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The Oxford History of Protestant Dissenting Traditions, Volume IIIThe Nineteenth Century$
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Timothy Larsen and Michael Ledger-Lomas

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199683710

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199683710.001.0001

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(p.57) 2 Baptists
The Oxford History of Protestant Dissenting Traditions, Volume III

Ian Randall

Oxford University Press

The nineteenth century was a period of remarkable advance for the Baptists in the United Kingdom. The vigour of the Baptist movement was identified with the voluntary system and the influence of their leading pulpiteers, notably Charles Haddon Spurgeon. However, Baptists were often divided on the strictness of their Calvinism, the question of whether baptism as a believer was a prerequisite for participation in Communion, and issues connected with ministerial training. By the end of the century, some Baptists led by F.B. Meyer had recognized the ministry of women as deaconesses, if not as pastors. Both domestic and foreign mission were essential to Baptist activity. The Baptist Home Missionary Society assumed an important role here, while Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College became increasingly significant in supplying domestic evangelists. Meyer played an important role in the development, within Baptist life, of interdenominational evangelism, while the Baptist Missionary Society and its secretary Joseph Angus supplied the Protestant missionary movement with the resonant phrase ‘The World for Christ in our Generation’. In addition to conversionism, Baptists were also interested in campaigning against the repression of Protestants and other religious minorities on the Continent. Baptist activities were supported by institutions: the formation of the Baptist Union in 1813 serving Particular Baptists, as well as a range of interdenominational bodies such as the Evangelical Alliance. Not until 1891 did the Particular Baptists merge with the New Connexion of General Baptists, while theological controversy continued to pose fresh challenges to Baptist unity. Moderate evangelicals such as Joseph Angus who occupied a respectable if not commanding place in nineteenth-century biblical scholarship probably spoke for a majority of Baptists. Yet when in 1887 Charles Haddon Spurgeon alleged that Baptists were drifting into destructive theological liberalism, he provoked the ‘Downgrade Controversy’. In the end, a large-scale secession of Spurgeon’s followers was averted. In the area of spirituality, there was an emphasis on the agency of the Spirit in the church. Some later nineteenth-century Baptists were drawn towards the emphasis of the Keswick Convention on the power of prayer and the ‘rest of faith’. At the same time, Baptists became increasingly active in the cause of social reform. Undergirding Baptist involvement in the campaign to abolish slavery was the theological conviction—in William Knibb’s words—that God ‘views all nations as one flesh’. By the end of the century, through initiatives such as the Baptist Forward Movement, Baptists were championing a widening concern with home mission that involved addressing the need for medical care and housing in poor areas. Ministers such as John Clifford also took a leading role in shaping the ‘Nonconformist Conscience’ and Baptists supplied a number of leading Liberal MPs, most notably Sir Morton Peto. Their ambitions to make a difference in the world would peak in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century as their political influence gradually waned thereafter.

Keywords:   Joseph Angus, Baptist, Baptist Missionary Society, Baptist Union, John Clifford, Downgrade Controversy, Evangelical Alliance, F.B. Meyer, Nonconformist Conscience, Pastors’ College, William Knibb, Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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