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Baptists, Methodists drive Antioch mission

Jim Gilliam (left) pastors the Methodist congregation associated with Antioch Community Church located in the small community of Antioch in Beebe, and Scott Johnson pastors the Southern Baptist congregation associated with the church. The churches meet together each Sunday.

Caleb Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

BEEBE – The relationship that most Southern Baptists have with other protestant Christian denominations is much like the relationship most Americans have with Canada and Mexico.

While the United States share borders with Canada and Mexico, its citizens often know very little about their neighbors to the north and south.

For more than 100 years, however, Antioch Community Church, Beebe, has blurred denominational borders.

The name “Antioch Community Church” is both deceptive and descriptive because Antioch is really two churches, one Southern Baptist and one United Methodist, which in many ways, function together as one body.

Today the church is home to both a Methodist congregation and a Baptist congregation. The two congregations, each autonomous, share ownership of the church’s facilities, meet together on Sunday mornings and partner together in many aspects of their ministry. 

While each congregation has separate membership and holds to separate denominational convictions, the two bodies have become incredibly close cousins over the years and could not imagine their church lives any other way.

While the church records are sparse due to tornadoes and fires that destroyed its buildings over the years, a church member named Helen Harrison compiled a brief history of Antioch Community Church in 1967.

According to Harrison, trustees from Searcy Presbyterian Church purchased a 9.13-acre property in the Antioch community, located about five miles outside of Beebe, in 1877, for $45. The first church built on the property owned by the Presbyterians was a log building, which resided on the current location of Antioch Community Church’s old cemetery.

In 1881, according to White County Courthouse records, William Gwinn, who sold Searcy Presbyterian Church its lot in 1877, sold another 1-acre plot in Antioch to the “Deacons of Missionary Baptist Church and Church of Christ” for $5. 

The property was bought to build a “Union Church,” or a church with multiple affiliations, and was sold with conditions that “Baptists (are to) to have 1st and 2nd Lord’s day in each month with Saturday before. The Church of Christ (are to) to have 3rd and 4th Lord’s day in each month with Saturday before.”

The first recorded mention of a Methodist church located in the community was in 1901, according to Harrison. It was a Free Methodist church known as Mt. Zion and eventually disbanded.

Antioch’s first community church building was destroyed by fire in 1927. According to Harrison, it “was a two-story structure with a somewhat mixed ownership.” 

Constructed in the 1880s on the first one acre of the 9.13-acre plot deeded to the Missionary Baptist and Church of Christ churches, and later claimed by the Presbyterians, it was started by the Presbyterians and Church of Christ churches who were later joined by the Missionary Baptists and a local chapter of Freemasons who helped complete the building’s second story, which was used as a Masonic Lodge.

In 1902, the Missionary Baptists split from the church and built a church about half of a mile away. According to Harrison, their building was damaged by a tornado, but services continued to be held there until 1926.

At some point, the Church of Christ congregation of Antioch Community Church disbanded, and following the exodus of the Missionary Baptists, the Presbyterians were left as the church’s only denomination.

During the time period when the church was exclusively Presbyterian, Methodists in the community had been attending the church but did not share in the ownership of the church’s property. In 1920, the trustees of the Methodist congregation gave $100 for the Church of Christ’s  one-third of the church deed and became partial legal owners of the church building and its 1-acre property.

When the original church building at Antioch burned in 1927, members of the church’s affiliate bodies and the Antioch community gave $4,500, a large sum for a church building fund in a rural community in Arkansas at that time, to build a new “community church.”

The Baptist church built in 1902 and damaged by a tornado was sold, and the money was added to the building fund.

Jim Gilliam (left), Methodist pastor at Antioch Community Church, and Scott Johnson, the church’s Baptist pastor, sit on a pew in the church’s sanctuary, where they share the same pulpit. Photo by Caleb Yarbrough

“A community church with three distinct denominations was erected in the fall of 1927. Dedication services were set for April 29, 1928, but were postponed because of the smallpox epidemic,” wrote Harrison.

“For 20 years all worked together in harmonious, united Christian effort in one of the most attractive rural churches of that time – then the church was destroyed by fire again,” she wrote.

According to a story that ran in the Beebe News on March 10, 1949, the Antioch Community Church burned once again on March 5 of that year. The following day members met at Antioch’s school and held services. During that service, “approximately $2,500.00 were  (sic) given toward the rebuilding of the structure,” according to the newspaper report.

A new stone building was soon constructed on the same sight on which the last building had sat for more than 20 years. According to Harrison’s history of the church penned in 1967, “Forty years after the consolidation, the three denominations still work loyally together.”

Antioch Baptist Church, the Baptist congregation of Antioch Community Church, originally joined the Caroline Baptist Association between 1873 and 1875. However, no known records give the original location of Antioch Baptist Church prior to 1881 when the original log church was built in cooperation with the Church of Christ and Presbyterian churches with which Antioch Baptist Church partnered.

Antioch Baptist joined the White County Baptist Association in 1948. White County Baptist Association later changed its name to Calvary Baptist Association in 1961 following a merger of the White County and Woodruff County Baptist Associations.

Common themes throughout the history of Antioch Community Church are cooperation and distinction. During most of the church’s history, it has been home to two or three separate denominations; however, it has focused on maintaining a strong foundation of rapport in fellowship and local ministry as well as a mutual understanding among its congregations in regards to their specific theological convictions.

Since 1974, when the Presbyterian body associated with the church disbanded, Antioch’s Sunday preaching has maintained a rotation in which the Baptist church’s pastor preaches on the first and third Sundays of each month and the Methodist church’s pastor preaches on the second and fourth Sundays. Separate offerings are taken each Sunday and correspond with the denomination of the preacher that day, unless otherwise specified.

The current pastors serving at Antioch Community Church are Scott Johnson, the Baptist pastor, and Jim Gilliam, the Methodist pastor. Johnson’s father, Verl Johnson, served as pastor of Antioch Baptist Church for 17 years, beginning in 1956.

In an interview with the Arkansas Baptist News, Scott Johnson acknowledged that many people find the idea of having multiple denominations sharing the same church building and cooperating together in many aspects of ministry to be odd or confusing – chiefly due to the fact that one of the major reasons multiple denominations exist is because of differing theology.

“We are two separate churches. … I’m Baptist. I believe in who we are as Baptists and what we believe. It doesn’t mean I can’t work with the Methodists, but I can’t go along with some of their doctrines,” said Johnson.

According to Johnson, the two churches do not encounter many instances when theological differences become issues, as both he and Gilliam are conservative and above all else preach the good news of Jesus Christ for salvation.

One area where the two churches do differ, however, is the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Johnson is a strong proponent of closed communion, whereas Gilliam believes in open communion.

“When they have it, we don’t stay. … Most of the Baptists don’t stay because the Methodists believe everybody is invited,” said Johnson. “I believe in closed communion, which means I believe it was given to the local church. … It happens after our worship service, and we take it in our fellowship hall.”

Another common theological difference between Baptists and Methodists has to do with baptism. Baptists baptize with immersion, and some Methodists sprinkle water on the head of the person being baptized. Gilliam, however, practices baptism by immersion.

“The Methodist Church has a very broad theological tent. I represent the extremely conservative, evangelical wing of that church. We have a group that we call the ‘good news movement,’ which believes the Bible is inerrant, it is totally inspired, yes Jesus was born of a virgin and the whole bit,” said Gilliam. “There are those within the church that are on the left wing of the tent, and we do not agree with them at all theologically. We are much closer to the conservative evangelicals that the Southern Baptists represent and such. But we do not say, ‘You are not Methodist anymore.’”

“The first issue that comes to mind is homosexuality,” said Gilliam. “Our (Methodist) Book of Discipline … very plainly says that the practice of homosexuality is not compatible with Scripture,” said Gilliam. “It is not an issue to me because to me the teachings of Scripture are so plain, Why would we have to argue about this?”

While Antioch’s Baptist and Methodist churches are independent and hold different theological convictions, Johnson said they are able to partner together because each church believes the most important duty of their congregations is to reach the world with the gospel of Christ.

“When it comes to a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ and how they are saved, there is no disagreement. It is strictly by faith in the Lord Jesus,” said Johnson.

The Baptist and Methodist churches of Antioch Community Church are financially autonomous. Each church owns 50 percent of the church building and surrounding property.

“We have our own budget, we have our own treasurer, we have our own finances and, on the Sundays I preach, the offering goes to the Baptist church. Unless we know that the individual that is giving is a member of the Methodist church, then we will turn it over to them. And they do us vice versa,” said Johnson.

“Some people say, ‘How does it work?’” said Johnson. “You have got to remember back in the early 1900s and up into the 1950s, this road out here was gravel, all the way to Antioch. Most of the people living out there were born and raised out there. There were a lot of families out there, and a lot of them are still there. I can understand that back in those days, to come into Beebe for worship, as a Baptist, would be difficult.”

While the two churches separate their finances, communion and membership, they come together for fellowship suppers, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, student ministry and in raising money for local missions and ministry in the local Antioch and greater Beebe communities.

Though Johnson and Gilliam alternate preaching duties each Sunday, both pastors attend services and serve as a worship assistant when they are not preaching and visit ill members of both churches at home or in the hospital.

According to Gilliam, many who attend services each Sunday hold membership in one of the churches but consider both he and Johnson to be their pastors.

“We work together in the care of the congregation,” said Gilliam. “Even though we have two churches, everybody is here each Sunday. It doesn’t matter if it is the Baptist Sunday or the Methodist Sunday. They are all here.”

“There is a genuine love among the brethren. We have a good fellowship with others. Again, we do not separate out. When we have activities, the youth work together. Don’t get me wrong – I do have my board and Scott has his deacons. We do function individually,” said Gilliam. “However, when we have ice cream socials, we are all together; when we have chili suppers or pie suppers or spaghetti suppers, we are all together. And there is a genuine bond, a very loving church, a very friendly church, and I rejoice in that.”

Scott Johnson (left), Baptist pastor at Antioch Community Church, and Jim Gilliam, the church’s Methodist pastor. Photo by Caleb Yarbrough

“We all serve the same Lord. We have the same Guidebook, and we serve the same Lord,” said Gilliam. 

“I don’t know anything about Nazarenes or Assemblies or whatever, but I do know Southern Baptists because I serve in a church that is also Southern Baptist,” said Gilliam. 

“I want you to understand I have enormous respect for the Baptist church, for its continued conservative stance and for its absolute statement that you must be born again. You will never hear me contradict any of those things in any sermon I will ever preach,” he said. “Scott (Johnson) told me one time when I preached the Easter sermon at First Methodist in Beebe that I might be called Methodist but that I was Baptist on the inside.”

“When I gather my sweet corn,  I take it to all of them,” joked Gilliam.

Contact Caleb Yarbrough at caleb@arkansasbaptist.org.

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