Since 1833 the Biblical Recorder
has served North Carolina Baptists as the Baptist State Convention’s official news journal — with the emphasis on news. The paper was founded by Thomas Meredith, an early pastor, writer and denominational statesman in North Carolina.
Meredith was instrumental in the formation of the Baptist State Convention in 1830, and in 1832 other denominational leaders endorsed his decision to begin a newspaper for North Carolina Baptists. In calling for such a publication, General Agent Samuel Wait said “It will easily be seen that we have long labored under great and very serious disadvantages in this state, from the want of a well conducted religious journal. Such a paper we might hope, being adapted to the existing state of our churches, would be productive of the best consequences. Much information on important subjects could be imparted to the churches and our congregations at large, many prejudices could be removed, and the way soon prepared for securing to the convention a larger amount of aid.”
With the young convention’s endorsement, Meredith started printing the paper on January 17, 1833 under the name Baptist Interpreter
, changing it to the Biblical Recorder and Journal of Passing Events
in January 1834. A year later, the name was shortened to Biblical Recorder
. Meredith edited the paper from New Bern, where he was pastor of First Baptist Church.
In 1838, he and the paper moved to Raleigh. Since that time, the paper has been edited in homes, church offices, rented quarters, printing plants and the Baptist Building. The Recorder
was owned by a series of individuals, other companies, and a group of people who formed a stock company until 1938, when the Baptist State Convention purchased it and all of its assets, including a handsome building on Hargett Street in Raleigh. Today the offices are in the Baptist Building in Cary.
was chartered as an affiliated agency and turned over to a board of directors who were charged with communicating the North Carolina Baptist story “while maintaining the rights and privileges of a free press.”
The paper has had some well-known editors, including the colorful Josiah Bailey, who later served as a U.S. Senator.
During the Recorder’s
70th anniversary celebration in 1904, Bailey wrote of his desire that the Recorder should serve to be a source of religious refreshment and a “bond of unity binding an ever-larger number of informed Baptists in faith and in interest in missions.”
should treat all people justly, he wrote, “making record of events without prejudice and without fear and without favor; a paper to rely upon; a paper to trust; a paper to take to one’s home, to one’s heart; a paper to love and to cherish.”
Other notable editors during the first half of the 20th century included Hight C. Moore (1908-1917), Livingston Johnson (1917-31) and James S. Farmer (1931-38). The last half of the 20th century saw several editors serve long tenures, including L. L. Carpenter (1942-60), Marse Grant (1960-1982), and R.G. Puckett (1982-1998). Tony Cartledge (1998-2007) retired to begin teaching at Campbell University. Norman Jameson, who had worked at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, served as editor from August 2007 through December 2010.
On April 18, 2011, at the board of directors' spring meeting, K. Allan Blume was unanimously elected as the new editor/president of the Recorder
. He began his new assignment May 25, 2011.
Carpenter and Grant enjoyed working during what W.C. Fields, editor of Baptist Press for 28 years, calls the “Golden Age of Southern Baptists,” a time of great expansion and little controversy. The paper reached its highest print circulation of about 120,000 in 1979.
As times have changed, so has the format and delivery system that makes the Recorder
available to Baptists. Indeed, through efficient and effective use of technology, the Biblical Recorder
now has a wider sphere of influence and a broader readership than ever before. While circulation of the bi-weekly print version hovers around 20,000 copies that go to all 100 counties in North Carolina, 48 states and 39 foreign countries, thousands more read the Recorder
Through its popular web site at BRnow.org,
has evolved to include a daily news service and interactive information center. Website traffic makes BRnow.org
one of the top three websites for Baptist newspapers worldwide.
Today’s Biblical Recorder
publishes and archives more material than ever. The directors and staff work diligently to fulfill the paper’s mission statement: “Our mission is to further Christ’s kingdom among North Carolina Baptists by providing relevant news, insightful opinions, and supportive resources in a timely and accessible fashion.”
The editor and staff of the Recorder
write the first draft of Baptist history, and they are committed personally, convictionally and professionally to make that record as accurate, balanced, and comprehensive as possible. Along with the news, we include elements of encouragement, inspiration, and promotion of our common mission, all in keeping with our Baptist heritage of faith and freedom. North Carolina Baptists need no less and deserve no less.
READ "Thomas Meredith's Biblical Recorder, 1834-1850" (below) written by Nathan Finn, formerly Professor of History and Spiritual Formation at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; now Dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, Jackson, Tenn.
Historical List of Editors and Interim Editors of the Biblical Recorder:
1833-1850 Thomas Meredith
1850-1853 Thomas W. Tobey
1853-1854 Marcus Meredith
1854-1860 J.J. James
1860-1861 J.S. Walthall and J.J. James
1861-1867 J.S. Walthall and J.D. Hufham
1867-1873 John Haymes Mills
1873-1875 A.F. Redd
1875-1895 C.T. Bailey
1895-1907 J.W. Bailey
1907-1908 Charles W. Blanchard
1908-1917 Hight C. Moore
1917-1931 Livingston Johnson
1931-1938 James S. Farmer
1938-1940 George W. Paschal
1940-1941 John Calvin Slemp
1941-1942 Eugene Olive
1942-1959 Levy L. Carpenter
1960-1982 James Marse Grant
1982-1998 R.G. "Gene" Puckett
1998-2007 Tony Cartledge
2007-2010 Norman Jameson
2011-present K. Allan Blume
Thomas Meredith’s Biblical Recorder, 1834–1850
By: Nathan A. Finn
Thomas Meredith (1795–1850) was arguably the most important leader among North Carolina Baptists during the first half of the nineteenth century. During his almost thirty years in North Carolina, Meredith pastored two churches on the East Coast, assisted in the formation of the state convention in 1830, and helped charter Wake Forest College in 1834. Despite these accomplishments, perhaps Meredith’s most important contribution to North Carolina Baptists was the Biblical Recorder, the religious periodical he founded in 1834 and edited for over fifteen years. The paper served the Baptists of North Carolina (and for a time South Carolina) as an unofficial denominational organ, influencing Baptist theology, piety, and identity, as well as fostering interchurch cooperation.
State Baptist papers like the Biblical Recorder played a crucial role in shaping the life of nineteenth century Baptists. During the antebellum era, relatively few Baptist pastors in the South benefitted from a college education and virtually none attended a theological seminary. It was not uncommon for a pastor’s personal library to be limited to a Bible, a concordance, John Gill’s commentaries, short tracts and published sermons, maybe a hymnal or two, and perhaps a handful of books by English Baptist pastor-theologians like John Bunyan and Andrew Fuller. In this context, religious periodicals were a principle means pastors used for furthering their own theological education and staying connected to other Baptists in their respective states and the wider denomination.
Before discussing some of the specific contributions of the Biblical Recorder during Meredith’s tenure as editor, it is important to set both paper and editor in their historical context. Although Meredith himself was a native northerner, the Biblical Recorder was published for North Carolina Baptists and reflected the values of antebellum southern evangelical culture. For example, the Biblical Recorder argued from Scripture that chattel slavery was a divinely ordained institution that was to the benefit of both slave and master. As a corollary, the paper strongly criticized northern abolitionists. Meredith’s opinions on slavery and abolition were not unique; the editorial voice of the Biblical Recorder was consistent with that of both the religious and secular press in the South during the period.
Like most southern evangelicals, Meredith’s sectional bias became evident in the denominational divisions of the era. In actions that foreshadowed the Civil War in the 1860s, American Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians separated into separate northern and southern denominations in the 1830s and 1840s. Baptists in the South agitated for their own regional mission boards in the mid-1840s, in large part because of the slavery debate. Meredith initially urged caution and argued for continued unity with the northern brethren, but his southern identity ultimately carried the day. The Biblical Recorder eventually endorsed the Augusta meeting that birthed the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, though because of health reasons Meredith was unable to attend. Because of its particular milieu, Meredith’s Biblical Recorder spoke in a “southern drawl” as it served Tarheel Baptists and other Baptists all over the South.
A study of the articles published in the Biblical Recorder during the years 1834–1850 evidence a number of contributions the periodical made to North Carolina Baptist life during Meredith’s editorship. First, and perhaps most obvious, the Biblical Recorder kept its readers abreast of happenings in the Baptist world. Every issue contained news from various level of Baptist polity. Local churches reported the results of “protracted meetings”—what we call “revival meetings” today. Associations often published their minutes, resolutions, and circular letters in the paper. The same was true of the state convention. Beyond North Carolina, the Biblical Recorder reprinted similar material from other Baptist periodicals in other states, especially those in the South. Meredith understood that keeping North Carolina Baptists informed about Baptist advances in their own state and in other parts of the English-speaking world would foster a common sense of ecclesiastical identity among his readers.
The Biblical Recorder also promoted the ministries and emphases of Missionary Baptists. In the generation before the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, North Carolina Baptists could be divided into three camps: the Primitive Baptists, the Missionary Baptists, and the Freewill Baptists. Primitive Baptists rejected all mission work and by midcentury embraced hyper-Calvinism. Freewill Baptists were Arminians who did not cooperate with other types of Baptists. The Missionary Baptists, who were mostly Calvinistic and generally friendly to the religious awakenings of the era, comprised the majority. Nationally, the Missionary Baptists’ priorities were represented in the Baptist General Convention for Missionary Purposes, more often called the Triennial Convention, which was founded in 1814. It was the Missionary Baptists in North Carolina, particularly from Raleigh eastward, who formed the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1830.
Missionary Baptists focused on two major ministry priorities: missions and education. Meredith promoted both of these emphases in the Biblical Recorder. Letters from foreign missionaries were frequently published, as were periodical accounts of happenings on the field. Articles regularly updated readers concerning the work of the Triennial Convention and, after 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention. The paper published material promoting foreign mission work and challenging Primitive Baptists and others who opposed such ministries. Meredith highlighted the work of Wake Forest College and smaller regional academies in North Carolina, Columbian College in Washington DC, and Baptist colleges in other states. It is only natural that Meredith would devote his paper to promoting these central Missionary Baptist causes; he was himself a former home missionary, a sometime delegate to the Triennial Convention, and one of the most educated Baptists in North Carolina during his lifetime. He knew that the Biblical Recorder could help to establish common priorities among North Carolina Baptists, drawing them together in closer cooperation with each other.
The Biblical Recorder frequently offered devotional articles to its readers. Almost every issue of the paper contained pieces dedicated to practical matters such as prayer, regular Bible reading, personal evangelism, consistent church attendance, temperance, and Sabbath-keeping. Many of the articles originated as sermons preached to local churches or before convention or association meetings. Many of the associational circular letters that were published focused on these types of devotional issues. Like other Baptist state paper editors during this period, Meredith was dedicated to articulating a common spirituality among North Carolina Baptists through the pages of his paper.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the Biblical Recorder instructed and encouraged its readers in sound doctrine. It was not uncommon for Meredith to publish multi-issue expositions of key doctrines or defenses of traditional evangelical theological convictions. The periodical was quick to defend such orthodox doctrines as the supreme authority and truthfulness of Scripture, the Triune nature of the Godhead, the Virgin Birth, the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ, the penal substitutionary atonement, Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead, a literal second coming, original sin, justification by faith, the nature of repentance and belief, and the final perseverance of all Christians. Reflecting the popular views of the day, the paper also frequently defended universal human depravity, the predestination of the elect before the foundation of the world, and the effectual calling of the elect unto salvation.
In addition to teaching sound theology, the Biblical Recorder regularly defended Christianity from perceived threats. Meredith published material critiquing skeptical or rationalist challenges to the faith like atheism, universalism, and Unitarianism. Many of these articles were not originally written for the Biblical Recorder but were reprinted pieces that could be found in any number of religious periodicals during this era. Articles defending the Baptist vision for the Christian life, many of which were written specifically for the North Carolina paper, were published with even greater frequency. During Meredith’s tenure at the Biblical Recorder, the two biggest threats to Baptist Christianity were pedobaptism and Campbellism. Against pedobaptists, the paper defended regenerate church membership and believer’s baptism by immersion. Against the Campbellites, the periodical rejected all forms of baptismal regeneration and defended the final perseverance of the saints. Meredith recognized that sound doctrine was essential to the health of North Carolina Baptists. A common ecclesiastical identity, common ministry priorities, and a common spirituality are best attained when Baptists share common doctrinal convictions.
During the period when Thomas Meredith edited the Biblical Recorder, the periodical helped define the majority Baptist movement in North Carolina. The paper helped fortify a North Carolina theological identity that was strongly orthodox, warmly evangelical, broadly (though by no means uniformly) reformed, and decidedly baptistic. The paper helped cement a denominational identity that was committed to cooperation for the purpose of foreign missions and other ministries, like theological education, that further missions. This identity was coupled with a proudly southern identity that took root during the years between the Jacksonian era and the Civil War. For these reasons, the early Biblical Recorder played a central role in establishing strong roots for the Missionary-turned-Southern Baptists as they slowly became the largest and arguably most influential denomination in the Tarheel State.
(Author’s note: This essay was first published in November 2008 by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. It has been lightly revised for its republication.)