Struggles of Religion in Pioneer Texas
In 1836, living in Texas was tough. Those who immigrated from the United States, gave up the expectation of existing churches and schools. Fighting Indians and scratching the dust to plant crops were the priorities of every settler. Unfortunately, the children missed having close friends, and opportunities to simply have fun.
Just having a wedding or a baptism, was quite a task. Any marriage ceremony that occurred without a Catholic priest was considered illegal. And there were not enough priests to accommodate the settlers. When a priest did arrive, he would often charge $2 for a baptism, and $25 for a wedding, or $650 in today's currency. Occasionally, a priest would accept a healthy donkey instead of cash.
Due to those exorbitant fees and conflicting theology, many of the Protestant settlers crafted a private “marriage-bond.” Witnesses would attest to the agreement and thereby add some validity to the couple' s commitment. Then, when a passing Protestant preacher came near, the couple would ask him to formalize the marriage.
When word came that a parson was holding meetings in the area, many settlers saw this as an opportunity to renew their faith and to fellowship with others. The denomination of the preacher was not as important as simply hearing good Gospel preaching. In addition to the Good News, the itinerant preacher brought the gossip from across the territory. There was no radio or newspaper, so whatever information the settlers could glean from the preacher was welcome.
Such gatherings were usually called “brush arbor” meetings (see picture above). These serial outdoor services would last about three days and finish on Sunday. Individual meetings could last for hours and included a picnic-style dinner on the ground. Besides weather issues, Indians were frequently on the prowl. So, both the preacher and the congregation were always armed and ready.
After the Battle of San Jacinto, the embryonic Republic of Texas became even wilder. Law and order was ignored and moral corruption prevailed. Due to work opportunities at the sawmills, the brickyard, and a new racetrack for horses, many furloughed army veterans and scoundrels migrated to Washington-on-the-Brazos. The rebuilt town became an epicenter for gambling, prostitution, and saloons. Whenever people tried to have church services, they were often greeted by hecklers making catcalls and tossing live chickens into the congregation!
But a Spirit-filled revival broke out in 1840 under the preaching of R.E. B. Baylor, founder of Baylor University. Many of the citizens of the town were converted to Christ, and 40 were baptized in the Brazos River. The revival overflowed into the surrounding area, and churches replaced some of the houses of ill repute. The Presence of God made a difference!
The young Republic of Texas was finding that “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” (Proverbs 29:18 NLT). Isn’t it time that our country has another revival?