History of Prayer in Baptist Life
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Baptist leaders from previous generations believed in prayer. The first Baptist church in history organized in 1609. An early
description of a worship service focused on the interpretation of the Bible, and the service had four prayers. The 1742 Philadelphia
Confession of Faith was the first major statement of the beliefs of Baptists in America. It states that prayer “is required by God of all
men.” P.H. Mell, who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention for fifteen terms in the late 1800s, declared prayer is necessary
to remind us of our accountability to God.
Prayer meetings have always been important to Baptists but not in the format many use today. Prayer meetings were often called
conference meetings. In the 1600s – 1700s the most common time frame was monthly. Prayer meetings were held on Mondays, Tuesdays,
Thursdays, even Fridays. The first Baptist church that had weekly prayer meetings was the First Baptist Church of Boston in 1793. Their
prayer meetings were at first on Mondays and then later on Wednesdays.
Hundreds of years ago prayer meetings were led primarily by laymen. The meetings were prompted more by need than structure. Baptists
had prayer meetings in preparation for the Lord’s Supper and the use of spiritual gifts. They met to pray for personal illnesses,
national crises, the ordination of ministers and revival.
The impact of prayer among Baptists has been powerful. In 1784 the Northampton Baptist Association in England called for regular
prayer meetings on the first Monday of each month to pray for revival and evangelism. Many churches joined in the effort and persisted in
prayer for years. The movement spread to America. Different regions of the country tended to pray on different days of the week, but they
prayed. Other denominations joined the prayer effort as well.
Eight years after the call to prayer, the Baptist Missionary Society was formed in 1792. William Carey had been attending one of the
monthly prayer meetings. God used those meetings to drive a passion for missions deep within Carey’s heart. Those meetings also were a
significant factor behind the Second Great Awakening in the 1800s.
However, as early as 1880, about one hundred years after that English call to prayer, a sobering report was delivered to the Southern
Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. The report attributed a lack of interest in missions as primarily due to the abandonment of the
monthly concerts of prayer.
Baptists had begun to organize prayer meetings in a more structured way, to meet weekly, to have pastors lead, and to become focused
on a report of the sick followed by a mini sermon by the pastor. When we added too much structure and predictability to prayer meetings,
we seem to have lost prayer’s power.
Much of the material in this article is found in Charles Deweese’s book, “Prayer in Baptist Life.”