Alabama’s oldest Baptist congregation will be 208 years old this year. Or not, depending on whom you ask. Elder John Nicholson led the first worship on October 2, 1808 at the home of James Deaton in Killingsworth Cove (now part of Huntsville.) And for 170 of those 202 years the congregants who’ve adhered to the tenets of the original Flint River Baptist Church of Christ (the “Primitive” Baptists) have been at odds with more modernized, or “Missionary” Baptists.
The church today known as Flint River Primitive Baptist Church for many years maintained close organizational ties with nearby Enon Baptist Church. Formed in June 1809, Enon was initially to be known as the ‘West Fork of the Flint Baptist Church.’ At their second meeting, they decided the name was too cumbersome and renamed themselves ‘Enon.’
But in 1838 the Flint River association declared non-fellowship with the modern missionary movement, its societies, auxiliaries and supporters (Enon topped the list). Those congregations that embraced new church practices such as mission boards, Sunday Schools, and musical instruments in the church became “New School” or “Missionary” Baptist. Flint River Baptist Church continued in the simplicity of New Testament worship, thus being called “Old School” or “Primitive” Baptist.
By 1840 Flint River withdrew all fellowship from Enon, which in 1893 changed its name to the ‘First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama, a Missionary Baptist Church’, for advocating a perversion of the articles of faith.
The two churches tangled again in 1908, the centennial year of Flint River Church. The missionary Baptists planned a celebration claiming the years 1808 – 1908 as their anniversary dates. They sent out a leaflet in which they stated correctly that Flint River Church was constituted in 1808, but also stating that it —meaning the Primitive congregation— had been out of existence for many years!
“When Flint River Church saw this report she was justly offended,” huffs The history of Flint river Church/Flint River Association 1808-1955 “because she was reported dead, when she was yet alive, and had a continuous existence ever since her first organization and because a people who differed from her and opposed her in almost every particular claimed her as their ancestor and proposed to celebrate her organization in a manner that was highly offensive to her.”
“Any attempt by the Missionaries to celebrate this year,” stated Flint River Church clerk B. B. Lawler in Primitive Baptist magazine, “is like a man wanting to celebrate his golden wedding when he has been married twenty years to one woman and thirty years to another one.”
Both churches remain active today. The First Baptist Church of Huntsville makes no mention of the 1908 centennial ruckus on their website.