Saturday, November 12, 2005

The History of Donelson, Una, and Pleasant Hill churches of Christ

I was so excited the other day. I have always wondered how my home congregation got started. I knew we had a history that went back well over 100 years, but I didn't know of anyone who knew how it got started. I was searching through ancient Gospel Advocates, looking for something completely different, then something about "Donelson" caught my eye. Sure enough, it was about my own congregation and how it got started. I printed it, and now I've retyped it (those microfilm copies are always terrible). I'm pasting it below for anyone who cares to read's a fascinating story from an eye-witness and participant.

From the Gospel Advocate June 8, 1916. Volume 58, Pages 562-563.

Retyped by Mark S. Adams

“From Dan to Beersheba:” Or, From Donelson To Una. 1865-1872.

By Howell

It is often said that the aged delight in reminiscences. What if they do! It is right and proper for them and helpful to their progeny. To study and think of the successes and failures of those who have led in any good work of long, long ago is profitable to the young. If the succeeding generations do not profit by the experiences and observations of their ancestors, it will be more difficult to make progress in anything, material or spiritual. Real progress consists in learning and applying God’s material and spiritual laws to one’s thoughts and actions. Between the two there is a striking analogy, wholesome to study, giving one a higher conception of both.

Guided by the above principles, I ask the reader to follow me in a few reminiscences of the writer regarding the preparatory work in sowing the seed of the kingdom of Christ and the planting of three churches in an area of country reaching from Donelson on the north to Una on the south, embracing the contiguous country, making several square miles. Donelson, a little town seven miles east of Nashville on the Lebanon pike , is situated on a rim of a declivity which reaches the waters of the historical Stone River, about three miles from where it empties into the classical Cumberland.

We begin our narrative early in the month of June, 1865, at the home of William Dudley Baker, a farmer, who lived one and one-half miles southeast of Donelson. At this time Mr. Baker was fifty-three years of age, the father of eight children, having married at the age of nineteen. He was a zealous and active member of a large church congregation near by, the name of which is not recorded in the Book of God, neither did the individual members wear a name given by God or Christ. While Mr. Baker was a voracious reader, especially of the Bible and matter pertaining to it, he, like his brethren, had only a vague idea of the relation of faith, obedience, and salvation from sin as taught by Christ and his apostles. However, in one respect he was far in advance of his brethren of that day in that he had a conviction that the “mourners’-bench system” of “getting religion” was out of harmony with the teaching and practices of the apostles and early Christians. Sometimes he would express his views on this matter, especially to his preaching brethren. For this some of his brethren called him a “Campbellite.” He knew he was not a “Campbellite;” therefore these unkind thrusts did not move or intimidate him. He had never heard a “Campbellite” preach, nor had he read any literature from these “scarecrows.” However, he had heard that there were such people, and he had the traditional belief that with them baptism was the only indispensable condition of salvation.

In the protracted meetings, called “big meetings,” under the popular preaching and practices of those days, there was a cleared space fronting the pulpit, covered half-leg-deep with straw, with benches bordering the same, called “mourners’ benches.” These preparations were indispensable to their “getting religion” on those occasions. The benches served the purpose of giving rest to the mourner’s head and arms while he knelt upon the straw. The straw served another and a more important purpose. The shouting convert would often become so violently agitated that he would frequently fall prostrate upon the floor, the straw protecting him from physical injury. This preparation was a wise provision, we all must admit.

While these disorderly conditions were prevalent, in the early part of June, 1865, a stranger, weary, footsore, and hungry, called at Mr. Baker’s home and asked for a night’s lodging, saying he had no money. He was cordially received into the home. At this demonstration of ready hospitality the stranger in apt and fitting words expressed his appreciation. It was noticeable that, while the stranger was poorly dressed, his words and demeanor indicated that he was a cultivated and well-bred man. The stranger said his name was “Wright” and his home was in Missouri; that he had been in the Confederate Army four years performing the duty of chaplain and looking after the sick and wounded in the department to which he had been assigned, and that he was on his way home. When asked what sort of preacher he was, he replied, “A Christian,” stating that he was a Christian only, and that he endeavored to preach after the manner and instructions of the apostles of Christ; but that many people called him a “Campbellite,” which he repudiated. Presto! Here, right under his roof, Mr. Baker had caught the sure-enough thing. Under his own roof, with his stalwart boys about him, he felt secure. Now was his opportunity to hear what the “Campbellites” really believed and taught; so, plying questions, the good brother covered the subjects pretty well by midnight. The effect upon the host was such that he did not want to go to bed at all, but in deference to his tired guest he desisted for the present. The following morning the stranger was reminded that he needed more rest and therefore, was asked to remain a few days and preach in the home at night. This proposition he gladly accepted. The neighbors were accordingly invited, several of whom came regularly for six nights. By this time the light of truth began to disturb Mr. Baker’s former views on several points. This experience awakened an active desire to hear more; consequently he subscribed for the Gospel Advocate, which was then in its babyhood, so to speak. A little later he sought and met its editor, David Lipscomb, securing a promise from him to preach in his community as soon as arrangements could be made for a meeting place. Efforts were made to secure a meetinghouse near by, but because of the opposition and influence of the preacher in charge they failed. Then arrangements were made for Brother Lipscomb to preach in Mr. Baker’s home, returning each morning to his office in the city. These appointments continued at intervals until the audience became too large for the home.

One and one-half miles still farther along the line from Donelson to Una a log schoolhouse, known as “Pleasant Hill,” was secured for Brother Lipscomb. Several meetings were held here by him, with an occasional addition to the church of Christ, until May, 1870, when a protracted effort was made, resulting in thirty-six additions, the writer being one of that number.

Before this move to Pleasant Hill, E. G. Sewell filled an appointment for Brother Lipscomb at Mr. Baker’s home. In his discourse he spoke of the importance of Christian unity and how to attain it without giving up one Bible fact, practice, or commandment. In concluding his sermon, holding the open Bible in his hand, he said in substance that if any one present would meet him on the Bible, agreeing to take it as his only counsel in teaching and working, speak where it speaks, keep silent where it is silent, to manifest it by coming forward and placing his hand on the open Bible beside his. At this Mr. Baker arose and went forward, saying, “Brother Sewell, I accept and meet you on that proposition,” placing his hand beside that of Brother Sewell. This act was all Mr. Baker ever did from that night until his death, twenty-four years afterwards, toward joining anything, yet he was excluded from his former church connection on the charge of “joining the ‘Campbellites.’”

The circumstances and incidents attending his exclusion were both dramatic and pathetic. The charge was formulated, read, and prosecuted by the pastor of the said church before a large audience. The whole affair appeared to the unbiased as a ludicrous performance, although many tears were shed. After reading the charge as given, the pastor called for a motion to “exclude Brother Baker from the fellowship of the church.” Everybody remained as silent as a death chamber. The call was repeated; no response. The third call was made, whereupon the pastor himself made the motion, which was out of the regular order of the church usage. Then a call for a second to the motion was made. The accused himself seconded the motion. Then a vote was called for. Out of the large membership present, there was but one vote cast, and that by the first cousin of the wife of the accused. As it was according to the polity of this church to decide all questions coming before it by a majority vote, the one vote, of course, was the majority cast; therefore the brother was duly excluded. Within three or four years after this event the voter on this occasion became identified with the church we read about in the New Testament. Hence he came again into full fellowship with Brother Baker.

During the popular “big meetings” of that day the preachers rarely, if ever, preached about the love and mercy of God, but represented God as an angry, vengeful God. The devil was depicted in terms most horrifying. The effect on the callow youth and the more ignorant and superstitious ones was the fear of physical punishment of an outraged, angry God. The fact that “Satan sometimes fashions himself into an angel of light,” and that “It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their work” (2 Cor. 1:14, 15), was rarely presented.

After establishing an active, working church at Pleasant Hill, a successful move was made to plant a New Testament church at Donelson. An old house once used as a “tavern” was secured for a meeting place. David Lipscomb, who had been so true and self-denying at the other two places, came to the rescue again. One night while preaching to a crowded room, a rich and well-known bachelor who was addicted to the liquor habit pressed his way through the audience in an intoxicated condition, an, on arriving at the side of Brother Lipscomb, placed his hand upon Brother Lipscomb’s shoulder, saying: “You’re a good ‘un.” Addressing him gently, Brother Lipscomb asked him to have a seat. The man quietly seated himself and remained seated. Occasionally, however, smiling, winking, and nodding, he seemed to say: “I’m of the same opinion still.”

In the latter part of the summer, 1870, Brother Lipscomb was driving from Nashville to Scobey’s Chapel, in Wilson County. While stopping at a blacksmith’s shop near Donelson to have his horse shod, he engaged in a conversation with the smith, and the blacksmith learned that he was a preacher and on his way to an appointment. Mistaking him for a well-known Methodist preacher who occasionally came this way, he began saying some hard things abut the “Campbellites,” among which he said: “We beat the biggest Campbellite in this country last week for magistrate.” Being asked his name, he replied: “Squire Baker.” Brother Lipscomb departed without making known his identity. “Squire Baker” had served his county for twenty successive years as magistrate, and his defeat at this time was due to his religious views. After two years he was re-elected twice, resigning during his last term.

The “tavern” before mentioned belonged to some heirs and was for sale. To stop preaching in the house, two men, otherwise truthful and honorable, notified the brethren on the day before Brother E.G. Sewell was to begin a meeting in it that the house had been purchased by them and could not be used. The following year, in assessing property for taxation, these men disclaimed owning the property. Dr. E.E. Buchanan, a successful practicing physician of the town and an official member of a denominational church, so keenly felt the unfairness of such treatment that he offered the use of his beautifully shaded yard, which was accepted. Ere long he, his wife, and several of his children threw off the yoke of sectarianism and became Christians only. He died some years later, full of faith and hope of life eternal. A truer and better man never lived in any community. Dr. William Boyd, a well-known physician of Donelson and a member of the board of trustees of the Fanning Orphan School, married his daughter.

There is a section of country extending from the Fanning Orphan School to Una, paralleling the Murfreesboro pike, known as “Nubbin Ridge.” When this appellation was first given goes beyond the memory of the living. Why so called no one seems to know. It is a land pleasing to the sight and has always been occupied by a law-abiding citizenship. It is true that long ago it could not claim a denizen fitted to be called a “philosopher,” as it can at this time. (Thanks to David, Jr.)

Near where the Una church house now stands, under the shade of the majestic oaks, the towering poplars, with here and there the less imposing, but more beautiful, dogwood in flower, two young men, students of Franklin College, Granville, Lipscomb and T. B. Larimore, had an appointment to preach on a Sunday in the latter half of May, 1867. On this occasion the writer had his first view of these aspiring young men. The writer was then enjoying that period of life experienced by every young man when his ideals are far in advance of his ideas, when nothing escapes his sight, but much eludes his understanding. To him the sun shines brighter, the girls appear prettier; in fact, all nature is a panorama of music and poetry.

Granville Lipscomb (father of Editor A. B. Lipscomb) preached on this day. He was a young man of strong and handsome physique—ruddy and of quick motion. His voice was clear and distinct, bounding among the stately trees of the forest. Occasionally it would attain the height of eloquence. In one of these flights he endeavored to quote a passage of scripture to seal his thought in the hearts of his hearers. Failing to remember a portion of it, he made a second attempt with no better result. Just at this embarrassing point Brother Larimore, who was sitting near him, with that voice and enunciation which are so well known and pleasing to his hearers, quoted the passage in full for him. Unabashed, the speaker continued his discourse. Many years later, at the period of his greatest power and usefulness, Brother Lipscomb was a victim of an insidious disease which walketh at night and wasteth at noonday,” and loves the strong and plethoric.” His companion of that occasion is yet spared to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” He is now advanced into the sear leaf of age, with undiminished power and eloquence in the Scriptures. With an eloquence unsurpassed he has preached “from Canada to Cuba, from Main to Mexico.”

At the beginning of our reminiscences there were only two churches in Davidson County which wore the divine name exclusively—one white and one colored in the city of Nashville. Now, in the year 1916, there are approximately forty.