Baptist History Homepage
Alexander Campbell, Kentucky, and King James
By R. L. Vaughn, May, 2018

      According to Frank M. Masters, “The occasion of Alexander Campbell’s first visit to Kentucky was to engage in the proposed debate with Rev. W. L. McCalla.” William Latta McCalla (1788-1859) was a leading Presbyterian preacher, and the debate took place October 15-21, 1823 in Washington, Mason County, Kentucky.i

      Many Baptist preachers supported Campbell in this debate, and in the aftermath many viewed him as a champion of Baptist faith. Campbell chose Jeremiah Vardeman – a very well-known and popular preacher – as his moderator. According to Masters, Jacob Creath (who was enveloped by the Restoration),ii Walter Warder, and William Vaughan (who became chief opponents of Campbell) “were known to have been present.” “The debate, being so popular among the Baptists, prepared the way for the rapid spread of Alexander Campbell’s views throughout the state. The conditions were favorable for such a man as he, to gain a good following among the Baptists.”

      The Campbell Restoration movement fueled controversy over the Bible. That controversy led to Baptist statements in favor of the King James Bible in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Henry K. Shaw’s reference to John Randolph (1773–1833), himself a Virginia planter and an Episcopalian, gives voice to the sentiments of many Baptists of that day. According to Shaw:

Among the orthodox, the King James text was thought to be the only true word of God. Therefore, they were suspicious of Campbell’s new publication.iii There are cases on record of ministers who had to stand trial before ecclesiastical bodies for reading Campbell’s translation or quoting from it in their pulpits. In this connection, the case of John Randolph, the Virginia statesman, is most interesting. Both Campbell and Randolph were elected delegates to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829. Randolph represented the Virginia aristocrats on the Atlantic seaboard, and Campbell represented the common people in the western part of the state. Campbell put up a strong fight for free public schools and libraries – a position which Randolph opposed…Campbell’s stubborn opposition to the aristocrats, who were accustomed to having their own way, so provoked the wrath of Randolph that he once stood up in convention and pointing his finger at Campbell, declared,

“That man is never satisfied. God Almighty could not satisfy him with the Bible which He gave and Mr. Campbell went and wrote a Bible of his own.”iv

     According to Spencer, “Campbellism took root early, in North District Association.”v Alexander Campbell visited the Mount Sterling Church “as early as 1824, and preached three sermons there.” ‘Raccoon’ John Smith “was speedily converted to his views.” Smith’s conversion and adoption of views inconsistent with the Baptist faith led to problems in the North District At its meeting in 1827 the Lulbegrud church sent up several charges aimed at the practices of John Smith. The accusations included:
“1. That, while it is the custom of Baptists to use as the word of God King James translation, he had on two or three occasions in public, and often privately in his family, read from Alexander Campbell’s translation…”vii
     As in the North District Association, the Reformation doctrine of Alexander Campbell and Raccoon John Smith caused problems in the Green River Association of United Baptists. Alonzo Willard Fortune quotes from the Minutes of the 29th Session of Green River Association, 1828 (pp. 4-5).
“The query from Mount Zion Church, to wit, ‘What ought to be done with a preacher in our union that publicly declares that our translation of the Bible is a very imperfect Book, and that there is human agency in the conversion of a sinner, and that man has got physical power to do all that the Lord requires of man,’ was taken up.”viii
      According to [A.W.] Fortune, the committee advised caution and charity. Ironically, the Mount Zion Church may have been too cautious and charitable! When the Green River Association took action against the Reformers in 1832, “It was ordered that the Mount Zion church should be dropped...”ix

      About this time, a writer identified only as “Titus” reported to Campbell’s Christian Baptist periodical on a sermon by George Waller.x

“It is presumption, it is wicked, for an individual, and he a mere smatterer, to take the work of a translation out of the hands of king James’ translators, men so renowned for their learning and piety, who were so providentially protected, and who lived so much nearer the age of the apostles, that they must, consequently, have been much better acquainted with the original language than any man can be in the present age.”xi
      George's brother, Edmund Waller, burned Campbell's New Testament. He reported, “I subscribed for Mr. Campbell's Testament, and received it, paid $1.75 for it, kept it five or six months and compared it carefully with one I have loved ever since I was 13 years old. On the first reading I condemned it, but let it remain in my house some two or three months; then tried it again, condemned and burnt it.”xii

      When the Barren River Association of Baptists organized in 1830, they included as their first Article of Faith:

“We believe the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as translated by the authority of King James, to be the words of God, and is the only rule of faith and practice.”xii
      Considering the time frame, it is likely that the felt-need for mentioning the King James Bible was specifically the raging Campbell controversy.

      A Baptist remnant of the North District Association – which was destroyed by the followers of Campbell – met at Howard’s Upper Creek, Clark County, Kentucky, on the 4th Saturday in July 1831. The committee on “Baptist Customs and Usages” reported on “Constituting Churches,” “Subjects of Baptism,” “Words of Baptism,” “Mode of Baptism,” “Manner of Eating the Lord’s Supper,” and then concluded with this statement on the Bible:

“That translation of the Scriptures called King James’s is the version that the five names of Baptists treated of in this report receive, refer to, and confide in as authentic. The principles of government are exhibited in the proceedings of the council at Lulbegrud [the church where they met for a special meeting in April 1830, rlv].”xiii
      The old veteran, John Taylor (1752-1835), broached the subject in 1830 in A History of Clear Creek Church: and Campbellism Exposed (Frankfort: KY, Printed by A. G. Hodges).xiv Perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek, he proposed a debate between Alexander Campbell and Daniel Parker.
“Let this debate begin on Monday morning in long days, and continue six days. On the seventh, both the men preach to the same congregation, and neither of them exceed two hours in their address. Let the only book used in this debate, be the translation of the Bible, made under the reign of king James. If half the Baptists of the western world, will be drawn off by Campbell and Parker, the balance will refuse to be hoodwinked by either of them, and will stick together as united Baptists, in the name of the Lord.”
      He further criticized Jacob Creath’s use of Campbell’s New Testament, as well as emphasized what he thought was Campbell’s own reason for despising the old Bible.
“This produced a fresh source of contention in the church. This young brother [Jacob Creath, Jr.], a few years before had preached in Kentucky with good acceptance among the churches. But now he would read and preach from the new, or Campbell’s translation of the New Testament, cast contempt on the Old translation, that the Bible was much corrupted by that translation.”

“This, I suppose too, is the reason why Campbell is better pleased with his new translation, for the word repentance is rarely seen in the whole work. The old translation mingles too much godly sorrow with gospel religion, for Campbell’s use.”xv

      Frank Masters summed up the Campbellite defection (numerically) in this way:
“The available statistics of the Baptists in Kentucky in 1829 give thirty-four associations, six hundred fourteen churches, and 45,442 members; but the report in 1830 showed a loss of forty churches and 5,485 members largely as a result of the division. In 1832, an additional decrease of 4095 members was reported, which made a total loss of 9580 members in three years. The total membership in 1832 was 35,862, and in 1835, 39,806, which showed a gain of only 3,947 members in three years; and still 6,636 members less than reported in 1829.”
      In his preface to the history of Clear Creek Church, John Taylor wrote, “The worst of all heresy, is corrupt views of the Scriptures, put into practice; and this is more seen in Campbellites, than any other people with whom we are acquainted.”xvi Perhaps this well sums up the problems Kentucky Baptists had with Campbell and his followers in the 1820s to 1830s – a poor view of the scriptures, and the practice of the poor views they had. Most historians know well the problem of Campbell’s view on baptism “as a regenerating ordinance, and by which remission of sin is obtained” but fewer probably recognize that embedded within the Kentucky Campbellite struggle over contrary practices were contrary views of the scriptures themselves.

i A Public Debate on Christian Baptism: between the Rev. W. L. MacCalla, a Presbyterian teacher, and Alexander Campbell.

iiI suppose this to be Jacob Creath, Jr. His uncle, Jacob Creath, Sr., also embraced the Restoration movement.

iii Alexander Campbell’s “The Living Oracles” New Testament

iv Buckeye Disciples: a History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio, St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication, 1952, pp. 67-68

v The North District Association organized in August 1801, a friendly division of large territory of the South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists.

vi A History of Kentucky Baptists, Volume II, J. H. Spencer, 1885, p. 121; The trial of Raccoon John Smith is also related in Raccoon John Smith: Frontier Kentucky’s Most Famous Preacher, John Sparks, pages 235-260; See also Old Cane Springs - A Story of the War Between the States in Madison County, Kentucky, revised edition by J. T. Dorris, 1936

viiThe other two complaints were related to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Life of Elder John Smith: with Some Account of the Rise and Progress of the Current Reformation, John Augustus Williams, Cincinnati, OH: R. W. Carroll & Company, 1870, p. 146

viii The Disciples in Kentucky, A. W. Fortune, Lexington, KY: Convention of the Christian Churches in Kentucky, 1932, p. 82

ix Ibid, p. 93

x George Waller pastored Buck Creek Baptist Church in Shelby County, Kentucky for nearly fifty years, and is buried in the Buck Creek Baptist Church Cemetery. S. H. Ford wrote, “As a preacher, George Waller was argumentative, Calvinistic, and really eloquent. He was, in his day, amongst the most laborious and influential ministers in the West.”

xi Letter from ‘Titus’ to the Christian Baptist, Vol. IV, No. 10, May 7, 1827, as quoted in “Alexander Campbell and His New Translation,” by David W. Fletcher, p. 11 (originally in The Seminary Review 20, No. 2, June 1984: 4561). Fletcher also relates an account of George’s brother, Edmund Waller, burning Campbell’s New Testament: “I subscribed for Mr. Campbell’s Testament, and received it, paid $1.75 for it, kept it five or six months and compared it carefully with one I have loved ever since I was 13 years old. On the first reading I condemned it, but let it remain in my house some two or three months; then tried it again, condemned and burnt it.” (p. 9)

xii The Articles of Faith of the Barren River Association, adopted at her constitution at the Mount Pleasant Meeting House, Barren County, Ky., Sept. 15, 1830, recorded in Pioneer Church Records of South Central Kentucky and the Upper Cumberland of Tennessee 1799-1899, C. P. Cawthorn & N. L. Warnell, Dayton, OH: Church History Research & Archives, p. 23; See also Minutes of the One Hundred Sixty-Ninth Annual Session of the Barren River Missionary Baptist Association, August 26, 1999, p. 15. The Bethlehem Anti-Mission Baptist Association in their Abstract of Principles in 1838 declared “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as translated by King James, to be the Word of God.” Though this is slightly later, the similarity to Barren River’s article suggests the residual effects of the Campbell controversy (A History of Kentucky Baptists, Volume II, J. H. Spencer, 1885, p. 508).

xiii Life of Elder John Smith: with Some Account of the Rise and Progress of the Current Reformation, John Augustus Williams, Cincinnati, OH: R. W. Carroll & Company, 1870, pp. 422-424; without inspecting the original document, it is hard to understand what is meant by “the five names of Baptists treated of in this report.” Perhaps it meant something like Regular Baptists, Separate Baptists, United Baptists, etc., or perhaps there were five churches represented.

xiv Clear Creek Church was in Woodford County, near Versailles, Kentucky.

xv A History of Clear Creek Church and Campbellism Exposed on Baptist History Homepage

xvi Campbellism Exposed or, A History of Clear Creek Church at Primitive Baptist Library