The occasion of Alexander Campbell's first visit to Kentucky was to engage in the proposed debate with Rev. W. L. McCalla, which had been arranged to begin October 15, 1823, in the town of Washington, in Mason County. On October 1, Mr. Campbell set out from Wellsburg, West Virginia, on horseback to Kentucky to meet his opponent. He was accompanied by Sidney Rigdon, then pastor of the Baptist church at Pittsburg, but who had become a strong supporter of the Reformation, and who within seven years was to become head of the Mormon Movement. They rode three hundred miles through Ohio and arrived at Washington, Kentucky, the place of the debate, on October 11. The discussion opened on scheduled time, October 15, and continued seven days. Plans had been made to hold the debate in the log meeting house of the Washington Baptist Church, but the crowds were so immense and the weather favorable, that the place was changed to a nearby Methodist camp meeting ground, where the great throng could be comfortably accommodated.1
Mr. McCalla in his opening address laid down three propositions concerning infant baptism. He said, "I will produce a divine command for infant baptism," next "I will produce probable evidence of apostolic practice of infant baptism," and then, "I will produce positive evidence of apostolic practice of infant baptism." Mr. Campbell took the definition of baptism found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, that "Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ." He said, "We will go then, to the New Testament and not to the Old, to ascertain the nature, design, and subjects of this ordinance. We shall appeal to the words of Jesus Christ for the institution of baptism .... We shall have nothing to do with Moses in this matter, however useful Moses may be in others. No doubt our opponent will feel his creed honored and will acquiesce in our method as correct."2
Mr. Campbell was surrounded by a large company of Baptist preachers, who supported him in the debate. They were delighted that one had appeared, who could meet the Presbyterian champion McCalla in such a scholarly way and win such a complete victory. Jeremiah Vardeman, "probably the most influential and popular preacher who ever lived in Kentucky," then in his forty-eighth year, was chosen by Mr. Campbell as his moderator in the debate. Walter Warder was pastor where the debate was held. He was being used of God in "winning thousands of souls to Christ in Mason, Fleming, Bracken, and Bourbon Counties .... It seemed to him that God had raised up Alexander Campbell for such a time as this." Jacob Creath and William Vaughan were known to have been present. All regarded Mr. Campbell as a Baptist, he having been a member of a Baptist Association in Pennsylvania, and as far as they knew, he was still a member.
The Baptists so overwhelmed him with compliments for his success in the debate that he decided to introduce himself more fully to them in his room. The following are his own words: "Brethren, I fear that if you knew me better you would esteem and love me less. For let me tell you that I have almost as much against you Baptists as I have against the Presbyterians. They err in one thing and you in another; and probably, you are each nearly equidistant from original apostolic Christianity. I paused; and such a silence as ensued, accompanied by a piercing look from all sides of the room, I seldom before witnessed. Elder Vardeman at length broke silence by saying: 'Well, sir, we want to know our errors or your heterodoxy. Do let us hear it. Keep nothing back'."
Mr. Campbell stated that on account of the toil of the day, he knew not where to begin on such a great task, but said: "'I am commencing a publication called the Christian Baptist, to be devoted to all such matters, a few copies of which are in my portmaniteau, and, with your permission, I will read you a few specimens of my heterodoxy'. Then all said, 'Let us hear - let us hear the worst error you have against us'. I went upstairs and unwrapped the first three members of the Christian Baptist that ever saw light in Kentucky. I had just ten copies of the first three numbers."
To this group of Baptist preachers Mr. Campbell read extracts on "the clergy" and an article on "Modern Missionaries," to which Elder Vardeman replied, "I am not so great a missionary man as to fall out with you on that subject." Mr. Campbell said, "I then distributed my ten copies amongst the ten most distinguished and advanced elders in the room, requesting them to read these numbers during the recess of the debate, and to communicate freely to me their objections."
The preachers in the main were evidently pleased with the Christian Baptist and with Mr. Campbell himself according to the records of his biographer: "At the close of the debate the Baptist preachers were so much pleased with the result, and so tolerant of what they found in the 'Christian Baptist', that they requested Mr. Campbell to furnish them with printed proposals for its publication, in order to extend its circulation, and urged him to make an immediate tour through the State." He could not comply with their request to tour the state at this time, but promised to visit them in the autumn one year hence, and at that time tour "a considerable portion c the State".3
Immediately after the debate Mr. Campbell preached at Mays Lick Church in Mason County, and Bryant's Station in Fayette County, where Jeremiah Vardeman was pastor. Lexington was the principal town visited where he was given a great hearing. The services were held in the large meeting house of the Baptist church, whose pastor was Elder James Fishback, a man of fine appearance. He was formerly a Presbyterian, bi becoming convinced on baptism, he entered the Baptist ministry and built up one of the largest Baptist churches in the West. The Lexington meeting was far reaching in its influence among the Baptists. To this city came Baptist preachers from all parts of Northern Kentucky to hear the new champion. They went early to the church house to welcome the distinguished brother. The preachers sat in the pulpit, waiting his arrival to present him to the overflowing house. Mr. Campbell spoke two hours on "The Divine Glory of the Son of God" taken from the first chapter of Hebrews.
After the sermon, a number of Baptist preachers gathered at the home of Dr. James Fishback, the pastor, among whom were John Taylor, Silas M. Noel, Jeremiah Vardeman, and Jacob Creath, who discussed, questioned, and modified the sermon. They all recognized in the new preacher a great personality. Jacob Creath was completely won over to Mr. Campbell, and was among the first converts to the Reformation. Jeremiah Vardeman apparently wavered, James Fishback was neutral, but Silas M. Noel, and John Taylor stood firm from the beginning. Noel was strong intellectually, well grounded in the faith and fluent with the pen. John Taylor, then seventy-one, was well versed in the Word of God, but uneducated. He was at this time one of the leaders in the anti-mission movement, already related.
Taylor says: "The night after preaching, we sat up very late, and had much conversation, as also next morning. Noel and myself slept together that night - we exchanged thoughts about the new preacher .... I heard a number of things from Campbell which made me stare; in some of which I withstood him. Elder Chilton was speaking of a good work going on - sinners weeping and crying for mercy. I saw Mr. Campbell raise his hand, and with a loud crack of his finger, and a scornful look at Chilton, say: 'I would not give that for it; if a sinner weeps when I preach, I know that in some way I have deceived him'." Silas Noel accompanied Mr. Campbell to Shelbyville, and then to Louisville, and from there he returned home sad but determined. 4
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. There was no state organization, to draw the Baptist forces together. The only means of unification were twenty-five scattered, loosely organized district associations. There was no Baptist school to train leaders, no denominational paper to diffuse information and expose error, and an untrained ministry, incapable of dealing with such a foe as Alexander Campbell. The anti-mission forces in Kentucky were gaining ground in the fall of 1823, and became allies of Mr. Campbell, who joined with them in opposing all missionary and benevolent work.
Campbell's fierce condemnation of "a salaried clergy, his opposition to missions, and ministerial education, made him popular with many Baptists." A "big" man like Alexander Campbell taking sides against missions and salaried preachers gave encouragement to all the anti-mission group, though many of them rejected his doctrine.5
Hyper-Calvinism, which was constantly gaining ground in Kentucky, enabled Mr. Campbell to gain many adherents.
Dr. J. B. Jeter of Virginia says: "Another cause which favored the progress of the reformation was the prevalence of hyper-Calvinistic, or antinomian views in many Baptist churches. Having adopted, in its main points, the Calvinian theology, they were led by their system into speculations as unpopular as they were sterile - The people generally becoming disgusted with such dry, and unsatisfying speculations, were ready to attend on any ministry which promised them a more palatable, if not a more nutritious diet. In churches of this sort Mr. Campbell found his way prepared before him.
"His opposition to Christian missions, and other benevolent enterprizes, gained him many friends. The antinomian Baptists were, almost without exception, hostile to all combined and self-denying efforts among Christian for spreading the knowledge of the Gospel." 6
After about three months' stay in Kentucky Mr. Campbell returned to his home in Wellsburg, West Virginia, and set out at once to publish the Campbell-McCalla Debate. He also commenced to urge his plea for the Reformation on a large scale in the Christian Baptist, which was rapidly increasing in circulation. He intensified his attack on the "clergy" and everything they were supposed to foster. This led him to condemn more fiercely Sunday schools, missions, education, and even Bible societies, as then conducted, because he regarded them as perverted to sectarian purposes.
The new church constituted at Wellsburg, West Virginia, by Alexander Campbell in September, 1823, to escape exclusion from the Red Stone Association, was received into the Mahoning Association in September, 1824, which was located in Ohio, composed of churches west of Washington County, Pennsylvania. The church sent as messengers Alexander Campbell and two others to bear the petitionary letter. Mr. Campbell had many friends among the Baptists in that Association, who welcomed him and the church into their membership. The sixth item on the minutes read as follows: "At the request of the Church of Christ at Wellsburg, it was receive into this Association." Then occurs the following: "In conformity with the rules of the Association, Mr. Campbell presented on this occasion a written statement of belief which he had prepared, and which was duly receive and entered upon the records." Hence two churches - Brush Run and Wellsburg - had accepted "the ancient order of the gospel," and also two associations - Red Stone and Mahoning - were controlled by the Campbells.
After becoming a member of the Mahoning Association in September 1824, Mr. Campbell hastened to pay his promised visit to Kentucky. The second visit resulted in unsettling many Baptists in their church relation since the doors of scores of churches were open to him, and he had large hearings everywhere. He came in contact with many of the leading pastors of the State, and found to his delight, that the Christian Baptist was being extensively read, and causing "considerable excitement." At Mt. Sterling, Mr. Campbell completely won the pastor, John Smith, nicknamed "Raccoon" who carried the entire church with him into the Reformer's camp.7 In November, he visited Louisville where P. S. Fall was pastor of the church. Mr. Fall became one of his most loyal disciples which almost wrecked the Baptist cause in Louisville.8
About this time such leaders as Silas M. Noel, Walter Warder, William Vaughan and some others just as faithful saw the storm gathering, and the imminent danger of the churches being disrupted. These men saw that many Baptists were becoming wild over the doctrine presented by Mr. Campbell on this second tour. The question with these leaders was what could be done to stem the tide that seemed to be sweeping all before it. On the other hand many good brethren thought it would be more prudent to modify and direct the course of the Reformation, rather than to make a direct and decided attack.9
Alexander Campbell closed his second tour in Kentucky in November, 1824 and returned to his home in West Virginia. The proceedings of the Mahoning Association in session, August, 1826, showed that that body was completely dominated by the Campbell forces. At the session of the same association in 1827, Walter Scott, who was soon to complete the "ancient order of the gospel" was appointed missionary "to travel and labor among the churches." This man, who was such an important factor, in the Alexander Campbell program, was born in Scotland in 1796, brought up in the Scotch Presbyterian Church and educated in the University of Edinburg. At the age of twenty-two he arrived in America and became associated with one Mr. Forrester, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Forrester was in charge of a congregation of the immersion wing of the Sandemanians, commonly called Scotch Baptists, Scott soon denounced Presbyterianism, was immersed, and, being a thorough scholar, was employed as a teacher in Mr. Forrester's school. Here he met Alexander Campbell, and a strong attachment grew up between them. He entered at once upon his duties as missionary of the Mahoning Association and proved to be Mr. Campbell's greatest agent in restoring the "Ancient Gospel." During the year, Mr. Scott, in his missionary work, made a startling announcement, that he had discovered the new order of the gospel, which was (1) Faith, (2) Repentances (3) Baptism, (4) Remission of sin, (5) The Holy Spirit, (6) Eternal life, if faithful to the end. He was thrilled over how the New Order was being received. Some of his adherents declared these truths should be preached to the whole world.10
Alexander Campbell was now securely entrenched in the Mahoning Association through his own efforts, and those of Walter Scott, The Red Stone Association was almost wrecked by the Campbell force in 1826, which led the Baptists to decide to draw the lines on the Philadelphia Confession of Faith at the session of 1827. Ten churches out of twenty-three declared in their letters adherence to that confession. These ten churches organized themselves as the Orthodox Red Stone Association and proceeded to exclude the thirteen churches, which withdrew to a nearby building, where Alexander Campbell delivered a sermon. One year hence these thirteen churches were formed into what was known as the Washington Association under the direction of Mr. Campbell. He was now thoroughly established in two associations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and there appeared to be no way to dislocate him. At the same time Kentucky was proving a most fertile field to plant his system of doctrine and practice among the Baptists, where thousands were turning to the "New Order of the Gospel." The revival in Kentucky in 1827-1828 was more beneficial to Campbellism, than to the Baptists, though the revival prevailed in the Baptist churches. Over 15,000 persons were baptized during this period, but the additions to the churches were much the largest where the disciples of Mr. Campbell were more numerous. In some sections there was great confusion in the churches, sometimes approaching anarchy. It was very disturbing to the faithful Baptists to witness hundreds baptized "for the remission of sins" at the hands of those formerly known to be orthodox Baptist preachers. Mr. Campbell claimed that Jeremiah Vardernan baptized according to his formula, but if this was true, it was known later that this eloquent preacher repudiated the Campbell system. John Smith, who took Mt. Sterling Church away from the Baptists, boasted that within a year, he had baptized six hundred sinners, and "capsized" 1,500 Baptists. The revival was of little benefit to the Baptists, but greatly strengthened the Reformers.11
By 1828, the Campbell system of doctrine had crystalized into a distinct creed which was propagated with great persistence. It was the plan of Mr. Campbell to remain in his relation with the Baptists. He says: "I do intend to continue in connection with this people (Baptists) so long as they will permit me to say what I believe; to teach what I am assured of, and to censure what is amiss in their views or practices".12
Alexander Campbell remained in complete control of the churches in the Mahoning Association until 1829, when the breaking time came, and the result of the separation was carried into Kentucky. This division came when two or three fragments of churches left to the Baptists in the Mahoning body united with the Beaver Baptist Association, a small fraternity located in the "Western Reserve in Ohio." This little Association in session August, 1829, in the Providence Church, near Pittsburg, withdrew fellowship from the Mahoning Association as set forth in the following Resolution: "We believe it to be our duty to the public, and to our brethren in general, to give some information respecting that (Mahoning) Association. It arose chiefly out of the Beaver, and progressed regularly until A. Campbell and others came in. They now disbelieve and deny many of the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, on which they were constituted." This is shown from the following eight articles:1. The Mahoning Association maintains "that there is no promise of salvation without baptism."
2. They maintain that baptism "should be administered to all who say that they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, without examination on any other point."
3. That "there is no direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the mind prior to baptism."
4. That "baptism procures the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost."
5. That "the Scriptures are the only evidence of interest in Christ."
6. That "obedience places it in God's hand to elect to salvation."
7. That "no creed is necessary for the church but the Scriptures as they stand."
8. That "all baptized persons have a right to administer that ordinance.''13
This document was printed in the Minutes of the Beaver Association and scattered far and wide among the Baptist churches, and wherever received, it was enthusiastically commended. Mr. Campbell's biographer thus speaks of the Beaver document: "Here, by the aid of a Mr. Winter, and one or two other preachers who were violently opposed to Mr. Campbell, they induced the Association to publish a circular anathematizing the Mahoning Association and Mr. Campbell as 'disbelieving and denying many of the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures; of which alleged heresies they went on to present a portentious list. This document was circulated with great diligence, republished in the Baptist papers with commendation, introduced by Dr. Noel into the minutes of the Franklin Association in Kentucky, and its preamble quoted as an introduction to decrees by the Appomattox Association in Virginia, denouncing Mr. Campbell's writings and all persons holding the views expressed in the Beaver publication. These proceedings at once brought matters to a crisis, and induced the Baptists almost everywhere to separate the Reformers from their communion. A spirit of discord and intolerance seemed to sweep over the land, creating everywhere embittered feelings and high handed and arbitrary decisions on the part of churches and associations".
Mr. Campbell personally denounced the Beaver document as a "tissue of falsehoods" and charged Mr. Winter, the chief promoter of the anathemas, as an immoral character, and then asks; "Who is making divisions and schisms? Who is rending the peace of the churches? Who are creating factions, swellings and tumults? We who are willing to bear and forebear, or they who are anathematizing and attempting to excommunicate? Let the umpire decide the question. For my own part, I am morally certain they who oppose us are unable to meet us on the Bible; they are unable to meet us before the public; and this I say, not as respects their talents, acquirements or general abilities, but as respects their systems." ... "I am for peace, for union, for harmony, for cooperation with all good men ....14
A copy of this Beaver document was sent to Elder Silas M, Noel, pastor of the Frankfort Church, which was communicated to the Franklin Association in its annual session with the Forks of the Elkhorn Church, September 19, 1829, accompanied by a letter from the Frankfort Church, evidently written by Pastor Noel. This letter gave several reasons, why there should be a complete separation from all those who advocate and adhere to the Alexander Campbell system of doctrine and practice. The danger of delay is emphasized in this letter: "By our forbearance, and their partial success among the Baptists, they have become vain and impudent. They have, as they think, waged a war of extermination against our altars, our church constitutions, and our faith. They blaspheme the Holy Spirit, by denying and deriding his direct and invincible influence in the work of regeneration, before baptism; that sinners are saved by grace, sovereign and free, and justified by the righteousness of Christ imputed. Even these fundamental doctrines are ridiculed, reviled ..."
Note the concluding words of the letter: "Brethren, the reckless .spirits of the day have opened wide the floodgates of detraction, and abuse against your church order, your covenants, your constitutions, and your faith. They sacrilegiously insult the spirits of the pious dead, by deriding the sanctity of their hope and the triumphs of their faith. The men who have borne the burden and heat of the day; who have preached Chris through the iron grates of prisons, and hymned his praise amid the blaze of kindling fires, are numbered with bigots and enthusiasts .... all these heralds of mercy are ranked with lying prophets, and you are modestly invited to record your infamy by adjuring their faith and hope."15
When the document from the Beaver Association in Ohio and the letter from the Frankfort Church were presented to the Franklin Association in session September 19, 1829, the following action was taken and recorded in the minutes: "The request of the Church at Frankfort, that the report of the Beaver Baptist Association, made in August 1829, in relation to the Mahoning Association, be published in our minutes, was taken up and agree to; and our Churches advised to discountenance the several errors and corruptions for which Mahoning has suffered excision from the neighboring associations as contained in said report." It was evident that the Franklin Association was not ready for such decisive action. Dr. Noel no doubt saw the evils of delay, but could not arouse the messengers of the churches to the impending danger to the peace and prosperity of Zion.
There were nine associations in 1829 around which the battle would rage for control the coming year. These associations were Elkhorn, Bracken Boone's Creek, Tate's Creek, Franklin, Baptist, Long Run, South District and North District. Everything was very encouraging for the "Current Reformation" in 1829, Elkhorn Association passed the following resolution at the session at Lexington in 1829: "We entreat the brethren to be caution in taking improper and unwarrantable liberty with the character of those who may differ from them in sentiment, and with whom we stand connected by the strongest ties and obligations." The Elkhorn Association also passed a precautionary resolution at the same session pertaining to membership in the body which proved to be a wise action. "Resolved, That hereafter the churches composing this association shall be represented by vote in the following manner, to-wit: Every church shall be entitled to two votes; composed of one hundred members, three votes; and one vote for every additional one hundred members."
All appeared to be lost to the Baptists in Bracken Association in 1829. For eight years Walter Warder had served as Moderator, but he was defeated by Elder Jesse Holden, one of Mr. Campbell's faithful supports in that Association. Also "Raccoon" John Smith, one of the strongest preachers of the opposing forces, was a visitor and spoke at length, denouncing the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. He remained over and made a tour of the churches. But it was an interesting story of how defeat was turned into victory in the Bracken Association in 1830.16
There was a decided majority favoring Campbellism in the North District Association in 1829, and also a large majority in both Tate's Creek and Boone's Creek, the same year. The Baptist Association copied into the minutes of 1829 the erroneous tenets pointed out by the Beaver Association, and advised the churches to receive no applicants into membership, nor preachers into their pulpits, who held these errors. Sulphur Fork Association likewise copied into her minutes the action of the Beaver Association, and warned the churches against the heresies for which Mahoning was cut off. The Licking Association, an anti-mission body, adopted the policies of Mr. Campbell in regard to Missions, Benevolent Societies, and Theological Education, but rejected his theology. In the Long Run Association of 1829 no action was taken against the prevailing heresy.
The Baptist leaders in the fall of 1829, including such men as William Vaughan, Silas M. Noel, George Waller and others, were becoming convinced, as they viewed the situation, that nothing but a complete separation of the alien element from the churches would ever solve the perplexing problem. On the other hand the followers of Mr. Campbell, led by "Raccoon" John Smith, Jacob Creath, Sr., Jacob Creath, Jr., Josephus Hewitt, and others, were becoming more confident that they would control the associations of 1830, and take them over.
Two events, however, transpired during the memorable year of 1830, which led to the final separation of the Reformers from the Baptist churches in Kentucky. The first was the publication and distribution of Mr. Campbell's "Extra on the Remission of Sins," early in the year. The document contained sixty pages, and was distributed so as to reach all the associations, which were to meet in late summer and early autumn. After the publication of the "Extra" there was no longer any doubt as to Mr. Campbell's position on the design of baptism, being essential to the salvation of a soul. This document hastened the day when Mr. Campbell's followers would be separated from the Baptists. Dr. B. H. Carroll, of Texas, said, "When he brought out that 'Extra' the 'fur began to fly.' All over the land the Baptists rose up .... and their leaders began to reply to his 'Extras.' Yet Mr. Campbell's biographer calls this "Extra," "such a presentation of the nature of primitive Christianity, and of the simplicity, completeness, efficiency and excellency of the gospel, as had never been exhibited since Apostolic times."17
The second cause, which led to the final separation of the opposing forces was the call for the meeting of the Franklin Association in a special session in Frankfort on the second Friday in July, 1830. There was a prompt response to this call by all the nineteen churches of the Association, which were represented by seventy-four messengers. Corresponding messengers were seated from Elkhorn, Long Run, Concord, Licking and Sulphur Fork Associations. Some of the ministers present from outside of the Franklin Association, invited to sit in council, were: John Bryce, George Blackburn, George Waller, Ryland T. Dillard, George C. Sedwick, Joel S. Bacon, Herbert C. Thompson and James Seymour. The introductory sermon was preached by Elder George C. Sedwick; while William W. Ford was Moderator, and Henry Wingate, Clerk.
This was probably the most important called session of any association ever held in Kentucky. The principal object of it was to define Campbellism, and to warn the churches against its devastating influence. This was done in a circular letter printed in the minutes and sent to all the churches in the Association. This letter was written by "the learned, profound and eminently godly Silas M. Noel," which set forth in a clear positive statement the teachings of Alexander Campbell, taken from his own writings. This circular letter was scattered among the churches in all the associations before their meetings, later that year. The letter contained an introduction and thirty-nine Articles extracted from Mr. Campbell's two periodicals - The Christian Baptist and The Millennial Harbinger.
The introduction of this circular letter appears in part as follows: "Dear Brethren: You will learn from our Minutes, the results of this called session of our Association. Before Alexander Campbell visited Kentucky, you were in harmony and peace; you heard but the one gospel, and knew only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Your church constitutions were regarded, and their principles expounded and enforced, by those who occupied your pulpits - Often were you favored with refreshing seasons from on high, and many of your neighbors and your families were brought to a knowledge of the truth.... Have not these happy days gone by? In place of preaching, you now may hear church covenants ridiculed, your faith, as registered upon your church book denounced; and yourselves traduced; while the more heedless and unstable adjure the faith, and join with the wicked, in scenes of strife, schism and tumult. The fell spirit of discord stalks in open day through families, neighborhoods and churches. If you would protect yourselves as churches, make no compromise with error; mark them who cause division; divest yourselves of the last vestige of Campbellism.
"As an Association we shall esteem it our duty to drop correspondence with any and every Association, or Church, where this heresy is tolerated."
Space will not permit the quoting of the entire document, which contained thirty-nine articles or sections, extracted from Mr. Campbell's publications, setting forth his confessions of doctrine and practice.
The sending out of this wonderful document, adopted by the called session of the Franklin Association, stirred the churches and associations through-out Kentucky, and in less than six months almost a dozen associations took action, declaring their separation from all the Reformed forces. The Franklin Association met in regular session with the South Benson Church, September, 1830, following the extra session in July. By resolution the association requested the churches to close their pulpits to the preachers of the "Current Reformation" and no longer observe the Lord's Supper with them.18
The North District Association divided in April, 1830, and the majority of the churches led by Raccoon John Smith declared for the Campbell movement, repudiating creeds, which they regarded as "a yoke of bondage." Ten churches with a membership of eight hundred, out of two thousand two hundred and sixty-five in the entire association, met with the Goshen Church in June, and declared themselves the regular North District Association.
The great struggle for supremacy by the contending forces, occurred in the Elkhorn Association in its annual session, August 14, 1830, with the Silas Church, Bourbon County. Elder Jacob Creath, Sr., Jacob Creath, Jr., and Josephus Hewitt were all formerly members of the church at Versailles; but prior to the meeting of the Elkhorn body in August, Jacob Creath, Jr., took membership in Providence Church, Josephus Hewitt, moved his membership to South Elkhorn Church, while Jacob Creath, Sr., retained his membership at Versailles. These three churches were entitled to only three messengers each, according to the action of the Association in the session of 1829, but there was quite a confusion in the opening session of the first day, when ten messengers from each of these three churches appeared demanding seats. The messengers from these churches were reduced to the required number by the enforcing of the constitution, and the body was then orderly organized for business.
According to the minutes, "Raccoon" John Smith and nine other corresponding messengers from the majority part of the North District Association, as referred to above, appeared before the body requesting recognition as the regular North District Association, and demanding that their corresponding messengers be seated. Messengers also appeared from the minority part of North District. The request of the majority was rejected and the minority of ten churches was recognized as the regular North District Association. Thus John Smith, the most influential disciple of Mr. Campbell in the seat, was deprived of a seat in the Elkhorn Association, A resolution was then adopted "that the church at Versailles be dropped from further correspondence with this Association." The Providence Church was likewise dropped for non-conformity to the rules and for receiving into her membership a preacher, Elder Jacob Creath, Jr., who in faith and practice had departed from the constitution and had become identified with Alexander Campbell.
A committee was then appointed "to confer with the church at South Elkhorn for having departed from the faith and constitution of this Association, and for having disregarded the rule, relative to an equal apportionment of representation in this body." This old first Kentucky Association then took a definite stand against the Reform Movement by resolution that all churches and ministers having membership in it be excluded from further connection in this Association.19
The next great conflict with Mr. Campbell's Reformed Movement took place in Bracken Association, which met the first Saturday in September, 1830, at Washington in Mason County. The Campbell group had been very active in preparing for this session, expecting to be in control as they had been the year before. But William Vaughan was to be reckoned with in the coming session. He had returned to Bracken Association after an absence of two years in another state. There was intense interest and excitement on both sides of the controversy as the time approached for the Association to meet in the town of Washington, where Mr. Campbell made his first appearance in Kentucky a half a dozen years before.
Thomas Campbell, the father of Alexander, was present at this meeting. He had written a letter to his wife prior to the session, which gives an insight into the situation from his viewpoint: "I ... am ... to attend the Bracken Association, to meet at Washington, Mason County, Kentucky ... I can give you no adequate idea of the weight and heat of the work in Kentucky. The outrageous and malevolent opposition is ripening the harvest for the reformers. A. Campbell, Campbellism, Campbellites, heretics, are the chorus, the overword, the tocsin of alarm, in the mouths of the opponents, in almost every sentence, from one end of Kentucky to the other . . . You cannot conceive what a terrible dust our humble name has kicked up. If it were not coupled with the pure cause of God - the Ancient Gospel of the Savior and the sacred order of things established by his holy apostles, I should tremble for the consequences!"20
When the messengers gathered for this memorable session of the Bracken Association the first Saturday morning in September, 1830, made up of two opposing factions, it was difficult, says the historian, "to tell which side was in the majority." But when the vote was taken for Moderator, William Vaughan was declared elected, which showed a Baptist majority. The Mays Lick Church having divided, each group sent messengers, each claiming to be the regular Mays Lick Church. It was soon "Resolved that the majority be recognized as such; the minority having embraced a system of things called Reformation, thereby departing from the principles of the United Baptists in Kentucky and of the Association." Two letters were also received from the Bethel Church, both claiming to be the original church. In this case it was resolved that the minority be recognized as the church, the majority having departed from the original principles of the United Baptists and of this Association. The separation from the Reformers was completed in the Bracken Association in the session of 1831 with the Mayslick Church. William Vaughan led the association to a triumphal victory.21
The South District Association in session with the Shawnee Run Church, Mercer County, August, 1830, adopted the following resolution: "Whereas, Alexander Campbell's writings have exerted a destructive influence over many of the Baptist churches, in Kentucky; so as to produce schisms and divisions among the brethren: therefore, Resolved, That this Association advise and recommend to the churches composing this body, the propriety of discountenancing the aforesaid writings, together with such preachers as propagate the disorganizing sentiments of Alexander Campbell."
South Concord Association lost about one-fourth of its membership to the Reformed movement. During 1830 Alexander Campbell in person visited several churches, and spent eight days with the Monticello Church, where the pastor, the aged Thomas Handford, and a number of members embraced his doctrines.
The Tate's Creek, the once most prosperous Association, which met in August, 1830, was almost entirely under the control of the Campbell forces. This body was composed of twenty-five churches with 2661 members, but after the division, only five churches with one hundred fifty-six members were left to the Baptists. However, later in the year this number was increased to nine churches with nine hundred and thirty-two members The division was occasioned by a resolution introduced to withdraw fellowship from every church that favored the heresies of Alexander Campbell.22
The Russell's Creek Association in session with the Pitman's Creek Church, September 18, 1830, refused to permit Elder John Steele to preach the introductory sermon because he had adopted the views of Alexander Campbell since the last session. The Association adopted certain, principles of union, expressing their views of the fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures. The body then resolved, "That we advise the churches, that if any member shall, after admission, persist in discarding said principles of union, to exclude such member from fellowship." It was resolved further, "That no church, nor any members thereof, invite or permit any teacher or preacher to preach in their private houses, or meeting houses, who is known to be hostile to the principles of union; who maintains the abrogation of the moral law, or denies the agency of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of sinners, and in the sanctification and perseverance of believers."23
The Concord Association took decided action on the "Current Reformation" in its meeting with the Hopewell Church in Henry County, October 27, 1830. The minutes of this session record the following: "From the request of the majority of the churches composing this Association, ex-pressed in their letters, and some of them directly requesting the Association to devise a proper course to be pursued by them towards those modern teachers of theology, commonly called Campbellites, we offer the following advice: .... We believe the churches should not invite them to preach in their meeting houses. . . That we should not invite them into our homes to preach, nor in any way bid them God speed, nor their heretical doctrines." The following was added: "We advise you, brethren, to be particularly on your guard. When they are talking about the Spirit, we believe they only mean the written word; and when they speak of regeneration, they only mean immersion in water."24
The Long Run Association was forced to meet the Alexander Campbell issue in the 1830 session, held at New Castle on the first Friday in September. Two churches, Pond Creek and Goose Creek, under the leadership two reformed preachers, sought admission in the Association without any creed or confession of faith, but both were refused admission. Buck Creek and Bethel Churches sent up a memorial, requesting the Association to take a stand on the Reform Movement, led by Alexander Campbell. The following was adopted, in answer to the request of these two churches: ". . . . As the writings of Alexander Campbell are in direct opposition to the existence and general dictates of our constitution, we, therefore, advise our brethren that they discountenance those writings, and all those who support that course of rebellion against the principles of our Associational existence." This positive statement was neutralized by the following closing sentence: ". , . . that they exercise great tenderness in relation to those among us, who think differently from us." This compromised resolution prolonged the grief of division and strife in the Association until the division later, which resulted in the loss of five churches.
The division in the Green River Association did not occur until 1831. The orthodox churches after the division met one year hence at Smith's Grove on August 2. This new organization was composed of those individuals and churches, which were unalterably opposed to every phase of the doctrines advocated by Alexander Campbell. The Association agreed to "drop all religious intercourse with such of these as have forfeited their membership among us, by departing from the doctrine and order of this Association and the general union of Baptists."25
The Bethel Association took a stand against Campbellism in the session of 1881 by adopting a circular letter written by William Warder, pastor at Russellville, condemning the heresy. The records show that the Association lost five preachers and about seventy members in the division. Isaiah Boone, who was in the organization of Bethel Association, was the only preacher of prominence, lost to the Baptists.26
The division between the Baptists and the Campbell elements in the churches was well nigh completed at the close of 1832. The excluded members and churches had become an independent organization, which meant a separate denomination with distinct doctrines and practices, the very opposite to that of the Baptists. Dr. A. W. Fortune, in speaking of the Disciples as a distinct communion, says: "The story of the origin of the Disciples brings before us one of the strange contradictions of religious history. Here was a movement for union which led to further division. Here was a movement to reform the Baptist Church (sic) according to the order of the New Testament, which resulted in making the Baptists more loyal to their traditions and in launching a new communion committed to those reforms."27
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. Had the anti-missionary forces in the churches been cut off at that time, which was done later, there would have been a further reduction of at least seven thousand members.
The reformers led by Alexander Campbell, after having been separated from the Baptists, and formed into a denomination probably numbered about ten thousand members, but after the union with the Christian Church led by Barton W. Stone, the number was increased to about 20,000 members. The Methodists at that time (1830) reported six districts, fifty-one circuits and stations, ninety-three preachers and 28,189 members. The Presbyterians had about fifty ministers and around six thousand members.28
1. Richardson, Robert, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. 2, p. 71-73.
2. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 74-77.
3. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 72, 73, 88, 89; Spencer, John H., A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, p. 200; Vol. 2, p. 97-99; Christian, John T., A History of the Baptists of the U. S. (V. 2), p. 427, 428.
4. Richardson, Robert, op. cit, (V. 2,) p. 91-93; Christian, John T., op cit., (V. 2), p. 428, 429; Taylor, John, History of Cleiar Creek Church and Campbellism Exposed, p. 45, 46.
5. Christian, John T., op. cit., (V. 2), p. 429-431.
6. Jeter, J. B., Campbellism examined, p. 79, 80.
7. Richardson, Robert, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 95, 100; Hedden, J. W., "Mt. Sterling Baptist Church," Minutes of Bracken Association of Baptists, 1887, p. 14; Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 368.
8. Richardson, Robert, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 120-122; Kimbrough, B. T., The History of Walnut Street Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky., p. 18-20.
9. Vaughan, Thos. M., Memoirs of Rev. Wm. Vaughan, p. 162, 163.
10. Richardson, Robert, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 502-512; Baxter, William, Life of Elder Walter Scott, p. 82-86.
11. Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 598, 599.
12. Richardson, Robert, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 134.
13. Minutes of the Franklin Baptist Association, 1829, p. 5.
14. Richardson, Robert, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 322-324.
15. The Baptist Chronicle, 1830, Vol. 1, p. 35, 36.
16. Minutes of Bracken Association of Baptists, 1829, 1830.
17. Carroll, B. H., The Acts (An Interpretation of the English Bible, V.8) p. 91; Richardson, Robert, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 327.
18. Minutes of Franklin Baptist Association, 1830 called session, p. 3-6; Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 290.
19. Minutes of Elkhorn Association of Baptists, 1830.
20. Campbell, Alexander, Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, p. 151, 152.
21. Minutes of the Bracken Association of Baptists, 1830, 1831.
22. Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 130; Fortune, Alonzo W., The Disciples in Kentucky, p. 90-93. 23. Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 641.
24. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 337.
25. Minutes of Long Run Association of Baptists, 1830, p. 2; Minutes of the Green River United Baptist Association, 1831, p. 1.
26. Crismon, Leo T., The Boone Family and Kentucky Baptists, p. 18.
27. Fortune, Alonzo W., op. cit., p. 95.
28. Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol 1, p. 642, 643.
[From Frank Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. pp. 209-222. The title has been changed slightly. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Kentucky Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage