FOR WE PREACH NOT OURSELVES, BUT CHRIST JESUS THE LORD; AND OURSELVES YOUR SERVANTS FOR JESUS' SAKE. -- 2 COR 4:5
In the providence of God, two families were brought together in 1970, the Norbert Ward family, and the James Gunn family. The Ward's had moved to Nashville, Tennessee from Cincinnati, Ohio, while the Gunn's had moved to Franklin - at the time, some eighteen miles from Nashville from Birmingham, Alabama. The two men came from two radically different theological backgrounds. For most of his life, Norbert Ward had been a Primitive Baptist. However, Mr. Ward left that church because he was convinced of the utilitarianism of the gospel, that is to say, that the preached, taught, or read written Word of God is the ordained means of salvation for the elect. James Gunn grew up a Southern Baptist. But when the Lord was pleased to save him, and teach him of sovereign grace, he left the Southern Baptists in search of a church which upheld God in His sovereignty and man in his depravity. After moving to Tennessee, both families began attending a Reformed Presbyterian Church in Nashville. It was here that their paths crossed, and they became friends.
While in a discussion one Sunday, the subject of church membership arose. Both agreed that, although they did hear of a sovereign God where they were attending, they could not join the church because of the practice of infant baptism. Mr. Ward remarked that he planned to have a Bible study in his home the following Sunday, and invited Mr. Gunn and his family to join them. The Gunn's decided to attend. The Sunday Bible study became a regular and consistent practice between the two families. In a short time, they were joined by Marcia Johnson, the daughter of an Arkansas sovereign grace Baptist pastor. They agreed among themselves that their purpose in studying the Bible would be to consider the whole counsel of God, as revealed in the sacred Scriptures. "The truth, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else" was their lofty goal.
Mr. Gunn, who kept a personal record of the meetings, recorded the following entry in a journal: "On September 19, 1970, in the providence of God, and by His grace and mercy, a meeting was held in the home of Norbert and Naomi Ward, 4704 Timberhill Drive, Nashville, Tennessee. This meeting was held to discuss a mutual concern for the lack of a place to worship the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Holy Scripture, as Lord and Savior of His people. We agreed to meet the next day, Sunday, September 20, 1970, as a group of believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and until such time as a minister can be obtained, we agreed that we could worship God in prayer, singing, reading Scripture, offerings, and regular preaching by the men of the congregation." Mr. Gunn records that nine persons were present at that fatal meeting.
Over the next several months, the group elected to advertise their meetings, support certain missionaries, begin a weekly radio program, and invite various men to teach them of the grace of God. Until March 20, 1971, the group had met in the Ward's home. However, on March 21 a meeting was held at the First American National Bank in Brentwood, Tennessee. At this time, it was determined to secure a regular place for Sunday worship, and the Lord opened a door at the Holiday Inn, located at the intersection of I-24 and Harding Place in Nashville.
In December of 1971, a young twenty-six-year-old recent Grace Bible College and Seminary graduate, who resided in southwest Georgia, was invited to Nashville to preach to the small assembly. Mr. Ward and his son, Bennie, had met the young man and his wife at a Sovereign Grace Bible Conference in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in July 1971. On January 1 1972, Bill and Lynn Sasser arrived in Nashville, and the next day, Sunday, January 2, Bill preached his first message in Tennessee. Later that same year, the small, determined group of believers felt the Lord would have them call Bill as their Pastor-teacher. They decided they could afford to pay for the move to Tennessee and contribute fifty dollars per week toward a salary. Bill would have to seek additional employment until the Lord provided sufficient funds through the church. Accordingly, a telephone call was made and the offer extended. After several trips, much discussion and much prayer, providence seemed to indicate that indeed it was the will of God for Bill and Lynn, and their six-year-old son, Tres, to move to Tennessee. In February 1972, Bill, Lynn and Tres, moved into their Franklin, Tennessee home, where they still reside. Well, Tres no longer lives with them. He has his own home, of course!
Before Pastor Sasser was called to minister to the church, the nine souls who faithfully met for worship determined the name of the church should be, "The Reformed Baptist Church." The Reformed Baptist Church was the first of its kind in the Nashville area. Of course, a church espousing the sovereignty of God in salvation was not altogether unique to Nashville. The Primitive Baptists, as well as certain Presbyterian churches, have long held to this doctrine. However, no church had existed in Nashville which strove to declare all the counsel of God regarding these doctrines, both sides of the coin, as it were, which was also baptistic in nature. The Reformed Baptist Church declared, "Salvation is of the Lord," but also "Repent and be baptized every one of you." "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" was preached, but so too was "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (John 6:44; Matthew 11:28). Total Depravity was confessed, but so was total responsibility; unconditional election, but also the command to repent and believe the Gospel (Jeremiah 13:23; Mark 1:14- 15). Particular redemption was taught, but every hearer was exhorted to come to Christ (Matthew 1:21; John 7:37-38). Invincible grace was believed, yet all were exhorted to "harden not your hearts" (Romans 9:18-19; Romans 2:4-5). Finally, the people were exhorted to persevere to the end, but were also reminded that the Lord preserves all whom He saves (Hebrews 3:5-6, 12-14; 4:1, 11, 14; 13:20-21; II Timothy 1:12; John 17:11-12; 18:9).
Additionally, The Reformed Baptist Church avowed the biblical means of confessing one's faith is baptism, and that only believers are to be baptized. Since infants cannot express their faith they should not be baptized. Put another way, the truth is to be preached and those who believe are to be baptized. There is nothing to do with applying psychological pressure to squeeze a profession of faith out of a hearer, no appeal to "walk the aisle," "come to the front," or "make a decision." Further, since the Lord is the author and finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2), the only one who can add to the church such as should be saved (Acts 2:47), there were no unnatural or fleshly tactics used to increase church membership. Thirty years later, though the name has changed, the theology and practice of the church has not.
The church continued to meet at the Holiday Inn for Sunday morning worship and in the Ward's home on Sunday evenings and Wednesdays. From about the time Pastor Sasser was called, new families began worshiping with the church, and by May 1972 four families had been added. In this same month, the location of the church was moved from the Holiday Inn in Nashville to the community room of the Williamson County Bank in Brentwood, Tennessee. Mr. Gunn noted, in the church ledger, "Beginning June 11, 1972, we will meet morning and evening at Williamson County Bank. A letter of appreciation was given to the Holiday Inn for allowing us to use their facilities at no costs to us for sixty-two consecutive Sundays." The possibility of a permanent location began to be prayerfully discussed by the church.
On August 28, 1972, a meeting was held to discuss property and a building for the church. According to Mr. Gunn's entry, "It was agreed to offer the Southern Presbyterian Church $25,000 for 6.46 acres at the S.W. corner of Franklin Road and Longstreet Avenue. The land had been investigated and we were told that it was not for sale . . . Several weeks later we were invited to make an offer. If our offer is accepted, we will proceed to borrow sufficient money to build a building." But this was not the Lord's will for the church. A few weeks later Mr. Gunn explained. "On September 22, 1972 we were advised by the Southern Presbyterian Church that they would not sell the land at this time."
In spite of lacking a permanent location and building, the church continued to grow. In addition to a family who moved from Kansas "to be with a church of a Reformed Baptistic faith," two more families were added. By the end of November 1972, the church had applied for and received tax-exempt status.
1973 proved to be a memorable year for the young group. According to Mr. Gunn's church journal, "On February 11, 1973 the church agreed unanimously to offer to purchase a church building and land located on Arno Road near Franklin, Tennessee." The story behind this offer is worth mentioning, as it reveals the wonderful workings of divine providence. Each year, Franklin, Tennessee hosts many auctions. Typically, farms, homes, lands and antiques are passed along by means of a public auction. Mr. Gunn informed Mr. Ward that an old three-room, asbestos sided, tin roofed structure, which originally served as a tiny school for black children, had failed to draw any attention at a recent auction. The building was offered for auction by the Millview Church of Christ. However, because no one showed any interest in the bidding, a member of the Millview Church of Christ purchased it. The building, located on Arno Road, then about four miles east of Franklin, sat on less than an acre of ground between two sink holes and a cow pasture. After inspecting the site, all agreed that the building would do for the time being. Mr. Gunn tracked down the owner and arranged for a meeting. Mr. Gunn, Mr. Ward and Pastor Sasser were elected to negotiate. The owner was willing to sell the property, and almost on any terms. He informed the three men that they could pay for it in one year or twenty years, which ever worked best. The purchase amount agreed upon was seven thousand dollars. "On February 28, 1973," wrote Mr. Gunn, "a loan of three thousand dollars, less sixty dollars interest, was arranged with First American National Bank for the purpose of making a down payment on the Arno Road property."
The old building was badly in need of cleaning, lighting, painting, flooring and furniture. There was no pulpit and no pews, just a few antiquated theater seats and a couple of 100 watt light bulbs. On the north side of the auditorium were a couple of flimsy plastic curtains. (Of course, both the teachers and students in both classes would have to speak quietly so as not to interrupt one another.) There was no air conditioner to cool the building, and only two gas, non- vented, space heaters for cold weather. The ceiling, which was peeling badly, was a hideous green color. The one saving value was the flooring. Although they creaked terribly, they were mostly hardwood. No doubt, the sight of the place would have discouraged many congregations Others would have felt that such a remote, deteriorating edifice was beneath them, not worthy of the time and trouble it would take to renovate. But The Reformed Baptist Church was not one of them. Each and every particular member, excited that the Lord had at last given them a place of their own, dedicated himself to improving the newly acquired facilities.
The first work day was March 3, 1973, and for the next several months each Saturday found the men, women and children hard at work. Paneling was installed over the bare green walls, while a new, suspended, drop-ceiling concealed the old, higher sheet rock one. Metal folding chairs replaced the theater seats, and solid walls were built where the plastic dividers had been. The little room which jutted off the south-western side of the auditorium became the Pastor's study. The first service held in the newly acquired building was March 4, 1973. Service times were as follows: Bible Study, 10:00 a.m. Worship, 11:00 a.m., Prayer, 6:30 p.m., and Evening Worship, 7:00 p.m. The church also agreed to meet on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. for prayer and study.
There have been no changes regarding the doctrines of the church. However, the church name was changed to "Grace Church at Franklin" in 1976. With few exceptions, the church has continued to follow the same worship schedule. At this present time, February 2005, the church meets twice weekly for worship, study and fellowship, Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. The original building has been enlarged and modified numerous times and two additional buildings added. Plans are well under way to build a new sanctuary this Spring.
September 19 - Meeting in home of Norbert and Naomi Ward with the James Gunn family and Marcia Johnson, to discuss a mutual concern for the lack of a place to worship the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Holy Scripture.
September 20 - First gathering “as a group of believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for the purpose of worship of Him.”
September 27 - “We were joined by Timothy and Emily Cannon.”
October 18 - “Mr. R.T. Kendall, a Baptist preacher, spoke to the group.” (Mr. Kendall is now Dr. R.T. Kendall, pastor of the famous Westminister Chapel, London, England, formally pastored by Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones )
October 25 - Mr. Cliff Richard, a Reformed Baptist minister, spoke.
November 8 - Mr. Quincy Caldwell, a Presbyterian Reformed minister, spoke to the group.
November 19 - Mr. Hassell Wallis, a Primitive Baptist Elder, spoke to us
December 13 - Mr. E.W. Johnson, a Baptist minister, spoke.
March 16-20 - Gospel preaching services held at 100 Oaks Shopping Center. The speaker was James Foust, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Marion, KY.
March 20 - Determined to secure a public room for regular worship. The Holiday Inn at I-24 and Harding Place was reserved.
March 28 - Worship service held at the Holiday Inn.
May 2 - Mr. James Foust preached for the group and baptized James Gunn. The baptismal service was held at the First Baptist Church, Franklin, TN.
June 12-13 - Mr. E.W. Johnson, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, spoke Saturday evening and at the Sunday morning worship.
June 13 - Mr. R. Quincy Caldwell, Pastor of The Reformed Church of Westminister Heritage, Birmingham, AL, spoke at the evening worship service.
August 3-6 - Dr. David Estrada, Professor from the University of Barcelona, Barcelona Spain, spoke
August 29 - Mr. Chris Richard, Reformed Baptist minister, spoke in the morning service, and Mr. Gene Rice, from Garden City, Kansas, spoke in the evening.
November 28 - Mr. James Willingham, from Orangeburn, SC spoke.
December 4 - A radio program was begun over WWGM, Nashville, TN.
January 2 - Mr. William W. Sasser, from Albany, GA spoke. The Gordan Blankenship and Leonard Filardo families began attending.
January 9 - Church agreed to call Mr. Sasser as Pastor
January 10 - Mr. Ward contacted Mr. Sasser via phone. The church is able to give Mr. Sasser $50 per week.
January 13 - Mr. Sasser accepted the offer to Pastor the flock
February 19-20 - Mr. E.W. Johnson spoke Saturday evening and at the Sunday morning 9:30 AM Bible Study. Mr. Sasser preached at the morning worship.
March 12 - Gene and Janet Rice, with their infant son, David, moved to Nashville from Kansas. Their purpose in moving was to be with a church of a Baptistic faith who hold to the doctrines of sovereign grace.
April 8 - Two families, the Johnston's and the Filardo's - were added to the congregation. The Lord's Supper was observed after the evening service.
April 19 - David Ellis, missionary in France, spoke to our group. Pastor Henry Mahan, of Ashland, KY, was present to worship with us.
May 21 - Church began meeting in Williamson County Bank community room, located in Brentwood, TN, for evening worship.
May 28 - Professor Howard Tillery, Dean of Grace Bible College and Seminary, spoke to the assembled church.
June 11 - Began meeting for morning worship at the Brentwood Williamson County Bank community room.
June 14 - Pastor a guest speaker at the Thirteenth Street Baptist Church Sovereign Grace Conference, in Ashland, KY. The church in Ashland gave our church one hundred hymnals - “Modern Hymnal.”
August 20 - Support for Dr David Estrada (Spain) and David Ellis, missionary to the French, was increased..
October 15 - The Robert H. Plummer family was added to the church.
February 11 - The church agreed unanimously to offer to purchase a church building and land located on Arno Road, near Franklin, TN.
February 28 - A loan of three thousand dollars, less sixty dollars interest, was arranged with First American National Bank. The purpose of the loan was to make a down payment on the Arno Road building and property.
March 3 - The first “work day” on our building on Arno Road
March 4 - The first worship service on Arno Road.
March 25 - Dr C.O. Jackson, President of Spurgeon Theological Seminary, spoke at the morning and evening services. Our Pastor is speaking in Louisville, KY.
July 11 - Church agreed to purchase sixteen pews for four-hundred thirty five dollars, plus moving expenses. The pews, which are in Cape May, New Jersey, were found by Mrs. Josephine Filardo.
July 29 - Upon their professions of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the following persons were baptized in the Harpeth River by Pastor Sasser: Timothy Cannon, Emily Cannon, Vici Linn. A supper and fellowship was held at the church building following the baptisms. Several testified of the Lord working in their lives.
October 14 - Mrs Jo Ann Olson was added to the church
November 11 - Jim and Marcia Lane requested baptism and membership.
November 25 - Jim and Marcia Lane confessed Christ in baptism - Harpeth River
January 2-5 - Special services with Henry T. Mahan, Pastor of Thirtheenth Street Baptist Church, Ashland, KY.
April 14 - Jack Shanks, Pastor, and Instructor at Spurgeon's Academy, Memphis, TN, spoke in the morning service. James Gunn conducted the evening service.
September 1 - Church agreed to a building additon, and to eliminate all indebtedness.
October 16, 1974
December 11 - J.K. Lane was made Treasurer. Mr Gunn, who has served in this capacity, must move to Birmingham, Alabama.
September 7 - Franklin Christian School is begun by the church. After twelve years, a decision was made to close the school.