About Us

Mt. Bethel History

· 1767-1800 ·

 

Mt. Bethel Baptist Church began with eighteen people who lived in Warren but attended church in Scotch Plains. Due to the difficulty of traveling to Scotch Plains for services, they began meeting in their hometown under the leadership of Mt. Bethel’s founding pastor, Rev. Henry Crosley. The church was named after its first site, which was a hill in Warren called Mount Bethel, located on what is now called, "Old Church Road." Bethel literally means “House of God” in Hebrew. The Mt. Bethel Meeting House was a small structure (pictured above) which housed a gallery. It had separate entrances for men and women and a large sycamore tree in front of the building, a sacred biblical symbol of seeking God with humility.

 

The church’s second pastor, ordained in 1775, was Rev. Abner Sutton. He was also one of its founding members; in fact, the Sutton family helped establish the community of Warren. The church grew rapidly under Rev. Sutton, and eighty members were added by baptism in 1785 and 1786, a time of great spiritual revival in the area. Also during this time the Meeting House was disassembled and moved by ox-drawn wagons from "Mt. Bethel" in Washington Valley to Stony Mountain (see picture on google map). Rev. Sutton served until he died at age fifty in 1791, and he is said to be the first person buried in the church’s adjacent cemetery.

Rev. Sutton was succeeded by Rev. Jacob Fitz-Randolph, who served from 1791-1794, and then Rev. Lebbeus Lathrop, who served from 1794-1805. Records show that these pastors’ salaries were still being paid in pounds and shillings.

 

· 1800-1900 ·

 

The church continued to experience growth under its next pastor, Rev. John Ellis, who served from 1805-1813. A church covenant was adopted in April of 1813 which bound its members, among other things, “to watch over each other… and not to suffer sin upon anyone… to bear one another’s burdens, to cleave to one another and to bear one another’s weaknesses and infirmities with much tenderness…”

After Rev. Ellis, the church experienced three years without a pastor until Englishman Rev. Mr. Elliot began serving in 1816. He served until 1818 and was succeeded by Rev. John Watson, another Englishman who served from 1818-1826. During this time there was a building renovation, and a revival which occurred in 1822 bringing twenty more members by baptism.

 

In 1827, Rev. Morgan R. Cox became the eighth pastor and served until 1848. Church meeting minutes from this time have survived, recording detailed accounts of church discipline and revealing the church body’s insistence on holding each member accountable; the church was clearly committed to holiness and spiritual maturity. During this time the church experienced two more revivals, adding thirty members in 1832 and another forty in 1837.

 

The ninth pastor was Rev. Edward C. Ambler, who served from 1848-1851. The Fall of 1850 brought the greatest revival experienced yet in the area, and 107 people were added to Mt. Bethel’s congregation by baptism. One of these converts was David Bird, a local hotel owner. He had served whiskey at his hotel for decades, but after he became a Christian he and some others decided to roll the hotel’s barrels of whiskey outside, smash them, and let the contents run down the street! Mt. Bethel was now up to 220 members, and Rev. Ambler decided it was time to plant a sister church with eighty of Mt. Bethel’s wealthiest and most influential members. The church was planted across town on the North side of the Dead and Passaic rivers; this was the birth of Millington Baptist Church, which is still thriving today.

 

The tenth pastor was Rev. Jacob Timberman, who began ministering in 1852. It was during this time that a weekly prayer meeting was established as well as a Sabbath School. However, the following years proved to be difficult for Mt. Bethel. Some of these difficulties included theological disputes, strict church discipline issues, and unnecessary divisions within the church body. By 1854, there seems to have been two groups meeting in the same church, with Rev. Thomas W. Haynes preaching to one faction in the morning andJohn Crampton preaching to another in the afternoon. A biography of John Crampton can be read here. The exact nature and reasons for the division is unclear, but was described by the church clerk in 1854: “The church is now destitute of a pastor, and in a very unsettled state. Its peace has been disturbed for several months, and there are serious divisions amongst us; we who were weak at the strongest have become more weak, and now have to mourn over the desolation of our beloved Mt. Zion.”

 

Despite these troubling circumstances, Mt. Bethel pushed forward. Several pastors served the church over the next two decades, although the exact dates of their service are not clearly recorded. They included Rev. Thomas H. Cole, Brother Taylor, Andrew Hopper of Millington Baptist, Mr. William Pike (who served from 1862-1866), and EnglishmanRev. T. Simpkins. The pulpit was sometimes filled by Rev. Zelotes Grenell, who also served at Millington Baptist. Rev. Grenell held several meetings in 1871 and 1872 where many were converted and baptized in the mill pond on Mountainview Road, in the middle of winter. Of this time we know that the ice was being broken for baptisms, and one woman exclaimed, “Christians, if your heart be warm, ice and snow can do no harm!” In later years, the use of the mill pond for baptisms was replaced by a baptismal at Millington Baptist Church.

 

· 1900-2000 ·

 

After these transitional years, Rev. Peter Gibb from Scotland and also of Millington Baptist Church became the pastor of Mt. Bethel in 1871, serving until 1911. In his nearly forty years of ministry at Mt. Bethel, he was called a “model country pastor.” He had a deep appreciation of hymnology and provided singing lessons. He was described as a popular, sweet-spirited man who was faithful to the church. He preached a total of 6,260 sermons before he passed away at age seventy-eight.

 

Following Brother Gibb was Rev. William H. Mount. He was called as pastor in 1913 and revitalized the Sunday School program, serving faithfully with his wife until he died in 1931, bringing out nearly all of Mt. Bethel for his funeral. Next was Carl H. Voss, who served from 1931-1933 and organized Warren’s first Boy Scout troop. James A. Howell served next from 1934-1940, during which time the Meeting House was painted and repaired, and youth services began meeting in the evening. In 1940, F. Dudley Bahrenburg was called and served until 1946, instituting the church’s first Good Friday services and purchasing a new organ. He was succeeded by Earl B. Mowen, who served until 1948. After this, Rev. Stanley Formanek was called, and he served as pastor until he retired in 1965. During this time, Mt. Bethel severed its connection with the American Baptist Convention to become an independent Baptist church and united with the Independent Fundamental Churches of America in 1956. Rev. Formanek encouraged renovation by fixing up the balcony and installing new lighting. Plans for a new church building were also being considered. Then Rev. Formanek announced a gift of one and a half acres of land, including a house, from Hazel, Janice and Leon Zeglio. Ground-breaking ceremonies for the new building were held in 1957, and services began in the basement of the building in 1959. The new building was dedicated and Mt. Bethel’s first indoor baptismal service was held on Easter Sunday, April 17th, 1960. As for the Mt. Bethel Meeting House on Old Church Road, it is still standing today and is quite possibly the oldest Baptist church building in New Jersey. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Rev. Formanek was succeeded by interim pastor Rev. John Givens of Scotch Plains. In 1966, Rev. Floyd C. Alley became the first full-time pastor and served for ten years. In 1976, Rev. Charles Renken, who was a missionary in Venezuela, pastored for ten years before returning to the mission field. In 1987, Rev. Robert Damrau became the pastor and served for about a decade, during which the church celebrated its 225th anniversary. In 1995, Dr. David R. Babbitt began to serve as pastor.

 

· 2000 – Present ·

 

Dr. Babbitt served faithfully from 1995 until he retired in 2008 to teach at Liberty University. He was a diligent expositor of the Word, and concurrently served as dean and professor at Philadelphia Biblical University. He built into the hearts of his students a genuine love for the Word of God. One of his students, Mike Perna, served as Youth Director and Outreach Director at Mt. Bethel. Another one of his students, Rev. David Hentschel, was called to serve as Pastor in the Summer of 2009 through 2016.  On May 7, 2017 Rev. Dr. Michael P. Jones became the 25th Pastor of Mt. Bethel. Baptist Church.

 

Since its original eighteen members in 1767, Mt. Bethel Baptist Church has remained faithful to the call to preach the gospel and to make disciples. It has served as a training ground for new ministers and is a strong supporter of world missions. It has remained faithful to conservative evangelical theology and has been a constant presence in the community; but the focus of history is not about the successes of any particular church or individual. Rather, it is about the triumph of the one true God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is building His church. On the great, wide stage of the drama of human redemption, Mt. Bethel has been privileged to play a small role. It is a story of grace and love, and we pray that the Lord of all history will continue to find us faithful to His call and use us for His purposes in the future. To Him be the glory forever and ever!

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Griffiths, Thomas Sharp, "A History of Baptists in New Jersey." Barr Press Publishing Co.: Hightstown, New Jersey, 1904.

 

Minutes of the East New Jersey Baptist Association, pages 25-31, 1872. accessed online at

http://www.geocities.com/baptist_documents/1872hist_mbbc.html

 

Newsletter of the Warren Township Historical Society. Vol. 1, No. 8, Fall 1992.

 

Siegel, Alan A. The Mount Bethel Baptist Meeting House, Cemetery and Church, Warren Towship Historic Sites Committee, Warren Township, New Jersey, 1992.

Mt. Bethel has a rich tradition of Christian Worship.  We are standing on the shoulders of yesterday’s men and women of faith, who founded Mt. Bethel Baptist Church two hundred and fifty years ago. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed from our church since 1767 – nine years prior to the American Revolution!