Submitted by Nelle Price Epps
Antioch Christian Church
The Mother Church of Christian Churches
Disciples of Christ in Georgia
by Mrs. B.O. Miller
In the early years of the nineteenth Century, the religious condition or the people of Georgia, as of other states was deplorable. There was great confusion and unrest-Sectarianism was rampant, and on account of it, discussion as to the “Creed” or that “Articles of Faith”, or that “Form of Government” ran high, and even minor points of belief, and non-essential doctrines were so bitterly and hotly contested and to cause serious division in the various churches. More time and effort were expended in trying to prove the orthodoxy of one’s own views and the heterodoxy of everyone else’s, than in trying to save souls.
Every church considered all doctrine contrary to that to which it promulgated as hearsay: and there was enmity and strife and bitterness between the followers of the lowly Christ.
The spirit and love dwelt not among the denomination of those early days.
This horrid state of affairs grew worse and worse; each sect grew more narrow in its views and requirements. When suddenly a strange spirit seemed abroad in the land-a peculiar coincidence occurred, almost simultaneously a great thought, born in the brain of a number of good men, widely separated over the country-which made it less difficult in later years to come in the Reformation as taught by Alexander Campbell.
The various denominations were permitted to use their “Meetinghouse” for they were not a selfish people, and so all the sects in the community worshiped together-but each little band held to its own peculiar views and methods.
These people had never even so much as heard of Alexander Campbell and his teachings, but must have in some way come under the teaching of Barton W. Stone, for they , for they were sometimes called “Bible Christians,” and sometimes “Stonites.”
Camp meetings were held at “Old Republican” in those days and even as late as 1833. Memorable among them was that one held in 1832, at which time Rev. Arthur Dupree immersed a large number of converts, among whom was Mr. Nathan W. Smith, who was afterwards to take such an important part in the greatest religious movement of the age.
Among those who preached from time to time at “Old Republican” and who were called “Bible Christian Preachers” were Jacob Calahan, James Byce, Zechariah Holloway, Willis Nauls, Archibald Standifer, Coleman Pendleton, Nathaniel Pridgeon (who was very eccentric and performed the very original feat of preaching his own funeral), Dr. Adam Clements, William Anderson, Thomas Doster, Thomas J. McGaughey, Wm. McGaughey, Arthur Dupree, Col. John H. Lowe, Dr. W. Elder, Edmund T. Elder, Isaac Parker, Joshua Parker, Nathan W. Smith, and perhaps others.
In 1833 Elder Thacker V. Griffin came from Tennessee to visit relatives living near “Old Republican” and during his extended visit he often preached at the little church. He was perhaps the first preacher in Georgia to urge the return of Christian to Apostolic practice and to teach the principles of the Restoration. He met with great opposition, but it is quite interesting to know that he sowed good seed that soon ripened in fruitage, for in 1834, Mr. W. T. Lowe was immersed for remission of sins by Rev. William Pendleton, in Old Rose Creek, near the Old Republican Church. This was the first record in Georgia of a baptism for remission of sins (except perhaps that of Shelton C. Dunning and Christian Dasher, who baptized each other).
Mr. Lowe has for many long years since then preached for that church, and has buried many souls with Christ in baptism, to arise and walk in newness of life. In the summer of 1900 he celebrated his Golden Wedding. He is now 90 years old and still has a clear mind and faithful memory. (The author is indebted to Mr. Lowe for many facts upon which this sketch is built.)
In April, 1835, Elder Wm. R. Shehane of Tennessee, came to Georgia and visited churches of his circuit, for there were circuits and conferences somewhat after the order of the Methodists, and in 1836 he returned to teach school and preach.
Up to this time there was no division in the congregation at Old Republican. Some held with the disciples, others held on to their old sectarian views, but all continued to worship together in the little church in the woods built by the O’Kelleyites.
Mr. Callahan, one of the old preachers continued to preach in his turn, and opposed the Restoration with all his might and power, without co-operation or even knowledge of each other. It was in answer to a great yearning in the hearts of Christians for light and truth and unity that the Holy Spirit inspired them with the only plan upon which these may be secured-A Restoration of the primitive Gospel alone, as a “rule of Faith and Practice and Discipline.”
There can never be a reconciliation of man-made creeds. They are dramatically opposed to each other-and no other basis than God’s Word alone, and under no other name than that of Christ can his followers hope for union. That was all that required in the days of Peter and Paul! Why should we demand more than this, in the Nineteenth Century?
The American Revolution not only broke down political sovereignty, but also aroused the spirit of religious liberty and much dissatisfaction arose among the sects on account of iron clad rules and severe exactions concerning the faith and practice of each denomination. Many discussions were held concerning the conferences of the Methodist Church and James O’Kelley and several other preachers in Virginia and North Carolina plead for a different system. This created great agitation and opposition, and on Christmas Day 1793, James O’Kelley and a number of followers seceded from the Methodists at a place called Mannakin Town, North Carolina.
They took the name of “Republican Methodists” and resolved to acknowledge no head over the church but Christ-No Creed but the Bible. These people were called “OKelleyites,” probably through derision. The name clung to them for a good many years, but is now extinct.
Early in the century many families moved from North Carolina to the new counties of Georgia, induced, perhaps by glowing accounts of rich lands, gold and silver mines, and fine climate, for truly no more equable or healthful climate can be found than that of Middle Georgia, or it may be that the distribution of “Land grants” had much to do with this immigration.
Among those colonists were a number of “O’Kelleyites” who were located in what was then the southern part of Clarke County, but which now constitutes Oconee County. Very soon they built a little church near Scull Shoals (noted as the location of a terrible Indian massacre”,) about 16 miles from Athens and about nine miles from Watkinsville. It is claimed that this church was built as early as 1807, though the exact date is not certainly known. It is however, authentically stated that the congregation was re-organized under the name of “Bible Christians” in 1822.
The O’Kelleyites called the church “Old Republican.” These people were reaching out for first principles, but were yet “babes” in Christ, and were groping for the full light of the Gospel to lead them to salvation and righteous living The light which was so obscured by the clouds of sectarian teachings.
They so truly desired to return to Apostolic practice that they very earnestly studied the Bible and were led by their research to drop some of their former methods. For instance, they abandoned the Christening of infants. Mr. D. W. Elder said, “They drew away from all human creeds and planted themselves on the Bible alone, but they did not go far enough to reach Jerusalem.” It was in the right direction until 1842, he had a difficulty with a brother preacher
And they were “tried” at Old Republican.
The church decided against Mr. Callahan and withdrew from him. This caused a separation (which had to come about sooner or later) for his friends withdrew with him, leaving the main body of the congregation in possession of Old Republican and they stood for the Restoration.
Nathan W. Smith, who had come into the church in 1832 under the old administration and who had at first opposed the teachings of the Disciples, soon became convinced that he was in error, and gladly turned to the Bible alone as his “rule of faith and practice.” Having been ordained to preach, he was chosen for the regular pastor at the “Old Republican.” Much bad feeling existed, for several years after the division in the church, but it gradually died away and the little band of Disciples increased in numbers and prosperity.
Rev. Nathan Smith thoroughly re-organized the church and not approving the name “Old Republican,” he induced the congregation to change it to “Antioch” – because “The Disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”-and this being the first church of Christ established in Georgia, this name seemed fittingly adapted to it. Mr. Nathan W. Smith was zealous in his efforts to advance the cause of Christ and also to obtain the best teaching for himself.
About this time the Rev. James Shannon, then president of Bacon College, Ky., visited his wife’s relation in Athens, Ga. He had formerly been a great preacher in the Baptist Church in Georgia, and a professor at the State University, but having read much of Alexander Campbell’s teachings, he eagerly drank from that fountain of truth and wisdom, and opened his good heart and broad mind to his grand but simple plea; the union of God’s people and their return to Primitive Christianity.
When Mr. Smith heard of his presence in his vicinity, he urged him to visit the Antioch Church and assist him in a meeting. Mr. Shannon consented to do this and preached the doctrines of Restoration as taught by Alexander Campbell, “He told the story as was told to him” and tradition says that he came near converting the whole story.
But by that time the church in Augusta was established and Mr. Smith was aided by Dr. Daniel Hook and Mr. S. J. Pinkerton from that city, also at different times by Evangelists Eichbaum and Trott from Tennessee, E A. Smith from Kentucky, and Shelton Dunning from Savannah. Much prejudice was removed, and the church took a giant step in the right direction, in that they recognized and accepted the “Great Commission” and (in 1843) sent their beloved pastor out as Evangelist to preach the gospel to other eager ones, and to teach them also the simple biblical plan of Salvation. They supported Mr. Smith as an Evangelist for three years, at the same time sustaining the work in the home church. Under their auspices he established many of the early churches of Georgia.
Thus “Antioch” won for herself the proud distinction of being called the “Mother Church” of the Disciples in Georgia. Out of her grew “Mount Vernon” in Walton County, “Old Union” in Oconee County, “Bethany”, (now Bogart) in Jackson County, and perhaps many others years ago, to Texas, in which there were several preachers, who founded a number of churches in that state, so that the old church has reached out into “The Regions Beyond”, and who shall show the limit of her influence.
At different times, as the years passed on, Antioch had the benefit of preaching by Dr. Hook, James Shannon, S. C. Dunning, John Moore, C.K. Marshall, S. J. Pinkerton, Phillip F. and James S. Lamar, Dr. A.G. Thomas, and others of those noble pioneer preachers, who gave their money, their lives, their all, for advancement of Christ’s Kingdom in Georgia.
During the Confederate War there was a regular preaching at Antioch, once, sometimes regular twice a month. Mr. Phillip F. Lamar and Mr. W.T. Lowe did the preaching, with Mr. C.K. Marshall to assist them at the annual meetings. There were many additions and the cause prospered.
In 1873, J.T. Hawkins, of Kentucky came to Georgia and preached for Antioch and other churches with fine success. He was succeeded by the much beloved T.M. Foster.
There are still living two venerable men who preached and labored for this old church in her early days (1904) Dr. M. B. Doster of Winder age 81, and Wm. T. Lowe, age 86., Very dear and sacred to the hearts of those two octogenarians is old Antioch-the church of their young manhood, within whose walls met their Savior and learned to walk in newness of life; from her they buried their sacred dead, who lie in quiet burying ground within her shadow and to her will they cling with strongest affection and loyalty, until with strongest affection and loyalty, until called to their reward in the “Great Beyond.”
God has recently called a third one of these grand old pioneers home and Dr. W. Elder-“Uncle Doc”, as so many loved to call him-has crossed over the river and entered into rest. He was a faithful and devoted Christian and was prominent among the pioneer leaders in the Northeast Georgia District. He preached and taught the scriptures throughout all that part of the state. It was through his efforts that Midway Church was established., This church has merged into the church at Maxeys, which is prosperous and thriving. Other preachers who have served the congregation at Antioch are J.A. Perdue, J.M. Ratliffe, S. S. Landrum, L.D. Ridgeway, D.R. Pickens, J.H. Wood, and several other young Georgia preachers.
The church building has been twice renewed. The first edifice was erected in 1807, the second in 1820. The third and present one was built about 19 years ago (1886) and stands on the identical spot that was occupied by “Old Republican” almost 100 years ago.
Antioch is a substantial frame building, 60 feet by 30 feet in dimension, ceiled, well ventilated and comfortable. It is beautifully situated among the trees near the bans of Old Rose Creek. The membership numbers about 500, mostly farmers and their families.
“Antioch” was the first Christian Church in Georgia, and still ranks first in membership and strength in all Northeast Georgia Districts. At her annual meetings she still reaps rich harvest of souls and thus she continues to renew her youth, and florisheth as a green bay tree.