Speaking as an amateur historian of frontier religious history, I find this development quite fascinating but not all that surprising: Baptists, in this case, presumably Southern Baptists, have returned to their pre-Frontier roots, namely, Reformed Christianity.
A couple of things stand out in the material that a new Reformed Baptist Church in Alexander City, Alabama, has posted to their Web site, notably, an allusion to Communion as a sacrament rather than an ordinance.
This represents a significant departure from the historic frontier Baptist and earlier Radical Protestant emphasis on Communion simply as a memorial of Christ’s atoning grace. Also, the comments are quite interesting, especially among those who discern this as a Baptist embrace of Protestantism.
There has always been a strongly held view among many Baptists, historically regarded as the Landmark tradition, that they represent the restoration of the New Testament Church – another interesting Baptist distinctive, though also shared among other movements, one that also dates back to pioneer settlement of the American Back Country. Many egalitarian-minded frontiersmen regarded settlement as an opportunity to abandon creeds and confessions and to set everything right by returning to the pristine attributes of the First Century Church.
However, earlier, pre-frontier Baptists had hewed to many of the teachings of Reformed Christianity, which is not surprising, considering that this was the regnant form of Protestantism not only in Britain but also the American colonies in the 17th and 18th century.
History has demonstrated time and again that many movements, political and religious alike, have returned to facets of their original roots. Baptists, who have generally followed a divergent path over the last 200 year following settlement of the American frontier, may prove no exception;
It’s interesting to consider the factors that have contributed to this. So-called New Testament Christianity, which gained traction during American frontier settlement, offered the advantage of lean messaging, at least, the case could be made that it did. Moreover, these teachings were exceptionally well-suited to a relatively unlettered, itinerate and rather culturally unrooted people people who had become both intellectually and the temperamentally untethered from the creeds and confessionals that had prevailed in Europe and along the American coast.
Yet, this lean messaging, popular and arguably practical within a frontier setting, seemed to many increasingly threadbare in late 20th century America in the face of rising levels of education and affluence and within a nation struggling with the demands of post-modernism as wells as the complexities of a post-industrial, technological society. In fact, in 1977 a group of disaffected evangelical intellectuals, convinced that evangelical Christianity had become untethered from much of the substance, notably the creeds, confessions and liturgies that had sustained the faith for two millennia, issued the Chicago Call, admonishing their fellow churchmen to return to the ancient teachings of the faith.
However, this effort largely fell on deaf ears, leaving many of these disaffected intellectuals to embark on the path to Rome, Constantinople, Lambeth and, in some cases, Geneva.
Now, as Christianity and particularly the evangelical faith seem more imperiled than ever, especially in the face of a rapidly permutating left that seems increasingly intent to subdue Christianity, at least, the conservative expressions of it, as a formative force in American life, many evangelicals likely will become more receptive than ever to the admonishments such as the Chicago Call.
There possibly, if not likely, will be stronger inclinations than ever among evangelical Christians to return to what growing numbers within the ranks perceive as more enduring foundations.