Theological Influences Affecting Baptist Development in the Northwest
Stookey, Stephen M., Baptist History and Heritage
"Baptist peculiarities must be vindicated in Oregon. Our Pedo-baptist and Campbellite neighbors are mooting the subject of baptism, and especially communion. May we have grace to present these subjects as gospel truths in the love of the gospel of the Blessed Savior." (1)--Ezra Fisher to Rev. Hill, 20 October 1847.
"Outside our own and Landmark fellowships, Baptist churches of the Northwest might to a limited degree be called Community Baptist Churches. They invariably practice the receiving of alien immersion and open communion." (2)--R. E. Milam to SBC, 1948
Baptists arrived late in the religious settlement of the Oregon Territory. They arrived from all regions of the United States, with a heavy proportion coming from the South. Wagons ferried their world possessions, but settlers also harbored regional Baptist baggage--doctrinal nuances, regional alliances, personal biases, and the vain presumption that the totality of Baptist life was reflected in their personal experiences. Tension, conflict, and division accelerated as Baptist numbers grew. Creating a unified Baptist witness proved a difficult proposition.
Strong theological convictions, such as those expressed in the opening quotations from nineteenth-century American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) missionary Ezra Fisher, a New Englander, and R. E. Milam, the Texas-educated, twentieth-century architect of the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC), ensured a constant climate of theological debate. The ideological fault lines often were drawn along North-South regional identities. In the midst of the Northwest's Baptist theological rumble, a passion for evangelism and New Testament ecclesiological purity laid the foundation for the NWBC.
Early Theological Identity
From the 1844 establishment of the West Union Baptist church forward, Baptist churches in the Pacific Northwest were typically strict in discipline and exclusive in cooperation. Interdenominational cooperation was left to individual churches or ministers, and such cooperative activities centered on temperance campaigns, moral reform, or union meetings. These activities, at best, were superficial. Baptist life at the associational level remained exclusive, refraining from interdenominational cooperation. (3)
The earliest missionaries, sent by the ABHMS, arrived in 1845, one year after the West Union Church was organized in the home of Deacon David Lennox. Baptists from the North and South populated the early churches in Oregon. The Willamette Baptist Association, constituted in 1848 by five churches, reserved the right to exclude any church "unsound in the faith or disorderly in practice." (4) Churches in the association commonly practiced close communion, but varied in acceptance of alien immersion. Churches dominated by southerners rejected non-Baptist immersions, reflecting the tension in the mid-South between Baptists and Campbellites. Soteriology reflected the influence of early nineteenth-century frontier revivalism, a blending of Calvinism and Arminians with enough Calvinism to believe a person needed to be saved and enough Arminianism to believe a person could be saved. The Willamette Association soon found the growing national debate over slavery disrupting its fellowship, and it faced challenges from Old School/Primitive Baptists. (5)
Old School/Antimission Tensions
Primitive Baptist families arrived in the Willamette Valley in 1846; ten Primitive Baptists formed the Siloam Baptist Church (originally the Hillsborough Church) in February 1847. Messengers from the Siloam Church attended the organizational meeting of the Willamette Association but declined to join. The presence of the Siloam Baptist church, however, precipitated a lengthy, heated associational debate over cooperation with mission societies. A compromise placing cooperation in the hands of member churches was not enough to entice Old School Baptists to join the Willamette Association. By 1849, three Primitive Baptist churches constituted the Siloam Association. The withdrawal of Old School Baptists allowed missionary Baptist associations to pursue cooperative ventures. (6)
Siloam Association's churches reflected a strict Calvinistic theology and rejected the use of "means" to effect conversion, including Sunday Schools. Seminaries and trained ministers were eschewed. Churches of the Siloam Association zealously protected local church autonomy, a factor contributing to their intense rejection of Baptist societies. Associational meetings focused on preaching, admitting new congregations, receiving and sending correspondence from churches and associations, and approving the association's circular letter, which was usually instructional, addressing a theological position of concern or warning readers against unbiblical innovations. (7)
Old School sympathies did occasionally arise within missionary associations. At the 1852 Willamette Association annual meeting, messengers from the LaCreole church successfully blocked all resolutions recommending societal cooperation, including missionary, Bible, tract, and publication. The LaCreole church did not attend the next year's meeting in protest of Willamette's decision to promote Sunday Schools and to cooperate with the ABHMS and American Baptist Publication Society (ABPS). (8)
Old School Baptists considered themselves the remnant church, the only true expression of New Testament Christianity. Ever critical of Missionary Baptists, Primitive Baptists closed communion to Missionary Baptists and refused to accept baptisms from Missionary Baptist churches. The 1872 Siloam Association declared: "God has forbidden that we should receive their works, for their leaders have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam and the great body of them are about as unsound in doctrine as any other Arminian denomination in our knowledge; there are doubtless children of God among them, and we say to them in the language of the Apocalyptical writer, 'Come out of her my people.'" (9) Societal trends passed by the …
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Publication information: Article title: Theological Influences Affecting Baptist Development in the Northwest. Contributors: Stookey, Stephen M. - Author. Journal title: Baptist History and Heritage. Volume: 39. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer-Fall 2004. Page number: 52+. © 2009 Baptist History and Heritage Society. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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