Why The Denominational Paper
By A. J. S. Thomas, D. D.
Editor Baptist Courier
Greenville, South Carolina
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, and one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all.-Eph 4;l-6.
THE denominational paper is the representative of a large family. Every denomination has its papers and every year shows an increase in their number. Baptists, perhaps, stand at the head of the column in the number and in the quality of their papers. Nearly every state has its Baptist weekly, and many of the states have two, or more. In the character of the reading matter, the news service and in the general make-up, some of our Baptist weeklies are equal to the best religious papers published in this, or any other land.
When some of the wise leaders of the denomination, in the early days of the present century, decided to establish the denominational paper, evidently they felt that their people needed the paper, whether there was a ”felt want,” or not. They looked into the future and saw a large and growing people who would need every good influence and helpful agency to develop them into an active intelligent, enlightened and broad-minded body of Christians. In this our fathers reasoned correctly, and they were as wise in setting on foot this mighty and blessed agency as they were in the organization of mission boards and educational institutions.
This department of Christian activity and denominational organization grew up along with other departments of work. It was instrumental in the establishment of some of these departments and it has greatly aided in the growth and development of every good work. With the beginning of the present century religious journalism began. Even before the Christian people of this land had entered upon the great work of foreign missions, two efforts were made, one in Georgia and one in Massachusetts, to publish papers, but they fell through. It took Luther Rice, that indomitable spirit, burning with missionary zeal, the great pioneer also in Christian education under Baptist influence, to set on foot a movement which ultimately succeeded. Great man that he was, he knew that the people must be reached more easily and rapidly than he could do it with his horse and ”sulky.” In helping to begin newspaper work among Baptists he was instrumental in beginning a work second only to that of arousing and helping to organize, American Baptists in the work of foreign missions and Christian education.
In considering the denominational paper, and the reason for its existence, much might be said of its field, its character, and its mission. The Baptist weekly has a great field, in the south especially. It is not true that Baptists are not a reading people. There have been reading people among them all along. The fact that Baptists were pioneers in journalism shows that the fathers believed there were already some reading people among them and that this number would increase. The further fact that the denominational paper has lived and that there are so many of them shows the fathers were correct in this opinion. The denominational paper in the south has a fine field because the great body of our people are in the country. It is a great mistake to say, country people do not read. A very large proportion of them do read, and they read papers. They do not simply ”glance over the paper,” but they read it carefully, devoting hours to it, reading its every page and column. This is the great field for the denominational paper to cultivate, for heretofore it has been much neglected. There are many homes not yet entered by the Baptist weekly, and once it goes into a well ordered family in the country, it will continue its visits indefinitely. Wherever it finds its way into the country home it makes converts and life-time friends for every good work the denomination is conducting.
Our denominational papers will do well to cultivate this wide and inviting field. They should more earnestly strive to interest and help that large class of readers to be found in the country churches. These churches are receiving into their membership many converts every year. The great majority of these churches have preaching from the pastor ”once a month.” Under these conditions it is impossible for the pastor to teach and inform his people, to any great extent, of the different departments of Christian work. The members will go uninformed unless they read the denominational paper. This is an important field for our papers to cultivate; the people need the paper, and they will read it. Then, from many of these country churches crowds of young men and women are going every year into the towns and cities, to occupy, in time, important positions, and perhaps to accumulate great wealth. How important for these young people to know something of our doctrines, practices, history and work before they pass out of the old home with its quiet country life, and before their membership is transferred from the church of their childhood to the great metropolitan congregation. There is a vast work for the denominational paper of the south in the homes of our country people, with much promise of large usefulness.
Since the denominational paper is for a great people, and has a wide field, it should be first class in all respects. Our people deserve a good paper. If they have access to few books, if they read few papers, all the more important why this paper should be full of good matter, written by true, wise, godly men and women, in a loving, fraternal spirit. The denominational paper ought to be lofty in character, above suspicion. It must be clean, pure, elevating, fraternal, broad, local, general - a Baptist religious newspaper must be all of this. The columns ought to be filled with the choicest thoughts of our best and wisest men. The editor is supposed to have conscience as well as erudition and wisdom, and he should use both conscience and wisdom in his work, and keep out of his columns those things that will cause divisions, alienations, and bitterness, among the people. It is his duty to put into the columns things that will make for peace, that will inform, instruct, comfort, and lift up the readers. The paper is a power, a veritable battering ram, if it engages in the work of tearing down. It is capable of doing, untold damage. It can break down pastors, split churches, and divide a whole state, if it is not wisely and conscientiously managed and edited. In the hands of an unwise, illiberal and unscrupulous man, the denominational paper may become a fire-brand, a scourge, a terrible engine of war sending forth ten thousand poisoned arrows carrying death and destruction into the ranks of God’s hosts.
As a general thing, our denominational papers are pure, elevating and helpful. They are more fraternal towards each other than formerly. The writers are more tolerant, considerate and charitable respecting the opinions and feelings of their brethren. Our Baptist papers, the most of them, seem to appreciate the importance of their mission, and to be conscious of the responsibility resting upon them. Of all the agencies at work among our people, the Baptist weekly ought to be full of wisdom and full of the Spirit of the blessed Christ.
The mission of the denominational paper is an exalted one. It ought to accomplish a blessed work for the individual, the family and the church. What is it doing? It publishes the news, religious news. The Baptist weekly gives the news of the work of the denomination; it tells of the condition, the needs, the success, the plans of our mission boards, educational and benevolent institutions. The denominational paper tells of the workers. It speaks of individuals. The people become familiar with the names of persons they may never see. The names of Jeter, Fuller, Furman, Boyce, Broadus, and hosts of others, were familiar in thousands of homes whose inmates never saw these grand men of God. The names of the missionaries, their fields of labor, become known by being mentioned frequently in these papers. Through the same columns our mission secretaries, college presidents, pastors and their churches, are known to the people, who learn to sympathize with these men in their work and who are always on the lookout for news from their respective fields of labor. News, good news, news of the kingdom, news from the churches, from the missionaries, news of the gospel’s triumph - to herald news like this is the mission, in part, of the religious paper.
It is to be a medium of communication, between pastors and pastors, between churches and preachers, between the schools and the people, between the mission boards and the churches, between the secretaries and the people. The secretary of the foreign mission board wishes to tell the people something about the work of the board; he can not go all over the country to make it known, he can not write a letter to every church, but happily for him, here is the denominational paper, and he addresses the people through its columns; this is the medium of communication, and he has an audience of several hundred thousand, and his appeal is not made in vain.
The denominational paper is a bond of union. It should promote brotherly love and unity. Our common faith, common interests, common work, should bind us together and hold us together. The state paper represents all these and should in every way try to unite the people in their work, and hold them together. The paper is the mutual friend of all the brethren. It is a friend going on an errand of love and helpfulness, week after week, into the homes of the people. It stands as the friend of every good work and worker. The workers get close together as they read its columns, each man feels the shoulder-touch and the heart-beat of his brother as he reads of his struggles, his sufferings, his failures and his successes. If the denominational paper fails to be a bond of union between the brethren it fails in a most important mission. Rather than it should become a means of division better forever fold its leaves, pi its type and silence its press. As it is the go-between, the mutual friend, the messenger of and to the brotherhood, its mission should be peace, unity and fraternity.
Its mission is to teach the people. The good religious paper holds opinions and has convictions. The Baptist paper stands for Baptist doctrines, the New Testament doctrines and principles and practices as held by Baptists. It stands for these, it teaches these distinctive principles, and urges the people to accept these truths and in turn to touch them. The Baptist paper stands for the denomination’s work and teaches the people the duty of helping in this work. Its duty is frequently to go in advance of the people, to lead off in a new denominational undertaking. It must, in many things, blaze the way, create public sentiment, and not wait to see what position certain individuals will take, or what views certain other papers may hold. The great controlling principle should be, what is best for the churches and the denomination and the glory of God, and then go ahead and show the people what is expected of them. It is the faithful teacher of a great class of learners, many of them taking from its columns their first lessons in the doctrines and work of the denomination. The paper, like every wise teacher, must be willing to give line upon line, precept upon precept.
The mission of the denominational paper is, in brief, to help make a better, wiser, broader, and more liberal people, to be the true fellow-helper of every agency engaged in this great work. We all wish to see more churches, but we wish far more to see better churches. We wish to see more Christians, and church members, but we wish far more to see better Christians and better church members. This is the mission of the religious paper, the Baptist weekly, viz.: not to make narrow, prejudiced partisans, but intelligent, well-grounded, well-informed, generous, consecrated, Christ-like people. The paper that has not this end in view has missed its mission.
The denominational paper of the right character and that is wisely and earnestly trying to fill its proper mission should have the sympathy, the support and the cooperation of all the people. That parent is making a sad mistake who does not have such a paper in his home and who does not encourage the children to read it. He is doing himself and his children a great wrong. The pastor who does not try to put the denominational paper in the homes of his people and who does not encourage them to read it, is not wise. He is depriving himself of his right arm, he is withholding from his people that which is meet, and he is working serious harm to the cause at large.