IN THE BEGINNING WAS
A DESIRE FOR THE WORD
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
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.
1971 - A New Location and the Calling of A
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!
And believers were the more added to the Lord
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.
1972 - Another Location
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.
Property and Building Considered
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 - Permanent Location Found
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
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.
1974 - 2006
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
partial chronology of events taken from the journal of James Gunn
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
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
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
June 11 - Began meeting for
morning worship at the Brentwood Williamson County Bank community
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,
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 & Marcia
Lane requested baptism and membership.
November 25 - Jim & Marcia
Lane confessed Christ in baptism - Harpeth River
January 2-5, 1974 - 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, 1974 - Church
agreed to a building additon, and to eliminate all indebtedness..
October 16, 1974 - James Gunn
appointed as church Elder.
December 11 - J.K. Lane was
made Treasurer. Mr Gunn, who has served in this capacity, must
move to Birmingham, Alabama.
September 7, 1976 -
Franklin Christian School is begun by
the church. After twelve years, a decision was made to close the