On Dec. 6, 1888, the first newspaper that became known as the Baptist Standard rolled off a printing press in the North Texas hamlet of Honey Grove. If you’re keeping score at home, that means we will celebrate our 125th anniversary this week.
Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I see that first edition gripped in the calloused hands of a mustachioed cowboy. He’s reading the paper by the light of a campfire, his trusty steed looking over his shoulder. His cattle munch grass and moo across the prairie. And somewhere up in majestic clouds, angels sing.
But that’s just my historical/spiritual imagination getting all tangled up with my love for Texas Baptists’ newspaper.
No matter who read the first copy of that first edition, its publication marked a historic milestone. In order to counter discord and provide a conduit of information about and rallying point for the young Baptist General Convention of Texas, Lewis Holland, pastor of First Baptist Church in Honey Grove, launched The Baptist News at the end of 1888. Four years, two ownership sales and two name changes later, that newspaper moved to Dallas and began publishing as the Baptist Standard.
A force for good
From its beginning, the Standard sought to exert itself as a force for good in Texas and among Baptists. An editorial in the first edition stated: “It is the purpose of the management to make a paper equal to the demands of the great field it is intended to cultivate. We are in the enterprise for the glory of God, in it to stay, and in it with all our souls, minds and strength.”
Such commitment echoes through the years. After the Standard came under the ownership of the BGCT in 1914, the Baptist Standard Publishing Company stated its purpose as supporting the Texas Baptist convention. Today, the company’s purpose remains “the operation of a communications organization, using a variety of technologies to support, inform and resource the Baptist General Convention of Texas, churches and faith-based institutions that serve the broader Christian community, and individual people of faith.”
Our mission statement declares, “Baptist Standard Publishing exists to inform, inspire, equip and empower people of faith to follow Christ and expand the kingdom of God.” All four key verbs point to vital tasks:
• Inform: News is the grease that lubricates the gears of democracy. Without solid, reliable information, democratic organizations—such as Baptist churches and conventions—could not function. The members, who collectively make decisions, must know and understand all the issues, ideas, events and developments that shape their common life together.
• Inspire: People of faith rise up to be all God intended them to be when they are inspired. And frankly, this always has been the easiest part of our task. God’s work among Texas Baptists, as well as the passion and commitment of Texas Baptists themselves, is inspiring. All we have to do is tell their stories, and Texas Baptists inspire each other.
• Equip: Competency is a core virtue of the Christian life. For 125 years, the Baptist Standard has been equipping its readers by sharing best practices of congregations, publishing Bible study lessons, distributing information about Baptist distinctives and providing commentary and ideas about living lives of faithful service in the world around us.
• Empower: The gospel is dynamic. The Holy Spirit is all-powerful. Knowledge is strong, too. Across the generations, our readers have been empowered by learning about God’s work in the world and seeing the challenges set before them. A longtime friend and pastor who has gone home to be with the Lord once said of Texas Baptists, “These folks would take on hell with a water pistol.” That’s true, and all these years, the Standard has been providing fresh supplies of water for those pistols.
Throughout its history, the Standard has faced a tenuous challenge. On the one hand, it was founded and has existed as a force of support for the BGCT. On the other hand, in order for its voice to be authentic, it also must be free. So, each of the 13 editors has exercised editorial freedom that has enabled him to advocate on behalf of the convention while also pointing out when the convention—and particularly its leaders—erred.
They also have sought to maintain the delicate balance between speaking for and speaking to Texas Baptists. Famously (or possibly infamously) independent, folks in this state like to proclaim, “No one speaks for Texas Baptists.” They are correct, for where two or three Baptists are gathered together, five or six opinions abound. No one can proclaim, “Thus saith Texas Baptists.”
Reflecting Texas Baptist opinion
Still, more than any other piece of writing, the Standard editorial often has been examined as a reflection of grassroots Texas Baptist opinion. This has been a prickly point, particularly when an editor speaks to Texas Baptists, taking on a sensitive issue and using his page to inform, educate and inspire his fellow Baptists. But editorials and articles in the Standard have sparked lively conversation among Texas Baptists and other readers.
Because the Standard has generated discussion—and sometimes debate—we have sharpened our ideas, focused our passion and strengthened our resolve.
All this has remained changeless across the decades. Meanwhile, of course, the specific ways we have informed, inspired, equipped and empowered our readers have changed dramatically—particularly during the past few years.
More than 15 years ago, we began utilizing the Internet to spread the news. We launched a website—www.baptiststandard.com—where we posted everything we published in the paper. And since space was no object, we also added other features, such as Bible study lessons, additional articles, blogs and more.
A little more than five years ago, we began preparing for FaithVillage.com, a resources website and social network. FaithVillage went live early in 2012. It meets the communication and interactive needs of Christians—particularly young adults and teens—across the nation and around the world. It also provides an enormously powerful communications tool for congregations and other ministries that simultaneously want to inform and engage their constituencies. We believe history will prove FaithVillage is one of Texas Baptists’ great gifts to the church.
Beginning in January of this year, we made a major shift in how we deliver news and information. The Baptist Standard became a digital-only publication, delivered via email every Monday. Simultaneously, we also launched CommonCall, a monthly human-interest and inspirational magazine that features people living out their faith, issues important to Christians’ daily lives and best practices for churches.
While so much has changed, our challenge and commitment have not. We still exist for Jesus, to expand his church by building up stronger believers.
If you would like to celebrate our birthday by subscribing to the Standard and/or CommonCall, click here, and click here to sign up for FaithVillage. If you want to send us a birthday present (Did we tell you we’re the only Baptist news organization not subsidized by a convention?), click here.
Above all, please keep us in your prayers.