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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Great Grandfathers Baptist Church

A little while back my father and I had one of those rare moments between a father and son that one treasures for a lifetime…

My father has been into researching our family history for many years now and has collected quite a lot of old family information and mementoes. Mostly it is just names and the dates of birth of our ancestors, you know the extended family-tree kind of stuff, but every now and then he comes across something really interesting. Like the time he turned to me and said “You know son you are not the first preacher we have had in the family, around 1860 my great uncle, William Henry Alford, was the founding pastor of Limestone Baptist Church in Walton County Florida, of course this was before he picked up and moved his whole family to Texas.” I would latter discover that William Henry Alford would go on to pastor several early churches in the Walton and Holmes County area of the Florida Panhandle.

The next hour was spent with dad trying to find some of the old minutes from the church that he had saved from sure ruin when he found them in an old discarded trunk in the barn of a distant relative. Once dad found them the next few hours were spent just trying to read them, this turned out to be no easy task as everything was hand written in old English.

But boy was it worth it! The more I read the greater my appreciation became of the genuine faith of my forefathers. I mean, right there on old cracking paper were the records from one of the first Baptist Churches in West Florida. Everything from the tithe being given in eggs, to the discipline of one of my great, great uncles for drinking and disorderly behavior… to which he stood in front of the Church and repented of (Wow, Church Discipline that actually lead to repentance! You don’t find that in our Baptist Churches anymore), to the existence of Elders in the Church whose job it was to carry out the task of church discipline.

From these few simple church minutes written on old cracking paper I re-discovered the following truths about my Baptist forefathers:

1. These were a people of deeply held convictions – You just do not find people paying tithes in eggs, and sending an Elder to find out why someone has missed church, who are not deeply committed to their faith.

2. Church Discipline was practiced to the edification of all – It is particularly difficult to find a Baptist Church today that understands the importance of Church Discipline and it is almost impossible to find someone who is willing to stand in front of their fellow Christians and repent of even their sins that are known by all.

3. Baptist Churches had Elders! – With many SBC leaders coming out against Elders in Baptist Churches today it was refreshing to discover first hand that my Baptist forefathers were neither Hyper-Congregationalist nor Presbyterians, but Baptist who believed in the autonomy of the local church and the authority of Gods Word. And if Gods Word said to “ordained Elders in every local church” then that was good enough for them.

What an encouragement and blessing these discoveries have been to my faith! (more next time)

2 comments:

deusvult2 said...

Amen on the alcohol comment, brother.

Todd Nelson said...

Greg,

I also recently discovered some diary entries of a distant Baptist pastor relative. He was pastor of Stone Creek Baptist Church near Macon, GA, for 29 years and moderator of the Ebenezer Baptist Association for 22 years -- before and after the formation of the SBC in Augusta (1845). His name was Charnick Tharp.

My Nelson ancestors were neighbors of his, and Alexander Nelson was a deacon in the same church. A Tharp daughter married a Nelson son. That line of Nelsons moved to Macon and then later to Tampa, FL in 1913 and became involved in the First Baptist Church of Tampa. That's the city where I was born in 1961, and the church my family was a part of until they all passed away.

I have also been delighted to see how those early Baptists took church life and discipline seriously -- and how much those farmer-pastors valued a good education. One of the Tharps was part of the group that started Mercer Univ.

BTW, my father-in-law is a retired SBC bi-vocational farmer-pastor having pastored a few rural churches around the Tallahassee area (Madison, Monticello, and Thomasville, GA.)

Blessings, brother,

Todd Nelson
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia