Blog Archives

Preaching and “spit-boxes:” what worship was like in Baptist churches of antebellum Mississippi

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

    What was it like to worship in a Mississippi Baptist church in the years before the Civil War? A survey of church minutes from various churches around Mississippi tell the story. Sunday services were commonly referred to as “divine worship,” “divine service,” or simply “preaching.” Many Mississippi Baptist churches in this time only had a “preaching” service once a month, as their pastor often had to preach at other churches on the other Sundays during the month, and sometimes they had to adjust their schedule to that of the pastor and his other churches. For instance, in 1855, after calling a new pastor, Hephzibah Church in Clarke County voted to move their monthly worship was “from the second to the fourth Sabbath.” Likewise, in 1853, after Bethesda Church in Hinds County called a new pastor, they changed their monthly meeting for the first Sunday to the third Sunday, and “we grant him the privilege to preach for us one Sabbath each month.”1

   Baptism was generally done in a natural body of water near the church building. For example, Hopewell Church in Lafayette County recorded in their minutes in July 1857, that after their business conference, they “adjourned and repared [sic] to the water to attend to the Ordinance of Baptism and Sister Sarah Couch was Baptized.” Bethesda Church in Hinds County constructed an outdoor baptismal pool at a natural spring not far from their meeting house, and built a “dressing house at the pool” that was 10 by 12 feet. A member also furnished a “suit of clothes” to wear for baptisms.  Not only was baptism only for believers by immersion, but the Landmark movement influenced Baptists to reject “alien immersion” by non-Baptists. In 1853, “Phebe, a servant of Francis Martin” wanted to join Bethesda Church in Hinds County. Phebe had been immersed as a believer by a Methodist minister. The examining committee was “satisfied with her Christian walk” and recommended that her “former baptism” be accepted, but the church rejected the recommendation at their Saturday business meeting. The next day, after the Sunday preaching service, Phebe was accepted as a candidate for baptism and the congregation “repaired to the water and Phebe was baptized.”2

    The Lord’s Supper was usually distributed by deacons. Clear Creek Church in Adams County served the Lord’s Supper every three months. Sarepta Church in Franklin County also observed communion about once every three months except when something unusual caused a postponement. They used real wine during that time. Bethesda Church in Hinds County recorded expenditure of $2.00 for a gallon of wine in 1851. They also considered it a duty for every member to partake of the Lord’s Supper “when not providentially hindered.” Besides the Lord’s Supper, foot washing was also commonly practiced. Sarepta Church’s minutes in August 1846 referred to “the duty of foot-washing” to be observed the next month in worship. Although foot washing was called a “duty,” only baptism and communion were referred to as “ordinances.” 3

   Music was important in Mississippi Baptist church life. The very first entry in the minutes of Sarepta Church in 1810 said they “opened by singing and prayer.” The Pearl River Association mentions closing their meeting “united in singing a hymn.”  Hephzibah Church ordered a “dozen hymn books (Dossey’s Choice) for the use of the church and congregation to be paid for by voluntary contributions.” The hymnal they referred to as “Dossey’s Choice” was The Choice: in two parts, compiled by William Dossey, and published in 1833 by Charles De Silver & Sons in Philadelphia. It was called The Choice: in two parts, because it offered a choice of two types of songs. Part One contained traditional hymns, such as “O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and Part Two contained songs based on the Psalms of the Bible, set to rhyme, such as one based on Psalm 46 which began, “God is our refuge in distress, a present help when dangers press…”   Bethesda Church voted to get a new hymnal, and ordered 24 hymnals called “Psalmody,” but also “earnestly recommended that the present practice of lining the hymns be continued.”  This likely means they ordered The Baptist Psalmody: A Selection of Hymns for the Worship of God. This was a 794-page hymnal published in 1850 by the Southern Baptist Publication Society, edited by Southern Baptist leader Basil Manly. The practice of “lining the hymn” meant that a song leader chanted or sang a line of the song a capella, and then the congregation repeated the line, and this continued through the song, line by line.4

   Mississippi Baptists were a praying people. Church minutes frequently made mention of prayer meetings and times of fasting and prayer. Ebenezer Church in Amite County met on a Monday in 1846 to “fast and pray to the Lord that he would send more faithful Laborers into his Harvest, and Call their Pastor.” In 1847, Ebenezer Church met on a Friday “to fast and pray for the peace and prosperity of the churches.” Throughout the 1840s, it was the practice of Hephzibah Church in Clarke County to meet for an hour of prayer before having their Sunday worship service.5

Some practices that were commonly accepted then would be considered unusual today. For example, it was normal for Baptists to chew tobacco while sitting in worship. In fact, in 1850, Bethesda Church in Hinds County voted to put 71 “spit-boxes” (spittoons) in their meeting house, at a cost of 3 cents each.6

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, January 27, 1855, June 27, 1857; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, October 1846, December 1852, January 1, 1853.

2 Minutes, Hopewell Baptist Church, Lafayette County, Mississippi, July 1857; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, October 1851, April 1853, December 1854.

3 Minutes, Clear Creek Baptist Church, Adams County, Mississippi April 10, 1847, July 26, 1847; Minutes, Sarepta Baptist Church, Franklin County, Mississippi August 1846, June 1847, September 1847, December 1847; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, December 1851; September 15, 1860. Grape juice that did not ferment was not invented until 1869.

4 Minutes, Sarepta Bptist Church, Franklin County, Mississippi, October 1, 1810; Minutes, Pearl River Baptist Association, 1860, 9; Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, August 28, 1851; “The Choice: In Two Parts,” accessed on the Internet on 25 April 2022 at http://hymnary.org/hymnal/C2P41833?page=6; Minutes, Bethesda Church, Hinds County, June 15, 1855; The Baptist Psalmody: A Selection of Hymns for the Worship of God, review on Goodreads, accessed 8 May 2022 on the Internet at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50587023-the-baptist-psalmody.

5 Minutes, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Amite County, Mississippi, November 14, 1846, October 16, 1847; Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, June 1847.

6 Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, August 1850.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

Prayers for Holy Week

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Lord Jesus, You entered Jerusalem in triumph, receiving the praises of “Hosanna!” from the crowd. Then You cleansed the temple and healed the sick. When the priests challenged Your authority, You said scripture foretold praises from the children (Matthew 21:1-17). Lord Jesus, I am Your servant. I bow before You and recognize Your Lordship over my life. I give You praise, my God and my King! Heal me, change me, lead me.

Oh, Lord, when You came to Jerusalem, You cleansed the temple. Would You cleanse my heart today of all that displeases You?

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed so fervently, His sweat became like drops of blood, yet His disciples fell asleep. Jesus said, “Get up and pray, so that you won’t fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:46). Lord, may my prayer life be so strong that it weakens my temptation.

Lord Jesus, they stripped You naked, flogged You, slapped You, spat on You, mocked You, beat You on the head, forced You to carry Your cross to Your execution, nailed Your hands and feet to the cross, and when You died, they thrust a spear into Your side. Or did they? In truth, I should change the word “they” to “I”! Did not I do all of that to You? It is because of my sin that You suffered. I stripped You, I flogged You, I slapped You, I spat on You, I mocked You, I beat You, my sin caused You to carry Your cross and take the nails and spear for my forgiveness. Oh, Jesus, my heart gently lifts the crown of thorns from Your head, and with all my soul, I place a golden crown on Your bloodied brow, and I bow at Your nail-scarred feet.

Lord, when You died on the cross, You tore down the barrier between God and mankind. I am overwhelmed that Your grace has given me access by faith into the very presence of God. May I never take Your death for granted. As You died for me, I will live for You. (Mark 15:37-38)

Lord Jesus, You were mocked and crucified for my sins. I can never repay Your sacrifice, but I shall not be afraid to be mocked or punished for the sake of Your name. (Matthew 27:31)

Lord Jesus, from the cross You cried, ‘Into Your hands I entrust My spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Help me to pray that same prayer with my dying breath. Into Your hands I entrust my body, my soul, my spirit.

The resurrected Christ walked with two disciples to Emmaus, yet they did not recognize Him until he blessed and broke the bread. “Then their eyes were opened” (Luke 24:31), and they told others “how He was made know to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Lord, open my eyes when I break the bread of communion. Remind me again how my sin made it necessary for Your body to be broken and Your blood to be shed. As I share the bread, may I share Your presence and grace with those around me.

Thursday, Day of Blood Covenant

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Many things happened on Thursday of Holy Week. It is often called “Maundy Thursday” because John 13:1-17 records Him washing the disciples’ feet and giving them a command (Latin mandatum, French mande’) to follow His example. The other three Gospels, including Mark, tell how Jesus and His disciples observed the Passover, during which Jesus instituted the new ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Then they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus agonized in prayer over His coming cross. While in Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and handed over to the Jewish temple police, who took Him before the Jewish Sanhedrin for an illegal night trial.
Many valuable lessons can be learned from Thursday, such as the example of humility and service in washing feet and the example of praying in God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. But let’s focus on the lesson about covenant and commitment.
In Mark 14:24 Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
We who follow Christ are called to enter into a covenant with Him. That means we make a commitment to follow Him. It is a divine transaction. Jesus pours out His blood; we receive Him by faith and commit ourselves to follow Him the rest of our lives. He made a complete commitment to us by dying for us; He invites us to commit to Him by living for Him.
While in college, Jim Denison was a summer missionary in East Malaysia. During one of the worship services, a teenage girl shared her testimony and was baptized in the simple bathtub baptistery of the church, which met in a warehouse. Denison noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall, and asked a church member why it was there. The member pointed to the girl who was baptized and said, “Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage.” (The Book of Acts, BaptistWay Bible Study for Texas, 2000, p. 46). Now that, my friends, is entering into a covenant with Christ.
Thursday, the day of covenant, teaches us to commit to Christ.

Five things Christians cannot do without the church

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

As a hospital chaplain, I often meet people who believe in God but don’t believe in the church. Some are angry with the church, and many just don’t have any motivation to be connected to a church. They are fed up with the hypocrites. I get that– I have been one of those hypocrites, and perhaps you have, too. They are tired of church fights. I get that, too. One guy told me, “I can catch hell at home; I don’t need it at church.”
Yet I submit that we need the church. (I’m talking about the people, not a building. The early church met in houses, and many churches meet in homes today.) In fact, there are at least five spiritual practices that a Christian cannot appropriately do without the church.

1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. Romans 12:5-6 talks about how we are all part of the body of Christ as we have different gifts. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ. Prophesying, teaching, serving, giving, leading, showing mercy, and so many other spiritual gifts are either done among members of the church or together with members of the church.
2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We are told to serve each other, teach each other, feed each other, pray for each other, encourage each other. I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers. No wonder Hebrews 10:25 commands believers not to forsake gathering ourselves together, but instead to encourage each other.

3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there. God is real in private prayer, but this is a clear scriptural promise that God is present in a greater way when we pray together. No wonder the Psalmist proclaimed, “Better a day in Your courts, than a thousand anywhere else!” (Psalm 84:10).

4. We cannot appropriately pray the Lord’s Prayer without the church. Jesus gave us this beloved prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-6, as a model on how Christians should pray. The repetition of the words “our” and “us” throughout the prayer is constant reminder that Jesus taught us to pray with other believers and for other believers. While a Christian may certainly pray this prayer alone, we cannot continue to pray this prayer with sincerity and remain alone.
5. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:17 observes that by sharing the bread of communion, Christians are expressing their unity: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.

Christ died for the church.
Christ is the builder of the church.
Christ is the head of the church.
Christ is the shepherd of the church.
Christ is the groom for His bride, the church.
Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!

Why we can’t be disciples of Christ without the church

Fellowship

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Many people say that they believe in Jesus but don’t believe in the church. Yet I submit that it is impossible to be a disciple of Christ apart from the church. Why do I say that?

1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ.

2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers.

3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there.

4. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.

Christ died for the church. Christ is the builder of the church. Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the shepherd of the church. Christ is the groom for His bride, the church. Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!

Why we need the church

PrayerGroup
Article copyright 2015 by Bob Rogers
As a hospital chaplain, I often meet people who believe in God but don’t believe in the church. Some are angry with the church, and many just don’t have any motivation to be connected to a church. They are fed up with the hypocrites. I get that– I’ve been one of those hypocrites. They are tired of church fights. I get that, too. One guy told me, “I can catch hell at home; I don’t need it at church.”
Yet I submit that we need the church. (I’m talking about the people, not a building. The early church met in houses, and many meet in homes today.) In fact, we cannot be biblical Christians apart from the church. Why do I say that?

1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. Romans 12:5-6 talks about how we are all part of the body of Christ as we have different gifts. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ. Prophesying, teaching, serving, giving, leading, showing mercy, and so many other spiritual gifts are either done among members of the church or together with members of the church.
2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We are told to serve each other, teach each other, feed each other, pray for each other, encourage each other. I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers. No wonder Hebrews 10:25 commands believers not to forsake gathering ourselves together, but instead to encourage each other.

3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there. God is real in private prayer, but this is a clear scriptural promise that God is present in a greater way when we pray together. No wonder the Psalmist proclaimed, “Better a day in Your courts, than a thousand anywhere else!” (Psalm 84:10).
4. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:17 observes that by sharing the bread of communion, Christians are expressing their unity: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.
Christ died for the church.
Christ is the builder of the church.
Christ is the head of the church.
Christ is the shepherd of the church.
Christ is the groom for His bride, the church.
Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!

Choking on communion

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

Years ago, my whole church got choked up during communion.
I was the young pastor at a scenic little country church in southwest Mississippi, tucked amongst the pine trees at the edge of a national forest. One Sunday, I finished my sermon and prepared the people for the monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. After reading scripture about the body and blood of Christ shed for our sins, I raised the cover from the tray with the little juice glasses. The odor almost knocked out the people on the front row. But we just held our breath and started serving it. (What else could I do– stop the service and say the communion juice stinks?) A lady choked and gagged. Others downed it quickly with a grimace on their faces. We managed to finish, although for a moment I was afraid we were going to have to whistle the benediction instead of singing it, our lips were so sour.
After the service was over, a lady made a bee-line to “Bennie” (not his real name), the member who had prepared the juice. “Why was the juice so sour?” she wanted to know. He explained to her that he had reused the leftover juice from the previous month. “And where did you get the juice?” she demanded. “From Paw,” was his simple answer. “Paw,” who shall remain unidentified, was rumored to make homemade wine.
The day we got choked up in worship was funny. What is not funny is when something chokes off worship. Then the church has a problem. If you sing out with joy and somebody tells you that you sing too loud, that can choke your worship. If you shout “Amen” or feel led to raise your hands, and somebody glares at you for it, that can choke your worship. If you are judged by your appearance or clothing and not made to feel welcome, it can choke your worship.
So if you get the urge to choke in a worship service, ask God to help you swallow it. You’ll be glad you did.