Useful Church History

Here are ten stories from Church History that I tend to use in my ministry as the pastor of a local church. They are not listed in any particular order:

  1. Monica of Hippo and Her Son Augustine: Augustine was a little hellion. He grew up to be a big hellion. His mother, the pious Monica, despaired of seeing his redemption from a life of squalor and dissipation. She was tempted to throw in the towel until her pastor told her, “Woman, the child of so many tears shall never perish.” I don’t know that this is always true, but it proved to be true in the life of Augustine, who was converted and became…well…Augustine!

    I use this story with mothers who are worried about their children. By telling it I try to encourage them to continue to pray for their children and never to abandon the hope that God might turn them around.

  2. William Carey’s Call to Ministry and Early Work: William Carey wasn’t exactly the hottest commodity among Baptist churches in the midland counties. It took a lot of convincing to get a small church to call him as their pastor. But his sheer indefatigability carried him a long way. Of course, the calling of God eventually sent him to India, where he labored seven years without a single convert in spite of severe emotional and physical loss. Unbeknownst to him or to those who supported his ministry, those seven years laid the foundation for one of the most successful missionary stories in the modern age.

    I use this story to encourage church members to stay the course in ministry situations that are difficult. I used it extensively as we were preparing to adopt a UUPG in Senegal, wanting our church to understand that we might not see immediate results, but that it is important to persevere even if we do not.

  3. Thomas Helwys’s Decision to Return to England: The early English Baptists weren’t in England at all. They had fled to the environs of Amsterdam to escape persecution in England. Thomas Helwys fell under the conviction that he had abandoned his preaching post—that he owed it to his homeland to declare the true gospel to his countrymen. He did not do so unobtrusively; he penned a missive to King James on the subject of religious liberty entitled “A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity.” As thanks for his effort, James I cast Helwys into Newgate Prison, where he died after a few years of imprisonment.

    I use this story to inspire people regarding the debt we owe our neighbors to proclaim the gospel to them. Also, it works in any circumstance in which we need to instill courage in believers.

  4. Hugh & Anne Bromhead’s Letter: In the earliest days of the English Baptist movement, a member of a local Baptist church wrote a letter to a concerned family member trying to explain this strange new sect to which they belonged. The letter contains a full description of a typical Lord’s Day in the life of this congregation, including hours upon hours of preaching and Bible study.

    I find this letter to be useful whenever anyone says that my preaching is too long. :-)

    Also, whenever I have church members who have come to regard our Sunday schedule as an ancient sacrament, it is helpful to be able to show not only an older form of worship, but an older BAPTIST form of worship (arguments from the Gallican Mass aren’t often persuasive in SBC circles, nor should they be).

  5. John Chrysostom’s Conflict with Empress Eudoxia: The great golden-tongued preacher did not have a good relationship with the Byzantine Empress Eudoxia (perhaps because he had compared her to Herodias?). Although her rage against him was harsh and eventually forced him into exile, he never backed down.

    Again, like Thomas Helwys, John Chrysostom is an example of Christian courage. But his is courage of a different kind. Helwys’s is the story of an outsider who courageously proclaimed the truth although it cost him his life. Chrysostom’s is the story of an insider who refused to be seduced by wealth and power. That’s a different kind of courage, but it is courage all the same. I use this story to encourage people to be courageous and to resist corruption when tempted by wealth, fame, or power.

  6. Lottie Moon: Lottie Moon didn’t start out looking like a missionary in the making. Even when she first went to China, she appeared simply to be following her sister there. The sister didn’t make it, but Lottie did. Opportunities for romance, for furlough, or for greater personal comfort did not finally succeed in diverting her attention from her efforts. She is the martyred saint of Southern Baptist missionary work.

    I use her story to promote an offering we collect every Christmas for our missionaries.

  7. Francis Asbury during the American Revolution: Early Methodism was, after all, a movement within Anglicanism, and Anglicanism, in turn, was the Church of where? England! When the Americans declared their independence against the British Crown, most Anglican clergy and nearly every Methodist preacher booked passage back to Mother England. Francis Asbury did not. He stayed on and consequently became the most influential man in American Methodist history.

    I use this story to illustrate how much ministry credibility can be won by a pastor’s endurance through difficult times. Perseverance and shared suffering forge strong bonds that are useful in later ministry endeavors.

  8. Roger Williams and Obadiah Holmes: Williams and his “Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience” made an important case in both the Americas and Great Britain for religious liberty. The story of Obadiah Holmes’s savage treatment for conducting Baptist ministry in the Massachusetts Bay Colony became Exhibit A in the evidentiary argument against religious persecution.

    I use this story to help my church members to remember that religious liberty was not won for us by politicians in a constitutional convention. Also, I point them to Roger Williams’s brilliant rationale for determining which laws are permissible to the state and which ones are violations of religious conscience.

  9. Manz, Grebel, and Blaurock, together with Various Anabaptist Martyrdom Stories: The treatment of Anabaptist reformers was horrific. That so much of it came at the hands not of Catholics but of other so-called “Reformers” made it only that much more perverse. Particularly the role of Zwingli is disturbing. He chased to their deaths his own students, and that for their doing what he had taught them to do—to study the Bible and obey it. The drownings and burnings were not, in the end, able to bring an utter end to the onward march of truth.

    I use these stories to help people to understand their relationships with me sometimes. They have the obligation to let me point them to God’s Word. They have the obligation to leave me behind if God’s Word leads them further than I am willing to go.

  10. The Early Beginnings of the Great Western Revival at the Gasper River Church: I love the way that revival came in the midst of a Lord’s Supper service. And this wasn’t just some touchy-feely wide-open Koolaid and Oatmeal Pies communion service like might be popular today. This was a communion service preceded by pastoral visitation and church discipline and good, sound ecclesiology. I love that attentiveness to the doctrine of the church was the precursor to spiritual awakening.

    I use this story sometimes to open someone’s eyes to an understanding of the role of the pastor, the role of the ordinances, and the obligations of church membership that may be far different from any understanding of those things that they have ever considered before. To see how those basics—fulfilling the role of spiritual overseer over a flock, calling people to repentance and spiritual preparation for worship—might lead to revival is, I think, an important contribution that this story makes.

I do not allege that these are the best stories in Church History. I do not allege that they are the ten stories that I OUGHT to have used the most in ministry. But for the circumstances that have come my way in local church ministry and for the stories that have stuck sufficiently with me for me to be able to use them on a moment’s notice, these are the top ten in terms of usefulness in ministry for me.


  1. Todd Benkert says

    Bookmarking this post to go back and review these stories and your applications. Thanks, Bart.

  2. says

    Thanks for the information and illustrations. Preachers are always looking for good illustrations.

    Please continue to share your historical studies.

    Perhaps we should remind our “KJV Only” friends, how King James treated our Baptist ancestors.
    David R. Brumbelow

  3. dr. james willingham says

    Ah! History was first among my favorites in reading, even in childhood. That was in the 40s. In the 60s, being encouraged by a Black Historian at Lincoln University in Mo. to begin research on some subject of interest to me, I chose church history and set about to prove the Landmark view of the church. I would spend 6 years in note taking alone, and the evidence would prove the view wrong except in some instances. Likewise, one would find there is more to the story than meets the eye. One has to dig into all of the available information in order to get the story. Just think of Augustine. While he is interesting and colorful, he is also flawed, both in his theological judgments as well as political precepts. The idea of infants going to Hell is found in his writings (Hell is supposedly paved with them, something Mr. Spurgeon would have smitten hip and thigh). And then there is the political precept that allowed for the state to go after the Donatists, when the latter did not agree with the dominant Catholics. Also to indicate that there is more to the story, the violence apparently started on the Donatist side. In any case, Augustine approved of the state’s use of force to crush the Donatists. They did survive, and some of them apparently made it to the Alps, according to something I read in W.H.C. Frend’s work on them nearly 50 years ago.

    A little bit more about Carey, While he deserves his accolades as the Father of Missions, and I gladly recognize him as such, there is more to the story. The first convert, though Carey had been employing the fellow (Krishna Pal), was won by Dr. John Thomas, a Chirugon (sp? my dictionary is till buried somewhere in 500 boxes that our son calls the black hole), a bone doctor of the day who was employed by the British East India Company. Thus, Dr. Thomas was a bi-vocational missionary. He had been in India for seven years, and he returned to England to assist Carey (he even talked Mrs. Carey into going). Seven more years passed. Then, one day as Thomas was setting the arm of Pal, he witnessed to him.

    When Pal indicated that he would go all the way and be baptized (a break with his culture, etc., which would put him in danger of losing his life), Thomas who had been in an up and down cycle of emotional expectations of the conversions of Hindus became insane in a frenzy of elation. It is funny to me, in one respect: Every one is sure they know every thing about everything, that Hyper Calvinism, citing the Primitive Baptists, and some of the folks in England, but forgetting that we have the more Arminian kind who are just as lacking in missionary and evangelistic zeal, and here lies the contradiction. The first convert was won by a fellow accused of being a Hyper Calvinist It just goes to show that one should not really make judgments until all of the facts that can be gathered are in.

    When Carey Baptized Pal, two people were locked in buildings: Thomas who was raging in elation and joy over the first convert and Mrs. Carey who was likely suffering from PTSD was raging in anger and despair at forces beyond her comprehension.

    Our General Baptist Brethren deserve our respect and affection due, in part, no doubt, to their stand and suffering for religious liberty. The first two sermons I ever preached were in General Baptist churches, where friends invited me to do so. In the second one, I had my first convert, but after 56 years I can’t remember whether he came during the invitation or I won him during the dinner afterwards, a young boy about 8-10 years old.

    There is more, but, the Lord willing, I shall return later.

      • dr. james willingham says

        No, Dr. McKissic. I was referring to what the history books say. And before George Liele (who, by the way, is one of my favorites, because he put the Separate Baptist into foreign missions before the white folks), there were the Moravians and the Waldensians and, of course, the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem (and that without being Landmark). By the way, I came across a note in a history of the Czech Brethren which indicated that the Waldensians sent a committee to check on the church in South India. O and have you read Dr. Kidd’s book on The Great Awakening and the African American converted under Whitefield at Charleston. His name escapes me now. He became a missionary and even went to Africa (if my poor memory has not deserted me). His conversion and called to preach occurred at Charleston during the pastorate of Oliver Hart, circa1750-60, I think.

      • Dwight McKissic says

        “While he deserves his accolades as the Father of Missions”

        George Liele has been recognized by Danny Akins, a missions book published by SWBTS in recent years, the SBC by way of resolution, and an objective view of chronological church history, as “the Father of Missions.” Being the great historian that you are, I’m that this was an oversight on your part. Thanks.

        • dr. james willingham says

          Dear Dr. McKissic: I read Dr. Akins’ book and I agree with it in many respects. Perhaps, we shall see a change in the view of who fathered missions (Carey just happened to be the one who publicized the earliest and who influenced the most people). What gets me is that I got kicked off of another blog for asserting that Sovereign Grace believers were the main inspiration behind the great Century of mIssions and that that was the theology of the First and Second Great Awakenings. They did not seem to interested in my view, even though I offered to cite chapter and verse to them. Imagine what they would say, if I proposed an African American who was a Calvinist as the Father of the modern missionary movement. And we have two candidates, Liele and the fellow mentioned by Dr. Kidd. There are many wonderful stories in African American History. I proposed a doctoral dissertation at Columbia Univ. on the fact that they demonstrated the healthy nature of the biblical faith…and that to a professor who was a self-proclaimed Marxist (communist, but we have to use the technical word to assuage the educated folks). Must close. God bless.

      • Bart Barber says

        There’s a long history of skepticism over these sorts of labels, and especially with regard to Carey, precisely because so much came before him (Liele, Brainerd, Moravians, etc.). I’m in favor of carefully awarding designations like “Father of _________,” because they help the beginning student to find a handle to hold. Nevertheless, that having been said, for me the study of history is less about who was first and more about who was faithful. The four-thousandth missionary is a hero. For some group of Christians somewhere she or he is the mother or father of the most important thing that has ever happened in Christianity from their perspective.

        • Greg Harvey says

          In a “for what it’s worth” mode, as part of researching a response to this post, I came across an article that claimed there had been an existing, (German/Danish) Pietist-established mission effort in southern India that was almost 100 years old when Carey arrived.

          After rambling around looking for more info on this, I came across an essay from a series of four essays on Pietism that specifically addresses the history leading up to the establishment of the Danish-Halle Mission. I’m not offering it as a correction to this post or the comments on it. But thought it was a useful, additional perspective on European, Protestant missions.

          I believe all four essays are at this site. I’ve included the link without an anchor tag so you can scrub off the last section of the URL and go to the site.

          This essay is:

          “Pietism’s World Mission Enterprise
          By Ernst H. Wendland”

          • dr. james willingham says

            Greg thanks for the info. I am aware of that Pietist effort. I am also aware of the Waldensians having a church in Constantinople and in Philadelphia in the 12th or 13th century, and the latter is like Philadelphia in Asia Minor in Rev.3. I suspect, however, that that church was a wee bit older than the Waldensians and probably of like faith and order., but I really don’t know.

          • Dwight McKissic says


            Google George Liele. In short, he journeyed from Georgia to Jamaica in the mid to late half of 1750’s era, and planted a church in Jamaica, long before William Carey set sail to a foreign land. Because he was the first to leave America to take the gospel to foreign soil, Danny Akin and others label him as the Father if modern day missions.

        • Adam G. in NC says

          It’s like asking the question: “Who discovered America?”. 99.9% will always say Christopher Columbus…but most folks know that other groups (Vikings, etc.) were here first.
          The Vikings may have discovered America, but Columbus put it on the map. Same can be said of Carey and others regarding missions.

          • Dwight McKissic says

            Adam G.,

            The Vikings nor Columbus discovered America. The people on the land when they arrived discovered America. It is an insult to the indigenous population here when the Vikings, Columbus, and long before either one if them, the Olmecs, came to America. To claim that Columbus discovered America is a colonial or Eurocentric view if history, similar to the claim that William Carey is the Father of missions.

            The only reason George Liele is not considered the Father of modern missions, is because the people who were making such designations, and writing the history books, simply disregarded his work and contribution to missions, for some unknown reason. But, if we are going to use chronology as a measuring stick; you would have to place George Liele before William Carey as the Father of missions.

          • Jeff T says

            Dwight, We do not know who discovered America. You have assumed that the people who were here before the Vikings discovered it.

          • John Wylie says


            We know for a fact that there were people in America thousands of years before the Vikings visited America. Bro. McKissic is absolutely right.

          • Greg Harvey says


            Wikipedia article on George Lisle (Baptist).

            Specifically: “He became the first American missionary, leaving in 1782 for Jamaica; this is thirty years before Adoniram Judson left for Burma. He became the first Baptist missionary in Jamaica.”

            By comparison, Carey left more than a decade later in April 1793 from London but was delayed at the Isle of Wight and then the captain was informed that they weren’t licensed by the British East India Company for missionary work and he sailed without them. They arrived in Calcutta in November 1793 according to the Wikipedia article on William Carey (missionary).

            Carey’s work is also marked by the establishment of the “Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen” in 1792 later renamed the “British Missionary Society” and today known as “BMS World Mission”. The formation of a missionary society provided a means for keeping interest and collecting funds. I’m sure the institutional memory gave him a bump from a historical standpoint with respect to Lisle (also referenced as George Sharp in the wiki article.)

            p.s. To the lucky moderator that catches my article in moderation…it has two anchor tags and the two links require your intervention in order to facilitate general consumption…

          • Dwight McKissic says


            Do you have any reason to assume that the people who were here when the Vikings & Columbus arrived were not the first ones here. Genesis 10 records a verse that indicate that before the earth was divided that the Cannanites skews abroad. Whoever got here first probably didn’t have to travel across the oceans. Therefore, I believe based on that the Genesis 10 verse that those who got here first were descendants of the Cannanites. The native Americans, often called Indians, have been labeled by some scholars as descendants of the Cannanites. So we do know who got here first. And we know it was not Christopher Columbus or the Vikings. And whoever the people were who got here first, they discovered it.

          • Bart Barber says

            I think Jeff’s point is well-taken. The Pequod (or their forefathers) may well have been the people who discovered this continent, or they may have arrived and displaced someone else who was already here. If settlement of the Americas took place across the Bering Strait, one might conclude that it is more likely that the descendants of the original explorers would be the tribes of people living in the extreme south of South America. As Johnny-Come-Latelies pushed across into Alaska, they would have forced ahead of them those who had arrived before them. The natural path of migration would be southward, right?

          • Adam G. in NC says

            I think you may have misunderstood the point I was trying to make. I compared Carey to Columbus because both of these may not have technically been the “first”, but they were the two that brought the subject to public light. They put it on the map, so to speak…factoids aside. They’ll always be listed in the text of history books, and the rest will be just footnotes.

            To compare it to the civil-right’s movement, I can guarantee that Rosa Parks wasnt the first African-American to try to sit at the front of a bus in the segregated South, but if you ask anyone that question of “who was the first?”…they’ll say she was…because she brought it to attention.

            Here’s an experiment. Today, ask as many people as you can,”Who discovered America”. You know the answer you’re going to get. I can predict you wont get many who say the “olmecs”. Same for “who was the father of American missions?”

          • Adam G. in NC says

            As for George Liele, you’ll always have several groups of thought:
            1) those who credit him as chronologically the first American missionary, because he was.
            2) those who do not because they never heard of him.
            3) those who do not because he was fleeing persecution as a British loyalist and freedman in slave-holding America, and not leaving expressly to go on mission.

          • Dwight McKissic says

            Adam G.

            The comments you made in comment (I believe #23) are well made & well taken. Thanks for the explaination.

    • JimHedrick says

      James thanks for the rest of the story. History proves that life is not simple nor reductionistic triteness. What we learn after we know everything is great gain indeed. Baptismal lock up in Carey’s India. I never knew those bits of his passion. That is one way to manage your associates and ill wife.

    • JimHedrick says

      Thanks for the rest of the first Carey baptism event. It’s what we learn after we know it all that is our true education.

    • Bart Barber says

      Everyone realizes that “Father of _________” is not precisely the same thing as “First One to Do _________,” don’t they? Long have we known that the Moravians were far ahead of everyone else mentioned in this thread. Roger Williams was conducting mission work to the American Indians long before Carey or Liele or even David Brainerd were born, and he was crossing the international/intercolonial boundaries of his day to do so. Determining who was first depends upon how you define Christianity (Do Catholics count?), missions (Does work among the American Indians count? Across what sort of political or ethnic boundary does one have to cross?), and a whole host of other variables. At least some of these questions are answered pretty much arbitrarily.

      The reason why Carey has not been set aside entirely as the “Father of Modern Missions” is not so much a question of chronology as methodology and influence. The Serampore approach to missiology (translation, publication, literature distribution, preaching points, church planting) was copied by others. Generations of missionaries who came after him idolized and imitated William Carey. Consider the case of Adoniram Judson, whose conversion to Baptist belief was prompted by his nervousness over defending his position upon his impending meeting with his hero Carey.

      This reality may be as unjust to some early missionaries as was the historical treatment that followed. As a white Brit, William Carey was in a better position to be influential than was George Liele, precisely because of the racial and national sentiments that held sway. It is possible that we wrongly call William Carey the “Father of Modern Missions” due to today’s prejudices. It is also possible, unjust as it may be, that we rightly call William Carey the “Father of Modern Missions” due to the inescapable reality of yesterday’s prejudices.

      • Dwight McKissic says


        Your brilliance with words at times is spellbinding. The balance, skill and diplomacy by which you can argue both sides of a position is also admirable. That’s the mark of a truly educated person. Martin Luther King would call your skill “a tough mind, and a tender heart.” If only I could get you to handle the cessationist/continuationist debate with such diplomacy & skill.????

        • Bart Barber says

          Well, Dwight, my work on that subject matter would look at lot better to you if you would come over to the right side on that question. :-)

        • Adam Blosser says

          haha…They changed the location of the pastor’s office at some point. I am not sure if that was before, during, or after you were here. I threw a bunch of stuff out from the cabinets in my office but I did not find anything that seemed to be from when you were here. Now the cabinets in the secretary’s office are still full of stuff and some of it may be from when you were here.

          • says

            Yeah, if you are talking about that really old office across the hallway, that was changed over in the time of the pastor just before me. I was in the office (I assume you are still in) – you come up the steps and take an immediate right.

  4. volfan007 says

    As always, great stuff, Brother. We’ve come to expect great stuff from you, Bart….and, you deliver. Thanks for blessing me on this cold, frosty,
    TN morning.


  5. Ty says

    I have a legitimate question. The first is about William Carry. Is it true that he was willing to leave his wife to go on mission? That bothers me because of Ephesians 5. Or is that not true?
    Also about the Anabpatisits. It seem many of the Anabaptists did not hold to justification by faith alone, the substitutionary atonement, and many were mystics (compared to TBN charismatics).
    I am I just misinformed or is there something I’m missing?

    • Bart Barber says


      Beware the search for pristine spiritual forefathers: It can make orphans of us all.

      Your information about Carey is true. His wife did go with him, but he was prepared to go without her. She went insane in India. Very sad story. Carey’s handling of it was wrong.

      The Anabaptist movement was diverse (consisting of any- and everyone who did not receive infant sprinkling), and decentralized. Almost anything you could allege would be true of at least one Anabaptist somewhere. It would be much more difficult to make those charges stick against the men whom I have named.

      • dr. james willingham says

        Yes, she went with him after Dr. John Thomas persuaded her to go. I do not think we comprehend the great obstacles one faced in the 1700s. Just consider the Waldensians sending a committee to check on the church in South India in the 1400s!!!

  6. Christiane says

    Pastor BART,
    thank you for sharing these with us . . .
    I’m glad you ‘connect’ up with these members of the Body of Christ down through the centuries in this special way and bring their stories into your pastoral work.
    I think that is something that is done in my Church also, as we ‘remember’ and ‘celebrate’ those who have gone before us as great witnesses to Christ.

    Lottie Moon is formally celebrated on her liturgical feast day (Dec. 22) by the Episcopal Church as a Christian saint and martyr,
    so her example has given strength to the faith of Christian people far beyond the Southern Baptist circle.
    That’s the way it is in the Church.
    When someone loves Christ the way she did, and gives all they have in His Service, they have a special bond with the whole Church. In their lives, The light they reflected with their lives came from Christ Himself, and that light remains to comfort all who love Him.

    • Bart Barber says


      I am thankful for the way that Roman Catholic and Anglican historians and prelates have preserved the histories of some of the faithful Christians throughout the ages. That this was sometimes done in connection with an extrabiblical notion of supererogation, a contrabiblical narrowness with regard to the idea of who are the saints, and a very disturbing idea of posthumous mediation by folks other than the One Mediator between God and man—these unsettling realities do not set aside at all the great value preserved for Christians today in the stories of martyrs (both those martyred for and those martyred by Roman Catholics and Anglicans) and of other faithful believers who lived before us.

    • JimHedrick says

      Thanks sister for the ecumenical updateon Sister Moon. I am so happy to here about here recognition outside of her own denominational homeland. Are ther any more storiesabout SBC women of missionary faith that we mayhave overlooked?

      • dr. james willingham says

        If you all want to know something about John Bunyan, you might want to contact Dr. Gene Spurgeon, pastor, First Baptist Church, Cahokia, Ill. He did a D. Phil. Degree from Oxford Graduate School in Dayton, Tn. (which involved two week seminars at Oxford University as well as the course work taken in the Oxford Graduate School which is not connected to Oxford other than through the seminars taught be the Oxford University Faculty). Gene did a Project Demonstrating Excellence (their equivalent to a Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation) on John Bunyan. Since then, he has produced materials for small group studies and VBS on John Bunyan. I have known Gene for nearly 56 years. I am now in the process of trying to get some of that materials for our son and his church.

      • volfan007 says

        I never could get past the Blue Ox…I’ve just never seen a blue ox. Now, the pancake part….that he could eat so many….I can believe. But, the blue ox…well….


        • dr. james willingham says

          The antichurch history people always have to add their 2 cents as that is all they have, having lost every thing else in the past…somewhere.

  7. Roger Simpson says

    Dr. Barber:

    I’d heard of most of those people but you really illuminate their stories.

    You mention Roger Williams of Providence Plantations fame. One biographer that I read said that late in his life he became a universalist because he couldn’t accept that the American Indians were in need of Christ. But I don’t know if that story has been collaborated by other historical accounts or not.


    • Bart Barber says

      Roger Williams became a seeker later in his life. Enemies alleged that he was a universalist. A modern author or two has picked up on those claims. I’m not a Roger Williams expert, but I think that’s a reasonable assessment of the data as we have it.

      • says

        Roger Williams claimed baptistic tendencies for about 4 months. Just long enough to start the First, First Baptist Church in Rhode Island. He was a defender of religious liberty, so you can see why Baptists love him so. With my research, I find it hard to call him the first American Baptist, however, many claim that idea.

        Roger to your question about not being able to accept that they needed Christ, I wouldn’t go that route. He defended them, and even claimed the Crown had taken land from them illegally, and said they should give it back. He worked among the Indians pretty extensively, but nothing I read deemed him a universalists. He certainly had the notion that the Congregationalists and other Puritans were not a “pure church.”

      • Bart Barber says

        I don’t think I was clear now that I read what I wrote. Let me fix that and be clear: When I said “I think that’s a reasonable assessment of the data” I meant the assessment that (a) Williams’s enemies falsely accused Williams of being a universalist, (b) modern authors who want Williams to be a universalist have picked up on those accusations, (c) but Williams was not a universalist.

      • dr. james willingham says

        As the saying is, Baloney! Go to one of our seminary libraries and check out his three volume works. In vol.III, I think it is, near the end of his life, in a letter to Dr. Clarke or to the church at Newport, R.I. He professed to still holding to a Sovereign Grace theology and to being Baptist in his ecclesiology (believer’s immersion). He was looking for someone with the authority to baptize. Other than that he was your typical Southern Baptist, willing to suffer for his faith.

  8. JimHedrick says

    Bart thanks so much for sharing your favorite historical pastoral vintage short stories. Thanks be to God for all the faithful gone on before us.

  9. Roger Simpson says

    I reread some stuff I have on Roger Williams. The guys I looked at said that while Roger Williams was only a Baptist for a few months, he didn’t renounce Christianity. Instead he became a self-described “seeker” and didn’t affiliate with any local church congregation.

    He enemies equated “seeker” with renouncing Christianity. His supporters understood the “seeker” term to mean that the he did not believe that any currently constituted church (aka denomination) was correct.

    • Bart Barber says

      Williams did not renounce Baptist beliefs. It’s just that he was as convinced a successionist as any Landmarker you’d ever meet. Being a successionist is easier if you come along later in history. Standing where he did in the historical record, Williams knew full well that he wasn’t standing in succession to ANYBODY. That is, he knew that he and his congregation had started something de novo.

      Williams came to conclude that the baptizer ought to be someone who had already been baptized. Thus, if the world did not have any baptized persons in it, then nobody in the world would be qualified to baptized. Unless, that is, you could locate an apostle.

      So, Williams spent the end of his life waiting for God either to send him an apostle or make him one.

      • dr. james willingham says

        Bart, did you know Roger Williams was also a Welshman and served in the law court and with a noted judge of the day (as a clerk or something like that). Being from Wales he would have been aware of the history of non-conformity there, one that cannot be proven, but the like one of the literary figures of the first half of the 19th century said, “Some evidence is so circumstantial as when one finds fish in one’s milk.”

  10. Ben Stratton says

    Great post Bart! I will use several of your examples and their applications.

    However you stated that the Gasper River Church involved in the Great Western Revival / Second Great Awakening had “good, sound ecclesiology.” What?!? They were open communion Pedobaptists! I am very familiar with both the Red River and Gasper River churches, as I was born in Logan County, KY and my grandfather was an elder in a Cumberland Presbyterian church in the Gasper River Presbytery. It was the Methodists and Presbyterians (latter named Cumberland Presbyterians) who participated in these meetings. The Baptists, who had several churches in that region at that time, would not participate due to their strong belief in restricted communion.

    • Bart Barber says

      Ben, I wondered whether anyone would pick up on that.

      I wrote with a lack of precision. The aspects of their ecclesiology that were good and sound had to do with their practice of strong spiritual oversight and biblical church discipline. Also, they tied these things to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. These strengths, notably absent from the previous experiences of many people today, are the things that led to the outbreak of revival at Gasper River.

      I did not understand the Gasper River church to be open communion. I’ll confess that my understanding of their practice of the Lord’s Supper arises out of a paper that a fellow Ph.D. student prepared in a seminar years ago. I did not fact-check his research thoroughly, although I have personally read secondary sources presenting the same material.

      My understanding was that the church practiced pastoral visitation in the days leading up to their celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Families who “passed” the pastoral visit received a communion token (this was the practice of the old Scottish Presbyterian churches), and only those bearing a token were granted admission into the Supper. The other aspects of the service, of course, were open to everyone. The communion token system was perhaps the most closed of closed communion systems that has ever existed. Even among church members, only those who “earned” the token could participate.

      The paedobaptism and presbyterian church governance, of course, I do not consider to be good, sound ecclesiology. But those aspects did not figure in the story of the revival there; therefore, I ignored them in my analysis, just for the sake of brevity.

      • says

        Please don’t tell me, then, that you regard the communion token system to be “good, sound ecclesiology.” What a platform for legalism! Does not the Bible say that a man is to “examine himself”? Is ecclesiology “better” and “sounder,” the stricter it is?

        • Bart Barber says

          Since you asked so nicely, I won’t tell you. :-)

          But seriously, I agree that this system would be vulnerable to legalism. Every system of Christian thought and practice, good or bad, is vulnerable to something. The fact that something could be used for evil does not constitute sufficient evidence to set it aside.

          I aspire to affirm and encourage the better practice of both the “examine himself” of 1 Corinthians 11:28 and the “let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven” of 1 Corinthians 5:8. The Bible includes, after all, both self-discipline and church discipline. I do not see how an appeal to the validity of the one invalidates the other.

          We don’t have a communion token system here. I’m not sure I would be content with a token system. But the Right Place, wherever it may be, most certainly lies in that general direction rather than further down the road to radical individualism and antinomianism.

          • David Rogers says

            Sorry for the snarkiness. I’ll try to do better next time. :)

            As with most things, there are two ditches on either side you can fall into. Either way, though, a ditch is a ditch, from what I am able to tell.

            And I agree with you about self-discipline and church discipline.

          • David Rogers says

            By the way, also, I love the idea of regular pastoral visits. You’d have to divvy up the responsibilities pretty broadly in a larger church, though. I just don’t like the idea of inquisitorial visits, which is what this sounds an awful lot like to me. It also reminds me of a lot of the idea of auricular confession as a ticket to participation in the mass.

          • Bart Barber says

            I agree that those are dangers here. I think that the kind of practice that leads to widespread spiritual awakening is probably the more healthy variety.

          • Bart Barber says

            David, I’d also welcome your take on what I wrote above about William Carey’s influence upon subsequent missionary efforts.

          • David Rogers says

            RE: Carey, et al

            I was just admiring the insight and balance with which you dealt with that. Nothing to add from my perspective.

  11. dr. james willingham says

    John Bunyan’s open communion and, I suppose, other practices, led to his church calling a Presbyterian minister a century or so latter, maybe two centuries, I cannot recall.

    • Bart Barber says

      There exists some question as to whether Bunyan sprinkled his own infants at the Bedford Meeting after he came to quasi-Baptist or proto-Baptist beliefs. He was more than an open communionist; he practiced the sort of open membership that has been so commonplace among British Baptists ever since that day. He clearly was willing to practice multiple modes of baptism, and as I have suggested, may even have done so within his own family.

      As you likely know, his “Differences in Judgment about Water Baptism No Bar to Communion” is a key work in the Bunyan corpus on this subject matter. He always flatly refused the label “Baptist,” by the way.

  12. Bob Browning says

    Thanks for these excellent jewels from church history Bart.

    I also wanted to mention that a great book that is very easy to read and gives some robust theology is Danny Akin’s “10 Who Changed the World.” I think it should almost be required reading for church membership.

  13. Dwight McKissic says


    Thanks for this post. For those if us who are shade-tree historians, you made our day with this interesting, relevant, and illustrative facts if history. I believe that the Bible commands us in Psalm 78 to learn our history. Deuteronomy 32: 7 also tells us to: “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; Your elders, and they will tell you.” Thanks for showing and telling us Bart.