Saturday, January 24, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   January 25

Houston Preachers Object to Immersionist Sunday School Literature  January 27, 1938

The debate over sprinkling versus immersion as a form of baptism once was one of the defining differences between Methodists and Baptists in Texas.  Since both denominations agreed on basic Christian principles, often cooperated in city-wide revivals, and even shared the same houses of worship, we sometimes look on the immersion debate with amusement—as straining over gnats   Our ancestors, however, took the matter seriously.  Methodists were actually accommodating to immersionists.  If an adult convert wished to receive baptism by “dunking,” the Methodist preacher would oblige.  

The issue continued into the 20th century, and the Texas Conference Archives contain an interesting correspondence which began when the Advocate published an immersionist Sunday School lesson. 
Houston District preachers objected and directed the Rev. Charles F. Smith to write a letter of complaint to Rev. W. P. King, editor of the Advocate.  Charles F. Smith (1860-1958) was a superannuate member of the Texas Conference who was associated with St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Houston in his retirement.  He was the custodian of the “conference trunk,” a predecessor of the Conference Archives.
Here is the text of Smith’s complaint letter of January 27

Dear Dr. King:
I was appointed by the Houston District, Monday morning’s preacher’s meeting, to prepare a paper to be presented to you.  Tempering the wind to make it mild, the paper is as follows:

With due appreciation of the General Organ, and your splendid work as editor, we drop this word (with the hope the “a word to the wise, etc.”) viz: that “The Church School Lessons” by Prof. Rollin H. Walker, be discontinued.  (The discontinuance reffered (sic) to the writer not to the department.)
For this paper there were 17 “ayes” and 4 “nays”.  The opposing stated they had not read Porfessor Walker’s articles. 
                                                                          Cordially Yours

N. B. My personal word.  Your contributor is evidently an immersionist.   No quarrel with him about that.  But the man who holds that view is not the man to write for the Methodist Sunday School, and in the columns of the paper supported by the Methodist Church. 

A communication from another part of the state says:  you are going to give an explanation of the Methodist position on the immersion question.  Permit me, Doctor, to ask, why you did not do this in the paper in which appeared your contributor’s article and as an answer to him?

Dr. King responded immediately.  Here is his reply from January 28:

My dear Dr. Smith:

I frankly confessed to some of the brethren who wrote me as touching Professor Walker’s Sunday School lesson that I was not on my guard when that lesson went in and did not notice the objectionable expression.  As you say, he has right to his private opinion, but it was not appropriate for the Advocate.  I have put him on notice as touching this particular statement, which I find that the other papers that carry his lessons, detected and eliminated.  So long as he is satisfactory in his exposition of the lesson, I would be unwilling to rule him out for this lapse alone.

My editorial on baptism is in the Advocate of next week.  I am not guaranteeing that it will give universal satisfaction, but I think it is the one reasonable interpretation.
I am not clear as to one item in your letter.  Did you want your statement published in the Advocate or was it for my own private benefit?


Editor King also added a hand written postscript.  We should have larger number of subscribers to the Advocate from Houston. 


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