Published May 2, 2013
DULUTH — On April 12 the Georgia Baptist Historical Commission dedicated two new displays in the lobby museum at the Missions and Ministry Center of GBC – one on “The Bethesda Pulpit and the Second Great Awaking in Georgia” and the second on “The Georgia Baptist Convention as Spiritual Quartermasters during the Civil War.”
The Commission officially received several noteworthy items along with the Bethesda Pulpit. The Bethesda church in Union Point, established in 1785 by Silas Mercer, father of Jesse Mercer, is one of Georgia Baptists’ most historic churches.
Jesse Mercer, renowned Baptist statesman, was preaching on Jeremiah 6:14 at Bethesda in 1802 when revival broke out. At one point in the sermon he cried, “Oh, my congregation, I fear you are too good to be saved.” He then broke down and wept. Hearts were moved and the church was revived. It launched the first wave of revivals in the Second Great Awakening.
Another notable Baptist statesman, Adiel Sherwood, was ordained at Bethesda in 1820. He later served as pastor of the Bethesda congregation. Sherwood had been personally promoting “concerts of prayer” across Georgia, urging people to petition heaven for a fresh work of God in their lives.
In 1827, while preaching at a meeting of the Ocmulgee Association, “The Great Revival” began. Baptists in Georgia doubled in the next two years. In 1828 the Bethesda church alone baptized 270 new converts within an eight-month period of time.
Sherwood, a great supporter of missions, actually made the motion to establish the Georgia Baptist Convention. Georgia Baptist historian Charles Jones noted, “Jesse Mercer was the anvil upon which the GBC was founded and Adiel Sherwood was the hammer by which it was fashioned.”
Other notable pastors/preachers that stood behind the Bethesda Pulpit included Luther Rice, the founder of The Christian Index, who preached from the Bethesda Pulpit in April of 1830, and Henry Holcomb Tucker, who became editor of The Christian Index in 1866.
In those days the church buildings were referred to as “meeting houses.” Hymns were sung a cappella. The use of notes by a Baptist preacher was not “acceptable” during this era, and no preacher was considered “long-winded” until his sermon exceeded two hours.
One innovation of the Second Great Awakening was the use of the “Anxious Seat” or “Mourner’s Bench” – a seat or bench designated for people seeking salvation or prayer. In those days it was rare to make a public profession of faith and be baptized before age 15. Kneeling was considered the appropriate posture for prayer.
At the conclusion of this year’s evangelism conference at First Baptist Douglasville hundreds of pastors and church leaders knelt around the Bethesda Pulpit as GBC Executive Director J. Robert White led a prayer for revival. Terry Trivette, chairman of the Historical Commission, called that prayer around the Bethesda Pulpit an “Ebenezer Experience” for Georgia Baptists.
Trivette and Commission member Brant Callaway accepted the Bethesda Pulpit on behalf of the Commission from a delegation of members from the Union Point church. The historical significance of the Bethesda Pulpit makes it a remarkable addition to the GBC museum.
The Historical Commission also received from representatives of the Daughters of the American Revolution a collection of writings by noted Georgia pastor and historian Charles Walker.
Waldo Woodcock, former Georgia Baptist state missionary, remarked, “Charles Walker understood history and knew how to write it. He used his knowledge of history to plant Gospel seeds and reach people for Christ.”
Jones explained that Georgia Baptists were quartermasters during the Civil War and provided the soldiers with their best weapons. It has been stated, “It is considered, that of parties equally matched, and equally brave, the one having the best arms will be successful.”
However, Jones reasoned, “In war the one who has the best weapons are those armed with prayer and faith in God.”
Jones continued, “The Christian Index was a ministry during the Civil War. Our Baptist newspaper informed people back home and also provided encouragement and inspiration to the soldiers facing conflict. People came to faith in Christ as a result of the news reported in The Index.
“Great revivals took place among the Confederate soldiers in the South,” Jones explained. “Over 150,000 men were saved during the Civil War.”
At the conclusion of the meeting Bobby Boswell recognized Waldo Woodcock, who received a certificate of appreciation for his service to Georgia Baptists. Boswell exclaimed, “I have known Waldo as a pastor, as the director of our Church Training Department, and I have known him as a gracious, kind, caring man. He is Mr. History himself.”
Philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist George Santayana stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The purpose of the Georgia Baptist Historical Commission is to support the work of the Georgia Baptist Convention by illuminating the present with the light of the past. Indeed, there is much we can learn from the stalwart and courageous Baptists who have gone before us.
To view the videos online of the Historical Commission meeting go to history.gabaptist.org.
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