Sunday, April 29, 2012

Baptist Sermon Notes in History

Since I maintain preaching without notes, sometimes I am asked about this from the Baptist historical angle. I am not aware of anything written specifically on this subject, but one can pick up bits and pieces about it when researching historical material. Also there are older folks who can recite their memories of it relating to their time and place.

Old-timers here (who are mostly gone now) have said the preachers did not use notes back in the early 1900s. I think this is pretty accurate for the times, though in some cases preachers may have used them and folks just didn't know it. I would guess that it became popular among the Missionary Baptists in Texas in the 1930s or so, and probably earlier for Southern Baptists. I think most Primitive Baptists do not use them to the present. A couple of MB preachers in our area who started preaching in the 1930s used notes. Their notes were published in print form. One lived 1891-1974 and the other 1901-1972. In these cases they were quite sparse, only a few sentences -- main points they wanted to get across. One might wonder whether they even looked at these in the pulpit. Quite possibly they were study notes rather than pulpit notes. They were not detailed outlines like many use today.

But I recall reading some early American and English Regular Baptists who even used full manuscripts at times. Z. N. Morrell mentions one Baptist in Texas in the mid 1800s who did so. This practice is something that has varied at different times in history. I have no doubt the Separate Baptists were one of the biggest influences against preaching from notes. Most of them believed in being led by the Spirit at the time and place of preaching for their thoughts and topic. Seminary training is one of the big contributors to the use of sermon notes.

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