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How one man started the Mississippi Baptist Convention

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Mississippi Baptists organized a state convention in 1824 that failed. Internal discord and dissension from the anti-missions movement and teachings of Alexander Campbell resulted in the dissolution of this convention in 1829. As the Primitive Baptists and Disciples of Christ separated themselves from Mississippi Baptist churches, the mission-minded Baptists who remained were ready to try the experiment again. All they needed was a leader to galvanize them to action.

Ashley Vaughn, the man with the vision

  The leader who inspired Mississippi Baptists to action was Ashley Vaughn. This dedicated Baptist minister was born sometime in the early 1800s and came to Mississippi in 1833 “compelled by ill health and on the advice of physicians,” after a two-year pastorate in New York. He became pastor of Clear Creek Baptist Church in Washington, near Natchez, on December 12, 1834. He presented letters for membership for himself and his wife from the Particular Baptist Church of Gibbonville and West Troy, New York.1

   Although Vaughn did not come to the Natchez District as an officially appointed missionary, he did take on the role of a missionary. He visited the Baptist churches in the area and reported in a letter to the American Baptist that the churches were barren. He blamed this condition on the migration of settlers to the land recently vacated by the Indians in North Mississippi, as well as the inroads made by the Disciples of Christ, followers of Alexander Campbell. Vaughn immediately set about correcting this destitute situation. In addition to preaching at Clear Creek Church in Washington, in January 1836 he also began preaching at the site of the Old Salem Baptist Church, which had dissolved. In March 1836, Clear Creek Church purchased a parsonage for $1500. At the 1836 Union Association meeting, only Clear Creek Church was not complaining of a low state. With 115 members, Clear Creek was the only Baptist church in the state of Mississippi that reported more than 100 members in 1836. In September Vaughn began publishing the Southwestern Religious Luminary at Natchez, the first Baptist newspaper in Mississippi. The first issue of the paper called for the organization of a state convention to “combine the counsels, concentrate the energies, and unite the efforts of the denomination.” Vaughn traveled four to five hundred miles on horseback that autumn to associational meetings to get support for a state convention, and he was so successful that the Mississippi Baptist Association suggested a gathering at Vaughn’s church in December 1836 so that “the Baptists of this State should meet in convention by delegation, to take into consideration the adoption of some systematic plan, by which the efforts of our denomination may be united….”2 

Organization of the Mississippi Baptist Convention

Vaughn’s tireless dedication paid off. A small but influential group of ten delegates met at Clear Creek Church two days before Christmas, December 23-24, 1836, and organized “The Convention of the Baptist Denomination of the State of Mississippi.” The delegates got to work immediately, unanimously approving a constitution, electing officers, electing a delegate to the Triennial Convention (the national organization of Baptists at the time), passing resolutions, and taking up an offering of “near two hundred dollars.” They correctly assumed the support of many others not in attendance. This can be inferred by the fact that these ten men elected 40 men to positions of office and a board of directors! These officers included one man who was not in attendance, Benjamin Whitfield, who would later serve as convention president. They directed Ashley Vaughn to publish 700 copies of their proceedings, indicating the size of the audience they expected. While 700 copies may have seemed like a lot in 1836, the Mississippi Baptist Convention has since grown to a over 700,000 members in 2,100 churches today.3

Above: Meeting house of Clear Creek Baptist Church, Washington, Adams County. Built in 1828. Here the Mississippi Baptist Convention was organized in 1836. The congregation dissolved in the 1880s and the building was later demolished. – Richard J. Cawthon, Lost Churches of Mississippi (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2010), 149.

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Clear Creek Baptist Church, Adams County, Mississippi, December 12, 1835; Southwestern Religious Luminary, December 1837; C.B. Hamlett, III, “Ashley Vaughn,” Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, II, 1442. Hamlett incorrectly states that Vaughn “served as a missionary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.” However, the society did not record an appointment of Vaughn nor correspond with Vaughn and did not begin work in Mississippi until after his arrival. Vaughn himself criticized the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1837 for having only one missionary in Mississippi under appointment, saying, “nor do we know indeed that he has accepted of the appointment.”

2 John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists of Mississippi, (Unpublished manuscript, 1924), 124; Minutes, Clear Creek Baptist Church, January 9, 1836, March 12, 1836, July 10, 1836; Frances Allen Cabaniss and James Allen Cabaniss, “Religion in Ante-Bellum Mississippi,” Journal of Mississippi History 6 (October 1944): 205; Southwestern Religious Luminary, September 1836, November 1836; T. M. Bond, A Republication of the Minutes of the Mississippi Baptist Association (New Orleans: Hinton & Co., 1849), 172; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1837, 25-28.

3 Proceedings of a Meeting to Consider the Propriety of Forming a Baptist State Convention, held in the Baptist Meeting House at Washington, Mississippi, 23rd and 24th December 1836 (Natchez: Stanton & Besancon, 1837), 3-8; “Southern Baptist Statistical Data by State,” accessed on the Internet 3 May 2022 at http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/baptist/sbcstatedata.html.

How Mississippi Baptists came to oppose alcohol in the early 1800s

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Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Baptists have not always been as adamantly opposed to alcohol as they are today; rather, their view developed over several decades in the early 1800s. This can be illustrated in the story of how Mississippi Baptists gradually took a stronger stand against liquor during the decades from the 1820s through the 1850s. In 1820, Providence Baptist Church in what is now Forrest County discussed the question, “Is it lawful, according to scripture, for a member of a church to retail spiritous liquors?” The church could not agree on a position in regard to the matter. This attitude would begin to change in the 1820s, however. In 1826, the influential Congregationalist pastor Lyman Beecher began a series of sermons against the dangers of drunkenness and urged the necessity of abstinence from the alcohol. He called on Christians to sign pledges to abstain from alcohol, igniting the temperance movement in America. The question came before the Mississippi Baptist Association in 1827, and it was stated that it “considers drunkenness one of the most injurious and worst vices in the community.” In 1830, the Pearl River Baptist Association admonished any churches hosting their meetings, “provide no ardent spirits for the association when she may hereafter meet, as we do not want it.” In 1831, Pearl River Association thanked the host church for obeying their request, and in 1832, the association humbly prayed “the public, that they will not come up to our Association with their beer, Cider, Cakes, and Mellons, as they greatly disturb the congregation.” Likewise in 1832, Mississippi Association resolved, “That this Association do discountenance all traffic in spirituous liquors, beer, cider, or bread, within such a distance of our meetings as in any wise disturb our peace and worship; and we do, therefore, earnestly request all persons to refrain from the same.”1

It had always been common for Baptists to discipline members for drunkenness, but as the temperance movement grew in America, Mississippi Baptists moved gradually from a policy of tolerating mild use of alcohol, toward a policy of complete abstinence from alcohol. A Committee on Temperance made an enthusiastic report in 1838 of “the steady progress of the Temperance Reformation in different parts of Mississippi and Louisiana; prejudices and opposition are fasting melting away.” In 1839, D. B. Crawford gave a report to the Mississippi Baptist Convention on temperance which stated, “That notwithstanding, a few years since, the greater portion of our beloved and fast growing state, was under the influence of the habitual use of that liquid fire, which in its nature is so well calculated to ruin the fortunes, the lives and the souls of men, and spread devastation and ruin over the whole of our land; yet we rejoice to learn, that the cause of temperance is steadily advancing in the different parts of our State… We do therefore most earnestly and affectionately recommend to the members of our churches… to carry on and advance the great cause of temperance: 1. By abstaining entirely from the habitual use of all intoxicating liquors. 2. By using all the influence they may have, to unite others in this good work of advancing the noble enterprise contemplated by the friends of temperance.” Local churches consistently disciplined members for drunkenness, but they were slower to oppose the sale or use of alcohol. For example, in May 1844, “a query was proposed” at Providence Baptist Church in Forrest County on the issue of distributing alcohol. After discussion, the church took a vote on its opposition to “members of this church retailing or trafficking in Spirituous Liquors.” It is significant that in the handwritten church minutes, the clerk wrote that the motion “unanimously carried in opposition,” but then crossed out the word “unanimously.” In January 1845, Providence Church voted that “the voice of the church be taken to reconsider” the matter of liquor. The motion passed, but then tabled the issue, and did not come back up. In March of that year, a member acknowledged his “excessive use of arden[t] spirits” and his acknowledgement was accepted, and he was “exonerated.”2

. In 1846, the Mississippi Baptist Association’s leadership was opposed to alcohol, but was still attempting to prohibit the use of alcohol at its own meetings. The Association passed a resolution saying, “We respectfully request the brethren and friends who may entertain this body at its future meetings, to refrain from presenting ardent spirits in their accommodations.” By the 1850s, the State Convention was calling not only for abstinence, but for legal action, as well. In 1853, the Convention adopted the report of the “Temperance” Committee that said, “The time has arrived when the only true policy for the advocates of Temperance to pursue, is… to secure the enactment by the Legislature of a law, utterly prohibiting the sale of ardent spirits in any quantities whatsoever.” They endorsed the enactment of the “The Maine Liquor Law” in Mississippi. Two years before, in 1851, Maine had become the first State to pass a prohibition of alcohol. Thus during the antebellum period Mississippi Baptists gradually came to favor abstinence and prohibition of alcohol.3 

SOURCES:

1 Aaron Menikoff, Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 162-163; T.C. Schilling, Abstract History of the Mississippi Baptist Association for One Hundred Years From its Preliminary Organization in 1806 to the Centennial Session in 1906 (New Orleans, 1908), 50; Minutes, Pearl River Baptist Association, 1830, 1831, 1832.

2 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1838, 1839; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, May 11, 1844, January 11, 1845, March 8, 1845.

3 T. M. Bond, A Republication of the Minutes of the Mississippi Baptist Association (New Orleans: Hinton & Co., 1849), 250; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1853, 26; “The Unintended Consequences of Prohibition: Introduction,” Washington State University, accessed online 17 April 2022 at http://digitalexhibits.wsulibs.wsu.edu/exhibits/show/prohibition-in-the-u-s/introduction.

The first Baptist missions to Native Americans in Mississippi

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Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Native Americans were an area of concern for Mississippi Baptists. The white man wanted the Indian lands, and but the Baptists desired the conversion of their souls. In 1817, the Mississippi Baptist Association began an aggressive policy by sending Thomas Mercer and Benjamin Davis to visit the Creek Indians and see what cold be done to establish the gospel among them. The missionaries started out on their mission, but the project collapsed when Mercer died. Baptists in Kentucky started an academy for Choctaws in that State in 1819, but it closed in 1821. Richard Johnson, a Baptist leader in Kentucky, then opened an academy for Mississippi Choctaws in 1825 in the district of Choctaw chief Mushulatubbee, which was approximately the area between the modern cities of Columbus and Meridian. This school’s curriculum was secular, but the teachers hoped to “civilize” the Choctaws and lead them to faith in Christ. They met with some success among students, but the missionaries had little impact on adults in the tribe. A young female student wrote: “I do not know that one adult Choctaw has become a Christian. We all pray for them, but we cannot save them; and if they die where will they go? May the Lord pour out his Spirit upon the poor Choctaw people.” It would be many years before missions to the Choctaw tribe would have much impact.

This is one in a series of blog posts about Mississippi Baptist history. Click the links on this blog to read other posts on Mississippi Baptist history. More stories to come.

(Source: T. M. Bond, A Republication of the Minutes of the Mississippi Baptist Association (New Orleans: Hinton & Co., 1849), 60, 71; Clara Sue Kidwell, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818-1918 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), 100-113.)

How 19th century Mississippi Baptists viewed slavery

Article copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board

    White Mississippi Baptists received African slaves into their churches as fellow members, and worshiped with them, but how did they view the “peculiar institution” of slavery itself? The “African Baptist Church” was a church made up of slaves that met on Bayou Pierre, a river near Port Gibson, beginning in the 1810s. The congregation was a member of the Mississippi Baptist Association. In 1814, the Mississippi Baptist Association received the letter from the African Church, stating “their case and the many difficulties they labor under.” The Association instructed the church “to use their utmost diligence in obeying their masters, and that prior to their assembling together for worship, they be careful to obtain a written permission from their masters or overseers.” The Association also expressed its “anxious wish” that “the ministering brethren” of the Association would serve them and preach to them. In 1815, Carter Tarrant, an anti-slavery Baptist preacher from Kentucky, and member of the anti-slavery organization, Friends of Humanity, was a guest preacher at the Mississippi Baptist Association. In 1806, Tarrant had published a sermon against slavery, insisting it was the essence of hypocrisy to sign the Bill of Rights and consign blacks to bondage. The words of his sermon at the Mississippi Association are not recorded.

   In 1819, a committee of David Cooper, James A. Ranaldson and William Snodgrass composed the circular letter from the Mississippi Baptist Association to all the churches, on the subject of “Duty of Masters and Servants.” It began by stating approval of social rank in society: “In the order of Divine Providence… God has given to some the pre-eminence over others.” It cited examples of masters and servants in scripture as evidence of this. Then they offered advice to masters. Quoting Colossians 4:1 and Leviticus 25:43, they told masters to “be just in your treatment,” and warned masters against expecting labor from slave that they were unable to do, because it “would be cruel and unjust.” They also told slaveowners that they were obligated to show kindness and compassion. Third, they said it was the “duty” of masters not only to care for the physical bodies of slaves, “but more especially that of their souls.” The letter then turned its attention to servants, noting “as many of them are members of our churches” (it is notable that the letter did not refer to many slaveowners as being members). Addressing slaves as “brethren,” the letter acknowledged that being enslaved was “dark, mysterious and unpleasant,” yet claimed the institution had been “founded in wisdom and goodness.” The letter took the statement about Christ’s atonement in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and implied that it referred to their purchase as slaves: “Remember you are not your own; you have been bought with a price, and your master is entitled to your best services… You must obey your earthly master with fear and trembling, whether they are perverse and wicked, or pious and gentle.” The letter quoted numerous scriptures instructing slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5-7, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18 and 1 Timothy 6:1-2), while omitting passages against slavery, such as Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 23:15-16, Philemon 1:15-16 and 1 Timothy 1:10. This circular letter was typical of how most white Southerners viewed slavery in the antebellum period. White Baptists in Mississippi and across the Deep South spoke publicly against abusive treatment of slaves, but in actual practice, they did not intervene to prevent it. While Baptist church minutes frequently recorded discipline of members for drinking, gambling, and other moral failures, they do not record discipline of slaveowners for mistreating slaves. This was partially because Baptists lacked influence over slaveowners, since few of them owned slaves, but it was also because they were unwilling to speak so boldly against the power and wealth of the white aristocrats who controlled the politics of the state.

(Sources: T.M. Bond, A Republication of the Minutes of the Mississippi Baptist Association (New Orleans: Hinton & Co., 1849), 42, 48, 72-74; Aaron Menikoff, Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860 (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 93-94; Carter Tarrant, The Substance of a Discourse Delivered in the Town of Versailles (Lexington, KY: D. Bradford, 1806), 25-27. There were a few examples of Baptists in the South who opposed slavery, such as John Leland who led Virginia Baptists to speak publicly against slavery in the 1790s, and David Barrow in Kentucky, who wrote a pamphlet against slavery in 1808 . Carter Tarrant, who preached at the Mississippi Baptist Association in 1815, joined David Barrow in the anti-slavery organization, Friends of Humanity.)

The first African-American Baptists in Mississippi

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Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

From the start, many of the Baptists of Mississippi were African-American. Only a few of the white Baptists owned slaves, but slaves who belonged to non-Baptist slaveowners were welcomed to worship as fellow members alongside whites in Baptist churches. From 1806 to 1813, Ebenezer Baptist in Amite County listed four “Africans” who joined, out of about 50 members. For instance, on December 8, 1815, the minutes of Ebenezer read, “Received by experience an African Ben belonging to Samuel Harrell.” (Samuel Harrell does not appear in the list of church members.)  In 1821, Salem Baptist on Cole’s Creek had 28 white members, listed by full name, and 32 “black” members, listed by first name only, under the names of their owners. None of the slaveowners were members of the Salem church. The common practice was for slaveowners to give a written pass for slaves to attend worship. For example, the minutes at Salem on May 3, 1816 read, “Captain Doherty’s Phil came forward with his master’s written permission to join the church by experience.” (Doherty was not a member of the church.) Although slaves were bought and sold and transported from state to state, Baptist churches still received them by letter from their former churches. In November 1816, the minutes of Sarepta Church in Franklin County read, “Bob & Ferrby servants of Walter Sellers presented letters from Cape Fear Church in N. Carolina & was received.” Slave members were disciplined, as well, as Sarepta minutes of December 1822 read, “Bro. Prather’s Rose (a servant) excluded by taking that which was not her own.” From this wording, it is likely that Walter Sellers was a slaveowner but not a Baptist, whereas “Bro. Prather” likely was a member of the Sarepta church, who had a slave named Rose.

   During the antebellum era until the end of slavery, most African-Americans worshiped with whites. However, there were a few Baptist churches that were exclusively for blacks. One such church was in the Mississippi Association. Called the “African Church,” it first appeared in the minutes of the association as a member church in 1813. It met at a sawmill belonging to Josiah Flowers, pastor of Bayou Pierre Church. In 1814, the African Church sent a letter to the association, and in 1815 the association called on the various white pastors to take turns preaching to the African Church, which was then using the meeting house of Bayou Pierre church. Every year from 1816-1819, the African Church sent two messengers to the associational meeting, by the names of Levi Thompson, Hezekiah Harmon (messenger twice), E. Flower (messenger three times), William Cox, S. Goodwin, J. Flower and W. Breazeale. They never appeared in the associational minutes in any leadership position, but they did attend as duly registered representatives of the African Church, and they were given a seat alongside their white brothers in Christ. There were other African churches, as well. In 1818, members of Bogue Chitto Church granted “the Request of the Black Brethren to be constituted into a church.” In 1822, members of Zion Hill Church in Mississippi Association considered licensing Smart, a slave, to “exercise his gift” to preach, but delayed their decision “in consequences of an Act passed in the legislature.”

   The situation had suddenly changed. Fearing a slave insurrection, the new state of Mississippi’s legislature enacted a law prohibiting slaves or even free people of color from assembling except under certain restricted conditions. This brought the Mississippi Baptist Association into conflict with the state legislature. When the law was applied to the African church, it forced them to discontinue meeting for a time. The association took up the cause of the African church and appointed a committee to prepare a memorial to be “laid before the next legislature of this State, praying the repeal of such parts of a state law thereof, as deprives the African churches, under the patronage of this association, of their religious privileges and that Elder S. Marsh wait on the legislature with said memorial.” The legislature did not agree with the association, and the African stopped meeting for a time, although the members were still welcome in the other churches led by whites.   

In 1824, the state legislature heeded the complaints of the churches, and revised the code to permit slaves to preach to other slaves, as long as the service was overseen by a white minister or attended by at least two white people appointed by the white church. Thanks to this revision in the law, African churches could meet again, and in 1826, Zion Hill Church allowed Smart to preach. The African Church at Bayou Pierre joined the new Union Association after 1820, meeting as a separate congregation from Bayou Pierre church. In 1828, the African Church reported 75 members (its sponsor church at Bayou Pierre had 48 members). The African Church was tied with Clear Creek Church in Adams County for the largest church in the association.

Ukrainian Baptist leader speech to his churches

Speech by Valery Antonyuk (President of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine)

to ministers and churches on the occasion of war. (Translated into English.)

You can view his speech in Ukrainian on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCKqC8NNpPQ

Dear brothers and sisters, Church Ministers!

This morning, February 24, the war in Ukraine began. What we prayed would not happen happened today. And we, as believers, accept that we will have to go through the time of this trial.

The Bible says: “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,for you are with me,your rod and your staff will comfort me”

That is why we urge everyone to continue and intensify our prayers.

This is our weapon in time of war, our way of fighting. This is the first thing believers do. And we invite everyone, wherever you are, to seek the opportunity to do this in person, in your families, in your churches, on ZOOM, wherever possible, gather together and praise the Lord.

Secondly, it’s important that the Lord gives us His peace right now and that we don’t panic, fear, reckless actions, sudden decisions that can harm us personally and our min hysteria in the ukraine.

We invite all Church ministers in these first days to give a message of hope through God’s Word to all the faithful who have to stand in this gap today and pray for our country. We need to strengthen this time with fasting and prayer because this is the time the Church continues to minister.

We say to all Church ministers, elders, deacons: think about how to maintain hospitality in your church premises, in your headquarters, where you have the opportunity to receive people in need. People moving around Ukraine today and will be targeted, especially along the border areas. Please, it is important for us to organize ourselves so that we can accommodate people in need.

We have many unanswered questions and only by moving step by step can we figure out where we can take the next step. Therefore, we ask that we can organize this at the church level. Our communities must become centers of service, shelters, for our people in times of adversity.

We ask all Christians not to spread unverified information, but to share the information that you witness and know exactly the authenticity, to turn it into an occasion of information, testimony and prayer.

We also pray for the organization of our coordination center, because in the office here near Kiev, we continue to serve and organize all the work even now. We will get in touch with all associations and coordinate in time all those processes that will prove to be important for all the Ukrainian people.

We’ll keep you updated on the situation. From time to time, we will make such calls, report on the current situation, and pray that we will all be together, united in what the Lord is doing.

We believe that God, even through us, wants His Kingdom of peace to spread today, even in times of war. We pray for the protection of our country and firmly believe that God will bless Ukraine!

Therefore, let’s unite together, we serve even in these conditions. We begin a new phase, a new page of ministry that has never been written before. God who has blessed us by making us live peacefully and serenely for decades, but in this time our whole country needs a church that is the light and salt. The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want and he will guide us even in these moments.

God bless us as we pray for you as we serve the Lord together.

The first Baptist churches of Mississippi

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

   During the two decades prior to the Second Great Awakening that began about 1800, there had only been one Baptist congregation in the Natchez District, Salem Baptist on Cole’s Creek in Jefferson County, which met informally in the 1780s, then organized in 1791 under the leadership of Richard Curtis, Jr. But the triple blessings of religious liberty, population growth and spiritual renewal certainly aided in the formation of five new churches from 1798 to 1806. The second Mississippi Baptist church was on Bayou Pierre, which was the river near the town of Port Gibson in Claiborne County. This location was the same river where Richard Curtis, Jr. and his friends had first hid from Spanish arrest in 1795. How appropriate that in the same year of his return, 1798, Curtis, along with William Thompson, John Stampley, Benjamin Curtis, Jacob Stampley, Joseph Perkins and William Thomas assisted in the constitution of the new church on Bayou Pierre. It is interesting to note that most of the members of this committee were among the arrivals in the 1780s. The Bayou Pierre church was organized in the home of Thomas Hubbards. It is unclear whether Richard Curtis left Salem to pastor Bayou Pierre, or whether he preached at both churches.

In 1800, two more churches were organized: the third Baptist church was New Hope on Second Creek in Adams County just south of Natchez, and the fourth was Bethel on Bayou Sara, four miles southwest of the town of Woodville in Wilkinson County. The fifth was New Providence in Amite County in 1805, and the sixth was Ebenezer in Amite County, near the Louisiana line, started by Richard Curtis in 1806. Curtis was likely involved in starting many, if not all of these new churches, for the records show that after Curtis started Ebenezer in May 1806, he then turned over the pastorate of Ebenezer to a South Carolina friend, Ezra Courtney, in November 1808, and Curtis became pastor of New Hope until the year of his death in 1811. Ebenezer Baptist in Amite County is the only one of these churches that continues to exist to this day, making it the oldest continually meeting Baptist church in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Baptist story begins in South Carolina

The Pee Dee River Valley of the Carolinas, from which the Baptists first migrated to Mississippi

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

   The story of Mississippi Baptists begins in South Carolina. The Baptists of South Carolina furnished the first Baptist migrants to Mississippi and thus are of special importance in the history of Mississippi Baptists. Historians record that Rev. Richard Curtis, Jr. was 25 years old when he traveled with his parents and a group of fellow Baptists, who migrated from the Pee Dee River Valley of South Carolina in 1780 to settle on Cole’s Creek, about 20 miles north of Natchez, which at the time was controlled by Spain as part of West Florida. The precise location in South Carolina where these Baptists came from is unclear. One theory seeks to connect Richard Curtis and Mississippi Baptists to the historic Welsh Neck Baptist Church in Society Hill, in what is now in Darlington County, South Carolina. However, the church minutes of Welsh Neck Baptist Church from the time period are available for examination, and they never mention any of the Baptists who first settled in Mississippi. It seems more likely that they came from the region of Florence, South Carolina. There Richard Curtis, Sr., father of Richard Curtis, Jr., lived on Lake Swamp of Lynches Creek, near modern Florence, South Carolina, in 1766. In addition, Richard Curtis, Jr. was ordained by Benjamin Mosely when he fled back to South Carolina in the 1790s; Mosely was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence, South Carolina from 1784-1794.

   The Revolutionary War period was one of great disturbance throughout South Carolina. There was a large group of Tories who were fanatical in support of England, but there was an equally powerful and more numerous citizenry who were American patriots. The conflict of these two groups stifled the economic development of South Carolina and brought fear and frustration into many parts of the colony. Over a hundred battles between American patriots and the British were fought in South Carolina alone. In 1774, Richard Curtis, Sr., and two of his sons, Benjamin and William Curtis, and his step-son, John Jones, enlisted with the American forces of Francis Marion, nicknamed the “Swamp Fox.” The records reveal that they served in three campaigns against the British, and then they were mustered out in 1779. In 1779 conditions had become almost unbearable, especially when British forces occupied Charleston. From this center, the British began a campaign to bring all of the colony under their control. The British were eventually overcome by General Nathanael Greene and his forces, but the turmoil and distress created by the war were undoubtedly a factor in encouraging some South Carolinians to seek a more peaceful place to live.

   The Curtis family decided to establish their new homes along the Mississippi River near Natchez, in what was then called West Florida. After the French and Indian War in 1763, the British took Florida from Spain, and Englishmen from the colonies had begun to settle there. The stories of productive farmlands that were free to all settlers and the peace they would have from the turmoil of the fratricidal strife in South Carolina must have made the prospects of beginning again very enticing. In 1779, Spain took advantage of the British distraction with the American Revolution, and Spain conquered the Natchez district from the British and added it to West Florida. Despite this, the emigrants did not anticipate any difficulty from this source. As we shall see, they were wrong.

Book review: “Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860”

Menikoff, Aaron. Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publicaitons, 2014.

Aaron Menikoff fills in important gaps in Baptist history with this well-researched study of Baptist involvement in social reform between the American Revolution and Civil War. He is well-prepared to write on the subject, with a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and experience as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, a Baptist.
This book debunks the common idea that Baptists in the 19th century were only concerned about personal salvation, and neglected social issues. He first examines the overall attitude of Baptists toward salvation, morality, politics, and church and state, with particular emphasis on how Baptists held in tension the idea that church and state should be separate, yet a nation needed to be virtuous to survive. In other words, the Baptist understanding of separation of church and meant the government had no right establishing a particular religion, but this did not mean a separation between church and society– far from it.
Next, Menikoff examines how this Baptist attitude played itself out in five major issues of the time: political parties, slavery, the Sabbath Mail Controversy, poverty, and the temperance movement. He shows the majority Baptist approach to each issue, while also revealing how different Baptists took different sides on each of these issues. ]
On political parties, Baptists usually avoided endorsing candidates or parties, yet spoke out on political issues, and some were more directly involved as candidates and supporting parties.
On slavery, Menikoff shows the complexity and diversity of Baptist views, including the colonization movement to resettle slaves in Africa. While Northern Baptists generally joined the abolitionist movement and southern Baptists opposed it, he shows how there were southern Baptists opposed to slavery in the south as late as the 1830s, and Baptist leaders like Richard Furman called upon slaveholders not to neglect the spiritual needs of their slaves.
The Sabbath Mail Controvesy is largely forgotten today, but at the time there was great religious opposition to the delivery of mail on Sunday, including most Baptists. He tells the fascinating story of how a Baptist Senator, Richard Johnson, gave the Congressional report supporting the delivery of mail every day, calling his fellow Baptists hypocrites for trying to unite church and state over the issue.
On poverty, the author shows how Baptists were active in relief efforts for the poor, although they often blamed the poor for getting themselves into their situation and focused on targeted giving of the “deserving poor.”
The temperance movement to abstain from alcohol was the most popular Baptist cause, as all Baptists saw alcohol abuse as a major social problem. However, Menikoff shows that Baptists also had different opinions over the temperance issue, especially defending the liberty of conscience for individual Baptists who drank moderately, and those Baptists who opposed to political efforts at prohibition on the grounds that it mixed church and state.
This book gave me a new perspective on several issues, especially the fascinating Sabbath Mail Controversy as well as how complex and diverse Baptist opinions were on slavery in the south. Menikoff’s research is carefully documented, with hundreds of footnotes and an exhaustive bibliography, leaving a rich resource for further study on the subjects covered. It is not light reading, but for those interested in Baptist history, it is rewarding, indeed.

The Next IMB president

Doug Munton writes an excellent blog on what we should pray for in the next president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

via The Next IMB President

Houses of worship: Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

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Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I love taking photos of houses of worship. Over the next few days, I will post some of my favorites, and share what I like about them.

I’ll begin with Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This is a classic red brick worship center, especially popular among Baptists. Like many in this style, it has red bricks, with a white column porch in front. Yet this congregation added some other nice touches to that basic design. Notice the stained glass, the cross cut-out in the steeple, and the arched bell tower in front of the worship center, with a cross on top. Simple, yet beautiful.

Guest blog: GBC president Hattaway calls Georgia Baptists to pray for revival

(Below is a guest blog post from Dr. Don Hattaway, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville, and president of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

DonHattawayRevive 2014: A Call to Prayer

A message from Dr. Don Hattaway, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention

The Georgia Baptist Convention has been greatly blessed by God. We have some of the most dedicated pastors and leaders in the history of our convention, excellent educational opportunities and resources, and the technological ability to deliver our message to the masses. In addition, we live in a state with over 7 million lost people desperately in need of the Gospel. Considering these factors, you would think we would be making great strides in reaching our state for Christ. Sadly, the opposite is true. Baptisms are down. Giving is down. Church attendance is down. Despite all of our efforts, we continue to lose ground in the battle for the souls of men, women, boys and girls across our state. If this downward trend is to be reversed, the problem causing it must first be determined.

I have come to believe that the greatest problem facing our convention is of a spiritual nature. We are in desperate need of revival. As the president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, my vision is to see spiritual renewal experienced in the churches throughout our state. This can only happen when we humble ourselves and seek the face of God. The time has come for all Georgia Baptists to cry out to the Father in confession and repentance of sins. When we are right with God and each other, God will be able to use us to impact our state with the Gospel.

If revival is going to be experienced throughout Georgia, prayer is where it will begin. Since there is no such thing as a prayerless revival, I want to call upon all Georgia Baptist pastors and leaders to begin to pray fervently for revival in our state.

Throughout this year, I will travel across Georgia encouraging the formation of prayer groups that will regularly meet to seek God’s face for spiritual renewal. I hope to see the momentum of prayer and spiritual expectancy build throughout the year leading up to our annual convention at Ingleside Baptist in Macon, Georgia. Our theme will be “Revive Us Again!” The Scriptural basis for this focus is Psalm 85:6, “Will You not revive us again so that Your people may rejoice in You?”  This emphasis is so important I have chosen to refer to this year’s convention as “Revive 2014.”

When messengers leave “Revive 2014” in November, I want them to be able to say they have experienced God’s power and presence in their lives.  My ultimate desire is for Georgia Baptists to come away with a renewed cleansing from God, a unified fellowship among God’s people and a restored passion to worship God and reach our state with the Gospel message. 

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit descended to empower the Church. After ministering alongside Jesus for three years, the disciples were not ready to do ministry because they lacked the power of the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit descended on the Church at Pentecost, Peter preached the Gospel and 3,000 souls were saved.  The Church, ministering in the power of God, turned the world upside-down for Christ. We, as believers, have the Holy Spirit living within us. However, sin grieves the Holy Spirit and limits His power in our lives. God wants to demonstrate His power in and through us.  For this to happen, we must humble ourselves and pray for a fresh encounter with God.  Only then will we be able to minister in the power of God and impact our state for Christ.

Will you join me in consistently praying for a spiritual renewal throughout Georgia in 2014?  We must not delay.  God wants to do a new work in us and in our convention.  Let us join Him in His work.

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(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product. If you see an inappropriate ad, feel free to contact me, Bob Rogers, at brogers@fbcrincon.com.)

Guest blog: Georgia Baptist president’s observations on the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention

JohnWaters (Below is a guest blog by Dr. John Waters, pastor of First Baptist Church, Statesboro, Georgia, and president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. He shares his personal observations about the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, which met last week in Houston, Texas.)
Southern Baptists gathered in Houston, Texas, this month for our annual convention meeting. Controversy or unsettled issues often marked previous conventions, so the annual meetings usually morphed into an annual show down, with messengers already having made up their minds regarding a particular issue weeks before their arrival.

This year’s Southern Baptist Convention, however, seemed to mark a course correction. With a shockingly low attendance barely breaking the 5,000 mark, not many Southern Baptists made the trek to the Lone Star state for this annual meeting, but those who attended participated in a well-planned and effective event.

Having attended this year’s annual gathering, I offer the following four observations about this year’s Southern Baptist Convention:

1. Baptists are beginning to favor cooperation over conflict.
With several potentially divisive issues before us, Baptists chose to respond with wisdom, grace, and a plea for unity. The theme of “Revive Us: That We May Be One” set the stage for a spirit of cooperation that sadly has been absent in many of the previous conventions. The report regarding Calvinism and the resolution about Boys Scouts of America were characterized more by their thoughtfulness than their abrasiveness, and messengers seem to be resisting the urge to fight, choosing instead to make strong statements tempered by love and the spirit of Christ.

2. Previous “hot issues” seemed noticeably absent.
With the commotion caused in recent conventions about the Great Commission Resurgence (Orlando, 2010) and the descriptor name of “Great Commission Baptists” (New Orleans, 2012), it was remarkable how these hot topics seemed to be long forgotten. Even though these issues were passionately debated and subsequently approved, Southern Baptists seemed to have put them in the past, relegating them to the historical archives of the Convention for anyone who wants to search for them. But did the adoption of these quasi-controversial matters substantively change the make up and DNA of Southern Baptists? Given the deafening silence about these issues only a few years after their acceptance, they apparently were forgotten as quickly as they were adopted.

3. The call for global missions has been re-ignited among Baptists.
It was difficult to miss the mandate to get the Gospel to the nations, and rightly so. Over the past 30 years or so, Southern Baptists privately swelled with pride when talking about our global mission strategies and our thousands of fully funded missionaries around the globe. But the growing statistics of lostness among the nations and the fatness among Southern Baptist churches have been a wake up call. Danny Akin’s closing sermon was particularly insightful, as he reminded messengers that they could be parachuted into places on the globe and walk for weeks on end without ever meeting a single believer or seeing a single church. They would find, instead, countless people groups representing millions of souls that have never once heard the name of Jesus. In an over-saturated America with churches on every proverbial street corner, maybe it is time we managed with less at home so that we can poke deeper and wider holes in the darkness in parts of the world that don’t even have access to the Gospel.

4. Fred Luter’s genuine spirit set the right temperature for Baptists.
Noticeably uncomfortable in certain settings requiring parliamentary finesse, president Fred Luter displayed an affable and infectious spirit that endeared him even more to Baptists, if that is even possible. He capably handled all of the business required of any SBC president, but his love for churches and pastors was apparent and set a gracious tone for the entire meeting. His gregarious manner was perhaps best displayed after he struck the gavel for the close of the annual meeting and then looked into the crowd and shouted, “Love y’all!” With men like Fred Luter leading the Southern Baptist Convention, the days ahead will be good ones indeed.

Reflections on the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans

I recently attended the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, where we elected our first African-American SBC president: Dr. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans. Dr. Luter is an outstanding pastor, preacher and Southern Baptist leader. He took a congregation of 65 people and built it to thousands of members, only to see the membership decimated by Hurricane Katrina. He returned to rebuild the membership to over 4,500 in weekly attendance today. His church is a leading supporter of Southern Baptist missions. I am very excited that we have elected Dr. Luter, and I hope you will join me in praying for God to bless his leadership of our convention.
The convention also voted on changing the name of our denomination. By a 54-46% vote, messengers approved the proposal to keep the legal name Southern Baptist Convention, while at the same time encouraging anybody who wants to use a different name to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists.” I voted against this. The name “Southern Baptist” has come to stand for who we are. Changing actions is more important than changing our name. I felt that it was an unnecessary proposal, since churches do not have to use the name “Southern Baptist” in their local church name anyway to be affiliated with us, and even though the other name is just an alternative option, I feel that it will be confusing for us to be using two different names to refer to our denomination.
The convention passed nine resolutions and declined to bring forward some proposed resolutions. Resolution #3 was a hotly debated resolution affirming the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to express repentance and faith. Some people, such as David Platt, have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to give people a false hope that they are saved simply by saying a prayer, even when they have not repented of sin. The resolution affirmed that the Bible often speaks of crying out to God in faith, and that there is nothing wrong with asking people to repeat a “sinner’s prayer” of faith, as long as it is not used as manipulation or an incantation that does not include a full explanation of the gospel and expression of repentance. Makes sense, right? However, two amendments were proposed to this resolution, both of which failed. One amendment tried to completely delete the term “a sinner’s prayer.” This amendment was defeated. The other amendment tried to add specific language saying that salvation is available to all who hear and all may respond. This amendment was also defeated, since the resolution already said the gospel is offered to anyone who repents and trusts in Christ.  Then the overall resolution was adopted. Apparently, the two amendments that were offered came from opposite camps in the debate over Calvinism. Some Calvinists have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer,” since they feel it is manipulative, and cannot bring salvation to a person unless that person is first chosen and called to faith by God. The other amendment, which stressed the availability of the gospel to all to hear and respond, seemed to be a direct attack on the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement (the belief that Christ only died for the elect), since it was stressing a general appeal to all to believe. It is very interesting that both amendments were defeated; despite the controversy, the convention and most convention speakers seemed to desire to steer a middle course that is inclusive to both Calvinists and non-Calvinists.

Resolution #5 spoke out against the Obama administration’s violations and potential violations of religious liberty on several issues, such as the health care mandate for that violates the consciences of the Catholic church and other religious groups that do not wish to pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs, and the threat to the ministry of military chaplains who do not believe in homosexuality, now that homosexuality is being approved by the military.

One resolution was of particular interest because it was not brought up for a vote. Dwight McKissic, an African-American pastor in Texas, had proposed a resolution against the racist statements in Mormon source documents. He was concerned that Mormons have been evangelizing people of color, without those people knowing that passages in the Book of Mormon such as 2 Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6, 14 say that people with dark skin are cursed by God. An African-American member of the Resolutions Committee (I failed to get his name), said that the SBC has not been in the habit of speaking against specific religions, and implied that we didn’t want to set that precedent. He also said that since the Mormon church now allows people of color to be elders, we want to make sure we get our facts right before speaking on this issue. McKissic insisted that he still wanted the resolution to be brought up for a vote, because he said the Mormon church has never repented of these passages in their books, and the racist implications remain in Mormon “scripture.” However, the convention defeated Rev. McKissic’s motion to bring up his resolution.

Overall, it was a lively convention, attended by a little less than 8,000 registered messengers, full of inspirational reports from our International Mission Board and North American Misssion Board, great preaching and music. And of course, since it was a Baptist business meeting, there were as many different opinions as there were people in the room.

Georgia Baptist Convention inspiring, intense, interesting

The Tuesday meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention was inspiring most of the time, and intense part of the time, as we had a great challenge with the Task Force Report on our future, and a confusing and close vote for president.

Reports from our three Georgia Baptist colleges were very positive:

The convention approved a resolution in support of Shorter University’s statement of behavior requirements for employees that included a ban on homosexuality. Shorter has been the target of protests by gay rights activisits.

We heard that Brewton Parker College has been rescued thanks to the efforts of the new president. It was a miracle that the school stayed open.

Truett-McConnell college “cannot find enough hooks to hang the students on” as it has exploded with growth.

A resolution against the social use of alcohol was adopted. Then a messenger proposed another resolution against gluttony, saying “everybody hear could pass a breathalizer test, but I’m not sure they would do well if they had to weigh in.” The motion was referred to the Executive Committee for study.

The budget was revised, cut another 6.2%, largely by eliminating any pay raises for convention staff. Messenger Michael Stovall questioned how we are going to get rid of the debt on the GBC ministry building so this budget isn’t burdened by debt, hurting missions. Dr. Robert White, executive director, replied that the recession has hurt our investments that were paying on the debt, but we are trying to pay it as best we can.

We heard a strong doctrinal sermon on Ephesians 2 by Brian Stowe of Maysville. He said, “Doctrine apart from duty is a disgrace.”

There was inspiring music from a young high school student named Andrea Townes, and another high school student named Will Bates who won the state speaker’s tournament, gave his speech on evangelism. The Fiddle Heads, a group of students from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry of North Georgia College, sang and did a super job on their fiddles with hymns and contemporary songs. If we continue to produce young Christians like these, our future is bright!

Tuesday afternoon we had a challenging report from the Task Force that was formed to study how Georgia Baptists can be most effective in sharing the gospel with the 7 million lost people in our state. They used the analogy of David who picked up five smooth stones to fight Goliath (because Goliath had four brothers). They listed five “smooth stones” that we need to make priorities: spiritual renewal, kingdom generosity, church revitalization, church planting, and authentic evangelism. Testimonies were given in each area, and then after a unanimous vote to adopt these priorities, messengers were encouraged to go to containers that contained smooth stones labeled with each of the priorities, and take one that they would resolve to focus on in their own church.

The registration was 1,686 messengers, which is up about three hundred from last year, I am told. There was confusion during the election for president, over which chad to punch in our ballots, so both candidates agreed to vote over again. There were a lot of jokes on Twitter about that one! In the election for a new president of the convention, Fred Evers received 656 votes, and John Waters received 749 votes. Dr. Waters is pastor of First Baptist Church of Statesboro. Later on Tuesday night when Dr. Waters was introduced, he thanked everyone for their support, and called on us to work together to reach the lost. Waters said, “A lost world will not be won by a divided church.”