctrine, organization, and practice. It must be our purpose as Baptists to keep them true to the New Testament in every way—the type of churches Christ wants and needs in the world.

III. A Brief Summary of Church History

In apostolic days and for a period thereafter, the churches remained reasonably free from false teaching. Even before the end of the first century, however, Satan began to sow evil seeds. Churches here and there were teaching doctrines not true to “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Baptismal regeneration, salvation by works or law, centralized church government, union of church and state, and other heresies appeared.

In the year 312 the Roman emperor Constantine took the first steps toward governmental support for Christianity. Gradually, church and state were united into a great politico-ecclesiastical alliance. This union finally culminated in the full development of Roman Catholicism by about the end of the sixth century. With Catholicism in control the Dark Ages came. The period lasted until the Reformation. The translation of the Scriptures into the language of the people, the invention of printing, and revolt of many religious leaders against the Roman hierarchy then brought a new day in world history.

During all this time of the rise and development of false doctrine and practice in the churches, there were scattered through Europe, Asia, and Africa, groups of dissenting churches which refused to acknowledge the Roman pope and sought to follow the New Testament. Some early groups were the Montanists, Novatians, and Donatists. Later groups included the Petrobrusians, Waldensees, and Anabaptists. Catholic historians call most of these sects “Anabaptists.” They were mercilessly persecuted throughout the centuries until after the Reformation, and some persecution against them has continued to modern times.

Though these groups did not carry the name “Baptists,” many of them did hold various Baptist tenets, such as separation of church and state, spiritual democracy, salvation by grace apart from sacraments, believers’ baptism, and immersion as the mode of baptism. Churches holding these truths cherished New Testament principles. They shared with Baptists the desire to follow Christ’s will for his churches.

When the Reformation came, numerous new non-Catholic groups appeared. Some of them became the large Protestant denominations of today. They all rejected many of the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church, but most of them retained some teachings which had no foundation in the New Testament. In the centuries since the Reformation other denominations have been formed until there are now hundreds of separate denominational organizations. Some of them have departed far from using the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice.

In the Reformation period the people called Baptists also appeared. As we have already stated, many historians believe that they had existed under other names in the preceding centuries. Now they became known as Baptists, and their history may be clearly traced from that period. In England, they began a slow but steady growth. Soon they began to appear in other lands. Here in America the first Baptist church was established in Rhode Island about 1738, and soon there were churches in other colonies. They grew very rapidly during the Revolutionary period and the early years of the new nation. Today, Baptists constitute the largest evangelical group in America, with approximately twenty million members. There are now more than twenty-five million Baptists in the world, with churches in more than one hundred nations.

IV. Baptist Past and Baptist Future

Baptists have contributed many things to the world’s progress. Perhaps their greatest contribution is religious freedom. They have fought for it through the centuries, and its establishment in America came largely through their influence and effort. They also inaugurated the modern mission movement. William Carey, an English Baptist, was the first foreign missionary of the English-speaking world. The first Sunday school society for Bible teaching was started by a Baptist layman in London, and the great Bible societies of England and America have had strong Baptist support. Baptists have made many other contributions to the progress of Christianity.

The Baptist past is glorious. As we remain true to Christ, our future is assured. The Lord has promised that his churches will be here until the “end of the world.” Inspired by the unfailing devotion of our forebears and assured of victory by the promises of God, let us as Baptists, in this day of religious compromise and retreat, hold fast “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Let us, with renewed fervor, lift up the banner of him who said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).