Friday, July 24, 2009

Another Ulster hymn

A folky version of "Haven of Rest", written by Londonderry man Henry Gilmour (1836 - 1920).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Ulster-Scots language future

Deep breath. Devil's Advocate time. Is there a future for Ulster-Scots language? The heritage stuff, the historical stuff, the cultural stuff, the light entertainment fluff - these have appeal and plenty of people involved or interested. But the language? Nah.

From what I've observed over the past few years, hardly anyone cares enough about the language to give it a future. The way the media froth about it as an issue you'd think that it was a huge public concern. Aye right.

During the 20th century there was ongoing large scale population change in Ulster. Two world wars / emigration to Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand / the emergence of a national and international mass media / emphasis on education and "getting on" / an emerging affluence and educated class / the Troubles opt-out which saw many seek refuge in yacht clubs and golf clubs, or who just upped and left for GB / the bourgeoisification of the countryside that saw wealthy town dwellers buying up the rural dwellings and which drove wedges through the rural communities / the Troubles momentum that caused people to move out of the urban areas into the small market towns and villages - these things and more all decimated that older population that grew up with naturally spoken Ulster-Scots language and a more primitive way of life.

Meaning that by the time "peace" arrived in the mid 1990s and Ulster-Scots was getting attention for the first time in a generation, the pool of genuine Ulster-Scots language speakers to draw upon was already at an all-time low. And those speakers didn't recognise the importance and value of their own speech.

10 years ago there was an opportunity to capture the natural Ulster-Scots speech of this older, pre-mass media generation. But half of those people are now dead - and unrecorded. There are maybe ten years left until all of them are dead. And then naturally-spoken Ulster-Scots will be gone. Apart from a few words and the odd expression here and there which survive as part of general Ulster English, it'll be finished. Sheughs and oxters will continue to raise a smile, or a smirk, but that's about all.

My father's generation (he's 64) reminisce about local characters, rural folkways, manual horse-drawn farming, the idyllic but poverty-stricken 40s and 50s, of life before "The Troubles". My generation (I'm 37) reminisces about tv programmes, toys of the 70s, fashion and pop music - but only faint fading glimmers of the life that my parents knew so well, and which had changed very little in the previous 100 years.

The Ulster Folk Museum to my parents is their childhood. To me it's a nostalgia trip, or a time machine that takes me to a place I didn't live in and only heard older people talk about. They had Burns' poetry and kailyard novels in the house - I had the Broons annual. They drew water from the well every day with a bucket, and tried to not catch the eel that was down in there which kept the water clean - I had an immersion heater. They can remember going to school in bare feet - I had Nike trainers for PE. That generational transformation includes massive language shift, from the once-widespread use of rurally-preserved but establishment-ignored Ulster-Scots, to a world of mass-media and international English. Even today in the Irish Gaeltacht (ie Gaelic speaking) regions, I'm told the best selling newspapers are the English tabloids.

Ulster-Scots language will dwindle and remain the interest of the dedicated few who genuinely love it. And it'll provide intellectual cud for the anoraks and academics, nostalgia for the luddites and fuel for the identity zealots. And perhaps it'll be exploited by those who see the current gravy train as a way of building personal empires - but which will be light years removed from general public interest. Public sector signage, job adverts in the papers that tick some equality box will ultimately attract further public disdain and scorn - and thereby damage the overall Ulster-Scots momentum. Because in reality, to 99% of the population, Ulster-Scots language will be a fossil, an extinct Dodo. Unheard, unspoken, and book-learnt if learned at all.

I wrote an article for the News Letter about this general issue back in March 2007. No-one batted an eyelid. Because hardly anybody cares.

There are ten years left. The need is to leapfrog my generation, and to connect the limited, diluted, eroded, Ulster-Scots language of grandparents with the world their grandchildren live in. The clock is ticking...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gavin Esler and the Ulster Scots


Gavin Esler is a well-known television current affairs presenter here in the UK, best known for his role on BBC2's Newsnight. He's taking part at the International Genealogy Festival in Glasgow over the next few days. Here's an excerpt about what he'll be doing:

...Gavin Esler is also well acquainted with some of his lineage, but hopes that Bruce Durie's investigations will shed further light beyond his more recent family backgrounds – again, all will be revealed during the festival. The broadcaster and author describes his recent background as "solid west of Scotland Protestant working class, even though I was mainly brought up in Edinburgh and went to Heriot's."

He can, however, trace his ancestry back through working-class Clydebank and Northern Irish immigrants whose forebears arrived in Scotland in the 1880s, but were Ulster Scots who had settled in Ireland during the "Plantations" of the 17th century. The Eslers had originally arrived in Scotland from Europe, following the former Baltic trading routes in search of religious freedom. "I know quite a lot about them," says the broadcaster. "They were German Protestants who emigrated to Scotland in the 17th century to escape religious persecution during the Thirty Years' War. The name Esler comes from 'Esel', meaning donkey – which might explain my family history of mule-like stubbornness. They were probably ostlers, looking after horses. Three brothers settled near Ballymena in County Antrim, and thereafter bits and pieces of my family lived in Ulster and the west of Scotland."

What Esler looks forward to learning is more about his mother's side of the family. "That's the real mystery to me – the Knights of Clydebank and my grandmother, Annie Bruce. I know almost nothing about them and I can't wait to find out what Bruce Durie has discovered.

"What we do know so far is that at least five of my ancestors signed the Ulster Covenant, threatening a rebellion against a united Ireland. And I also know that I have relatives all over the world, in Australia, Canada, the United States, Ireland north and south… you name it. And the same names keep recurring – David, James, William, Robert Esler come up time after time..."

Full article online here

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Born Fightin' by Ricky Warwick

My name is James McBride and I'm almost 19
I sailed away from Derry to follow some dream
I came to Philadelphia with a Bible in my hand
And God will be my witness in the Promised Land.

We were born fightin' - and we'll die fightin'
Till we belong... till we belong

Named after Senator James Webb's book of the same title, "Born Fightin" is a story of one of the 250,000 Ulster-Scots emigrants that went to America in the 1700s. Written and performed by Newtownards man Ricky Warwick, the singer in rock band The Almighty, and now playing what he calls "tough folk for the masses". The Almighty were/are a very successful British band in the late 80s / early 90s - when I was seriously into metal! I remember someone telling me that Ricky Warwick was a former pupil of Regent House. Apparently Ian Astbury of The Cult (another big British rock band of the same era) also lived in east Belfast / Newtownards for a while.

Ricky Warwick plays solo acoustic gigs around Norn Irn from time to time. Meanwhile listen to the song here on his MySpace page here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Dawn of the Ulster-Scots

Found this on GoogleVideo tonight - first broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland in December 2006, telling the story of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of County Down and County Antrim in east Ulster, which began in May 1606. Presented by Flora Montgomery, a descendant of Sir Hugh Montgomery.

View from Ulster to Scotland

Specifically, the 18 miles from Donaghadee towards Portpatrick on the Mull of Galloway. Photographed last night around 9pm. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Turnberry, the Open, and Ulster-Scots

Millions of people around the world have been watching the 138th Open Championship at Turnberry in Ayrshire on tv over the past few days, On Radio Ulster yesterday, Joel Taggart and Michael McNamee were commenting on how many Ulster folk had travelled over on the ferry to be part of the huge crowd - more than had travelled to the K Club in Dublin a few years ago - because for many Ulster people, it's easier to get to Scotland. And, I would argue, for many of our people, sailing to Scotland is a far more emotive journey than driving/training to Dublin.

I don't play golf, but I've been on the Championship tee at Turnberry. Back in October 07 we took a family break to Ayrshire and stayed in an apartment in Turnberry. It's got a great sandy beach, lovely views of Ailsa Craig and across to Antrim.

Turnberry's also where Robert the Bruce was born (on either the 11th or the 12th July, 1274). The famous wee Turnberry lighthouse is built on the site of the ancient Bruce castle - and you can still see some of the ruined stonework in the pics below. Bruce's mother owned land in Scotland and Ulster, and he would later marry the daughter of the Earl of Ulster. Not to mention his refuge on Rathlin Island, the Edward Bruce attempt to become King of Ireland, and many more connections.

Click on the pics below to view them at a larger size:

1. General view of the lighthouse

2. Jacob and the lighthouse

3. Ruins of the castle

4. The Championship tee and Ailsa Craig

5. An old Victorian engraving of Turnberry Castle

Here's a brief excerpt from an article by my good friend Philip Robinson about the origins of golf:

Golf (gowf or goff in Scots) is probably the best-known Scottish traditional sport, now enjoyed by millions throughout the world. There are records of it being played in Scotland since 1457, although most of these documents refer to the breaking of the Sabbath by playing at ‘the gowf’ on Sundays (a clash of two Scottish traditions which we are still aware of today).

Until the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was established in 1744, and the Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews in 1754, the traditional game involved hitting for distance, usually along the back of coastal sand-dunes called links. The oldest surviving golf club was founded by James I (of England and Scotland) in 1608 at Blackheath. James I was the monarch who initiated the Ulster Plantation, and during his reign gowf or goff was played by all classes in Scotland.

In Ulster at this time, one of James I’s most important Plantation landlords was Hugh Montgomery of Newtownards. When Sir Hugh built a ‘great school’ at Newton in County Down, about 1630, he allowed the scholars a ‘green for recreation at goff, football and archery’. Over 150 years later, in the 1780s, Sir Hugh’s successor as landlord of the extensive Ards estates was Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh.

Castlereagh was of Donegal Scottish plantation stock, and in setting out the ‘Mountstewart’ demesne for his new house near Greyabbey, he landscaped an area for playing golf. A portrait of Lord Castlereagh survives at Mountstewart, probably from about 1790, showing him standing with a golf club. Beside him is a golf ball on the ground. This is certainly the earliest illustration of anyone in Ulster actually playing golf.

From A Blad o Ulster-Scotch, Ullans Press 2003.
Click here to order a copy

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How much of a Calvinist are you?

In the 500th anniversary of the great man's birth, there's no better time to assess your own position! Take this 25 question online test and it'll tell you. Each question has two possible answers - one right and one wrong. There is no middle ground!

I got 69%:

It told me "You have some Calvinistic features. In some respects, your life is that of a Calvinist, just a little softened on the edges. Working hard is fine with you, but your attitude towards others isn't necessarily radically black-and-white. You live your life in a temperate and moderate way..."!

Friday, July 17, 2009

La Rochelle and the Ulster-Scots

My brother Graeme (plus his wife Judith and their two children Kyle and Julia - pictured above) is just back from a holiday on the west coast of France. He met up with a Scottish relative of ours (who was also in the area on holiday with his family) at La Rochelle.

According to the tourist brochure Graeme brought home with him, La Rochelle was known as "the stronghold of Protestantism" or "the Geneva of the Atlantic". It has a Protestant history museum too.

The Ulster-Scots connection is that the mighty Robert Blair nearly went to La Rochelle instead of coming to Ulster. Blair's autobiography records that he was visited in Glasgow around 1622 by a Monsieur Basnage, who was there to raise money for the beseiged French protestants, and then offered Blair a job: "...he told me he had heard well of me... encouraged me... that I would come to France, where I would be very welcome... assuring me that I should no sooner come but I should have a place in a college to teach philosophy till I learned the French language, that so I might serve in the holy ministry there..." Benjamin Basnage was the pastor of the French protestant church at Carentan / Quarentin. 300 odd years later, Carentan was within the American sector of the Normandy landing beaches of Utah and Omaha.

Blair later writes of being clearly led by God to go instead to Ulster "... I found myself bound in spirit to set my face towards a voyage to Ireland; and yet was not persuaded, for all this, to desire to settle there, loathing that place, and hankering still after France...".

It was a Jonah-like moment in his life, but eventually, in 1623, he did sail from Ayrshire to Carrickfergus, and then travelled to Bangor - where he turned the fledgling Ulster-Scots colony in east Ulster into a forge which shaped the identity of a people that lives on to this day.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jack for letting me know that John Welsh, the son-in-law of John Knox and father of Josias Welsh of Templepatrick, also spent time in La Rochelle.

50 years ago - the 1859 Ulster Revival commemorated

A clipping from the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, Thurs 25 June 1959. Click to enlarge:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gospel Halls and Ulster-Scots

This is a subject that deserves more attention than this wee post. The first gospel hall in Ulster is said to have been at Ballymacvea near Kells in Co Antrim, established by Jeremiah Meneely in the wake of the 1859 Revival (I visited the ruins with William Roulston and Eull Dunlop a few weeks ago - shown in the photo above) There was a major revival in Scotland that same year, and gospel halls sprang up all over Lanarkshire and Ayrshire in the following years. This article gives more fascinating background on the Ulster-Scots links among the early Brethren / gospel halls in Ulster and Scotland, for example:

- Jeremiah Meneely preaching in Ayrshire

- John McVicar (of Cullybackey) preaching in Ayrshire

- Samuel Dodds, Ulsterman living in Dalry, visited by another Ulsterman, William Thomson, and their subsequent evangelism

- William McLean, a "Scotch Baptist" evangelist in Ulster, who later became a Brethren leader in New Zealand

- John Patton from Newtownards, his visit to Stranraer, the view across to Ulster and the eventual founding of Butterlump Hall (my grandfather was a Sunday School teacher there, as the photo on the cover of the recent "William Thompson - Low Country Poet" poems book shows. The old wooden building is now at Ballygigan near Killyleagh - see the four pics below, click on them to enlarge)

It's a brilliant article, signposting a mountain of research that someone needs to do!

(NB - with thanks to Lindsay Young from Falkirk for sending the article to me)

A History of the Baptists - 400th anniversary in 2009

Well, the anniversary of the present day denomination, but not the practice of adult/believers baptism. With thanks to Gordon Lucy for sending this on to me back in February.

Baptists in Ulster?
In terms of Ulster, "Separatists" were known to be in County Antrim during the time of the Sixemilewater Revival in 1625. Presbyterian minister, and the effective leader of the Ulster-Scots, Robert Blair, was none too happy with their presence or activities! But by 1653, Baptism had made a major impact on the towns in Ireland where the English army was garrisoned - in Ulster, this was Carrickfergus.

It was also Carrickfergus which, in 1621, had seen the arrival of the Congregationalist minister Rev John Hubbard / Hubbert from Southwark in London, with his entire congregation. Hubbard was to play an important role prior to the 1625 revival, and preached for 2 years in the pulpit of St Nicholas' parish church in the town.

In his famous "History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland", James Seaton Reid records a "brother John Read" and "brother Thomas Patient" baptising people near Carrickfergus around 1653 - they had both come across from England as chaplains with Cromwell's army in 1650. Patient had begun to challenge Episcopacy before the civil war in England (the DNB says of him "...that episcopacy, the Book of Common Prayer, and mixed congregations of godly and profane people in parish churches were unscriptural..." ) but then emigrated to New England before returning to London in 1644. He signed the 1644 Westminster Confession, and was chosen by Parliament to be sent to Dublin. As Crawford Gribben says of Patient in this excellent article, "... In the same year, his only book, The Doctrine of Baptism, and the Distinction of the Covenants (1654), was published, and Patient was established as the foremost Calvinistic defender of believers’ baptism, a position admitted even by his enemies..."

Here's the article that Gordon sent me:


Turning Points in Baptist History

by Walter B. Shurden, Executive Director, The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

In 2009, Baptists will celebrate a huge 400th birthday party. Born in 1609, they began, as all infants, struggling to survive. Today, however, Baptists number 43 million people in over 200 countries in every continent of the world. Hassled, heckled, and persecuted both in England and America in the seventeenth century, Baptists of the twenty-first century have become the largest Protestant denominational family in North America. Baptists have come a very long way!

A diverse group from their beginning, Baptists express themselves today in such a variety of ways that many who claim the Baptist name will not claim others who claim the very same name! Baptists differ today—and they did from their beginning—in what they believe, how they worship, their attitudes toward other Christians, and their understanding of what is important in Christian discipleship. A history of four centuries of fragmentation and controversy has only compounded the complex appearance of the Baptist family. It is, therefore, impossible to speak of Baptists as a monolithic group. No single tradition or group of Baptists captures the enormous variety in Baptist life.

One can, however, identify some of the more prominent "convictional genes" of Baptists generally. One way of identifying these genes is to understand some of the pivotal turning points in the history of the Baptist people. The following describes six such pivotal points which go a long way in characterizing many of the people called Baptists.

The Turn Toward a Believers’ Church: 1609
The Lutherans have Martin Luther. Presbyterians have John Calvin. Methodists have John Wesley. But whom do Baptists have? In keeping with their description as a "common" people, Baptists appropriately trace their origin to an Englishman with the most common of names: JOHN SMYTH (Smith). A clergyman of the Church of England and a graduate of Cambridge University, Smyth pioneered the Baptist tradition. THOMAS HELWYS, a wealthy layman, worked side by side with Smyth. Eventually, Helwys became even more important for later Baptists than Smyth.

Reared as Anglicans (Episcopalians), Smyth and Helwys, like many Christians in the early seventeenth century, wanted genuine reform in their church. Using the Bible as their guide, they sought to restore what they believed to be the biblical model of the church. They wanted to "purify" the Church of England, as did other Puritans, of all traces of Roman Catholic practices. So Smyth and Helwys were Anglicans who became Puritans. But they even went beyond Puritanism.

Some Puritans became so impatient with the church’s reforms that they "separated" from the Church of England, setting up independent congregations of believers. Smyth and Helwys became part of such a group of Separatists in Gainsborough, England, in 1606. These Separatists had three beliefs which shaped later Baptists.

• First, they believed that the Bible, not church tradition or religious creeds, was their guide in all matters of faith and practice.
• Second, they believed that the church should be made up of believers only, not all people born into the local parishes.
• Third, they believed that the church should be governed by those believers, not by church bishops.

Harassed and hounded by both the Church of England and the civil government for their beliefs, Smyth and Helwys, along with their small congregation of believers, sailed in 1607 to Holland to breathe the fresh air of religious freedom. There, Baptists met and were influenced by Anabaptists. While in Holland, Baptists experienced their first major turning point. In fact, the Baptist movement marks its beginning in Amsterdam.

In 1609, John Smyth performed a radical and scandalous act. He baptized himself by pouring water on his head! In turn, he baptized Helwys and others of the congregation. Smyth, Helwys, and their church came to believe that their infant baptism was no baptism at all. Why? Because, they said, it was performed by a false church, and it was performed on infants — people who could not believe.
Many people think that the single most important characteristic of Baptists is the way they baptize — by immersion. However, when Baptists began in the early seventeenth century, they were first concerned with WHOM rather than HOW they baptized. Baptists wanted churches made up of people who sincerely, deliberately, and freely affirmed Christ as the Lord of their lives. They wanted a Believers’ Church.

The Separatists had also wanted a church made up of only "saints." But they did so by retaining infant baptism. Smyth and Helwys left the Separatists and began the Baptist movement when they rejected infant baptism in 1609. They concluded that believer’s baptism was the best way to guarantee a Believers’ Church.

In the tradition initiated by Smyth and Helwys, only believers made up the churches. But for these Baptists, believers alone also governed the churches. Separatists had believed in congregational church government, but they often gave a superior role to the clergy over the laity. Not Baptists! Each believer had an equal voice in the affairs of the church.

Likewise, each believer was looked upon as a minister within the church. Known as the universal ministry or the priesthood of all believers, Baptists utilized this concept to argue that the work of Christ belonged to all Christians, not merely the clergy. In Baptist life the "clergy" have a respected place but not a unique place, for all Christians are ministers.

The Turn Toward a Free Conscience: 1612
Religious fussing and fighting dominated the seventeenth century. Contention led to division. As Smyth and Helwys had separated first from the Anglicans, next the Puritans, then the Separatists, they finally ended by separating from each other. Why was this? Because Smyth eventually questioned the authenticity of his self-administered baptism since it had no succession with the larger Christian church. Helwys and a few others disagreed, thinking that succession of baptism was not necessary. They retained their newfound baptism, nurtured their small church fellowship, and courageously returned to England and established the first Baptist church on English soil in 1612.

The return of Thomas Helwys to his native England cost him his life. Just as John Smyth had the audacity to baptize himself, Helwys had the spunk to write a fiery little book on freedom of conscience in an era when freedom was scarce and individual conscience suppressed. Brashly, Helwys autographed a personal copy and sent it to, of all people, the King of England!

The publication in 1612 of Helwys’s book, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, [ view PDF here ] was the second turning point in Baptist history. Based upon Paul’s phrase in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, Helwys interpreted "the mystery of iniquity" as the spirit of domination and oppression in matters of conscience which existed in his native land.

Lauded as the first full plea for religious freedom in the English language, Helwys’s Mystery of Iniquity is surely one of the classics of Baptist history. It contains one of the most oft-quoted lines from Baptist history. Said Helwys: "For we do freely profess that our lord the king has no more power over their consciences [Roman Catholics] than over ours, and that is none at all. For our lord the king is but an earthly king, and he has no authority as a king but in earthly causes. And if the king’s people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all human laws made by the king, our lord the king can require no more. For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by th scriptures."1 With such strong language, one is not surprised to discover that Helwys died in prison.

In this Baptist classic, Helwys moved in and out of several other themes related to the Baptist emphasis on freedom of conscience. Among those themes were: the freedom of the local congregation to mind its own affairs, the freedom of individuals to interpret Scripture, the importance of believer’s baptism and the freedom of the individual to choose that baptism, the freedom of and the need for the churches of Jesus Christ to live from voluntary support of their members, the freedom from coerced uniformity in worship practices, and the freedom of the churches to acknowledge Christ as the sole "King" of the church, rather than being bound by creed or clergy or civil government.

During the first half of the seventeenth century, Baptists in England peppered both royalty and religion with some of the first and most forceful tracts ever written on religious liberty. Baptists in America, especially Roger Williams and John Clarke, joined their English counterparts in this war on religious tyranny. Baptists led the parade for universal liberty of conscience. Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Clarke, and a host of other Baptist leaders were the Baptist drum majors for freedom in the seventeenth century!

The Turn Toward Believer’s Baptism by Immersion: 1641
The earliest Baptists, the Helwys group, came to be known as General Baptists. They believed that the death of Christ was effective for any and all people who claimed Christ as Lord. Another group, known as Particular Baptists, developed shortly after Helwys returned to England in 1612. Particular Baptists got their name from the fact that they believed that the death of Christ on the cross was only for the predestined or elect. The Particular Baptists were Calvinists while the General Baptists rejected Calvinism.

Whereas the General Baptists had affirmed believer’s baptism, they had done so without practicing it by immersion. By 1641, however, the Particular Baptists of England took another momentous step regarding baptism. They began to practice believer’s baptism by immersion. This is the third turning point in Baptist history.

Baptists began to practice believer’s baptism by immersion for the same reason they had affirmed their belief in a believers’ church and freedom of conscience. They thought the New Testament taught immersion as the form of baptism. Willing to be corrected from Scripture, early Baptists would not have any belief imposed upon them but that commanded by Christ. They said that they would never go "against the least tittle of the truth of God, or against the light of our own consciences."2 Baptists wanted to be free to follow their consciences in obeying Holy Scripture.

Following their reading of Scripture, especially Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:4, Baptists concluded that the manner of believer’s baptism should be by dipping the body into water, resembling death to self and resurrection to the Christian life. To this day, all Baptist churches practice believer’s baptism by immersion, though some Baptist churches will accept Christians from other churches who have been baptized by other modes.

The Turn Toward Cooperative Christianity: 1707
Baptists from their beginnings cherished congregational church government. Often referred to in Baptist life as the "autonomy" (self-rule) of the local church or as the "independence" of the local church, congregational church government simply meant that the congregation of believers was the final authority in determining the will of God in Baptist church life. No bishop or pastor or pope or conference of churches or civil government had a say-so over the religious affairs of a Baptist congregation.

A fourth major turning point for Baptists in America occurred in 1707. In that year, they formed the Philadelphia Baptist Association, the first major Baptist organization through which several local churches worked together without compromising their congregational independence. Baptists in England, both General and Particular, had organized associations as early as the 1640s.

With the formation of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, Baptists in America, therefore, affirmed their belief in the interdependence as well as independence of local churches. Following the basic pattern of organization laid down by the Philadelphia Association, Baptist associations evolved all over America. Later, Baptists formed other Baptist organizations such as societies, state conventions, national conventions, and the Baptist World Alliance through which they cooperated and pooled their resources.

Baptists often vaguely defined the purposes of Baptist associations in such language as "to promote the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom and the good of the common cause." Usually, one could identify four main objectives of these non-local church Baptist organizations. These were: (1) to promote fellowship among the churches, (2) to affirm commonly held beliefs, (3) to provide counsel and assistance to local churches, and (4) to establish a structure through which churches could cooperate in their broader ministries, such as theological education, publications, and mission work.
In terms of church government, Baptists viewed associations and other such Baptist organizations as autonomous bodies functioning in an advisory role for the churches. Baptists, however, have always been far more interested in the freedom and independence of the local churches than in extending the powers of associations and other denominational bodies. On the other hand, Baptists in America began stressing in 1707 the interdependence of the churches and denominational cooperation. Additionally, English Baptists, American Baptists, and several of the black Baptist groups in America have cooperated extensively with other Christian denominations in ecumenical activities. Christian cooperation does not begin and end with Baptists.

The Turn Toward Missionary Responsibility: 1792
During the 1700s, Baptists in both England and America profited from the spirit of revivalism that dominated much of that century. In England the Wesleyan revival led by Methodists John and Charles Wesley indirectly helped to revitalize the Calvinistic Particular Baptists and virtually resurrected the dying General Baptists.

George Whitefield, an associate of the Wesleys and maybe the greatest English preacher of the eighteenth century, toured America seven times, fanning the fires of revivalism begun under Jonathan Edwards. Baptists in America varied in their reactions to the emotional preaching of Whitefield; but when the revivalistic fires waned, Baptists had reaped as many benefits from revivalism as any denomination in America. No Christian has symbolized the continuing emphasis of revivalism as has evangelist Billy Graham, a Baptist.

While revivalism massaged a somewhat sagging Baptist denomination in the eighteenth century, global missions fired the Baptist spirit near the end of that century. Christian denominations at this time were not taking seriously the missionary mandate of the New Testament. But a poor shoe cobbler by the name of William Carey could not get Jesus’ words of "Go ye into all the world" off his heart and mind. Preaching, pleading, sometimes nagging, Carey urged Particular Baptists to "expect great things from God" and "attempt great things for God."

As a result of Carey’s influence, Baptists in England formed a missionary society in the town of Kettering on October 2, 1792. The purpose was simple: to take the gospel of Christ to people in distant lands. This is the fifth significant turning point in Baptist history. This act on the part of British Baptists revolutionized Baptist life and influenced much of the rest of Protestant Christianity toward missions. William Carey sailed as a missionary to India in 1793 where he devoted the rest of his life. His letters aroused the missionary ardor ofBaptists in both England and America. By the end of the century, Baptists in America began organizing and contributing in support of foreign missions. In 1814, under Luther Rice’s leadership, Baptists in America formed their first national convention whose sole purpose was to send missionaries overseas. Since the time of Carey and Rice, Baptists have been at the forefront of sharing the gospel and ministering in Christ’s name through the world. A famous German Baptist, Johann Oncken, adopted as his motto: "Every Baptist a missionary."

The Turn Toward Social Justice: 1955
In 1955, a bright, young Baptist preacher in Montgomery, Alabama, led a bus boycott which turned into a national struggle for racial justice. Martin Luther King Jr., pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, symbolized the Baptist struggle for social justice as much as Billy Graham personified evangelism, William Carey embodied foreign missions, and Thomas Helwys and Roger Williams incarnated liberty of conscience.

One should not assume by any means, however, that all Baptists agreed with King. Many of King’s white Baptist kinfolk, especially in the South, and some of his black Baptist brothers and sisters resisted his efforts and strategies to rid the nation of racial segregation. But as King moved the conscience of the nation, he also moved the hearts of many of his Baptist people. Arrested 29 times for challenging the cultural status quo in America and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King, a victim of hatred, died of an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.

The Baptist concern for social justice reached its apex with King, but it did not begin with him. Even his strategy of civil disobedience had been practiced by Baptists such as Isaac Backus in the struggle for religious justice in America years before King came on the Baptist scene. Also, Roger Williams and John Clarke served as prophets for justice in the seventeenth century.

Walter Rauschenbusch, a New York Baptist with a warm evangelical faith, was the father of the Social Gospel in America. Before he died in 1918, he had advocated, among other things, social reform of poverty and economic injustice based upon biblical and theological principles. Likewise, the Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, has put much of its energy and effort in the struggle for human rights around the world. No Baptist, however, has been the cheerleader for justice as was Martin Luther King Jr.

No Christian denomination is well served by thinking it is the only one God has. No denomination is well served by wallowing in delusions of its own righteousness while minimizing the values of other religious groups. Baptists, like other Christian groups, have suffered from those delusions periodically. We Baptists have our sins to confess. But Baptists also have some significant gifts to bring to the larger Christian table. Among those gifts are our struggle for a Believers’ Church, our devotion to liberty of conscience, our desire for a baptism freely chosen and reflective of biblical teachings, our confession of both the independence and interdependence of local churches, our commitment to the missionary mandate, and our commitment, though checkered, to social justice. Upon these hinge issues, Baptist history has turned.


1. Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of The Mystery of Iniquity, edited with an introduction by Richard Groves (Macon, GA.: Mercer University Press, 1998), 53.
2. As cited in William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge, PA.: Judson Press, 1969), 149.

Monday, July 13, 2009

12th July 2009 - Bangor Orangefest

Wee Flickr set here of some of my pics from today. A good family day out in Bangor, only rained a bit later in the day. Have a look at the dancing African Orangemen!

Update - for those of you with good connection speeds, here's the slideshow

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Conjecture vs. Evidence: “Celtic” Music, Ulster Scots, and the Myth of Irish Traditional Music’s Role in the Genesis of American Old Time Country

Click here for an excellent, myth-busting article... and I didn't write it!