Churches and Associations in Arkansas
By Robert Ashcraft, 2006
In 1817 the Bethel Association in Missouri appointed James Philip Edwards to preach and to organize churches in the southern part of what was then Missouri territory. Benjamin Clark and Jesse James joined him in 1818. Through their efforts the first church in Arkansas, known as Salem Church, was organized that year near the Fourche-a-Thomas River, in what is now Randolph Co. The church was located about four miles west of Maynard on the Southwest Trail, which is present State Hwy. 328.
Elders Clark and James were the ministers to the twelve-member congregation. The same missionary team continued efforts in the area. By 1822-23 the Union and Little Flock, as well as another Union Church were organized, making four churches in Lawrence Co., Arkansas Territory. At that time Lawrence Co. included most of NE Arkansas.
The 1822 meeting of the Bethel Association was held at the Bethel meetinghouse, near Jackson. Neither of the Arkansas churches was represented. The minute stated the Association requested Elders Clark, Edwards, and William Street to visit some brethren in the Arkansas Territory who wished to be organized into a church. The result of these visits was the organization of another Union Church and a church called Little Flock, both in Lawrence Co.
We have no definite knowledge of what happened to these churches. However, David Orr wrote that by the time he and his missionary team surveyed the area in 1829, they only found “a few scattered lambs,” and further stated the churches had failed because of lack of preaching. Based on later knowledge, it is likely that other
families followed the same migration of the Lindseys, et.al., and left the churches without sufficient members to continue.
Migration to Central Arkansas
The Lindsey, Fletcher, Spencer and Davis families lived in near proximity in Christian County, KY. These families, who had begun to inter-marry, migrated to Lawrence County, Arkansas about 1815. However, the first official record of Caleb Lindsey’s affiliation with a church was in 1823, when he was listed as a messenger from the Little Flock Church. Richard Brazil, who was previously listed as a messenger of the Salem Church, was a messenger from Union Church, Saline, Co. to the organizational meeting of the Saline Association in 1836.
In addition to being closely related by kin and marriage, most of the group were Baptists. Caleb Lindsey appears to have been the leader of the multi-family group.
John Young Lindsey, a son of Caleb and Sarah Lindsey, moved with his family and others from Kentucky to Northeast Arkansas, and then to Saline Co. He was named after his grandfather, John Young, Sarah Lindsey’s father, who was one of the first preachers imprisoned in Caroline Co., VA in 1771 for preaching the Gospel without a license.1 Thus, it is remarkable that one of Arkansas’ pioneer preachers came from a family that had first-hand experience with religious persecution in the State of Virginia.
Kentucky Missionary Baptist Church
About 1824-25 twelve families left Lawrence Co. and traveled the “Southwest Trail” to the Benton, AR area. At that point they abandoned the trail and moved westward, crossed the Saline River, and cut a road through the woods. They eventually settled about seven miles west of Benton, near the Saline River, and founded a community called “Lindsey Settlement,” near the present location of the Kentucky Church and cemetery.
Although the official records of the organization have been lost, informants have confirmed the original members were from the Lindsey, Fletcher, Spenser and Davis families. Thus, the Kentucky Baptist Church was the first church organized within the present bounds of Saline Co. Several descendants from these charter members still live in the area.
The actual date of the church organization is uncertain. One account gave an 1822 date.2 However, according to family records the 1824-1825 dates are more accurate. Another history of the church gave the date as 1832.3 The first official record of the church was in the 1828 Minutes of the Little Rock Association of Regular Baptists. The messengers were not listed.4 Nevertheless, Kentucky is the oldest continuous Baptist Church in Arkansas.
By 1832 the congregation had reached sufficient numbers to prompt John Y. Lindsey to construct a building for the church. This original log building was south of the cemetery site, and also south of Highway 5 and the present church building.
Sometime after 1834 a Baptist minister visited the Kentucky Church. Several converts were baptized and John Y. Lindsey was ordained as a deacon. Under the Baptist preaching, the influence of Benjamin F. Hill to lead the church into the “reformation movement” was diminished. Finally, John Y. Lindsey was licensed as a Baptist preacher in 1841 and was ordained in 1845 by the Spring Creek Baptist Church.5
The Kentucky Church was received into the Saline Association in 1843, with a membership of 15. Eld. Lindsey continued as pastor until his death in 1866.
Eld. John Y. Lindsey became one of the most widely known and respected Baptist pastors in central Arkansas. He participated in the organization of DeRoche Church, near Bismark (October, 1847). From this church, the oldest current member of the
Saline Association, many other churches were organized. Eld. Lindsey organized the Marble Church in 1848 and pastored the church until May, 1854. He was moderator of the Saline Missionary Baptist Association from 1855 until the sessions were discontinued by the effects of the Civil War in 1862.
The Civil War took its toll on the Lindsey family, as well as most families in the South. Their estate was raided several times, and most of their possessions were plundered. Eld. Lindsey died in September of 1866 and was buried in Kentucky Cemetery.6
Little Rock Association of Regular Baptists
The further history of Kentucky Church will be better understood by introducing Elder Silas Toncray and his ministry in Central Arkansas. Eld. Toncray may have assisted in the organization of the Kentucky Church. It is also believed he served as first pastor of the church, until he moved to Memphis about 1830.
Toncray, who came to Little Rock from Kentucky in July, 1824, was a Baptist preacher by profession, and a silversmith and jeweler by trade. He announced a meeting in the July 16 Arkansas Gazette to be held the fourth Sunday of July “to constitute a regular church of Jesus Christ.”7 This meeting was held July 24 at the home of Major Isaac Watkins, Eld. Toncray’s brother-in-law. Isaac Watkins and his wife, Maria Toncray, had come to Little Rock perhaps as early as 1822.
In November, 1824, Eld. Silas Toncray led in the formation of the Little Rock Association of Regular Baptists, the first association established in the state. The association was formed with messengers from the Little Rock Church with ten members, Salem Church in Clark Co. with twelve members, and Arkansas Church (Pecannerie) in Conway Co., with three members, for a total membership of 25. The Kentucky Baptist Church was a member by 1828.
Eld. Toncray was Moderator for the 1824 and 1825 sessions, and Isaac Watkins served as Clerk. According to the doctrinal statement adopted, the group believed in the Covenant of Redemption, Limited Atonement, Effectual Calling, but also Freedom of the Will. They also expressed belief in “close” communion.8
The 12-member Little Rock Church erected the first church building in Little Rock in 1825. The building, located on the south side of Third Street, between Main and Scott streets, was used by all denominations. It was also used for some committees, and possibly the State Legislature, after Arkansas became a state.
Eight churches were participating in the Association by 1828: Little Rock, Salem, Kentucky, Saline, Little Flock, and Copperas Creek in Perry Co, with a total of 88 members.9
In 1830 Toncray was called to Memphis by the death of his brother and did not return to Little Rock. After Eld. Toncray left the area, the faithful group at Lindsey Settlement continued weekly meetings for fellowship and Bible study.
The Little Rock Baptist Church was also without a pastor after Toncray left. In May of 1832, Benjamin F. Hall, another Kentucky preacher, moved to Little Rock. Hall, a disciple of the “reform” movement of Alexander Campbell, promptly set about to take over and convert the Little Rock Church.
He held a revival meeting in the Baptist meetinghouse. J. S. Rogers reported, “Most of the members were captivated and captured by him.” As a result, on July 4, 1832, a majority of the members met “for the purpose of renouncing their creed, rules of decorum, their name and every other appendage of human invention, taking only Jesus as their King and Lawgiver.” The Arkansas Gazette writer continued, “Following this drastic change, they adopted resolutions proclaiming themselves as ‘Christians’ and their church as the ‘Christian Church’.10
Mission Work in North Arkansas, led by Elder David Orr
Other mission work was done in Arkansas Territory under the leadership of David Orr. David Orr was born in Bourbon Co., KY in 1798. He was converted and baptized by Jeremiah Vardaman, a celebrated Kentucky revival preacher. P.S.G. Watson reported that Eld. Orr moved to Southwest Missouri, near Cape Giradeau and Jackson, . . . his education was superior to that of his hearers; therefore for some years he possessed almost unlimited influence! As a preacher and fireside companion, he had no superior in that entire region!... His labors were abundant, in preaching, organizing churches, ordaining ministers and deacons, and in correspondence. He was a leading member of the Territorial Legislature.
David Orr had intended only to visit Arkansas in 1828. According to his testimony, “In a few days I started for the territory with the intention of staying five or six weeks.” However, he remained the remainder of his life preaching and planting churches.10
Under the leadership of Eld. Orr, the Spring River Church, north of Imboden, was organized in Lawrence Co. in 1828. The church joined the Bethel Association [Missouri] the same year. J. S. Rogers stated that David Orr baptized eleven converts at Spring River when the church was organized.11
David Orr also led in the establishment of the Richland and New Hope Churches in 1828. It is thought the New Hope Church was located in the general area of the present New Hope Church, organized in 1844. Both churches joined the Bethel Association in 1828.
J. S. Rogers quoted E. J. A. Kennedy who reported that in the spring of 1829 David Orr and his missionary companions, George Gill, Benjamin Hawkins, and Thomas Mercer, moved to Arkansas, and preached to New Hope, Richland, and Spring River churches in Lawrence Co. During that summer, he led in the organization of the Little North Fork Church in Izard Co. and Rehoboth Church in Independence Co. Little North Fork joined the Bethel Association in MO in September, 1829. By 1831 the Association had grown to ten churches, nine of which had been gathered by David Orr and his fellow-missionaries. David Orr served as moderator of the Association.
Also, in 1832 David Orr, George Gill, Benjamin Hawkins and Thomas Mercer organized Rocky Bayou Church near Lunenburg, about five miles south of Melbourne. 12 The charter members brought letters from the church in Bowling Green, KY, when they came to Arkansas in 1830. J. M. Pendleton became pastor of the Bowling Green Church in 1837. J. S. Rogers summarized, “This was one of the oldest and, in a sense, the mother church of Rocky Bayou Association; for from it nearly all the other churches have, either directly or indirectly been organized.” 13
1. Spring River Baptist Association
The Spring River Association was originally organized in November, 1829. The charter churches were Richland, Spring River, New Hope, Little North Fork and Rehoboth. The first four churches had been members of the Bethel Association of Missouri.14
Acting upon the request of these churches in Arkansas Territory, the Bethel Association dismissed the churches and also sent representatives to help organize the new association: Elders J. Williams, S. Frost, J. Wilburn, M. Bailey and William Street. The organizational meeting was held with Spring River Church. Eld. David Orr was chosen as moderator and Eld. George Gill as clerk.
The first annual meeting was with Little North Fork Church, Izard Co., Oct. 16-18, 1830. Elder George Gill, the clerk, reported in the Arkansas Advocate of
November 17, 1830, “. . . messengers from six churches met in conference and presented their letters which were read with much interest. Every countenance indicated joy and gratitude to hear of the blessings that God had so bountifully bestowed on the churches belonging to the infant association. The number of members was found to have increased to one hundred and thirty-three including six (five ordained and one licensed) preachers.”
In 1835 the Association numbered ten churches: Spring River, New Hope, Richland, Rehoboth, Little North Fork, Middle Fork, White River, Strawberry, and two or three others not identified. The four pastors working within the Association were: David Orr, John B. Graham, George Gill and W. M. Karr.
In a June, 1835, report made to the American Baptist, George Gill wrote, “We were organized as an association in the year 1829 . . . which consisted . . . of five churches located in Lawrence, Independence and Izard Counties . . . Though we are few in number, and have only four or five preachers, the Lord has hitherto blessed us with a gradual increase; and peace and union have been enjoyed by our churches.”
According to the Triennial Baptist Register for 1836, the following churches were members of the Spring River Association: Spring River, New Hope, Richland, Little Northfork, Rehoboth, Strawberry, White River, Saline, Liberty, and Rocky Bayou.
Although the Association in 1835 was reported as “united and aggressive,” later divisions came and the association dissolved about 1840. At the time of disbanding, the association had fourteen churches, five preachers, and 284 members. We do not know what happened to these churches, because later records reveal the oldest church in the association as having been organized in 1844.”15 Rogers quoted Dr. Watson, who wrote, “The plain truth is this: the disagreement was about men - not principles.”16 However, the statement from Eld. Orr in the following paragraph, and a report by Eld. Charles B. Lee indicates the anti-missionary sentiment may have been the cause. Eld. Lee wrote in a 1956 report, “All my witnesses say the Hardshell heresy and controversy disrupted and split the old churches and association.”17
The Articles of Faith of the Association were simply stated: “We agree to adopt the New Testament for our Articles of Faith, the rule of our practice and our hope of eternal life, the rule by which to try all members, to try all causes between brother and brother, to preach and hold as the eternal, substantial and unchangeable rules to govern in the church of the Lord Christ in hope of immortality.” 18
With the demise of the Spring River Association, two other Associations were formed in 1840. The White River Association was organized and some of the churches that had been in the Spring River Association became members. The charter members of the White River Association were Rehoboth, Friendship, Union, Macedonia, and Mount Pleasant.
The Spring River Association was reorganized in 1868. However, no records are available until 1873. Churches listed in the 1873 Minute, post offices, and date of organization:
Antioch, 1873; Ash Flat; Big Creek, Maxville, 1856; Dry Creek, Smithville, 1873; Evening Shade, Smithville; Friendship, Walnut Ridge, 1872; Harmony, Walnut Ridge, 1872; Hills Chapel, Smithville, 1872; Hopewell, Smithville, 1854; Jackson, Jackson, 1873; Liberty Pocahontas; Little Springs, Poughkeepsie, 1847; Mt. Vernon, Jackson; New Hope, Smithville, 1844; Oak Grove, Pocahontas; Pine Hill, Evening Shade, 1872; Pleasant Grove, Smithville, 1851; Pleasant Grove, Pocahontas; Pleasant Hill, Smithville, 1872; Smithville, Smithville, 1866; Spring River, Canton, and Walnut Hill.
2. Saline Baptist Association
The Saline Association, the oldest continuous association in Arkansas, originally used the name “United” in its official name. It was the unique combination of the Regular and Separate Baptists which led to the United Baptists in Kentucky, which today are known as Missionary Baptists.
Spring Creek Church, Benton, the mother church of the Saline Association, was organized on April 2, 1836 at the home of David Dodd. Eld. Samuel Henderson, who had come to Saline County in 1834, preached the message. Much of the early church history in central Arkansas revolves around the Spring Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Benton. The church obtained property and the first building was built by April of 1838.
At the May, 1836 meeting held to ordain Bro. Henderson, probably the first ordination in the state, Deacon Moses Bland suggested the beginning of the Saline Association.
In response to that invitation, the Saline Association was organized at Spring Creek Church near Benton, in Saline Co. on Oct. 1, 1836. The other charter churches were:
Union Church. - Union Church in Saline County was organized in 1830 at the home of Eld. Jesse Bland, with eight members. He was assisted in the organization by Eld. Silas Dodd, from the Salem Church. A log church house was built in 1835. Eld. Samuel Henderson was pastor of the church from 1835-1840 and Eld. Aaron Bolt was pastor from 1840 to 1845.
Saline Church. - This church was represented in the Little Rock Association in 1828. We have no definite information concerning the organization of this church, but it is commonly believed some of the families first settling in the Kentucky community desired to settle south of the Saline River. Because of the difficulty of crossing the river at certain times of the year, this church was organized about one mile south of the river. About 1928 the name was changed to Mt. View Missionary Baptist Church.
Mt. Bethel Church, Clark Co. about six miles SW of Arkadelphia, was organized September 17, 1836, with the message being delivered by Eld. Allen Samuels, of Salem Church, Saline Co. Eld. Samuels also served as the first pastor. The Mt. Bethel Church was a charter member of the Red River Association, mentioned below.
Mt. Gilead Church, Montgomery Co. This church was located about three miles west of Black Springs across the Caddo River, about one mile south of State Hwy. 8. According to Montgomery Co., Our Heritage19 a camp ground was established at the site even before the church was organized. Great revivals were held at the Camp Ground. During the Civil War soldiers camped where Mount Gilead Church now stands. The total membership of these churches was 73.20
The next available minutes are for the Twelfth Annual Meeting , held with Brownsville Church, at Tulip, Dallas Co. This church was host for the organization of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in 1848, which immediately preceded the Saline Association.
It was at this meeting the Association was divided, with the Ouachita River being the line of demarcation. The churches east of the River retained the original name of Saline Association and the churches west of the River were to organize and choose a new name.
This Association, choosing the name of Red River Baptist Association, was permanently organized in September of 1848 at Mt. Zion Church, near Washington.
3. Rocky Bayou Baptist Association
Two different accounts of the origin of this Association have been reported. After careful consideration of both reports, the most compelling evidence supports the position that the Rocky Bayou Association originated after the Spring River Association disbanded in 1840.
In 1835 the Rocky Bayou Church petitioned the Spring River Association for membership by letter and messenger. The church was also represented in 1836 and 1839. Also, the two oldest minutes available are of the 1853 session at New Hope Church in Lawrence County, which was listed as the 13th Session of the Rocky Bayou Association, and the 1855 session at Pilgrim’s Rest Church which was listed as the 15th Session. Even the minute of the 1890 session refers to that as the “Forty-ninth Annual Session.”
“Eld David Orr was the first Baptist missionary in the State. . . Elder Orr belonged to the Harmony Baptist Church on Steep-Bank Creek, in Lawrence County, about 6 miles eastward of the Reed’s Creek Church, which was a member of the Rocky Bayou Baptist Association. These two Associations sprang out of the ashes of the Spring River Association. Lack of harmony caused the dissolution of the Spring River; and, as was to be expected, the White River and Rocky Bayou had no fellowship for each other! No correspondence for some years, . . .” As previously indicated, the problem arose out of the anti-missionary movement.21
Separation from the State Convention
The 1921 Association met with Providence Church. The 20 churches reported 101 baptisms and 1,264 members.
At this meeting the Rocky Bayou Association withdrew fellowship from the Convention people and its work. This Association cooperated with the Convention from 1881 until 1921. This left the Association like it was when organized, free from conventionism.
The Resolution read as follows:
“Whereas, The Convention has put on a $75 millions drive for missions and whereas we think some of their plans are unscriptural, and whereas, they claim that “Landmarkism” is their second hardest problem and a great hindrance to their cause, therefore, be it resolved that we, the Rocky Bayou Association, withdraw fellowship from the Convention people and the Convention work.”
After this resolution was passed, the minority who were supportive of the State Convention and its causes met at the same time the following year. At that meeting they declared themselves the original association.
4. Bartholomew Baptist Association
On October 5, 1850, messengers from seven churches met at Clear Creek Baptist Church, near the present site of Monticello, Drew Co., AR for the purpose of organizing an Association.
The following churches and their messengers composed the body: Beech Creek, Ashley Co., 8 members; Flat Creek, Ashley Co., 44 members; Holly Springs, Bradley Co., 14 members; Shady Grove, Bradley Co., 18 members; Clear Creek, Drew Co., 60 members; Milton, Drew Co., 49 members; Seven Mile, Drew Co., 13 members.
In 1846 Eld. Benaiah Carroll was pastor of a church near what is now Monticello. He was the father of two great preachers: Dr. B. H. Carroll, who wrote The Trail of Blood, and Dr. J. M. Carroll, editor of the New Testament Interpretation commentary, and founder and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. [These statements are reversed. – jrd]
The historian reported the following action at the 1925 meeting, “The association at this time voted to adopt the co-operative program, while the program was yet in its infancy, having been inaugurated by the Southern Baptist Convention that year at Memphis, Tenn. The association recommended that churches do not designate their offerings, but give everything through the co-operative program.”
In accord with that action, a report was made on the Co-operative Program. Recommendation # 4 stated, “That every church in the Association without exception make the best cash returns possible by securing an offering from every member for the 1925 Co-operative Program before the meeting of the State Convention.”22
Although we are lacking official minutes, the Bartholomew Landmark Association was organized in 1924.
5. Columbia Baptist Association
The Columbia Baptist Association was organized in 1852, the same year Columbia Co. was formed. We have no formal information relative to the organization, since the 1862 Minute is the first official record.
It appears the September, 1853, entry records the official organization: “Resolved to meet with the Dorcheat Church on Saturday before the first Sabbath October following (1853) at which time to endeavor to organize an association, which meeting was held at the time and place appointed and an association organized upon eleven churches and in accordance with the request of the church the first annual meeting of this body will be held with Antioch Church commencing on Saturday before the second Sabbath in October, 1853.”
Beech Creek Church
According to available information, the Beech Creek Church, near Waldo was organized on June 22, 1850, and is the oldest church in the area. Churches organized out of or by Beech Creek: Shiloh (at the Lamertine Community); Bethel (at the Bethel Community); and Davis Chapel (a black church in the Davis Community).
In the 1902 session, meeting at Hepzibah Church, the Association voted to support the newly organized General (State) Association.
After extended discussion the minority report was rejected, and the majority report on State Missions was overwhelmingly adopted: “We find from the history of State Mission work that it has been fraught with some good, much time and a good deal of money. Yet it is a potent fact that at present there is much confusion, yea, division, dissension, disruption, and heresy in our State over this very important question. We find that there has been a very damaging, partisan and unbrotherly feeling brought about by the manipulators of the policy of the State Convention.We feel that the Convention in her manipulations has assumed too much authority and has practically taken possession of State Missions from the churches. We feel that the present policy of the State Board and Convention is unscriptural and manipulated by a class against the masses. We feel that the principal feature of the State Convention is to have certain men to control the mission affairs of the churches, regardless of a scriptural policy.
We feel that it is a useless expenditure of time and money to longer try to foster a mission policy that is sapping the very life from our churches and that is keeping up an eternal row among the brotherhood. God is not the author of confusion, and his ways are easy and loving.
We believe that the commission is to carry the Gospel to the lost, was given to the churches, and not to an ecclesiastical board. There seems to be a very potent ecclesiastical spirit manifested by the managers of the State Mission work that is alarmingly hurtful to the cause of Christ, and destructive to church fellowship.
We feel that this ecclesiastical domineering spirit is responsible for all our trouble. We feel that peace can never be bestowed by trying to longer co-operate with the State Convention.The foregoing statements are typical of most of the other associations in this section, as these local associations aligned with the newly organized State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches.
We feel that peace, love, and fellowship are worth far more than co-operating with the State Convention. We believe in a Scriptural church and co-operative mission work, the latter under full control of the churches.
We find that the General Association, recently organized to take the place of the State Convention is doing a grand and harmonious work. We see from the minutes of the General Association that it is made up of independent Baptist churches and every church in the State that will elect messengers to that body can be a member and at the same time not be bound by any ecclesiastical board.
We find that the main object of the General Association is to carry forward the great commission given by our blessed Lord to the churches. We see that some 223 churches have already pledged their support to the General Association. From the best we can gather, the General Association, is well worth our confidence and co-operation.
We therefore, as an advisory body, recommend to the churches of this Association that they withdraw all moral and financial support from the State Convention and that they co-operate in missionary work with the General Association of Arkansas.
Beginning in 1908, Eld. C. C. Winters, who was the last Moderator of the General Association and the First President of the American Baptist Association, was elected as Moderator. Eld. J. A. Scarboro, who had worked with J. N. Hall and written the famous book The Bible, Baptists and Board System, was pastor of First Baptist in Magnolia, beginning in 1909. The influence of both these men was helpful in the Association at this time.
When the division in the American Baptist Association occurred in 1950, most of the churches in this area chose to fellowship with the Baptist Missionary Association. At the present time fifteen churches fellowship in the First Columbia Association, including one church in Claiborne Parish and one church in Bossier Parish, Louisiana.
6. Mt. Vernon Association
In the fall of 1851, Eld. J. R. Graves then Editor of the Tennessee Baptist of Nashville preached at Helena. Several Baptists had previously moved into town. The meeting was a great success. Many were converted [51 according to other sources], and the present First Baptist Church was organized.
The Mt. Vernon Association was organized on September 3, 1853, at the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church. The following churches and pastors were in the organization:
Mt. Vernon, Mt. Vernon, 47 members, pastor M. W. Izard, Mt. Vernon; Ash Grove, Cotton Plant, 34 members, pastor J. M. Cox, Beech Grove; Bible Union, Mt. Vernon, 23 members, pastor M. W. Izard, Mt. Vernon; New Hope, LaGrange, 21 members, pastor P.S.G. Watson, Helena; Liberty, LaGrange, 27 members, pastor P.S.G. Watson, Helena.
The first annual session  was held with New Hope Church, located on the St. Francis Road, 12 miles from Helena.
Deacon Hall offered the following resolution:
WHEREAS, The exigency of the times demonstrate that Baptists should retain the old landmarks of their ancestry, obtain and sustain the truth at all hazards; and as a denomination sustain the exponents of Bible faith, together with those who faithfully expose and oppose all error and isms of the world; furthermore be itAt the 1868 meeting, held with Mt. Vernon Church, St. Francis Co., Eld. J. R. Graves from Memphis, preached at 2 PM on Saturday and 11 AM on Sunday.
RESOLVED, That the Association does most cordially and emphatically approbate the course of Eld. J. R. Graves, editor of the Tennessee Baptist, in his recognition and continued controversy with Alexander Campbell and others; and hail with pleasure his efforts in exhibiting, in their true light, the harmful isms now extant.
Three interesting Queries were received: “Are Campbellite and Pedobaptists organizations scriptural?” “After remarks by brethren, the decision was unanimously given in the negative.
“Is it in order to receive persons immersed by Pedobaptist and Campbellite ministers?” The answer to this was also given in the negative.
From about 1909 until 1919 the churches of the association were divided in their support of the two statewide bodies. Representatives from both the General Association and the State Convention attended the annual meetings. The Convention interests exerted influence for the Convention causes, with little regard for the Landmark position officially adopted by the Association.
As late as 1917 visitors included E. J. A. McKinney, representing the Baptist Advance; W. F. Dorris, Monticello Orphans’ Home; and J. A. Smith, representing the Baptist and Commoner. The Orphans’ Home report included both the home at Monticello, supported by the Convention churches and the Texarkana Baptist Orphanage supported by the Landmark churches. Eld J. L. Brown read the State Mission report:
“By State Missions we mean the mission work carried on in our State by our two State bodies, the State Convention, and the State Association. These two bodies are seeking to reach and supply with Baptist preaching the destitute sections of our State.
Obviously efforts were being made for those supporting the State Convention to predominate in the Association. However, after the 1917 meeting, and beginning with the 1919 meeting, the Association appeared to operate exclusively as a Landmark Association.
In 1919 visitors included A. J. Smith, Little Rock, and J. L. Brown, Walnut Grove. Eld. Brown also preached at this session.
No visitors were present representing Convention interests; the Orphans’ Home Report only mentioned the Monticello home and the State Mission report mentioned only the Mission program of the General Association. Eld. J. L. Brown gave the State Mission report:
“As the State Association of Baptist churches are doing what they can to carry our State Mission work, we therefore recommend the Churches of this Association to aid them in their work. We further recommend that this Association elect a Missions Committee through which we can cooperate with the State Association in our own local points of destitution.”
The Publications Report stated, “Be it resolved that we, the messengers, of the Mt. Vernon Association recommend that churches throughout this association support and use the Land Mark Sunday School Literature, published by the Land Mark
Sunday School Concern at Texarkana, also that we use our best efforts to support the Baptist and Commoner, which we think should go into every Baptist home.”
The 1920 meeting was held with Haynes Baptist Church, Lee County. The Education Report stated, “The state association of Baptist churches of Arkansas have a college located at Sheridan, called the Missionary Baptist College. The school is now in operation in a temporary building furnished by the Baptists of Sheridan. The state association of Baptist churches of Arkansas has thirteen acres of land at Sheridan which will make a beautiful campus.
The Orphans’ Home report stated, “We have a nice 32 room brick home located in the suburbs of the city on a ten acre plot of ground. We have 40 bright children in the home, all in fairly good condition and all in school who are old enough to attend. We are considerably behind in running expenses.”
7. Bethlehem Association, NE
This Association encompasses the area in which the first churches were established in the state beginning in 1818.
The Salem Missionary Baptist Church, organized in 1842, is located one mile south of Boydsville, AR. In 1853 Salem Church sent a call to several sister churches to send messengers for the purpose of organizing an association.
In October, 1853, messengers from Salem, New Hope, Bethlehem and Mt. Gilead met at Salem Church and formed an Association originally known as The Bethlehem United Effort Baptist Association. These churches had been affiliating with the Black River Assoc. in SE Missouri.
According to Horton Bartlett.23 Elder William Nutt organized the Salem Church in 1843. According to R. C. Medaris,24 Elder William Nutt first made a missionary tour of Crowley’s Ridge, north of Wittsburg in 1838. He was the first Baptist preacher in the area and moved there in 1839 and remained until his death in 1845.
The New Hope Church, near Pollard, was organized in 1846. It is thought the Bethlehem Church first met in a brush arbor or log building near the site of the cemetery. Mt. Gilead Baptist Church was located in Dunklin Co., MO, near the Brown’s ferry crossing on the St. Francis River.
At the 1855 meeting a resolution was adopted which ordered that the word “effort” be removed from the name, and “that the body be requested to style themselves ‘United Baptists.’” The word “United” was dropped from the name in 1857 and until 1883 the Association was called the Bethlehem Baptist Association. However, in 1883 the name was changed to the Gainesville Baptist Association.
Dr. W. A. Clark was a visitor at the 1889 meeting and brought the Introductory Messages in 1892 and 1895. However, it appears the Landmark cause was never permitted to be heard in the Association. In fact, in the 1904 meeting a resolution passed “that no report which has for its purpose the endorsement of the State Convention or General Association be considered by this body.
Significantly, Ben M. Bogard was present at the 1904 meeting and preached on Friday evening. He was also present at the 1905 meeting. However, as the resolution stated, there was no debate or discussion of the State Mission program, and the Orphan’s Home at Texarkana was never mentioned. After about 1912, the proceedings of the Association took on a definite “convention” format, and glowing reports were made in favor of Convention programs. At the 1915 meeting J. S. Rogers spoke on “New Testament Programs for Arkansas Baptists” and at the 1919 meeting, the Annual Sermon, delivered by Eld. Edward Stovall, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Piggott, was titled, “The Meaning of the Baptist Seventy-five Million Campaign.”
Continuing the Bethlehem Association
According to the 1944 history, several churches withdrew from the Gainesville Association, and continued as a Landmark Association using the former name, Bethlehem Association. The minute states: “In 1921 a division was brought about in the Gainesville Baptist Association over the churches affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention . . . . A part of the churches that refused to be drawn further under the yoke of bondage met with the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in October of 1921, and assumed the old name, Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Association.
“This was not a new organization . . . these churches only resumed work on the old line, and refused to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. They assumed the original name, and also the original principles adopted by the Association in 1853.”
The Second Annual session met with Salem Church, near Boydsville, on Sep. 28-29, 1922. Petitionary letters were received from New Home, Stonewall and Bethel churches.
The Committee on Publications reported, “We recommend as good literature and worthy of our patronage the Arkansas Baptist Commoner [should be Baptist and Commoner], published at Little Rock, and which we should especially cherish as our own state paper. For our Sunday Schools, we recommend the Landmark literature.” The Minute for 1923, and in succeeding years contained the following:
Statement of Facts
The Gainesville Association was once Bethlehem Association for a number of years and the work was done on the old survey by the churches for a number of years, but a germ was sown in this body that hatched centralized powers, delegating and centralizing from the church into the hands of a Board, taking the God-given rights from the church, and Christ the great head and law-giver forbids it. Therefore, we can follow no farther from the old survey, but we have returned to the old survey and the name we held when Jesus was Boss.24 117
8. Judson Association
We can only conclude that 1855 is the correct date for the organization of the Judson Association. According to the records of the Pine Bluff Church, that church petitioned the Saline Association for membership when it met at New Hope Church in Dallas County in 1854. The records of the Saline Association confirm this. A Bethsadia [sic], Hopewell, Friendship, Princeton, Pleasant Hill, New Hope, Spring Hill, Samaria, and Tulip Church are also listed.
Thus it should be evident that most of the churches making up the Judson Association had previously fellowshipped in the Saline Association.
The Committee on Documents for the 1861 session reported:
“. . .we find the following churches report they have organized a new association, known as the Pine Bluff Association: Pine Bluff, Good Hope, Providence, Spring Hill, Red Bluff, Orion, Antioch and East Union.”
9. Pine Bluff Association
The Pine Bluff Association was organized June 7, 1861, by the following churches: Pine Bluff, Good Hope, Providence (12 miles west of Pine Bluff), Spring Hill (south of Grapevine) and Red Bluff (near Redfield).
Bro. J. P. B. Alexander was elected moderator and T. A. Read was elected clerk, both from the church in Pine Bluff. The Constitution, Rules of Decorum, and Abstract of Faith of the Judson Association were adopted.
The First Annual Meeting convened on Friday, October 17, 1861 with the Providence Baptist Church, located on the Princeton Pike, about twelve miles west
of Pine Bluff, in Jefferson County. This church was organized in 1858 with 9 members by Eld. R. J. Coleman, who was also the first moderator of the Association. By 1861 the church had 80 members.25
At this meeting eleven churches were added:
From the Saline Association: Philadelphia (5 miles SE of Prattsville), Big Creek (later First Baptist, Sheridan), Liberty (7 miles north of Sheridan), Shiloh (seven miles southwest of Sheridan) and Fairview (southeast of Sardis).
From the Judson Association: East Union. New churches: Gum Springs, Corinth, Mount Pleasant, Mill Creek and Oak Grove.
The Pine Bluff Church failed during the Civil War. The present First Baptist Church was organized in 1876. Providence, Orean, and Red Bluff (Redfield) have had a continual existence. The other churches have disbanded. Spring Hill was the largest church at this time, with a membership of 143 in 1862. This church was located about four miles southeast of Grapevine. Red Bluff was between Redfield and the Arkansas River.
Philadelphia, Big Creek (First Baptist, Sheridan), Fairview, East Union, Corinth, and Shiloh, continue as active churches. Liberty Baptist Church, which was located seven miles northwest of Sheridan, was a great church for many years, but disbanded in 1945.
This First Annual Associational meeting started on Friday morning and continued through Monday. Committees were appointed to write reports on the following subjects: On the condition of the colored population, missions, Sunday schools, and Temperance.
The Third Annual Session met with Philadelphia Church on Saturday, Oct. 14, 1865 with only eleven churches representing. Pine Bluff and Providence did not represent at this meeting. The three largest churches reporting were Philadelphia, 108 members; Big Creek, 107 members, and Liberty 95 members, including 44 who had been baptized during the year. Big Creek reported 12 baptized and 16 dead. Spring Hill, which reported 143 members in 1862, had dropped to 70, and reported no baptisms and no pastor.
1 Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia, p. 105, 236, 1987 reprint by Church History Research and Archives.
2 The Arkansas Pioneer, September, 1912, p. 14 and A. L. Hay, “Kentucky Church,” The Christian Repository, Sep. 1858, p. 654. Hay is the source of the 1822 date, which was based on recollections, for the organization of the church and the hint that Toncray was the first pastor.
3 Saline Baptist Association, 1936 Minutes, p. 53-54.
4 J. S. Rogers, p. 307 and original minutes of the Association.
5 Saline County Marriages Book “A”, p. 38, and p. 85.
6 Minutes of the Saline Baptist Association, 1851-1860 and Arkansas Pioneers. After the Civil War, Mrs. Lindsey filed a claim with the U. S. Government for damages inflicted during the Civil War. In this claim, she reported that both Confederate and Union soldiers had raided their homestead in securing food, horses and other supplies.
7 E. Glenn Hinson, A History of Baptists in Arkansas, p. 6.
8 Little Rock Association,“ Pulaski County Historical Review (Fall, 1979), p. 86.
9 J. S. Rogers, p. 307-309, and original minutes.
10 J. S. Rogers, p. 120.
11 E. Glenn Hinson, pp. 4-5, and citing Memoirs of John Mason Peck, ed. Rufus Badcock (Philadelphia: Amer. Baptist Pub. Society, 1864), p. 107.
12 J. S. Rogers, p. 121.
13 E. Glenn Hinson, p. 5. See the section on the Rocky Bayou Association for additional information.
14 J. S. Rogers, pp. 125-126. The details concerning the establishment of the church may be found in the section on the Rocky Bayou Association.
15 J. S. Rogers, p. 123.
16 Spring River and Hopewell were in the original Association. The date for Springhill was not given, and a date of 1844 was given for Hopewell.
17 J. S. Rogers, History of Arkansas Baptists, p. 309.
18 Charles B. Lee, “History of Spring River Association,” Missionary Baptist Searchlight, Dec. 25, 1956, p. 7.
19 J. S. Rogers, pp. 309-310.
20 Montgomery Co., Our Heritage, pp. 394, 548.
21 J. S. Rogers, History of Arkansas Baptists, pp. 311-312.
22 P. S. G. Watson, The Arkansas Evangel, May 11, 1881.
23 Thus another effort to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of the churches, as typical of conventionism.
24 Horton Sigma Bartlett; Knob: Its History and Folklore, p. 103.
25 Rev. R. C. Medaris, Historical Sketch of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Greene Co., AR, published at Jonesboro, October 1, 1927. R. C. Medaris was pastor of the church.
[From Robert Ashcraft, Contending for the Faith, An Updated History of the Baptists (by John T. Christian), 2006, pp. 509-521; used with permission. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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