I beg the indulgence of readers who are not associated with Baptist churches or Churches of Christ, as we look in three gracEmails at those two groups of Christians, both particularly populous and highly competitive throughout the southern United States.
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The Baptist flock provided many converts to Campbell’s movement, particularly throughout the South. When Campbell preached in Nashville, Tennessee in the mid-1800’s, a majority of the city’s First Baptist Church membership was persuaded to join his reformation. Little wonder that the Southern Baptist Encyclopedia labels “Campbellism” as one of two great heresies among Baptists, the other being “Landmarkism.” Over the next 100 years, Baptists and Church of Christ folk frequently engaged in public debates, which usually generated more heat than light, and which often resulted in more Baptists being “converted” to the Church of Christ.
A century of antagonism and isolation hardened stereotypes of each other in the minds of both groups. Many Church of Christ folk came to believe that Baptists “do not believe in baptism,” even though their historical insistence on the rite provided their name. And many Baptists came to think of Church of Christ people as those folks who “believe in baptismal regeneration.” Both stereotypes were unfair, if applied to the best representatives of either group, but both caricatures found popular justification in the extreme statements of zealots on both sides.
Today, the gospel light is shining across Christendom, and there are signs of gospel renewal among these two groups as well. Many Baptists today, following the lead of British Baptist scholar G.R. Beasley-Murray, relate baptism more carefully to the gospel, rather than making it a mere requirement for local church membership. Many Churches of Christ are now clearly preaching Christ rather than baptism, still being careful to baptize those who believe on him as Savior and Lord. And many congregations associated with both groups are receiving baptized believers from the other group into full membership without requiring their rebaptism. That is a wonderful step forward, for which we all may be grateful to God.