- American Baptist Association
The American Baptist Association (ABA), formed in 1924, is an association of nearly 2,000 theologically conservative churches that are Landmark Baptist in their missions and teachings. The Association is based in the United States and has churches primarily in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Florida and California with smaller numbers of churches in almost all of the states. There are also numerous churches in Mexico, the Philippines and other foreign countries which affiliate with the ABA.
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The official organization of the American Baptist Association was on Wednesday, December 10, 1924. The Baptist movement in America began with John Clarke in Rhode Island in the early 17th century. Baptist churches spread from New England through New York and Pennsylvania, to the Midwest and the American South. The Landmark Baptist view of their origins are that Baptist churches have existed in perpetuity since the time of the New Testament.
As Baptist churches were established in the Virginias and the Carolinas, some churches decided to convene regularly for missionary and governmental policy-making, but others did not citing local church authority. These boards or conventions gave rise first to the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions and later to the Southern Baptist Convention based in Nashville, Tennessee.
A series of controversies arose in the middle 19th century among the Baptist churches, primarily in the South and to a smaller degree in the North, concerning Baptist theological and governmental principles. This movement to return to Baptist distinctives became known as Landmarkism. Early Landmark leaders included James Robinson Graves, James M. Pendleton, and Amos C. Dayton.
The Cotton Grove Resolutions, adopted in 1851 at a meeting at Cotton Grove Baptist Church near Jackson, Tennessee, were probably the first systematized expression of Landmarkism though all the tenets existed among Baptists in some form or another prior to them. Landmark emphases on "local church only" and "the Great Commission given to the church" led to dissatisfaction with SBC structure and programs, such as mission boards. Conflicts between Landmarkers and non-Landmarkers were behind at least four important Baptist controversies in the late 19th century – Gospel Missions, the Whitsitt Controversy, the Hayden Controversy in Texas, and the Bogard Controversy in Arkansas.
The two state controversies led to the organization of two new state associations - the Baptist Missionary Association (BMA) of Texas in 1900 and the State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches in Arkansas in 1902. Soon Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana followed. The Texas association formed its own foreign mission work, but others desired to see a national organization for Landmark Baptists. Some of these organized the General Association of Baptists in the United States of America in 1905. The General Association never garnered full support of Landmark Baptists.
Southern Baptist churches eventually decided that the standing boards or conventions were necessary to the efficient ministries of its participants and made them permanent bodies. Some local associations that withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention still remain aloof from any national organization.
A move for unification of the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and the General Association came to fruition at Texarkana, Texas, in 1924. The BMA of Texas continued as a state organization. The General Association adjourned "sine die", and was replaced by the newly formed American Baptist Association.
The ABA suffered a serious setback in 1950 with a schism that led to the formation of two new general bodies – the North American Baptist Association and the Interstate & Foreign Missionary Baptist Associational Assembly of America. Other churches withdrew and remain independent.
The organization of the American Baptist Association is congregationalist and oriented to the local church. Most churches participate in local and state associations in addition to the national body. Churches support local, state, interstate, and foreign missionaries, a publishing house, several seminaries (each sponsored by a local church), and youth camps. The ABA headquarters are in Texarkana, Texas. Among the ABA seminaries are the Heritage Baptist Institute in Missouri City, Texas, the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Gulf Coast Baptist Institute in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and the Texas Baptist Institute in Henderson.
According to the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, the American Baptist Association reported 1,760 congregations and 275,000 members in 2000. The numerical strength of the Association is in the Old Southwest – Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas – but there are several churches in Mississippi, California and Florida. There are also several participating churches and missions in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan and Ohio. Initially a Midwestern and Southern movement, now there are at least a few ABA participating churches in most of the United States, and mission work has expanded the association worldwide.
From 1917 to 1934, the ABA operated Missionary Baptist College in Sheridan, Arkansas. Among the alumni and faculty members was Conrad N. Glover of Sheridan, who later worked with Ben T. Bogard to organize Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock. Conrad Glover's father, Robert W. Glover, also an ABA pastor, and uncle, David Delano Glover, served in the Arkansas Legislature. David Glover was also a U.S. representative from 1929 to 1935.
Beliefs and practices
ABA participating churches are evangelistic and hold some shared principles of the Christian faith: the Book of Genesis account of Divine Creation, the Atonement of the Blood of Jesus Christ for sin, the Triune God (ABA churches prefer this term as more specific than the Trinity). They reject Calvinism, specifically the Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. ABA participating churches also hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. Most ABA churches use the Authorized King James Version of the Bible for services and study in English, although some prefer the New King James Version, the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, or the New Living Translation Bibles.
Most ABA churches are partisans for the Landmark view of ecclesiology. The ABA Doctrinal Statement denies the existence of a universal church in any form, holding the church to be an exclusively local, visible entity. They instead classify all those who have repented of sin and put their faith and trust in Jesus apart from works or ceremonies, regardless of affiliation, as being in the "family of God". Most of the churches also believe their teachings predated Protestantism and reject the label "Protestant."
ABA churches observe two ordinances: Believer's baptism and the Lord's Supper. For baptism, most churches will not accept "alien" immersion, or that performed by non-Baptists. Candidates for membership from other ABA or other Baptist churches who have already been baptized by immersion can be admitted on "letter" or "statement" into the Missionary Baptist denomination. Those entering Missionary Baptist ranks from other Christian denominations must be baptized by immersion.
The ABA practices closed communion, with the ordinance restricted to members in good standing of the local church. Guests in attendance may merely observe communion but not participate. Some Missionary Baptists believe that Jesus practiced closed communion with the Apostles at the Last Supper by removing themselves from the other disciples. The SBC, conversely, invites open communion by visitors from other Baptist churches and other denominations so long as participants profess faith in Jesus Christ.
Missionary Baptist policy limits formal pulpit speakers to members of the ABA, but the SBC allows other recognized Christians to address their churches though such occasions are uncommon. The ABA is decentralized – it dispatches missionaries directly from local churches. The SBC, with far more resources available from a much greater membership, is centralized in the funding and assignment of missionaries. In most other areas of faith and practice, the ABA and SBC are compatible. In both associations, local churches call their pastors. The ABA and the SBC emphasize the Great Commission of the Church (the sending of missionaries regionally, nationally and internationally), inerrancy of Scripture, church tithing, and the overall tenets of traditional Chrisitanity, often referred to within the denomination as "the faith once delivered unto the saints."
The ABA also endorses the eschatological view of end times known as premillennialism. It stresses the security of the believer, meaning that once a person accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior, based solely on God's grace and redeeming power of the blood of Jesus, the salvation is permanent and cannot be forfeited by sin. Missionary Baptists teach that the soul of the repenting individual is in the hands of the Almighty Father and Son (John 10: 25-30). The ABA also stresses that the believer cannot be separated from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39).
During the 1950s and 1960s, two ministers in northwest Louisiana who were previously pastors in Arkansas, Austin T. Powers and L. L. Clover, emerged as regional and national ABA leaders through their pastorates of churches in the small city of Minden, the seat of government of Webster Parish, located some thirty miles east of Shreveport. Powers was moderater of the ABA from 1957-1959 and was dean of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary from 1956-1961, an institution founded by Clover in 1952. Both figures died in 1975, having been pillars of conservatism within the association. A year before his death, Clover penned Evil Spirits Intellectualism and Logic, which includes a challenge to the theory of evolution and a ringing defense of the trustworthiness of Scripture.
- Association minutes
- Baptist Around the World, by Albert W. Wardin, Jr.
- The American Baptist Association: A Survey and Census of Its Churches and Associations, by R. L. Vaughn
- Handbook of Denominations, by Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill
- Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States, 2000, Glenmary Research Center
- ^  Data from the National Council of Churches' Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches
- ^  Data from the 2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study
- ^ Conrad N. Glover and A. T. Powers, The A.B.A. (1924-1974) Chapterr 3 "Glover-Powers Dialogue", p. 64
- ^ "David Delano Glover," Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, 1789-Present
- ^ a b c d Billy Hathorn, "Austin Toliver Powers and Leander Louis Clover: Planting the American Baptist Association in Northwest Louisiana during the Middle 20th Century," North Louisiana History, Vol. XLI (Summer-Fall 2010, pp. 126-127
- ^ Bill J. Leonard, Baptists in America, (New York City: Columbia University Press, 2005, pp. 118-120
- Official Web Site
- Profile of the American Baptist Association on the Association of Religion Data Archives website
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