The spirit of independence so prominent in early America also characterized the people called Baptists. Baptists believed deeply in the idea of a free church in a free state, and they structured their churches as independent and autonomous. Yet ultimately they formed associations, supported societies, and became what we know as a modern denomination (several, in fact). What caused these early Baptists with fiercely independent spirits to form a variety of interdependent entities? Among the factors was a pastor and church historian named Robert Baylor Semple.
Semple was a significant catalyst in the movement towards a denomination. He was a significant figure in every major Baptist institution in Virginia, was one of thirty-three original delegates forming the General Missionary Convention (Triennial Convention) in 1814, and he served as president of the Convention from 1820 until his death in 1831. His writing, preaching, and administrative expertise encouraged a denominational spirit and facilitated a growing institutionalization among Baptists.
Did you know that George Washington University in Washington DC began as a Baptist college? The original name was "The Columbian College in the District of Columbia." Did you know that the school almost disappeared from the early American landscape due to financial mismanagement? Semple came to the rescue and effected such changes as to turn the school around and save it from ruin. Thus, what is today a leading educational institution for our nation was preserved. --RM