I found an interesting statement while reading some historical references online today. Initially, I was looking for information on our constituting pastor, John Nicholson. Then I took my typical rabbit trail, perusing local historic markers, a google search of our church’s name, etc., eventually coming across a note on Saint Bartley. Originally known as the Huntsville African Baptist Church (1820), they are a mother church to many African American Baptist and Primitive Baptist Churches in the south, not only because of their standing as the oldest black church in Alabama but also by virtue of their quick growth and strong numbers in the mid 19th Century. Prior to the Civil War, most of their members were slaves.
In 1821 they joined the Flint River Association, to which the church I pastor, Flint River Primitive Baptist Church, still belongs today. Not only is our church Alabama’s oldest Baptist Church (1808), but our small association, was the first established in Alabama (1814). Both were named after the nearby Flint River.
Check out this remark, expressing the treatment of Saint Bartley by the association:
“Historians attribute this evenhanded dealing by the Association to its doctrinal stance. The Flint River Association held that “the merits of Christ (grace) alone are sufficient for the salvation of sinners, unaided by human effort. ” Elder Harris preached that man is saved by grace alone as he led the church into the Primitive Baptist fold. Primitive Baptists believe in salvation by the grace of God, and that scripture alone should guide one’s faith and life. In keeping with this firm belief in scripture, they believed that all men are equal in the eyes of God (see Galatians 3:28).”Carol Ann Dennis, BlackPast
Doctrine matters. In this case, teachings such as mankind being the image-bearers of God, the universal depravity of man, and salvation only being in Christ through grace, framed both the minds of men and the interaction between individual churches in a time when neither government nor culture would have agreed or even approved.
*Note, the article mistakenly lists Saint Bartley’s founding year as 1808 instead of 1820.