Knowing God through Experience: The role of personal testimony in baptismal services among Baptists

Knowing God Through Experience: The role of personal testimony in baptismal services among Baptists. A CHARIS lecture by Dr. Anthony R. Cross, Oxford University. Response from Dr. Everett Ferguson, Abilene Christian University.

Originally presented October 12, 2015, Chapel on the Hill, Abilene Christian University.

“The personal testimonies of baptismal candidates occupy a key place within the baptismal service, and provide a window into Baptist spirituality. Their strength is also their weakness: they are reflections of a believer’s experience of conversion and walk with God, their discipleship. Frequently lacking in theological sophistication, what they lack in theological insight they make up for in heartfelt conviction.” Continue reading “Knowing God through Experience: The role of personal testimony in baptismal services among Baptists”

The Sacrament of Baptism among the First Baptists

The Sacrament of Baptism among the First BaptistsDr. Anthony R. Cross (Oxford University). With a response by Dr. Doug Foster (Abilene Christian University).  Presented as a CHARIS lecture on October 13, 2015. Abilene Christian University.

“Baptismal sacramentalism continues to generate considerable interest, and often polarized views, among Baptists. With reference to the original documents, this lecture demonstrates definitively that many of the first Baptists understood baptism in sacramental terms.” Continue reading “The Sacrament of Baptism among the First Baptists”

Texas or Bust

Every family has a story. These stories are usually exchanged upon the knee of a beloved grandparent or told around the dinner table during the holidays. During the past month a patron has been kind enough to invite Special Collections into her own family’s story. We are proud to announce the acquisition of the Ervin Family Papers, which catalog the pioneering adventures of the Ervin family ancestors, Jonas Lafayette and his wife, Mary Hamilton Ervin. Of special note within this collection is a pair of letters written by Jonas Ervin and Mary Ervin during their first year on the Texas frontier. Both Mary and Jonas discuss the hardships of the frontier; topics range from not being able to afford vittles to suffering from scurvy.

It is important to draw attention to the structures of these two letters. When placed side by side you can identify congruent headings and salutations in both letters. It has been my observation that Mary demonstrates a higher level of literacy than her husband, Jonas. The script of her handwriting is much neater; her grammar and spelling is also up to standard while Jonas’ letter is peppered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is possible that Jonas asked for Mary’s help in formatting his letter or at least copied her style in order to write a legible letter. As a researcher, it is interesting to notice the differing levels of education between Jonas and Mary. It is obvious that Jonas is barely literate while Mary has gone through some kind of formal instruction. Does it strike you that, as a female on the Texas frontier, Mary would have a higher level of education than her husband, Jonas?

These letters serve as excellent windows into what living standards were like in West Texas during the 1870s, as white pioneers from the east began to settle the area. Though the Ervins faced many perils and tribulations they were able to build a legacy upon the dusty, Texan earth and a life for their family; which consisted of thirteen healthy children, all of whom survived into adulthood. What is your family’s story? What obstacles did they face while taming the wild, open spaces of the Texan wilderness? You’ll be surprised by the historical landscapes that lay before you when you  examine your own family’s journey. Please share with us your family’s story so that we may all know more about our collective past.

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The first page of Jonas Lafayette's letter.

The second page of Jonas Lafayette's letter.

The first page of Mary Hamilton Ervin's letter.

The second page of Mary Hamilton Ervin's letter.

Below are transcriptions of both Jonas’ and Mary’s letters. The transcriber has preserved the original grammar and spelling of each author. Some words are unintelligible. If you have any insights into what some of these unrecognizable words might be please comment. Thank you.  

Click here for Annotated Jonas Lafayette Ervin Letter Transcription

Click here for Annotated Mary Hamilton Ervin Letter Transcription

W. Carl Ketcherside Letters

Few individuals among Churches of Christ in the 20th century were as well-known as Carl Ketcherside (1908-1989). He described his journey as that of a piece-maker who became a peacemaker. He was for many a champion for the recovery of a lost unity amid a divided fellowship; for others, his voice represented a dangerous departure from historic restorationism if not biblical teaching. However his legacy is characterized, any interpretation of it rests on available sources: from a voluminous published corpus to archival materials from his own hand. On the one hand, ACU Special Collections holds a robust collection of his published books. Further we have copies or originals of as complete a set of his periodicals as is obtainable. On the other hand, we have numerous letters written by Carl to several of his associates. Never intended for publication, they shed additional light into his ministry and through his life, the wider story of Churches of Christ in his day. Each letter includes an attached transcription, and as a result of the typed transcriptions, the letters are now text searchable. We thank Ian Davidson, Cecil Hook. Hoy Ledbetter, Boyce Mouton and Terry Gardner for making the letters, transcriptions, and annotations available to ACU’s Special Collections.

During the 2013 ACU Friends of ACU Library luncheon during Summit Mac Ice discussed the archival significance of this correspondence and the role archives play in the preservation and dissemination of our faith story. A video of Mac’s presentation is available at the bottom of this page.


We have scanned over 125 letters from Carl to these four associates. Click the name below to access the correspondence (in PDF form) from W. Carl Ketcherside to that individual. Terry J. Gardner meticulously transcribed and annotated many of these letters.

Davidson, Ian

Hook, Cecil

Ledbetter, Hoy

Mouton, Boyce – First set

Mouton, Boyce – Second set

If you have any information about these, or any other letters to or from Carl Ketcherside – please contact Mac Ice.




Show and Tell: A Mini-Exhibit in Stone-Campbell Hymnody

We had a special treat a few days ago when several participants in the TX Singing School visited Special Collections for a tour.  In response to their request, I pulled several hymnals and related artifacts for a brief show and tell.  We thought you’d like to see the pictures.

Elias Smith, A Collection of Hymns, 1804
Elias Smith, A Collection of Hymns, for the Use of Christians. Boston: Manning and Loring [1804].
Smith-Jones, Hymns Original and Selected 1805
Elias Smith and Abner Jones, Hymns, Original and Selected, for the Use of Christians.Boston: Manning and Loring, 1805.
Abner Jones gift inscription to Mary Boodey
Here is an inscription in another edition of the Smith-Jones hymnal: “A Gift from Elder Abner Jones of Charlston Massachusetts to — Mary Boodey of Alton June 13th [or 18th] 1806–.”  This inscription may be from Jones’ hand, or from Mary Boodey’s hand.  I suspect Mary to be the wife or daughter of Joseph Boodey [or Boody] a minister whose book detailing his call to the ministry was advertised in an 24 November 1808 issue of Elias Smith’s Herald of Gospel Liberty.  A nice inscribed association copy with an inscription!
Smith-Jones Hymnals
This table displays the assortment of Smith-Jones hymnals on the bottom row.  With the acquisition of the Joe Johnson Collection in American Christianity, ACU received a fine collection of Smith-Jones hymnals, and each one is in remarkably nice condition.  On the other side of the table is a row of Campbell hymnals with a photocopy (oblong red buckram volume at the top of the photo) by Enos Dowling that we use for reference rather than handling the early originals.


Alexander Campbell, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs 1828
Alexander Campbell, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, Adapted to the Christian Religion. Bethany, 1828.
Campbel hymnals, spines
Four Campbell hymnals, ca. 1840′s-1850′s.  When hymnals were privately purchased the tastes and finances (and theology!) of the purchaser dictated the type and style of binding.  Here are two plainer styles of leather binding and two fine gilt-embossed calf-bound ones.  Later in the nineteenth century congregations purchased hymnals in bulk to be kept and used at the meetinghouses, gradually closing an era when worshipers brought their own hymnals.


Campbell hymnals, decorative leather
Here is another shot of the fine leather bindings


Campbell letter
We thought a letter from Alexander Campbell’s hand would be a fine addition to the exhibit.  The paper, which served double duty as its own envelope, is housed safely in a Mylar sleeve.  We apologize for the glare.  Below is a transcription.
Campbell letter transcription

Hymnal assortment
This table brings us into the 20th century…
Austin Taylor signature on Songs of Joy no. 4
Since Austin Taylor established the singing school, we thought an item or two from his collection would be a big hit.  We were right.  Above is his copy of Songs of Joy No. 4.  Below is another inscribed association copy.  George Henry Pryor Showalter was editor of Firm Foundation and co-compiler with Taylor (and others) on The New Ideal Gospel Hymn Book .  Here is Taylor’s copy, bearing a gift inscription from the publisher.


G. H. P. Showalter to Austin Taylor inscription, New Ideal Gospel Hymn Book, 1930
Among the most enduring hymnals among Churches of Christ are the Great Songs of the Church family of hymnals.  The 1922 copy below was part of Austin Taylor’s collection.

Great Songs of the Church, 1922

Church of Christ Hymn Book 1957, Great Britain
The earliest hymnals above did not have musical notation.  Assuming the meter matched, the texts could be coupled with various tunes.  Convicted that notes on the page was a distraction from the content of the song, Alexander Campbell did not allow his hymnal to carry notation.  Here is a 1957 hymnal used among British Churches of Christ.  Look for the meterical indicators, pair the text with a matching tune, and set yourself to singing!
Leonard Burford braille hymns
Dr. Leonard Burford was long-time choral director and Professor of Music at Abilene Christian College.  Blind, Burford compiled this braille hymnal and with his brother Jack (also blind) produced several albums of the ACC Chorus.  Hymns of the Church was printed in Louisvile, Kentucky by American Printing House for the Blind in 1958.

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Great Songs of the Campus, published in Taipei, Taiwan by Campus Bible Study Press [ca. 1970s] open to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

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This Arabic hymnal, Hymns of Faith, was published by Dar Manhel in Alhayt, Lebanon.


VBS song book assortment
Since summer is the season for Vacation Bible School, we thought it appropriate to include an assortment of VBS songbooks from the early 1960′s to the later 1970′s.  These are from Standard publishing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.  I think these may actually be rare (certainly not as rare as the Smith-Jones items!) since they were produced, used and discarded.  When next year’s VBS kit rolls out, the old ones get tossed aside.  Should you have such in your closets at church, please consider donating them to our collection.  We want to save them!
Sermon Chart, Mac
In an age of Power Point, we took our guests back to an earlier time when visual aids consisted of bedsheets-turned-sermon-charts hung in brush arbors.  Here is a nicely illustrated one.  You can see dozens more here.

This Just In: Glenn Earle McMillan Papers

A few weeks ago the family Dr. Glenn Earle McMillan deposited with Center for Restoration Studies the class notes, academic research, sermon notes and some memorabilia from Earle’s career as minister and teacher.  Shown here is a notebook he kept while a student at ACC; it contains notes he made in a course on the Greek Old Testament.

Included are materials from congregations he served, outlines and manuscripts of sermons, and many files of notes he used in preparation for his teaching at Abilene Christian College.  The papers are in the processing pipeline.  When processing is complete a finding aid will be published and they will be available for unrestricted research.

Dr. McMillan died in Abilene on 14 October 2013.  Click here to read the obituary.

This photo and sketch was published in Batsell Barrett Baxter and M. Norvel Young, eds. Preachers of Today, A Book of Biographical Sketches and Pictures of Living Gospel Preachers. vol. 2. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1959, pages 284-285:





Big Spring, Texas, Church of Christ, ca. 1935

Here is the meetinghouse of the Church of Christ in Big Spring, Texas, 1935, as it appeared during the ministry of Forrest R. Waldrop.

In my experience, interior photographs are rarer than exterior shots.  At least in the archival contexts in which I have worked contained far more snapshots of the church building than the inside.  Usually we do not think to photograph our most sacred places (unless a classroom wing is added or it was time for a new directory).

Interior views capture a sense of the space in which congregations met for worship, for instruction, for inspiration.  In these spaces they performed their most sacred rituals, read from their most sacred texts, oriented and reoriented their lives.  Worship, marriage ceremonies, funeral services, passing on their faith to their children and engaging and serving their neighbors: all of this and more occurred weekly at meetinghouses across the US and the globe.

How does the space in which you worship shape your worship?  How does your worship shape the space you create in which to assemble, or teach, or serve?