John Howard Shakespeare and the English Baptists, 1898-1924
The Rev. John Howard Shakespeare was General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland from 1898 until his resignation on the grounds of ill health in 1924. This thesis describes and evaluates changes in the Baptist denomination in England during that period, and assesses the significance of Shakespeare’s contribution. Following summaries of the history of Baptist ecclesiology and Shakespeare’s personal background, the main areas of denominational reform are described. The first of these is the strengthening of the Baptist Union and the expansion of its influence, which was the major feature of the period up to about 1908. This presented a challenge to the Baptists' traditional congregational church polity. The second is the changing approach to the recognition and support of Baptist ministers within the denomination, culminating in the 1916 Baptist Union Ministerial Settlement and Sustentation Scheme. The third is Shakespeare's search for church unity, both within Nonconformity and between Nonconformists and the Church of England, which dominated the post-war period. The formation of the Federal Council of the Evangelical Free Churches, of which Shakespeare was the first Moderator, in 1919, and conversations following the 1920 Lambeth Appeal, were central elements of this search. It had significant implications for Baptist church polity. Shakespeare's approach to the question of women in the ministry, and the circumstances surrounding his resignation, are also described. A final chapter discusses Shakespeare's legacy for Baptists. The institutions he created have played an important part in the subsequent history of Baptists and Nonconformity in general. However, they failed to achieve his objective of stemming numerical decline. They also exacerbated tensions in Baptist church polity between the centralisation of denominational life and Congregationalism. These tensions have been a major factor in Baptist church life throughout the present century.