During the 19th century, Baptist churches in Mississippi maintained strict discipline over their members. Henry Nichols was excluded from Sarepta Church in Union Association “for drawing his knife and offering to stab his brother and for spitting in his face.” Benjamin Brown was excluded from Ebenezer Church in Amite County for “attending a horse race and wagering thereon.” James Dermaid was excluded from Providence Church in what is now Forrest County “for “disputing, quarreling, and using profane language, and absenting himself from the church.” Providence Church also excluded “brother Alexander Williams and sister Leuizer Maclimore upon a charge of their attempting to go off and cohabit together as man and wife.” In 1828, the African Church at Bayou Pierre had a query for Union Association: “Is it gospel order for a Baptist church to hold members in fellowship who have married relations nearer than cousins?” The association answered that it was not. Jane Scarborough, wife of Rev. Lawrence Scarborough of Sarepta Church accused “Sister Harris” of being drunk at a wedding and for hosting “Negro balls” (debutante balls for blacks). Instead, the church charged Mrs. Scarborough of gossip without evidence, and excluded her for making the accusations!1
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 to the Mississippi Baptist Convention 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 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.” 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 Church in Pearl River Association 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
The Mississippi Baptist Convention heard frequent reports on how to defend against desecrations of the Sabbath. In 1840, M. W. Chrestman reported, “The Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, is an institution of Divine Origin, and is therefore of universal obligation… On the Lord’s Day all manner of servile labor is positively prohibited, with the exception of works of necessity and mercy… Every necessary arrangement and sacrifice should be made; every carnal pleasure and sensual gratification should be denied… Resolved, That we recommend that our ministering brethren with greater zeal and diligence explain and enforce the proper observance of the Lord’s Day.” Local Mississippi Baptist churches considered violation of the Sabbath a serious matter. In March 1837, William Dossett, a member of Providence Church in what is now Forrest County, confessed to the church “that he had been hunting a deer on the Sabbath, which he had wounded on the preceding evening.” After “considerable discussion of the subject,” the church was satisfied with his explanation.3
SOURCES (All available at the Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission Archives, Leland Speed Library, Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi):
1 Minutes, Sarepta Baptist Church, Jefferson County, Mississippi, August 1815, June 1828, July 1828; Minutes, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Amite County, Mississippi, February 6, 1813; March 6, 1813; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, December 10, 1842, September 2, 1843; Minutes, Union Baptist Association, 1828.
2 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1838, 1839; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, May 11, 1844, January 11, 1845, March 8, 1845.
3 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1840; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, March 4, 1837.
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
I’ll admit it, some people have bad experiences with a church. Here are the top ten signs you’re in a bad church:
10. The church bus has gun racks.
9. Church staff: senior pastor, associate pator, socio-pastor.
8. The town gossip is the prayer coordinator.
7. Church sign says, “Do you know what Hell is? Come hear our preacher.”
6. Choir wears leather robes.
5. During greeting time, people take turns staring at you.
4. Karaoke worship time.
3. Ushers ask, “Smoking or non-smoking?”
2. Only song the organist knows: “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
- The pastor doesn’t want to come, but his wife makes him attend.
If your church is that bad, you might want to look for another church. But the fact is, that there is no perfect church, because the church is made up of imperfect people. The phrase the Bible uses to describe us is “sinners saved by grace.” So before you give up completely on the church, remember this: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). If Jesus considered the church worth dying for, then we ought to consider the church worth living for.
An unknown poet put it well:
“If you should find the perfect church, without fault or smear
For goodness sake, don’t join that church, you’d spoil the atmosphere.
But since no perfect church exists, made of perfect men,
Let’s cease on looking for that church, and love the one we’re in.”
(This article will be part of my upcoming book about taking a humorous yet serious look at the Christian life, called, Standing by the Wrong Graveside.)