This Month in Our History
October 2011 – Empassioned Speech from Heritage Fellow, Joseph Long
Each year the Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies invites college students to apply to be named a Heritage Fellow. On the application there usually is a question which reads something like the following: “If there were no more Baptists, what would be lost?” It is amazing – and sometimes disappointing – what the college students reveal as their impressions of the Baptist contribution.
The same type of question was asked and superbly answered a long time ago by a Virginia Baptist. “Is there a need for Baptists?” That was the intriguing title of an address delivered about 90 years ago in Philadelphia by a Virginia Baptist layman, Joseph R. Long, and subsequently published by Crozer Theological Seminary. Long was born in a Baptist parsonage, the son of John C. Long, who was pastor of First Baptist Church, Charlottesville, from 1868 –75 and professor of church history at Crozer from 1875 until his death in 1894.
Father and son graduated from a Virginia Baptist school, Richmond College, and father and son shared a deep understanding of Baptist distinctives. Joseph Long became dean of the law school at Washington and Lee University and a member of Manly Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington. He was a law dean in 1922 when he made his address on the Baptists.
Here are some excerpts:
“The need for Baptists may have passed, either because other denominations are now fully supplying what once Baptists alone supplied, or because Baptists no longer stand for what they once stood for.“
”Where other denominations are held together by their form of organization, Baptist democracy, with its extreme individualism, makes for disintegration. Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, requiring for its full success a degree of preparation, which Baptists do not always possess.
“Nor are Baptists notably loyal to their church or to each other. Not infrequently they fight each other in the church. Heresy hunting is a favorite sport with some Baptists. Our most highly-educated and accomplished young people – our best blood – are leaving us all the time for other denominations.”
Professor Long extolled the virtues of the early Baptists for insisting upon complete religious liberty and separation of church and state; and while the likelihood of a state religion appeared remote, he observed – again in 1922 – “the use of secular power by the church for the regulation of personal morals.”
He observed that this, “in a new form, is the union of church and state, against which Baptists in the past have so strenuously contended,” and yet “unfortunately Baptists are now probably doing more than any other denomination to reunite them.”
“I am convinced that a minister who from his pulpit advocates or opposes the enactment of any particular law or the election of any particular candidate, or [passes] judgment upon the decision of the courts, violates a cardinal Baptist principle and draws the church into politics. The Baptist preacher who assumes the role of lawmaker, detective, policeman or judge is not needed.”
Long pictured for his listeners a world “ready for the gospel.” Post-World War One Europe was receptive and advances in technology made for a “growing intimacy of nation with nation.” In such an age he felt that the Baptists were needed for religious purposes. And these are the reasons:
“To Baptists the New Testament is the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice. We have and need no creed to supplement or supersede the New Testament and no pope or hierarchy to tell us what it means.
“The first cardinal principle of the Baptists is individual liberty. Everyone has the right to interpret the Bible for himself, and each church as a separate unit has sole authority to decide who shall be admitted into membership and what shall constitute its articles of faith and practice.
“Baptists have sometimes been mistakenly called narrow. The true Baptist is broad. He realizes there are many things in the Bible which it is hard, if not impossible, to understand. In some cases, revelation seems to be designedly incomplete. There must be latitude of opinion.
“It is worse than useless to demand orthodoxy about the unknowable. The true Baptist welcomes into his fellowship many with whom he may differ. The great Baptist doctrine of soul liberty requires that everyone shall be free to interpret the Bible in his own way.”
Well, what was his answer? Are Baptists needed?
“They are needed,” thundered the speaker, “for the great task of evangelizing the world. So long as Baptists are true to the New Testament and to their historic principles, there is no danger that they will not be needed.”
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