Triennial Convention

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The Triennial Convention, (so-called, because it met every three years, formally, the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions ) founded in 1814, was the first national Baptist denomination in the United States of America. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it was formed to advance missionary work. In 1845 Southern state associations separated from the Triennial Convention as part of the increasing sectional tensions over the issues of slavery and missions; the departing associations then established the Southern Baptist Convention, leaving the Triennial Convention largely Northern in membership. In 1907, the Triennial Convention was succeeded by the Northern Baptist Convention. Today, the national successor organization is the American Baptist Churches USA, which adopted its present name in 1972.


The Triennial Convention accepted the 1742 Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith.[1] This confession was adapted from an earlier English confession, the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. The Second London Confession was a Reformed Baptist document influenced heavily by the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Philadelphia Confession differed from the Second London Confession only by the addition of two articles. One of the new articles allowed the singing of hymns as well as the traditional Psalms. The other made laying on of hands at baptism optional.[2] The Philadelphia Confession affirmed the following:

The Triennial Convention accepted the 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith. The Confession was drafted by Rev. John Newton Brown, D.D. (1803–1868), of New Hampshire and other Triennial Baptist ministers, and adopted by the New Hampshire (Triennial) Baptist Convention.[3] The Confession was traditional.[further explanation needed] The controversy of the day was free will verses predestination.[citation needed] While the New Hampshire Confession is shorter than the 1742 Philadelphia Confession, it affirms the Philadelphia Confession.[citation needed] The New Hampshire Confession states that "[Humans] by voluntary [free will] transgression fell from the holy and happy state [they were created]" and that "We believe that Election [predestination] is the eternal purpose of God, according to which he graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners".[4] However, many saw the New Hampshire Confession as accepting free will.[citation needed] The free-will Baptists in the Northeast and West accepted the Confession, while the Calvinist (predestination) Baptists in the Southeast rejected the Confession but remained in the Triennial Convention.[citation needed]


Early history[edit]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Baptists in America began forming regional associations and societies to foster cooperation in missionary, benevolent, and educational work. Because participation in the various societies was voluntary, the autonomy of Baptist congregations was protected. The first permanent Baptist association established in America was the Philadelphia Association in 1707. It was followed by others.[5]

The Second Great Awakening inspired the establishment of foreign missions agency to spread the gospel throughout the world. In 1810, the Congregationalists established the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Two years later, the Congregationalist Board sent Adoniram Judson, Jr. (1788–1850), Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789–1826), and Luther Rice to India. Upon arrival, however, the three missionaries repudiated infant baptism and became Baptists under the influence of British missionary William Carey (1761–1834), a founder of the Baptist Missionary Society.[6]

Carey and the three American missionaries convinced most other regional Baptist bodies to unite as a national organization to support the Judsons' planned mission trip to Burma. Their efforts led to the creation in 1814 of General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions.[7][8][9][10][11][12] The Convention was tasked with collecting funds from Baptist groups and individuals to support foreign missions.[6] At its first meeting, the American Baptist Missionary Union (American Baptist Foreign Mission Society) was created. The Convention was called "Triennial" because the national convention met every three years. Members of the denomination were called American Baptists or Triennial Baptists.[13][14] The Philadelphia Baptist Association’s headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, became the Triennial Convention’s headquarters.[citation needed]

The Triennial Convention was affiliated with a number of seminaries and universities to support Baptist education. By the 19th century, the Philadelphia and other northern associations required their ministers to have seminary or university education. This created a knowledgeable clergy, but it blocked some would-be aspirants to the ministry.[12] Triennial Baptist ministers were ordained by local congregations and by regional associations. Regional ordination helped create consensus about appropriate ministerial qualifications, but it also contradicted the Philadelphia Confession and limited the role of the local congregation.[according to whom?]

While the Triennial Baptists supported Christian education and Christian morality, they also supported public education and separation of church and state, opposing state-sponsored churches. None of the state-sponsored churches in the United States were Baptist. The Triennial Baptists helped abolish state sponsorship of churches in the United States in the early 19th century.[12] The Triennial Convention attempted to take no stated position on slavery. This moderate position allowed both abolitionists and slavery supporters to remain in the denomination. The majority of Triennial Baptists in the Northeast opposed slavery, while the growing number of Triennial Baptists in the Southeast supported slavery. The abolitionists helped abolish slavery in the northern states in the early 19th century.[12][15]


Some anti-missionary, free will, and radical Baptists were grandfathered into the Triennial Convention, while others remained outside the Convention. Independent and Separate Baptists remained outside the Convention.[16] The Triennial Baptists consisted mostly of English Americans in the Northeast.[12] During the Second Great Awakening (an American Christian revival from 1800 to 1840), the number of Triennial Baptists increased. Some became more influenced by Arminian (free will) and traditional[further explanation needed] thinking.[15]

William Colgate (January 25, 1783 – March 25, 1857) of New York City, founder and president of William Colgate & Company (org. 1806) and a major donor to the American Baptist Seminary of New York City, was grandfathered into the Triennial Convention.[17][18][19] In 1816, in New York City, William Colgate founded the American Bible Society (American Bible Union), a Bible publishing company.[19][20]

In 1832, the Triennial Convention founded the American Baptist Home Mission Society to help ordain or send their ministers in the United States.[13][14] In 1838, African, Danish, German, Norwegian, and Swedish Americans began organizing their own Baptist denominations because of persecution by English Americans and nationalism by non-English Americans. The Triennial Baptists remained predominantly English American.[12]

By 1840, the Triennial Baptists had become a major denomination in the United States. Baptists were in every State and territory by 1840. By that time, they had established over twenty seminaries and universities as well as missions in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe.[12] In 1841, William Bullein Johnson (1782–1862) briefly served as president of the Convention. That same year, the Triennial Convention founded the American Baptist Publication Society to help produce and distribute materials.[13][14]

Southern Baptist split and subsequent history[edit]

In 1843, the abolitionists in the Northeast founded the Northern Baptist Mission Society in opposition to slavery.[12] In 1844, the Home Mission Society refused to ordain James E. Reeve of Georgia as a missionary because he was put forward as a slaveholder. They refused to decided on the basis of slavery. In May 1845, in Augusta, Georgia, the slavery supporters in the Southeast broke with the Triennial Convention and founded the Southern Baptist Convention. The Triennial Baptists were concentrated in the Northeast.[13][14] The abolitionists in the Northeast inherited the Triennial Convention and the Northern Baptist Mission Society was dissolved.[12] William Bullein Johnson joined the Southern Baptists.[13][14]

James Boorman Colgate (1818–1904) of New York City, son of William Colgate and successful banker with Boorman, Johnson & Company Bank', founded and became president of J.B. Colgate & Company (Trevor & Colgate) Bank.[21] He was also a founder of the New York Gold Exchange and a major donor to Madison University (org. 1819).[18][21] The New York Gold Exchange helped secure the gold standard and expanded the New York Stock Exchange (org. 1817), which increased trade but also made the United States more dependent on gold and international trade.[21][22] Samuel Colgate (1822–1897) of New York City, son of William Colgate, was president of the American Baptist Education Society of New York (org. 1817), an executive of the American Baptist Missionary Union, the American Tract Society (org. 1825), and a major donor to Madison University.[18][21][23] On March 25, 1857, William Colgate died and Samuel Colgate became president of Colgate & Company (William Colgate & Company).[17]

J.B. Colgate & Company Bank under James Boorman Colgate loaned to the United States during the Panic of 1873, which saved the country from economic collapse but did not prevent the Long Depression (1873–1896) and also hindered reform.[21] Samuel Colgate served as president of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (org. 1873), a traditionalist moral reform group.[21]

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Triennial Convention took no official position on Evolution. This moderate position accepted the Bible and science and allowed both Fundamentalists and liberals to remain in the denomination, but it also contradicted the New Hampshire Confession and the Bible. The liberals in the urban Northeast accepted the position, while the Fundamentalists in the rural Northeast rejected the position but remained in the Triennial Convention.[24] The Triennial Baptists supported Progressivism and the Social Gospel, but not the more radical ideas of Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) and other Christian Socialists.[25] In 1888, the Triennial Convention founded the American Baptist Education Society to help train their ministers.[7][11]

On May 17, 1907 in Washington, D.C., the Triennial Convention organized the American Baptist Education Society, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, the American Baptist Missionary Union, and the American Baptist Publication Society into a new Northern Baptist Convention. Governor of New York, Charles Evans Hughes (April 11, 1862 – August 27, 1948, served since 1907) (Republican) was elected the first Northern Baptist Convention president, but he continued his job as Governor.[7][11] 29th President of the United States, Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923, served March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923) (Republican) was a Baptist by upbringing, faith, and self-identification, but he was a member of the Masonic Lodge.[26] The Northern Baptist Convention was renamed the American Baptist Convention in 1950, and the American Baptist Churches, USA in 1972.[7][11]

Famous Triennial Baptists[edit]


  1. ^ Philadelphia Baptist Association, The Philadelphia Confession of Faith. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
  2. ^ Leonard 2005, p. 16.
  3. ^ New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith (1833). Retrieved June 22, 2013.
  4. ^ New Hampshire Confession, Articles 3 and 9.
  5. ^ Leonard 2005, p. 19.
  6. ^ a b Leonard 2005, pp. 19-20.
  7. ^ a b c d Wardin[page needed]
  8. ^ Wayland[page needed]
  9. ^ "Glimpses #45: William Carey’s Amazing Mission". Christianity Today. March 2007. Retrieved on Nov. 8, 2008.
  10. ^ American Presbyterian Mission Press[page needed]
  11. ^ a b c d Leonard 1994.[page needed]
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i Boyer, 62-3.
  13. ^ a b c d e Barkley.
  14. ^ a b c d e McBeth.[page needed]
  15. ^ a b Finseth.
  16. ^ Holder.
  17. ^ a b Colgate-Palmolive Company History: Creating Bright Smiles for 200 Years, Colgate-Palmolive Company (July 2007). Retrieved on Nov. 23, 2008.
  18. ^ a b c Colgate at a Glance, Colgate University (2006). Retrieved on Nov. 23, 2008.
  19. ^ a b "William Colgate: Baptist Cameos", The Reformed Reader (2007). Retrieved on Nov. 23, 2008.
  20. ^ Boyer, p. 63.
  21. ^ a b c d e f New International Encyclopedia, a public domain.
  22. ^ Boyer, pp. 313, 553-4.
  23. ^ Rorabaugh.[page needed]
  24. ^ American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), A Study Guide for the Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding. Retrieved on Nov. 7, 2008.
  25. ^ Boyer, pp. 629, 652.
  26. ^ Warren G. Harding. Retrieved on Nov. 7, 2008.



  • Louis H. Everts. The Baptist Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Ed. William Cathcart. Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883.
  • Snay, Mitchell. Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

External links[edit]