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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reflections on Frontier Religion

Frontier Religion: Elder Daniel Parker, His Religious and Political Life, by Dan B. Wimberly, Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 2002 $22.95

From the cover
"Imbibing the promise of Jeffersonian egalitarianism, some Americans in the early nineteenth century sought to gain positions of leadership in politics and religion. Born in 1781, Daniel Parker was such a leader. ...In 1834 he led a Baptist congregation into Texas, the church being formed en route from Illinois. This was the first organized Baptist church in Texas. In church polity and politics Parker advocated republicanism. Yet inconsistencies and controversies surrounded him."

About the Author
"Dan B. Wimberly is a native of Louisiana and a graduate of Louisiana College...Since 1996 he has taught history and political science at Bartlesville Wesleyan College."

Samuel R. Ligget, in his review of the book, wrote, "Dr. Wimberly does an excellent job of putting Daniel Parker's life into the context of the historical events of his time. He portrays Parker as a man shaped by his beliefs and his environment in both his political and religious life from his birth to his final years in Texas."

I just finished reading Frontier Religion, a story of the life of predestinarian Baptist Daniel Parker. What follows is not so much a review as reflections caused by reading the book.

The name 'Daniel Parker' still rings a bell with some East Texans, residents of Houston County, and Baptist historians. Parker is an important East Texas religious figure. Some knowledge of Daniel Parker and the Pilgrim Predestinarian Baptist Church will help East Texas Baptists understand more about themselves and their beginnings. (Isaac Reed and Union Church is another from whom we can learn about ourselves.)

J. M. Carroll declared that Daniel Parker's ministry "left a mighty empress on East Texas" – not only on the Primitive Baptists, but on the Missionary Baptists as well (A History of Texas Baptists). "There are but few ministers of the gospel, and a majority of them are anything but missionary in effort or sentiment." Levi Roberts continued by noting that many of the churches in East Texas were constituted by Daniel Parker "and kindred spirits, who thought it a crime to contribute to the support of the gospel or those who preached it." Despite his differences with Parker, Roberts says he knew him and "always considered him a good man, possessing a warm heart, a clear head and giant intellect..." (From The Banner and Pioneer, June 5, 1847). Missionary Baptists are obviously connected to Parker by leading preachers and churches that separated and came over from Parker's group (e.g. Shelby Countian
William Brittain) and Bethel Baptist Church in Sabine County. But they are also connected by many lesser-known people and incidences (e.g. William Sparks, who left Parker's Hopewell Church for Reed's Union Church, both in Nacogdoches Co.). We often forget that as the Baptists developed in East Texas, there was a strand that stood somewhere in between the Primitive Baptist and Missionary Baptist – most of which churches eventually ended up in the Missionary Baptist camp. Union (now Old North) in Nacogdoches is considered the oldest continuous Missionary Baptist in Texas. Yet a look at the minutes of Sabine Association and Union Church declare that early on this church looked little like later Missionary Baptists, and the Sabine Association even declared against Missionary Baptists in a resolution. The great bulk of these non-Primitive, non-Missionary Baptists were at heart primitivists who believed in holding New Testament faith and order (but disagreed with the Primitive Baptists on that faith and order). In the very places this primitivism was strong, Landmarkism would later make impressive inroads among those who rejected the extreme predestinarianism, Two-seedism, authoritarianism and fractiousness of Daniel Parker. Among these Landmarkers there would continue an enduring strain of primitivism into the 1930s or so, rejecting seminaries and other such innovations. Even a few continued to practice washing the saints' feet. By the time I came along in the late 50s, it had become anemic -- often embraced by those who did not understand and could not articulate why they believed what they did about why new innovations shouldn't be accepted. This is my heritage and I am very much at home with it.

Interestingly, Daniel Parker's unique Two-Seed doctrine did not survive in his own church and association.

I highly recommend Frontier Religion. A copy of it is currently available from Amazon, but the $161.34 price tag seems a tad steep, even though it is out of print. A good companion book is
Frontier Blood: The Saga of the Parker Family, by Jo Ella Powell Exley (at least it looks good; I have it, but haven't read it yet).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Elder Daniel Parker came to Texas from Illinois, liked what he saw and returned to Illinois. His family and others founded Pilgrim church as a moving arm of the Church they were leaving to come to Texas.This averted the Mexican ban on forming Non-Catholic churches in what later became Texas.Elder Parker was an absolute predestenarian,and preached the same doctrine that is still preached at Pilgrim Church today. If you would like to hear this doctrine preached, attend the Church some 3rd Sunday.CLJ