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J. B. Jeter on the intensity of discussions between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists

Monday, November 7, 2016 10:02
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CaptureJeremiah Bell Jeter (1802-1880) was a Southern Baptist pastor, statesman, and denominational leader in the 19th century. By all historians’ accounts, Jeter was a leading light of influence in Southern Baptist life and remains a key figure in establishing the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. He served several historic churches including the First Baptist Church Richmond, Virginia (1836-1849). At that time, Richmond’s church had a total membership in excess of 1,700 members, two thirds of which were African-American (“1384 Negro and 333 white”). He was instrumental in organizing the First African church in Richmond in 1842, a church which took over the old First Baptist Church worship facilities. Jeter was also the first president of the Foreign Mission Board (1845-49) and in 1865, purchased the Religious Herald, Virginia Baptist’s denominational paper. Thus, Jeter remained a prolific writer and editor until his death in 1880. Though having little formal academic training, Jeter made a decisive mark on the convention life of Southern Baptists during their crucial formative years.1

Below is an extended quote from Jeter’s autobiography, The Recollections of a Long Life:

To the candid and fair discussion of doctrinal questions on which Christians differ there can be no objection. It is demanded by the love of truth and fidelity to Christ. Unfortunately, however, the religious controversies of those days were too often conducted in a bitter and abusive spirit. The aim of the contestants seemed to be, not to convince their hearers and win them to the truth, but to wound, overwhelm, and bringing into contempt their opponents. Had their hearers judged of Calvinists from the representations of Methodists, they must have concluded that the believers in predestination were not only infatuated, but on the high-road to the perpetration of all manner of crimes. “It came from hell,” it was said, “and would be the means of conducting multitudes thither. If it were true, God would be worse than the devil.” These violent assaults were returned by Calvinists in full measure, heaped up and running over. Said a preacher, who, by the sharpness of his sarcasm, had acquired the title of “The Arminian Skinner,” “From fifty to a hundred souls are converted at a Methodist camp-meeting. In a little while they all fall from grace. What a disappointment! The poor souls were disappointed; the Methodists were disappointed; and God was disappointed. The only way to save Methodist converts is to cut off their heads and send them straight to heaven before they have an opportunity of falling from grace.

Jeter, Jeremiah Bell. The Recollections of a Long Life. Religious Herald Company, 1891. p.122.

1Routh, E. C., 1958. Southern Baptist Convention. Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, 1, p.707.

2Picture courtesy of Stylos


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  • jknbt

    these days it takes a third year seminary student to know enough theology to even discuss the matter…the lay people don’t know what you are talking about…

  • Peter Lumpkins

    HI jknbt,

    I appreciate your thoughts. There’s really nothing cryptic about the above quote taken from a 19th century Southern Baptist leader. As he states, the discussion over Calvinism had at times–then as now–become much too contentious and divisive. Among the take-aways for me are 1) Calvinism was hardly the universal theology in Baptist life that many contemporary Calvinists make it out to be; 2) Calvinism today like Calvinism then became highly provocative and deeply divisive.


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