.F. [WILL] BRYANT JR. struggled about what to do. He knew the heartache of being turned out of the church of his birth, and thus had come to distrust “organized” Christianity. Yet, his friend and mentor, R. G. Spurling, encouraged him to establish a church in the North Carolina community of Camp Creek.
Bryant later reported, “Brother Spurling kept coming to me and saying ‘Let’s set a church in order.’ I didn’t much want to. I said, ‘Look at the Baptists and Methodists. All they have is confusion.'”
Will Bryant had been a faithful member of the Liberty Baptist Church, but, like many others, he struggled with ongoing sin. Then, in spring 1896, he experienced the transformation of sanctification at a revival in the community’s Shearer Schoolhouse. For the next six years, Bryant did his best to provide informal leadership to a small band of holiness believers experiencing the pains of persecution as religious and community leaders attempted to stamp out this “new” doctrine. Beginning in 1899, the Liberty Baptist Church excluded Bryant and 24 others, while the nearby Pleasant Hill Baptist Church disfellowshipped 15 holiness believers. Despite homes being burned, their meeting house destroyed, and incidents of shootings and beatings, Bryant exhorted and encouraged the persecuted flock. Yet, over time, the harvest of the 1896 revival seemed to be almost lost.
Will’s friend, R. G. Spurling, had also experienced the pain of exclusion. When he resisted Baptist exclusivism in that part of the country, the Pleasant Hill Church demanded his credentials. After much prayer and study and with the assistance of his father, Richard, he established the Christian Union at Barney Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee, in 1886. He knew the value of church government, so he strongly encouraged Bryant to establish a congregation in Camp Creek. Bryant later remembered that Spurling kept saying, “Let’s set a church in order. We need it.”
Along with his painful experience with Liberty Baptist Church, Bryant was hearing the voice of another respected friend who opposed the idea of organizing a church. A J. Tomlinson was a Quaker living a few miles away in Culberson, North Carolina. Tomlinson had explored many religious organizations and found them lacking. When Bryant shared with Tomlinson that he was considering the organization of a church, Tomlinson discouraged the idea.
“I’m afraid of it,” Tomlinson told Bryant. “Be careful of this church business. It is dangerous.”
In time, Bryant prayerfully heeded the voice of R. G. Spurling. On May 15, 1902, a small group gathered in Bryant’s mountain home where Spurling and another ordained minister, R. Frank Porter, organized a local church. Sixteen took the right hand of fellowship. They called Spurling to be their pastor, and they ordained Will Bryant as a minister.
Because of their sanctification experience, they took the name “Holiness Church at Camp Creek.”
Since Pastor Spurling lived four miles away in Turtletown, Tennessee, Bryant took care of much of the regular ministry of the new congregation, including Sunday school and prayer meetings. They worshiped in a brush arbor in warm months and in Bryant’s home during cold weather. Just over a year later, Tomlinson saw the wisdom of their action, joined the congregation, and became their pastor.
When Tomlinson relocated to Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1906, the Bryants and other leading members of the church followed him. With their move, the congregation in Camp Creek ceased to exist, but they soon established a newer and stronger church, known today as the North Cleveland Church of God. The Holiness Church at Camp Creek had born good fruit.
David G. Roebuck, Ph.D., is the Church of God historian and director of the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center in Cleveland, Tennessee.
From May, 2016