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Book review: “Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860”

Menikoff, Aaron. Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publicaitons, 2014.

Aaron Menikoff fills in important gaps in Baptist history with this well-researched study of Baptist involvement in social reform between the American Revolution and Civil War. He is well-prepared to write on the subject, with a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and experience as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, a Baptist.
This book debunks the common idea that Baptists in the 19th century were only concerned about personal salvation, and neglected social issues. He first examines the overall attitude of Baptists toward salvation, morality, politics, and church and state, with particular emphasis on how Baptists held in tension the idea that church and state should be separate, yet a nation needed to be virtuous to survive. In other words, the Baptist understanding of separation of church and meant the government had no right establishing a particular religion, but this did not mean a separation between church and society– far from it.
Next, Menikoff examines how this Baptist attitude played itself out in five major issues of the time: political parties, slavery, the Sabbath Mail Controversy, poverty, and the temperance movement. He shows the majority Baptist approach to each issue, while also revealing how different Baptists took different sides on each of these issues. ]
On political parties, Baptists usually avoided endorsing candidates or parties, yet spoke out on political issues, and some were more directly involved as candidates and supporting parties.
On slavery, Menikoff shows the complexity and diversity of Baptist views, including the colonization movement to resettle slaves in Africa. While Northern Baptists generally joined the abolitionist movement and southern Baptists opposed it, he shows how there were southern Baptists opposed to slavery in the south as late as the 1830s, and Baptist leaders like Richard Furman called upon slaveholders not to neglect the spiritual needs of their slaves.
The Sabbath Mail Controvesy is largely forgotten today, but at the time there was great religious opposition to the delivery of mail on Sunday, including most Baptists. He tells the fascinating story of how a Baptist Senator, Richard Johnson, gave the Congressional report supporting the delivery of mail every day, calling his fellow Baptists hypocrites for trying to unite church and state over the issue.
On poverty, the author shows how Baptists were active in relief efforts for the poor, although they often blamed the poor for getting themselves into their situation and focused on targeted giving of the “deserving poor.”
The temperance movement to abstain from alcohol was the most popular Baptist cause, as all Baptists saw alcohol abuse as a major social problem. However, Menikoff shows that Baptists also had different opinions over the temperance issue, especially defending the liberty of conscience for individual Baptists who drank moderately, and those Baptists who opposed to political efforts at prohibition on the grounds that it mixed church and state.
This book gave me a new perspective on several issues, especially the fascinating Sabbath Mail Controversy as well as how complex and diverse Baptist opinions were on slavery in the south. Menikoff’s research is carefully documented, with hundreds of footnotes and an exhaustive bibliography, leaving a rich resource for further study on the subjects covered. It is not light reading, but for those interested in Baptist history, it is rewarding, indeed.

John 10:10 as displayed in classic films

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

What do classic films about a dying boxer, an Italian Jew and his son in a concentration camp, and a composer insanely jealous of Mozart have to do with John 10:10-11? 

John 10:10 says that the thief comes to “steal, kill and destroy.”

In the 1984 movie Amadeus, about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the composer Salieri is insanely jealous of Mozart’s God-given talent, and will do anything to take it away.

In the 1997 Italian movie Life Is Beautiful, the Nazis take an Italian Jewish man and his son to a concentration camp to kill him.

In the 2004 movie Million Dollar Baby, a female boxer has a permanent injury and asks her trainer to pull the plug on her and destroy her life.

All of these are the attitude of the thief, old “red legs,” as Frank Pollard called him– the devil. The thief promises you a better life through legalism or drugs or alcohol or gambling or sex, or promises your life will escape problems through abortion, euthanasia or suicide. But these are all false hopes.

Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.” How is He able to give this life? As He says in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” I’m not saying this to recommend two hour, two-dimensional movies to you (although Life Is Beautiful is a wonderful film), but I do recommend Jesus Christ, who will give you a multi-dimensional, abundant life on earth and eternal life in heaven.

Is gluttony as bad as drunkenness?

GluttonyWe rarely equate beer with banana pudding, but scripture says nearly as much about gluttony as it does about drunkenness. The Bible teaches that all addictions have the same basic effect: they destroy your mind, your money and your mood.
Look at the warnings in Proverbs against these two addictions: drunkenness and gluttony.
1. Your mind. Your mind will be led astray and deceived.
“Wine is a mocker, beer a brawler, and whoever staggers because of them is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1, HCSB).
“If you are the type who eats too much too fast, do whatever is necessary to curb your enthusiasm for food.” (Proverbs 23:2, The Voice Translation)
2. Your money. Your addiction will drain your finances and leave you poor. “Don’t associate with those who drink too much wine or with those who gorge themselves on meat. For the drunkard and the glutton will become poor…” (Proverbs 23:20-21, HCSB)
3. Your mood. You will suffer sorrow and disgrace. You will descend into depression if you persist in feeding your addiction.
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? … Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine…” (Proverbs 23:29-30, NIV).
“…a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.” (Proverbs 28:7, HCSB).

We are not able to overcome our addictions until we first see how much they hurt us and others. The reason we become addicted to something is because we like how it makes us feel. Do we want to lose control of our minds? Do we want to lose our money? Do we want to descend into depression? If not, then we need to break free from our addictions, whatever they are. The first step is to recognize that the problem is real. We need to stop making excuses like, “I’m just a social drinker,” or, “It’s only food, and I have to eat.” The second step is to call on the Higher Power of Jesus Christ to give us victory. For most people with addictions, we will need a third step of counseling and/or a support group.
Don’t wait—do it today!

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