The Mother Church of Christian Churches
Disciples of Christ in Georgia
Mrs. B.O. Miller
by Nelle Price Epps
the early years of the nineteenth Century, the religious condition or
the people of Georgia, as of other states was deplorable. There was
great confusion and unrest-Sectarianism was rampant, and on account
of it, discussion as to the “Creed” or that “Articles
of Faith”, or that “Form of Government” ran high,
and even minor points of belief, and non-essential doctrines were so
bitterly and hotly contested and to cause serious division in the various
churches. More time and effort were expended in trying to prove the
orthodoxy of one’s own views and the heterodoxy of everyone else’s,
than in trying to save souls.
Every church considered all doctrine contrary to that to which it promulgated
as hearsay: and there was enmity and strife and bitterness between the
followers of the lowly Christ.
The spirit and love dwelt not among the denomination of those early
This horrid state of affairs grew worse and worse; each sect grew more
narrow in its views and requirements. When suddenly a strange spirit
seemed abroad in the land-a peculiar coincidence occurred, almost simultaneously
a great thought, born in the brain of a number of good men, widely separated
over the country-which made it less difficult in later years to come
in the Reformation as taught by Alexander Campbell.
The various denominations were permitted to use their “Meetinghouse”
for they were not a selfish people, and so all the sects in the community
worshiped together-but each little band held to its own peculiar views
These people had never even so much as heard of Alexander Campbell and
his teachings, but must have in some way come under the teaching of
Barton W. Stone, for they , for they were sometimes called “Bible
Christians,” and sometimes “Stonites.”
Camp meetings were held at “Old Republican” in those days
and even as late as 1833. Memorable among them was that one held in
1832, at which time Rev. Arthur Dupree immersed a large number of converts,
among whom was Mr. Nathan W. Smith, who was afterwards to take such
an important part in the greatest religious movement of the age.
Among those who preached from time to time at “Old Republican”
and who were called “Bible Christian Preachers” were Jacob
Calahan, James Byce, Zechariah Holloway, Willis Nauls, Archibald Standifer,
Coleman Pendleton, Nathaniel Pridgeon (who was very eccentric and performed
the very original feat of preaching his own funeral), Dr. Adam Clements,
William Anderson, Thomas Doster, Thomas J. McGaughey, Wm. McGaughey,
Arthur Dupree, Col. John H. Lowe, Dr. W. Elder, Edmund T. Elder, Isaac
Parker, Joshua Parker, Nathan W. Smith, and perhaps others.
In 1833 Elder Thacker V. Griffin came from Tennessee to visit relatives
living near “Old Republican” and during his extended visit
he often preached at the little church. He was perhaps the first preacher
in Georgia to urge the return of Christian to Apostolic practice and
to teach the principles of the Restoration. He met with great opposition,
but it is quite interesting to know that he sowed good seed that soon
ripened in fruitage, for in 1834, Mr. W. T. Lowe was immersed for remission
of sins by Rev. William Pendleton, in Old Rose Creek, near the Old Republican
Church. This was the first record in Georgia of a baptism for remission
of sins (except perhaps that of Shelton C. Dunning and Christian Dasher,
who baptized each other).
Mr. Lowe has for many long years since then preached for that church,
and has buried many souls with Christ in baptism, to arise and walk
in newness of life. In the summer of 1900 he celebrated his Golden Wedding.
He is now 90 years old and still has a clear mind and faithful memory.
(The author is indebted to Mr. Lowe for many facts upon which this sketch
In April, 1835, Elder Wm. R. Shehane of Tennessee, came to Georgia and
visited churches of his circuit, for there were circuits and conferences
somewhat after the order of the Methodists, and in 1836 he returned
to teach school and preach.
Up to this time there was no division in the congregation at Old Republican.
Some held with the disciples, others held on to their old sectarian
views, but all continued to worship together in the little church in
the woods built by the O’Kelleyites.
Mr. Callahan, one of the old preachers continued to preach in his turn,
and opposed the Restoration with all his might and power, without co-operation
or even knowledge of each other. It was in answer to a great yearning
in the hearts of Christians for light and truth and unity that the Holy
Spirit inspired them with the only plan upon which these may be secured-A
Restoration of the primitive Gospel alone, as a “rule of Faith
and Practice and Discipline.”
There can never be a reconciliation of man-made creeds. They are dramatically
opposed to each other-and no other basis than God’s Word alone,
and under no other name than that of Christ can his followers hope for
union. That was all that required in the days of Peter and Paul! Why
should we demand more than this, in the Nineteenth Century?
The American Revolution not only broke down political sovereignty, but
also aroused the spirit of religious liberty and much dissatisfaction
arose among the sects on account of iron clad rules and severe exactions
concerning the faith and practice of each denomination. Many discussions
were held concerning the conferences of the Methodist Church and James
O’Kelley and several other preachers in Virginia and North Carolina
plead for a different system. This created great agitation and opposition,
and on Christmas Day 1793, James O’Kelley and a number of followers
seceded from the Methodists at a place called Mannakin Town, North Carolina.
They took the name of “Republican Methodists” and resolved
to acknowledge no head over the church but Christ-No Creed but the Bible.
These people were called “OKelleyites,” probably through
derision. The name clung to them for a good many years, but is now extinct.
Early in the century many families moved from North Carolina to the
new counties of Georgia, induced, perhaps by glowing accounts of rich
lands, gold and silver mines, and fine climate, for truly no more equable
or healthful climate can be found than that of Middle Georgia, or it
may be that the distribution of “Land grants” had much to
do with this immigration.
Among those colonists were a number of “O’Kelleyites”
who were located in what was then the southern part of Clarke County,
but which now constitutes Oconee County. Very soon they built a little
church near Scull Shoals (noted as the location of a terrible Indian
massacre”,) about 16 miles from Athens and about nine miles from
Watkinsville. It is claimed that this church was built as early as 1807,
though the exact date is not certainly known. It is however, authentically
stated that the congregation was re-organized under the name of “Bible
Christians” in 1822.
The O’Kelleyites called the church “Old Republican.”
These people were reaching out for first principles, but were yet “babes”
in Christ, and were groping for the full light of the Gospel to lead
them to salvation and righteous living The light which was so obscured
by the clouds of sectarian teachings.
They so truly desired to return to Apostolic practice that they very
earnestly studied the Bible and were led by their research to drop some
of their former methods. For instance, they abandoned the Christening
of infants. Mr. D. W. Elder said, “They drew away from all human
creeds and planted themselves on the Bible alone, but they did not go
far enough to reach Jerusalem.” It was in the right direction
until 1842, he had a difficulty with a brother preacher
And they were “tried” at Old Republican.
The church decided against Mr. Callahan and withdrew from him. This
caused a separation (which had to come about sooner or later) for his
friends withdrew with him, leaving the main body of the congregation
in possession of Old Republican and they stood for the Restoration.
Nathan W. Smith, who had come into the church in 1832 under the old
administration and who had at first opposed the teachings of the Disciples,
soon became convinced that he was in error, and gladly turned to the
Bible alone as his “rule of faith and practice.” Having
been ordained to preach, he was chosen for the regular pastor at the
“Old Republican.” Much bad feeling existed, for several
years after the division in the church, but it gradually died away and
the little band of Disciples increased in numbers and prosperity.
Rev. Nathan Smith thoroughly re-organized the church and not approving
the name “Old Republican,” he induced the congregation to
change it to “Antioch” – because “The Disciples
were called Christians first in Antioch”-and this being the first
church of Christ established in Georgia, this name seemed fittingly
adapted to it. Mr. Nathan W. Smith was zealous in his efforts to advance
the cause of Christ and also to obtain the best teaching for himself.
About this time the Rev. James Shannon, then president of Bacon College,
Ky., visited his wife’s relation in Athens, Ga. He had formerly
been a great preacher in the Baptist Church in Georgia, and a professor
at the State University, but having read much of Alexander Campbell’s
teachings, he eagerly drank from that fountain of truth and wisdom,
and opened his good heart and broad mind to his grand but simple plea;
the union of God’s people and their return to Primitive Christianity.
When Mr. Smith heard of his presence in his vicinity, he urged him to
visit the Antioch Church and assist him in a meeting. Mr. Shannon consented
to do this and preached the doctrines of Restoration as taught by Alexander
Campbell, “He told the story as was told to him” and tradition
says that he came near converting the whole story.
But by that time the church in Augusta was established and Mr. Smith
was aided by Dr. Daniel Hook and Mr. S. J. Pinkerton from that city,
also at different times by Evangelists Eichbaum and Trott from Tennessee,
E A. Smith from Kentucky, and Shelton Dunning from Savannah. Much prejudice
was removed, and the church took a giant step in the right direction,
in that they recognized and accepted the “Great Commission”
and (in 1843) sent their beloved pastor out as Evangelist to preach
the gospel to other eager ones, and to teach them also the simple biblical
plan of Salvation. They supported Mr. Smith as an Evangelist for three
years, at the same time sustaining the work in the home church. Under
their auspices he established many of the early churches of Georgia.
Thus “Antioch” won for herself the proud distinction of
being called the “Mother Church” of the Disciples in Georgia.
Out of her grew “Mount Vernon” in Walton County, “Old
Union” in Oconee County, “Bethany”, (now Bogart) in
Jackson County, and perhaps many others years ago, to Texas, in which
there were several preachers, who founded a number of churches in that
state, so that the old church has reached out into “The Regions
Beyond”, and who shall show the limit of her influence.
At different times, as the years passed on, Antioch had the benefit
of preaching by Dr. Hook, James Shannon, S. C. Dunning, John Moore,
C.K. Marshall, S. J. Pinkerton, Phillip F. and James S. Lamar, Dr. A.G.
Thomas, and others of those noble pioneer preachers, who gave their
money, their lives, their all, for advancement of Christ’s Kingdom
During the Confederate War there was a regular preaching at Antioch,
once, sometimes regular twice a month. Mr. Phillip F. Lamar and Mr.
W.T. Lowe did the preaching, with Mr. C.K. Marshall to assist them at
the annual meetings. There were many additions and the cause prospered.
In 1873, J.T. Hawkins, of Kentucky came to Georgia and preached for
Antioch and other churches with fine success. He was succeeded by the
much beloved T.M. Foster.
There are still living two venerable men who preached and labored for
this old church in her early days (1904) Dr. M. B. Doster of Winder
age 81, and Wm. T. Lowe, age 86., Very dear and sacred to the hearts
of those two octogenarians is old Antioch-the church of their young
manhood, within whose walls met their Savior and learned to walk in
newness of life; from her they buried their sacred dead, who lie in
quiet burying ground within her shadow and to her will they cling with
strongest affection and loyalty, until with strongest affection and
loyalty, until called to their reward in the “Great Beyond.”
God has recently called a third one of these grand old pioneers home
and Dr. W. Elder-“Uncle Doc”, as so many loved to call him-has
crossed over the river and entered into rest. He was a faithful and
devoted Christian and was prominent among the pioneer leaders in the
Northeast Georgia District. He preached and taught the scriptures throughout
all that part of the state. It was through his efforts that Midway Church
was established., This church has merged into the church at Maxeys,
which is prosperous and thriving. Other preachers who have served the
congregation at Antioch are J.A. Perdue, J.M. Ratliffe, S. S. Landrum,
L.D. Ridgeway, D.R. Pickens, J.H. Wood, and several other young Georgia
The church building has been twice renewed. The first edifice was erected
in 1807, the second in 1820. The third and present one was built about
19 years ago (1886) and stands on the identical spot that was occupied
by “Old Republican” almost 100 years ago.
Antioch is a substantial frame building, 60 feet by 30 feet in dimension,
ceiled, well ventilated and comfortable. It is beautifully situated
among the trees near the bans of Old Rose Creek. The membership numbers
about 500, mostly farmers and their families.
“Antioch” was the first Christian Church in Georgia, and
still ranks first in membership and strength in all Northeast Georgia
Districts. At her annual meetings she still reaps rich harvest of souls
and thus she continues to renew her youth, and florisheth as a green
to Church Records