The Rev. Henry Fish Waring (1870-1936): against “inerrancy” and “bigotry” when reading the Bible

in ACBAS, Front Page

Henry F. Waring held that the Bible was both authoritative and inspired, yet he rejected the doctrine of verbal inspiration. For this reason, he spent his career challenging those he considered to be theological bigots; that is, those whom he regarded as unwilling or unable to engage in pressing theological and historical questions honestly and openly according to modern learning. He explained such bigotry in several ways, but in the main, he was highly suspicious of those who claimed subjective infallibility for religious reasons:

Of all the bigots the most difficult to get along with are the unctuous kind, who naively imply that they have superior spiritual-mindedness and, as a result, superior insight. A common thought with them is that if a man is scholarly, therefore, he is not spiritually minded—if he differs from them. Under the guise of humility (saying the guidance is all of the Spirit) they practically claim infallibility in the theological matters in dispute.[1]

Between 1894 to 1924 Waring held successive Baptist pastorates in Mankato, Minneapolis, Immanuel Baptist, Truro, N.S., Brussel Street Baptist, St. John, N.B., First Baptist Church, Halifax, N.S., Kitsilano Baptist Church, Vancouver, B.C. and Berwyn Baptist Church, Chicago, before leaving the Baptist denomination for the Unitarian church in 1924. Throughout his career, Waring held strongly that both loyalty and liberty were necessary for the Christian life. Take away liberty, and loyalty suffered.  Both as a Baptists and as a Unitarian, Waring took several study leaves at the University of Chicago, Divinity School, without taking a degree. Yet, his two books, Christianity and Its Bible (1907) and Christianity’s Unifying Fundamental (1919), show the influence of the Chicago School, and were each published while he was still a Baptist.

While seldom given the attention he deserves by Canadian Baptist historians, Waring has been highlighted for his public debates with Dr. Edward Manning Saunders, over the nature of biblical criticism and its implications for the use of the bible in Maritime Baptist churches.[2] A close reading of the newspapers and denominational magazines from the first decade of the 20th century, shows that Saunders and Waring continued their public dispute over biblical interpretation in several instalments. Their conflict was intensified by the fact that Saunders was not only a member of the First Baptist Halifax congregation where Waring was the minister, but Saunders was also a former pastor of the fellowship. Thus, Waring’s accusation that Saunders was working against him from within the congregation does not seem far fetched.

Perhaps the most heated and personal of their public debates came in 1907 when Waring published Christianity and Its Bible. While the book received considerable praise in the press, including the appreciation of Waring’s former Professor at Rochester Theological Seminary, Augustus H. Strong, Saunders and many other Maritime Baptists thought the author’s rejection of verbal inspiration of the bible was both disturbing and dangerous. One Association in New Brunswick even met at Woodstock on July 12, 1907, to condemn the doctrines laid out in Waring’s book.

Thus, Saunders knew the stakes were high when he sought to counter Waring’s conclusions.  While Waring expressed appreciation for Saunders’ gifts and work, he nonetheless grew tired of Saunders’s slight of hand tactics, which he called ‘jesuitical methods’. Waring’s main charge was, that instead of addressing the critical questions raised by the book, Saunders tended to avoid the issues altogether. Based on the primary evidence, this charge by Waring is not unfair. Saunders even used name-dropping and attempted to malign Waring’s reputation among his fellow Maritime Baptists by describing Waring’s ideas as “Unitarian.” This infuriated Waring, who described it as a name-calling tactic, designed more to instill fear and to avoid the issues addressed in his book. The public nature of his conflicts with Saunders took its toll on Waring, who pulled back from teaching Sunday School classes and resigned from First Halifax in 1910 in order to accept a call to Kitsilano Baptist on the west coast of Canada.

Ironically, Saunders’s suspicion of Waring as a closet Unitarian, was a foreshadow of where the latter would eventually hang his denominational hat. By 1924 Waring had also become good friends with some prominent Unitarians who undoubtedly influenced his move in that direction, including Dr. Curtis Williford Reese (1887-1961), the one-time Baptist, who became the secretary for the Western Unitarian Conference from 1919-1930.

Waring was a fascinating, albeit controversial character, among many of his fellow Baptists in Canada and the United States. He developed a reputation as a learned scholar and excellent preacher wherever he served. For the most part Waring has not been properly appreciated by Baptist historians. I hope to remedy this oversight. For better or for ill, the Rev. Henry F. Waring had a significant impact on Canadian Baptist history and theology.

The Reverend Scott Kindred-Barnes (PhD, University of Toronto, 2011) is the Senior Minister of Canada’s oldest continuing Baptist Church located in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Before moving to Wolfville in 2018, Scott served as the minister of First Baptist Church, Ottawa for seven years.

 

[1] H.F. Waring, Christianity Unifying Fundamental, 15.

[2] Daniel Goodwin, “The Meaning of ‘Baptist Union’ in Maritime Canada, 1846-1906’ in Baptist Identities: International Studies from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Centuries, 166-170.

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