Recent delving into my family lineage left me astounded at God’s gracious hand over my grandmother’s family. The first fascinating story (from Faith of my Fathers Part I, which can be read below) wet my whistle for the outstanding historical account that came next.
My fantastic journey began with a voicemail from a friend doing genealogical research. She found that one of my distant grandfathers, Tidence Lane (1724-1806) was not only a Revolutionary War hero, but also the pastor of the very first church in Tennessee.
This news left me reeling with excitement to discover more! I wanted to know Grandpa Tidence.
*Side Note: The name Tidence was taken from his grandmother, “Tidings”. I marveled from the start that nearly six years before discovering the name of this new relative, I had given two of my children the names Titus Hart (meaning “encourager of hearts”) and Laney Moriah (meaning “path to salvation”).
I found much online, and it amazed me that the church he founded, Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church in Gray, Tennessee, is still thriving today, and even has a Facebook page! Not only does the church still exist, but it shares many similar qualities to the church I pastor here in Prineville. BRBC’s health is evident in its commitment to Biblical principles, prayer,
loving one another, fellowshipping (with lots of food) and purposeful world evangelism. They even have a similar purpose statement! I called BRBC to tell them they had a long lost relative, and of our shared heritage that stretches over two centuries! The church put me in touch with their former pastor of 41 years, 84-year-old Dr. Gene Lasley, who wrote a book of BRBC’s
spiritual saga and devoted two chapters to Tidence Lane. We were thrilled to meet each other over the phone and discover our shared interest. One of the first things Dr. Lasley said to me was, “Son, your distant grandfather was one of the godliest men America has ever seen!” He quickly mailed me a copy of his book, “Jesus Led Me All the Way.”
The book and other research revealed that Lane’s story had a preface with the ministry of George Whitfield, the English
evangelist whose “bristling, crackling, and thundering” open-air preaching led to the Great Awakening of the mid-1700s. One man converted and called by Whitfield’s ministry was Shubal Stearns, who also became an ardent evangelist. His demeanor and speech – “musical and strong” – were used mightily by the Holy Spirit to bring about what has been known as “the Great Awakening of the Southern Colonies.”
Lane would write of Stearns, “Mr. Stearns was but a little man, but have a good natural parts, and sound judgment. Of learning he had bought a small share, yet was pretty well
acquainted with books. His voice was musical and strong, which he managed in such a manner… To make soft impressions on the heart, and fetch tears from the eyes and a mechanical way; and anon to shake the nerves, and to throw the animal system into tumbled and perturbations. All the separate ministers copy him after him in tones of voice and actions of body; and some few exceed him. His character was indisputably good, both as a man, a Christian, and a preacher. In his eyes with something very penetrating, which seem to have a meeting in every glance…” as Lane would soon experience.
During this awakening, Stearns started a church in Sandy Creek Virginia, which was used by God in its first 16 years to plant 42 other churches and send out 125 preachers. This
church’s story is recognized as one of the “most profound religious movements in American History. Thousands of churches today can trace their roots back to the Sandy Creek Baptist Church.”
Lane (who had “hateful feelings” for Baptists) was curious to go hear Stearns preach. He rode 40 miles on horseback and found Stearns with a book, seated beneath a peach tree speaking with a crowd of people. Lane wrote, “He fixed his eyes upon me immediately, which made me feel in such a manner as I had never felt before. I turned
to quit the place, but could not proceed far. I walked about, sometimes catching his eyes as I walked. My uneasiness increased and became intolerable. I went up to him, thinking that a salutation and shaking hands would relieve me; but it happened otherwise. I began to think that he had an evil eye, and was to be shunned; but shun I could no more effect, then a bird can shun the rattlesnake when it fixes its eyes upon it. When he began to preach, my perturbations increased, so that nature can no longer support them, and I sunk to the ground.”
He was born again, he and his family would never to be the same.
His brother Dutton also was saved through Stearns’ ministry, and became an ardent preacher leading revivals among friends and family. Their father had a hatred for the Baptists and was furious at his sons. When hearing that his wife had heard Dutton speak he became so enraged that he struck her, and grabbed his rifle to kill Dutton. Mrs. Lane begged her husband to hear Dutton preach before making the harsh call to kill him. Richard agreed, and would come under such conviction of the Spirit that he would be saved and baptized by Dutton soon after.
Lane became a close disciple of Stearns, so much so, that when Stearns died without children, Lane settled the estate. Soon after, Lane who “possessed great fervor and leadership ability” moved to Tennessee and established a church named after a nearby natural feature, Buffalo Ridge. Even though this was during a time of persecution by the British – those loyal to neither the crown nor the Church of England were executed – the church grew in number. Many sources tell us that Lane, nine of his sons and other frontiersman joined together as a force of arms known as “The Overmountain Men,” men experienced in expedition and hardened from battles defending their homesteads from
Native American attacks. Meeting at Sycamore Shoals, the Overmountain Men moved to attack British Colonel Patrick Ferguson’s forces at King’s Mountain and won with a decisive blow, killing or capturing nearly all of the British. Lane and his sons played a strong part in the battle, and son Isaac was recognized as a hero of King’s Mountain. The battle of September 26, 1780 was a turning point in the Revolutionary war, “setting off a chain of events that would lead to the British surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in September, 1781.”
After the war, Lane put his heart and soul into serving the church at home. It grew and sent him out in 1784 to plant and pastor a church in Bent Creek, where he remained until his death on January 30, 1806.
Lane’s tombstone reads, “A pioneer Baptist preacher. Tidence Lane organized and became the first pastor of the Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church in 1779. This churches in Washington County and is recognized as the first church of any denomination established in what is now in the state of Tennessee. He served faithfully many other Baptist churches in East Tennessee.
“Lane laid the foundation of social democracy in the complete autonomy of the local church. He laid the foundations of institutions that shape the destiny of the human race . . . Eternity alone can set bounds to the work of Tidence Lane.” a reflective tribute to Tidence Lane by Dr. Samuel W. Timdell
I would no doubt be correct in assuming that this man of faith and action, who fought so hard for the cause of liberty of a new nation, labored vigilantly in prayer for the future of his children, and that he passionately interceded for the young church in the state of Tennessee. It’s beautiful to be able to look back over 235 years and observe with amazement that God has preserved both in His grace. For in Gray, Tennessee, there is a church faithfully carrying on the legacy of its first shepherd. Likewise, in Prineville, Oregon, there is a young pastor with a small drip of Tidence Lane’s DNA in his blood, who is also a lover of this nation, moderate in doctrine, diligent to disciple believers, zealous for global evangelism, clinging to the hope of the Gospel, and honored to be cut from the same cloth as his newest hero.
*A Thrilling Note: In my recent research, I found that Shiloh films will be releasing a movie the week of this article publication telling the story of the Overmountain men, with Tidence Lane being one of the lead characters! The film is called, “Overmountain Men, the Price of Freedom” and can be downloaded here . Watch the trailer here.