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Brief History of the Missionary Baptist Church

Updated: Feb 8, 2023


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What is a Missionary Baptist Church

A Missionary Baptist Church is a denomination within the Baptist tradition that emerged in the United States in the late 19th century. They separated from the Regular Baptists due to theological differences. Missionary Baptists emphasized the importance of missions and evangelism, and Regular Baptists did not. The Missionary Baptist Church also places a strong emphasis on the autonomy of the local church. This means each individual congregation can make decisions for itself without interference from a larger governing body.

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The Missionary Baptist Church grew rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The group of people who now comprise most of this denomination are now African Americans. Today, Missionary Baptists can be found throughout the United States and in other countries as well. Despite its relatively small size, the Missionary Baptist Church maintains a strong commitment to its core value of evangelism. In recent decades, we have faced challenges, such as declining membership and a changing cultural landscape. Despite this, we remain active and effective in our niche.


Slavery and Its Effects on Black Worship

Slavery had a profound impact on the black worship experience in America. African American slaves were often forced to worship separately from whites. Racial segregation also infiltrated houses of worship! Racial segregation limited our sense of community and prevented us from fully participating in the life of the church. Additionally, slave owners often had control over the religious practices and teachings of their slaves. Such white superiority resulted in distorted and incomplete teachings.


Despite these challenges, black slaves built a sense of community through their worship experiences. This community connected and supported one another and found strength through faith. Music also became an important part of the African American worship experience. Music allowed a stress relieving expression of worship and resistance against oppression. The legacy continues to shape and influence the black worship experience in America today.


Here are ways in which slavery has impacted the Black worship experience in America:

  • Segregation in Churches: Slaves were forced to worship separately from white worshippers, in separate facilities or at different times.

  • Limited Access to Theology and Education: They were prevented from receiving a formal education and were not allowed to read the Bible. This limited their ability to understand and interpret the scripture. In effect, they were denied basic access to experience God in His fulness. For instance, up until the late 1980s, most Missionary Baptists (me included) believed Jesus was European.

  • Control by White Masters: White slave owners had control over the religious practices and teachings of their slaves. This resulted in African American slaves being limited in their ability to engage in a meaningful worship experience.

  • Expressions of Resistance: My ancestors worship experiences was a form of resistance against oppressors. They created songs and spirituals that expressed their pain, longing for freedom, and hope for deliverance.

  • Use of Music: Music was a way for these enslaved souls to express their emotions, connect with each other, and experience the Holy Spirit. This continues to be an important part of black worship today.

  • Community Building: Despite challenges and limitations they faced, our ancestors were able to build a sense of community through their worship experiences. Both the A.M.E. and Missionary Baptist Churches were crucial to our very survival.

In summary, American slavery impacted the black worship experience because of discrimination from white “Christians”. However, we struggled through faith to stay close to God through our music and fellowship one with another.


Difference Between Baptist and Missionary Baptist

The difference between Baptists and Missionary Baptists boils down to varying visions of what outreach looks like. Missionary Baptists are a subgroup of Baptists, but not all Baptists are Missionary. The Missionary Baptist denomination is a conservative, Evangelical Protestant denomination known for its strong emphasis on Christian education as well as outreach.


We also share many of the core beliefs and practices of other Baptist denominations. These include the authority of the Bible, the importance of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and the autonomy of each local church. However, we have our own distinct traditions and practices.


Here are six (6) core differences between us and other Baptists:

  • Emphasis on Missions: We place a strong emphasis on missions and spreading the gospel, while regular Baptists may not emphasize this as heavily.

  • Autonomy of Local Churches: Both Missionary and regular Baptists believe in the autonomy of local churches. However, Missionary Baptists place a greater emphasis on this principle.

  • Approach to Christian Discipleship: Our denomination places a strong emphasis on education (Christian Discipleship) both in terms of theological training for clergy and for laypeople. Let me, as a Pastor, be clear: this does not mean that Clergy must have “college” or even “seminary” level education.

  • Evangelism: This subgroup is also known for a strong focus on personal evangelism and spreading the gospel. Regular Baptists do not focus as much on this aspect, but this is changing.

  • Interpretation of the Scripture: We tend to take a more conservative and literal approach to interpreting the Bible. There is nothing within our denomination which can be framed as “liberal theology”.

  • Structure and Organization: Our local church governance focuses more on by-laws than regular Baptists. Further, we are "Pastor" and "Deacon" centric with respect to hierarchy.

In summary, the fundamental difference between Baptists and Missionary Baptists is evangelistic outreach. The former has more of a “wait and see” approach while the latter follows Jesus’ command to: “go into all the world and preach the gospel”.


Why are African Americans Majority Missionary Baptists

Black Missionary Baptists exists because white Christians did not allow us into their Baptist worship experiences during slavery. The first black Baptist church in America was established in 1775, in Savannah, Georgia. This church was established by slaves who had been converted to Christianity by white Baptist missionaries.

Over time, more black churches were established, and these eventually formed into their own denominations. Some of these were (but are not limited to): African Baptist Church, American Episcopalian (AME), and the African American Baptist Missionary Society. These remained separate from white Baptists and were formed in response to racial segregation and discrimination from our “good Christian” neighbors.

The strong connection between African Americans and Missionary Baptists is a testament to the resilience and strength of our community. It also reflects a deep spiritual and cultural heritage. Living in a time when, according to Pew Research, young blacks are seeking more worship experiences with whites, this history becomes even more important to preserve.


What do Missionary Baptists Believe

Missionary Baptist believe in the authority of God’s Word, the commandment to go preach, and autonomy (free will) of local congregations. We further believe in the triune nature of God, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the importance of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.


Let’s be clear: we do not believe in “3 gods” because scripture does not teach this. Although Oneness Pentecostals accuse us in this area, it is far from reality. We believe that: “God is one (1), and besides Him there is no other” as His Word teaches! We also emphasize the importance of living a righteous and holy life, and place great importance on a personal relationship with God.

Here are twelve (12) core denominational tenets:

  • The Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God.

  • There is one God who manifests Himself according to reconciliatory need. This was revealed in the vision of John the Baptist.

  • We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, and His physical resurrection.

  • Humankind is sinful and need salvation through faith in Jesus.

  • The efficacy of the blood (life in the blood really) of Jesus Christ in atoning for sin.

  • Justification by faith in Jesus apart from works.

  • The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers.

  • That Jesus Christ will personally return (so-called second coming)

  • Bodily resurrection of both the saved and the lost for judgment.

  • Living a righteous life, through the Holy Spirit and when we fall, there is repentance in Christ.

  • Importance of personal evangelism and spreading the gospel.

  • The autonomy of each local church.

In summary, there are twelve (12) foundational principles that guide what we believe and practice. All are directly from biblical authority and although each local church is autonomous, they cannot over-ride God’s Word.


How Many Baptist Conventions are There

There have been approximately fifty-eight (58) various Baptist conventions. However, there are twelve (12) which are more prominent and active than the others. The primary convention of Missionary Baptists is the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, Inc.


The NMBCA serves as a resource and support network for Missionary Baptist churches nationwide. The church I Pastor is a member church of this convention. We do not actively participate because with the availability of only resources (educational) provided by the convention, travelling yearly seems a waste of time and resources quite frankly.


However, the convention also holds annual meetings, where representatives from member churches come together to conduct business and fellowship. Further, it conducts a worship experience, participate in training sessions, and conduct the business of the convention.


Here are twelve (12) other Baptist Church Conventions:


  • Southern Baptist Convention

  • American Baptist Churches USA

  • National Missionary Baptist Convention of America

  • Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

  • National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.

  • African American Baptist Church

  • Primitive Baptist Convention

  • Free Will Baptist Convention

  • Independent Baptist Fellowship of North American

  • Regular Baptist Churches

  • Conservative Baptist Association of America

  • General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.


In summary, there are (and have been) approximately fifty-eight (58) different Baptist conventions. Let’s be clear about why there are so many: control! Some man will always come along with a “more divine” revelation of God’s Word and lead people away from the foundational organization.


Nevertheless, God’s Word will spread, by these organizations popping up everywhere. Once again, the text is true: “for we do know that all things work together for the good of them that love God, and to them that are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).


Were Missionary Baptists the First Black Denomination

No, Missionary Baptists were not the first black denomination. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) is considered the first black Protestant denomination in America. It was founded in Philadelphia in 1816, after a group of black worshippers were expelled from a white-dominated Methodist church. The reason for this shunning was protesting against segregation and discrimination. The white followers of Jesus expelled black followers because blacks pointed out white "christians" were not practicing what they preached.

The AME Church was established as an independent denomination that would allow African Americans to worship freely, without facing discrimination. Today, the AME Church is one of the largest and most influential black denominations in America. It continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice, equality, and empowerment for African Americans.

The first African American Baptist churches were established in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They, too, were a response to the racial segregation and discrimination by white-dominated Baptist denominations. These early efforts resulted in formation of our own denominations. Some of these are: African Baptist Church, African American Baptist Missionary Society, and African American Episcopalian (AME).


Header Image Courtesy of Samantha Sophia @ Unsplash

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