Chapter XV - South Elkhorn Church - Licking Association - Reformation
South Elkhorn Church was the first worshiping congregation of any order north of the Kentucky river. While the elk and the buffalo still bounded over the consecrated hunting grounds of the Indian, and the tall waving cane and the wild pea-vine filled the air with fragrance, the old Spotsylvania Church, which followed Lewis Craig over the mountains, was reorganized on the banks of the Elkhorn some six miles from the present city of Lexington. In their deerskin robes, the ancestors of those who occupy the broad farms near that city met to worship in the free air, and in the rude log buildings, in the erection of which each helped. They had passed through the stormy times of persecution. They had brought into the wilderness their deathless love for those principles for which they had willingly suffered. A noble brotherhood was it, and a noble man was he, its pastor, Lewis Craig.
Nine years after the constitution of the church, Craig moved into Bracken county, and another pastor had to be chosen. Among those who had been imprisoned in Virginia for the testimony of Jesus, was a plain, artless, true man, John Shackleford. On the resignation of Craig, Shackleford was chosen pastor of South Elkhorn. The church numbered four hundred members, and the choice of a pastor was unanimous. The sad division in the Elkhorn Association, which had sprung from a personal difficulty between Creath and Lewis, eventuated in the formation of the Licking Association, and the alienation of brethren who had been companions in arms from their youth. Corbin and Price, and Bainbridge and Craig, and Ambrose Dudley, were no longer in union or communion, with the Elkhorn Association. One Trott, an eastern man, who had lately come to Kentucky, and who was apt at invention, moved to call the Licking Association "Particular" Baptists. It was seized upon as a happy idea, and thus the Licking brethren were distinguished from all other Baptists, and claimed, in fact, to be another people. The breach was every year widening, and correspondences between the two bodies finally ceased. Shackleford's heart was with those old brethren - the co-laborers and associates of his youth. A minority of the church felt as did the old pastor, and the hope was entertained that the church would still go with the Licking Association. But Jacob Creath lived in the neighborhood of South Elkhorn. His activity and stratagem were brought into play to prevent, by any means, the withdrawal of the church from the Association; and soon two antagonistic parties were formed in the church.
The David's Fork Church had called Jeremiah Vardeman as its pastor soon after the difficulties between the two Associations occurred. He was rather Arminian in his views, and out-spoken and defiant in whatever he believed. Annoyed by the opposite party, he himself became an uncompromising opponent of what he termed "particularism." The eloquence and success of Vardeman made him formidable in the contest, and gave him an overwhelming influence in the neighboring church - South Elkhorn.
To counteract this influence, or to prevent its exercise, Shackleford refused to extend to him the ministerial courtesy customary among Baptists. He would not invite him into his pulpit.
There was, however, a standing rule in the South Elkhorn Church that "any member may invite a minister of our order to preach." The rule had become obsolete, but use now being found for it, Vardeman was asked to preach by one of the Creath party. Vardeman accepted, and imprudently hurled his writhing sarcasms at the pastor and the Licking party.
The old man, out-witted and excited, dropped some incautious remarks which caused the following charges to be entered against him at the next church meeting.1
"October, 1821, Samuel H. Craig prepared charges against John Shackleford for saying that Brother Jeremiah Vardeman preached false doctrines, and did not preach the truth.
2d. "For saying that the David's Fork Church (of which Vardeman was pastor) or a majority of it, is corrupt.
3d. "For saying that a majority of the Elkhorn Association is corrupt."
The old man was now at the mercy of the majority -- often the cruelest tyranny that exists."
The charges could be proved, for the old man did not deny them. The majority wished him and his party prostrated. It had a right to expel him and them - and which way does the Spirit of God go? Is it not with the majority?
Helps were called from neighboring churches. They met, and saw no possible escape for the old pilgrim soldier, but expulsion, unless a flaw could be found in the indictment.
Samuel H. Craig was the son of the eccentric Joseph Craig, who, with the two brothers, Lewis and Elijah, were Separate Baptists in Virginia. The former were Calvinists, while Joseph was an ultra Arminian.
On their arrival in Kentucky, Lewis and Elijah united with the Regulars, and adopted the Philadelphia Confession. Joseph separated from his brethren, formed a Separate Baptist Church, and publicly opposed the Regulars. After the union between the two, orders had taken place, the hostility, to some extant, had ceased, but the old party-lines could still be traced. The difficulty in the Elkhorn Association was but the kindling up of the fires. The pastor of the South Elkhorn Church was an old Regular Baptist. Samuel H. Craig was an Arminian Separate. His religious prejudices were stronger than love of kindred, and he became the friend of Creath and the foe of Elijah Craig. The bearing of these old parties on the introduction of the Current Reformation among Baptists, and the desolation of South Elkhorn Church, are facts worthy of note, and are fraught with lessons of wisdom. Armenianism and general looseness of doctrine have always been precursors of ruin among Baptist Churches.
The Committee of Helps saw the bitter determination of the majority, and postponed the prostration of the old pastor by throwing out the charges as not legally brought.
At the following meeting, the question was introduced by Duval, the main supporter of Shackleford, "Are we satisfied with, and in favor of, living under our constitution," the Philadelphia Confession. It was thought that S. H. Craig and the Creath party would object, and be in a minority. But they were passive, and the vote was unanimous. The Shackleford party was now full of hope -- charges had been ruled out. There was unanimity on the constitution, to which Creath, Vardeman, and Craig were opposed. The next step was to break off from the Elkhorn Association; and success seemed certain. The question was sprung on the fourth Saturday in December. The attendance was small. The Shackleford party was rallied. The record reads: "December 24, 1821. The question was moved by Brother Duval. All that wish to withdraw from the Elkhorn Association make it known." The result was thirty-one for withdrawing, and twenty-seven against it. The point was carried -- no matter how. "Which way does the Spirit of God go?" says some daring trickster. "Is it not with the majority? And is not here a clear majority for leaving the Association?"
For the minuteness of this detail there are many reasons. The determination of the good old man and his party to rule or ruin the South Elkhorn Church had more to do with the advancement of the Reformation than any other occurrence.
At the next monthly meeting there was a great rally of the Creath party, while the opposite party, knowing they were in the minority, absented themselves.
The vote to consider the action of the last meeting to leave the Association was reconsidered. Forty-two members were present, and, by a unanimous vote, it was determined to hold to the Association, in which the fullest confidence was expressed.
The next move of Shakleford and his friends was to enroll their names as the church, and at a private meeting, cut off the majority for "reconsidering the vote of the church to leave the Association."
At the February meeting, the minority, which had constituted itself the church, was cited before the majority for schism and contumacy - Gist, Parker, Pollard, Higbee, and Craig, appointed a committee.
The following meeting in March was as stormy as the season. Craig, ever ready for battle, and adroit in planning and maneuvering, the master spirit in the storm that was sweeping over every Baptist Church in the Association, was present to give direction and courage to his friends.
Shackleford was arraigned. In vain did the old man's gray hairs, his faithful life, his undoubted piety, his sufferings in times of persecution for the cause, and the fact that he had acted according to a majority vote of the church -- in vain did these plead for the veteran soldier of the cross. The decree had been issued by the daring, ambitious Creath, that those in his path must be destroyed, and Shackleford was excluded. Jacob Creath was soon afterwards called to the charge of the church. A lawsuit ensued for the use of the house, and the of the matter was, that two parties worshiped in the same house whose highest aim seemed to be to destroy each other.
The decision was now complete, and the only question was, who should take charge of the majority church?
Creath was busy. He attended the next meeting and preached, but was not called. The record states: "January 24, a committee was appointed to extend to James Fishback the call of the church. He doubtless knew the designs of Creath -- probably desired the designs should be consummated. He declined the call. At the following meeting a committee was appointed to wait on Richard Morton. His answer was, "Under existing circumstances he could not accept."
This state of things continued till the following February, when as a compromise with those who still opposed Creath, and quite in harmony with his plans, a young man, his nephew, whose name will frequently appear in these sketches, received the call of the church. It was JACOB CREATH, Jr.
The two Creaths, preaching alternately, and the old pastor preaching in the same house to the minority church, each party having excluded the other, the current of the Reformation set in. Campbell's debate with McCalla had attracted all attention. He had made his triumphant march through Kentucky. He had found old Jacob Creath a ready convert to his views -- the very man to execute with boldness his well laid plans. South Elkhorn Church and the region round Lexington were as channels already cut, through with the current might flow without a check.
In 1828 the signal was given for a general attack upon the constitution of the Elkhorn Association. Creeds had been denounced in the Christian Baptist from its beginning as necessarily schismatically.
At the July meeting, the committee appointed to take into consideration the constitution of the church and the confession of faith, submitted the following:
"WHEREAS this church, in its original constitution, agreed to receive and adopt the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, the church, having taken the subject into consideration, after deliberation thereupon, has resolved to dispense with the Philadelphia Confession, and, from this time forth, takes the word of God as contained in the Old and New Testaments, in their own statements and connections, as the constitution, and to be guided and directed by them in all things, believing them to be an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice for the government of the church. And, further, we retain the name of the Baptist Church of Christ at South Elkhorn."
Stone's party, a quarter of a century previous, had thrown all man-made creeds overboard. This tributary stream was now beginning to mingle its current with Stone's Reformation. He, however, had not only flung away creeds and confessions, but with them, all party names. The Reformers of that day, as now, called themselves Christians. But these disciples of Alexander Campbell retained the name Baptist. Their leader, himself, had not yet abandoned it. He was still a member of a Baptist Church. He edited the "Christian Baptist." And the Creaths, at South Elkhorn, following up his teachings, were nearing, step by step, the Reformation of the New Lights. They had flung the confession overboard, but retained the name Baptist.2
Such was the condition of things in this old and once flourishing church on the eve of the battle soon to ensue.
We now present, as that which will fling most light on this state of things, a continuation of . . . .
1 These and other items concerning this church were obtained from the church-book, to which I gained access through the politeness of Mr. Curd, clerk of the "South Elkhorn Church of Disciples," and through the efforts of James F. Barkley, of Nicholasville, and also of Elder S. S. Perry, who traveled through the neighborhood of Lexington in search of old documents which might throw light on the history of this church.
2 I found, on examining the old church book, that this was the first time this church was called a Baptist Church. The old constitution reads, "The Church of Christ called Baptists."
[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, April, 1858, pp. 278-283. Taken from a microfilm copy at The Southern Baptist Seminary Library, Louisville, KY. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Ford's Kentucky Baptist History
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