EARLY SOUTHERN CHURCH PROBLEMS
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
History tells us that in
the 1830s, the Presbyterian, Methodist-Episcopal, and Baptist churches
in the South set in motion the experience of internal conflict, primarily
because of slavery. White Southerners generally backed slavery that
was separated from the conventional Presbyterian Church in 1837. This
resulted in the creation of the Southern Presbyterian Church with the
two recently united. The secession of the Southern Methodists from the
Methodist Church occurred in 1844, however, the two reunited in 1939.
During this period of time the Baptist
Church had become one of the most well known missionary backers in America.
On the other hand, in 1845, the conventional Baptist Church refused
to allow a slave owner to serve as a missionary; this decision added
to pre-existing tension over slavery; it led to the separation of the
Southern Baptist Conference.
The Great Revival in the early 1800s had
fueled church attendance, but by the middle 1800s attendance had dropped
dramatically. History also states that the next great revival occurred
during the Civil War (1861-1865). Many Southerners viewed this War as
a holy war. Southern church services and prayer reckoned the conflict
to be a direct order ordained by God. The slave population saw this
War as a way for freedom to their cause.
After the War, Southerners continued their
strong religions faith despite their loss. Their general attitude was
seen as a type of martyrdom; one sect essentially called themselves
the "Church of the Lost Cause."
The 1880s found church attendance dropping,
but in the 90s another upsurge of revivals spurred the congregations,
thus, a hike in attendance which ultimately filled the churches. Sam
Jones, a well-known Southern Methodist, under the direction of the Ultimate
One, saved thousands of souls with the plain-folks sermons that basically
encouraged sinners to "quit your meanness." Emancipated Southern
slaves still worshipped in the rear of the white churches; some even
built their own small churches. The last decades of the 19th century
found the Holiness movement, established in London, seize hold in America
within the Methodist Churches. The traditional Methodists continued
to retain control, while the Holiness assemblage left to establish their
own churches. Charles Parham formally began the Pentecostal Holiness
Church in 1901. Parham was a former Methodist minister in Topeka, Kansas.
This movement turned into a nationally known religion by a former A.M.E.
pastor named William Seymour in Los Angeles. The group was brought to
the South by a number of evangelists in North Carolina and Tennessee,
most notably by A.B. Crumpler and G.B. Cashwell.
The Pentecostals split from the Holiness
churches in 1914, although some churches still include both words in
their names. Pentecostal and Holiness worship services are more moving
and forceful than the existing Southern services. The churches themselves
remained independent of each other, rather than forming an association
with innermost policies and practices.
The Pentecostal Church centered on healing
and laying on of hands more than the traditional Methodist of Baptist
churches. They developed a firm code of morals that prohibited drinking,
dancing, and the wearing of indecent clothing. Many Pentecostal churches
do not allow women to wear pants of bathing suits.
A distinct feature of Pentecostal and
Holiness churches have a defining characteristic, that of speaking in
tongues. Aside from other churches, except for the charismatic sects,
the speaking in tongues is a most common practice. These worshippers
must first "get in the spirit," which is usually accomplished
during spiritual services.
Snake Handling, which began in 1913, was
originally developed from the Pentecostal Church, it being confined
for the most part to the Southern Appalachian Mountain areas of West
Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. "Snake
Handlers" belong to the Church of God with Signs Following, which
divided from the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Bible historians claim
the practice of snake handling is based on Mark. 16:17-18: "And
these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name they shall cast
out devils; they shall speak with new tongues: they shall take up serpents
and if they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues: they
shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall
not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."
These church members actually handle poisonous snakes, usually rattlers,
and drink strychnine during services. Getting into the spirit precedes
these acts. Handlers are occasionally bitten, sometime fatally. This
is believed to come to pass when their faith of spirit wavers. Snake
handling still occurs at church services in the Appalachians, even though
local laws forbid it.
All over the Southern protestant churches,
new congregations separated into new churches with totally new names
due to differences over beliefs, worship practices, interpretations
of the Bible, and of disbursement of the money. Quite often the new
churches split because they alleged the original church was not morally
harsh enough. One difference was that members did not interpret the
Bible accurately enough. The Pentecostal Holiness Church, having broken
away from the Methodist Church, thus spawned the Church of God, which
divided into sects including the Church of God in Christ and The Church
of God with Signs Following (the first sect to insist on snake-handling).
The Freewill Baptist and the Primitive Baptists were the derivative
of the Southern Baptists. The Cumberland Presbyterians split from the