“I don’t normally do requests, unless I’m asked to…” This redundant statement by a famous British game show host captures the spirit of my conflict as I was asked to write the history of our precious First Baptist Abbeville church family. How could I add to or improve on the work that has already been written concerning the history of First Baptist Church, Abbeville? Our spiritual heritage has already been adequately chronicled by Mrs. Willie Boatwright Granberry and former pastor, Bro. Ray Reilly, saints whose names are written broadly across the past half century of our church and community.
In the first history of First Baptist Church, Abbeville, AL, which was written in 1980, former church secretary, Mrs. Willie Boatwright Granberry (click here to download this history) established that the beginning of our church body dates back to the year 1834, when settlers from Lawrenceville Baptist Church moved to the area now known as Abbeville. We have no idea how many charter members there were, but we do know that in the coming years those early pioneers established a foundation that many hundreds of brothers and sisters in Christ have sought to build on for the past 176 years.
Over the last few years, I have become well acquainted with the wonderful history of our beloved church. My goal in adding to what has already been written is to do so by drawing from its foundations to see and savor what has made this church strong for nearly two centuries.
Therefore, this history is not a chronicle of specific,formative events per se because such events are only an outworking of something deeper. It has been said that the history of any Christian church should more accurately be called a history of the Truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by me.” Never one to mince words, Jesus defines Himself as THE Truth. Specifically, He is the Truth concerning salvation, but, in general, all Truth resides with and is revealed by God the Father.
In light of this reality, it is the duty of the church of Jesus Christ to set their course by the Great North Star and not by the lights of every passing ship around them. Indeed, this is what we find the early Christian church doing in the book of Acts. Luke writes that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” This teaching was the Truth about Jesus and it set the course for how the Holy Spirit would grow them to become what the church who loves the Truth is to this day.
So, if First Baptist Church, Abbeville has stood by the grace of God on the Truth of God’s Word now for 176 years, I would like to set forth a unique history of our church family, a history of specific truths that have been the foundation of what we have become over the years. These truths were found in the accounts of the Granberry/Reilly history written previously. And what I have seen is that the contemporary church family at First Baptist stands in a long line of faithful spiritual descendants who have, and, will by God’s grace, continue to know Jesus Christ in the power of His Resurrection by making known the wonders of the Gospel of salvation in Abbeville, Henry County, around Alabama, and throughout the entire world.
So, if the history of the church is actually a history of the Truth, what convictions have members at First Baptist Church, Abbeville been anchored to and trusted in since 1834?
Conviction #1: The church is local, but the Gospel is global.
People who love the Lord need to gather together and form a local church. People from Lawrenceville moved to Abbeville and saw a need for fellowship in the body of Christ. It is a fellowship that happens on the Lord’s Day, but also as members live in community with one another throughout the week.
These churches call pastors. Both the historical and contemporary pastors of First Baptist Church have one thing in common–a call to serve Christ by shepherding the flock that God has entrusted to them. Whether it is Bro. H.T. Crumpton encouraging the community in writing to the local newspaper or Bro. Teddy Ward applying the balm of the love of Christ to hurting church members, the many faithful men who have filled the office of pastor at First Baptist Church have stood in the strength of Christ.
These churches meet in buildings. Something just doesn’t seem right with the previous sentence, does it? First Baptist Church’s first self-sustained meeting place was a small, leaky wood frame building located on a $13 lot purchased from the city on August 12, 1847. Now, it stands as a 100+ year old Sanctuary with three added buildings. However, these buildings are not the church. Instead, the baptized saints who have committed themselves to the accountability and leadership of the church body make up First Baptist Church.
The church exists to give away the Gospel by declaration and proclamation. The people of First Baptist Church have always been committed to boldly declaring the Truth of God’s Word. From revival meetings to Sunday school, believers have been nurtured and equipped through the Bible. The first Sunday School (known then as a Sabbath School) began in 1868. Within one year there were five classes with 49 leaders and over 339 members. Or consider the Truth going forth loudly in Abbeville in the late 1800’s on a vacant lot where the present Abbeville United Methodist Church stands. Men, women, and children came to hear an evangelist named Brother Morrell. Is not the same Gospel preached today as it was then. Certainly, because God never changes and neither does His Truth. The Gospel, however, is not contained within the city limits of Abbeville though. Throughout the decades, First Baptist Church has sought to make the name of Jesus known throughout the nations. Consider the dedication and faith it took in 1960. The mission church known as Calvary Baptist Church had just recently been planted on Dothan Road. Yet, that year almost half of the church’s budget went to missions. All people need to hear about Jesus and that is the conviction on which we stand.
Since I have labored to examine the first conviction extensively, I will be brief on the remaining two. In reading through the history and minutes of the church, the many deeds of men and women who have served the body of Christ here are vastly recorded. Yet, one cannot separate faithful and consistent service from giftedness and calling. From church clerks to choir directors and Sunday school teachers to church hostesses, history declares to us that those who serve the church do so because they have been designed by God to fulfill a place made specifically for them.
For some, it is hard to grasp how God can be this powerful and yet this intimate. At the same time though, this is the granite-like promise that we have from His Word. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11) For years, the Lord has graciously provided for the church people that He has formed for specific purposes in the church (Jer. 1:5; Eph. 2:10). Herein lies the beauty and the diversity of the body of Christ. Herein also do we find the heartbeat of God’s desire to reach the world with the Truth.
Conviction #3: Believers in the church exist to pass on the Gospel to the next generation.
Believers at First Baptist Church have faithfully done just that; they have passed on the Truth to the hundreds and thousands of children who have entered through the doors here. During the 175th Anniversary Celebration that took place in May 2010, Bro. Mike Whitt asked for those to stand who had been impacted for Christ through the ministry of First Baptist Church. It was a blessing to behold as almost the entire congregation stood to their feet! Behind each life that had been touched was the life of another man or woman who had intentionally sought to deliver the Truth in an understandable way through the program of that ministry.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul told Timothy that what he had heard from him “in the presence of many witnesses [to] entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Truly, if the history of the church is a history of the Truth, then the history of First Baptist Church is a history of faithful men and women who have passed on the Truth of God’s Word to children and youth through Vacation Bible Schools, AWANA, and Sunday School.
The famous British sculptor Henry Moore once said, “The secret of life is to have a task, something you do your entire life, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is: It must be something you cannot possibly do.”
The task of fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus gave the church is, humanly speaking, impossible. However, because of the Truth of God’s Word, First Baptist Church has seen the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the years. Yet, we must continue to heed the warnings of those who have gone before us to take hold of the opportunities before us.
In conclusion, I must reiterate the words with which Mrs. Granberry ended the 1980 history of FBC. She writes, “According to church records…the greatest problem of the church seems to have been and still is that there is and has not been enough people taking advantage of the many opportunities afforded to them to worship and serve God in this place…The church needs to be supported not only in a financial way, but by the presence of all of its members…”
May the words of experience written over 31 years ago echo in our ears and our hearts in all our endeavors today.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Associate Pastor of Youth and Music (2008 – Present)
Originally written on March 21, 2011