By Quinn Lavespere, Message Summer Staff Writer
[img_assist|nid=6490|title=Established in 1835, First Baptist Church of Jackson recently celebrated its 175th anniversary|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=75|height=100]JACKSON – In the heart of the Felicianas nestles a church that recently celebrated with dinner on the grounds its Sunday morning worship, annual homecoming, the 149th anniversary of its sanctuary, and the 175th anniversary of the founding of the church in 1835.
Joe Nesom has been pastor for the last 27 years.
[img_assist|nid=6491|title=Joe Nesom has been pastor of First Baptist Jackson for the last 27 years.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]“First Baptist Jackson continues to have the same purpose as the church did in 1835,” Nesom said. “We are seeking the ‘glory of God and the good of souls,’ as the first covenant of the church stated.”
About 200 people participated in the June 27 celebration. In addition to worship and recognition of guests from near and far, note was made of the church’s history.
“Through the years First Baptist has supported the work of God’s Kingdom by prayer and by support of missions through agencies such as the Triennial Convention and through the Southern Baptist Convention since its establishment 10 years after First Jackson was started,” Nesom said. “Locally, First Baptist is committed to traditional biblical worship, including the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, the reading of Scripture, and an expository preaching ministry which is Christ-centered, calls sinners to salvation through faith in Christ alone, and confronts God’s people with the whole counsel of God and all its implications.
“We are increasingly aware of the rising anti-Christian mood of many in our nation, and of the need for the churches to seek purity of doctrine and holiness of life as a testimony to the lost world,” the pastor continued. “We are committed to the reformed faith of our Protestant forefathers, and to the Baptist doctrine of the ‘gathered’ church. The men and women who founded First Baptist Church of Jackson taught that saving faith is the gift of God, and is wrought in the hearts of sinners by the work of the Holy Spirit. They taught that God must save undeserving sinners, and God alone.”
Jackson is located about 30 miles due north of Baton Rouge, and 20 miles south of the Mississippi state line. It is almost on the borders of East and West Feliciana parishes.
Nesom smiled as he talked about the history of First Jackson, situated as it is in what once was known as “Plantation Country.” It’s a picturesque forested land of rolling hills, with 96 historic structures – including First Jackson.
“First Baptist Church was organized on June 27, 1835, by Elders Ezra Courtney, Charles Felder, and Jesse Young, along with 13 charter members, because they wanted a Baptist church that held to the historic Baptist doctrine of salvation,” Nesom said. First Jackson’s Articles of Faith was an abbreviated version of the Baptist Confession of 1689.
“They emphasized the total depravity of people, the unconditional election of the Father, the particular redemption of the Son, and the preservation and perseverance of the saints of God by the Holy Spirit as well as the authority of the Scriptures,” Nesom said.
Elder Courtney was described in an early history of Louisiana – House Upon a Rock – as a “vigorous and faithful Calvinist who knew the difference between authentic Christianity and all proposed substitutes.”
A doctrinal controversy had devastated an earlier congregation near Jackson, and First Jackson founders desired to establish a new “regular” Baptist church, the pastor explained.
Members were received by petitioning the church in a regular business meeting. If a person could make a convincing profession of faith in Christ he would, upon being baptized, become a member, Nesom said.
First Jackson was the first church founded that remains in what today is known as William Wallace Baptist Association. First Jackson met for worship in two other locations before the present-day place of worship was begun in the fall of 1860 and completed in the spring of 1861.
“Some of the sanctuary’s windows still contain some of the original material from when they were first created,” Nesom said. “There is also a creaky part of the floor near the pulpit that was once used as a baptistry built in, I believe, the 1880s.”
Nesom told several stories about the sanctuary and its features.
“During the War between the States, a lot of churches were donating their bells to the Confederacy because they were melting them down for metal,” the pastor said. “First Baptist Church voted to donate their bell to the Confederacy, but we have no record that the Confederates ever came and got the bell, and it’s quite apparent to us when looking at the old belfry structure that that’s the original bell. I think there were so many Yankees around that the Confederates felt that it wasn’t worth the effort.”
The bell is still ringable, the pastor said.
“There were Sabbaths during the War between the States when the church was unable to meet for services,” Nesom continued. “According to the church minutes, there was no meeting for worship on June 13, 1863, because of the fear that the ‘Yankees would take our horses and take every man a prisoner that looked young enough to be a soldier.’”
Nesom displayed some artifacts from a china cupboard located in a sitting room of the church. Among these artifacts were a platter used in the 1800s for The Lord’s Supper, and the original 1835 church minutes for the founding of First Baptist Church.
For all the numerous interesting facets of his church’s history, Nesom was most proud of how God has moved “at all kinds of times” in the history of First Baptist Church.
“Even during times such as the Civil War, God was moving,” the pastor said. “It’s just been a constant ingathering of people down through the years, through the preaching of the Gospel. We’ve had great revivals in our church’s history, but we pray for revival not so much in the local church but for a revival such as in the late 1700s and early 1800s, where the whole nation was affected.”
Today, about 200 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Jackson, where, Nesom said, he and the congregation are ultimately concerned with spreading God’s Word throughout Jackson and other places, while growing deeper in their relationship with God.
“We have a very, very loving fellowship among our members where people are just committed to praying for one another and worshipping the Lord,” Nesom said. “The number one thing I want people to know about our church is that we are as committed to preaching the gospel today as Ezra Courtney and the others were in 1835.”
First Jackson has aided in the start of “several churches,” the pastor said, and was responsible for the start of “an African Baptist church” in 1866, a congregation in Brazil in the middle of the 20th century, and Second Baptist Church in Jackson in 1958.