Rebaptism and the Division of the McGregor, Texas, Church (1897)

The story of the division of “The Christian Church of McGregor” in McGregor, Texas, near Waco, is of particular significance for several reasons. Organized on August 25, 1883, it divided on September 23, 1897. The division resulted in two groups: “The First Christian Church of McGregor” and “the Church of Christ” (the capital letters are conservatives own self-designation). The conservatives changed the locks on the building and prevented progressives from meeting in it. The progressives filed suit which was ultimately decided in favor of the progressives by the Supreme Court of Texas. This is a division initiated by the conservatives. The story is told in W. K. Homan’s The Church on Trial or the Old Faith Vindicated (1900) which contains court transcripts.  You can read the court decision here.

But, historically and theologically, the most interesting aspect of the division was the prominence of the rebaptism issue. G. A. Trott (1855-1930), who would later become one of the editors of the Firm Foundation in the first decade of the 20th century and then one of the founders of the The Apostolic Way (1913) which promoted the non-class viewpoint, played a prominent role in the division and the court case. Trott was one of three who secured the building with new locks. Trott, who was the preacher for the church, had only come to the city eighteen months prior and had been appointed an elder of the “The Christian Church of McGregor” without a congregational vote (Homan, pp. 51, 93-94).

The rebaptism question, whether one must believe that baptism is for salvation (“for the remission of sins”) in order to be scripturally baptized, was one of the significant issues in the division and in the court trial. Some were refusing to admit into membership those who had been previously immersed on faith in Christ. Elder R. M. Peace stated at the trial that “if one should present himself for membership in the church of which I am an elder, stating that he believed baptism to be because of the remission of sins, and not for an in order to the remission of sins, I would not regard him as a Christian” (Homan, p. 52). Peace explained that they “would receive persons baptized by preachers of other religious bodies, if they had been immersed for the remission of sins—that is, if they believed at the time of their baptism that baptism was for the remission of sins.” And though his lawyers were Baptists, Peace further remarked that “We do not recognize Baptists as Christians” (Homan, p. 50).

What becomes obvious in this trial is that the rebaptism issue was applied as a test of fellowship by Trott and others. Under cross-examination, Trott made this very clear as the extended quote below demonstrates (Homan, pp. 54-55).

I belong to the Church of Christ. I do not belong to the Christian Church…I would not hold membership in a church were such things are practiced music, missionary societies, conventions, etc. I regard all who engage in such things as in sin. I agree with what is called the Firm Foundation faction…..It is the view of those called the Firm Foundation faction that no one has been scripturally baptized unless he understood at the time of his baptism that baptism is for, that is in order to, the remission of sins. They do not regard as Christians those who did not so understand and believe at the time of their baptism…I do not regard Baptists, Methodists or Presbyterians as Christians, because they have not been immersed for the remission of sins—that is, with the understanding on their part that baptism is for the remission of sins. Should I find persons holding membership in the church who did not believe at the time of their baptism that baptism is for the remission of sins, I would insist upon withdrawing from them—that is, excluding them from the church. It is a fact that I found three such persons in the church at Rising Star, Texas, where I preached, and I advised the church to exclude them, and they were excluded on the sole ground that at the time of their baptism they did not believe that baptism is for the remission of sins.

Trott locked the doors of the building against the progressives partly because they would admit people to the church whom he did not believe were Christians and partly because they supported a visiting Christian Church evangelist, B. B. Sanders, in a recent revival. Up to that point, the church had not used the organ or participated as a corporate body in the conventions and societies, though some members did as individuals (for which they were rebuked but not excluded). The court case was largely argued in reference to the rebaptism question, though other issues were present and the practice of the “innovations” quickly emerged after the division of the church into two groups.

Historically, this points to the intense convictions held by some on the rebaptism question and their divisive—even sectarian—nature. Were David Lipscomb and Trott to serve the same congregation as elders, the church would divide because Lipscomb would admit those immersed upon faith in Jesus whereas Trott could not hold membership in a congregation that did such.

Rebaptism was a fellowship issue in the divisive discussions between what became the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ or Christian Church in Texas. It was not a divisive issue between those two groups in Tennessee.



16 Responses to “Rebaptism and the Division of the McGregor, Texas, Church (1897)”

  1. Avatar of kerrybutts  K. Rex Butts Says:

    I know we all wear blinders that prevent us from seeing certain things but it strikes me as odd that two or more Christians can be arguing over an issue like this with both parties believing they are standing for the New Testament teaching and all the while violating sound teaching in the way they act towards one another (e.g., changing locks on a building, having a disagreement dragged into the public courts). Of course, such example is one of many that has sadly taken place in the name of Jesus Christ. Is there any indication that in such historical examples, these Christians/churches were aware of the questionable morality/ethics of their actions? And if so, how did they adjudicate such actions?

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  2.   Jerry Starling Says:

    In my undergraduate studies in Restoration History, I was never taught anything about this. I grew up through 3 Church of Christ related schools and never knew that men like David Lipscomb held such views. The hard, “Firm Foundation Faction” was all that I knew – even though the Gospel Advocate was a regular paper in our home as I grew up in the 1940′s & 1950′s.

    It is amazing to me how we are able to block out our own history while being governed by it so completely!

    Jerry Starling

  3.   eirenetheou Says:

    William Kercheval Homan (1847-1908) is an attorney in Fort Worth, and he begins publishing The Christian Courier in 1888 as a response to Austin McGary’s Firm Foundation, which had begun in 1884. By 1899, when the McGregor case is finally adjudicated, Homan, McGary, and their allies have been at war, in the pulpit and in print, for close on 15 years.

    The “issues” dividing the “Progressives” and the “factionists” (as Homan and his allies liked to call them) are familiar. Baptism is one of them. McGary, Trott, and their people refused to admit to communion anyone who had not been immersed “for the remission of sins.” Any other baptism was, in their eyes, “sect baptism.” Homan and his allies were appalled that McGary and Trott would “rebaptize” people who had already been immersed as adults on their declaration of faith in Jesus Christ. McGary and Trott were grieved, for the purity of the church, to see Baptists and others admitted to communion “without being scripturally baptized.” As always, the pejorative labels that each party applied to the other obscured the substance of their arguments and the reasoning on which they founded their faith.

    Homan’s Christian Courier had become, by the twentieth century, the most influential of the “state papers” among the Disciples. Altough its circulation never matched that of the Gospel Advocate, by the twentieth century the Firm Foundation had established its understanding of baptism as the prevailing view among Churches of Christ. For the nineteenth century, we lack the resources to study these two essential periodicals, and we shall not begin to understand the division of the Disciples in Texas and elsewhere until we can study both of them together.

    We need to begin to comprehend why each of these parties understood baptism and other articles of their faith in the way that they did, and how each of these parties was able to persuade so many people to join them in their understanding.

    God’s Peace to you.

    d

  4.   Tim Armentrout Says:

    After reading this post and the court case, I think I am sympathetic to the Christian church in their struggle to do what they think is right. But, baptism is much more than an act we do, it is what God is doing to and for us. I for one am glad that my own understanding need not be perfect to be acceptable to the Father, be it in baptism or any other reasoning. Christ is the only Rock for me. Thanks John Mark for the post!

  5.   Don Wilson Says:

    I check your website frequently for these historical entries, which I always enjoy, I am old enough and Texan enough to remember the Sunday afternoon arguments among relatives about this issue, and how even within the family the blood would rise. Thank God that such divisions are fading away.

    •   Jerry Starling Says:

      The divisions may be fading away in Texas, but not in the Southeast! Few in my part of the country will acknowledge as Christian immersed believers unless they understood prior to their baptism that it was for the remission of sins. I have even known of a church that required a 12 year old son of one of their deacons to be re-immersed because when his father immersed him he forgot to say the words, “for the remission of sins.”

      This is still a timely subject that addresses current concerns, not just a historic oddity.

      Jerry

      •   Jerry Starling Says:

        The above congregation was a “southern” church, even though it was located in southeast Michigan.
        Jerry

  6.   Randall Says:

    I am 60 and recall multiple instances where a Baptist and CofC couple were married and if they went to a CofC the Baptist was required to be rebaptized and the same was true for the CofC person if they went to a Baptist church.

    As recently as 1998-2002 the Baptist church in Bangkok, Thailand (SBC, run by Americans) insisted upon rebaptism for those not previously baptized in a Baptist church, though they did make an exception in the case of my wife and me.

    My experience has been that this issue is fading away in many of the larger, and perhaps more progressive churches of Christ, but not so much in the smaller congregations, especially if located in smaller towns or rural communities.

    There are congregations that I refer to as time machine churches b/c when one steps across the threshold they have just stepped back in time to 1950. ;-)

    •   Randall Says:

      Even though the Baptists may require rebaptism to become a member of the Baptist church, they do not regard a person that was not baptized in a Baptist church as not being a Christian. I guess I should have made that distinction rather than possibly leaving the impression the Baptists were as exclusivistic as some of the CofC.

  7.   Wade Tannehill Says:

    I guess Alexander Campbell would have been barred from the Church of Christ at McGregor.

  8. Avatar of stonedcampbelldisciple  Bobby Valentine Says:

    John Mark thanks for the link to the McGreger court case.

    @ Wade. Some would take that position but most found interesting ways to make AC a saint anyway.

  9.   Michael Brown Says:

    Once again I really appreciate this and related information. John Mark – you continue to provide stimulating articles and thoughts. I don’t know that this issue is discussed much among the circles I travel (African American Churches of Christ), but it ought to be.

  10.   Dennis Wilhoit Says:

    I grew up in a “Firm Foundation” Church of Christ in eastern New Mexico but I never knew it. Nor did I know that there was so much controversy within the Churches of Christ. I thought the Baptists were our only enemies. Thank you for helping us catch up on our church history. As an adult I now feel a bit insulted that so much of my family history had been kept secret.

  11.   ray vannoy Says:

    John Mark, Thanks for another interesting post. My late father was baptized 3 times: As a Baptist in Belton, Texas, then in the First Christian Church and finally in the COC. That should do it!

    My friend Jon Mark Smith leads the McGregor church now. It is not the same, but we all have our history.

    @Wade: At my church we have kept AC a saint by applying only a convenient oral memory selection. We don’t read history.

  12.   claim guide Says:

    Out of curiosity…When a child is baptized into the Catholic faith, do one or both Godparents have to be Catholic? Meaning, if one Godparent is Catholic, can the other be from another religion?

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