Posted on September 09, 2015
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, New Jersey Baptists looked to Henry Smalley to bring order from disarray. During his decades of ministry, Smalley earned a reputation both for bolstering community and for navigating theological turbulence. He was acutely aware of the symptoms and causes of congregational discord, and he made it his mission to preserve peace, not just in his own church, but in neighboring congregations as well. Smalley’s peacemaking—or one might say, his effort to bring order to controversy and confusion—was exhibited in two primary ways. First, Smalley sought to foster and maintain communal order. Communal order entailed congregants treating one another with respect and eschewing gossip, backbiting, or defamation. Second, Smalley facilitated theological order. Theological order involved avoiding or bringing to heel any teaching Baptists might have found doctrinally suspect. This essay will contend that Smalley was a source of both communal and theological order for the Baptists of south New Jersey. As one of his contemporaries described him, Smalley was an “ambassador of God.” Such a designation is appropriate, since for New Jersey Baptists, Smalley was God’s representative, come to bring order from communal and theological chaos.