Mount Freedom Baptist Church was constituted on September 14, 1832, just 49 years after the American War of Independence and 28 years before the Civil War. It began with 12 members and their first meeting place was east of Wilmore, in Jessamine County. They took upon themselves the name “The United Baptist Church of Christ at Mount Freedom.”
The founding members listed several doctrinal beliefs in their first church covenant. They affirmed
- “That the Scripture of the Old and New Testament are the infallible Word of God, and the only rule of faith and practice”
- “That there is but one only true God and in the Godhead or Divine essences there are Father, Son and Holy Ghost”
- “That by nature we are depraved, fallen creatures”
- “That salvation, regeneration, sanctification and justification are by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ”
- “That the saints will finally persevere through grace to glory”
- “That believer’s baptism by immersion is necessary to the receiving of the Lord’s Supper.”
- “That the salvation of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked will be eternal”
- “That it is our duty to be tender and affectionate to each other and study the happiness of the children of God in general and to be engaged singly to promote the honor of God”
After more than 180 years, the members of Mount Freedom still hold to the same core beliefs as the founding members. They believed in Scriptural authority, the Trinity, human depravity, complete salvation in Christ, perseverance of the saints, believer’s baptism, eternal salvation and eternal judgment, and the two great commandments, which are to love God and love your neighbor.
Soon after they began meeting, the church joined the Boone’s Creek Association. Brother Isaac Minter, a charter member, was called to exercise “His gift of prayer and exhortation” for the church, and was the first to preach to the body. John Rice was the first pastor called and the first to refuse the call. Isaac Minter was the first person to whom the church granted a letter of dismissal (February 1833) and Elizabeth Payne was the first member to be received by the church in April of 1833. Communion was observed in May of 1835, and the first pastor of the church, John Dean of Madison County, accepted his charge in May of 1833. The first deacon who was elected was Isaac Chrisman, ordained in August of 1833.
In its early years, the church had monthly business meetings on the fourth Saturday at 11:00. “Rules of Decorum” are listed regarding conduct in these meetings. The first reads, “The business of the church to be done first…Any free male member failing to attend shall be accountable to the church for such neglect.” Failing to come to the monthly business meeting was a matter for church discipline.
In 1837, the Boone Creek Association held a meeting at Mount Freedom. The subject of the meeting was foreign missions, and there was an effort to raise funds for the American Foreign Bible Society. According to the records of the next annual meeting, Mount Freedom was the only church in the association that gave anything for foreign missions.
The first 30 years were a time of growth, joy, trouble and change.
From 1832 to 1862, Mount Freedom had at least 15 pastors. Most served little more than a year. The first pastor to receive a salary was Elder Mason Owens. He was called as pastor in 1841 and was given $150 a year. Pastor Owens was also the longest tenured pastor of Mount Freedom’s early years, staying from 1841 to 1846.
Several notable events took place during Brother Owens’ pastorate:
In May of 1842, there was a revival held by Pastor Owens and Elder Thomas Fisher, about which it was recorded that “there was added to the church by experience and baptism, fifty white and twenty-eight black members.” Seventy-eight new believers were added during one series of revival meetings.
Other believers decided to join Mount Freedom during that revival. Among them was a 21-year-old man named James Robinson Graves.
J. R. Graves is undoubtedly the most famous member from the 19th century. In 2012, a new biography was published entitled, James Robinson Graves: Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity, written by James A. Patterson from Union University in Tennessee.
Graves was born in Chester, Vermont, and was raised and educated by his mother, due to his father’s death when Graves was just one month old.He moved to Jessamine County when he was 21 to serve as the instructor of a one-room schoolhouse. He was known for his rigorous personal study regimen as a young man. Outside of his schoolhouse, he would devote at least eight hours a day to studying. During this period, he also made it a practice to learn a new language each year.
After he joined Mount Freedom in 1842, the people thought he would be a good preacher, but he was shy and was not willing to preach. One Sunday, Pastor Owens asked Graves if he would read the Scripture before the sermon. While Graves was reading, the pastor told him that he suddenly felt ill and that Graves would have to preach. Flustered, Graves quickly found the longest hymn in the songbook and had the people sing while he considered what he would preach on. He chose his text from Genesis, “Adam, where art thou?”
The people were so pleased with his sermon that shortly thereafter they licensed him to preach at a meeting where he was not present. Later that year, he was reluctantly ordained. J. R. Graves stayed with Mount Freedom for several years before moving to Nashville, a booming metropolis of 8,000 people.
There he became the editor of the Tennessee Baptist. Through his writings for the Tennessee Baptist, Graves became a widely influential and controversial figure in Southern Baptist life. Indeed, Graves has been recognized as one of the most influential and controversial Southern Baptists of the 19th century.
He was the founder of a movement called Landmarkism, in which he tried to identify the boundaries or landmarks of the faith. He asked the question: how does one define or mark out what a true church is? What are the boundaries, the landmarks of the true faith?
A favorite anecdote about Graves is that he once published a six-part series onbeards during the Civil War in 1861-1862. He urged young ministers to let their beards “grow upon the glands.” He believed that men should proudly cultivate beards, and even blamed the Roman Catholic Church for the tiresome routine of shaving. He classified the razor as “a heathenish and barbarous tool,” and concluded, controversially, that the beard was “one of the distinguishing characteristics of the ruling sex.”
There was a second incident that occurred in Pastor Owens’ tenure at Mount Freedom. In 1846, a difficulty arose between Pastor Owens and Brother Campbell in that Brother Campbell said he had objections to Pastor Owens. The church called on Campbell to state them and he claimed that “Pastor Owens had a fiddle in his house and that he had heard him trying to play it.” The church dismissed the accusation but appointed a committee of four to try to reconcile Owens and Campbell. The difficulty was settled, but later that year when the time came to renew the pastor’s call to the church, he declined to accept another call to continue as their pastor.
This led into a time of conflict and division. The church tried to call another pastor but they could not agree on one. Charges and counter-charges started to be thrown around in the church and a schism occurred. There were two groups claiming to be the true Mount Freedom. The association declared the church to be in disorder and they called other churches from the association to gather at Mount Freedom on October 29 and 30, 1847, to try to determine who was the true church.
During this period of the church’s life, there was a great concern for upholding biblical standards among the members. Drunkenness, adultery, and unsound doctrine were all causes of suspension of membership until the guilty member stopped the offending action. More than 40 such cases of suspension were recorded before 1860.
In Mount Freedom’s long history, there have been many ups and downs, times of unity and ministry and times of division and conflict. Yet over the long 180 years of our existence, the Lord keeps bringing the membership back to its original beliefs and mission. There were times when we could pray with the psalmist, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” (119:10), and there are others when we have had to pray, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments” (119:176). Our history has shown the truth of hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” So we pray with the hymn, “Take my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”