Friday, November 12, 2010

Wayland. Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches - A Book Review

Wayland, Francis. Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches. New York: Sheldon, 1857. 336 pp. Free PDF on or $20.00 used.

Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and the town of Wayland, Massachusetts have one thing in common: they are both named after Francis Wayland. Wayland, born in 1796 to a Baptist preacher and his wife, after studying medicine for three years and receiving his license to practice, abandoned the study of medicine in 1816 to attend Andover Theological Seminary. His studies having been interrupted by financial hardship, he accepted a position as a tutor at Union College for four years. He then was called to be the pastor of First Baptist Church, Boston. After receiving an honorary D. D. from Brown (1822) and getting married (1825), he eventually resigned his pastorate and accepted a professorship at Union College, teaching mathematics and philosophy (1826). In 1827 he was elected as president of Brown University, where he stayed over twenty-eight years. Upon his retirement from Brown, he served as the pastor of First Baptist, Providence for two years.[1]


While Wayland is mostly known for his writings in moral philosophy, intellectual philosophy, and political economy, he did publish several volumes in theology and Christian studies. One of these is this collection of fifty-two papers that originally appeared, probably during his tenure at First Baptist, Providence, in The Examiner under the name of Roger Williams (preface). In the first essay, Wayland presents a case for the unity among Baptists due to a lack of creeds and a focus on God's Word. He then states that the following essays are "the simple record of the observation of an individual" concerning the "principles and practice . . . of Baptists in the northern States" (16). The remaining essays are the record of his conversations with his readership: Wayland writing on a regular basis and, not only opining, but also answering the requests of his readers (on several occasions Wayland noted that a topic or the expansion of a topic is due to the request of a reader).

The topics evolve as follows: Wayland first begins talking about the doctrinal beliefs of Baptists (II-III). This makes him start lamenting how Baptist practices have changed in the last 50 years (III-IX). Here he is led to defend the typically uneducated Baptist preacher of 50 years ago, pointing out the benefits of such a man to reach the uneducated masses and the reliance that such a man had to have on the Spirit of God. This starts a new series of articles on the Ministry (X-XIII). He is led to lament how seminaries are not being effective in the production of ministers and uses as evidence the 4,000 ministers that were currently needed. In turn, this leads him to discuss how to improve the Ministry (XIV-XV). The highlight of this series of articles, which he revisits later in the volume, is the push for local Baptists to be active in their churches, and for their churches and their pastors to train people in their own congregation. After having concluded, temporarily, his remarks on the Baptist Ministry, Wayland returns to a discussion of doctrine, specifically the doctrine of Baptism (XVI - XVII). As any writing of his time, Wayland discussed the mode and the subjects of baptism, and criticized infant baptism. He then realizes that he had not offered any "suggestions on the subject of licensure and ordination of ministries" (99), and therefore dedicates the next three essays to the topic (XVIII-XX). Here he focuses on the call of God, as recognized by the individual and the community, on an individual's life.

Having often alluded to the loss suffered by Baptists "by following the examples of other denominations," Wayland then proceeds to list and discuss points of difference and commonality between Baptists and other denominations (XXI-XXIV), including a section specifically comparing Baptists and Pedobaptists with regards to doctrines other than baptism, per the request of a reader. He follows this set of essays with a discussion of places where Baptists have erred in imitating others (XXV-XXVII), noting issues in music, architecture, and details in the weekly service and in marriage and funeral services. This leads into a discussion on church and congregation, societies, denominations, conventions, missionary unions, and other related topics (XXVIII-XXXII). Due to a reader's request, Wayland then returns to the concept of Christian ministry in Baptist denominations (XXXIII). This leads him to a discussion on the public worship of God and the problem of maintaining it in the West, which brings him back to the issue of the great need for Ministers of the Gospel (XXXIV). Believing that the furtherance of the gospel is the duty of all believers, Wayland begins to advise his brethren in the West: they should not forsake public worship and weekly gathering, but cultivate their own walk with God and pray for God to raise a leader from among them (XXXV-XXXIX). This brings him to opine on the responsibilities of the churches in the cities (XL), before writing an essay on seminaries, colleges, and academies and how they should be structured to facilitate the formation of ministers of all ages and abilities (XLI). Ultimately, Wayland returns to the theory that the minister should labor to train other ministers (XLII-XLIII). Being convicted by his own arguments, he dedicates his last essays (XLIV-LII) to offering advice to the aspiring minister. His topics range from how to expand one's mental abilities to the preparation and delivery of sermons, from the importance of visitation to the importance of week-day and Lord's day services.

Critical Evaluation

From the point of view of structure, this volume, due to its nature, is not inherently structured. There is a semblance of a flow as one would have in a free-flowing conversation, for this is a conversation between Wayland and his audience, but there does not seem to be a clear path and a clear target, with the exception of the target at large which is the recording and discussion of principles and practices of the Baptists. At times topics are revisited, as in a conversation, and most essays start with a reference to the essay that preceded it. Therefore, while full of great historical information and insight, this non-indexed text is not user friendly as a quick research tool, unless one downloads the text version and uses some software's search feature. Yet, the author is not to blame, for this was not his original intended purpose for this volume.

As for the content, it might be surprising that someone as educated as Wayland, college and seminary student and the professor and president of a university, would downplay the formal education of ministers as much as he does in this volume. A careful reading of his essays, though, reveals that Wayland is not opposed to formal education, for in numerous occasions he supports it. What he is opposed to is the requirement of a formal education. He justifies this historically, experientially, scripturally, and practically. Pointing to the uneducated preachers of the early 1800s, he suggests they were able to deliver sermons in such a manner that everybody understood them, for they were using the language of the masses to deliver to the masses. Religious character, which is more important than education or intelligence to Wayland, does not require an education. Ultimately, speaking of the one called to minister, Wayland states that: "if he be apt to teach, he will be neither an imbecile nor a pedant" (52).

An integral part of his argument is based on the recurring theme of dependence on the Holy Spirit (for a few examples see: 20, 47, 80, 108, 115, 120, 123, 132, 207, 219, 243, 304) and on the New Testament (for a few examples see: 47, 86, 138). In this volume, Baptist doctrine is considered to have been taught by the Spirit to, "for the most part, plain, unlearned men" who "looked up in humility to the Holy Spirit to teach them the meaning of the word of God" (123). In the same vein, Wayland exclaims twice: "Is there any Holy Ghost?" (47, 108) as an answer to objections raised by his readers. Therefore, the God who does not make mistakes will call and sustain his people, with or without the use of educational institutions.

Another integral part of his argument is the Christian responsibilities of believers, of local churches, and of ministers themselves. For Wayland, "the gospel requires, that a Christian should be not only a receiver, but a dispenser of spiritual benefits" (381). So, when advising the believers in the West, he tells them that "there are gifts for edification among you, if you will only look after them and employ them. Christ does not plant barren vines in his vineyard" (233-34). He, therefore, critiques the church's reliance "on voluntary associations to do what each one should do himself" (270). Finding and training people among the local church is presented as not only more practical, as shown by many examples and many situations presented by Wayland, but it has as one of its advantages the fact that, unlike seminaries, local pastors can impart practical knowledge to their would be ministers. In addition:

What could be more delightful than for a minister to have three or four brethren uniting with him in carrying forward the work of God, all animated by the same spirit, all aiming at the same object, and filling the whole district in which they live with the preaching of the word (268).
Vocational, bi-vocational, and non-vocational ministries are all advocated depending on the local situation and the working of God. Both his emphasis on the Spirit and the emphasis on in-house training and church participation are as applicable now as they were back then, and are very appreciated in today's Christian culture.

Given the emphasis just discussed, an area of confusion in the understanding of Wayland's theology, as seen in this volume, is his understanding of ministry. At one point he is very clear on his dislike for the clergy / laity division. He states:

The fact is, if we must speak the truth, almost all our denominations are sinking down into the belief that all the direct work for the conversion of the world is to be done by the ministry; thus making a broad distinction between the clergy and the laity (I use these terms, not because I approve of them, but because they are so much in vogue). We are coming to think the minister is to do the work of the Lord, and the business of the private brother is simply to pay him for it (80-81).

Throughout the volume, though, he continually uses the term 'the ministry' and differentiates the ones who are not in the ministry with the ones who are in the ministry, inadvertently creating this same clergy laity distinction that he despises. Overall, though, Wayland's writing on the topic of ministry captures in many ways the essence of the critique of the modern, simple church movement, while still being in a very structured environment. This is not the only place where this book engages contemporary topics.

In his critique of the change in church music due to the influence of other denominations (XXV), Wayland laments the decline of spontaneity and true worship he found in "congregational singing." Wayland argues that true worship should be planned, led, and sung, by the regenerate believers for the sole purpose of the worship of God. While he points out that instruments cannot worship God, and therefore seems to discount their appropriateness in worship, he does not dwell on this issue, but looks at what he saw as a bigger issue. The issue is the pattern he sees his contemporary Baptist churches adopting from the Congregationalists, who themselves adopted it from the Episcopalians: the pattern of the professionalization of the music, necessitating an organ and a choir. Here, he laments that true worship is replaced by the search for excellence which often results in "the congregation [listening] in silence to a mere musical performance, precisely as the audience at a concert or an opera" (151). This struggle is as current today as it was back then, causing the spilling of much ink and the splitting of many churches. May Baptists learn from history and be willing to say, like Wayland, that "artistic excellence" in not essential to blend "the whole audience in one consciousness of solemn worship" (150) and that "it is wicked to substitute a mere musical diversion for the solemn worship of God" (152).


Written one hundred and fifty years ago, this volume still speaks volumes to the issues our churches are faced with, while, at the same time, encouraging its readers that God, through His Spirit, is able. As Solomon so aptly said, "there is nothing new under the sun." Whether one wants to understand Baptist historic principles, get a glimpse of historic Baptist life and issues, be encouraged to preach without notes, or follow a series of personal training lessons, Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches is a very pleasant, interesting, stimulating, and thought provoking read.

[1] See: Martha Mitchell, Encyclopedia Brunoniana (Providence: Brown University Library, 1993), s.v. "Wayland, Francis" [on-line]; accessed 23 October 2010; available from; Internet; Edited Appletons Encyclopedia (Virtualology, 2001), s.v. "Francis Wayland" [on-line]; accessed 23 October 2010; available from; Internet; and Answer Corp., Biographies (Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, Inc. 2006), s.v. "Francis Wayland" [on-line]; accessed 23 October 2010; available from; Internet.

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