Monday, October 25, 2010

How the West Was Won -- Part 3

As a proud grandfather, I just had to include this picture of our new grandson and his father (our son).

Let me introduce Matthew Billings Jr and his father Matt. Matthew was born October 21, 2010 and is healthy, content and very well loved.
Let me pick up where I left off. I'm trying to provide background material to part one in this series in which I said that the way early Baptists and Methodists in America were structured made a significant difference in their ability to start many new churches and reach people with the gospel. I'm basing my argument on the excellent research provided by Finke and Stark in The Churching of America: 1776-2005. The comments in italics below are direct quotes from their work. All other comments are mine.
One of my contentions in "Insanity Redefined" is that we cannot start all the churches we need because there are not enough clergy to pastor the number of churches we need if we rely on having full-time, seminary educated clergy. That wasn't a problem for the early Baptists and Methodists in America.
Not only could the Baptists and the Methodists generate surplus clergy, both denominations operated with incredibly low overhead. The Baptists typically paid their preachers nothing at all; most earned their living with a plow just like other members of the congregation. [p.82]
The uneducated and often unpaid clergy of the Baptists and Methodists made it possible for these denominations to sustain congregations anywhere a few people could gather, for it was the pursuit of souls, not material comfort, that drove their clergy forth. [p.84]
I include these two quotes not to suggest churches should not pay their pastors, but to show that Baptists grew through laymen leading small groups of folks like themselves. We might think of this as bi-vocational pastors leading congregations or laymen leading simple, organic churches. It also highlights their passion to reach the lost as the following quote suggests: Indeed, it would be hard to imagine that any sum of money could have motivated Bishop Asbury to travel nearly 300,000 miles on horseback, disregarding weather and chronic ill-health, to supervise his far-flung network of itinerants and circuit riders. [p.84]
These farmer-preachers knew what to do: preach! Neither the Baptists nor the Methodists set forth their confessions in complex theological writings that required extensive instruction or teaching ... but both denominations stressed spiritual conversion and a strong individual responsibility to God. [p.86]
What about their doctrine? Did the lack of formal theological education make them subject to poor theology or false doctrine? Apparently not. Probably just the opposite.
The Harvard and Yale divinity schools did not train their students to earn their own livings behind a horse and plow or prepare them to spend half their days in the saddle going from one rural hamlet to another. As George Whitefield charged, the primary impact of these schools on many of their students, then as now, may have been to replace faith with theology and belief with unbelief. For seminaries, a desire for intellectual integrity and academic acceptance soon takes precedence over developing the skills desired and the piety admired by those in the pew. Indeed, it was in the religion departments and divinity schools, not in the science departments, that unbelief was formulated and promulgated in American intellectual life. [p.87]
Just FYI, in the last quote the authors refer you to Conrad Cherry (Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools, and American Protestantism) for a historical overview of divinity schools' struggles with intellect and piety. Also, just to be clear, I am grateful to my alma maters, Belmont University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, from which I received a good, solid liberal arts and theological education.
What does this mean? It means these folks were solid theologically and passionate about reaching people with the gospel. Though not professional clergy, they were effective in reaching folks like themselves because they were "of the people, by the people and for the people." They used the language of the people. They made careful use of vernacular imagery, metaphors, and stories that applied to the everyday life of their audience. // The Baptist and Methodist preachers looked like ordinary people because they were, and their sermons could convert and convince ordinary people because the message was direct and clear and the words were not read from notes, but seemed (to both speakers and hearers) to issue directly from divine inspiration. // We must never underestimate the impact of humble and ardent preachers on the spread of faith. [p.86]
In some ways, these preachers were not special. They were common folks, but that may be what made them special! They were common, ordinary everyday folks, in love with Jesus, passionate about reaching others with the gospel, willing to personally sacrifice if necessary to see that their family, friends and neighbors had a chance to hear the gospel and be saved. That's how the west was won for Christ in America.

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