Continued from yesterday
By the 1870s, B. W. Nash was re-energized in his attempt to bring together various Baptist bodies holding free grace, free will and free communion. He began publishing the Baptist Review around July of 1873 at La Grange.[i] At the same time he was promoting union among the Baptist denominations. His reach through the Review helped bring the establishment of the Southern Baptist Association in 1876. According to the Freewill Baptist Register, the Southern Baptist Association included the Mount Moriah Association in Alabama, Ogeechee and Chattahoochee Associations in Georgia, Mount Zion, Piny Grove, Cape Fear and Pee Dee Associations in North Carolina, as well as the South Carolina, Tennessee River, and Butts County Conferences.
By the 1880s, B. W. Nash had moved away from the descriptor “Union Baptists” to the simple name Baptist. In 1885 Nash wrote to the editor of the Goldsboro Messenger, “our denomination bears the name of Baptist only,” after which he delineates a series of historical events. About 1858 “the Union Baptist, of Virginia, with head quarters at Fredericksburg, sent out a minister in search of brethren of like faith and order.”[ii] Some Free Will Baptists united with the Union Baptists and adopted their name. The population and churches suffered during the Civil War and many were scattered. In 1867 the Grand Council of Union Baptists dropped “the name ‘Union’ and rall[ied] under the denominational name Baptist.” This came to be called the Mt. Zion Association of Baptists by 1876, and in 1883 two other associations united with Mt. Zion under the name “Union Association.” Another organization – the United Baptist Conference – was created to be composed of delegates from the Union Association and the Cape Fear Free Will Baptist Conference.[iii]
The best source to obtain the faith and practice of the Union Baptists probably is Hunnicutt’s A Summary of the Doctrines, Held and Maintained by the Union Baptists. Without access to that document, I provide the following references to the doctrines held by Union Baptists.
Describing the Union Association that was comprised of Mt. Zion, Piny Grove and Central Associations, Nash wrote that “The doctrines on which the organization is based, is, free agency, free grace, free communion and immersion as the only mode of baptism.” This straightforward statement seems to accurately summarize the faith of the Union Baptists from their beginning circa 1841.
The Cape Fear Association, a Regular or Missionary Baptist Association that required immersion of members received from the Union Baptists, indicate that the Union Baptists held the doctrine of apostasy: “The Union Baptists are followers of Hunnicutt, are advocates of loose communion and of the privilege of falling from grace.”[iv]
The Union Baptists apparently did not hold feet washing as an ordinance, or else their leaders were willing to sacrifice it for union. The Union Baptists participated in the Union Convention in December of 1867, held at Hookerton in Greene County, North Carolina – which included delegates from the annual meeting of the Disciples of Christ, from the Free Will Baptist Conference, and from the Grand Council of the Union Baptists. Delegates from Grand Council of Union Baptists were B. W. Nash, Irvin Jones, Alfred Moore, Sylvester Carrow and C. C. Stilly. At this convention the delegates both the Union Baptists and Disciples favored the following resolution:
Resolved, 4th, That while we do not regard the washing the saints’ feet as an ordinance of the Christian Church, still we look upon it as a good work, designed to teach the Lord’s people the great lesson of humility; and that all Christians should be at liberty to assemble when, where, and as often as they please for this purpose.
“The 4th Resolution was voted for by the Disciples and the Union Baptists, and voted against by the Free Will Baptists.” [v]
B. W. Nash’s advertisement for his Baptist Review spells out a number of his beliefs:
It supports and defends the doctrine of free agency, and Personal Accountability. It advocates the doctrine of the unlimited atonement; and believes that salvation is attainable by all persons who hear and understand the gospel. It advocates the Union and Communion of all Christians at the Lord’s table regardless of Denominational or Sectarian distinctions. And vindicates the cause of Christian Union upon the basis of the New Testament. It recognizes Christians of all evangelical Churches as members of the Church of Christ; and advocates co-operation among the protestant denominations in the work of evangelization. It advocates Immersion as the only proper mode of baptism and believes as the only subjects. Our motto is:
FREE SALVATION, FREE COMMUNION AND IMMERSION.[vi]
In the Review, Nash also advocated for prohibition.[vii]
Nash’s references to the Grand Council or “headquarters” sending out “a minister in search of brethren of like faith and order” and his transferring from Virginia to North Carolina suggest the original government of the Union Baptists might have been more authoritative or “top-down” than the autonomy found in a typical Baptist church – though this remains to be seen.
[i] Goldsboro Messenger, Thursday, July 17, 1873, p. 3
[ii] This minister may have been Nash himself, but the way he writes seems to suggest it was someone else.
[iii] “Union Association of Baptists,” Goldsboro Messenger, Thursday, October 15, 1885, p. 1.
[iv] “Cape Fear Association,” The Biblical Recorder, Wednesday, November 3 1869, p. 2
[v] North Carolina Disciples of Christ; a History of Their Rise and Progress, and of Their Contribution to Their General Brotherhood, Charles Crossfield Ware, pp. 104-106.
[vi] Wilmington Morning Star, Saturday, August 22, 1874, p. 4. As the most notable leader of this movement, Nash’s beliefs can be considered representative of the denomination as a whole.
[vii] The Daily Journal, Wednesday, July 26, 1882, p. 1