Pleasant Hill Primitive Baptist Church rich in history

January 30, 2013 

  • Pleasant Hill Primitive Baptist Church

    Address: 600 Pleasant Hill Road
    Phone: 923-5025
    Leadership: Elder Gary James, pastor
    Worship: 10:30 a.m. Sunday

WARNER ROBINS -- Folks at Pleasant Hill Primitive Baptist Church still find square, antique nails in the ground that were used to build their current building in the late 1950s.

Or maybe the nails are from the previous building that burned in the ’50s creating the need for the new one. Or possibly, they’re nails from the original building built 168 years ago from timber off the land itself when the church was formed in 1845.

Pleasant Hill Primitive Baptist is commonly regarded as the first church in Warner Robins, or as it was known then, Wellston.

“The church was constituted on this piece of property in February of 1845 and has existed continuously with no period of dormancy,” said Gary James, who has served as the church’s pastor and preacher for 20 years. “There have been three buildings through the years, and while the third was being built after the fire in the 1950s, the church met on Watson Boulevard in the City Hall building.”

James said the church’s first pastor, Stephen Castello, also served as the third pastor and is now buried in a small, old cemetery off Watson Boulevard in the midst of property owned by the Walker family.

Pleasant Hill Primitive Baptist has its own cemetery on its 7-acre tract with marked graves going back to the early 1900s. Presumably, other graves date back into the 1800s. James said there are no descendants of original members still attending the small church. He said there are documents that date back to the group’s beginning.

James said his own recollections of the church go back to when he and his family moved to Warner Robins in 1965 along with an influx of others coming to Robins Air Force Base after a base closed in Mobile, Ala.

“I can remember the very first time I came on this property,” he said. “They were finishing up the restrooms on the front of the building. It was in August of 1965. Dennis H. Jones was pastor and pastored from about 1973 to 1993. I’ve been pastoring since 1993, so that means these folks must have some pretty thick skin.”

James said the fact he was called to preach is a humbling act of grace.

“When I was a kid, I cringed when I’d wake up and realized it was Sunday, I just did not want to go to church,” he said. “I knew I had to, I felt an obligation. Even when I was 18 and living on my own after my parents moved back to Mobile, I kept coming with no one making me, and there was almost a feeling of fear that I’ve never tried to verbalize before. I knew I would feel bad if I didn’t go.”

But feelings changed by the time James was 32 and finally joined the church for himself and was baptized.

“I just wouldn’t act on my convictions until then,” he said. “Something kept me back. I finally joined for myself in 1988. I was ordained in 1993 and began pastoring when Brother Dennis left.”

James, 56, said he pastors part time and works full time at the Blue Bird Body Co. in Fort Valley. He said Primitive Baptists have much in common with other Christian and Baptist groups.

“There’s a lot of commonality, and we can fellowship with our Christian brethren in a lot of things,” he said. “There’s a tendency to talk in the negative how we differ, but I try to tell how we’re similar. We believe in the triune God: father, son and Holy Spirit. We believe Jesus is the Son of God, and the Bible is God’s literal, inspired word. We believe in the resurrection. We’re not a cult or exclusive. We keep things plain and simple.”

However, James did say there are differences. Among them are that Primitive Baptists do not believe in Sunday schools but believe in age-integrate worship; they do not believe in formal training for ministers; they exclusively use the King James Bible; they believe only in congregational a cappella worship without instruments or entertainment; the local group has no other ministries beside the Sunday service; and they commonly practice foot washing, though it’s not a church ordinance along with the Lord’s Supper and baptism.

Primitive Baptist also do not believe in mission boards, an issue at the heart of their split with other Baptists in the 1800s, which points to their main contention: election and predestination. Primitive Baptists hold that people cannot be “saved” by ministers but that the predestined elect, or chosen, are saved by Christ alone without the work of man.

“The big difference as far as doctrine goes is our belief in salvation by the grace of God period,” James said. “It’s not by works. It’s not our faith. It’s not us accepting Jesus. It’s God’s doing and quickening. People say, ‘I got saved last night.’ Well I say you’re 2,000 years too late to get saved. Jesus did it for the elect 2,000 years ago. It takes away the free will-ism that’s promoted by Baptists generally. That’s where we differ. We don’t believe in free moral agency. If you were chosen by God you will be saved no matter what. If you weren’t, you won’t. It’s all God’s doing.”

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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