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.

A prayer in the pandemic

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Oh, Lord, how we need Your presence in this pandemic.

For those who are sick, we ask for Your mercy and healing.

For those who are caring for the sick, we ask for Your compassion and strength.

For those who are afraid of the sickness, we ask for Your peace and protection.

For those who make policies about the sickness, we ask for Your wisdom and courage to do the right thing.

Heavenly Father, unite all of us, as Your children, by the bonds of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

An invitation to conversation with Almighty God

The LORD would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend… – Exodus 33:11

Years ago, I got to shake hands with the president of the United States. I was serving as a pastor near Savannah, Georgia, and President George W. Bush was coming to Savannah to speak. As part of the event, I was asked to say a prayer before the president arrived, and then I was allowed to sit on the front row when the president spoke. After his speech, he walked through the crowd quickly, shaking hands with people on the front row. He was headed in my direction! I watched as Secret Service agents went before and behind him. Cameras were flashing. The news media were everywhere. He was stopping briefly to shake hands and speak to each person. As he made his way closer, I thought about what I would say. I didn’t want to say anything stupid. I could imagine putting my foot in my mouth and getting it broadcast on the evening news: “Local pastor makes a fool of himself with the President.” I knew there was no time for a long conversation, either. Finally, President Bush got to me. As if in slow motion, I took the hand of “W,” and said, “I pray for you every day.” He replied, “Thanks; it’s working!” Two seconds later, he was moving down the line.

Now here is a thought that blows my mind: Moses talked to the Creator of the Universe face to face like God was his best buddy! It wasn’t a quick phrase, like my conversation with the president. No, Moses spent time with Yahweh, the personal God of Israel, in a long, leisurely conversation. They hung out together.

Here’s another thought that blows my mind: Jesus, my Savior, wants to talk to me like that! Jesus told His disciples, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15), shortly after encouraging them to “abide” or “remain” with him (John 15:4). The president of the United States did not have time to remain with me and talk to me like a friend, yet Jesus, my Savior, calls me “friend” and invites me to remain and spend time with him.

What would I have done if the president had said, “Bob, can I come over for dinner and talk with you a while?” I would have called my wife and said, “You got a few minutes to get the house ready for the president!” But I have One far greater inviting me to start my day in conversation with Him. How can I do otherwise?

How to join prayer with Bible reading, using Psalm 119

PrayerBible

Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
“I rise before dawn and cry out for help (prayer);
I put my hope in Your word (scripture).” – Psalm 119:147, HCSB

Prayer and daily Bible reading are both stronger if they are done together, as Psalm 119:147 indicates above by listing them together. In fact, one may use key verses from Psalm 119 to prepare the heart before reading scripture, and to reflect in prayer after reading scripture. Here are the verses, all of them from Psalm 119, a psalm that delights in the Word of God. I encourage you to use the first four verses of preparation, to guide a short prayer time before your daily Bible reading. Then read the scripture. After your Bible reading, instead of setting the scripture aside, keep your Bible in front of you as you then pray the last four verses of application.

1) Preparation.  Before reading scripture ask God to:
•    V. 18 – open my eyes: “Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wonderful things from Your instruction.”
•    V. 66- teach me: “Lord… teach me Your statutes.”
•    V. 105 – direct me: “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.”
•    V. 125- give me discernment: “I am Your servant; give me understanding so that I may know Your decrees.”

2) Application. After reading scripture reflect in prayer on:
•    V. 11- a sin to confess: “I have treasured Your word in my heart that I may not sin against You.”
•    V. 38- a promise to claim: “Confirm what You said to Your servant…”
•    V. 60- a command to obey: “I hurried, not hesitating, to keep Your commands.”
•    V. 112- a resolution to make: “I am resolved to obey Your statutes to the very end.”

Print this guide and keep it by your Bible, or write this in the margin of your Bible at Psalm 119, and use it daily in reading scripture. May it aid you to engage your heart, mind and will in your daily devotions.

5 reasons to pray for President Trump (even if you didn’t vote for him)

trumpprayer

Article copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers

You and I should pray for President Trump, whether we voted for him or not. Here’s five reasons why:

1. Scripture commands it. Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders. The apostle Paul said, “I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and for all those who are in authority…” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, HCSB).

2. The Old Testament prophets modeled it. The Old Testament prophets modeled this kind of praying for us. Isaiah said that the Lord “wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isaiah 49:16), Jeremiah wept over the nation, and Ezekiel called for someone to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30) on behalf of the nation.

3. The early Christians modeled it. The apostle Peter wrote, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor” (1 Peter 2:17, HCSB). If first century Christians could pray for a Roman emperor who threw them to the lions, cannot we pray for an elected president with whom we may disagree?

4. When the president does well, we all do well. The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to Jewish exiles in Babylon, encouraging them to pray for the king and city that had taken them into exile. He gave them a word from the Lord: “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7, HCSB). The words “welfare” and “prosper” translate the rich Hebrew word shalom, which means peace and prosperity.

5. God calls us to live in peace, not division. Notice that when Paul urged us to pray for political leaders, he also gave us a reason: “… so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2b). During the presidency of Barack Obama, African-American pastor Tony Evans pointed out, “What many conservative Christians fail to realize … is that when our first black president, Barack Obama, is dishonored through caricatures, name-calling, or disrespectful talk by white Americans, it merely creates a greater chasm between the races.” (Tony Evans, Oneness Embraced, p. 52). Rev. Evans was exactly right– and the same principle that applied to Obama then applies to Trump now. Evans illustrates what the apostle Paul was talking about– angry words instead of words of prayer for President Trump create chaotic lives, not tranquil lives. One preacher pointed that that if we would pray for the president instead of complain about the president, maybe he would do better.

So I am praying for President Trump, just as I prayed for President Obama and those before them. Will you join me?

If you are wondering what to pray, here are the words prayed by Bishop Wayne T. Jackson at the inauguration of President Trump: https://bobrogers.me/2017/01/20/bishop-jacksons-inauguration-prayer-for-president-trump/

Here are some good thoughts on praying at the inauguration, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: https://billygraham.org/story/inauguration-prayers-billy-graham-franklin-graham/?utm_source=BGEA+facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=FB+General+Post&utm_content=BGEA+FB+Page&SOURCE=BY150FGEN