Your labors will be ultimately appreciated and the page of history will do you ample justice, notwithstanding the dissentient voice of the narrow-minded of the present day. -Adoniram Judson to Luther RiceThe true Father of the Southern Baptist Convention (IMHO) never actually was a Southern Baptist.
- The driving force behind Baptists in America ever organizing churches to support mission work in the first place? Luther Rice
- The most aggressive advocate of his time for the convention method over the society method? Luther Rice
- The impetus behind the founding of a gaggle of state conventions, associations, and domestic institutions? Luther Rice
Luther Rice's Great StrengthsLuther Rice had a missionary heart. From the very day of his conversion (14 September 1805), Rice resolved to "be willing to give Deity a blank and let him fill up [Rice's] future destiny as He should please." At Williams College Rice (an exuberant Congregationalist) encountered four other young men with a similar resolve for service, and together they formed an informal accountability and encouragement group nicknamed "The Brethren." The group was entirely resolved to pursue vocations in foreign missions, even though no structure existed in North America to support them in the venture. Eventually Rice and other of the Brethren wound up at Andover College with another young Congregationalist, Adoniram Judson. The group brashly approached the Massachusetts state Congregationalist association about setting up a missions-sending structure for them, and they succeeded. When the world opposed Luther Rice's missionary vision, he went about changing the world to suit himself. Luther Rice was a tireless servant of Christ. Rice described his own ministry: "I have traveled 6,600 miles, in populous and dreary portions of country, through wilderness and over rivers, across mountains and valleys, in heat and cold, by day and by night—in weariness, painfulness, fastings and loneliness." Luther Rice really had no home but Heaven. They buried him in South Carolina simply because he happened to be there when he died. He never married. His life in its entirety was given to the Lord. Luther Rice dared to see a bold vision for the Baptist people. Once convinced of Baptist doctrine, he tenaciously clung to it. He was not the kind to dodge confessional statements, issue caveats, or wriggle out of fiduciary responsibility. Rice boldly proclaimed to the Congregationalists, "those persons only, who give credible evidence of piety, are proper subjects; and…immersion is the only proper mode of Christian baptism"—Here is the voice of a man of integrity. Rice believed that missionaries should seek funding from those who agreed with their ecclesiology, so he singlemindedly pursued Baptists in America, daring them to dream with him a dream of what they could do together with the Lord's help. Although Rice founded many Missionary societies, his vision favored the convention plan:
My mind became impressed with the importance of a general combination of the whole Baptist interest in the United States, for the benefit alike of the denomination here, and the cause of missions abroadIn 1814, after a mere two years' work by this thirty-one-year-old, Luther Rice's efforts yielded the famous Triennial Convention, an every-three-years meeting of American Baptists designed to serve as Rice's "general combination of the whole Baptist interest." Notice, by the way, that this former-Congregationalist was quite content with simply a "combination of the whole Baptist interest." Luther Rice loved to see young people called out and trained into the Lord's work. In 1815, Rice recognized the potential of John Mason Peck. In response to Rice's encouragement and tutelage, Peck embarked upon missionary work in Missouri and became the father of Baptist home missions in America. Rice founded Columbian College (now George Washington University) in order to train Baptist laborers for the harvest.
Luther Rice's Bold AccomplishmentsBy 1820, Luther Rice had propelled Baptists into cooperative foreign missions, home missions, education, and publication. Sometimes he had worked with amazing diplomacy; often he had pushed projects forward by fiat and bravado. But however he pursued it, the vision he had for Baptists in America was very similar to what Southern Baptists ultimately organized for themselves. Luther Rice was not perfect. I do not offer an unqualified endorsement of everything Luther Rice ever did. But, as I have indicated in an earlier post, I am not so naïve as to ignore the reality of human depravity. I do not expect perfection out of our denominational servants—only a spirit of respectful submission to the expressed will of those whom they serve.
The Luther Rice SlapdownMany Northern Baptists opposed the convention method, favoring the society plan instead. Those who opposed Rice's ideas and those who opposed Rice's personality coalesced into an anti-Rice, anti-Convention mob at the 1826 meeting of the Triennial Convention. Their strategy was as effective as it was simple:
- Slander, attack, and accuse Luther Rice personally, thereby emboldening those who disagree with him and demoralizing those who agree with him.
- Use the momentum from the tearing down of the man to tear down the movement.