Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist History V

An Era of Growth and Ferment
1865 - 1930

The years between the Civil War and the beginning of the Great Depression saw enormous growth and change in the United States. The frontier was declared closed by the 1890 Census. Industrial growth and new inventions transformed American life bringing increased urbanization accompanied by both economic opportunity and new social and political stresses. It was a time of labor turmoil, high immigration, the resurgence of racial bigotry, but also of optimism and of popular movements for social reform.

A.H. Lewis
Growth and Change. During this period Seventh Day Baptists remained largely a northern and a rural people. The latter partly because it was easier to keep the Sabbath if your vocation allowed you to control your own work schedule. But more urban churches began to appear. By 1900 some 116 churches claimed almost ten thousand members. Part of that growth was due to a vigorous effort, led by A.H. Lewis, to engage other Christians in discussion of the importance of the seventh-day Sabbath.

Women. By 1866 there were women serving as delegates to General Conference. A Woman’s Board was created in 1886. Seventh Day Baptist colleges admitted women. A few churches called women to serve in the pastorate. Others were missionaries. Two reform movements, closely linked, were Temperance and Women’s Suffrage. The consumption of alcoholic beverages, increasing numbers believed, caused behavior that had particularly devastating effects on families. Consequently, women were at the forefront of the fight for Prohibition, and brewers and distillers were at the forefront of the fight against giving them the vote. Seventh Day Baptist churches hosted chapters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union [WCTU] which led the fight against alcohol and for the vote. Seventh Day Baptist pastors spoke at their meetings and were active in the Anti-Saloon League.

A.E. Main
Fundamentalism and Modernism. It was an increasingly common belief by the turn of the 20th century that progress in politics, society and morality was inevitable. The appearance of new inventions, always seeming better than the old, combined with the impact of the theory of evolution and undeniable social improvement led to an optimism unknown in earlier eras. Those factors combined with the new biblical criticism to cause division among Christians. One response was to discard doctrines and “myths” that seemed discredited and out of date and to adapt to what seemed a new reality. The resulting theological movement was known as Modernism or Liberalism. Those defending biblical orthodoxy became known as Fundamentalists. The disputes arising from these differences were serious among Seventh Day Baptists, resulting in rival publications, debates at Conference, and the refusal of some ministerial candidates to attend the seminary at Alfred, which was considered liberal. The denomination did not split, but one consequence was a Statement of Belief, adopted in 1937, which attempted to find "unity in diversity." Divisions rooted in these disputes surfaced throughout the 20th century.

Seventh Day Baptist Building, Plainfield, NJ
During this period there were several efforts to unify and make more efficient the various agencies and ministries that identified with the Seventh Day Baptist denomination. These attempts had only mixed and incomplete success but an important symbolic milestone in the effort was the construction and opening of the Seventh Day Baptist Denominational Building in Plainfield, New Jersey, at the end of 1929.

Includes material from: Don Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, 1992

The first picture is of A.H. Lewis. Then A.E. Main, a leading Modernist in the denomination. The last is of the Seventh Day Baptist Building, Plainfield, NJ, headquarters of the denomination from 1929 until 1982 when the offices moved to Janesville, WI.

The next in the series: "Seventh Day Baptist History VI - '...To Other Parts of the World'"

This series begins with: "Seventh Day Baptist History I - Seventh Day Baptist Origins"

Links to all of the posts about Seventh Day Baptist History can be found here.

This series of short summaries of Seventh Day Baptist history is part of a project undertaken for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, which maintains its archives and a museum in Janesville, Wisconsin.
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