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Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900 (Religion in America) [Hardcover]

By Gregory A. Wills (Author)
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Item description for Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900 (Religion in America) by Gregory A. Wills...

This text focuses on the role of the Baptists in relation to democracy in America. Most antebellum southern Baptist churches allowed women and slaves to vote on membership matters and preferred populists preachers who addressed their appeals to the common person. Paradoxically no denomination could wield religious authority as zealously as the Baptists. Between 1785 and 1860 they ritually excommunicated 40 to 50,000 church members in Georgia alone. Wills demonstrates how a denomination of freedom-loving individualists came to embrace an exclusivist spirituality - a spirituality that continues to shape Southern Baptist churches in contemporary conflicts between moderates who urge tolerance and conservatives who require belief in scriptural inerrancy. Wills's analysis may advance the reader's understanding of the interaction between democracy and religious authority, and appeal to scholars of American religion, culture, and history, students of American religious history, as well as to Baptist observers.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   208
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.38" Width: 6.34" Height: 0.77"
Weight:   1.08 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Dec 12, 1996
Publisher   Oxford University Press
Edition  New  
ISBN  0195104129  
ISBN13  9780195104127  

Availability  79 units.
Availability accurate as of May 25, 2017 06:50.
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More About Gregory A. Wills

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Professor of Church History, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Gregory A. Wills currently resides in Louisville, in the state of Kentucky. Gregory A. Wills has an academic affiliation as follows - Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville Southern Baptist The.

Gregory A. Wills has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Religion in America

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > 19th Century > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > Protestant
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > Baptist

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Reviews - What do customers think about Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900 (Religion in America)?

Essential reading for Southern Baptists  Jun 22, 1999
I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church hearing that Southern Baptists oppose all use of creeds, don't pratice church discipline, and don't believe in a Calvinistic view of God's sovereignty. A lot of people try to argue that as well as being like this today, Southern Baptists were always like that. Gregory Wills totally undermines these understandings of Southern Baptist history. Unlike modern SBC historians who take an understanding of Baptist life that has existed only since 1900 and assume things have always been that way, Wills does exhaustive research into the way local churches in Georgia actually believed and behaved in the 19th century. Wills proves that most SBC churches in Georgia held to Calvinistic beliefs, regularly practiced church disciplined, and favored the disciplinary use of creeds. This book is essential reading for any Southern Baptists interested in the reformation of our denomination.
A Churches that Disciplines its Members is Healthy!  Oct 29, 1998
Democratic Religion is an interesting discussion on the topic of Church discipline and the authority that Church governments exerted over memberships in the 19th century. Gregory A. Wills, the author, wrote the book from a point of interest discovered when writing a short article on the subject of a nineteenth century preacher. Wills' study expanded into a book on the story of nineteenth century church polity focusing on the peculiarities of Georgia churches. Nevertheless, the book is also a commentary by way of implication of the status of the church today. Readers will not be able to help but examine their own churches in the light of some of the positive aspects of 19th century religious life and find their own experience a little lacking. Lacking primarily in the advantages of a strong religious authority over church members and a measure of real accountability added to that authority. The first three chapters deal generally with a form of uniquely American church government. The author was influenced by the book The Democratization of Christianity, by Nathan Hatch. Hatch evidently suggested that American preachers developed a cultural contextual style of preaching and church government, casting the gospel in a "new, populist, individualist form." However, Wills is not trapped by the motif of Hatch and clearly communicates that southern Baptists were not entirely democratic in the administration of church polity. Meaning that Baptists tended to also hold to the traditions of the reformation by asserting tremendous authority over church memberships by the adherence to and practice of strict disciplinary procedures. These disciplinary procedures where in the form of "trials" or "dealings" and each church had its own way of dealing with what Wills calls "the texture of discipline" (23). Nevertheless, "trials" were informal events which strove to hear and answer charges, render verdicts, and (hopefully) restore the accused to fellowship. The authority of these proceeding rested in their jurisdiction, over the membership only, and in their ability to either forgive or excommunicate members. The ultimate outcome of these proceedings tended to be restoration and renewal of the church in terms of real revival. In the forth and fifth chapter the authors tuns his attention to, first, the role of women in church polity, and then the role of black slaves. Women seem to have had some degree of freedom to participate in the democratic process of discipline but less ability to participate in matters of church government-the same double standard was applied to slaves as well. Southern whites considered slaves to have enhanced spirituality in matters of basic morals yet unable to rule because of their low intelligence. The sixth chapter briefly describes the struggle of their system of ecclesiastical authority to "ensure pure belief as well as pure deportment" (84). The seventh chapter describes the southern Baptist practice of adhering strictly to creeds, associational authority over local churches, and the issues of Calvinism. Ironically, and in contrast to anti-creed sentiments of the post-modern era, 19th century Baptists seemed to use creeds very prolifically. Finally, chapter eight tells the story of declining church discipline practices which would cease, for all practical purposes, by 1920.

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