BAPTISTS IN AMERICA HISTORY
Sunday Morning Service
July 5, 1998
Fair Avenue Baptist Church
This morning I want us to examine the subject of Baptists in American History. We have a rich heritage in our country that has long gone unheeded, and untaught. And consequently, we do not know why we are Baptist people. And we have proven it by the number of people who have left the Baptist church and joined some false religion - they don’t know the difference.
The truth is we don’t know what we believe or why we are Baptists. We’re not even sure why the name “Baptist” is on the sign out front.
This won’t be a preachy-preachy type of message, but it will be factual. It’s time we learned some history from the Baptist point of view.
Did you know that the first Sunday School in America was started by a Baptist layman, Samuel Slater, almost 99 years ago, September 16, 1899, in Pawtuckett, Rhode Island?
The Baptist heritage in our country is almost unbelievable. And most of the most important things are unknown by nearly every Baptist today.
The Bible says that “...truth is fallen in the street...” (Isaiah 59:14)
We simply do not know our Baptist heritage in America. We do not know the truth of our Baptist heritage. That truth has fallen in the street of the world. Of course, our public schools are not going to teach the Baptist heritage.
You pick up the average history book today and you’ll read about Franklin Roosevelt crying about the disaster at Pearl Harbor. The truth is that there at least 15 documented facts that the Japanese invasion was coming. You don’t need the average history book today.
But we are going to teach about our Baptist heritage in our Christian Academy this coming school year, teaching Dr. Bill Grady’s book, “What God Hath Wrought.”
Are you familiar with any of the contributions that Baptists have made to the founding of this nation?
John Locke, the famous philosopher and historian, said, “The Baptists were the first and only preponderers of absolute liberty.”
I want us to look at some spiritual insights into America history.
In 1620, 99 Pilgrims got off the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock, and they started what became the greatest nation in the history of the world.
The Pilgrims were not Baptists, but they were cousins to the Baptists. But they had learned their doctrine from the Baptists in Holland. And they also learned about congregational government where the church calls the pastor instead of some hierarchy somewhere appointing the pastor for you. We call that local church autonomy where the church runs its own affairs without some headquarters in some distance city telling you what your church can or cannot do. That is a local New Testament church principle found in the Book of Acts.
The Pilgrims learned that from their Baptist friends in Holland.
They also learned not to get in someone’s face over their religious beliefs. I may not agree with them and I may even argue with them and I’ll preach against them, but I’m not going to throw them in jail and take away everything they have.
Protestants and Catholics have always done the persecuting, Baptists have never done any persecuting.
The Pilgrims were very peaceful people.
Now, the Puritans came nine years later. And the Puritans were totally different from the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the Puritans came in at Massachusetts Bay, Massachusetts, forty miles to the north. There were ten times as many Puritans came over as Pilgrims. So, it wasn’t very long before that little Pilgrim colony became overrun with Puritans. That led to most nearly all of New England becoming primarily Puritan.
What’s the difference between a Pilgrim and a Puritan?
The Pilgrim said, “The Church of England is so sorry we’ll never straighten it out. Let’s go to America and get out of here.” And they left the Church of England.
The Puritans said, “Oh, no, we can salvage that Southern Baptist Convention, I mean, the Church of England, by staying inside and purifying it from within.” And by the time they got to America they were extremely intolerant. They had been fighting so much in England that they had become bitter.
They came to America and since they outnumbered the Pilgrims, they took over New England. They had the philosophy that either you did it the Puritan way or no way. That was the rule of New England.
And, therefore, our Baptist forefathers were starting to catch the heat from the Puritans. The Baptist folks from New England are starting to have problems with these Puritans.
The Baptists wanted to have their own church services but the Puritans wouldn’t let them. They made the Baptists go to the Puritan Congregational church services. But the Baptists didn’t want to be there.
To protest they would put a hat on their head during the service, and an usher would come by and knock the hat off, and the guy would put his hat back on, and it would get knock off again.
If the Baptist wouldn’t submit to have their babies sprinkled, the Puritans would tax them extra, fine them, and sometimes they would even whip them.
When they started to sprinkle the babies, your Baptist ancestors would run out of the building but the Puritans would drag them back into the church building. But right before the baby was sprinkled, your Baptists ancestors would turn their backs to the baby. The Puritans called it, “turning your back on the ordinance.”
Then the usher would jerk them around to make them watch, and they would turn their backs again. And so forth and so forth.
That is what led Roger Williams to get banished from the colony.
That was America about 375 years ago.
Hey, you young people need to know the truth about your Baptist heritage. Most young people think it has always been like it is today.
Down in Virginia, the Baptist preachers were thrown into jails for preaching without a license.
But then the congregations would come to the jails to hear the sermons.
You aren’t going to learn that in your history books or on the Discovery channel.
Every window would have a different church gathered around it to hear their preacher. And the preachers would have to preach through the bars to make an illustration.
And that made the jailers and magistrates so mad that they started standing outside the jail windows with swords and start whacking when a hand came out.
Many of these good, godly Baptist pastors, after they had died, at the viewing of the body, you would see all these scars on their hands from the swords from preaching through the bars.
The magistrates then started beating drums outside to drown out the preaching. They would hire men to ride their horses through the crowds to disperse the congregations.
One pastor, his name was John Weatherford, they hated him so much, they built a twelve foot wall with glass on the top of the wall to keep people off, so they couldn’t hear the preaching. But the people would gather anyway and when they were ready to hear the message, they would get a big pole and put a bandanna on top and wave it so he could see it and he would start preaching.
This is our heritage.
The Lord wanted to do something here. He wanted to build the greatest free nation in the history of the world.
But His preachers are all locked up, the King of England wanted to start a war, the thirteen colonies are isolated from one another to make matters worse, they’re fighting with each other, and there is no cohesiveness in the nation at all, it was quite a mess!
How did God solve the problem? He took a King James Bible and prepared a 19 year kid teenager named George Whitfield. He was studying to be an Anglican priest in England but he ended up in America where he got genuinely saved.
He started an orphanage in Georgia, in the northwestern part of the state, near Chattanoogna, and the county today is called Whitfield county.
Whitfield went up and down the eastern seaboard preaching. He went back and forth between the eastern seaboard and England. He was here seven times. By the way, it took 70 days one way to make the trip from England to America.
Benjamin Franklin got to know Whitfield and said, “There’s nobody like him anywhere. Everywhere he goes thousands and thousands come to hear him preach.” This was a young man in his early twenties, wearing a robe and a powdered wig, and people came to hear him preach.
Benjamin Franklin said, listen to this, “George Whitfield was preaching on the courthouse steps of Philadelphia but he could be clearly and audibly heard on the Jersey shore.” With no microphone.
And all these people started getting saved, thousands and thousands, and what was happening was that America was coming together in a spiritual revival ... because soon we had a war we had to fight.
Go find Professor Mess-em-up and Dr. Bigbottom at the state university where they make fun of the Bible and ask them about the “Great Awakening.” It is an historical fact.
And God brought the whole country together for war with King George.
But wait a minute, here’s where it gets better. All of George Whitfield’s converts, thousands of them, tens of thousands of them,
they started reading their Bibles,
and there was something in there they couldn’t find,
kind of like a Catholic looking for purgatory,
or looking for the book of Hezekiah,
or Jude Chapter Two,
it’s not there!
So, all these converts are looking through their Bibles and you know what they couldn’t find? Baby sprinkling.
So, guess what they did?
They started joining Baptist churches by the droves. And George Whitfield was scratching his head, he couldn’t figure it out.
God was using him to shut down the Protestant state network.
And do you know what he wrote in his diary after so many of his converts joined the Baptist church? “All my chickens have turned into ducks.”
What the Lord do? He pulled off something amazing.
And now America goes to war with Great Britain ... and won.
And George Washington goes on record about how important the Baptist chaplains were to the war effort.
Those chaplains were hated by the British generals because they were so powerful in prayer.
There were two dozen religious denominations in America at that time, about 24 different ones per se, yet one in three was a Baptist. How do you figure that?
Caldwell, New Jersey, is named after a chaplain who was killed by the British soldiers. They bayoneted him to death, left in a pool of blood, and shot his wife to death in front of their nine children, and burned their parsonage to the ground. That’s what the enemy thought of the preachers in America at that time. And it was because they were so powerful in prayer in times of battle and in inspiring the troops.
They were called “rebel parsons.” They had bounties on their heads, they were not allowed to be taken alive in battle.
“Well, I never heard that in any of my history classes at school.” No, and you never will unless you attend our Christian Academy.
You need to get a copy of Dr. Grady’s book. Over 2,000 footnotes of documentation.
Did you know that George Washington’s favorite chaplain, John Gano, of the First Baptist Church of New York City, impressed him so much that at the end of the war that John Gano baptized George Washington in the Hudson River?
The devil doesn’t want you to know about your heritage.
So, we won the war. And what happened after we won the war? Absolutely nothing. It’s the most boring period in American history.
What happened? Well, those Baptist pastors who were no longer needed after the war was won were thrown back into prison. And in some cases, they were put on ships and the ship captain was told to dump them anywhere except in America. Get them out of here!
It was almost like God was saying, Okay, I’ll help you with your country if you’ll take care of my preachers. Hey, America, you straighten up and behave yourself and I’ll help you.
But America spun its wheels for about seven years and nothing happened.
“Well, Preacher, that’s just your interpretation, you’re view is kind of slanted.”
Excuse me, Benjamin Franklin, who wasn’t even saved nor claimed to be, he told Congress, “If a sparrow can’t fall to the ground without the Heavenly Father’s approval, how can a nation possibly rise without His aid.”
And so some of these Virginia politicians started waking up. “Give me liberty or give me death,” by Patrick Henry, remember him? He was a lawyer. James Madison, who became the fourth president, lawyer. Some of these guys started going to the courtroom and began defending these Baptist preachers and winning the cases. And to top it off, they wouldn’t take any money for their work.
Watch this - you won’t believe it.
Thomas Jefferson is attending a Baptist church in Orange County, Virginia. He wasn’t joining, he wasn’t saved, but he had a sister and two aunts who were Baptists. He is going to a Baptist church pastored by Andrew Tribble. He is going to everything the church has going, even the business meetings.
WHY? Because he was awestruck at what we yawn through. He said he had never seen such a thing in his life - local government. He said, “In all the world, I’ve not seen such democracy than I’ve seen in a Baptist church.”
Thomas Jefferson learned about local government in a Baptist church and that’s why we have the form of government we have in our country today.
Here’s what happens. One Virginian, James Madison, leads in the passage of a law in Virginia, called the Virginia statute of religious liberty giving Baptists the first freedom they had in Virginia.
Wait a minute! Six months later the Lord gave James Madison something. It was the Constitution. I’m not saying it was inspired but it was definitely influenced by God.
The Constitution came from a man who wrote the legislation that freed the Baptists.
After that was over, one of the most amazing things happened. When that Constitution was all finished, James Madison approached a Baptist preacher named John Leland in Orange County. He was the leading Baptist pastor in the state of Virginia.
Virginia was the most important of all the thirteen colonies and if they did not endorse the Constitution, it would not pass.
By this time, three out of every five Virginians was Baptist. Remember all those chickens that became ducks? So James Madison spent a day with John Leland trying to convince him to endorse the Constitution. Madison knew that if Leland endorsed the Constitution, the people and the State of Virginia would follow.
But John Leland said that unless there was a Bill of Rights added, he wouldn’t endorse it. So, Madison and Leland shook hands, making a deal, that Leland would support the Constitution if Madison would add the Bill of Rights.
And they did so,
the Baptists endorsed it,
Virginia became the 10th state,
they ratify the Constitution,
and what else happened?
One year later, the Bill of Rights pops up.
Go to Orange County, Virginia,
Get on Highway 20 outside of Culpepper,
It’ll take you to a little park with picnic tables,
and you’ll find a 5 ft. high bronze monument with a Baptist pastor’s picture on it.
It’s called the Leland-Madison Park commemorating the site of the historic occasion.
The monument says,
“1754 to 1841
Elder John Leland
Courageous leader of the Baptist doctrine, Ardent advocate of the principles of separation of church and state,
Near this spot in 1788, Elder John Leland and James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, held a significant interview,
which resulted in the adoption of the Constitution by Virginia. Then Madison, a member of congress from Orange, presented the First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing religious liberty, free speech and a free press. This satisfied Leland and his Baptist followers.”
“Well, Preacher, surely a Baptist church put that monument up.”
It was presented by Eugene Bucklin Bowen, President, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution. It is inscribed on the monument.
There is a historical marker in Virginia that tells the whole world that the freedom we have as Americans is owed to a humble Baptist from Virginia.
Somebody say AMEN!
And I close with this. It was a Baptist layman that wrote the song we sang early this morning, “My Country Tis of Thee.”
It was a Baptist preacher that wrote the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. His name was Bellamy from Rhome, New York.
Look at the blue,
does that make you think of someplace you want to go to someday?
You know, where you look at the stars at night?
But there’s a sin problem, isn’t there?
Isn’t that interesting? The rest of the flag is made up of stripes. And the number of them is 13, the number of rebellion in Scripture. “By His stripes ye are healed.”
And you can’t get to the white stripes unless you go through the red ones. What a coincidence...
And according to Daniel, the star is a type of a soul winner, and we can’t go to heaven without the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
God has truly had His hand in this country of America. And we need to be genuinely thankful that God let us be born in America.