The Origin of Alabama’s Oldest Baptist Church
It is quite difficult in our day of fast food, high speed internet, cell phones, ipods, and satellites to imagine the culture and day to day lives of the men and women living in what was then known as Mississippi Territory, just 200 years ago…No electricity, no telephones, no air conditioners, no automobiles or airplanes. Life was hard, unforgiving, and often times brutal. As one local historian notes “Madison County was just emerging from the wilderness.” Alabama was not yet a state. America had not yet known a Civil war. The president of our great nation was Thomas Jefferson. The Revolutionary war was won only 25 years prior.
It was in this era and culture that a small band of twelve believers gathered on October 2, 1808 in the home of Brother James Deaton in Killingsworth Cove, for the purpose of constituting a local Baptist Church in which to worship their Savior. This Church, the Flint River Baptist Church of Christ, would be the first Baptist church not only in Madison County, but also in what would later become the State of Alabama. Their first pastor was Elder John Nicholson, reportedly from the Boiling Fork Baptist Church in Franklin County, Tennessee. Nicholson would serve Flint River Church as Pastor until around 1830. Six years after her constitution date, Flint River Church joined the Flint River Association of Baptists, the association to which she belongs today.
Reminiscent of the first century church meeting from house to house (Acts 2:46, 1 Corinthians 16:19), Flint River Church met in the homes of her members until the Spring of 1809, at which time a building was constructed on the East bank of the Flint River, near the community of Maysville. An official deed to the land was not acquired until 1819, at which time the church purchased the land from Mr. William Derrick for the sum of $12. Copies of the deed are still available at the Madison County Courthouse.
Flint River Church was founded upon historic Biblical Principles which have been forgotten by many wearing the name Baptist today. At the time of her constitution most Baptist churches including Flint River Church, were Predestinarian concerning the doctrine of salvation and very simple in church practice. Baptists believed in fundamental Bible teachings such as election, predestination, redemption, regeneration, etc. Our brethren of that day rejoiced to know that their eternal destiny rested in the hands of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, and was not contingent upon their own decisions or merit. One who visited a Baptist church of this era would observe a very simple worship service. The congregation would lift its voice in praise and worship of Almighty God. Men would bow their humble heads in awe, begging God for His mercy and thanking Him for His many favors bountifully showered down from His storehouse of Grace. Gospel ministers would stand and proclaim the Gospel to the Lord’s people without gimmick or entertainment. The only Bible read was the King James Version – there was no confusion over multiple versions with contradicting language.
Whereas today we may experience the worries of a high paced society, the hindrances of that day were quite different. For example, on the day of the regularly scheduled business conference of April 1833, the minutes of Flint River Church record that there was “no meeting owing the river being up and rainy.” For May of the same year the minutes record “The River is impassible, meeting disappointed.” The very same situation occurred in January of 1834 when the meeting was cancelled due to “high water and rainy weather.” There were also times during the civil war and during smallpox and flu epidemics in which services were cancelled. When is the last time we were hindered from anything due to an impassible river, a war on domestic soil, or a plague? I dare say never! Oh, how God has blessed us with such a hedge of protection!
While life was indeed hard, the Baptist faith was strong and sound! One might ask: Where could I find such religion today? The only place of which I know is in a Primitive Baptist Church. As our brethren of old have said, Come and see!