Pioneer Texas Preachers
Over the last few weeks, my blog has been dedicated to stories about Texas in the Nineteenth Century, and how God impacted history. While the Thirteen Colonies were being founded on the East Coast, Texas was the wild and unexplored West. When the explorers came from Europe and the United States, they saw a great opportunity to share the Good News of Christ. In 1538, Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto sailed from Spain with the assignment to conqueror the new world West of the Mississippi. He hoped to fulfill the evil intentions of the Spanish Empire to dominate native Americans. While we cannot support most of his cruel mission, at least there were priests that came with him with the desire to evangelize the new country. Though de Soto died before reaching Texas, his men did make it past the area now known as San Angelo.
After de Soto, a series of Spanish and French friars and priests roamed Texas building missions, and converting native Americans to the Catholic faith. In 1817, protestant ministers started to preach and build churches in Texas. The first known Methodist minister in Texas was William Stevenson, a circuit-riding preacher. An official Texas historical marker on Interstate 30 outside of Mount Vernon, Texas, reads: “The Rev. Stevenson (Oct. 1768-March 5, 1837), a Missourian, friend of Stephen F. Austin, preached in 1815 at Pecan Point on the Red River, North of here. Records indicate that his were the first Protestant sermons ever given in Texas, then a part of Catholic ‘New Spain.’ Many settlers also entered Texas through Red River County.”
Baptist minister Joseph Bays preached in many localities throughout Texas. In 1820, he was arrested near San Felipe for violating Mexican law which stated that only the Roman Catholic church was legal. Word of his arrest upset many Protestants, and was one more stepping stone which would eventually lead to the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico. In fact, Baptist minister Thomas J. Pilgrim arrived in Texas in 1828, and went directly to San Felipe to start the first English-speaking Protestant Sunday School. He fearlessly stood for Christ in the face of spiritual and physical attacks. Eventually, he started Sunday Schools in other places including Gonzales.
Other influential ministers in early Texas included Sumner Bacon (Presbyterian), Thomas Harks (Baptist), John Wurts Cloud (Episcopal), and Melton Estill (Cumberland Presbyterian). Established in 1835 in Nacogdoches, the Old North Baptist Church is Texas oldest functioning Protestant church. Eventually, a typical Texas town would have a general store, a livery stable and blacksmith shop, a hotel, one saloon, a newspaper, a Catholic church and a Protestant church. Welcome to Texas!
Following the Civil War, Pentecostal preachers began to filter into Texas. In 1879, followers of W. Jethro Walthal migrated to East Texas from Arkansas, and revivals began to erupt in various small towns. As a young teenager, Hugh Cadwalder was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1905, and became a mighty voice in the Assemblies of God. In 1906, there was a powerful revival in Orchard, Texas, with similar meetings in Houston with Charles F. Parham, Howard A. Goss, and W. J. Seymour. Parham reported that by 1905, in Texas alone, over 25,000 people had embraced the Pentecostal faith teachings! Incidentally, Seymour was instrumental in the nationally known 1906 revival at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, California.
Texas has had a wonderful foundation of powerful preaching. Even today, Texas has been called the Brass Buckle of the Bible Belt. Pastors, Teachers, Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists are found throughout the State. International religious organizations base out of Texas with powerful radio and television ministries. A land that was once dead to the things of God, has become alive with the Message of Christ. May each of us commit to do our part of sharing the Good News until the Day of Christ’s Return!
Romans 1:16 NLT - "For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes--the Jew first and also the Gentile."