Disowned as Baptists: Conflict Between Two Early Alabama Baptist Associations

By Dustin Bruce

Baptists are no strangers to soteriological disputes. And while generally Baptist groups have found ways to overcome their differences and cooperate for the sake of evangelism and missions, there are cases where Baptist churches and associations have drawn the line and considered another group outside the bounds of cooperation and fellowship. One example of this occurred near Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the 1830’s and 40’s, when differences arose among churches that would form the Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association and the North River United Baptist Association.

The genesis of the controversy can be traced back to 1832, when pastor David Andrews was narrowly removed from Bethel Church in Tuscaloosa for espousing what many considered “Arminian views.” Andrews, along with a number of members of the congregation, broke off to form a new church, which shortly merged with Salem Baptist Church, also in Tuscaloosa. By 1835, Andrews had convinced enough area churches of his theology, that they were able to form the North River United Baptist Association.

The Tuscaloosa Baptist Association, conceived only a year earlier, did not recognize the legitimacy of the North River Association. The Tuscaloosa Association, whose Abstract of Principles was decidedly of the Strict Baptist persuasion, found the soteriological beliefs of the North River Association, as presented in their Articles of Faith, far too dismissive of God’s sovereignty in salvation. As a result, the Tuscaloosa Association refused to recognize the North River Association as Baptists, because they did not first consider them orthodox.

A number of neighboring Baptist associations attempted to intervene, including the Chickasaw Association from neighboring Mississippi. In response to an inquiry from the Chickasaw Association, the Tuscaloosa Association responded in a letter indicating no difficulty has ever existed between the Tuscaloosa Association and the North River Association, since the events causing the separation occurred before the formation of the Tuscaloosa Association itself. Lest you think such a statement constitutes the acceptance and approval of the North River Association, the letter states that upon organizing, the Tuscaloosa Association reviewed the actions undertaken by the churches involved in the schism, concluding the churches they had accepted into their membership were justified “in the course they had taken, and of condemning the others as disorderly, and as guilty of gross Heterodoxy.”[1] The Tuscaloosa Association felt the Chickasaw Association would be sure they were “fully justified in disowning them (North River) as Baptists” after seeing the minutes of the North River Association for themselves.[2]

In 1848, another nearby association, the Columbia Baptist Association, attempted to intervene. A meeting was organized at Pleasant Grove Baptist in Fayette, Alabama the following year. This time, the well-known Baptist leader and president of the University of Alabama, Basil Manly Sr., would preach a message aimed at reconciliation. Choosing Philippians 2:12-13 as his text, the Baptist statesman preached a moving and compelling sermon entitled “Divine Efficiency Consistent with Human Activity.” In the sermon, Manly gave a majestic defense of the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human free will in salvation. The sermon was a smashing success. Amazingly, the North River Association incorporated Manly’s theology into a new Abstract of Principles. In response, the Tuscaloosa Association began to associate with them as Baptist brethren, ending a nearly 16-year controversy.

[1]Foster, History of Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association 1834-1934, 39.

[2]Foster, History of Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association 1834-1934, 39.


Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a PhD in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.