The first Baptist association organized in Texas was the Union Baptist Association, founded by three churches at Travis in Austin County October 8-10, 1840. Somewhat mixed and troublesome was its beginning – with a Campbellite extreme on one end and “anti-missionism” on the other.[iii] However, it soon raised the standard for auxiliary-type mission work through mission boards or missionary societies.[iv] On its heels, Daniel Parker led in founding the second association on October 17, 1840, at Hopewell Church, near Douglass, Texas, gathering four churches into the Union Association. Its flavor was certainly church-based, positively predestinarian and fully fractious – in the sense of Parker’s sometimes “my way or the highway” temperament. Five churches from Harrison, Nacogdoches, and Sabine counties formed the Sabine Association at the old Union Church in Nacogdoches County on November of 1843.[v] Like the first Union Association, Sabine’s founding was somewhat mixed, but in its lifetime established the middle ground in favor of church-based evangelistic work – opposing the methods of the missionary societies. Many churches and associations that owe their origins to the Sabine Baptist Association are churches that are neither Primitive Baptist nor Southern Baptist, holding a middle position in favor of church-based “missions” while rejecting a predestinarian soteriology.
Z. N. Morrell described early leader Isaac H. Reed in this fashion: “With Elder Reed I was personally acquainted, and labored with him in the western district of Tennessee…Elder Reed, the pastor of this little flock, although full of the mission spirit, was opposed to boards and missionary societies…”[vi]
Associations derived from the Sabine Association:
Eastern Missionary Baptist Association was organized at Border Church, Harrison County, in December 1847 by 4 churches: Macedonia, Henderson, Eight-mile and Border. Lemuel Herrin was the moderator and J. B. Webster the clerk. Three of these churches had been disfellowshipped in the 1847 Sabine Association. Henderson was represented at the Sabine Association in 1847 by delegates H. M. Smith and G. Bocksdale,[vii] but was not one of the excluded churches. Z. N. Morrell (pp. 263-64) quotes the Eastern Association minutes referring to the Sabine Association refusing “to sanction the doctrines of...The Strength of Christian Charity” circular and declaring “a non-concurrence with its principles.” This was a rejection of the mission society principles favored by some members. Eastern does not mention issue of the exclusion of preacher David Lewis, at least in the portion that Morrell quotes.[viii] The name was changed to Soda Lake Baptist Association at the 2nd session.
Eastern Texas Association of United Baptists was organized November 1849[ix] at Union Church, Nacogdoches County, by 12 churches: Smith County, Ebenezer, Tyler, Harris Creek; Cherokee County, Salem, Key’s Creek, Rocky Springs, Palestine; Shelby County, Macedonia, Zion, Corinth, Horeb; Nacogdoches County, Union. Robert Turner was moderator (Morrell, p. 309). In 1852 the name was changed to Central Baptist Association. That year B. E. Lucas was moderator and B. F. Burroughs, clerk (Morrell, p. 309). Union, Keys Creek, Rocky Springs, Palestine, Zion, had been in the Sabine Association. Ebenezer and Salem may have been the churches by those names that joined the Sabine Association in 1849.
Free Will Missionary Baptist Association may have been organized in 1850, at least Fuller implies that in his History of Texas Baptists.[x] This association is mentioned in Morrell’s Flowers and Fruits (pp. 192-193), but the date of organization is not given. He only mentions the minutes of October 1850 without stating when they organized. Perhaps Fuller had access to other information not given by Morrell, though Morrell’s book is the chief source of information about this body. In 1850 they met at Ayish Bayou Church in San Augustine County, with four churches – Ayish Bayou, Bethel, Milam and Sardis. G W. Slaughter was moderator. This association favored freewill, apostasy, open communion, missionary boards, and pulpit affiliation.[xi] The Free Will Missionary Baptist Association probably died out after a few years. Several key leaders abandoned their movement for the pro-missionary pro-Southern Baptist Convention side of Texas Baptists.[xii] This association was clearly and vocally Free Will Baptist in the generic sense, with doctrine that is in agreement with the broader movement – but it is likely that they never had any direct or official connection with either the Randall or Palmer branches of the Free Will Baptists.
As can be seen, two of the associations were set up in opposition to the Sabine Association – one while it still existed – by churches that had been excluded from Sabine. A third, the Eastern Texas Association of United Baptists, was formed by several churches that were part of the formal vote to dissolve the association.[xiii] This association can probably best be considered the successor to the Sabine Association.[xiv] This association still exists today as Central Missionary Baptist Association. Churches meet in Sabine and San Augustine counties, and choose to affiliate with either the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas or the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, maintaining their distance from the Southern Baptist Convention.
[i] When it met at Mount Olive Church, Cherokee County, October 6-8, 1849.
[ii] At least those records known to survive thus far.
[iii] I am not a fan of the term “anti-missionary,” but through a long period of use, we are pretty much stuck with it. To most, it conjures up “opposed to preaching the gospel.” The name Daniel Parker is almost synonymous with “anti-missionary” and “anti-missions.” However, as a preacher he “compassed land and sea” to personally organize churches in at least three states.
[iv] The missionary element included Campbellite sympathizer and excluded Baptist Thomas Washington Cox, a pastor at all three forming churches. After an abortive attempt to form an association in June, the missionary element, sans “anti-missionaries,” met in October and constituted the Union Baptist Association. Within the next three years, all three founding churches split over the Campbellite dogma of Thomas W. Cox. Paul Powell’s Back to Bedrock contains the minutes of the first session of the Union Baptist Association, pages 182-197.
[v] Mt. Zion, Union (Nacogdoches County), Border, Bethel (Harrison County), and Bethel (Sabine County) organized the Sabine Baptist Association. Bethel was at Reeds Settlement, which was then still part of Harrison County. Border was somewhere in the Jonesville area of Harrison County. Mt. Zion was evidently around Douglass, Texas, and Bethel in Sabine County was probably at or near the present New Hope Baptist Church and Cemetery near Milam.
[vii] Likely, “Barksdale.”
[viii] Border Church in Harrison County received as a member David Lewis, a minister and an excluded member of Mount Zion Church. He was excluded on charges made against him by the Union Church, Nacogdoches County, based on his tenure as pastor of Union (though the exact problem is not clear).
[ix] It may be that a convention to organize an association was held in 1849, and the first association met in 1850. Further research is needed. At their November 1849 Conference, Union Church appointed H. Rogers “to write the church letter to the Babtist convention to be held at this place coming on the friday before the 2nd Lords day in Nov. 1849.” (Minutes, p. 30) The dating of the association minutes, however, suggest a beginning in 1850. The 1851 minutes refer to the meeting as “the Second Annual Session…” (Tennessee Baptist, May 1, 1852, p. 3)
[x] “As a result of this anti-mission disturbance, there was also organized the Free Will Missionary Baptist Association. This body was organized at Ayish Bayou church, in San Augustine county. This church united with Bethel, Milano [Milam, rlv] and Sardis in sending messengers to the organization, and G. W. Slaughter was made Moderator. These brethren in shunning one extreme swung as far to the other. In avoiding the fatalism of the predestinarians, they were stranded on a rock of absolute free will, that scarcely left any place for the sovereign grace of God—They emphasized free salvation and freedom of the will to such an extent that they practiced open communion, and rejected the doctrine of final perseverance of the saints.” Fuller, p. 146
[xi] See 1847 Sabine Association minutes, p. ; Morrell, p. 193; Fuller, p. 146
[xii] Writing a September 12, 1856 letter to the Texas Baptist, one of the prime movers, Peter Eldredge, said he felt his errors “about five years back.” This would have been within a year following Morrell’s reference to the association in 1850.
[xiii] Later historians have misinterpreted Z. N. Morrell’s assessment of the dissolution of the Sabine Association. Morrell wrote, “These opposing elements, both alike at war with truth, finally resulted in the dissolution of the Sabine Association, at its sixth or seventh session, held with Mount Olivet church, Cherokee County. The anti-missionary and free-will elements, went off into small and separate organizations. The mission element rallied under the auspices of the Soda Lake Association…” (Flowers and Fruits, pp. 189-190) While not far from the truth, it leaves room for mistakes. For example, Carroll and Fuller mistook Morrell and assumed the Sabine ceased to exist in 1847, when the “missionary churches” left (Carroll, p. 118; Fuller, p. 132). B. F. Riley gives the organization of the Eastern Texas Missionary Baptist Association, “In consequence of the dissolution of the Sabine Association” (History of the Baptists of Texas, p. 69). Carroll goes so far to say “On [the question of missions] Sabine Association in 1847 went to pieces…” (emp. mine, rlv]. On the other hand, in Jesse Witt’s report of attending the 1848 session of the Sabine Association, he stated there were still “anti-missionary” and “missionary” sentiments in the association (in other words, even after the forming of Eastern Missionary/Soda Lake; see The Southern Baptist Missionary Journal, Volumes 3-4, p. 187). If by the so-called “anti-missionary element” Morrell meant those who opposed missionary societies, they did go off into a separate organization, but not a small one. Even after the “missionaries” were excluded in 1847 and the “free-willers” in 1848, the Sabine Association still had about eleven churches, at least at the end of the 1848 session. Four more churches (Concord, Salem, Ebenezer and Antioch) joined the association by petitionary letter in 1849. However, the association voted to dissolve: “The 1st item of which was the request from the Mt. Zion Church requesting the association to disolve After considerable labour & debate on the the subject the association disolved.” (October 6-8, 1849, p. 2, handwritten minutes). The dissolution was a deliberate internal action, for whatever reason, and not an extinguishment caused by the association’s “bleeding” churches. After dissolving in October, delegates gathered at the Union Church in November to consider reorganization.
[xiv] Minutes of the 2nd annual Eastern Texas Association of United Baptists are found in the The Tennessee Baptist (Nashville, Tennessee), Saturday, May 1, 1852, page 3.