According to a number of Baptist Calvinists today, the overwhelming majority of Baptist churches, especially in the south, embraced the Philadelphia Confession of Faith--or a likeness of it (more on this erroneous notion in the future). Hence, this demonstrates in a real way, at least for our Calvinist brothers, the virtual unanimity of Calvinism in the churches.
Consequently, one would think if it is true that strict Calvinism was so well forged in the Baptist community in the 19th century, there would be little evidence available that conflict over Calvinism existed. What happens as one reads the record?
One might be surprised.
For example, rummaging through Spencer’s history of Kentucky Baptists in the 19th century, one notices the continued fussing and fighting over Calvinism. Contrary to Calvinists’ insistence that the doctrines of grace were universal, Kentucky Baptists appear to prove otherwise.
Below is a delightful little anecdote found in Spencer‘s work (pp 276-278) which illustrates nicely some of the fuss.
David Thurman was born in Woodford county, Kentucky, August 12, 1792. At the age of ten years, he was left an orphan and went to live with an elder brother, who put him to keeping bar in a tavern. He was a youth of great energy, and was fond of books. He pursued his studies with the same enthusiasm that characterized him when horse racing and playing cards.
But his wild career was suddenly cut short, in his nineteenth year, by the preventing grace of God. He was overwhelmingly convicted of sin, and after a brief but agonizing struggle he found great peace and joy, in trusting in Jesus. He was baptized by David Elkin into the fellowship of Good Hope church. Soon after his baptism, he began to exhort his former companions in sin to repent and believe the gospel.
Meanwhile, he studied theology under Nathan Hall, a distinguished Presbyterian preacher. In 1814 he was ordained to the ministry and was soon called to the care of Stewards Creek and Hardins Creek churches in Washington county. In the spring of 1818, he moved to what is now LaRue county, and gave his membership to Nolin church, of which Alexander McDugal was pastor.
Of this church Mr. Thurman at once became the working pastor, and, on the death of the aged incumbent, was formally called to that position. He also accepted the care of Mill Creek in Nelson county and Rhodes Creek, in Hardin county. His removal to the territory of Salem Association marked a new era in the history of that ancient fraternity.
In 1828, after a season of coldness in the churches, which had continued many months, Thurman became greatly afflicted because of the spiritual chill that pervaded the churches of Salem Association. He did not, however, diminish his labors, but increased them. Laboring from house to house, night and day, God’s presence began to be manifest among the people on Barren Run.
The revival spread rapidly, and soon a large number were baptized at Nolin church. During this revival, Mr. Thurman was assisted by William M. Brown, then an active young preacher.
At Nolin church one Saturday, Mr. Thurman appeared very despondent. There had been a long dearth, and the pastor’s heart was discouraged. He told the church that his labors had not been blessed; it probably was not the will of the Lord that he should labor among them, and advised them to procure another pastor. He sat down, and a profound and painful silence ensued.
Among the members present was the aged widow of John LaRue, after whom LaRue county was named. She was one of those noble Priscillas with whom God occasionally blesses his churches. She had sat humbly listening to every word the pastor said, until he sat down.
After a few moments of profound silence, she straightened herself up, and pointing one finger directly at the minister, said, in a strong emphatic tone:
“Brother Thurman, I’ll tell you what the matter is — Stop preaching John Calvin and James Arminius, and preach Jesus Christ.”
After a few moments, Mr. Thurman arose, with the tears streaming down his cheeks, and repeated the text: “For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
The sermon that followed was one of thrilling power and eloquence. A revival commenced, during which 100 persons were added to Nolin church.
The revival influence spread rapidly over the surrounding country, and there were over 1,000 conversions wi thin the bounds of Salem Association.
Never underestimate the practical wisdom--not to mention the theological maturity--of a godly Grandma!
More than she realized, this dear old saint fully captured the Baptist spirit.
In the end, Baptists are not Calvinists (though some Calvinists are indeed Baptists!). Nor are we Arminians.
Our theological system is biblicism (I know that's a dirty word to some!). And we are Baptists and shall ultimately be bound to no human system of theology.