Southern Baptists Once Thought Easter a Worldly Holiday

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Southern Baptists originally did not attach much significance to Easter. This was much the same regarding Christmas.

Both days were not recognized as a special day of worship in any of the historic Baptist confessions; allusions to them were rare in Baptist history volumes before the 20th century; and both holidays possessed an association with worldliness, and even paganism, in the minds of many Baptist ministers. Even as late as 1903, a writer for the North Carolina state Baptist paper, the Biblical Recorder, wrote an anti-Easter article that stated that “Baptists do not keep this day” (March 18, 1903).
With the exception of the Sunday worship day, Baptist tradition before the late 19th century largely rejected or ignored “special days.” Although the apostle Paul recognized that Christians had a Christian liberty option for special days in Romans 14:5-6, few Baptists ministers or writers of that day championed that option. Many Baptist ministers in the era just before 1900 would have dismissed the idea of celebrating a special day for Christ’s resurrection as unnecessary, since “every day should be a celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.”
Conversely, the slow embrace of Christmas by Southern Baptists in the late 1800s certainly led many of them also to take a second look at Easter. The late Victorian Age in the United States encouraged a re-examination of holidays in an era of a growing tendency toward leisure and celebratory events. The celebration of special days comported well with such contemporary activities as the growth of professional sports and a number of new civic celebrations and festivals. It was only natural for Southern Baptists to look to festivals with strong historic Christian connections such as Christmas and Easter.
By the late 1800s, some Southern Baptist churches began celebrating Easter in their services. Articles and advertisements in state Baptist papers acknowledged that some Baptist churches celebrated the holiday; others decorated their churches with Easter lilies; and sheet music for Easter was advertised for sale. Nonetheless, most articles in the state Baptist papers of this era were against celebrating Easter. One writer for the Kentucky state Baptist paper, the Western Recorder, in 1890 called the new custom of celebrating Easter in Baptist churches an “innovation,” and he disapproved of that development. Contributing authors in the Baptist state papers in Alabama and North Carolina also acknowledged their opposition to celebrating Easter, addressing their concerns to fellow Baptists who were beginning to recognize the holiday. After 1900 the more vehement opposition to Easter slowly faded in the state Baptist papers.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Stephen Douglas Wilson