Ever fond of rummaging through that toward which many, possessing no curious interest in such historical matters, offer but merely a discomforting yawn, I ran across this little golden nugget from Alabama Baptist history. Elder W. C. Bledsoe, author of The History of The Liberty (East) Baptist Association of Alabama (Atlanta, GA. Constitution Job Office, 1886) writes of events leading up to the formation of that association, the first session of which took place "On Thursday before the fourth Sunday in September, 1836...held at the LaFayette church, Chambers county, Ala." (p.17). "Delegates" from several churches were listed, including those from "New Hope church," a conflicted church Bledsoe had described only a few pages earlier (pp. 12-15).
From Bledsoe's description, New Hope's conflict centered primarily upon the issue which historian, Wayne Flynt, author of the definitive history of Alabama Baptists, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, dubbed as the most crucial, on-going debate among Alabama Baptists--Calvinism. According to Flynt, they argued over Calvinism from the very beginning. Bledsoe affirms Flynt's thesis. He records of the Calvinistic conflict among Baptists as a whole, that, compared to New Hope, "Something of this character precipitated a like result in most of the churches [that is, a split over Calvinism]" (p.12).
Back to the New Hope church.
Bledsoe records a question he posed to one of the "missionary" Baptists (their arch nemesis were called "anti-missionaries") named Thomas Berry: "The question has often been asked, whether or not doctrinal differences lay at the foundation of the separation" (Ibid). He then records Berry's response:
"I would say, no and yes. Both parties subscribed to the same Articles of Faith, but there were differences of opinion on matters which were not settled by the Articles of Faith. The anti-missionary party generally held to what is called the 'commercial' view of the atonement of Christ. They believed that the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ was sufficient for the salvation of the elect alone--that the elect were eternally justified--that God would save them without the use of human means or instrumentalities.
The logical consequence of these views was that they did not recognize the obligation to press the Gospel on the acceptance of sinners, much less to send it abroad to the nations of the earth.
During that period I sometimes heard a sermon from Elder John Blackston, the most distinguished leader of the anti-missionary party in this part of the State. On one occasion I remember to have heard him use substantially, if not precisely, the following words: 'Brethren, God saved his people, not virtually, but actually before the foundation of the world.' He frequently, if not always, closed his sermons with an utterance like this: 'Poor sinner.' I have nothing to say to you; you are in the hands of God to do with you as He wills.'
The missionary party generally held the views of Andrew Fuller on the atonement--that the sacrifice of Christ was a great moral expedient, made to God without special reference, in itself, to the salvation of any one--its value being measured not by the suffering involved, but by the dignity of the sufferer--its effects being to remove the legal difficulties which stood in the way of the salvation of sinners--that the Gospel is addressed to every creature--that it is the duty of every one to hear and obey. Those who adopted these views, could not do otherwise than recognize the duty of the church to use every available means to send the tidings of salvation into all the world!" (p.12-13; emphasis added).
Given such, that the Baptists of the south unitedly had their heels dug firmly into the theology of the Founders' movement today cannot be sustained in light of the historical record itself, and that, regardless of the innumerable champions of Calvinism in the 19th century south, champions no one who looks at the historical record can deny.
With that, I am...