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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Highways and Hedges Part 4 - Holiness And Pentecostal Freewill Baptists


It has been a while since I have done an installment on the "Highways and Hedges" project due to graduate school and some other factors.  However, this one promises to be interesting, as it is dealing with a family of churches that I have been intrigued by for some time.   My mother initially piqued my interest in Pentecostal Freewill Baptists as she was discipled by a Freewill Baptist couple with Pentecostal convictions when she was in the military in Okinawa back in the 1960's.  When I really began to study Church History in the latter part of my high school years, I came across an actual group called "Pentecostal Freewill Baptists" and upon inquiring, I got a rather large package of material from their denominational headquarters in Dunn, NC.  Later, when I eventually received the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit myself in 1989, I briefly affilliated with this group and almost was ordained by them, but of course God had other plans.  Nonetheless, my involvement in the earlier part of my Christian life with both Baptists and Pentecostals still drove me to research this further, and come to find out, there are actually several Freewill Baptist fellowships that are openly Pentecostal, as well as one that is closely identified with the Keswick movement.  In this article, I will be dealing with five of those smaller groups.  Being the Dunn-based Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church is a large nationwide group of over 10,000 members, it will not qualify for attention in this study except for some valuable reference material as it relates to the other groups.  The five groups I am going to focus on, however, are all small regional fellowships for the most part with small memberships, but they still have a fascinating heritage.  It is my hope that these, like so many of the groups we have already examined, will be taken seriously as oftentimes it is small fellowships like them which have the most valuable historical merit.

The way I will be organizing this particular article is actually quite simple.  First, I feel like a brief background of Freewill Baptist history will set the stage, and also I want to give a brief background of the Holiness/Pentecostal movement as it occurred in the Piedmont Carolinas, as it is integral to the story.  The information I am presenting here took a lot of work to find, and to be honest almost 20 years of continuous research as some information on these smaller fellowships was hard to come by.  In many cases, letters written were unanswered, phone numbers were out-of-service, and the internet didn't provide sufficient information on some groups like I needed.  Therefore, I had to resort to databases like GoogleMaps and Lexis/Nexis in many cases to dig up some of it.  This is why I am hoping a project like this will be beneficial to others. 

Therefore let us now begin with a brief historical overview of the parent movements that produced the smaller fellowships.

Historical Background

The history of many of these movements, in particular the North Carolina churches, has two components.  First, they are of Free Will Baptist heritage, so we will give a brief overview of that.  Secondly, all of the Carolina groups in particular are Pentecostals as well, and therefore the Holiness/Pentecostal movement in the Carolinas merits a brief discussion, particularly the evangelist G.B. Cashwell's revival meetings around the Dunn, NC, area in the early 1900's.  The Ohio group, the Christian Baptist Churches of God, is a result of a Keswick/Higher Life influence on the Free Will and Regular Baptists in the state, and thus it is non-Pentecostal but still unique enough to warrant attention in this study.  

A.  Free Will Baptists - A Brief History

The Free Will Baptists begin their history in 16th-century England with a group of Protestant Separatists who formed a congregation at Gainsbourough-on-Trent in 1606.  In 1610, a group led by Thomas Helwys separated from the Gainsborough group when John Smyth led a portion of that congregation into union with Dutch Mennonites around 1615 or so.   These became what was known as "General Baptists," as opposed to the Calvinistic Particular Baptists, and they were called "General" because they were Arminian in doctrine (Alfred W. Wardin, Baptist Atlas {Nashville: Broadman, 1980} pp. 6-7).  General Baptists soon consisted of several groups, including the General Six-Principle Baptists, who in 1652 formed their first American congregations.  The important aspect of this study, however, comes with the settlement of one General Baptist preacher, Paul Palmer, in 1727 in the Chowan Precinct of North Carolina.

Palmer is generally credited with being the "father of the Free Will Baptist Church" in North Carolina, and his contribution to that heritage can still be seen today among many Free Will Baptist denominations in the region.  In the early 1800's, many of the General Baptist congregations owing their heritage to Palmer were often dubbed by their detractors with the name "Free Willers," and in 1828 they took the name for their own, calling themselves from that point "Free Will Baptists" (Michael Pelt, "Original Free Will Baptist History," accessed from‎, page 2).  They found a fertile area for growth in eastern North Carolina, which is still a Free Will Baptist stronghold even today, and in time a number of fellowships of these Free Will Baptists would evolve.   In the early 1900's, a move to unify the growing national Free Will Baptist constituency resulted in the creation of what today is known as the National Association of Free Will Baptists, headquartered currently in Nashville.  However, many of the older North Carolina churches were opposed to much of this centralization, and wanted to keep things less structured, which resulted in the formation in 1913 of the Original Free Will Baptist Convention, which formally split from the National Association in 1961 ( - accessed 8/26/2013).  Although not formally organized until 1961, the Original Free Will Baptists did have an influence, and it is from them that many of the Pentecostal groups would actually form later.

Little Creek Free Will Baptist Church, Ayden, NC - the oldest existing Free Will Baptist congregation in the state, established 1756 (photo courtesy of Mount Olive College)
The evolution of the Pentecostal groups from the Original Free Will Convention is largely contingent upon the formation of three North Carolina conferences - Cape Fear (1855), New River, and Wilmington.  The Cape Fear Conference, upon further research, started out as Original Free Will Baptist until they parted ways in 1912 after adopting Holiness/Pentecostal belief when they reorganized as the Cape Fear Conference of the Free Will Baptist Holiness Churches.  These three, along with a group of South Carolina Free Will Baptists who similarly adopted Pentecostalism, became the nucleus of what evolved into the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church, which was formally organized in 1959 (Gary M. Bailey, "A History of the Division Between the Original Free Will Baptists and Pentecostal Free Will Baptists" {non-published, 1992} p. 4-6).   However, the South Carolina Conference eventually bowed out of that merger, and exists today as a separate denomination, the Free Will Baptist Conference of Pentecostal Faith, which we will be talking more in detail about later.  

The Stony Run Church in Dunn, NC, where the Cape Fear Original Free Will Baptist Conference was organized in 1855 (it is now part of the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church)

A this point we now turn attention to developments in Ohio.  According to researched sources, the first Free Will Baptist Church in Ohio was called the Old Kyger Church, and it was founded in the year 1805 in Cheshire, OH.  Ohio, much like the Carolinas, was impacted greatly by religious diversity, and Free Will Baptists found fertile ground for growth in particular in the southeastern region of the state.  The area around Scioto County is particularly of interest to this study, as it was here that our focal church movement, the Christian Baptist Churches of God, evolved from the Scioto Yearly Meeting of Free Will Baptists, which was organized largely through the efforts of Rev. Rufus Cheney (1780-1869) (Loveless, McComas, and Hayes, Great Is Thy Faithfulness - Over 200 Years of Ohio Free Will Baptist History, 1805-2009 {Reynoldsburg, OH: Ohio State Association of Free Will Baptists, 2009} pp. 7-8).  Thus, the Free Will Baptist history of Ohio as relates to this study.

Rev. Rufus Cheney (1780-1869), pioneer Free Will Baptist minister in southeastern Ohio
Now that we have briefly examined the Free Will Baptist story, let us now proceed to the second aspect of the heritage of many of these groups, which is the Pentecostal movement.
The Holiness/Pentecostal Movement in North Carolina
North Carolina has always had a diverse religious landscape, ranging from Free Will Baptists in the eastern part of the state to German-speaking Moravians in the foothills of the Smokies in the West.   The impact of the Awakenings and other religious revivals made the area a prime location for the establishment of a new movement that blossomed in far-off California at the beginning of the 20th century called Pentecostalism.   Pentecostalism in the Carolinas has two parts - one is in the East, which was more Holiness/Wesleyan in background, and the other was in the West, from where the Church of God tradition evolved.  It is the eastern Holiness/Wesleyan aspect of Carolina Pentecostalism that impacts the events covered in this study, and without spending a lot of detail on it, I want to visit the highlights.
The Holiness movement was very influential in the Carolinas among Methodists in the mid-1800's due to the frontier-like revivalistic sympathies many people had.  The Free Will Baptists, also numerous in the same area, shared the Arminian sentiments of their Methodist neighbors, and likewise became influenced by Holiness spirituality.   The Azuza Street movement in 1906 that spawned Pentecostalism had as its hallmark an evangelical emphasis that drew people from all over, and one of the people who attended the meetings in Los Angeles was a young Methodist minister from South Carolina by the name of Gaston Barnabus Cashwell (1862-1916).  Cashwell was a protege of A.B. Crumpler, who was the de-facto founder of what would become the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and he influenced Cashwell to join his group sometime around 1903.  In 1906, when reports of the Azuza Street meetings reached the Carolinas, Cashwell had a desire to go and experience this for himself, and this happened in 1906.  Upon his return, Cashwell used his evangelistic gift to preach Pentecost at a series of meetings in Dunn, NC, and as a result the Pentecostal Holiness Church, Fire-Baptized Holiness Church (two early Holiness Wesleyan groups) and the Cape Fear Conference of the Original Free Will Baptists (later evolving into the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church) entered the Pentecostal movement officially (H.Vinson Synan, "Cashwell, Gaston Barnabas," in Burgess and Van Der Maas, The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements {Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002}p. 457).  And, from there, we see Pentecostal Free Will Baptists emerging in the Carolinas.
Gaston Barnabas Cashwell (1862-1916), apostle of Pentecost to the Carolinas
With that, we now have a sufficient background from which we can start dealing with specific groups in our study.
Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Groups in the Carolinas
We will now be exploring the smaller groups that chose not to affiliate with the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church upon its formal incorporation in 1959.   There are primarily four groups we wish to examine - the General Conference of the Evangelical Baptist Church, the Free Will Baptist Conference of Pentecostal Faith, the Trent River Freewill Holiness Association, and a group of independent congregations called "Free Will Baptist Holiness Churches."  
1.  The General Conference of the Evangelical Baptist Church, Inc.
Although having definite Free Will Baptist roots, this body seems to have developed somewhat independently of its sister churches, although it did embrace Pentecostalism at around the same time.  The Evangelical Baptist Church is largely the endeavor of a Free Will Baptist minister who embraced Pentecostalism by the name of William Howard Carter.  Carter, who began preaching at the age of 13, organized the Church of the Full Gospel in 1935, which later became known by its present name.  A man who by all accounts possessed great intellect and organizational ability, Dr. Carter was the founder of a college as well as greatly influential in civic affairs.  The center of the new church was around its headquarters in Goldsboro, NC, and for many years it maintained a small but vibrant presence.  In the late 1990's however, it almost ceased to exist until a new group of ministers revived it and relocated its headquarters to Tucson, AZ, where it also operates Arizona Bible College and Seminary.  Very little information is currently available on this group, although it still exists but seems to be still getting its bearings (Discipline of the the General Conference of the Evangelical Baptist Church {Tuscon, AZ: Executive Office, GCEBC, 2009} p. 9-10).
Dr. William Howard Carter, founder of the General Conference of the Evangelical Baptist Church in 1935.
Arizona Bible College and Seminary, Tucson, AZ.
2.  Free Will Baptist Conference of Pentecostal Faith
When the Cape Fear Conference of Original Free Will Baptists in North Carolina embraced the Pentecostal message in 1912, they were in fellowship with a conference in South Carolina that had similar convictions.  Its origins were in 1913, when a group of Free Will Baptists at a brush arbor meeting accepted the Pentecostal message after hearing the preaching of an evangelist named J.C. Pope who was with the Cape Fear conference after it had become Pentecostal.  This occurred near the town of Turbeville, SC, and the result was the formation of the Olive Grove Church which grew from a house meeting conducted by Pope and a Rev. Mills at the home of a Mr. A. M. Dennis.  the South Carolina conference was chartered in 1926, and it remained in fellowship with the North Carolina conferences until 1959, when it chose not to participate in the formation of the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church.  So, in 1961 the South Carolina Conference became the Free Will Baptist Conference of Pentecostal Faith.
In doctrine and practice, the FWBCPF is much more conservative and consistent with its Holiness roots than the PFWB is, as the latter is more these days like the Assemblies of God and has shed much of its more conservative Holiness traits.  the FWBCPF is still headquartered in South Carolina, and has under its fellowship roughly 20-some churches, all in South Carolina.  Although small, it still appears to be a vibrant group.  They do have a website at, but you may find it difficult to link to the information on the page as it hasn't been updated in a while.
headquarters of the Free Will Baptist Conference of Pentecostal Faith, Turbeville, SC.
3.  The Trent River Freewill Holiness Association
This third group is more unique still as its origins are different and although many of its tenets and constituency have Free Will Baptist roots, it doesn't identify specifically with the Free Will Baptists, although it does have good fellowship with the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church and similar groups.   It took a lot of years and a lot of effort to get information on this group, but thankfully they do have a web presence now, which aids in research tremendously!
The origins of the Trent River Association go back to 1946 and the evangelistic efforts of a bi-vocational revival minister by the name of Ruben Jones.   Jones was a tent-revival evangelist in the tradition of Oral Roberts, H. Richard Hall, and others who were his contemporaries at the time, and although I can't substantiate it concretely, it is likely that he had Free Will Baptist ties.  Jones' ministry was centered around the small community of Clinton, NC, and his efforts birthed a number of churches in the area that, beginning in 1946 until former charter in 1949, would become the Freewill Holiness Association.  The Association website also reports that Jones' ministry was noted for a number of signs and wonders, including miraculous healings, and he had a radio ministry in the area as well.  
Rev. Ruben Jones (d. 1996), revival evangelist and founder of the Trent River Freewill Holiness Association

Currently, the Trent River Association is headquartered in the town of Herring, NC, where it has had its offices since 1970.  It still has a campground near Clinton, and at present by my count it has 33 churches throughout North Carolina (mostly in the Eastern part of the state) in fellowship with it.  The current overseer is Ruben Jones' granddaughter, Dr. Teresa Ammons.  In practice, although the Association has the name "Holiness," it doesn't adhere to strict Holiness codes nor require them from its members, as many of its churches are essentially mainstream conservative Pentecostal congregations.  However, it still has a fascinating history, and most of the details of that can be found at their Association webpage - - from which a lot of the material was gleaned for this article.  

Dr. Teresa Ammons, current General Overseer of the Trent River Association
Current headquarters of the Trent River Freewill Holiness Association, Herring, NC.
It is also a sidenote to mention that during the course of my research, there is another group of Freewill Holiness Churches in North Carolina called the Bible Freewill Holiness Conference.  They are listed as being headquartered near Red Springs, NC, but no information seems to be available on them at present.  However, perhaps further research will uncover more about that conference to share at a later date.
4.  Unaffilliated Free Will Baptist Holiness Churches
In the course of my research on these bodies, I have come across a significant number of congregations in the Carolinas containing the name "Free Will Baptist Holiness Church," and this sparked some interest.  At present, there are at least 20 such churches I have come across, and there seems to be different origins for each.  One group, headquartered around Anderson, SC, I was able to make contact with after discovering them on a Lexis/Nexis search a couple of years back.  This group consists of a single congregation under the name "Free Will Baptist Holiness Church," and it was incorporated on November 17,1926.  I was able to talk with the current elder, Rev. Vaudry Tucker Jr., and what he shared with me was that this congregation was founded by his father Vaudry Sr. as a Free Will Baptist Church with Pentecostal doctrine.  A stipulation was made in Vaudry Sr's will to keep the name, and today the church still exists.  It does not appear to have any connection with the Cashwell Dunn revivals in 1907 that birthed the Pentecostal Free Will Baptists and related groups however.
A similar group, incorporated in 1960 under the same name, also exists in Kinston, NC.  This group appears to have been organized by a minister named William Hamm, but other than that there is little information on them.  
A third group of churches bearing this name seems to be clustered around the cities of Gastonia and Charlotte, and they are apparently African-American congregations judging by the use of "Saint" in their church names.  This would actually be feasible, as there have been African-American Free Will Baptists for about 200 years (they have a denomination, the United American Free Will Baptist Association, headquartered in Kinston, NC), and many of those no doubt were impacted as well by the Dunn revivals of Cashwell, as he often held interracial meetings.  Therefore, it is almost certain that Pentecostal Free Will Baptist congregations among African-Americans existed, although for the time they would have been segregated, and my theory is that this is where these churches come in.  Although a lot of these congregations are listed on various internet databases, the problem is that they are almost impossible to contact to obtain further information.  Hopefully, with further research in the future I can have better success.  
The Apostle Freewill Baptist Holiness Church in Columbia, SC
Faith Chapel Freewill Baptist Holiness Church, Gastonia, NC
Freewill Baptist Holiness Chapel, Jonesville, NC

Mt. Calvary Freewill Baptist Holiness Church
New Mills Chapel Freewill Baptist Holiness Church, Gastonia, NC
Shiloh Freewill Baptist Holiness Church, Georgetown, SC
True Light Freewill Baptist Holiness Church, Easley, SC
Christian Baptist Churches of God in Ohio
The Carolina groups so far have all been identifiably Pentecostal, but in Ohio something else took place that produced a non-Pentecostal Holiness Free Will Baptist body which attracted my interest several years back.   The Ohio Valley Association of Christian Baptist Churches of God came into being sometime around the year 1931.  As mentioned, in southeastern Ohio, Free Will Baptists as well as Wesleyan/Holiness groups found fertile ground, and especially around the Scioto County area.  The Christian Baptists, however, were of mixed heritage due to the fact they resulted from a merger of elements of both Regular and Free Will Baptists.  The Free Will Baptist part of the story has already been discussed, so now I want to spend a little bit talking about the other parent group of this body, the Enterprise Association of Regular Baptists.
The Enterprise Association is an outgrowth of something unique to Appalachia, a non-missionary Calvinistic movement called Old-Time Baptists.  These Old-Time Baptists, as Howard Dorgan explains in his book Giving Glory to God in Appalachia (Knoxville:  University of Tennessee Press, 1987) are largely a result of a dispute over missionary activities among Baptists back in the 1820's, and the Regulars (as well as their more conservative brethren in KY, the Old Regulars) are a product of that along with the Primitive Baptists.   However, the Regulars were never as strict as the Primitives and Old Regulars, and the Enterprise Association in particular conducted much "correspondence" (meaning inter-fellowship cooperation, sharing pulpits, etc.) with the local Free Will Baptists.  It dates back to 1894 when it was organized in Kentucky, and today it has 56 churches in affilliation.  Over the years, it has also maintained fairly good relations with the Scioto Yearly Meeting of Free Will Baptists, which has a number of congregations in its same territory (, accessed 8/26/2013).  
In time, members of both groups began to desire a more formal union amongst themselves, and thus their efforts produced a new denomination.
The Marion Enterprise Regular Baptist Church, a constituent member of the Enterprise Association
In 1931, at the North Moreland Church in Portsmouth, OH, a group of ministers from both the Scioto Yearly and Enterprise Regular Associations met, and it was at this meeting that the Ohio Valley Association of Christian Baptist Churches was formed.  As of today, there are approximately 35 congregations associated with the Ohio Valley Association, which maintains its headquarters in the town of Wheelersburg, OH, where it also maintains a campground where it conducts an annual campmeeting.   The Ohio Association maintains excellent relationships still with its parent bodies(Calvin Ray Evans, a noted Free Will Baptist evangelist, is a popular speaker at their campmeetings, and a Christian Baptist minister, Rev. Brian Baer, serves on Evans' Boar of Directors), as well as with other conservative Evangelical Christians.  It is still a fairly conservative denomination, and has been influenced greatly by the Keswick movement (it denies, however, being in any way Wesleyan), which is why on many occasions it is classified as a Holiness group although this has been a subject of debate.   There is also a portion of its membership which embraces Pentecostal/charismatic convictions, and the Christian Baptists are noted for having emotional, warm services in which the raising of hands and the use of shaped-note gospel singing is utilized.  And, they do believe in divine healing, as they lay hands on the sick.  

The North Moreland Christian Baptist Church in Portsmouth, OH, where the Ohio Association was organized in 1931.
The headquarters of the Ohio Valley Association of Christian Baptist Churches, Wheelersburg, OH.
In summary, it is safe to say that Free Will Baptists have a heritage of receptivity to spiritual renewal, as all these groups forementioned can testify.  No doubt that fervent prayer and strong devotion to the faith has kept all these churches alive for decades, and they will have secure futures provided they stay faithful to their heritage.
This little history lesson introduced many of you to some fellowships and denominations that you may not have even imagined to have existed, but here they are!  One of the reasons I have always loved church history is the rich testimonies groups like this produce, and there is an exciting aspect to researching them.  Many of them, however, are woefully unaware of that themselves, and until recently some have ignored the importance of their own history altogether.   That fact has made my task a bit more daunting, but not impossible.  As I continue to share with you some other groups in later sections of this study, hopefully I will instill an appreciation of those little churches that no one thinks about - the most insignificant looking things can contain the richest bounty.  God bless you until next time.
I wish to acknowledge several people who aided in this endeavor, as without their efforts I could not have gotten much of this information.  First, many thanks to Mr. Gary Barefoot, who is an archivist at Mount Olive College, for providing a lot of valuable information on early North Carolina Free Will Baptist history.  I also want to express appreciation to the late Goldie Taylor, a retired missionary with the Christian Baptists who was my initial contact with them.   I also want to thank Rev. Wayne Parker for his assistance with providing information on the Trent River Freewill Holiness Association.  Finally, for all the groups, including the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church, for sending me copies of their directories, histories, disciplines, etc.   God bless each and all of them for their invaluable assistance with this project.