Origins of A.I.B.C.J

Jamaica was a British colony up the time of its independence in the early sixties.  The British wrested the island from Spain in 1655 and kept it under slave labour until 1834.  Baptist missionaries came from England from the early nineteenth century and began establishing churches and schools throughout the island.  They did outstanding work especially in being foremost in persuading the parliament of England to abolish slavery.  However, the early fervor did not continue.  By the opening to the twentieth century the Higher Criticism Movement began breathing its cold breath over Theological Colleges.  Spiritual life weakened in the churches, and as run down soil succumbs to the growth of weeds so a great build-up of cults took over.

It was in such climate that the Independent Baptist Movement was born.  Several men were used of God to pioneer this venture.  They were the Rev. G.W. Smith, Dr. J. W. Knight, Dr. A.L. McKenzie and Rev. S. I. Cummings. 

George Wilfred Smith came to Jamaica in October 1928 under the auspices of the Regular Baptist Missionary Board of Canada, and was a member of the Jarvis Street Baptist Church, Toronto, Canada.  As a result of a meeting in Toronto with the Rev. W.J. Mornan, who was then a Baptist pastor and Inspector of Schools in Jamaica living at Rock Cliffe, he became the pastor of two (2) Jamaica Baptist Union Churches, namely, the Nightingale Grove and the Hewitt’s View Baptist Churches in St. Elizabeth.  It was not long after his coming that the trend in the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU) toward modernism became evident to the young missionary-pastor.  He wrote home on April 10, 1929: “That accursed thing, Modernism, is raising its head in the denomination here…”

G.W. Smith soon made his presence felt at the JBU Ministers’ Conferences. He proposed that all ministers be required to sign a statement of faith, which was turned down as unnecessary.  He was dubbed ‘Heresy Hunter’.

After being with the JBU for about two (2) years, G.W. Smith withdrew from that body, because of the rejection of two of his motions – that certain professor be disciplined for his liberal views and that a certain pastor be disciplined for immorality.

This meant that the two churches had to make a decision whether to stay with the JBU or withdraw with their pastor.  They opted for the latter.  Thus began the Independent Baptist Movement in Jamaica between 1931 and 1932.  The first churches were, the Nightingale Grove Baptist Church and Hewitts’ View Baptist Church.

In 1932, G.W. Smith and his wife Dorothy returned to Canada where they had three sons: Roland Leonard, James Wilfred and Maurice Fred.  It was not until 1938 that they returned to Jamaica.  About this time certain events were taking place at the Mount Peto Baptist Church in Hanover where the Rev. S.I. Cummings was pastor.  The story of the conflict between the Mount Peto Baptist Church and the JBU is contained in the article “History of Independence Hall Baptist Church”, written by Sam Cummings.

The Independence Hall Baptist Church came into being as a result of an impasse between the JBU and the pastor of the Mount Peto Baptist Church.  The principles of the independent government of Baptist churches were the main cause of the impasse.  The JBU insisted it had the right to choose pastors and oversee the affairs of each local church; nevertheless the Mount Peto Baptist Church took the initiative to call a pastor who was not a member of the JBU, for this they were not forgiven.  The JBU finally declared itself head of this local church.

At a special meeting of the Mount Peto Baptist church on June 12, 1941, the members and officers passed a resolution to withdraw from the Union as of that date. 

The treasurer of the JBU became the pastor of the dissidents.  This made it so difficult for Pastor Cummings and his congregation to meet in the church that the police had to intervene.  In order to meet without molestation, the Pastor, along with the congregation, moved to another location and built the Independence Hall Baptist Church.

In 1929 another missionary family came; the Rev. John Knight and his wife Georgina.  They were also from the Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto, Canada.  Rev. Knight became pastor of Clarksonville circuit of the JBU.  It was in the middle of the 1940’s that churches in this circuit joined the growing band of Independent Baptists.

Around 1953 a firm stand was taken by the Buff Bay Baptist Church when the JBU tried to remove Dr. Austin McKenzie from the Buff Bay circuit of Baptists Churches.  After some rather unsavoury ways of trying to accomplish their objective the matter came before the court however, the JBU was not successful.  The judge declared, “This case, as I see it, is entirely a moral issue.  I grant every point to the Reverend A.L. McKenzie;”

The JBU did not give up; between 1954 and 1958 they made it difficult for the dissenting churches to obtain their title deeds, and threatened to take over their properties.  The case was heard at Gordon House, and the JBU was again defeated.

On December 7, 1959, the Rev. G.W. Smith went home to be with the Lord.  At his funeral the Rev. James T.M. Green referred to him as “the Wilberforce of Jamaica.”  His body was laid to rest beside the Mac Field Baptist Church in the Parish of Westmoreland.  Upon his death, the five churches he pastured; Mac Field, Bird Mountain, Hewitts’ View, Providence and Sellington Baptist churches were turned over to Baptist Mid Missions (BMM).  Mr. R. Clubine was the assigned Pastor of the churches.  The work of BMM has played an important part in the Independent Baptist Movement in Jamaica.  In 1946, when the Smiths went home to Canada on furlough, the Rev. James T.M. Green came to take over the work.  Others joined the team until at one time there were twenty BMM missionaries working in Jamaica.  As a result of their efforts several churches were established.

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