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The Origins and Development of Kentucky Anti-Missionism1
by Larry Douglas Smith

      Anti-Missionism arose in response to the developing Baptist Missionary Movement. Historians have given several overlapping, and even contradictory, reasons for its development. Some have emphasized the important role played by anti-missionary leaders; others, the fact that missionary societies were organized outside the churches and thus had no biblical foundation. Still others stressed the role that the doctrine of predestination (hypercalvinism) played. Yet other have identified environmental (i.e., sociological, economic) factors as primary. Reason would seem to indicate that several of these historians would be wrong. Yet, historical movements, such as Anti-Missionism, seldom have only one orgin or reason for existence. Each of the above mentioned positions has some degree of accuracy. While each of them allowed for secondary causes, most failed to see the movement developing and changing. Thus at different times different factors are more important in the development of Anti-Missionism. This article will show the beginning and growth of Anti-Missionism in Kentucky, giving special attention to the factors which promoted its continuing development.

Earliest Opposition to Missions

      Even before Luther Rice organized the Baptist Missionary Movement (1813) at least some Kentucky Baptist held doctrines that would later clash with those of the Missionary Movement. Local church autonomy was one of these doctrines. Being rooted among Kentucky Baptists through their Separate Baptist tradition, the doctrine was greatly promoted during the Anti-Missionary Movement by Alexander Campbell, as well as by the Landmark Movement.

      The second doctrine that pre-dated the Missionary Movement was built on the theology of the British Baptist John Gill. Overreacting to the free-will emphasis of John Wesley, Gill formulated a doctrine of salvation that denied man had the ability to freely decide for or against salvation. Gill believed that salvation was God's choice, and that nothing one could do would offset his decision. The earliest known Kentucky advocate of this position was William Marshall (d. 1808).2

      Two doctrines thus existed prior to the Missionary Movement that would be interpreted by some to be contrary to the Missionary Movement. The doctrines of the church (ecclesiology) and of salvation (soteriology) would be supplemented by several other factors after the Missionary Movement began to take a structured form.

      Earliest opposition after the rise of the missionary bodies was the refusal or cessation of correspondence with the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, the administrative body of the national Baptist missionary society. The national board used exchanges of minutes and other documents with local associations as a means of publicizing their missionary work and soliciting funds. Lack of correspondence then would cut off the board from the associations and that avenue of connnunication with Baptists. Some Kentucky Baptist associations never entered and most soon rejected correspondence with the Board.

      Although ecclesiastical and soteriological reasons played some role, opposition

during the period up to 1820 rested upon objections to the people selected as missionaries and to the means or methods used to further the cause. Many problems began in Missouri and Illinois because of missionary behavior there. John Taylor's pamphlet, "Thoughts on Missions" (1820) summarized many of these problems: false reports of religious destitution, preaching for material gain, lust for power, insensitivity to religious needs and customs. Taylor's work, which he wrote more in order to reform missionaries than to do away with missions (the general interpretation of the pamphlet), was widely distributed.3 Because his work was largely misunderstood, causing many personal hardships, he refused an offer from an eastern publisher to re-issue the work. Taylor also condemned the missionary structure which he said was outside local congregations and thus a threat to their existence . Campbell and Landmark Baptists would use his arguments (and others) in order to advance local church control over religious life in the congregation. Anti-missionary leaders, whose motives sharply contrasted with Taylor's, would use his pamphlet in order to advance their own kinds of opposition to missions.4

      In the same year that Taylor published his pamphlet, another aspect of Anti-Missionism came to the fore when the Licking Association added the word "Particular'' to their name. The additional word indicated that the association adopted the doctrine of salvation earlier associated with John Gill: that Christ died for "Particular" individuals, making salvation solely dependent upon God's action in Christ, not on anything done by the person. This was the use of Gill's doctrine of salvation in order to refute the Missionary Movement. While for several years the circular letters of that body addressed to the churches of the association had contained explicit recognition of particular atonement, adding to the association's name marked a hardening of its soteriological beliefs.


      More significant opposition, in terms of popular participation, was the attack upon the ecclesiastical (doctrine of the church) aspects of the Mission Movement. John Taylor attacked the missionary societies and activities because membership and, to a lesser degree, leadership was based upon financial support for the missionary group, usually in the form of membership dues. Those who made large contributions would be assured leadership positions, usually a seat on the board of directors, regardless of their ability to lead spiritual bodies. Taylor felt this contradicted the egalitarian nature of Baptist church government. While Taylor believed that the money basis of representation would destroy Baptist democracy in the local church, he also feared that it would corrupt the Missionary Movement, and he gave several examples of such corruption. A missionary organization based on money, instead of church membership, would be outside the control of local churches: thus, members in missionary societies might not be spiritually accountable to the congregation of which they were members. For Taylor, missionary societies organized outside local congregations ran the risk of not only destroying local church autonomy but of losing its spiritual and ethical soul. Alexander Campbell extended Taylor's criticism further, arguing that missionary societies outside the local congregation were contrary to the Bible. Taken together, the anti-democratic nature of the Missionary Movement and its lack of explicit support in Scripture form the key elements of ecclesiastical opposition to missions.

      Beginning about 1824, Alexander Campbell pushed ecclesiastical objections to the fore, while continuing to press objections toward the missionaries and their means of raising money. Campbellism, as the movement asssociated with Alexander Campbell was known among Baptists, continued growing within Baptist churches until 1830, when associations began forcing them out. Baptist joined Campbell's "Reform Movement," as the movement associated with Alexander Campbell was known to his

followers, for many reasons, one of which was ecclesiastical oppostition to missionary organization.

      As many Separate Baptists had not joined the Union of 1801, which had tried to unite Regular and Separate Baptists in Kentucky, the loss of Campbellites meant the loss of many Baptists whose doctrine of salvation was known as free will or Armenianism. The Kentucky area of strongest Campbellite strength was located in the same region as the predestinarian Licking Association.5 The geographical promixity of the centers of Baptist predestination and free will in the state leads to an interesting question: which influenced the other? Conclusive evidence was not found, but the indication is that the excesses of the Great Revival of 1800-1802 (concentrated in the east-central Bluegrass area - where both groups were strongest) slowly moved the Licking Association toward particular atonement (i.e., Christ's death is only for certain people, already chosen by God). Their doctrine, in turn, led to the acceptance of the more clearly defined free will doctrine of salvation advocated by Alexander Campbell.

      The Reform Movement was centered during the 1840s (the first dates we have that tell where adherents of the Reform Movement worshipped) just east of the area of the state's highest population density, a line running roughly through the middle of the Bluegrass region (central and north-central Kentucky), in some of Kentucky's richest agricultural land. U. S. Census figures for 1890 show Campbellism still strongly asssociated with the rural Bluegrass area of the state, as well as with high per capita expenditures for education and high personal incomes. The Reform Movement prospered wealthy, educated and rural environment.6

Other Ecclesiastical Opposition

      Ecclesiastical opposition to missionary structures lead to the establishment of two other groups usually classified as anti-missionary. Besides the Campbellites already discussed, United and Landmark Baptists also relied heavily on arguments related to church government and organization in discussions with the missionary forces. These two groups rose from a compromise effort known as the "Go-Betweens," a group that sought out middle ground between support and oppostion to missions.

      The United Baptists based their position on missions, which was neither to support nor condemn missions, on the Principles of Union, 1801. This document had sought to unite Separate and Regular Baptists by eliminating such divisive doctrinal positions as atonement as bars to Baptists fellowship. This document made no mention of missions as a test of fellowship, so United Baptists sought to leave the question to the churches and members.7

      The author's survey of Kentucky Baptist leaders during the nineteenth century indicated that United Baptist preachers were baptized significantly earlier (age 20) than missionary and anti-missionary preachers (average age 25), while their ordination occured slightly later (age 35) than anti-missionary preachers and more so than missionary preachers (age 27). On the average, therefore, United Baptist preachers had fully participated in church life for nearly fifteen years before ordination. This longer period of active church life before ordination may be responsible for this group's willingness to compromise on the subject of missions.8

      United Baptists were strongest in the south-central area (along the Tennessee border), although their numbers had some strength in the western portion of the state. Growth was to the north, while several southern counties close to the Tennessee border had a lower percentage of United Baptists in 1890 than in the 1840s. These areas of strong United Baptist support were rural, but differed from Campbellite areas in being relatively poor and uneducated, but not so deprived as Primitive and Two-Seed Baptists areas (which will be discussed later).9

      United Baptists suffered greatly as the century progressed from a lack of leadership. Two of their ablest leaders joined the missionary Baptists, surely taking a number of United Baptists with them.10 Campbellite growth in the south-central area of the state between the 1840s and 1890 may be attributed in part to this loss of leadership among United Baptists. The survey of Kentucky Baptist preachers of the nineteenth century indicated tht [that] United Baptist preachers were small farmers who owned no slaves.11

      The second group to grow from the Go-Betweens and the third group reflecting ecclesiastical opposition to missionary organization was Landmarkism. Orginating in reaction to Campbell's ecclesiology, J. R. Graves and others formulated a "Baptist" hyper-ecclesiology (a doctrine of church that greatly stressed the importance of the local congregation) to stop Campbell's inroads into Baptist life. As Landmarkism had no institutional form, no accurate figures have ever been gathered concerning its membership. Its strongest support seems, however, to have come from areas where United Baptists existed, the rural and isolated south-central area of the state and into the western or Jackson Purchase area.

      Neither the United or Landmark Baptists opposed the purpose of missions, the conversion of sinners. Yet both are generally included as anti-missionary because of their ecclesiology. As United Baptists left the question of missions to local churches, most pro-missionary Baptists left, leaving the group with a doctrine that permitted members to participate in missions, but with few who actually did. Landmarkers, however, fully participated in missionary organizations, not always to the delight of missionary Baptists. Landmark influence and attempts to reorganize the way in which missions was done can best be seen in the Gospel Mission Movement.

Primitive and Two-Seed Baptists

      While usually agreeing with the ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) - advanced by the aforementioned groups, Primitive and Two-Seed Baptists differed from those anti-missionary, as well as the missionary, advocates by advancing a doctrine of salvation (soteriology) that made missions appear to usurp God's responsibility in salvation. Following the lead of the Licking Association, Daniel Parker, and other[s], some Kentucky Baptists in the 1830s and following made this aspect of Anti-Missionism prominent.

      In 1843 Primitive and Two-Seed Baptists were widely distributed across the state, with the exception of south-eastern Kentucky. In the next forty-seven years, this mountainous region, which prior to 1843 contained no known anti-missionary Baptists, was the area in which these anti-missionary Baptists grew.12

      The U. S. Census of 1890 showed that anti-missionary Baptists who took the name Primitive were located largely in the state's eastern mountains. A secondary concentration existed in the Jackson Purchase counties (the extreme western portion of the state), while two Bluegrass counties of central Kentucky contined small numbers.13

      At the same time Two-Seed Baptists were concentrated in the eastern mountains, slightly to the south of the Primitive Baptists. Other counties where Two-Seed Baptists were strong were located with the Bluegrass but outside its heart.14

      The survey of nineteenth century Kentucky Baptist preachers showed that Two-Seed preachers owned (in 1830) an average of nineteen slaves. Survey data also indicated that Two-Seed preachers owned (in 1850) considerable amounts of land (an average of over 8,000 acres per preacher).15 Certainly, Two-Seed preachers were not drawn from the poorer clases, at least in the early days of the group. However, as these predestinarian Baptists expanded,

especially into eastern Kentucky, leadership then began to come from socio-economic classes.

      Primitive and Two~Seed Baptists in 1890 were three times more likely to live in a community with little wealth, than would be the case if the population of the group and of wealth were randomly distributed. Per capita spending on education was significantly lower in countries with a relatively high percentage of anti-missionary Baptists. Certainly, part of this was due to the lack of schools in areas where pupils were few and too widely scattered to come together for instruction.16

      The relationship between anti-missionary Baptists and the religious environment presented a startling discovery; Primitive and Two-Seed Baptists were strongest where membership in religious bodies was lowest, the eastern mountains.17 Geographic isolation and later ages for church membership, because of believers' baptism, partially account for this relationship. On the other hand, Anti-Missionism appeared to be a faith well suited for this region. Quarter-time (once a month) preaching, for example, would be all that people could attend, because of the distance to church. In this regard Anti-Missionism appeared to be a social compromise between no religion and the mainline denominations, which were beginning to insist on Sunday services every week. The widely scattered mountain people were more attacted to once a month worship services than to the weekly services, probably because of the distance between home and church. Thus, the predestinarian Baptist churches were places where people's religious needs could be met.

      While scattered pockets of strong anti-missionary sentiment existed outside the eastern mountains in 1890, they were the exception. Anti-Missionism was becoming a mountain-oriented ideology, associated with areas of low income and poor schooling.


      Anti-missionism developed and changed during the nineteenth century. Attitudes toward missions hardened, as can be clearly seen in the several stages of the Licking Association's history. (1) Correspondence with the Baptist Board of Missions, the administrative body of the nationwide, Baptist missionary society, was refused in 1815. (2) Hyper-Calvinistic soteriology (i.e., God only chose some for salvation) was expressed in the association's circular letters of 1817 and 1818. (3) "Particular" was added to its name in 1820. (4) Non-fellowship was declared with those involved in benevolent (including missionary) societies in 1834. Although this process was not so pronounced or as well documented in other associatons, development was there.

      Empirical evidence indicated a changing attitude within Anti-Missionism which the historian must seek to explain. Ralph Linton provided a helpful tool for understanding the changing nature of Anti-Missionism. Every group creates symbols, some of which produce emotional responses and shape behavior. Once formed, these symbols play an increasingly important part in society. Though often without intrinsic value, these symbols represent something that has much importance for the group. These valuable symbols represent the group, giving the body identity and unity. Groups without such a symbol feel inferior and acquire one. Linton calls this symbol a totem.19

      In periods of acute denominationalism, such as the nineteenth century, religious groups emphasize their distinctives. Baptists stressed their distinctive doctrine of baptism with missionary Baptists, needed their own identifing symbol or totem. Anti-Missionism became that totem, separating and identifying them for missionary Baptists.

      A group whose identity is bound with a symbol will support that totem to the degree that identity is meaningful Participation in a religious group is generally more meaningful than other bodies. Therefore, the symbols of that participation mean more. As totems become more integrated

into the community, they become sacrosanct, which prevents members from discussing the identity-symbol rationally. The nature of the symbol or totem is understood and assumed by all in the group; it is beyond question.

      Totemism is useful for understanding Anti-Missionism in several ways. The totem (Anti-Missionism) was an ideology that became an identity symbol for these Baptists, who emphasized this doctrinal difference with other Baptists to give themselves a separate identity. Totemism also allows an insight into the hostility that often, but not always, appeared between missionary and anti-missionary Baptists. To attack the totem is to attack the individual. When a person is threatened, the flight of [or] fight reflex appears. When the symbol of a group is attacked the members fight to maintain that totem because their existence and identity is based upon that symbol. When anti-missionary Baptists heard people speak well of missions, which was to attack their symbol, they reacted in self-defense, attacking those who attacked their totem.

      The need for a religiously orientated totem was much stronger in the rural isolated portions of the state than in the urban areas. Where nearly everyone was a farmer, occupational identity was unimportant, whereas the opposite was true for urban areas. Religious identity, therefore, was more important in rural areas than in cities. Thus Anti-Missionism remained a rurally orientated religious movement.

      A third area in which the totem is useful in understanding anti-missionary Baptists is in terms of world view. Predestinarian Baptists, perhaps because of their emphasis on God's role in the world, are more content with the world than missionary Baptists, who continually seek to change it. By establishing Anti-Missionism as a totem, its adherents are affirming God's continuing role in the world. In Summary, totemism explains three aspects of the controversy over missions: emotionalism, ruralness, and world view.

Mountain Anti-Missionism

      Anti-Missionism in the mountains of eastern Kentucky acquired an additional aspect in the post-Civil War period, a time of immense social turmoil and cultural change in that region. Economic development and exploitation of that region destroyed the life of quiet simplicity which had drawn people there. They now become miners and lumbermen, In addition to this occupational change, unresolved problems remaining from the Civil War produced conflicts and divisions within the area, such as the family feuds.

      New cultural situations reduced the ability of old techniques to meet individual's needs. Anxiety, therefore, resulted from changing cultural patterns. People responded differently to the changing lifestyles deriving from the introduction of lumbering and mining into the region, but each sought to have his own needs met.

      Rapid cultural change in the mountains brought a cultural reaction on the part of its inhabitants. This nativist movement was an attempt to revive or perpetuate selected aspects of the previous culture. Nativism in the Kentucky mountains was the response of a submissive subculture facing a dominant and aggressive main culture. By concentrating on some selected aspects of their older subculture, individuals could free themselves of the anxiety created by new lifestyles and were thus free to engage in the selected aspects of the new culture. Farmers could now become miners and lumbermen without feeling that they had betrayed their cultural heritage.20

      Anti-Missionism met individual needs by giving these Baptists an identity unlike that of the dominant culture. In an area of little formal religion, Anti-Missionism provided the main means of restructuring the ideological fundation [sic] of society. Concentrating on spiritual beliefs, instead of material factors, allowed believers


      This document ends incomplete here. The footnotes are not printed either. The life of Pastor Isham Enlow picks up on page 10 and follows him to his many pastorates. It must be due to a printing error. Jim Duvall


[From Doris B. Yeiser, Editor, Kentucky Baptist Heritage, Volume X, July, 1983, Number 1; via Boyce Digital Repository, SBTS, Adam Winters, Archivist. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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