Baptist History Homepage

The Dover Baptist Association (VA) Resolution on Campbellism, 1832
John T. Christian

[What ought to be done in reference to the new doctrines and practices which have disturbed the peace and harmony of some of the churches composing this association?]

As a specimen of the procedure of other bodies the action of the Dover Association, of Virginia, is here recorded. This was, at the time, the largest association of Baptists in the world. In the autumn of 1832, this body convened at Four Mile Creek meeting house, in Henrico county, Virginia, not far from the city of Richmond. The Reformation excitement had reached its height. Several of the churches belonging to the body had been split asunder, and others were in a distracted and unhappy condition. All eyes were turned to the Association for advice in this time of trial. The subject was referred to a select committee, consisting of Revs. John Kerr, James B. Taylor, Peter Ainslie, J. B. Jeter, and Philip Montague. The committee in due time made the following report:
The select committee appointed to consider and report "what ought to be done in reference to the new doctrines and practices which have disturbed the peace and harmony of some of the churches composing this association," met at the house of Elder Miles Turpin, and having invited and obtained the aid and counsel of Elders Andrew Broaddus, Eli Ball, John Micou, William Hill, Miles Turpin, and brother Erastus T. Montague, after due deliberation, respectfully report the following preamble and resolution for the consideration and adoption of the association.

This association having been from its origin, blessed with uninterrupted harmony, and a high degree of religious prosperity, has seen with unspeakable regret, within a few years past, the spirit of speculation, controversy and strife, growing up among some of the ministers and churches within its bounds. This unhappy state of things has evidently been produced by the preaching, and writings of Alexander Campbell, and his adherents. After having deliberately and prayerfully examined the doctrines held, and propagated by them, and waited long to witness their practical influence on the churches, and upon society in general, we are thoroughly convinced that they are doctrines not according to godliness, but subversive of the true spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ -- disorganizing and demoralizing in their tendency; and, therefore, ought to be disavowed and resisted, by all the lovers of truth and sound piety.

It is needless to specify, and refute the errors held and taught by them; this has been often done, and as often have the doctrines, quoted from their writings, been denied, with the declaration that they have been misrepresented or misunderstood. If after more than seven years' investigation, the most pious and intelligent men in the land are unable to understand what they speak and write, it surely is an evidence of some radical defect in the things taught, or in the mode of teaching them. Their views of sin, faith, repentance, regeneration, baptism, the agency of the Holy Spirit, church government, the Christian ministry, and the whole scheme of Christian benevolence, are, we believe, contrary to the plain letter of the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour.

By their practical influence, churches long blessed with peace and prosperity, have been thrown into wrangling and discord -- principles long held sacred by the best and most enlightened men that ever lived or died, are vilified and ridiculed as "school divinity," "sectarian dogmas," &c. Ministers, who have counted all things but lose, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, are reprobated, and denounced as "visionary dreamers," "mystifiers," "blind leaders of the blind," "hireling priests," &c., &c. The church in which many of them live, and from which they call it persecution to be separated, is held up to public scorn as "Babylon the mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth." The most opprobrious epithets are unsparingly applied to principles which we think clearly taught in the Word of God, and which we hold dear to our hearts. While they arrogate to themselves the title of "Reformers," it is lamentably evident, that no sect in Christendom needs reformation more than they do.

While they boast of superior light and knowledge, we cannot but lament, in their life and conversation, the absence of that "wisdom that is from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." In fine, the writings of Alexander Campbell, and the spirit and manner of those who profess to admire his writings and sentiments, appear to us remarkably destitute of "the mind that was in Christ Jesus," of that divine love "which suffereth long, and is kind, envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil." Whenever these writings and sentiments have to any extent, been introduced into our churches, the spirit of hypercriticism, "vain janglings and strife about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers," have chilled the spirit of true devotion, and put an end to Christian benevolence and harmony.

If the opprobrious epithets, and bitter denunciations, so liberally heaped upon us by Mr. Campbell and his followers, are deserved, they, as pious and honorable men, cannot desire to live in communion with us; and if they are undeserved, and designedly slanderous, this of itself would forbid our holding them in Christian fellowship. If, indeed, they have found the long lost key of knowledge, and are the only persons, since the days of the apostles, who have entered and explored the divine arcanum, it is due to themselves -- to purblind Christendom -- to the world -- to truth -- to God, that they should, in obedience to the divine command, clothed in the shining garments of truth and righteousness, walk out of "Babylon," and concentrating their light, exhibit a true sample of the "ancient order of things"; and diffuse around them a blaze of "love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Until they do this, grave and thinking men, whose hearts are sickened with the depravity of the times, and who mourn a sad and general departure from truth and holiness, would voluntarily come out from "the present corrupt order of things," and holding sweet communion with one another, and with their God, let their light so shine that others seeing their good works, might be induced to glorify their Father in heaven; but, alas! they appear to be a strange anti-sectarian, dogmatical sect, who live only in the fire of strife and controversy, and seek to remain in connection with the existing churches, that they may with the greater facility obtain materials for feeding the disastrous flame.

In every aspect of the case then, a separation is indispensably necessary. The cause of truth and righteousness requires it -- the best interests of all the parties concerned demand it.

We, therefore, the assembled ministers, and delegates of the Dover Association, after much prayerful deliberation, do hereby affectionately recommend to the churches in our connection, to separate from their communion all such persona as are promoting controversy and discord, under the specious name of "Reformers." That the line of distinction may be clearly drawn, we feel it our duty to declare, that whereas Peter Ainslie, John Du Val, Matthew W. Webber, Thomas M. Henley, John Richards and Dudley Atkinson, ministers within the bounds of this Association, have voluntarily assumed the name of "Reformers," in party application, by attending a meeting publicly advertised for that party, and by communing with, and otherwise promoting the views of the members of that party, who have been separated from the fellowship and communion of Regular Baptist churches -- therefore

Resolved, That this Association cannot consistently, and conscientiously receive them, nor any other ministers maintaining their views, as members of their body; nor can they in future act in concert with any church, or churches that may encourage or countenance their ministrations.

The report was adopted by the Association without discussion and with but few dissenting votes.

[From John T. Christian, A History of Baptists, Volume 2, 1926, pp. 431-434. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.] jrd]

<More Virginia Baptist History
Baptist History Homepageage