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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Critique of A. J. Holt’s A Brief History of Union Baptist Church

I have recently renewed my research on Isaac H. Reed, one of the early Baptist preachers in Texas. In doing so, I reread Adoniram Judson Holt’s A Brief History of Union Baptist Church (Old North Church), written circa 1911. The material was republished in the East Texas Historical Journal, Volume 9, Issue 1, in 1971. It can be found online here:
https://scholarworks.sfasu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1219&context=ethj

In May of 1838, Elder Isaac Reed led in constituting the Union Baptist Church about four miles north of Nacogdoches, Texas. It is one of the oldest Baptist churches in Texas.[i] In his Brief History, Holt recounts this and refers to other incidents in the history of the church. However, at times Holt is not careful in his assertions. At times he may have not had information available to him; in other cases he proves to have a faulty memory or careful research evaded him; other times his opinions may have gotten in the way. Here are a few places that deserve correction.
The writer of these lines, A.J. Holt, is perhaps the only living man at this time who was personally acquainted with Isaac Reed and M.G. Whitaker who came from Fayetteville, Tennessee in 1835. M.G. Whitaker was in the battle of Sanjacinto [sic] in 1836. They both had personal conversations with the writer of this sketch. So it seems well to me, at the urgent request of J.H. Summers. Sr. and John S. Orton, to perform this service. P. 61
Though he makes this claim more than once,[ii] it is not possible that Isaac Reed, founder of Union Baptist Church, “had personal conversations with” A. J. Holt. Adoniram Judson Holt was born in Kentucky on December 1, 1847. Eleven months later Isaac Reed (November 1848) died in Texas. Perhaps Holt knew Reed’s namesake grandson, also a Baptist preacher, and mistook him for the Isaac Reed who founded Union Baptist Church in May 1838.
It scarcely admits of a doubt that this was absolutely the first sermon ever preached in Texas. P. 62
It is generally agreed by historians today that other Protestant and even Baptist sermons preceded those of Isaac Reed. For example, in endnote four, Editor Jerry M. Self points out that “Yoakum indicates that a Methodist preacher, Rev. Henry Stephenson, preached in what is now Texas as early as 1818. A Baptist named Joseph Bays preached in 1827. H(enderson) Yoakum, History of Texas (2 vols. New York: Redfield, 1855), II, 536-38.”
These nine persons adopted a Confession of Faith found in Browns Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge  which is now in almost universal use among Baptists. P. 62
As before stated Union Church adopted at the beginning the Articles of Faith found in Browns Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, which virtually the same as is now found in Pendelton’s Manual which are almost in universal use by the Baptists of America.
It is not clear that Holt is correct in this assertion. It is likely that he is not. I do not have access to the original records, but rather the transcription printed by the church and pastor Gene Tomlin circa 1987, First Book of Church Minutes, 1838-1872: Old North Baptist Church, Nacogdoches, Texas. Tomlin includes this Confession of Faith in the booklet, but there is no record in the church minutes of its adoption when the church was constituted. Rather, the minutes of Saturday before the first Lord’s day in March 1855 mention “the Subject of an Articcle of faith for the need and practice of the church was taken up and resulted in adopting the artickle of faith as laid down in the encyclopedia of religious Knowledge. the church covenant laid down in the same work was also adopted.” It seems highly unlikely that if the church had adopted this confession of faith at the time of her constitution that there would have been a need to adopt it in March 1855.
A majority of the constituent members of the Union church came from the same locality in Tennessee. Now it transpires that this same Tennessee church, the Mulberry Church of Lincoln County, Tennessee, is well known to the writer of this sketch. P. 63
As written, this implies that the majority of members constituting the Union Church were from the Mulberry Church in Lincoln County, Tennessee. The list in the church minutes show one member from Bethel Church in Lincoln County, two members from Friendship Church in Bedford County, two members from Mount Moriah Church in Lincoln County, one member from the Mulberry Church in Lincoln County, one from the Liberty Church in Cooper County, Missouri, and two whose church affiliations are not mentioned. These latter two were slaves of the Whitaker family, and perhaps members of the Mulberry. Even if that is so, only a plurality were from the Mulberry Church.
In the first eight years of her history under the leadership of Elder Isaac Reed nothing unusual in the way of doctrine was mentioned. In 1845 Elder D. Lewis was called to the care of the church. He recommended that feet washing be observed. A resolution was also passed by the church to do so. But there is no record that it was ever carried into effect. Elder Lewis, as will be elsewhere recorded, only remained as pastor for three months and left the church in much confusion. It is reasonable to suppose that the innovation introduced was the occasion of this confusion. P. 64
There is a mention of “communion tomorrow and feet washing” the Saturday before the first Lord’s day in January, 1845, while the church was under the care of Elder David Lewis (though this is only his first month). There is no suggestion in the minutes that Pastor Lewis recommended or did not recommend the feet washing, though someone might have told Holt that it happened that way. By the standard that “there is no record [in later conference minutes] that it was ever carried into effect,” then one must also suppose they did not observe communion – since that is also not mentioned in the minutes. The simple facts are these. The monthly conference is recorded in the minutes. No reference is needed in the next conference minutes unless something is an ongoing issue to be addressed. That they observed the communion and feet washing after the church voted on this is not necessary or expected in the next conference minutes. To conclude that they did not observe such is a misunderstanding of how the minutes function.
Elder Lewis, as will be elsewhere recorded, only remained as pastor for three months and left the church in much confusion. It is reasonable to suppose that the innovation introduced was the occasion of this confusion. P. 64
Holt’s claim that Lewis only remained as pastor for three months is also incorrect. [Some of Holt’s years for other early pastors needs to be gone over as well.] He was called “to take the pastorial care of the church” at the conference in December 1844. He was present at most of the conferences through 1845, and was once again called as pastor “for the ensuing year” in December 1846. It is true that he “left the church in much confusion.” In May of 1846 the church appointed a committee “to know the cause why he [Bro. Lewis] absents himself from us as he fails to attend…” In June “bro. Lewis was dismissed from the care of the church.” That makes his official tenure about a year and a half rather than three months. Lewis is mentioned in August of 1846, and not again until in July 1847 when he is referenced as “in a state of exclusion” yet called to the pastoral church of the Border Church in Harrison County. The split in the Sabine Association in 1847 indicates the differences between David Lewis and the Union Church were regarding missionary societies, church auxiliaries, and such like. The “missionarys” were excluded from the Sabine Association. Taken with the information from the associational record, and once we understand the practice of feet washing was common among Baptists in East Texas during this period, it is not reasonable to suppose it created this confusion. Z. N. Morrell’s account in his Flowers and Fruits further supports that the problem between Lewis, Reed and the Union Church was Lewis’ thorough favor of mission methods, which was disapproved by Isaac Reed and others (See Morrell, pages 263-64).
Nothing more was recorded concerning feet washing for several years when a query was sent to the association as to whether feet washing was to be observed as a church ordinance. The record is silent as to the advice the association gave. Later under the pastorate of Sanders who was temporarily the pastor in the absence of C.H. Gibson who was ill in Hot Springs, the effort was made by Sanders to force the church into the observance of feet washing. J.H. Summers was the church clerk at the time and refused to participate in proceedings when Sanders asked the church to prefer charges against J.H. Summers but the church declined to take such a step. The matter was then dropped and nothing more was said or done. P. 64
The minutes of Saturday before the first Lord’s day in March 1855 again record the issue of feet washing. At the time the church adopted the Confession of Faith found in Brown’s Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, the church also asserted that they “will practice the ordinance of feet washing in the church.” Feet washing is not mentioned in that confession of faith, and it appears to me that the church is making their stance clear. The issues surrounding Sanders, Gibson, and Summers are not in the First Book of Church Minutes. Apparently, the minutes that might prove or disprove Holt’s assertion concerning the Gibson pastorate and Sanders interim were lost when the church clerk’s home burned in the 1920s. If the period in question of the query to the association is when then church was affiliated with the Mt. Zion Association, the association minutes can help. Mt. Zion association addressed two queries on the subject in a short period of time – first by a committee stating they did not believe it was an ordinance, and second by a resolution that the observance or non-observance of washing the saints’ feet should not be a test of fellowship. (Mt. Zion minutes, 1867, 1870.) Elder George Preston Birdwell wrote, “at one time 38 out of 42 churches in old Mt. Zion Association practiced ‘Foot-washing’.” (In a letter written approximately 1912 when Birdwell was “nearly 76 years old.”)
One member was excluded for joining the Free Masons. Afterwards it seems to have become questionable as to whether this constituted a real offense. A committee was appointed to carry to the association a query on the subject. But the advice of the association is not a matter of record. P. 65
On Saturday before the first Lord’s day in November 1848, N. W. Crain was “Excluded for joining the free Masons.” At the time, it “constituted a real offense” and agreed with the position the Sabine Baptist Association took on the subject of Masonry. (For example, in 1847 “the Association advise and request members of the Baptist order, not to attend the Lodge.” )
Union Church is now known as Old North Church. It was named Union however because other denominations were allowed to worship there. For several years the Primitive (?) Baptists had a day. The Methodists also had a day. Later the Primitives withdrew, likewise the Methodists still later and thus the church remains now to [be] occupied solely by the Missionary Baptists. P. 67
It is a long-standing tradition that this church was named Union “because other denominations were allowed to worship there.” This is likely anachronistic and apocryphal. There is no evidence that other denominations were worshipping at the Liberty School House at the time Union Church was organized. Certainly, there were no other denominational church organizations at the Sparks Settlement as early as May 1838. The editor gives this footnote about Holts (?): “Holt’s question mark, the point being that his own group represents lineal succession from the original church and not such ‘half-breed’ sects.” (P. 70)


[i] Union, now called Old North, is the oldest church organized in Texas with a continuous history to the present. The Pilgrim Church at Elkhart is older – organized in 1833 but not organized in Texas. An arm of Pilgrim Church, Hopewell at Cooks Settlement on the east side of the Angelina River in Nacogdoches County (Douglass area) was constituted September 17, 1837, in the fall before Union was constituted in the spring. Unlike Union/Old North, Hopewell no longer exists.
[ii] For example, “Elder Isaac Reed...was well known to this writer, as he lived to a ripe old age.” From “Nacogdoches Notes,” A. J. Holt, Baptist and Reflector (Nashville, Tennessee), Thursday, September 1, 1904, p. 3. Also, “I personally knew Isaac Reed and had from him the facts.” Found in Pioneering in the Southwest, p. 234.

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