A Para-church Presbyterian Evangelist
There can be no doubt that Robert Baird had both the gift of administration as well as the gift of teaching.
Born on October 6, 1798 near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in Fayette County, Robert went first to nearby Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. Graduating from that undergraduate college with high honors, he then studied theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. His senior year at the seminary also saw him at the College of New Jersey, serving as a tutor. After graduation from the seminary, he stayed in the area, serving at the pre-college school known as Princeton Academy, for six years.
Licensed and ordained by the Presbyterian of New Brunswick in 1822 and 1828 respectively, he took the first of a series of mission agencies engaged in ministry to the masses. For seven years, he served at a General Agent of the New Jersey Missionary Society. Following that, he became the General Agent of the American Sunday School Union for six years, seeking to organize Sunday Schools in destitute areas of our country. This ministry continues to exist today under another name.
In 1835, Rev. Baird traveled all through Europe to promote evangelical religion on the Continent of Europe. He turned the latter into speaking engagements in America, as well as the authoring of six books on religion in the old country. At that time, those who had emigrated to America before the American Revolution were only one or two generations removed from the old countries from which they had come. And since many of them had come to America because of persecution of their faith, they had a great interest of what had become of their old lands and people.
Robert Baird died in the middle of the Civil War, on March 15, 1863.
Words to live by: In a number of our Presbyterian circles today, we would say that Rev. Robert Baird was laboring “out-of-bounds.” That is, his ministries did not fit the usual rule of laboring in ministries organized and overseen directly by the Presbyterian assembly, synods, or presbyteries. But that doesn’t mean these ministries were not effective instruments for the gospel in their own right. They were similar to the “para-church” ministries of our day and age. Both then and now, such ministries can be effective works for the Lord in areas where the Church either has not yet been organized, or, in some cases, where the Church, as the Church, cannot minister. As long as there is a priority of financial and prayer support to denominational approved agencies, it can be legitimate to also support a well-selected para-church ministry. Just make sure that they have a doctrinal statement which is biblical, and an outreach ministry which does what it claims to do, with no more than ten or fifteen per cent reserved for operating expenses. It must be transparent, with nothing to hide from Christian inspection. That need of accountability is one of core reasons the Presbyterian system works as well as it does.