According to Mississippi Baptist historians, Z. T. Leavell and T. J. Bailey, the first attempt by Mississippi Baptists to form a statewide convention failed.1
In 1823, three Baptist associations—Pearl River, Union, and Mississippi—proposed a meeting for all Mississippi Baptists for “preserving and continuing the ties of brotherly love”; for “union between sister associations”; for “the propagation of the pure doctrines of the gospel”; and finally to prevent “innovations in practice and heresies in doctrine'” (p. 1321).
After five to six years of ups and downs, the initial convention appeared to vanish. Apparently, no records exist after 1829. While the convention “did good” by preserving “the ties of brotherly love,” nonetheless it seemed “the organization of that convention was premature.”
It wasn’t until almost two decades later the Pearl River Association once again desired more theological fellowship with other Baptists the state over. “The strong men of the Pearl River Association, in 1848, sighed for greater uniformity of belief among Baptists of the State.” (p.1324). According to Leavell and Bailey, Pearl River Baptists desired “a uniform creed of faith among the associations and churches” by passing the following resolution:
Resolved, That in view of the painful division, which, in some parts of our common Zion, have grown out of a difference of articles of faith adopted by different associations and churches, this Association feels impressed with the importance and utility of uniformity of articles upon which associations are constituted.
Apparently, Mississippi Baptists were so diverse in at least some aspects of doctrine that the Baptists of Pearl River association felt it necessary to host a convention calling for more uniformity of belief.
Afterward, Pearl River Baptists requested other associations in the state to join them in a convention specifically to form a “uniform system of constitutions.” The meeting was to be held at Hopewell church, Copiah county, on Saturday before the first Sunday in August, 1849 (p.1325).
Sister associations began to respond positively including the Mississippi Association and the Mount Pisgah Association. Union Association responded positively but with two caveats to the movement toward uniformity of constitution and doctrine—1) individual churches already had confessions of their own; 2) they felt a convention like this would cause strife among the churches.
It was the Central Association, however, that logged the biggest complaint. Central Association was made up of “strong men of culture and thought” who recorded a six-fold objection to the uniformity convention
- Churches were not consulted
- Hostilities might be engendered
- Annual discussions about confessional theology would create hostile parties
- Difficulty in getting just representation from all the churches
- History shows that such efforts at uniformity of articles of faith have created discord
- History of our Baptist denomination showed that such efforts are unwise, as we are general and particular, united and separate Baptists (pp.1325-26).
According to Leavell and Bailey, the 1849 Minutes of the Pearl River Association reports that contrary to Central Association’s six-fold objection, the convention took place and the articles of faith were adopted as given in the record.
Evidently, however, the articles of faith adopted reflected neither the Philadelphia nor Charleston confession as strict Calvinists would have demanded. Rather, the articles of faith they adopted have this telling description:
They are in keeping with the New Hampshire declaration of faith.
What is more, the confessional description given of other Baptist churches and associations across Mississippi at that time remains striking:
The articles of all the associations and churches of the State are about the same, and are the New Hampshire confession either in substance or form.2
1Leavell, Z.T. and T. J. Bailey. A Complete History of Mississippi Baptists From the Earliest Times. Vol. II. Jackson: Mississippi Baptist Publishing Co. 1904