Friday, April 11, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist History VII

Defining Who We Are
America, 1930 -

The modern era, especially the last half century, has confronted everyone—not just Seventh Day Baptists—with challenges. Urbanization, rapid technological change, social and political turmoil, increased diversity of every kind, have each provided opportunity to succeed in new ways or to fail.

Churches increasingly appeared in urban and suburban settings. The rural and ethnically homogeneous character of the denomination changed and the denomination became more defined by doctrine and less by family relationship.

Sen. Jennings Randolph, WV
There were continuing efforts to gain greater efficiencies through reorganization and coordination of the offices and agencies of the denomination. In 1963 the School of Theology at Alfred University closed and was replaced by a Center on Ministry which coordinated the education of theological students at a variety of other – usually Baptist – seminaries. There was a later consolidation of some denominational ministries and denominational offices moved, in 1981, from Plainfield, NJ, to Janesville, WI.

New approaches for nurturing and encouraging the faith and participation of young people were instituted:
  • Summer camps
  • Pre-Conference retreats for high school youth and young adults
  • The Summer Christian Service Corps [SCSC] - youth receiving training and serving a church during summer vacations.
Late in the 20th century, many Christians, feeling that doctrinal differences among denominational groups were unimportant, focused more on their local churches—and gave less financial support to denominational ministries. There were continuing tensions between theological Liberals and Evangelicals, somewhat complicated by the advent of the charismatic movement. New styles of worship both engaged and repelled churchgoers. Seventh Day Baptists were affected by all of these things.

Seventh Day Baptists have spanned the modern Protestant theological spectrum, from Fundamentalist to Evangelical to Liberal – but, unlike some denominations, didn’t split. Over time, however, decisions were made that defined the denomination more clearly:
  • The General Conference was a charter member of the Federal Council of Churches [later the National Council of Churches] as well as the World Council of Churches. During the 1950s and 60s these affiliations became contentious. The organizations were increasingly viewed as theologically and politically Liberal. In 1973 Seventh Day Baptists withdrew from the National Council of Churches. Three years later General Conference voted to leave the World Council of Churches.
  • When the Alfred School of Theology closed in 1964 the new program supported students at the seminaries of other denominations. Given the opportunity, students have increasingly chosen to attend schools identifiably Evangelical and conservative in theology.
  • The Statement of Belief, adopted in 1987 with very little controversy, is unambiguously Trinitarian and doctrinally orthodox.
These and other actions indicated a trend toward theological conservatism and a general identification with Evangelical Protestantism. A broad variety of theological conviction continues among Seventh Day Baptists and we have largely avoided the angry and acrimonious disputes which have sometimes characterized similar differences elsewhere.

Responding to a questioner who wanted to know why Baptists generally seemed to know nothing about Seventh Day Baptists, a Baptist pastor recently wrote “I imagine that they are not well known because they are 1) still a fairly small denomination, and 2) they are irenic enough not to make waves.”

Seventh Day Baptists are still seeking ways to convey who we are – and thus become larger and better known – without losing those characteristics that would cause someone to think us a moderate and peaceful people.

Source: Don Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, 1992

The picture is of Jennings Randolph, a Seventh Day Baptist, who represented West Virginia in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

The next and last in the series: Seventh Day Baptist History VIII: We Glorify His Name - Seventh Day Baptists Sing

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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