The meeting house at Powelton is shown in this aged photo
By Charles Jones
The Georgia Baptist Convention recently passed a major milestone, the 199th anniversary of its organization in June 1822. The 12 men who gathered at the Powelton Meeting House were a diverse lot having been born in 5 different states, England, and Ireland. Yet they were united in their desire to see Georgia Baptists work together to support the work of the kingdom of God with other Baptists across the state, nation, and the world.
There are two things from that first gathering which have either been overlooked or forgotten that speak to Georgia Baptists today as the bicentennial anniversary approaches. First the impact of the Second Great Awakening on its organization and secondly the Biblical mandate adopted by the body for the Georgia Baptist Convention.
The organizational messengers were not the only ones who had gathered in Powelton at the time of the organizational convention. The reason was reflected in an easily overlooked statement in the minutes which recorded two men were appointed to “organize the preaching.” The gathering in Powelton took place during the midst of the Second Great Awakening. An important feature of the Awakening was the phenomenon of the “Camp Meeting.”
As the organizational body met in the meeting house, breaks were taken during the day. A “preaching stand” would have been erected on the grounds to accommodate the larger crowds who typically would have overflowed the meeting house. Most early Conventions and Associational meetings during this era included a camp meeting. In fact, the greatest revival in Georgia “broke out” in 1827 at a camp meeting held in conjunction with an associational meeting in Morgan County.
As the messengers organized and debated how to better work together inside the meeting house, they worked together outside the building at the camp meeting: proclaiming the gospel to the lost, admonishing back-slidden believers and delivering exhortations to build up the saints. The organization of the GBC took place in the context of this powerful spiritual movement of the Second Great Awakening. It could not happen without God moving to unite and empower them to work together. Furthermore, its stands as a poignant reminder that the ongoing work cannot be sustained without the powerful working of the Spirit of God today.
A second forgotten legacy of this meeting was the adoption of a Biblical purpose for the organization of the GBC. Certainly, there were logistical reasons for Baptist to organize. The modern Baptist mission’s movement in America was less than ten years old. Baptists were (and still are) working out how to work together to support “benevolent ministries,” a term they used to encompassed newly organized home and foreign missions, higher education, tract, Bible, and publication societies.
The Great Commission is a Biblical mandate and while implied it was not the stated text chosen. The question Georgia Baptists were trying to answer was how to work together to accomplish the Great Commission. It is still the question Georgia Baptists are working on today.
The minutes recorded the Biblical mandate found in Hebrews 10:25, “and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (AKJV) Typically, the word “provoke” has a negative connation today especially when compared to 1822 or when the King James version was translated two centuries earlier. One contemporary version states we are to “stir up one another to love and good works.” Another states “encourage.” Either way it should be understood as a deliberate action (“considered”) taken to bring out the best in others. As Christians, as Baptists, as Georgia Baptists the goal should still be to provoke/stir up/bring out/encourage to bring out the best in one another to build the kingdom of God.
In a world that cannot seem to get along, Christians should be setting the example of getting along, even when we do not agree with each other! We should be known for bringing out the best in one another. Furthermore, the scripture says provoke to “love.” Not anger, wrath, jealousy, or strife. Love best describes the highest motive for serving God, His church and each other. Jesus said the world will know you are my disciples by your love for one another and no greater love has any man than to lay down his life for a friend.
Finally, the goal is to produce “good works” or what they referred to in 1822 as “benevolence.” Today that is missions, education and other ministries that support the advancement of the kingdom. Any organization, church, educational institution, or ministry if not careful can become an end-in-its-self. The goal is not the work accomplished, it becomes the survival of the institution or ministry. . . self-preservation is not a Biblical mandate . . . working together to accomplish the Great Commission is.
The 1822 organizational meeting at Powelton had the goal of Baptists working together, considering how to hold each other accountable in love, to support missions, education and other ministries which fulfil the Great Commission. As Georgia Baptists look forward to celebrating its bicentennial in 2022, we would do well to reconsider again, how to “provoke one another to love and good works.”