A Special Bicentennial

This year marks the 200th anniversary of a remarkable display of God’s providence in the Baptist movement in North America. After finding themselves with missionaries in India whom they did not send, Baptists in America were compelled to organize for their support. The result was the formation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1814 of The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States.

This organization of Baptist churches, which came to be known as the Triennial Convention, adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith of 1742 and officially took upon itself the support of Adoniram and Ann Judson as their first missionaries. The Judsons had left Boston in 1812 as convinced paedobaptists under the direction of the Congregationalist’s American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. By the time they arrived in India their convictions on baptism had been severely challenged through fresh study of Scripture.

In August of that same year, after his arrival in India, he wrote a letter to the Baptist missionaries in Serampore, including William Carey, and explained to them his and his wife’s (Ann—see Tom Nettles’ article in this issue of the Founders Journal) change in convictions. They were now convinced Baptists in need of believer’s baptism. As news of this made its way back to the United States, leading Baptist pastors and associations were compelled to take action in order to support the work of their new missionaries.

One of the leading pastors in this effort was Dr. Thomas Baldwin, whose writings had been instrumental in Adoniram Judson’s change of convictions. He was pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Boston and became a regular correspondent with Judson and, in 1817, even baptized Judson’s sixty-seven-year-old father after the latter became convinced of the same views of his son.

The letter that is included in this issue from Adoniram Judson is written to Baldwin just 5 days before his father was baptized, although news of that baptism would not reach India for another year. The letter demonstrates the confidence of that missionary spirit that Judson and his colleagues exuded as they labored to see the gospel take root in a hostile environment. Despite laboring faithfully for five years, he had not yet seen the first convert. His confidence, however, rested in the eternal, unchanging purposes of God to save people from every tribe, language, people and nation for the great glory of His Son.

May this same spirit permeate the heirs of Judson and those who stood with him to spread the gospel to India, Burma and beyond 200 years ago.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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