Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 8, 1971
NUMBER 47, PAGE 7b-9

The Baptist "Anti-Mission" Movement - III.

Colly Caldwell

While Barton W. Stone and others were calling for changes among Presbyterians, serious problems developed among Baptists. The causes of these problems were not only doctrinal, but some issues evidenced sociological and political divergences as well. The one issue which brought all their differences to a head was the establishment and maintenance of missionary societies as extra-congregational organizations designed to promote the spread of the Baptist faith. These societies were usually given separate organization, yet they were totally dependent upon Baptist congregations for financial support.

Baptist Triennial Convention

Baptist leaders believed they should send preachers and publish ideas in areas where their congregations were not already found. As the Great Awakening progressed, the challenge was issued for a more general organization of these activities. Between 1800 and 1805, five "missionary" periodicals were begun, the most widely circulated of which was the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine1 Local associations, such as those in Philadelphia and Charleston, began to expand their evangelistic programs. There was also a succession of state societies established.

In 1810, Congregational leaders formed the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and urged other denominations to support it. Baptists warmly embraced it, especially after the Board financed a half dozen or more Baptist evangelists.

The same year, the Board sent several missionaries to Calcutta, including Luther Rice and Adoniram Judson, who were converted to the Baptist faith en route to India.2 Judson went on to Burma, but Rice returned to America to rally Baptists to the cause of national organization for foreign evangelism.3 In 1813, Rice began a tour of the South in search of support for a national Baptist missionary society and was received in most places enthusiastically. In answer to his appeals, the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions was organized. It met first in Philadelphia on May 18, 1814, and was, thereafter, called the "Triennial Convention."4 The constitution of the convention called for official delegates from those local congregations or societies which contributed one hundred dollars or more to the general fund. A board of twenty-one commissioners along with the other thirty-three delegates from eleven states voted unanimously to support Judson and to authorize Rice to travel into the West to raise money and organize support for the convention's program.5 In 1815, Rice returned from 7,800 miles of traveling and reported the establishment of seventy auxiliary societies. He had collected a total of $3,700 in donations.6

The Opposition

In spite of the initial success of the missionary organization, forceful minority which opposed missionary societies soon developed in many districts. Within a short time, these "anti-mission" forces (or "antis," as they came to be called), were in a majority in many states and discouraged other Baptists from participating in the support of missionary organizations apart from the church.7 Some Baptists opposed the societies because of Calvinistic doctrines on election, predestination, and atonement which, they said, were violated by any evangelistic effort. But the majority defended the position that the Bible simply did not authorize missionary organizations. They believed that the organizations threatened the Baptist system of democratic church government. The organization of societies was called a "fundamental contradiction" to the complete independence of worshipping congregations.8 Baptist congregations were autonomous. Decisions were made within the congregations. It had been difficult for them to organize even district associations and state conventions because of these convictions. In keeping with this principle, churches in the Green River, Kentucky, area opposed what they called "missionary unscriptural societies" saying that "the Bible knows of no society but the church of Christ."9 That sentiment was typical of proponents of the "anti-mission" position.

The "anti-mission" movement was basically a frontier movement and was strongest among the rural people. Most "antis" were not wealthy and resented the fact that a large percentage of the contributions was consumed in unnecessary overhead by the organizations.

Two men, other than Alexander Campbell (whose opposition to missionary organizations will be examined in a separate chapter), were especially active in the "anti-mission" cause They were Daniel Parker of Illinois and John Taylor of Kentucky.

Daniel Parker

Daniel Parker was born in Culpepper County, Virginia, in 1781. In 1803, he moved from Georgia to Sumner County, Tennessee. With this as his home, he travelled throughout the area south of the Cumberland River preaching Baptist doctrine.10 According to one contemporary, Parker was "one of those singular and rather extraordinary beings. . .without education, uncouth in manner, slovenly in dress, diminutive in person, unprepossessing in appearance, with a small piercing eye and shriveled features."11 He had virtually no formal education, but his wife, it was said, had taught him to read and write.

Parker had considerable influence upon the uneducated frontier people and became an enemy of the mission organizations. His pamphlets and books flooded the South while he was in Tennessee and when he later moved to Illinois his popularity increased. Many followers were attracted by the excitement of his constant public conflicts with the New Lights and the Methodists. For several years he thundered his denunciations of the missionary organizations from the Baptist pulpits and through his publication called The Church Advocate.

Among Parker's works was A Public Address to the Baptist Society of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions,12 a sixty-eight page denunciation of organizations designed to do missionary work for the churches. In this work he denounced those who opposed the "antis" and argued that many accusations were unfounded. He denied that the "anti-mission" forces were opposed to spreading the Gospel among the lost, translating the Scriptures, or educating the heathen. It was not missions, per se, that he opposed, but the mission plan "wherever it interferes with or is connected with the ministry causing them to depend on the church to give them a call or support." The church should not create organizations separate from the congregation to do this work. Some of the societies, he argued, were engaged in works (such as civilizing Indians) which are not properly the work of church government but of "moral government." If churches would do their work and moral government (political agencies and private institutions) would assume its own function, there would be no need for church supported societies.

Parker denounced the Baptist Board of Missions. The organization sought to control the ministry, he said, by qualifying its own missionaries, fixing their fields of labor, and setting their compensation. No one but God, he contended, could do that. He pointed to the Biblical examples of Jonah, Abraham, Paul, and the apostles for illustrations. According to Parker, these examples do not authorize the establishment of mission organizations, as some claimed, but rather only prove that God did the calling Himself.

While Parker believed in predestination and argued that the whole principle of missions was contrary to his understanding of that doctrine, his emphasis in this Public Address was that the societies had "neither precept nor example to justify them within the two lids of the Bible." They were therefore "unscriptural." he said. He wrote in conclusion:

"The boards ... have violated the government of the Gospel church and forfeited their right to the union and brought distress on the church of Christ . . . . They have rebelled against the king of Zion, inasmuch as they have assumed an authority that Christ has reserved alone to himself . . . They have violated the right of government of the church of Christ in forming themselves into a body and acting without the authority of the union .... They have forfeited their right to the union by departing from the Gospel plan and the common, constant and constitutional faith and practice of the Baptist church .... Our brethren have left us, we have not left them, therefore we claim the constitutional ground, and in such cases the minority can exclude the majority." (page 64).

John Taylor

John Taylor of Kentucky also opposed missionary organizations. His preaching activities took him over the states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In his "anti-mission" writings, Taylor stressed two major points: 1) that the societies were contrary to Baptist church government, and 2) that money was the chief interest of the societies. He promoted these two ideas in his best known work, Thoughts on Missions, published in 1819.

Taylor said that scriptural, Baptist, church government was being violated in the support of organizations which were designed to do the church's work for it. He wrote: "The deadly evil I have in view is under the epithets or appellations of Missionary Boards, Conventions, Societies, and Theological Schools, all bearing the appearance of great, though affected sanctity, as the mystery of iniquity did in the days of Paul, when the man of sin was in embryo." (page 4).

Fearing a development like the Roman Catholic mission system, he called the extra-congregational organizations "Baptist Papacy." He said, "I consider these great men are verging close on an aristocracy, with an object to sap the foundation of Baptist republican government. The highest court Christ has fixed on earth, is a worshipping congregation called a church." (page 9, 10).

Taylor insisted on congregational autonomy by stating that the mission of congregations was to send missionaries. It was not the mission of human organizations to do this work for the church and thus relieve the church of its purpose. 13 Interestingly, Taylor later regretted the personal attacks he had made in his early writings against some of the societies' leaders. While he was never a strong society

advocate himself, he softened his views toward the societies in his older age. 14 His life might well be compared in many respects to that of the third great opponent of missionary organizations among Baptists, Alexander Campbell.

Footnotes 1 Wm. Warren Sweet, Religion on the American Frontier, Vol. I: The Baptists, 1783-1830 (New York: Cooper Square, 1964), p. 58.

2 B. H. Carroll, The Genesis of American Anti-Missionism (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1902), pp. 25-32.

3Journals of Adoniram Judson. (Microfilm copy in the Dargan-Carver Library in the Baptist Sunday School Board Offices, Nashville, Tennessee).

4 L. T. Gibson, "Luther Rice's Contribution to Baptist History" (Unpublished M. A. Thesis, Eastern Theological Seminary, n.d.), p. 36.

5 Proceeding,s and Reports of the First Session of the Triennial Convention (Philadelphia, 1846), pp. 3-5.

6 Journal of Luther Rice, 1806-26.

7 Robert G. Torget, History of the Baptist (Valley Forge, Pa., Judson Press, 1965), p. 268.

8 Sweet, The Baptists, p. 72.

9 Walter Brownlow Posey, The Baptist Church in the Lower Mississippi Valley (Lexington: Univ. of Ky. Press 1957), p. 66.

10 Guy W. Small, "The Life of Daniel Parker" (Unpublished M. A. Thesis, East Texas Baptist College, 1954). pp. 1-18.

11 Posey, Baptist Church in Lower Mississippi Valley, p. 68.

12 (Vincennes: Stout and Osborn, 1820).

13 Gray Lambert, "A Study of the Ecclesiology of Ten Baptist Churches on the American Frontier as Depicted in the Writings of John Taylor," (Unpublished M. Th. Thesis, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1966), p. 22.

14 John Taylor, A History of Ten Baptist Churches (Bloomfield, Ky.: Will H. Homes, 1827), p. 93.