This Week n Texas Methodist History October 16
Danny Parker Organizes Union Primitive Baptist Association, Oct. 17, 1840
One of the dangers of writing church history is a denominational myopia. There is a tendency to focus on our own “branch of the vine,” and ignore the larger context. Such myopia is perfectly understandable. Many denominational historians are linked through family tradition, personal history, and friendship networks to the denomination. Our interest in Methodist history is often a voyage of self-discovery.
On the other hand, if we really want to understand one denomination, we have to learn the religious context in which in which that denomination operated.
A good example is the Methodist focus on the events of the Jacksonian Era that resulted in the formation of the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South from the Methodist Episcopal Church.
We have concentrated so much on the cycles of division and reunion that we often overlook the fact that other denominations were experiencing similar processes.
Presbyterians were divided along creedal boundaries, with members aligning themselves with different “confessions.” Revivalism helped create a new branch, the Cumberland Presbyterians. Lutherans created synods based on linguistic (and therefore ethnic) groupings. Baptists faced not only regional North-South, but also doctrinal splits.
The divisions of the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans all had some part in shaping the religious landscape of Texas. One of the most interesting features is that four of the religious bodies created their denominational organization within a few months of each other, from April to December, 1840.
The Cumberland Presbyterians organized their first presbytery in 1837, but then in 1840, others followed.
The Regular Presbyterians organized the Brazos Presbytery on April 3, 1840 at Chriesman’s School House on the La Bahia Road in northern Washington County. On October 8 the Union Baptist Association was formed at Travis in northern Austin County. On October 17 Danny Parker organized the Union Primitive Baptists Association at Douglas. The following Christmas the Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed at Rutersville, also on the La Bahia Road, but in northern Fayette County, less than a day’s ride from both Travis and Chriesman’s.
Although the Parker name is one of the most famous in Texas history, (Danny was Cynthia Ann Parker’s uncle), modern readers are probably less familiar with the doctrine that Parker espoused.
The larger split was between Regular and Primitive Baptists. Primitive Baptists adhered strictly to their vision of the New Testament Church. The New Testament Church did not have Sunday Schools, Missionary Societies, Tract Societies, so the Primitive Baptists also eschewed such modern accretions. The flashpoint accretion was missionary societies, and that issue provided the name Anti-Missionary Baptist Church. The name “Missionary Baptist Church” one still commonly sees in Texas is a relic of that 19th century dispute, and one sometimes encounters the pejorative “hardshell” to refer to the Primitive or Anti-Missionary Baptists.
Danny Parker split from most Primitive Baptists when the adopted the doctrine of “Two Seedism.” They believed that human were made both in the image of God and of Satan and adopted what has been called hyper-Calvinism. Although Parker did not believe in missionary societies, he did believe in establishing churches. At one time there were 9 in East Texas, including the oldest, the Pilgrim Predistinarian Regular Baptist Church near Elkhart.
Yes, Methodists were not alone in church disputes. This author believes that the best interpretation of the era is to see them as the ideas of Jacksonian Democracy being applied to the religious sphere. An expanding democracy was not confined to politics. Religious life was transformed not just in Texas, but throughout the nation.