purity

not a goal, but a result…

not for religious professionals, but for His sons & daughters…

not for gaining public attention, but for a divine audience…

not for my reputation, but for my sanity…

not a terminal destination, but a highway…

not where I am going, but how…

not a decoration on display, but the byproduct of an all-consuming pursuit…

not a hard-won achievement by me, but an extravagant gift from Him…

lost when I trade it away for lesser things…

a path recovered as I confess and He cleans…

a choice to walk in His light and not in my shame…

a life expressed (His) when I come to Him, learn from Him, and remain in Him…

absolutely essential…

accompanying every serious pilgrimage into the Presence of the One I love.


“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart… the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face.” ~ Psalm 24:3-4, 6

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands… and purify your hearts…” ~ James 4:8

“…Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…” ~ 1 Peter 1:7-8

(May we be the generation He seeks… the one that seeks Him, drawing near with clean hands & a pure heart.)

Experiencing Easter

As the sun rises on this Easter morning, believers around the world are gathering to worship the One who completely defeated death (and every other enemy of the human soul). Sermons are being preached describing the biblical accounts of a risen Jesus. Each story is an eyewitness testimony of an encounter with a no-longer-dead man… the women outside His tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, and the hundreds of disciples who saw Him before His ascension… people who experienced Easter!

But there’s another individual story – rarely mentioned at Easter – about an obsessed, bloodthirsty religionist who met a risen Jesus. His name was Saul (later known as Paul). In one of his later writings he lists the other Easter appearances, and then points out that “last of all… He also appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:8). Here is his story found in Acts 9…

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (1-5)

. . . So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (6)

. . . And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (9)

. . . Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. (20-21)

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you are Saul. Blind. No longer able to see. Unable to do anything except reflect on what just happened. What conclusions would you be making over those three days?

Although Saul could not see with his eyes, he was still “seeing” – arriving at multiple conclusions that changed his life forever. What did he see?

Jesus knows me. As Saul was sitting there in the dark, not eating or drinking, he recalls how that day began. Closing in on Damascus, his purpose was to round up anyone associated with “the Way,” tracking and hunting them down. He hated them. He wanted to end their lives and their obnoxious teachings. He was breathing an atmosphere of “threats and murder.”

And then the light came… and that voice calling his name, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Sitting there in the dark, Saul realized that the voice – the One who said He was Jesus – knew who he was! Knew what Saul was doing out there on that road. Knew what he had done in the past. Knew everything that was in his heart.

Have you “seen” that Jesus knows you too? Is He calling your name too?

Jesus comes after me. Saul wasn’t looking for a sign from God – he already knew the truth. Jesus was a heretic and a fraud. There were no second thoughts rolling around in Saul’s mind. He was thoroughly convinced that he was right. Saul was not looking for Jesus. But Jesus had come after him!

Did Saul know that Jesus had once taught that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10)? We can’t know for sure. But sitting there in the dark, Saul understood that Jesus had seized the initiative. Jesus made the first move. Jesus pursued Saul at a moment when Saul could not have cared less.

Jesus pursues a relationship with you. Have you “seen” this?

Jesus is Lord. Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And then the Voice replied, “I am Jesus.” Whoever was speaking to Saul from that blinding light had to be Lord! Sitting in the dark, Saul was forced to revise his entire understanding of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was not only alive after being dead, but He spoke with absolute authority. Everything Jesus taught to His disciples suddenly mattered. Everything Jesus did needed to be examined again. Nothing about Him could be dismissed.

Writing to a young pastor years later as Paul the apostle, Saul described Jesus as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light [and Saul knew about that blinding light, didn’t he?], whom none of mankind has seen or can see, to whom be honor and eternal might” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). Among those phrases Paul calls Jesus “the Lord of lords” – that name first uttered on the road to Damascus.

Saul concluded that if Jesus is Lord, there is nothing and no one greater who can be lord! Not sin or death or any problem or disease… Jesus is Lord over everything that would be “lord” over us! Jesus is the deliverer out of Satan’s kingdom, away from God’s wrath, and into God’s kingdom. His death on the cross was not the cruel end of an imposter Messiah – He was the real thing!

On regaining his physical sight, Saul had to share what he has seen! Luke writes that “immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” Saul had a new mission and a powerful message.

Have you “seen” this truth? Everything changes when you know that Jesus is the Lord of lords.

Jesus is intimately connected with His followers. Sitting in the dark, Saul kept turning over in his mind the words of Jesus. The insights surfacing in his heart were stunning. Perhaps none more so than when Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul had never seen Jesus, but he had seen many of His followers. He tied them up. He dragged them back to Jerusalem. He was doing everything within his power to destroy the people of the Way.

But Jesus said that Saul had been doing all these horrific things to HIM. Arresting HIM. Beating HIM. Terrorizing HIM. Killing HIM. How was that possible?

It was in that moment that Saul realized that the relationship Jesus has with each of His followers is different from any other in creation. “Why are you persecuting Me?” is much more than compassionate rhetoric about identifying with an oppressed people. Jesus was exposing His deep connection with His people. He was always there with them. He was living in them! Consequently, Saul clearly that whatever he did to a follower of Jesus, he did to Jesus Himself.

More than any other first-generation Christ-follower, Saul came to understand that Jesus rescues His people by uniting Himself with each individual. Years after meeting Jesus He taught that “anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17), later adding “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because of the believer’s intimate union with Jesus, he could face down any critic or calamity with this challenge: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35).

Sitting in the dark, Saul saw that whatever happens to the follower of Jesus, happens to Jesus. Have you seen this about Jesus and His people? Do you know whether Jesus lives inside of you?

Jesus has a detailed, stepped out plan for every life. Lying there on the ground immersed in light, Saul didn’t know what to do. Jesus said, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” So he obeyed and took that first step of many that would follow. Now sitting in the dark and waiting for the next step, Saul understood that Jesus had something for him to do. There was a larger plan being implemented and Saul was being included! He would later describe God’s plan for each individual believer in this way: “For we are His making, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Sitting in the dark, Saul also saw that Jesus didn’t give him the plan all at once. Just the next step. It is the way He leads. He doesn’t hand someone the master plan and then sit back to see how well we follow it. He takes each by the hand and says simply, “Follow Me.” Every step surfaces in the context of an ongoing and intimate relationship with Jesus.

Sitting in the dark, Saul saw that God has a plan for his life. Do you see this too?


Saul’s encounter was the last of the Easter stories in the Bible. But he was not the last to experience Easter. Every genuine follower of Jesus has a story to tell about meeting a risen Jesus.

I wish we could sit together for awhile… I’d love to hear the story of your journey this Easter. Where would you place yourself in Saul’s story? Are you still on the road? Are you sitting in the dark beginning to piece things together? Are you walking with Him now, step-by-step, enjoying Him daily? If you would like to read how my story began, go here… and if you are still wanting to know more after that I’d be glad to help. Feel free to write to me at inquiries@equippingsaints.com.

Have a very blessed and happy Easter… He is risen!

Birthed in Revival: Shubal Stearns and the Remarkable Expansion of Baptists in the South

Author’s Note: Written in 2011, my purpose for this brief monograph was two-fold. First, I wanted to introduce Shubal Stearns, a pivotal figure in Baptist history, yet someone who is little known outside of academic circles. Second, I wanted to demonstrate the relationship between Stearns and the phenomenal growth of Baptists across the South. Many assume that the Baptist story began with a small group that settled in Charleston, South Carolina in 1696… a traditional story that explains Baptists today in terms of the sound doctrine of their founders fueling a continuous and steady advance across the southern colonies. The truth is that Baptists in the Old South were having very little impact on their world. In contrast, Stearns and his followers represented a new kind of Baptist birthed in the “revival fires” of the First Great Awakening. Apart from the movement that erupted at Sandy Creek, North Carolina in 1755, Baptists in the South would have faded into obscurity and irrelevance. 

INTRODUCTION

Beginning with the preaching tours of George Whitefield, the Great Awakening in the American colonies resulted in thousands of changed lives and the establishment of a new evangelical culture of religious faith. Among Congregational churches in New England, the renewed, lively emphasis on personal conversion led to division and the founding of new “separate” churches, many of which went on to become “New Light” or Separate Baptist churches throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century. Before Whitefield landed in New England in 1740, there were less than one hundred Baptist churches throughout the colonies; thirty-five years later, there were nearly 500.  After personally experiencing the direct effects of the Great Awakening in Connecticut, Shubal Stearns became a leading figure of the Separate Baptist movement that grew exponentially across the southern colonies. Yale historian Sydney Ahlstrom described the remarkable period of church multiplication associated with Stearns as “one of the most consequential religious developments in American history.”[1]

EARLY LIFE, CONVERSION, AND MINISTRY (1706-1754)

As the first child of Shubael Stearns and Rebecca Lariby, Shubal Stearns was born on January 26, 1706, the fourth generation of Stearns descendants born in or around Boston, Massachusetts.[2] When he was nine, Stearns and his parents moved to the small community of Tolland, Connecticut, where his father became a selectman and a clerk among the other “proprietors” or land owners.[3] As a young adult, Stearns became a farmer and married Sarah Johnston on March 26, 1726.[4] Although he lacked formal education, later in life Stearns was described as a small man who had read widely.[5]

Stearns was baptized as an infant into the Congregational church. Heirs to the founding Puritans and their Calvinistic beliefs, Congregational ministers were struggling to maintain control and influence in society. Adopting the Saybrook Platform in 1708, Congregational churches in Connecticut were the first to give up a measure of congregational polity, embracing a new form of regulation by “consociations,” county-level gatherings of ministers and lay leaders.[6] Although the early New England Puritans taught that an experiential conversion was required for full church membership, Stearns was raised in an environment that placed greater emphasis on accepting a creed as evidence of a mystical, inward conversion event.[7]

Forty miles north of Tolland in Northampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards is often credited with launching the Great Awakening following an extraordinary number of conversions among youth and young adults during the winter of 1734-5. However, the greatest numbers of converts are associated with the preaching of George Whitefield during his first tour of the colonies in 1740.[8] Whitefield spent ten weeks in New England from August 18 through December 14, 1740, preaching 130 times.[9] Speaking at numerous locations in Connecticut, it appears the closest Whitefield came to Tolland was the town of East Windsor, about 12 miles to the west.[10] In sharp contrast to the prevailing views of Christianity at the time, Whitefield emphasized that true conversion was personal and experiential, accompanied by a deep awareness of sin and a corresponding desire to know forgiveness from God.[11] The effect on the audiences was stunning, as individuals cried out with joy, laughter, or tears.[12] In the late nineteenth century Robert Semple observed that “the hearts of the people, being touched by a heavenly flame, could no longer relish the dry parish service.”[13]

Stearns was probably converted after hearing Whitefield preach during his second tour through Connecticut in 1745.[14] Like many converts throughout New England, Stearns began meeting with others who emphasized the direct leadership of the Holy Spirit in their lives.[15] Known as “New Lights,” they had accepted Whitefield’s teaching that salvation can only be known through the heart and had concluded that God’s will was apprehended the same way.[16] When attempted efforts to reform existing churches failed, groups of New Lights formed Separate Congregational churches in nearly 400 parishes across New England.[17] In Windham County adjacent to Tolland, the consociation of “Old Light” ministers wrote a letter in 1744 describing the beliefs of the separating churches. They believed that (1) true churches are made up of regenerate members; (2) true Christians can know whether they are saved and can discern the salvation of others; (3) the only requirement for the ministry is an “inward motion of the Spirit;” (4) lay persons can preach in response to “the presence of God;” and (5) God had rejected the older churches that rejected New Light reforms.[18] Espousing similar views, Stearns and his followers formed a Separate Congregational church when the local congregation split.[19] As a New Light pastor, Stearns and others asked the Connecticut General Assembly for official recognition under the 1689 Toleration Act. The General Assembly rejected both petitions bearing his signature in 1746 and 1748.[20]

Among the Separate Congregationalists, a debate grew concerning the practice of infant baptism. Believing that membership should be limited to persons experiencing regeneration, many Separates wanted to stop the practice of infant baptism—becoming Baptists through a commitment to believer’s baptism. Many of the Separate churches practiced both forms of baptism for years prior to becoming exclusively Baptist in their identification and belief.[21] In March 1751, Stearns and his Tolland congregation visited nearby Windsor to hear the preaching of Wait Palmer.[22] In 1743, Palmer had organized the second Baptist church in Connecticut at Stonington when his group of Separates had withdrawn from the local Congregational church.[23] Most of the Tolland members were baptized and Stearns was ordained as a Separate Baptist minister on May 20, 1751.[24]

FINDING “THE GREAT WORK IN THE WEST” (1754-1758)

The revival gave rise to a missionary impulse to evangelize the frontier regions and American Indian settlements of the colonies. In the decade following the Great Awakening several families in Windsor divested themselves of their holdings and moved to the frontier; among them were Daniel and Martha Marshall, brother-in-law and sister to Shubal Stearns.[25] Marshall was a “New Side” Presbyterian who was expressing his new convictions by 1744, creating significant tensions between his pastor and himself. When his first wife passed away, Marshall’s pastor refused to conduct her funeral, leaving him and his son alone by the graveside.[26] Marrying Martha Stearns in 1747, Marshall and his family moved to the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania sometime in 1751 or 1752 to serve as missionaries among the Mohawk Indians.[27] As tensions grew among the tribes on the eve of the French and Indian War, the Marshalls retreated to Opequon, Virginia in 1754. Soon after meeting Samuel Heaton, pastor of a Baptist church on Mill Creek, the Marshalls were baptized and joined the church.[28] Back in Connecticut, Stearns had become convinced that God had a “great work” for his Baptist people to do in the West.[29]

Stearns and thirteen other adults left Tolland with their families in August 1754, joining the Marshalls in Virginia. Stearns and Marshall began preaching in the region with the blessing of the Mill Creek Church, attracting enthusiastic crowds and converts. Not everyone approved. In response to the emotionalism being generated by the Separate Baptist preaching, some “cold-hearted” members of the Mill Creek Church complained to the Philadelphia Baptist Association. Benjamin Miller, a pastor from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, was sent by the association to discover what was going on. Miller was delighted with his findings, reporting that if he had such “warm-hearted Christians in his church he would not take gold for them.”[30] However, in a June 1755 letter to a friend, Stearns had already begun to turn his attention to fields further south in North Carolina, where worship services were scarce and people would travel forty miles or more to hear a sermon.[31] Stearns, Marshall, and fourteen others travelled with their families to Sandy Creek, North Carolina, arriving November 22, 1755.

Prior to the arrival of the Separate Baptists, the colonial charter and government of North Carolina officially established and supported the Church of England, but by 1754 there was only one Anglican priest in the colony.[32] The “backcountry” region of central and western North Carolina was populated by 20,000-30,000 settlers, but there were no settled Anglican ministers there before 1767.[33] Even George Whitefield complained that his labors in the Carolinas had yielded little success in 1739 and 1745.[34] In 1696 a small group of Particular Baptists from Kittery, Maine had migrated to Charleston, South Carolina, organizing the first Baptist church in the South. Between 1720 and 1740 several General Baptist churches were formed, but were quickly recruited and assimilated into the more Calvinistic Philadelphia Baptist Association by the early 1750s.[35] None of the early Baptists had made much of an impression on the growing population. Representing a new and vibrant expression of Christian faith, the Separate Baptists at Sandy Creek were stepping into an ecclesiastical and religious vacuum. After building a small meeting house for worship, the Sandy Creek Baptist Church was organized, electing Shubal Stearns as their minister and recognizing his assistants, Daniel Marshall and Joseph Breed.[36]

Writing in 1859, George Purefoy commented that “during the life of Shubal Stearns, an extraordinary revival prevailed under his ministry.”[37] Between November 1755 and January 1758, Stearns and his associates baptized over 900 people. Membership at Sandy Creek soared from sixteen to 606.[38] In his notes from first-person interviews made in 1772, Morgan Edwards describes people crying out, collapsing to the ground, and “awaking in ecstasies” in response to the preaching of the Separate Baptist ministers.[39] “Impulses, visions, and revelations” were common among the ministers and the people.[40] Shubal Stearns possessed a voice that was “musical and strong” and that made “soft impressions on the heart,” causing people to weep.[41] His voice had the capacity to “shake the very nerves, and throw the animal systems into tumults and perturbations.”[42] His eyes were “very penetrating” and “seemed to have meaning in every glance.”[43] In 1894, Albert Newman would add that “it is doubtful whether any evangelist but Whitefield surpassed Stearns in magnetic power over audiences.”[44]

Through an extensive series of itinerant preaching tours, gatherings of new believers were established throughout the region as “branches” of the Sandy Creek Church. When a pastor could be identified and ordained, the branch would be constituted as a church. By the conclusion of 1756, churches had been organized at Abbot’s Creek (Daniel Marshall, pastor), Grassy Creek (James Read, pastor), and Deep River (Phillip Mulkey, pastor). Believing he was being chased by the devil, Phillip Mulkey lived under a cloud of fear until he experienced a new birth and was baptized by Stearns on Christmas Day in 1756.[45] Mulkey was instrumental in the conversion of the brothers Joseph and William Murphy in 1757.[46] Preaching in Virginia in 1758, the Murphys witnessed the conversion of Samuel Harris as he slid to his knees and collapsed during the sermon. A decorated military officer from a prominent family, Harris regained consciousness crying out “Glory, glory, glory!” Harris would later be nicknamed “The Apostle of Virginia,” and was a key leader in the struggle for religious freedom in the new United States.[47] Tidence Lane went to hear Stearns out of curiosity and found “an old man under a peach tree.” When Stearns began to preach, Tidence said “my perturbations increased” to the point that he could no longer remain on his feet, falling to the ground.[48] In the summer of 1758, Tidence took his brother Dutton Lane to hear Stearns, but Dutton resisted conversion. Returning home from a hunting trip a few days later, Dutton believed he saw the devil stalking him, rushed home, bolted the door, and collapsed on the floor in mortal terror until He trusted Christ to save him. In 1760, Dutton became pastor of the Dan River congregation, the first Separate Baptist church organized in Virginia.[49] Shubal Stearns had found his “great work in the West.”

BECOMING THE PATRIARCH OF SANDY CREEK (1758-1771)

Very little is known about the years Stearns pastored a Baptist church in Tolland, Connecticut (1751-1754), but because of his connection to Wait Palmer, it is likely that Stearns was heavily influenced by the older General Baptist practices and traditions. In 1705, a General Baptist congregation in Groton became the first Baptist church in Connecticut.[50] Organized by Valentine Wightman, the Groton church ordained Wait Palmer and helped constitute his church in Stonington.[51] By the time Stearns was ordained by Palmer in 1751, there was annual meeting of General Baptists being held in nearby Windham County.[52] With deep concerns over preservation of local church autonomy, the Separate Baptists in New England did not form an association until after Stearns had left for the South (i.e., the Warren Association, 1767).[53] As Stearns contemplated the formation of an association of Separate Baptist churches and branches, he may well have defaulted to General Baptist stances concerning ordinances, creeds, and associational oversight.

With initial meetings in January and June 1758, the creation of the Sandy Creek Association was accompanied by days of preaching, singing, and heartfelt testimonies of God’s power. For the next thirteen years, the annual meeting on the second Sunday in October would draw delegates from Virginia to South Carolina.[54] In addition to recognizing the positions of elders, eldresses, and deaconesses, nine ordinances were observed among the churches: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the laying on of hands, washing feet, anointing the sick, the right hand of fellowship, the kiss of charity, and the devoting or dedication of children.[55] Stearns may have also prepared a church covenant in 1757, which has been handed down through the history of the Grassy Creek Church.[56]

The growth of the association quickly spilled over into South Carolina and Virginia. Phillip Mulkey and Daniel Marshall both relocated to South Carolina by 1762, using the same itinerant preaching strategy to start new churches and branches.[57] Mulkey and Marshall helped organize the Congaree Church in 1766 with the aid of Joseph Murphy. Congaree soon had seven branches, including one in the Highs Hills region of the Santee.  It was there that Richard Furman would be saved, becoming pastor of the High Hills church in 1774.[58]

In Virginia, Samuel Harris was conducting extensive preaching tours as far as the Tidewater region by 1765.[59] Lacking ordination, Harris returned to Grassy Creek to ask James Read to help him baptize the new converts. Read had been having “spiritual impressions” for weeks that he should go to Virginia to preach, awaking in the night crying “O Virginia!” Aware of the burden being carried by his pastor, a church member offered to accompany Read into the Virginia Colony. As they were about to leave, Harris arrived requesting Read’s help. From 1766 through 1769, Harris and Read conducted multi-day, evangelistic services that prefigured the camp meetings that would follow in the early nineteenth century. Baptizing hundreds, the evangelists spoke to large crowds for days at a time, often unable to sleep as individuals sought counsel late into the night. In response to the preaching, the ground would often be covered with bodies, as people fell under great conviction of sin.[60]

Criticism of the Separate Baptist movement in the South took several forms. Many of the older Particular Baptist churches in the Carolinas and Virginia were critical of the Sandy Creek Association churches, calling themselves “Regular” Baptists as a way of distinguishing themselves from the Separate Baptists.[61] The tension between the Separates and the Regulars is sometimes represented as a variation of the theological debates between Arminians and Calvinists.[62] However, complaining of “noisy meetings” characterized by “wild disorder,” the critics were primarily concerned with the emotionalism and the subjective experiences attributed to the directional control of the Holy Spirit.[63]

Colonial and Anglican authorities were also critical of the Separate Baptists, interpreting their message as a challenge to the traditional order.[64] Charles Woodmason was an itinerant Anglican minister who kept an extensive diary as he travelled in the backcountry of South Carolina from 1766 to 1772. In sermon notes from 1768, Woodmason believed that the Baptist preaching was having no effect on the morals of the “saved,” describing a typical worship service as a “society of Lunatics.”[65] Woodmason suggested that Anglicans and Presbyterians would do well to support one another against three common enemies: Indians, African Slaves, and “New Light Baptists.”[66] In Virginia and North Carolina, the tensions between the lower classes and the gentry were intensified by the Separate Baptist rejection of educated clergy, the Anglican Church, and the requirement to be licensed under state authority in order to preach.[67] Authorities suspected Baptists of “carrying on a mutiny against the authority of the land.”[68] During the period 1768-76, about fifty Virginia Separate Baptists were imprisoned on charges of disturbing the peace, and in typical fashion, they would continue preaching from the windows of their jail cells.[69] The hostility of the authorities was often accompanied by great curiosity on the part of the onlookers.[70] Why were these Baptists such a threat to the establishment? What was their message? Why do those who get too close often get converted?

The growth of the Separate Baptist movement in Virginia and South Carolina posed a problem for Shubal Stearns. Requests for assistance in leading services, constituting churches, and ordaining pastors had increased dramatically. In the structure he had devised, a “branch” became a “church” under the guidance of ordained Separate Baptist ministers who appear to have been commissioned by the association for the task. The same associational delegation would usually ordain someone as the pastor of the church. However, Stearns was not facilitating ordinations in South Carolina or Virginia. In 1766 the Congaree “branch” in South Carolina was ready to constitute as a church, with two men ready for ordination (i.e. John Newton and Joseph Reese). Stearns sent Daniel Marshall, Phillip Mulkey, and Joseph Murphy to organize the church, but no one was ordained. Tired of waiting, the Congaree church in February 1768 obtained the services of Oliver Hart, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston and Evan Pugh, pastor of the Welsh Neck Baptist Church on the Pee Dee River. Both men were Regular Baptists from the Charleston Baptist Association. In October Stearns led the Sandy Creek delegates to censure Newton and Reese for acting independently of the association. Although Reese immediately apologized and was reinstated, Newton refused, believing he had done nothing wrong. The association ordered the Congaree church to bar Newton from preaching.[71]

Stearns seemed unable to recognize pastors in Virginia, too. During the 1760s, Stearns authorized and assisted in the constitution of several churches, but no one had been ordained. By 1769 the Fall Creek branch of the Dan River church in Virginia was ready to constitute. Meeting on property provided by Samuel Harris, it was clear they would want him to be ordained as their pastor. In spite of years of phenomenal growth in Virginia associated with the ministry of Samuel Harris, he had not been ordained by Stearns.[72]

In addition to the challenges of growth, Stearns was being forced to speak to the growing political unrest throughout the region. The Regulators believed they were being taxed unfairly by corrupt officials. Under-represented in the colonial legislature and shut out of local county government, the Regulators took up arms and began to intimidate the authorities in the backcountry through a series of violent encounters and riots.[73]

With the annual meeting just weeks away, Stearns had a vision on September 7, 1769 while returning home from a preaching tour. Going up a hill in the aftermath of a thunderstorm, Stearns saw a “white heap like snow” on the horizon. As he got closer, the strange object hovered about twenty feet in the air, and then fell to the ground, breaking up into three parts. The largest portion moved to the north, another portion went south, and the smallest portion remained where it fell. Stearns concluded that the vision was describing what was about to happen to the association: “The bright heap is our religious interest which will divide and spread north and south, but chiefly northward; while a small part remains at Sandy Creek.”[74] Stearns was clearly anticipating significant changes for the Sandy Creek Association.

During the 1769 annual meeting, the association did agree to constitute the Fall River Church in Virginia, ordaining Samuel Harris as pastor.[75] The sheer popularity of Harris would have made it difficult to do anything else. Next, the association voted to excommunicate any members who took up arms against legal authority. In addition to being a church meeting, the annual gathering at Sandy Creek had become a social occasion for the backcountry Baptist, the travelling merchant, and the curious onlooker. News of the association vote, aimed at Baptists who would participate in violent Regulator activities, spread quickly through the crowds. Four armed Regulator leaders stormed into the meeting house and confronted Stearns, asking whether it was true. Thoroughly intimidated, Stearns mumbled an evasive reply and the Regulators left.[76] Separate Baptists were well-represented in the ranks of the Regulators.[77] Consequently, churches were confused and troubled following the 1769 meeting. Joseph Murphy was forced to leave Little River due to strong Regulator support among the members. When Elnathan Davis made it clear he would enforce the associational vote in his church at Haw Creek, Regulators attacked and beat several of his church members. The Sandy Creek Association had become deeply divided along political and sectional lines.

In 1770 the association met at Grassy Creek, moving the annual meeting away from Sandy Creek for the first time. After several days of prayer and fasting, the participants were unable to agree on anything until a motion was made to divide the association into three parts.  A contemporary observer Morgan Edwards believed the association had wielded too much authority by “unfellowshipping ordinations, ministers, and churches that acted independent of them.” Although the Separate Baptists believed in congregational autonomy, they also believed that a church could voluntarily “transfer” authority to the association.[78] The motion passed and Stearns’ prophetic vision of September 1769 was realized as two new Separate Baptist associations were created in Virginia and South Carolina. Six months later the Virginia Separates met to organize the General Association of Separate Baptists on May 13, 1771.  The first actions they took are significant: (1) the association is an advisory council with “no power to impose anything on the churches;” (2) churches can constitute with the permission of their mother church and the aid of any ordained minister; and (3) ordination can be accomplished from any ordained minister who is willing to assist.[79] Within three years the number of members and churches in Virginia would more than double in size.

Three days after the Virginia organizational meeting, the North Carolina Regulators were defeated at the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771. Leaders who were captured were hanged, their property was confiscated, and their farms destroyed. Backcountry residents were forced to take loyalty oaths administered by the colonial government.[80] Stearns lived to see at least 1,500 families move out of the region, while attendance at the Sandy Creek church dropped to fourteen.[81] Stearns died on November 20, 1771, just two days before the seventeenth anniversary of the founding of the church at Sandy Creek.

The effect of the Regulators Rebellion was to create a diaspora of Separate Baptists and backcountry populations who migrated to Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.[82] Tidence Lane founded the first Baptist church in Tennessee, organizing the Holston Baptist Association by 1786.[83] Daniel Marshall constituted the Kiokee Baptist Church in 1772, the first Baptist church in Georgia.[84] Forty years later, 140 churches and 11,000 church members could trace their spiritual roots to the Separate Baptist movement that grew from Kiokee.[85] Separate Baptists in Kentucky started two churches in 1781, forming the Elkhorn Association by 1785.[86] In Appalachia today, at least thirty different Baptist denominations can trace their origins to the Separates that poured into Kentucky following the Regulator defeat at Alamance.[87] Considering the Virginia Separate Baptist struggle for religious freedom and the added influence of Shubal Stearns and his followers in the propagation of churches across the South, W.H. Whitsitt wrote that “North Carolina might well be called the Holy Land of Southern Baptists.”[88]

THE LEGACY AND IMPACT OF SHUBAL STEARNS

Walter Shurden identified the Sandy Creek tradition as one of the primary influences on Southern Baptist identity.[89] Arising out of the Great Awakening in middle of the eighteenth century, Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptists preached with passion, baptized converts who could testify to their salvation, and hungered for powerful revival experiences. Shubal Stearns was the architect of these “peculiarly American” contributions to the development of Baptists over the past 250 years.[90]

Stearns emphasized the immediate and direct leadership of the Holy Spirit. If revival can be defined as what happens in the presence of God, Stearns saw confirmation of God’s activity in the phenomena associated with the ministry of the Separate Baptists. Writing in 1772, Morgan Edwards stated “I believe a preternatural and invisible hand works in the assemblies of the Separate Baptists.” [91] Visiting the 1759 annual meeting at Sandy Creek, Regular Baptist John Gano was convinced that “the power of God was among them.”[92] Separate Baptists became known for regularly reporting “signs, wonders, and divine communications.”[93] Heartfelt cries and falling down were common elements of the services.[94] Visions and dreams were shared, especially as part of the conversion narratives given before baptism.[95] John Waller reported the healing of a minister’s wife who suffered from “violent spasms” after he had anointed her with oil and prayed.[96] Dutton Lane shared that when authorities were on their way to arrest church leaders at his church at Dan River, they were “struck temporarily blind by a flash of light followed by a thick darkness” and went home—the authorities never returned to Dan River.[97]

Stearns introduced a new dynamic in preaching and a freedom of worship. The Separates did not preach from prepared notes, but relied on immediate inspiration from God.[98] Preaching with great emotion “accompanied by strong gestures and a singular tone of voice,” the Separate Baptists were known for their distinctive preaching style.[99] They expected an immediate response to their preaching, which became a characteristic of Southern revivalism for generations to follow. After the sermon, preachers invited hearers who “felt themselves to be poor sinners” to kneel at the front or near their seat, offering to pray with each one.[100]

Stearns afforded women greater involvement in worship and church life than any other religious group in the colonial period.[101] In the Separate Congregational and Baptist churches following the Great Awakening, women were free to share their conversion testimonies and exhorted others to repent.[102] In New England, Daniel Marshall’s sister was jailed during a pregnancy for preaching Baptist doctrines.[103] Martha (Stearns) Marshall was described as her husband’s “Priscilla, a helper in the gospel.”[104] When she spoke to the church, she presented herself as “a lady of good sense, singular piety, and surprising elocution” who routinely “melted a whole concourse into tears by her prayers and exhortations.”[105] In Virginia, Margaret Meuse Clay often spoke and prayed publicly, once being arrested for unlicensed preaching with eleven Baptist men. Sentenced to a public whipping, she was released when someone anonymously paid her fines.[106] In roles unique to Separate Baptists at the time, women were serving as eldresses and deaconesses in a few of the churches, baptizing and teaching women exclusively.[107] As Separates merged with Regular Baptists in the closing years of the eighteenth century, women were increasingly restricted from public speaking and church offices.

Stearns adapted his strategy for church extension and organization to meet the demands of his context. Confronted with a highly mobile population, Stearns started churches by holding large evangelistic meetings, establishing a church with branches from the converts and new followers. Any minister or layman who sensed a call from God could start a branch. In contrast with the struggle Anglicans had to secure professional clergy for the backcountry region, Stearns had no need for educated clergy—there were no barriers to the starting of new churches across the South.[108] Stearns developed the use of ordained ministers in ad hoc presbyteries to ordain candidates to serve as pastors.[109] Separate Baptists rarely paid their pastors a salary, which was a partial reaction to the taxes forced on backcountry citizens to pay Anglican parish salaries.[110] Stearns probably derived his approach to associations from his exchanges with General Baptists prior to 1754. The connectionalism represented in the way Stearns exercised authority through the Sandy Creek association influenced the formation of Southern Baptists in 1845. Richard Furman was a Separate Baptist who had been converted and mentored under men like Joseph Reese, Philip Mulkey and John Newton, all disciples of Shubal Stearns. Furman discipled and mentored W. B. Johnson, who came to be known as the architect behind the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention.[111]

The focus on evangelism and church planting represented by Stearns and the Separate Baptist movement moderated the older, rigid forms of Calvinism found among the Particular or Regular Baptist churches. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the Separates, Regular Baptist observers either affirmed their zeal or criticized their emotionalism, but rarely questioned their commitment to doctrines of grace.[112] The anticreedalism expressed by the Separates during unification talks with Regulars had little to do with Calvinism: the Separates did not want to impose a confessional statement upon churches, essentially replacing God’s Word.[113] The explosive growth of the Separates across the South did force the Regulars to rethink the practice of their Calvinism to allow for preaching that emphasized a personal response to the Gospel.[114] Between 1740 and 1790, Regular Baptists managed to start ten churches in Virginia—Separate Baptists formed several hundred.[115] Baptists in the South owe their remarkable growth and influence to Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptists.[116]

C. Goen wrote that “the most phenomenal story of Separate Baptist expansion was written not in New England but in the South.”[117] Shubal Stearns injected the life-changing principles of the Great Awakening into the spiritually neglected, backcountry souls of the deep South. By depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance and power, Stearns and his spiritual sons and daughters pursued lost souls with a relentless zeal and passion. Adapting ecclesiastical structures and forms to his context, Stearns influenced later generations of Baptists to do whatever is necessary to spread the gospel and start new churches. Placing the practice of preaching and evangelism ahead of doctrinal precision, Stearns restored worship as the primary measure and expression of authentic belief. In these ways, Shubal Stearns helped establish the character of “American evangelical Christianity” and continues to impact Baptists today around the world.[118]


Notes

[1]Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, vol. 1 (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1975), 1:388.

[2]Although his ancestors preferred the biblical spelling, Shubal was the first in his family to spell his name “Shubal.” John Sparks, The Roots of Appalachian Christianity: The Life and Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 1-2.

[3]Ibid., 12.

[4]Ibid., 13.

[5]Morgan Edwards, “Materials towards a History of the Baptists in the Provinces of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia,” 1772, MS, Special Collections and Archives, James B. Duke Library, Furman University, Greenville, SC, accessed January 25, 2011, http://digital.lib.clemson.edu, PDF download 134-5, 148-9 .

[6]William Latane Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great Awakening, 1754-1787 (1961; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006), 11.

[7]C. C. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 12-3.

[8]Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003), 94.

[9] Earle E. Cairns, An Endless Line of Splendor: Revivals and Their Leaders from the Great Awakening to the Present (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 48.

[10]William Latane Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great Awakening, 1754-1787 (1961; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006), 7.

[11]Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists, Third ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1963), 222.

[12]M. A. Huggins, A History of North Carolina Baptists, 1727-1932 (Raleigh, NC: General Board of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, 1967), 50.

[13]G. W. Beale and Robert B. Semple. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia (1894; repr., Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library Digital Collections, 2009), 12.

[14]David T. Morgan, Jr., “The Great Awakening in North Carolina, 1740-1775: The Baptist Phase,” The North Carolina Historical Review 45, no. 3 (July 1968): 267.

[15]Lumpkin, 3.

[16]Ibid., 24.

[17]Sparks, 26.

[18]James E. Tull, Shapers of Baptist Thought (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000), 60.

[19]Sparks, 29.

[20]Ibid., 35-6.

[21]Ibid., 36.

[22]Ibid., 43.

[23]Ibid., 34.

[24]Lumpkin, 21.

[25]Ibid., 24-5.

[26]Thomas Ray, Daniel and Abraham Marshall: Pioneer Baptist Evangelists to the South (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2006), 4.

[27]Sparks, 30-1.

[28]Ray, 7.

[29] Beale and Semple, 13.

[30]Ray, 7-8.

[31]The “friend” was Noah Alden. Before leaving for Virginia, Stearns had baptized and installed Alden as pastor of the Baptist church in Tolland in July 1754. Isaac Backus, A History of New England, With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians Called Baptists (1871; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006), 2:530.

[32] Lumpkin, 35.

[33]Marjoleine Kars, Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-revolutionary North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 84.

[34] Morgan, 267.

[35] John B. Boles, The Great Revival: Beginnings of the Bible Belt (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 3.

[36]Sparks, 63.

[37]George W. Purefoy, A History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association: from Its Organization in A.D. 1758, to A.D. 1858 (New York: Sheldon, 1859), 68.

[38]Sparks, 63.

[39]Edwards, 145 .

[40]Ibid.

[41]Ibid., 149 .

[42]Ibid.

[43]Ibid.

[44]A. H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States (New York: Christian Literature, 1894), 293.

[45]Sparks, 80-83.

[46]Ibid., 98-99. Significantly, William Murphy and Mulkey were instrumental in the 1758 organization of a congregation composed predominantly of African American slaves, the famed Bluestone Church in Virginia. Some scholars believe this was the first African American Baptist church in the South.

[47]Lumpkin, 48-9.

[48]Edwards, 149-50 .

[49]Sparks, 100-1.

[50]Ibid., 7.

[51]Ibid., 34.

[52]Ibid., 44.

[53]Ibid., 39.

[54]Lumpkin, 47.

[55]Edwards, 145 .

[56]George Washington Paschal, History of North Carolina Baptists, 1663-1805 (1930; repr., Lafayette, TN: Church History Research & Archives, 1990), 1:401-3.

[57]Sparks, 104-5.

[58] Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1974), 55.

[59]Sparks, 117.

[60]Sparks, 121.

[61]James D. Mosteller, A History of the Kiokee Baptist Church in Georgia. (Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Bros., 1952), 10.

[62]For example, one historian writes that Separates “adhered to Arminian doctrines of free grace and universal salvation that conflicted with the Calvinistic beliefs of the Regular Baptists.” See George Lloyd Johnson, The Frontier in the Colonial South: South Carolina Backcountry, 1736-1800 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), 169.

[63]Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 244-5.

[64]Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 162.

[65]Charles Woodmason, The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, ed. Richard J. Hooker (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1953), 101.

[66]Ibid., 93-4.

[67]William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977, ed. Martin E. Marty, Chicago History of American Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 92-3.

[68]Ibid.

[69]Clifton E. Olmstead, History of Religion in the United States. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960), 174.

[70]Isaac, 163.

[71]Sparks, 112-5.

[72]Ibid., 127-8.

[73]Huggins, 58.

[74]Edwards, 150 .

[75]Sparks, 149.

[76]David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, and Other Parts of the World (1813; repr., Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 2:116.

[77]Henry Sheets, A History of the Liberty Baptist Association from Its Organization in 1832 to 1906, Containing Much History Incidentally Connected with This Body; Also There Is Presented Quite an Extended Account of the “Split” in Baptist Ranks Showing Who Are the “Primitive Baptists,” Together with Side-lights on the “Split.” (Raleigh, NC: Edwards and Broughton, 1907),155-6.

[78]Edwards, 174 .

[79]Beale and Semple, 70-2.

[80]Kars, 204-5.

[81]Betty G. Bunce, “Shubal Stearns and Separate Baptist Beginnings in North Carolina,” 1976, TS, North Carolina Baptist Historical Collection, Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University, Bedford, VA.

[82]Boles, 4.

[83]John Sparks, “Profile of Elder Tidings (“Tidence”) Lane and His Recollections of Shubal Stearns,” comp. The Baptist History Celebration Steering Committee, in Baptist History Celebration – 2007: a Symposium on Our History, Theology, and Hymnody. Convened as a Tercentenary Anniversary Tribute to the Founding of the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1707, Held at the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina on August 1-3, 2007, proceedings (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2008), 131.

[84]Backus, 2:531.

[85]James D. Mosteller, A History of the Kiokee Baptist Church in Georgia. (Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Bros., 1952), 15-6.

[86]Ibid., 16.

[87]Howard Dorgan, “Old-Time Baptists of Central Appalachia,” in Christianity in Appalachia: Profiles in Regional Pluralism, ed. Bill Leonard (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999), 133.

[88] Huggins, 50.

[89]Bill Leonard, God’s Last and Only Hope: the Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 33.

[90]Loulie Latimer Owens, Saints of Clay: The Shaping of South Carolina Baptists (Columbia, SC: South Carolina Baptist Convention, 1971), 44.

[91]Edwards, 148 .

[92]Beale and Semple, 66.

[93] Kidd, 246.

[94]Catherine A. Brekus, Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 46.

[95] Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, & Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 69.

[96] Kidd, 246.

[97]Ibid., 245.

[98]Kars, 101.

[99]Beale and Semple, 15.

[100]Robert I. Devin, A History of Grassy Creek Baptist Church, From Its Foundation to 1880, with Biographical Sketches of Its Pastors and Ministers (1880; repr., Lafayette, TN: Church History Research & Archives, 1977), 69.

[101]Brekus, 65.

[102]Ibid., 49.

[103] Kidd, 262.

[104]James B. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers (1859; repr., Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library, 2005), 23.

[105]Kidd, 262.

[106]Brekus, 62-3.

[107]Kidd, 262.

[108]Timothy D. Hall, Contested Boundaries: Itinerancy and the Reshaping of the Colonial American Religious World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 123-4.

[109]Lumpkin, 161.

[110]Ibid., 152-3.

[111]Ibid., 160-1.

[112]Tom Nettles and Josh Powell, “Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptist Tradition,” Founders Journal, no. 44 (Spring 2001): 7-9, accessed January 25, 2011, http://www.founders.org/journal/fj44/article3.html.

[113]Ibid.

[114]Beale and Semple,100.

[115]Lumpkin, 157.

[116]Paschal, 1:270.

[117]C. C. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 296.

[118]Baker, 57.


Bibliography

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Backus, Isaac. A History of New England, With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians Called Baptists. 2 Vols. 1871. Reprint. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006.

Baker, Robert A. The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1974.

Beale, G. W. and Robert B. Semple. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia. 1894. Reprint, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library Digital Collections, 2009.

Benedict, David. A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, and Other Parts of the World. 2 Vols. 1813. Reprint. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press. 1971.

Boles, John B. The Great Revival: Beginnings of the Bible Belt. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1996.

Brekus, Catherine A. Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Bunce, Betty G. “Shubal Stearns and Separate Baptist Beginnings in North Carolina.” 1976. TS, North Carolina Baptist Historical Collection, Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University, Bedford, VA.

Cairns, Earle E. An Endless Line of Splendor: Revivals and Their Leaders from the Great Awakening to the Present. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986.

Devin, Robert I. A History of Grassy Creek Baptist Church, From Its Foundation to 1880, with Biographical Sketches of Its Pastors and Ministers. 1880. Reprint. Lafayette, TN: Church History Research & Archives, 1977.

Dorgan, Howard. “Old-Time Baptists of Central Appalachia.” In Christianity in Appalachia: Profiles in Regional Pluralism, edited by Bill Leonard, 117-37. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999.

Edwards, Morgan. “Materials towards a History of the Baptists in the Provinces of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.” 1772. MS, Special Collections and Archives, James B. Duke Library, Furman University, Greenville, SC. Accessed January 25, 2011. http://digital.lib.clemson.edu. PDF download.

Goen, C. C. Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987.

Hall, Timothy D. Contested Boundaries: Itinerancy and the Reshaping of the Colonial American Religious World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.

Huggins, M. A. A History of North Carolina Baptists, 1727-1932. Raleigh, NC: General Board of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, 1967.

Isaac, Rhys. The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Johnson, George Lloyd. The Frontier in the Colonial South: South Carolina Backcountry, 1736-1800. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Kars, Marjoleine. Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-revolutionary North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

Leonard, Bill. God’s Last and Only Hope: the Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990.

Lumpkin, William Latane. Baptist Foundations in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great Awakening, 1754-1787. 1961. Reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006.

McLoughlin, William G. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977. Edited by Martin E. Marty. Chicago History of American Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Morgan, Jr., David T. “The Great Awakening in North Carolina, 1740-1775: The Baptist Phase.” The North Carolina Historical Review 45, no. 3 (July 1968): 264-83.

Mosteller, James D. A History of the Kiokee Baptist Church in Georgia. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Bros., 1952.

Nettles, Tom and Josh Powell. “Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptist Tradition.” Founders Journal, no. 44 (Spring 2001): 16-31. Accessed January 25, 2011. http://www.founders.org/journal/fj44/article3.html.

Newman, A. H. A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States. New York: Christian Literature, 1894.

Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003.

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Owens, Loulie Latimer. Saints of Clay: The Shaping of South Carolina Baptists. Columbia, SC: South Carolina Baptist Convention, 1971.

Paschal, George Washington. History of North Carolina Baptists, 1663-1805. 2 vols. 1930. Reprint, Lafayette, TN: Church History Research & Archives, 1990.

Purefoy, George W. A History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association: from Its Organization in A.D. 1758, to A.D. 1858. New York: Sheldon, 1859.

Ray, Thomas. Daniel and Abraham Marshall: Pioneer Baptist Evangelists to the South. Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2006.

Sheets, Henry. A History of the Liberty Baptist Association from Its Organization in 1832 to 1906, Containing Much History Incidentally Connected with This Body; Also There Is Presented Quite an Extended Account of the “Split” in Baptist Ranks Showing Who Are the “Primitive Baptists,” Together with Side-lights on the “Split.” Raleigh, NC: Edwards and Broughton, 1907.

Sparks, John. “Profile of Elder Tidings (“Tidence”) Lane and His Recollections of Shubal Stearns.” Compiled by The Baptist History Celebration Steering Committee. In Baptist History Celebration – 2007: a Symposium on Our History, Theology, and Hymnody. Convened as a Tercentenary Anniversary Tribute to the Founding of the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1707, Held at the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina on August 1-3, 2007. Proceedings. Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2008.

Sparks, John. The Roots of Appalachian Christianity: The Life and Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2005.

Taves, Ann. Fits, Trances, & Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Taylor, James B. Virginia Baptist Ministers. 1859. Reprint, Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library, 2005.

Torbet, Robert G. A History of the Baptists. Third ed. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1963.

Tull, James E. Shapers of Baptist Thought. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000.

Woodmason, Charles. The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant. Edited by Richard J. Hooker. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.

 

The Beatdown: Runaway Expectations in the Life of a Pastor

Not. One. More. Thing. He was physically tired and emotionally spent. For four years he had done everything he knew to get the church growing again, but with no visible results. He no longer looked forward to preaching. Committee meetings had become gripe sessions. The mounting criticism of his leadership was withering to his soul. It seemed so unfair… wasn’t he killing himself doing everything everyone wanted from him? In his efforts to serve the church, he could see his family longing for more time with him… time he just didn’t have. Consequently, he was sensing failure in every area of his life. In the intense cycle of giving and caring assumed by most pastors, this brother was experiencing “the beatdown” of runaway expectations.

WHAT ARE RUNAWAY EXPECTATIONS?

Expectations in relationships are a way of clarifying what we want from others and what we believe about their ability to do what we want. We encounter expectations every day at home, at school, or at work. Expectations are useful for knowing how to please others, meet genuine needs, or accomplish essential tasks. However, excessive expectations can demoralize and discourage the human soul, causing someone to lose heart and want to quit the impossible relationship.

When a caring pastor encounters an expectation from a church member, he will feel drawn to serve that person’s need. In the broader Christian culture, he discovers encouragement and guidance to help him meet the typical expectations he encounters in the church. And within himself, he discovers that if he can meet those expectations, he can experience a measure of acceptance, respect, and success as a leader. However, this becomes deeply problematic as the expectations become unreasonable, unfair, and even unbiblical… and they keep coming, and coming, and coming!

Runaway expectations are those inner unspoken and unwritten standards that can become the agenda for every moment of a pastor’s life. Although they seem to arise from a legitimate desire to serve God and His people, runaway expectations take root in our broken sense of self, and rule through our insecure efforts to become significant and worthy.

Recently, I asked a group of seasoned veterans in ministry to identify pastoral expectations that they believe have intensified in recent years. To protect the privacy of the respondents, quotations below are used without attribution (but with their permission). Here is a brief sampling of the runaway expectations they identified.

To Know Everything. We know the Bible reveals that our Father knows all things, but it seems some church members believe their pastors possess the same supernatural ability! This is the expectation to know “everything that is going on in the church, even when no one tells you.” A pastor offered this example of an actual conversation that took place as he was walking to the platform to preach:

Deacon: Did you know that George was in the hospital over the weekend?

Me: No, I didn’t know. No one let me know.

Deacon: Well, did you go visit him?

Me: No. I didn’t know he was in the hospital. Did you know he was in the hospital?

Deacon: Yes.

Me: Well, then why didn’t you call me to let me know?

Deacon: That’s not my responsibility. You’re supposed to know these things.

To Be Available 24/7. Just as pastors can’t know everything, they can’t be everywhere. Pastors cannot “attend all gatherings and activities of the various groups in the church.” He must reserve time for himself, his family, his study, and his own time alone with God. A pastor writes, that “many churches expect pastors to preach and serve with little regard for how the ministry time and expectations to produce place a burden upon the pastor’s personal family time.” Another adds that “because of technology, pastors are more accessible than ever, and are expected more than ever, to be available.” When I sent out my note to the ministers, one responded after several days writing, “Don, my apologies for just now seeing this. I was on vacation with my family last week, and I turned off all notifications, email accounts, etc. so that my devices would remain relatively quiet.” I thanked him for being an illustration of the right way to handle his availability on vacation!

To Preach Like Someone Else. With the proliferation of sermon archives on the internet, church members now have immediate access to some great preachers throughout the week. They can watch a video or listen to a podcast of an outstanding speaker, and then immediately recommend their experience through social media. It’s easy for a pastor to feel his preaching is inadequate in comparison. He forgets that he is faithfully fulfilling pastoral responsibilities through the week that his larger church counterparts rarely perform. In addition to sermon preparation, the local pastor has committee meetings, counseling appointments, building maintenance, calendar planning, and hospital visits that take up his time. He usually doesn’t have a staff to augment his assignment, but he is in touch daily with the needs of God’s people! As one pastor observed, “popular preachers, whose messages are delivered via media… (typically) do not bear the daily pressures of congregational ministry.”

Immature members can fail to appreciate the impact of a sermon preached in real time by a Spirit‑guided shepherd to a people he knows and loves. In that moment, the congregants are not in control as they listen to a message that they did not choose. That person who listens to preaching mediated exclusively through his individual choice and personal preference is missing out on what God is saying to His church right now. We need to hear what God is saying through our local pastors each week.

To Cause the Church Grow Numerically. Because a church owns property, collects contributions, and tracks attendance, members can conclude that the church is an organization like any other business. Since the pastor is a paid employee of the church, he is expected to focus on the success of the “business” by attracting more members. In a consumer-driven environment where people “attend worship only because of what they can get from it,” the pastor is faced with the constant threat of losing members to a more “successful” pastor at a nearby church. A pastor explained: “I think we spend more time than ever figuring out how to reach and catch the attention of our church members.” The average pastor is facing a growing “emphasis on programs and activities that draw people to the church and an increased pressure to bring in the people and move the numbers.” Growing the organization can quickly become more important than growing people as genuine Christ-followers!

ONLY ONE EXPECTATION MATTERS

Paul was no stranger to runaway expectations. He writes, “…do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Not only is it impossible to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), Paul teaches that my repeated efforts to keep everyone “happy” is just disqualifying me from His service. Pursuits and preoccupations that do not come from the Lord serve the interests of someone other than the Lord, and consequently, they can only carry me further and further away from His heart (Matthew 6:1-18). So what would Paul’s counsel be to the “beatdown” in a pastor’s life? Dear brother, there is only one Person you need to please.

Without Jesus leading each step, my well‑intentioned efforts to establish priorities, set goals, create margin, improve productivity, cultivate relationships, and improve oneself are wasted… and exhausting! I cannot escape the beatdown of runaway expectations by managing or replacing them with a “better” set of personal expectations. I not only need to be freed up from everyone else’s expectations, I need to release my self‑imposed expectations. They can be the most debilitating expectations of all!

THE WAY OUT FOR THE WORN OUT

Jesus said, “[28] Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

What is Jesus offering? He says, “I will give you rest” (v. 28). And Jesus is very specific about the kind of rest He wants to give us. It’s not a rest from physical labor. It is a “rest for your souls” (v. 29)… a cessation from the life-sapping labor of our inner, immaterial self.

Soul rest comes in two forms… first as something He gives (v. 28). Jesus gives soul rest to people with a soul problem. Jesus calls out to people “who labor” (in their souls) and who “are heavy laden” (in their souls). Those “who labor” are doing something to their own souls. The word describes exertion to the point of exhaustion. Those who “are heavy laden” have soul burdens that have been laid on them by others, something done to them. Clearly then, the gift of soul rest can only be received by abandoning the effort to live up to the expectations of ourselves or others – that inner approach to life that depends exclusively on us! Jesus is offering an entirely new way to live.

Soul rest is also something I “find (v. 29). I find soul rest when I enter an intimate “yoke” with Jesus. Yoked animals are in a close relationship – one cannot move without the other. Jesus clarifies further what He means when He adds “and learn from Me.” Taking on His yoke is to learn from Him, and to learn from Him is what it means to take on His yoke. So in the context of an intimate relationship with Jesus, what do we learn? We learn a new way of living on the heart level directly from Him, because He adds “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” As I learn to live in intimate communion with Him, relying on Him for direction and refusing to do life apart from Him, He becomes the ever-present and primary guide within my soul. Finding His rest for my soul means I am no longer controlled by runaway expectations. I am living my life yoked to Christ.

What is the way out for the worn out? Jesus!

Come to Me,” Jesus says. There is no program to implement, or conference to attend, or book to read… this is an intensely personal invitation. He wants you to be with Him. It’s a relationship.

Come to Me,” Jesus says. You cannot go to Him as one solution among many. He is the only source of soul rest. There is no other way.

Come to Me,” Jesus says. This is an immediate option you can seize right now. Yes, it takes time to learn to live in His yoke, to stay in step with His heart, and to turn to Him with every need. He promises to teach you. But there is an urgency to His invitation, isn’t there? Why wait?

Come to Me.

LIFE in His Presence

When Jesus steps into the room…

If you are blind, you will see;

If you are deaf, you will hear His voice;

If you are an offender of others, you will love others by seeking their forgiveness;

If you are bound, you will be set free;

If you are an enemy, you will be reconciled;

If you are angry, you will enter & experience His peace;

If you are poor, you will find everything you need in Him;

If you are running, you will be arrested by His love;

If you are a rebel, you will fall in surrender at His feet;

If you are wrong, you will be made right;

If you are alone, you will find a Forever Friend;

If you are enslaved and desire change, you will begin a journey of transformation into His likeness;

If you are hopeless, you will be given a secure destiny;

If you are unfeeling, you will care about the spiritual condition of every person you meet;

If you are sick, you will be healed (sooner or later);

If you always have to “drive,” you will find rest under His yoke;

If you are an orphan, you will find a family;

If you are afraid, you will be hidden in the emotional fortress that lies under the shadow of the Almighty;

If you are joyless, you will sing His praises;

If you are confused, you will see the truth;

If you are dead, you will be made alive;

If you are the greatest sinner, you will meet the only Savior; and

If you are lost, you will be found!

And these things only begin to describe LIFE in the presence of Jesus.

Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution

Looking for a personal devotional you can use for Christmas? I offer this one for FREE… no limits, no lines, and no waiting for a package to arrive!

In 2012 following a year of great personal turmoil, I was led to write a devotional reflecting on the revolutionary nature of Christmas… one each day from December 1-25. I pray your reading of these brief reminders of The Christmas Revolution will bring you as much encouragement as the writing of them brought me.

You can download a single PDF (click HERE) or read them daily on this site by clicking the links below. Merry Christmas, the Lord has come! – DP

 

His Cross, My Victory

if His cross is the only victory I experience in this life
it is more than enough
to satisfy my deepest longings
now and for all eternity
none of my losses and defeats
no matter how painful or shameful to me
can withstand the boundless oceans of mercy
still flowing
from His triumph over the deadliest enemies of my soul
and from my inclusion in His victory