The newly installed pastor of the Union Grove Baptist Church has kicked a longstanding member out of his church. The 103-year-old Genora Hamm Biggs joined the church at the tender age of 11 and has remained a member for 92 years. Biggs and the current pastor, Reverend Tim Mattox, are at odds over the church’s denominational background. According to Biggs, Mattox was hired as a Baptist minister but, in fact, is a Holiness preacher. The church has always been Baptist and the elderly member wants it to stay that way.
Biggs is a retired elementary school teacher and Mattox is a former student of her first-grade class. He, Deacon Glen Jackson and at least nine others signed the letter revoking the former teacher’s membership. The letter explained that Biggs was not to attend the church for any reason whatsoever, but she intends to keep going. Upon receipt of the correspondence the 103-year-old former member explained:
I was unhappy and shocked, I joined the church when I was 11 years old. He is a holy sanctified minister or so he says. We voted him in and we did not know it until he was there. We are Baptists and that is what we want to stay.
This issue would not be a deal breaker if Christians followed the same practices and held the exact beliefs, however, that is not how it is. From the beginning of the Christian movement, differing opinions have existed on various matters such as the meaning of baptism, the way of salvation and nature of the church. Denominations exist and are often grounded in a person’s system of belief. Although, in recent years many non-denominational churches have been established across the globe, those who are rooted along the guidelines of a certain denomination are typically difficult to sway otherwise.
When speaking of differing sects of Christianity it is important to note that there is a difference between a denomination and religious organization. The first describes a set of practices and beliefs held in common by a group, while the latter is just an expression of it. For example, the Union Grove Baptist Church is an organization under the Baptist denomination. Denominations simply develop organizations to help fulfill its particular beliefs and values.
The name “Baptist” has come to mean different things to many people, and as such can sometimes cause confusion. As with any other church denomination, the name above the door may not be as important as what is taught within, however, for grounded Baptists such as Biggs, it is very important. She like many others subscribe to the old pulpit cliché about Baptist identity, which states:
I was Baptist born and Baptist bred. And when I die, I’ll be Baptist dead.
Also excommunicated from the church was Eliott Dye, Biggs’ grandson and a member for 30 years, as well as Minister Kevin Hamm. The minister said he made attempts to discuss the letter with Mattox but was told he could not come to the church at all. Hamm admittedly was upset by the letter but was more angered that Biggs was banned. He stated:
To disrespect a pillar and a mother of the church; how can we sit back and watch something like this go forward?
Biggs has been described by those who know her as an outspoken, but a kind-hearted woman who had been a very committed leader in the church and well-revered person in the town. Due to the unrest of this issue, other longtime members of the church have left, but reportedly new members have also joined the church as it continues in a season of change.
The letter from Union Grove which states, “Any membership or associations that you have had with this church are now officially revoked” still stings, according to Biggs. Despite the letter’s intention to ex-communicate the 103-year-old congregant, the long-time church mother still considers herself a member of the religious organization located at 680 Pulliam St, Elberton, GA. Is this more about church politics or a conflict in preaching style, practices, and beliefs?
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
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