The Native Ministry in the United States
The Baptists in Rochester, New York, were abuzz on July 12, 1853. The president of Brown University, Francis Wayland, had arrived to give an address at the Second Baptist Church. So many people showed up that the event had to be moved to the twelve-hundred-seat Corinthian Hall, a venue used for various public functions, including weekly abolitionist lectures by Frederick Douglass. Just one year before, Douglass had drawn six hundred people to Corinthian Hall, where he gave his famous speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”1
On this day in 1853, however, it was not the national debate over slavery that generated the excitement among the people of Rochester. Instead, they were agitated about seminary education. The New York Baptist Union for Ministerial Education had invited Wayland to speak at a ceremony commemorating the birth of a new Baptist seminary. Anticipating a controversy, Wayland had i nvested an extra amount of time preparing his three-hour speech. If he had wanted to spark public debate, he was not disappointed. His address generated two books, a flurry of newspaper articles, and a two-year argument among Baptists that swept out from Rochester through the rest of the northeast. Wayland’s presentation may mark the only time in history in which a commemorative speech on theological education by a university president generated both high drama and popular interest.2
In the eyes of those Baptists in Rochester, though, far more was at stake than the question of whether a Baptist minister could properly parse a Greek verb. Wayland’s speech, “The Apostolic Ministry,” spoke to larger issues of religious institutions, the structure of society, the direction of the cosmos, and, interestingly, the development of Karen Christianity. This obscure movement of Christianity in the hinterlands was beginning to make itself known in the United States, affecting northern Baptist self-understanding, missionary policies, and, eventually, African-American life. Baptist missionaries had gone out to influence the world. World Christianity was influencing them.
It was fitting that the debate began in Rochester. A restless boomtown that had not even existed four decades earlier, Rochester mirrored the expanding fortunes