The History of Southern Baptist History: Restructuring and the New SBHS
Yarbrough, Slayden A., Baptist History and Heritage
On February 20, 1995, Mark Brister, chairman of the program and structure study committee (PSSC), delivered a report to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. The report recommended a major restructuring of the convention, including the dissolution of the Historical Commission. The report was adopted with little discussion and placed on the agenda of the annual convention meeting to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, in June. (1) Two years later, on June 19, 1997, the dismantling of the Historical Commission, along with several other agencies, was completed and the restructuring of the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States appeared to be history.
To comprehend the developments that resulted in the dissolution of the Historical Commission and the resulting challenge to those who were not content to allow the demise of the ministry of Baptist history, it is important to understand efforts within the denomination in preserving and communicating Baptist history. In 1938, the Southern Baptist Historical Society (SBHS) was organized. (2) The work was located on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. The denomination was approaching its centennial anniversary in 1945. W. O. Carver, H. I. Hester, and like-minded individuals organized an independent, voluntary society committed to preserving and communicating Baptist history. A primary task was to begin collecting historical materials, publications, and museum pieces related to Southern Baptists. The SBHS also worked toward the publication of the first history of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was a task that took much longer than expected, but finally The Southern Baptist Convention by William Wright Barnes was published in 1953. (3)
The SBHS served as the "historical commission" of the SBC from 1947 to 1951. It received limited financial support for secretarial and administrative functions. (4) In 1951, the Historical Commission was established as an agency of the SBC. The work was located in Nashville, Tennessee. The SBHS became an auxiliary of the Historical Commission, and received a new charter from the state of Tennessee in 1954. (5)
From the very beginning, the work and assets of the HC and the SBHS were mingled in a way that the two were inseparable, and continued so until the dissolution of the Historical Commission. Quarters and library personnel initially were provided by the Sunday School Board. During it's existence from 1951 until 1997, the Historical Commission had four executive directors: Norman W. Cox (1951-59); Davis C. Woolley (1959-71); Lynn E. May Jr. (1971-95); and myself, who served as interim executive director (1995-97).
The Historical Commission continued to gather Baptist historical and archival materials, which were finally moved to a permanent home in the new SBC Building in January 1985, (6) where the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives is now located. The commission, along with the Southern Baptist Historical Society, began publication in 1965 of the scholarly journal Baptist History and Heritage, as well as providing for many years historical articles in The Quarterly Review. The first two volumes of the four-volume Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists were published in 1958. The Sunday School Board, now named the Lifeway Christian Resources, no longer publishes this very important work but has assigned the copyrights of the Encyclopedia to the SBHS.
The commission also produced four important pamphlet series, three video series, and a sesquicentennial video for use in churches. The Church History Resource Kit is an invaluable reference source for churches and others who need help in researching, writing, communicating, and celebrating their histories. The copyrights to all of the Historical Commission's publications and products, except those related directly …
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Publication information: Article title: The History of Southern Baptist History: Restructuring and the New SBHS. Contributors: Yarbrough, Slayden A. - Author. Journal title: Baptist History and Heritage. Volume: 34. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer-Fall 1999. Page number: 108+. © 2009 Baptist History and Heritage Society. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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