Separation of Church and State Law

Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012
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Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 8 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.

Chapter 8

From New England to the South

Summary: The Great Awakening carried from New England to the South; Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall left Congregationalist church, became Baptists, moved to North Carolina, started the Sandy Creek Baptist Church, planted churches, the movement exploded and expanded into other states, the War of the Regulation, the Baptists depart, the departing Baptists went into South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, spreading the Gospel and reaping the harvest. What Satan meant for evil, God used for His glory.

Shubal Stearns

By 1755 only a few Baptist churches had been constituted in the South. This was about to change. The change came partly as a result of the Great Awakening.

Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall, both members of Congregationalist churches in Connecticut, separated from the established churches, later became Baptists, as had Isaac Backus, and became chief instruments in carrying the Great Awakening to the South. The Separates were subject to persecution—fines, imprisonment, placing in stocks, and whipping—for their defiance of the laws of the commonwealth. They were subjected to a more intense persecution than the dissenters such as Baptists and Quakers, and many of them were imprisoned for practicing their beliefs.

Shubal Stearns was born in Boston on January 28, 1706. His family moved to Connecticut in his youth and joined the Congregational church in Tolland. He was converted to New Light views in 1745 as a result of the Whitefield revival. Mr. Stearns led others in his church to become a Separate church. After a thorough study of the Scriptures, he declared himself a Baptist and was baptized (William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 21).

Daniel Marshall was born in 1706 in Windsor. He became a prosperous farmer and a deacon in the established Congregational church. Deeply affected by George Whitefield, by 1747 he was a Separate; and by 1751 he, along with Shubal Sterns, was a radical Separate (Ibid., pp. 21-23).

George Whitefield’s preaching had a grand effect on his converts. A “twofold conviction was borne in and upon the hearts of the Separates around 1750.” Since all men can be saved, the urgency of missions and the need for men to hear the gospel now was impressed upon their hearts. “Love for [all] others, said Whitefield, stands alongside aversion to sin, a spirit of supplication, and a spirit of conquest over the world as a mark of having the Holy Spirit” (Ibid., p. 24, citing Stuart C. Henry, George Whitefield, Wayfaring Witness (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 124).

In 1751 or 1752, as had others before him, Mr. Marshall set out with his wife and three children and possibly with one other couple, with no prospect of material reward, to minister to the Indians in New York. They settled at the Indian town of Onnaquaggy, but had to leave after eighteen months because strife among the Indians caused by the French and English struggle and attempts to gain the support of various tribes disrupted his work and threatened his family. He went to Connogogig, Pennsylvania for a short stay, then moved to Opekon, Virginia. He was baptized by the pastor of Mill Creek Baptist Church. His powerful preaching ability was recognized and a revival ensued (Ibid., pp. 25-28 citing Stewart Pearce, Annals of Luzerne County (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1960), pp. 34-35; J. B. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1859), I, 19; R. B. Stemple, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists of Virginia, revised and extended by G. W. Beale (Richmond: Pitt & Dickinson, 1894), p. 370).

Shubal Stearns and his wife, along with five other families, possessed with missionary zeal, left Tolland, Connecticut in August, 1754. They moved to Virginia where they were greeted by Daniel Marshall. They settled in Cacapon Creek, Virginia, but did not stay there long. Members of some neighboring churches (later called “Regular” Baptist churches), which upheld dignity and orderliness in worship, were upset with the “noisy and emotional preaching of the Separates,” by some of the preaching, which “may have suggested Armenianism to them,” and by “the prominent place occupied by women in some Separate meetings which hinted at disorder.” Also, in 1755 the Indians broke into open hostility. Consequently, Mr. Stearns and his party moved to Sandy Creek, North Carolina, “a strategic center from which he could itinerate to a growing and spiritually destitute population” (Ibid., pp. 28-30).  There they constituted the Sandy Creek Church with Mr. Stearns as minister and Daniel Marshall and Joseph Breed as assistant ministers.

Mr. Stearns immediately began to preach. People from neighboring farms began to attend, for the first time hearing the doctrine of the new birth:

“The enthusiastic manner of preaching, too, was unprecedented. Stearns’ delivery was warm and appealing, full of persuasive zeal, not at all the commonplace, lecture-type discourses which the people had formerly heard. Strong gestures and a fervent plea told the people that the preacher was intensely involved in his message.  It was obvious he wanted a verdict.
“The preachers deep feeling and personality passed to the members of the church and from them to the visitors. The music in the little pastor’s voice soon penetrated every heart, and his piercing, discursive eye seemed to peer into every soul. The tears, tremblings, and shouts of the members quickly affected the visitors, and from the little meetinghouse a tumult of grief at sin and joy at salvation ascended to heaven. Men who came to the meetings to mock returned home praising and glorifying God. The church began to grow!
“Then the Separates knew that they had found their home and that God’s will was being perfected in them. The heart of their little community held a plan worthy of the heart of an empire” (Ibid., pp. 31-32).

The population of North Carolina was growing rapidly. People were coming from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania; and large families were common. Although the Church of England was established by law in 1701 in North Carolina, it had a feeble career there, and the colony gained a reputation as an asylum for the religiously persecuted. By 1755 the population of North Carolina was nearly a hundred thousand (Ibid., pp. 33-34, citing G. W. Paschal, History of North Carolina Baptists (Raleigh: General Board of North Carolina Baptist State Convention, 1930), I, pp. 252-254).

The Quakers preached the first sermon in North Carolina in 1672 and were the earliest dissenters. The Moravians also flourished there. The Anglicans were few in number, had only one or two ministers in the colony at any given time, and were looked upon with indifference and hostility by the people of North Carolina. Except for the Quakers and Moravians, until the middle of the eighteenth century, “[r]eligious concerns among the early dissenters were doomed to steady decline because of the shortage of churches, religious instruction, and pastors” (Ibid., pp. 34-36).

The work at Sandy Creek soon began to produce much fruit. Mr. Stearns and the other preachers in his church were in great demand to go preach at other settlements. He and Daniel Marshall decided, before having been at Sandy Creek a year, to go on a preaching mission all the way to the coast. Converts were being called into ministry, and the Separate Baptist movement was seeing the birth of new churches. Within three years, there were three churches with a combined membership of over nine hundred, and these churches had numerous branches. Young evangelists were “beginning to occupy the land of promise.” In 1758, the Sandy Creek Association was organized. The plan for the association “required careful planning, for the associational movement would usher in a grand new chapter in Separate Baptist expansion” (Ibid., pp. 41-45).

The movement exploded. Ministers and converts went all over North Carolina, then into South Carolina and Georgia. The power of God was with these Separate Baptist preachers. Churches were planted and many were converted. In North Carolina, the Anglicans and the Presbyterians were displaced by the Baptists. Daniel Marshall went to South Carolina with some others in his church and started a church there. From there, he went on preaching trips into Georgia. He was so successful in some of his forays there that he was arrested, convicted, and commanded to preach no more in Georgia. “The arresting constable and even the magistrate who tried Marshall were soon converted and baptized.” In 1771 Mr. Marshall moved to Kiokee Creek, Georgia and formed the first Baptist church in Georgia at Appling in 1772 (Ibid., p. 55, citing J. H. Kilpatrick, The Baptists, (Atlanta: Georgia Baptist Convention, 1911), pp. 37-38).

In 1771 the so-called War of the Regulation broke out. The government of North Carolina tried to suppress the Separate Baptists, but succeeded only in spreading their movement all along the southern frontier. Before the suppression began, the established church, the Anglican Church, was ineffectual in North Carolina and only had five ministers in the state in 1765.

Before 1765 the western counties, made up of frontiersman, a large percentage of whom had become Baptists, were disproportionately taxed and represented in the Assembly. “Sheriffs, judges, and other officials of county government, were notorious for their injustice, and in the western counties they were, as a rule, dishonest, haughty, and overbearing” (Ibid., pp. 72-74). A license was required for teachers, and no place of higher education could be administered, except by ministers of the Church of England. The Church of England was given exclusive rights to perform marriages. In 1755, poll and vestry taxes were imposed upon North Carolinians (James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), pp. 181-182). The settlers mounted protests against these injustices.

When William Tryon became governor of North Carolina in 1765, the troubles moved quickly to a crisis. Governor Tryon set out to strengthen the position of the Church of England. He called for twenty-seven more Anglican clergymen and increased taxes and raised a military force. By 1770, Governor Tryon had established eighteen Anglican priests in thirty-two parishes in North Carolina. Property was seized for back taxes, people accused of rioting were arrested and set for trial, and others were fined and imprisoned. “In several places the Regulators yielded to mob spirit, broke up courts, and whipped the officers” and “some court records were destroyed” (Lumpkin, pp. 78-79). Armed conflict finally broke out. On May 16, 1771, a poorly trained and supplied force of two thousand regulators was routed by the state militiamen. Although Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek Association forbade Baptists to take up arms against the government, many did.

After the defeat of the regulators, Tryon “laid waste to plantations, burned homes, and sent numbers of men in chains to Hillsboro. The countryside was terrorized” (Ibid., p. 83).  Tryon seized Benjamin Merrill, who appears to have been a church leader. Merrill was convicted as a traitor, hung publicly, cut into pieces—quartered—and his body scattered (Beller, America in Crimson Red, p. 197).

The Baptists had a mass exodus from North Carolina. By 1772, Sandy Creek Church had only fourteen members, down from six hundred and six. Little River Church went from five hundred to a dozen members. But as with the persecution of the first Christians in Jerusalem, the persecuted spread to other parts and carried out the Great Commission—the departing Baptists went into South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, spreading the Gospel and reaping the harvest. What Satan meant for evil, God used for His glory.

Shubal Stearns, the chief light and the guiding genius behind the Separate Baptist movement, died on November 20, 1771 at the age of sixty-five. Forty-two churches and one hundred and twenty-five ministers had sprung from the Sandy Creek Church by 1772. Fires had been started in North Carolina and in other states, which could not be quenched (Lumpkin, p. 59).


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