A Brief History of the South Carolina Baptist Fellowship
The information to follow is gleaned from the first papers printed through the ministry of Dr. John R. Waters, who at one time designated himself as “devil disturber” as he exposed modernism in every form wherever it appeared. John R. Waters and family arrived in Laurens County in 1952. A vacant church was rented on Augusta Street in the Wattsville area of Laurens in October of 1952 and called the “Gospel Tabernacle.” The church was incorporated under the State with 13 charter members reported in the January 1953 issue of “The Gospel Tabernacle.” The name was reported in the Bible Trumpet as changed to “Faith Baptist Church” in the February Issue of 1953. The first papers printed were called the Gospel Tabernacle and later changed to the Bible Trumpet in February of 1953. It is from these early papers that we will piece together the birth of the South Carolina Baptist Fellowship. John Waters, having seen the modernism in Furman University first hand as a student in 1944, began to champion the cause of “Independent,” “Fundamental” Baptists immediately upon his arrival in Laurens County. He kept up with every modernistic advance and exposed it ruthlessly in his papers. As he did so, he began visiting fellowships of other churches mostly in other states, especially North Carolina. It was in Rocky Mt. North Carolina that a legal case caught his attention. The case was, in effect, the Southern Baptist Convention vs. Rev. Samuel Johnston (actually case is Reid [trustee of the church] vs. Johnston) who withdrew support on 9 August 1953 of North Rocky Mount Baptist Church, later the Independent Missionary Baptist Church from the SBC and was being sued for the 1/4 million dollar church property. This case was a focal point of the “major split” John Waters predicted would come to the SBC. In the February ’54 issue, he reported that the judge ruled against the pastor and his church proving his premise that the SBC churches were not independent as alleged. He also became associated with the independent movement of Piedmont Bible College, staffed by SBC pastors but not under the convention control. Allied to this school was the Southern Baptist Premillennial Fellowship which featured Dr. Bob Ketcham, a true “come-outer.” (Nov. 1953 Trumpet) In the issue of the December ‘53 Trumpet, we quote the following because of its pertinence to our own fellowship. Article: GREAT TABERNACLE BAPTIST NOT IN SBC “In answer to our inquiry, Bro. Sightler, pastor of the church, replied: “No, Tabernacle Baptist Church is not a member of the Greenville Association; neither have we formally applied. Harold B. Sightler” Praise the Lord for this great preacher and this great church with 700 members and the greatest Sunday evening congregation in South Carolina. Bro. Sightler also has a daily Gospel broadcast over 11 radio stations. We predict and pray that a mighty movement of the Spirit of God will use this man as a great leader for fundamentalism in this state! Pray hard.” Also at this time, John Waters became associated with another independent preacher of Shelby, NC, Norman G. (Grady) Lemons who was running around 300 in attendance. It was in this area, later that a fellowship of independent Baptists began to meet. Also a fellowship was formed in Alta Vista, Virginia 2 with 24 preachers attending on January 7 and 8, 1954. Quote from the February 1954 Trumpet: “In the summer, a mass meeting is being planned in North Carolina. It is my understanding that another independent Baptist Fellowship with offices in Springfield, Missouri which represents 400 independent Baptist churches will be represented. The independents are on the march!” As we can see, the Independent Baptist fellowships were forming in many parts of the country during this time.
The next article of August 1954 needs quoting in its entirety for in it we find the suggestion of a state fellowship in SC. FELLOWSHIP MEETING SURPASSES ALL OTHERS IN BLESSINGS & SUCCESS “Preachers came from all over to attend this old-fashioned Baptist Fellowship meeting in Shelby, NC at the Davidson Memorial Baptist Church, July 5-9. Music was furnished by the adjudged “best choir” in the country, and such preachers as B.B. Caldwell, Harold Sightler, and Homer Ritchie furnished the best preaching in the U.S. B.B. Caldwell has resigned his church to go into revival work, thus freeing himself from the sickening modernism of the SBC.
Harold Sightler is another spiritual giant whose church is independent, being rejected by the Greenville Ass’n because, as we suppose, his strong stand could not be digested by their ulcerous stomach. Homer Ritchie is God’s man for Fort Worth’s great 1st Church and Norris’ 10,000 hallelujahs are still resounding to God’s praise. The next Fellowship will be the 1st Thurs. and Fri. of Oct. in Roanoke, VA. (NEEDED: A state fellowship meeting for S.C.)” As far as written records are concerned, this date, August 1954 is the first mention of a SC Baptist Fellowship of independent Baptists. In the September, 1954 issue of “The Bible Trumpet” we find an announcement of the next fellowship meeting in Fort Worth at Homer Ritchie’s First Baptist Church on Sept. 1, 2 & 3. The same issue has this to say about interest in a state fellowship. “From Rev. Vendyl M. Jones of Greenville, S.C. comes this letter: “There are four or five preachers in the city of Greenville alone who would surely support this work along with several others who like yourself might be in favor of forming a fellowship.” In the October issue, we find an announcement for the next regional fellowship meeting to be held in Roanoke, VA at Fellowship Baptist Church with Pastor Eugene Arnold. Also in this issue is there is a report of Oliver Green’s, (an Independent Baptist) tent revival in Baltimore, Maryland with over 6000 packing out the tent. He was a member of Hampton Avenue Baptist Church (now Hampton Park) of Greenville, S. C. with C.L. Norman as pastor who organized it in 1940 after meeting for two years in the Gospel Tabernacle of J. Harold Smith. (In viewing this information, the church in Laurens first named “The Gospel Tabernacle” might have taken its name from “The Gospel Tabernacle” of J. Harold Smith.) Also, as reported by Dr. James Sightler, it was C.L. Norman who took his dad, Dr. Harold Sightler under his wing tutoring and encouraging him. Our roots seem to run back to the Oliver Green tent revivals and the ministry of C.L. Norman and J. Harold Smith.
And finally, the issue of November, 1954, we find this article:
STATE FELLOWSHIP MEETING BEGUN IN SO. CAR. ON OCTOBER 26th “The place of the meeting was the Ottaray Hotel in Greenville. Rev. Vendyl M. Jones moderated the meeting, and we were glad to meet some more independent men in that area. This is a free and voluntary fellowship with no machineism, no big “I’s” nor little “you’s”, with only the desire to fellowship together. Any preacher, whether in the convention or out, can come; but the character is and shall remain “independent” of modernism and ecclesiastical hierarchies. The next meeting will be Nov. 29th, ten a.m., same place. You preachers spread the word around, and bring a preacher friend with you. Of course, the machine slaves and compromiser will not come because they are like scared rabbits with the Gospel hound after them. “The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth,” and he also make himself scarce because he is not willing to bear the reproach of the Cross before the world. But, the courageous will be there! In the next issue, December 1954, we find this report: ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENT PREACHERS’ MEETING “Nov. 29 was the date, and the place was the Ottaray Hotel in Greenville. Eleven preachers were present: Gene Wood, Evangelist, B. L. Queen, Shelby, Mark Senter, Greenville, Smith Sheriff, Greenwood, C. L. Campbell, Spartanburg, Bob Brooks, Landrum, C. L. Norman, Greenville, N. G. Lemmons, Shelby, Vendyl Jones, Greenville, Dr. Lee, professor of Greek of Bob Jones, and J. R. Waters, Laurens. C.L. Norman has been elected Moderator, and Vendyl Jones, Sec’y. The next meeting will be at the Hampton Ave. Baptist Church, Monday, Dec. 27th, 4:00 p.m. An evening preaching service will be at 7:30. The place is the city of Greenville, and we anticipate another happy fellowship. We thank the Lord that the number is increasing, and that some definite action was taken in protesting the dancing in the public schools.”
In the next issue, January, 1955, we find the name of the fellowship, “Carolina Independent Baptist Fellowship.” The next meeting was scheduled for Southside Baptist Church with pastor Mark Senter on January 31st . May this historical record challenge this generation of Independent Baptists to stay in the fight? The modernism of the SBC has increased, not decreased. Modernism may sprout as different weeds, but it is still the enemy of Bible-believing historical free and independent Baptists. We must not shirk our duty and privilege to take the fight against modernism’s many forms into the public arena for the cause of Christ.
Submitted to the South Carolina Baptist Fellowship by, Daniel G. Waters 10/18/13