The American Baptist Association (ABA), formed in 1924, is an association of nearly 2,000 theologically conservative churches that are Landmark Baptist in their missions and teachings. The Association is based in the United States and has churches primarily in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Florida and California with smaller numbers of churches in almost all of the states. There are also numerous churches in Mexico, the Philippines and other foreign countries which affiliate with the ABA.
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The official organization of the American Baptist Association was on Wednesday, December 10, 1924. The Baptist movement in America began with John Clarke in Rhode Island in the early 17th century. Baptist churches spread from New England through New York and Pennsylvania, to the Midwest and the American South. The Landmark Baptist view of their origins are that Baptist churches have existed in perpetuity since the time of the New Testament.
As Baptist churches were established in the Virginias and the Carolinas, some churches decided to convene regularly for missionary and governmental policy-making, but others did not citing local church authority. These boards or conventions gave rise first to the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions and later to the Southern Baptist Convention based in Nashville, Tennessee.
A series of controversies arose in the middle 1800s among the Baptist churches, primarily in the South and to a smaller degree in the North, concerning Baptist theological and governmental principles. This movement to return to Baptist distinctives became known as Landmarkism. Early Landmark leaders included James R. Graves, James M. Pendleton, and Amos C. Dayton.
The Cotton Grove Resolutions, adopted in 1851 at a meeting at Cotton Grove Baptist Church near Jackson, Tennessee, were probably the first systematized expression of Landmarkism though all the tenets existed among Baptists in some form or another prior to them. Landmark emphases on "local church only" and "the Great Commission given to the church" led to dissatisfaction with SBC structure and programs, such as mission boards. Conflicts between Landmarkers and non-Landmarkers were behind at least four important Baptist controversies in the late 1800s – Gospel Missions, the Whitsitt Controversy, the Hayden Controversy in Texas, and the Bogard Controversy in Arkansas.
The two state controversies led to the organization of two new state associations - the Baptist Missionary Association (BMA) of Texas in 1900 and the State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches in Arkansas in 1902. Soon Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana followed. The Texas association formed its own foreign mission work, but others desired to see a national organization for Landmark Baptists. Some of these organized the General Association of Baptists in the United States of America in 1905. The General Association never garnered full support of Landmark Baptists.
Southern Baptist churches eventually decided that the standing boards or conventions were necessary to the efficient ministries of its participants and made them permanent bodies. Some local associations that withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention still remain aloof from any national organization.
A move for unification of the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and the General Association came to fruition at Texarkana, Texas, in 1924. The BMA of Texas continued as a state organization. The General Association adjourned "sine die", and was replaced by the newly formed American Baptist Association.
The ABA suffered a serious setback in 1950 with a schism that led to the formation of two new general bodies – the North American Baptist Association and the Interstate & Foreign Missionary Baptist Associational Assembly of America. Other churches withdrew and remain independent.
The organization of the American Baptist Association is congregationalist and oriented to the local church. Most churches participate in local and state associations in addition to the national body. Churches support local, state, interstate, and foreign missionaries, a publishing house, several seminaries (each sponsored by a local church), and youth camps. The ABA headquarters are in Texarkana, Texas. Among the ABA seminaries is Louisiana Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary in Minden, founded by L.L. Clover (1902-1975).
According to the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, the American Baptist Association reported 1,760 congregations and 275,000 members in 2000. The numerical strength of the Association is in the Old Southwest – Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas – but there are several churches in California and Florida. There are also several participating churches and missions in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan and Ohio. Initially a Midwestern and Southern movement, now there are at least a few ABA participating churches in most of the United States, and mission work has expanded the association worldwide.
The American Baptist Association's participating churches are evangelistic, and all churches hold some shared principles of the Christian faith: Genesis account of Creation, the Atonement, the Triune God (ABA churches prefer this term as more specific than the Trinity), etc. They reject Calvinism, specifically the Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. The ABA participating churches also hold to the inerrancy of the Bible, as the inspired word of God, through its authors. The churches generally hold to the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible for English services and study, although some others use the New King James Version, the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, or the New Living Translation Bibles.
For the most part, member churches are still partisans for the Landmark view of ecclesiology. The ABA Doctrinal Statement denies the existence of a universal church in any form, holding the church to be an exclusively local, visible entity. They instead classify all those who have repented of sin and put their faith and trust in Jesus apart from works or ceremonies, regardless of affiliation, as being in the "family of God".
ABA churches observe two ordinances: Believer's baptism and the Lord's Supper. For baptism, most churches will not accept "alien" immersion, or immersion performed by non-Baptists. Candidates participate in a remembrance ordinance which "sets according to Scripture" one's baptism. Certain candidates can be received by letter from other ABA or Baptist churches. Each ABA participating church holds closed communion, compared to the open communion by some Baptists and other Protestant denominations. In ABA churches, participation in the Lord's Supper is usually limited to the members of that congregation since each church is independent and distinct. Some Missionary Baptists believe that Jesus practiced closed communion with the Apostles at the Last Supper by removing themselves from the other disciples. Therefore, the local church congregation may participate, and respected guests may observe. The guests are offered invitation to join the local church, after which time they may participate in communion through the church covenant.
Premillennialism is the eschatological view adopted in the ABA Doctrinal Statement.