Glimpses Into History
Compiled by: Pat Sproles
In this series of articles, Glimpses Into History, we will be looking at the framework, the foundations of Baptist history, which hopefully will help you understand what our church has stood for traditionally.
Table of Contents:
Glimpses Into History I - Many Worship Styles, One Body
Glimpses Into History II - Patterns of Organizing a Church
Glimpses Into History III - Heritage In the Faith
Glimpses Into History IV - Early Protestant History in Europe
Glimpses Into History V - Roger Williams and Early Baptists in America
Glimpses Into History VI - Colonial Mission Work
Glimpses Into History VII - The 19th Century
Glimpses Into History VIII - The 20th Century
Glimpses Into History IX - Rapid City and First Baptist Church
Glimpses Into History I
Many people ask why there are so many denominations. The answer is that people are different.....and their ways of worshipping are different.......their backgrounds, family traditions, and beliefs are different. Even though we will be looking at our church in relation to other churches, we must always remember that according to Ephesians 4, we are all members of the body of Christ, each with a particular contribution to make and each meeting the need of a certain type of person.
In some churches that you may have visited, such as the Catholic Church and others, you will have noted that the altar is higher and set apart from the people; it is the center of worship. From the altar, the priest celebrates the mass which is the reproduction of Jesus’ death on the cross; the priest gives the blessing that assures the parishioners that they are in good standing with God. In contrast, our church does not have an altar which separates the people from the minister because we believe that every person approaches God in repentance, asking Him for forgiveness. We also adhere to the principle of the priesthood of the believer in which each of us is a priest to our brothers and sisters in Christ, responsible for holding them up before God.
The communion table is on the level of the congregation and provides a place for the Bible. The pulpit is in the center denoting that the Word is the central part of worship. Some churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament in which they feel that the bread actually becomes the body of Christ when it is eaten and the wine which is consumed by the priest represents the sin sacrifice and absolves the people of their sins. In our church, communion is an ordinance in which the bread and juice are symbols of the sacrifice of Jesus and portray the communion of the people with the Holy Spirit and with each other in the bond of fellowship which is Christ’s body, the church.
Please read Romans 14 which will help you to understand that even though we worship in various ways, those who claim the Lord as Savior are one body, working together for the glory of God.
May you be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord. Colossians 1:9
Glimpses Into History II
There are basically three patterns from which churches form their foundations of organization:
One is the presbyterian model. In this case, every church is directed by a board of elders. From this board of elders, a representative is chosen , who along with the minister, is a delegate from the church to the presbytery. This body has legislative authority over the churches. Still higher stands the synod, which includes a number of presbyteries, and then comes the general assembly of the whole denomination. Presbyterian and Reformed churches adhere to this pattern.
A second pattern is the episcopal model. The priest or rector acknowledges his responsibility to the bishop of the diocese. Churches are grouped into dioceses or conferences. The bishop represents the key man of the system. Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches conform to this general pattern.
The third pattern is the congregational model, where the local church stands independent of other churches and its members choose their minister and other officers and manage their own affairs. The churches maintain working relations with one another through associations and conventions , but none of these has authority over the local churches. Baptists, Congregationalists and Disciples are among those who conform to this pattern. In our case, the local church is autonomous and makes its own decisions, however, for the purpose of supporting missions and of working together for the spreading of the gospel, our church is a member of the Prairie/Hills Area, the American Baptist Churches of the Dakotas and the American Baptist Churches, USA. We also support the Baptist World Alliance to which many bodies of Baptists around the world belong.
In our building of the foundation and the framework we need to also look at the responsibilities which come with our structure. When the curtain from the holy of holies was torn away (Matthew 27:51) symbolizing that we are free to approach God as individuals and therefore, we don’t have an altar in our sanctuary, and we place the communion table on our level, we risk bringing God down to where we are.....instead of standing on tiptoe, expectantly reaching up to the sovereign, omnipotent, holy God. When we observe the Lord’s Supper which denotes our communion with others (in which we wait to partake of the bread and the juice together symbolizing that communion), we risk forgetting that ultimately, we are communing with God, and our worship becomes ho hum, so unfitting His divine glory because we sometimes don’t hold the communion time in reverence.
In our Baptist church, we have no written creed or catechism; our beliefs are based solely on the Bible. When we choose not to rely on man-made creeds and instead choose the Bible as our only authority, we risk having no creed at all if we do not diligently study and memorize the scripture. If we do not constantly instruct our children in the Word, we risk not passing on our Christian heritage.
If we believe in the congregational style of church structure, then we should be taking part in the ministry. We are the representatives of our church........there are no others! When we do not participate, we risk having the work of the church go undone.
May the Lord guide you with His Spirit as you consider your part in the building of His Kingdom “May you be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Colossians 1:9
Glimpses Into History III
The early Christian churches, as described in Acts 2:41-47, were groups of people who had known Jesus or had heard and believed in Him soon after his crucifixion. They met separately in homes with no fixed organization. Gradually, the church people realized that an authoritative leadership who remained true to the apostles’ teaching was needed in order to keep the church faithful. Thus, the office of bishop was established. Meanwhile, the Roman Senate, fearing “foreign” religions, demanded that Christians give oath to Caesar. When they refused, the period of persecution by the Romans followed.
Later, in the process of development, the early Christians were influenced by Jewish and even pagan traditions, such as the priest and his sacrifices. Unfortunately, for many the simple faith and hope and love of early Christians was replaced by a reliance upon the external forms of religion for salvation. The priest and the sacrament had become more important than the preacher and his message.
When, about four centuries after Christ, a single bishop at Rome claimed to be the supreme authority over the whole church, the Roman Catholic Church came into being. Catholic, meaning universal, became the church of all the people of western and central Europe from about AD 500-1500. The church became very powerful and dictated what the people would believe and practice. Jerome, one of the church fathers, translated the scriptures from the Hebrew and Greek into the Latin, the language of the church. Most people could not read Latin and had to rely on the interpretation of the scriptures by the priests.
All through the history of Christianity, however, there were devout men and women who sought to put the things of the spirit before the forms and ceremonies of religion. The Waldensians, named after Peter Waldo, were a group of Christians who declared that the sacraments were not the true means of salvation, but that one must have personal faith and that then only should a person be baptized and admitted into the church. Thousands of the Waldensians died as martyrs of their faith, but the movement of anti-Catholicism persisted. The Waldensians were the spiritual forebears of the more radical reformers of the Protestant Reformation, who were called Anabaptists because they rebaptized those believers who had been baptized as infants. They were not yet called Baptists, but they had many of the marks that characterize Baptists. They denied that baptism in infancy brought salvation, but instead, they dedicated their children to God by a simple ceremony. Older persons received baptism as a sign that they had accepted the lordship of Jesus.
The year 1524 stands as a landmark in Anabaptist history. It was then that delegates from various groups with Bibles in their hands came together to compare their interpretations of Scripture, to map out a way of life on the basis of New Testament teaching and to plan for an organization separate from the Catholic church. Remember that three principles were laid down: first, that religion is a voluntary matter not to be determined by Catholic authority; second, that personal faith is the basic thing in religion and should precede baptism; third, that right living after the principles of Jesus is a necessary part of religion. The delegates met in the home of Balthasar Hubmaier, the pastor of the Catholic church in Waldshut, who soon became an Anabaptist leader. This aroused so much opposition that he was imprisoned, tortured, and finally burned at the stake. The Anabaptist movement was broken up by a severe persecution from the civil authorities, Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, both of whom feared the Anabaptists’ beliefs in infant baptism and democratic ideals. But the beliefs of the Anabaptists were embraced by thousands of common folks who spread the word and witness throughout Europe.
We have a marvelous heritage in the faith. We praise God for our ancestors who risked their lives to follow the Lord’s leading. May you, too, be guided by the Spirit. “May you be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Colossians 1:9
Glimpses Into History IV
Not long after Columbus was sailing on his trip to the Americas, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk who was a professor at Wittenburg in Germany, became troubled by the direction the leaders of the church were taking. He rebelled against the greed which had commercialized religion until everything was for sale and he stood against the Catholic principle of obtaining salvation from sin by sacrament and penance instead of by taking a right personal attitude toward God, trusting to Jesus and his way. In 1515, he nailed his famous 95 thesis to the door of the Wittenburg Chapel.
John Calvin was a second leader, who, from his center of influence in Geneva, began to sway the opinions of large numbers of people in France and influenced the course of religious history in England and Scotland.
Meanwhile, the Anabaptists, who were more radical than Luther and Calvin, were being persecuted in Germany and fled to the Netherlands where they took the name of Mennonites after Menno Simons, who brought clear thinking and a noble personality to the Anabaptist ranks.
In England, the king and parliament rejected the authority of the pope over the English church and established the Church of England. A group of people did not believe the reforms of the new church were thorough enough in changing the dictates of the Catholic church. They became known as Puritans because they wanted to purify the Church of England. Some of the Puritans were willing to wait for these changes to occur while others withdrew from the Church of England to form their own organization. They were called Separatists; some of whom became Baptists, some Congregationalists and some Quakers. Separatists, of whatever name, could be said to be the first cousins of those Anabaptists on the Continent, because they based their beliefs on the Bible and resolved that only genuine Christians should join the church.
Pastor John Smythe, a graduate of Cambridge, could not be reconciled to the Church of England whose changes from the Catholic church were mainly political. He led a group of exiles to the Netherlands where they could live unmolested by the English government. There they met others with like beliefs who were Congregationalists because they based their church structure on the congregational style of a personal relationship with the individual soul and God, and the local independence of each church with no higher church authority. Smythe and his followers became a part of the Mennonite fellowship in the Netherlands. Another leader named Thomas Helwys led a group of believers back from the Netherlands to London to establish the first Baptist church in England. Smythe and Helwys both emphasized believer’s baptism as opposed to infant baptism and this became the principle which separated them from the Congregationalists.
The period of civil wars in England was beginning. An outstanding Baptist pastor during this time of unrest was John Bunyan. He was thrown in prison because he broke the law prohibiting public religious meetings which were not sanctioned by the Church of England. While in prison, he wrote the book Pilgrim’s Progress, which explained the Christian life.
The church founded by these early leaders in England was called the General Baptist Church because its members believed that the act of Jesus Christ on the cross represented an act of divine grace for all the people of the world, in other words, general atonement.....”For God so loved the World......” Baptists also began to insist on baptism by immersion, symbolizing not only the death and resurrection of Jesus but the burial of the former self when one commits his life to Christ and the emergence into a new and more purposeful life.
The emphasis laid by Baptists upon the immersion of believers has led to the mistaken idea held by many people, even by some Baptists, that baptism is necessary for salvation. Roman Catholics and some Protestants have thought of baptism as a necessary sacrament and that belief helps to justify to them the practice of infant baptism. Baptists give special emphasis to the symbolism of the ordinance, believing that it affords an outward sign of the inner spiritual experience and a fixed purpose to live a Christian life through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What wonderful stories of faithfulness and commitment we have heard....and these are but a few of the men and women who made up “that great cloud of witnesses” who have gone on before us. “May we, too, be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Colossians 1:9.
Glimpses Into History V
In 1620, a group of pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in the new world after leaving their homes in England, suffering exile in Holland for the sake of religion and then even crossing three thousand miles of ocean so that they might live under the English flag. Ten years later, a fleet of English ships dropped anchor forty miles farther north and left several hundred Puritans to make settlements in Boston and its vicinity. Because they had not been able to “purify” the church of England and preferred to venture fortune and freedom in a new country where they could fashion their own church and state, they had followed the Pilgrims to America. They adopted the congregational policies of Plymouth and managed their own affairs without the aid or interference of the Church of England.
While these Puritans changed the church order, they did not give up the idea of a state church, but they desired it to be under their control. They had no intention of admitting into their colony those who did not agree with them. In order to make sure of control they decided to permit no one to vote in the affairs of the colony except church members, and their Colonial assembly or legislature made regulations for the churches and taxed everybody for church support. They feared that lack of harmony might wreck their small settlement or that reports of disagreement and disturbance might get to England and make trouble for them. So they expelled from the colony several persons who exercised too much freedom of speech in criticizing the Puritan experiment on Massachusetts Bay.
One of those persons was Roger Williams. At first, Williams seemed harmless enough; he was a graduate of Cambridge University and he had been a minister in the established church with Puritan leanings, even as other church leaders in the new colony had been. But he found it difficult to comply with the regulation of religious matters by civil authorities. When he wore out his welcome in Boston, he went to Salem, to Plymouth and back to Salem. When he deliberately declared that the Colonial magistrates had no right to interfere with a man’s religion but that each individual ought to enjoy religious liberty, that church and state should be regarded as distinct, each in its own sphere, the authorities considered him as a public nuisance and a dangerous person to have around. (These were Anabaptist principles that he was proclaiming).
He had said other things that the authorities did not like: He had charged that the settlers dealt unfairly with the Indians in taking over their land and that they should have come out plainly and declared their separation from the Church of England. It is not surprising that the Puritans drew up an act of banishment against him in 1635 and threatened to deport him to England. He fled and took refuge among the Indians who were his friends.
Picture Roger Williams as he waded through the snowdrifts to an Indian wigwam because his fellow countrymen would not listen to his principle of a free religion of a free state. Then picture another scene one hundred and fifty years later, when the representatives of thirteen American states in Congress voted as the first amendment to the new Federal Constitution that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”
In the spring of 1636, Roger Williams bought from the Indians a piece of land over the Massachusetts border and founded Providence which became the nucleus of the colony of Rhode Island. (He brought with him a young man who was an ancestor of Gordon Lease and Charlotte Stover.) He became troubled in conscience about the christening that he had received as a child in the Church of England and ask one of his friends to baptize him, then he himself baptized 11 others and they formed the first Baptist church in America at Providence. He later became dissatisfied with any kind of group religion and became a Seeker, though remaining a friend of the Baptists. In 1643, he returned to England to obtain a charter for his colony at Providence. Providence, and all of Rhode Island, became a haven for those who were seeking religious freedom.
The First Baptist Church in America was originally a meeting house and then a church was built which still stands. The steeple is 80 feet high and was put up in layers by ship builders who were out of work because it was erected during the time of the Boston Tea Party when all shipping was stopped. The sanctuary seats 1300 and is still in use today for services and for the commencement exercises of Brown University which was also founded by Baptists.
Roger Williams stood for a proposition that since has been accepted as one of the basic principles on which the American nation rests. The experience of the churches in Europe demonstrates plainly that too close a connection with the state leads to tyranny over the churches and to interference with people in the matter of religion. If true religion is primarily a personal relationship between man and God, then no government has a right to meddle. Often Baptists who believe in religious liberty take another track than other Christian bodies in standing for the rights of every person to worship God in the way he or she chooses. We have seen in the past, as well as in current times, that when the church or the government exercises too much control over the other, power corrupts.
“May we be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Col. 1:9
GLIMPSES OF HISTORY VI
After Roger Williams’ time, Baptist churches began to be established in the northern colonies. Isaac Backus, an early evangelist, wrote a history of the Baptists in New England. Another man, Hezekiah Smith, a graduate of Princeton College, was a minister of the Baptist church in Haverhill, Mass, for forty years. He was one of a number of Baptist chaplains in the army of the Revolution. He later rode more that 4000 miles through the south preaching the Word.
Soon after Backus and Smith and others were evangelizing the Americas and building colleges and seminaries, several young men felt the call to go to other countries to spread the gospel. They had read about William Carey, a British Baptist, who. although he was only a self-taught cobbler in London, dared to trust God to make him a great missionary. On faith, he went to Calcutta, India to establish mission work there. These young college and seminary students were impressed by the work of Carey. One night they found themselves taking shelter under a haystack during a rainstorm. Thus was born the famous haystack prayer meeting. One of the leaders of the group was Adoniram Judson, son of a Congregational minister and recently graduated with high honors from Brown University. We are pleased to have Adoniram visiting with us today.
Thank you for coming, Adoniram. Could you tell us a little more about what happened at that haystack prayer meeting? My friends and I prayed together about what we felt was the call of God on us to travel to some foreign lands to spread the gospel. From that unusual circumstance, we planned and formed the Board of Foreign Missions for the Congregational Church to raise money for sending missionaries abroad. Weren’t you about to be married to Ann Hazeltine? Yes, and I can’t say that her parents were very supportive of my marrying their daughter and taking her far away to a dangerous and foreign land from where we might never return. In fact, Ann’s father said that if the Lord wanted to save the heathens, He could do it himself! But Ann was as determined as I and along with other members of the Haystack group which now called themselves The Brethern, we set sail for India to meet with Dr. Carey.
On the trip, I understand that some events happened which altered your plans..... On the long voyage, both my friend, Luther Rice, and I became convinced from our study of the New Testament that believers’ baptism by immersion was the correct interpretation of the scriptures.
How did this revelation change your plans? We knew that we could not baptize infants when we arrived at our new mission field. Since we had been sent out as representatives of the Congregational Board, we knew that, in good conscience, we could not accept their support in our endeavor. So Luther Rice went back to America to raise money among the Baptists for our missionary plans.
Because of widespread interest in you and your cause, Colonial Baptists met in Philadelphia and formed, on May 21, 1814, the “General Missionary Convention of the Baptist denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions.” Adoniram, we know that you landed in India and met with Carey...and then traveled on to Burma with the support of the Baptists. What were some of your experiences there?
I served in Burma 37 years and during that time, I suffered incredible hardships, suffering, frustration, the loss of my beloved Ann and my children. During the Anglo-Burmese War, all foreigners were considered suspect so I was put in prison for 2 years, beaten and starved.
What made you continue through all these trials? God’s faithfulness and His constant presence. I was able to translate the complete Bible into the Burmese language and I produced the first Burmese-English dictionary. Because God’s spirit was in the work in Burma, it was successful. I labored with the people, living with them and ministering to them for six years before there was one convert. But praise God, Maung Naw was a wonderful man and drew others so that the work began to grow.
The Lord was certainly with you in this tremendous endeavor - and we thank you, Adoniram, for coming today to tell your story. Because of your dedication, we have been able to benefit from your perseverance and faithfulness.
Adoniram died on a voyage in an attempt to regain his failing health and was buried at sea.He leaves us with a rich legacy of the importance of missions on which our denomination was founded.
We still use the pattern which he began in the establishing and continuing of mission work in the American Baptist Churches: Missionaries must be motivated by a call of God and a divine purpose. They must prepare themselves prayerfully and educationally. As Judson graduated from Brown University and studied Hebrew, Greek and Latin, present-day missionaries study the language and culture of the country to where they are going. They are supported by the denomination. They do not take the lead, but minister with the nationals, training them to take over the work of spreading the gospel, healing the sick or planting and harvesting crops. Property and holdings are owned by our national Christian colleagues.
Since 1966, foreign missionaries have not been allowed in Burma or Myn Mar as it is now called, but work continues to go on through the Burma Baptist Convention. At the present time there are approximately 3000 Baptist churches in Burma!
“May we, too, be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Colossians 1:9.
Glimpses Into History VII
At the same time that men and women came to America for greater freedom than Europe could give to them in the seventeenth century, other people in the American East, in the nineteenth century, looked to the Mississippi Valley and beyond for the opportunities that had passed them by. A steady progress of these pioneer farmers crossing prairie and plain marked the building of a nation. Many of them had a Christian heritage. They knew that the prosperity of the region to which they went in the long run depended on the basic principles of morals and religion. Yet, it was easy to forget, easy to be so absorbed in the things of every day, that they would neglect these principles. Because some did neglect it, frontier life took on certain sinister aspects. Lawlessness and crime, land grabs, unfair treatment of Indians blotted the pages of frontier history. These conditions challenged the Baptists and other denominations to meet human need through home missions.
The General Convention of Baptists had been formed in 1814 expressly to promote foreign mission plans. In 1832, a home mission organization was created to make missions in America its primary purpose. Many missionaries were sent out including John Mason Peck, who, with his family set out in a one-horse wagon on an overland journey of one thousand miles to the frontier post of St. Louis. He founded churches, schools and an academy which grew into Shurtleff College. Although he endured perils of rivers, perils of the wilderness, of cold, hunger and weariness, he did not falter or fail because he felt that he was doing God’s work.
1861 brought about the beginning of the War Between The States which greatly affected the churches and their mission. The General Convention was split because of the war, and became the Southern Baptist Convention and the Northern Baptist Convention. On March 1, 1861, Congress passed an act for setting up the Dakota Territory; in November of 1889, South Dakota became recognized as a state. As people continued to forge westward, the convention sent other missionaries who were called of God to minister to those hardy pioneers. In 1901, the South Dakota Convention voted that we “undertake to furnish one colporter wagon and outfit to be employed within the state of South Dakota, and that pastors be encouraged to solicit subscriptions of one dollar or more and that the Sunday Schools be requested to devote to this object their regular collection on the last Sunday in October, 1901. $729.45 was brought in. The entire cost of the wagon, plus the horses and harness, cooking utensils, mattress, pillows, sheets, blankets, and a baby organ was $603.40. Thus a surplus of $116.05 was applied on the salary of the district missionary to be employed by the convention. The missionary traveled around the state in the colporter wagon ministering to those folks in isolated places on the prairie. This wagon has been restored by Rev. Sandy Akers, the pastor at Vermillion, and is on display there. Later, colporter railroad cars were established which hooked onto trains which were going through the territory. The cars were furnished with a small chapel and organ as well as living quarters for the missionary. When the train stopped at a town, the car would be sidetracked so that the missionary could stay there for a time, conducting services and ministering to the needs of the people. There are colporter cars on display at Madison, SD and at the Green Lake Assembly grounds.
A dedicated missionary who came to western South Dakota for the Northern Baptist Convention in 1919 was John W. Wynn of Marion, Ohio. Bill Johnson was 12 years old when he first met Rev. Wynn and he has written this story. “Rev. Winn had instructions to establish a mission field to include Sturgis, Clough, Chalk Butte, Red Owl, White Owl, Pedro, Dowling (Vernon Burns was baptized in a stock dam near Dowling) and Creighton. This created a parish which was wedge shaped and was about 100 miles long and 50 miles wide at the wide end. He was a man past 45 who had never ridden a horse but he bought a pair of boots and a cowboy hat and decided to cover this field by saddle horse. We owned a good sorrel horse well gated and easy riding. We called him “Laddie”. Rev. Wynn bought him and changed his name to “Roger Williams.” (If the horse resented this change of name he never showed it.) He covered this immense territory on this horse for many years. He established Sunday Schools or churches at all of the above places. We attended the dedication of the Pedro church in the summer of 1926 which was also attended by the Governor of the state, Hon. Carl Gunderson. My mother made a huge kettle of corn meal mush --not my idea of a tasty dish--but everyone said they liked it, including the Governor. After this repast we went to the river which is not far from the church and quite a number of people were baptized that day. He helped establish the first Camp Judson in Bear Gulch west of Pactola where a cabin was named for him. He had the first dinner bell for it shipped out from Marion, Ohio. That bell has since been replaced by one secured from an abandoned church in North Dakota. He and three other evangelists went to Belle Fourche in 1928 and re-activated the First Baptist church there and they built a new church which they use today. He loved to sing and I still remember his slightly raspy tenor voice leading the congregation in “Trust and Obey” which was surely what he did all the time he served the people of western South Dakota. Surely no other man has had the impact on the work of the Baptist church in western South Dakota as John W. Wynn of Marion, Ohio.” (Oliver Bradford was baptized by Rev. Winn in Spring Creek near Folsom, SD)
May we, too, have that same fervent spirit in spreading the gospel, “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Colossians 1:9.
Glimpses Into History VIII
There were many dedicated American Baptist women who have championed the cause of Christ down through the years. Among them was Ida Scudder, a medical missionary to South India, who founded the hospital at Vellore, a nursing school, a school of pharmacy and a medical college in 1915 for women and one for men in 1947. An interesting and exciting book called Dr. Ida has been written about her work in India in the early 20th century.
Another interesting and inspiring woman in American Baptist history was Helen Barrett Montgomery and I am pleased and honored to introduce her as our new president of the Northern Baptist Convention. Helen has had an outstanding career serving the Lord. Not only did she and her husband teach Bible classes for more than 40 years at the Lake Avenue Baptist Church, in Rochester, N.Y., but she was active in the community as well. With Susan B. Anthony, she formed the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union to meet the needs of poor working women and their families. Her concern for women and children led her to serve 10 years on the Rochester School Board, the first woman elected to public office in the city, 21 years before women won the right to vote. She became President of the Women’s Foreign Mission Society, helping to found the World Wide Guild which is now the AB Girls, and was one of the women responsible for developing the World Day of Prayer. Now it is 1921, and Helen Barrett Montgomery has just been elected as President of the Northern Baptist Convention, the first woman chosen to head a major Protestant denomination. Helen, we are anxious to hear about your exciting and challenging life.
Perhaps you would be interested in hearing a little more about my personal background. In 1884, after graduating from Wellesley College, I returned home to Rochester to marry William Montgomery. We began our marriage on our knees, pledging that we would give our whole lives without reserve to God’s service.....we consecrated our lives to God’s work in the world, promising to make this work our first thought.
Will was a very successful businessman and so our life together seemed grand and beautiful. However, Will decided to back a young inventor who was working on a self-starter for automobiles, and this adventure almost caused us to be sidetracked from our pledge of putting God’s work first in our lives. Will said, “ Remember Helen, when a man recently almost lost his life because the emergency brake was not on and he cranked the car, causing it to run over him?” And I too, thought of another incident when a person had broken his wrist trying to crank his car when it was very cold. Yes, I agreed that Will should continue to put our money behind the man who was working on this worthwhile invention; however, day by day, our financial resources shrank steadily. The pastor came to Will and me suggesting that we should decrease our pledge to the church. “No, no, Pastor,” Will replied, “We’ll never cut our pledge to the church, no matter what comes.” When the Pastor heard that I had sold our grand piano, which I loved, he again came to us trying to alleviate our financial troubles by suggesting that we lower our pledge to the church. Again, Will said that we appreciated the concern of the pastor, but we could not cut our pledge as long as we had any way of raising the money. The pastor and a group of church members began to pray with us that the invention would be a success and that God would honor our loyalty and steadfastness. And God did! The invention was a success. Soon it was a great success and we were able to greatly increase our gifts to the church!
Now that we were in more comfortable circumstances, I was able to pursue my love of the Greek language and I am grateful that God gave me the ability to translate the New Testament from the original Greek into English. In this work, I made it my aim to offer a translation in the language of everyday life....To make a translation chiefly designed for the ordinary reader and intended to remove the veil that a literary or formal translation inevitably puts between the reader of average education and the meaning of the text. The translation is called The New Testament in Modern English.
In my address to the delegates of the Northern Baptist Convention I included these lines: “One of the good heritages that came to us out of the Civil War was the consciousness that we must either, as soldier boy expressed it, ‘put up or shut up’; that we could not continue to sing ‘The Light of the World is Jesus’ and ‘Jesus Shall Reign Where’er The Sun Does His Successive Journeys Run’, and contribute only our loose change to make him King and Lord. We must either abandon our claim of His supremacy and our devotion to His cause or square our gifts with our claims”. I wanted to inspire that great gathering of people to consecrate their whole lives without reserve to God’s service as Will and I had done so many years before.
I further challenged them with these words: “We Baptists may be proud of our history. We are trustees of some great principles, never more needed by the world than now. Let us not betray them. We Baptists adhere to a democratic structure, which is a model to the Protestant world. The local church is our depository of Ecclesiastical authority. The association has no authority over the local church, the state convention has no authority over the association, and the Northern Baptist Convention has no authority over the state convention. All these are voluntary cooperative associations created for the sake of greater effectiveness in the business of the Kingdom. But as those who hold to democratic principles, we regard the right to cooperate as equally sacred as the right to differ. It is ours to prove that without abandoning our democracy we can learn to stand shoulder to shoulder in the cooperative prosecution of the great tasks of the Kingdom.”
I praise God for His gracious gifts to me and his continual guidance and presence in my life that has allowed me to work to further His kingdom on earth. Helen Barrett Montgomery’s translation was published by the American Baptist Publication Society in 1924. She is the only woman to have translated the entire New Testament from the original Greek into English. Shortly after her death in 1934, Missions magazine remembered Helen Barrett Montgomery’s remarkable life of faith and service. In a tribute to her, Susan Laws noted, “What words can we summon to express a tribute worthy of this noble Christian? Time would fail us to speak of her love for our missionaries, her genius for friendship, her delightful sense of humor.....her open-hearted hospitality. She was gifted with many gifts which she used wisely and well....Around the world women of many lands, women of many denominations, join hands and hearts in praising God for the beautiful life of Helen Barrett Montgomery.”
May we, too, “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Colossians 1:9.
Glimpses Into History IX
In 1881, a call was issued to all the churches and pastors in the Dakota Territory to meet together on the shores of Lake Madison for a Camp Meeting. Several questions were addressed at that meeting such as, should an institution of learning be established and should a convention of Baptists be formed? A resolution was adopted urging the establishment of an institution of learning in the territory and also of furthering action on bringing together a convention of Baptists. In the midst of the Sunday morning worship at the camp meeting, word was received that President Garfield had been shot. The audience was shocked beyond words. The completion of the resolutions was set aside until 1882, when the Southern Dakota Baptist Convention was formed and officers were elected. The establishment of the Dakota Collegiate Institute was established with the adoption of this resolution: “That it is our duty to watch with vigilance the indication of Providence with reference to the establishment of an institution of learning in Dakota.” The first classes were held in the basement of First Baptist Church of Sioux Falls until the foundation for the school was laid in 1883. In the summer of 1885, the school was formally organized and became known as Sioux Falls University.
The town of Rapid City was established in 1876 by John Brennan, who was Helen Wrede’s grandfather. What started out as a mere hay camp eventually grew into the second largest city in South Dakota.
The First Baptist Church was founded on June 16, 1889, the same year that South Dakota was granted statehood. The first church met above a saloon. Dr. Shahafelt, appointed by the Northern Baptist Home Mission Society as a missionary to the brand-new state, came to the Hills in 1889. He said of his experiences, “Not only is there gold in the Hills, but Baptists are scattered everywhere; and in nearly every locality they are scattered like sheep not having a shepherd.” There were ten charter members of the church, among them Jennie Brennan, Helen’s grandmother, who also played the organ for the little group. On July 1, 1889, Rev. G.S. Clevenger became pastor and continued with them six years. Rev. Clevenger was a product of western New York and of Denison University. He wrote, “We were determined to lift up the standard of Christ in Godless Dakota.” He had pastored churches in Brookings and Vermillion and he described those towns “where stores were open and business was conducted on the Sabbath about as on any other day. This worldliness on the part of Christian people made progress in the churches for a time very slow. When we came to the Black Hills, we again plunged into the wilderness. We found a little band of ten persons organized into a Baptist Church. They did not possess even a singing book.”
After six years, Rev. Clevenger closed his work in Rapid City; the church had grown to 73 persons. The congregation purchased a little church on Columbus Street (it’s now on the corner of 5th and St. Patrick.) They later purchased a lot on Kansas City Street, “but all they had was a basement for a while,” Helen Wrede relates, “that’s all the money they could raise.” The building was completed and the parsonage was attached as a part of the church building.
Recently Helen heard from Rev. Johnson, who was pastor from 1943-1948, and he said that he remembered living with his family in the parsonage where the pipes of the organ in the sanctuary were just on the other side of the wall of the family’s bedroom. He recalled one time when he was conducting a wedding and his little child peeked his head out around the front of the sanctuary. He had escaped from his mother and wandered from his home into the church proper. In 1957, land was bought on the very edge of town for the purpose of constructing a new church building. The building which is used at the present time was completed and dedicated in 1958.
A camp was a dream of the early Baptist pioneers and in 1924, the South Dakota Convention acquired the lease from the United States Forestry Service for a location known then as Bear Gulch, just to the west of the little town of Pactola. In the winter of 1925-1926, $200 was appropriated for the erection of an administration building and a kitchen and dining room. The name of Camp Judson was decided upon. The name symbolized for us a great life, that of Adoniram Judson, first great American missionary to Burma, and the great missionary motive and movement which has characterized Baptists all down through the years. When it was placed in large letters on the front of the new building, a conversation was overheard among a railroad section crew at work in front of the grounds. One of them said “Who is this guy, Judson, I wonder.” Another replied, “I suppose he is a big guy with lots of money, like Rockerfellow, and they thought they would get some of it by naming their camp for him.” The camp rapidly grew in favor and became warmly fixed in the affections of Baptists, old and young, during the next two decades.
In 1952, the Bureau of Reclamation decided to build Pactola Dam, and the camp had to be relocated as it had been built in the canyon which was to be flooded. Ted Scholl, an outstanding leader in our congregation, set about finding a new location for the camp. It is said that he was driving down the road between Hill City and Keystone, looked up on the hill and said “This is it”. He was very instrumental in making trips to Washington and working tirelessly to facilitate a trade between the Bear Gulch land at Pactola and the new piece of land on the old Hill City Road. The Chapel at the camp is named Scholl Hall in honor of Ted Scholl. Ted was very active in the life of our church and is well remembered by many people.
Another outstanding leader of our church was Dr. Sterling Palmerton. He was known and revered by the entire community of Rapid City but especially by his patients and colleagues at the Eye Institute and of course, by those of us who knew him at First Baptist Church. He lived the Beatitudes and exemplified the servant role which Christ taught. His picture is in our parlor and the Labor Day Retreat is now named the Palmerton Labor Day Retreat.
There are many others who have been examples of the Christian life in the midst of our congregation through the years. Take a few moments right now to honor them and to thank God in prayer for the heritage they have given us.
May all of us be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord.” Colossians 1:9.