CHAPTER VIII. Georgia Baptists.
Georgia is, and has been from the first, a great Baptist State . As early as 1733 a colony was established among the wilds of Georgia . Concerning this colony Rev. Mr. Lewis, of Margate , England , sneeringly remarked: “There are descendants of the Moravian Ana-baptists in the new plantation of Georgia .” Among these there was no minister so far as we can learn. The first Baptist convert ever made upon Georgia soil so far as we have been able to learn was Nicholas Bedgewood, in 1757. There being no authorized Baptist minister in Georgia , he traveled all the distance to Charleston , S. C., to receive baptism at the hands of Oliver Hart, pastor of the First church of that city (a good start). See Hist. Bap. In Southern States, p. 28.
Mr. Bedgewood became a preacher, and planted the cause in Georgia . The first church established on the soil of Georgia was at Kioka. And bore the name of “Ana-baptist.” The oldest Association in the State is the Georgia Association, constituted in 1784. This Association, since near its origin, has ever stood firm against the reception of alien immersion. The Yellow River Association is also one of the oldest in the State. The article, in their Confession of Faith, on this point reads thus: “That water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the gospel, to be continued until the Lord’s second coming, and to be administered only by orderly Baptist ministers regularly ordained.” Hear this old Georgia Association express herself later on, in 1824:
“Query: Should a person on profession of his faith receive baptism by immersion at the hands of a minister who is of the same faith, but of another and Arminian denomination, on a change of sentiments and a desire to come into union with a regular Baptist church, be required to submit to the ordinance again? Answer in the affirmative.”
Just five years after the organization of this Association (1789) Jesse Mercer, the man who has done more for the Baptist cause in Georgia than any other, was ordained. For a long period of time he was Moderator of this old Association. It was he who established the Christian Index. It was he who established the first Baptist school and finally Mercer University . It was he who laid his thousands upon the altar for education and missions, thus starting the influence which has made Georgia the great missionary State that it is. It was he who never gave an uncertain sound on doctrine, and led in the influence which has molded Georgia into the great Baptist State that it is. In 1811 he wrote the circular letter of Georgia Association on the church and its functions. The outline of his arguments are as follows:
“ I. —The apostolic church, continued through all ages to the end of the world, is the only true gospel church.
“II.—Of this church Christ is the only Head, and true source of all ecclesiastical authority.
“III.—Gospel ministers are servants in the church, are all equal, and have no power to lord it over the heritage of the Lord.
“Having established these propositions to his own satisfaction, he infers the following ‘clear and certain truths’:
“I.—That all churches and ministers who originated since the apostles, and not successively to them, are not in gospel order; and, therefore, cannot be acknowledged as such.
“II.—That all who have been ordained to the work of the ministry without the knowledge and call of the church, by popes, councils, etc., are the creatures of those who constituted them, and are not the servants of Christ or His church, and therefore, have no right to administer for them.
“III.—That those who set aside the discipline of the gospel, and have given law to and exercised dominion over the church, are usurpers over the place and office of Christ, are against him; and, therefore, may not be accepted in their offices.
“IV.—That they who administer contrary to their own, or the faith of the gospel, cannot administer for God; since without the gospel faith, they have nothing to administer, and without their own, he accepts no service; therefore the administrations of such are unwarrantable impositions in any way.
“Our reasons, therefore, for rejecting baptism by immersion, when administered by Pedo-baptist ministers, are:
“ I. —That they are connected with ‘churches’ clearly out of the apostolic succession; and, therefore, clearly out of the apostolic commission.
“II.—That they have derived their authority by ordination from the bishops of Rome , or from individuals who have taken it upon themselves to give it.
“III.—That they hold a higher rank in the churches than the apostles did, are not accountable to, and, of consequence not triable by the church; but are amenable only to or among themselves.
“IV.—That they all, as we think, administer contrary to the pattern of the gospel; and some, where occasion requires, will act contrary to their professed faith.
“Now, as we know of none implicated in this case, but, are in some or all of the above defects, either of which we deem sufficient to disqualify for meet gospel administration, therefore we hold their administrations invalid.”
He adds: “But, if it should be said that the apostolic succession can not be ascertained, and then it is proper to act without it, we say that the loss of the succession can never prove it futile, nor justify any one out of it. The Pedo-baptists, by their own histories, admit they are not of it; but we do not, and shall think ourselves entitled to the claim until the reverse be clearly shown. And should any think authority derived from the Mother of Harlots sufficient to qualify to administer a gospel ordinance, they will be so charitable as not to condemn us for professing what is derived from Christ. And, should any still more absurdly plead that ordination received from an individual is sufficient, we leave them to show what is the use of ordination, and why it exists. If any think an administration will suffice which has no gospel pattern, they will suffer us to act according to the divine order with impunity. And if it should be said that faith in the subject is all that is necessary, we beg to require it where the Scriptures do, that is, everywhere.” Memoirs of Jesse Mercey, by Mallary, pp. 146-148.
The Yellow River Association of Georgia, one of the old Associations of the State, has this statement in their Confession of Faith:
“Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the gospel, to be continued until the Lord’s second coming, and to be administered only by orderly Baptist ministers regularly ordained.” Leaves of Life, p. 106.
The Flint River and Western Associations had some controversy over the reception of members from churches which had seceded from the Flint River Association. In 1834 they jointly adopted the following resolution:
“We recommend that those who have been received by experience and baptized by seceding ministers since their acknowledgment of a different faith to that of the Flint River Association, which was assigned by them at the Sharon church, be, on application, received by the churches on experience and baptism as others who have never been members.” Leaves of Life, p. 122.
In the Baptist Encyclopedia, giving the History of Georgia Baptists, we find the following:
“In general, when a course of action has been decided, the Baptists of Georgia are harmonious. In regard to church order they are very strict, and in doctrine they are strongly Calvinistic….
“In sentiment it (convention) was what has been denominated as ‘Landmark’ generally….
“Among the instrumentalities which this convention put in operation for the promotion of its operations was a paper called ‘The Landmark Banner and Cherokee Baptist.’” Baptist Encyclopedia, pp. 443, 444.
The Georgia Baptist State Convention, when in session in Macon , April 29, 1872 , passed the following resolution:
“That baptism is the immersion of a believer in Jesus Christ, by an authorized administrator, in the name of the Trinity. That such a baptism is a prerequisite to church membership and admission to the Lord’s Supper.
“That unbaptized persons, not being church members, cannot be clothed with authority to administer the ordinances and therefore immersions performed by such persons are null and void.
“That the sincerity of the subject cannot supply the want of authority in the administrator.” These resolutions were published in the Index for May 2, 1872 . (See Sumter Debate, p. 165.)
As late as 1903, J. J. Porter, in the Sumter Debate, made use of the following:
“As to the Baptists of Georgia, they are solid, with the exception of one church, against the reception of alien immersions. The editor of the Christian Index stated that there was only one church in the State that was known to favor the reception of alien immersion.” Sumter Debate, p. 217.
The only case, even hinted at, of the reception of alien immersion in Georgia ’s early history, so far as we can learn, is the case of Mr. Hutchinson, incidentally mentioned in Semple’s History of Virginia Baptists. It received a partial endorsement of Georgia Association, but resulted in great confusion. Campbell in his History of Georgia Baptists, page 58, has this to say of this affair: “But in the end it terminated unfortunately. Many were not well pleased with such a course, and therefore it led on to strife and confusion. However, as he was an eloquent man, and truly fervent in spirit, many were conciliated by his zeal and perseverance, and strong hopes were entertained that much good would be effected through his instrumentality. He went to Virginia , was rejected, and then rebaptized.” Campbell further says: “Thus terminated a most fierce and distressing controversy. So much for admitting a Pedo-baptist administration of the ordinance of baptism.” Hist. Ga. Bap., p. 58.