Editor's note: This church was constituted as a result of the Second Great Awakening. Over 300 members were added to Bryan's Station Baptist Church as a result of the revival. This meeting house was several miles away from Bryan's Station and it was a friendly division for the organization of this new church. In 1830, this church encountered difficulties from Alexander Campbell and his followers, as did most Baptist churches in central Kentucky. Mr. Ford includes several statements this church wrote into its records concerning the tactics used by Mr. Campbell's followers to divide this church. This scheme was used time-after-time in other Baptist churches to cause splits and establish "Christian" churches. -- jrd
Early History of David's Fork Church
By Samuel H. Ford, 1858
It was a glorious characteristic of the early settlers of Kentucky, that they brought with them to their new home in the wilderness the spirit of independence in regard to religious, as well as civil government. No sooner did the attacks of the Indians cease, than an independent Church of Christ was constituted in the old fort at Bryan's Stations, and homes of peace succeeded the noise of war. As the country filled up, and settlements extended, a meeting-house was erected at David's Fork by members of the Bryan's Station Church. Services were held there, and, in 1801, a large number of members petitioned the mother church for dismission, to be organized into a new organization. Thus reads the record:"At a meeting, held at the meeting-house on David's Fork, by a number of members of the church at Bryan's, on the 26th day of August, 1801: Being regularly dismissed for the purpose of a constitution -- Helps, Ambrose Dudley, Henry Roach, and others. After mature deliberation and consultation on the subject, were accordingly constituted, the number being 294.
"Agreed, that the name of the church be known as the Baptist Church of Christ on David's Fork."
In the history of the church, nothing of unusual interest occurred for years under the pastoral care of that good and great man, Ambrose Dudley. It moved on, steadily, harmoniously, with few of those internal distractions which annoyed and ruined the peace of surrounding churches.
Early in its history a contribution was made in behalf of Indian Missions. A liberal remuneration was voted to its pastor, and continual additions were made to its numbers and strength.
The difficulties in the Elkhorn Association, of course, effected this church. The case of Elijah Craig was at first sustained by the church, but his continued persecution of Jacob Creath, and his final condemnation in the Marble Creek Church for issuing his pamphlet, decided the David's Fork Church, and it declared for the old Association. Dudley resigned the pastorship, and at the February meeting, 1810,"On motion, to go into a private ballot in order to call on a preacher of the gospel to make his residence amongst us, and take charge of the church. Bro. Jeremiah Vardeman being named and unanimously called, brethren B. Robinson, A. Wilson, J. Welsh, and E. Darnaby were appointed a committee to write to him on the subject, and report at the next meeting." At the next meeting, the committee reported that the young man, at that time poor and comparatively unknown, had accepted the call of the church. Sixty-two dollars were at once raised to move him into the neighborhood, and a field of great usefulness was at once opened before him, which he entered and occupied with astonishing success.
No sooner had he moved into the neighborhood of Lexington, than difficulties met him on every side. A letter was addressed to the church at the very next meeting, requesting delegates to be sent from the church for the purpose of "a mutual division of the Elkhorn Association." It was laid on the table.
At a subsequent meeting, another letter, an appeal, in fact, from their old pastor, accompanied with the signatures of Joseph Redding, Corbin, John Price, and Bainbridge, was sent. It was also laid on the table. The church adhered to Elkhorn.
The blessing of God attending the labors of the pastor. At every monthly meeting, tens, and even scores of names are entered on the church book, as received for baptism. Among them is the well known name of James E. Welsh -- the pioneer missionary of Missouri -- and E. G. Berry, T. J. Fisher, are among the names of many ministers baptized there by Vardeman.
Baptist custom is a kind of common law. It is founded on the experience and wisdom of generations. When a certain course is taken in peculiar circumstances, and the wisdom of that course is manifest, it becomes a precedent, and is henceforth a custom among the churches.
At the November meeting, 1810, an excluded member presented himself to the David's Fork Church for membership, stating that he had been expelled from Tate's Creek. The steps taken by the church are indicated by the following entry on the records:"The Church ordered the Clerk to write to that church, of which he had been a member, for a statement of his case, in order that this church may legally proceed with the young man." The case was reported to David's Fork, and she decided for herself whether or not the young man was worthy of her fellowship.
The peace and harmony of the church continued until the current of the Reformation [of Alexander Campbell] swept over Kentucky, bearing on its flood the wreck of many churches. As the position of Vardeman and his church, at that crisis, has been variously told, we insert the action of the church, supposed to be drawn up by the pastor: Preamble and resolution adopted January 1830, as follows:
It is with regret, and of heart, that the church at David's Fork views the contentions and divisions which have taken place in the Baptist churches belonging to our Union; that many of our ministering brethren, with whom we have been long associated, and under whose views and ministrations we have sat with the utmost delight, and whose visits and labors of love we have long and highly appreciated, and in whose ministry we had hoped we should have enjoyed an interest in future years, together with many of our brethren with whom we have been long associated, and whose fellowship in the gospel we have highly prized, have recently taken a course which we do most sincerely regret, and which we believe has already brought great distress in society, and dishonor on the cause of Christ, and which we fear, if persisted in, will lead on to consequences still more disastrous to the cause of religion. We think it our duty as a church of Christ, to enter our most solemn protest against such destructive proceedings, which have already marred the beauty and destroyed the fellowship and peace of many of the churches in our Union, and has, in a measure, broken the peace and happiness of this church, which, for more than twenty-eight years, has lived in the utmost harmony, and has frequently received tokens of divine regard in those happy revivals which she has experienced. In entering up our protest we do not assume to ourselves the power of dictating to our brethren, nor would we wish to lord it over their consciences; but we do it from a principle of duty to God, and of love to our brethren, and to clear our skirts of all the consequences which we fear will attend the progress of schism, as well as to show our standing to all men. Should it be alleged by them that they honestly believe that the Baptists are in an error, both in doctrine and discipline, and that a reformation is necessary, and that they feel themselves bound in conscience to take the course they have, we will not question the honesty of their hearts or those scruples of conscience; we would entreat them to remember that those points for which they contend are mostly, if not altogether, matters of opinion, and we trust, upon due reflection, that they will not urge matters of opinion to the violation of positive commands. This would be injurious indeed.
Now it will not be denied that Jesus Christ, the great King in Zion, has commanded his disciples to love one another, and that he has made this one of the highest evidences of the truth of his religion. Again, St. Paul exhorts his brethren to keep the unity of spirit in the bonds of peace, and to pursue the things that make for peace -- to avoid producing schism in the body of Christ. Yea, to mark them who cause divisions; to bear each other's burdens, and so to fulfill the law of Christ, &c. We presume those brethren who call themselves Reformers, do not presume that those churches from whom they have dissented are not the churches of Christ. How, then, can they in their consciences justify an act which goes to divide the body of Christ, and, in doing this, violate those solemn commands above alluded to; and, too, to support matters of opinion which, as far as we see, has no extraordinary godly influence on the hearts or lives of those who hold them.
It may be urged that Reformers have been under the necessity of producing contention and even schism in the churches; that Luther and Calvin, with their pious coadjutors in the Reformation, produced the effects of which we now complain. To which we answer, the causes are not analogous, out modern reformers themselves being the judges. Luther and Calvin, with their pious fellow-laborers, did not recognize the Church of Christ, but Antichrist. As such, they felt themselves bound by the command of God to come out of her, lest, in partaking of her sins, they should be exposed to her plagues. Could our brethren prove the Baptist Church, in her present order, to be Antichristian, it would be, certainly, their duty to come out of her; but we believe it to be a ground which few of them have taken. Indeed, if we are Antichrist so are they, for they were born among us; their repentance (though some of them seem to make light of it) was professionally the same. They related their experience as those from whom they now dissent; they rejoiced to hear their friends declare what God had done for their souls; they, too, were baptized in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ, as an act of obedience, without any eye to the ordinance as being the law of regeneration, or the bath in which their sins were literally washed away, or forgiven; and they were not alarmed at the existence of the covenant, or creed, which enthroned in its first article the Holy Scriptures as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Indeed, they were in every respect just like their brethren; and we trust, when they shall have reconsidered this matter, they will again appear in the livery of those old-fashioned Baptists which they now appear so anxious to reform. When this happy occurrence shall have taken place, we shall rejoice to hail them, heart, and hand, as brethren and fellow-laborers in the harvest of our Lord Jesus. But should our hopes be disappointed, and our love be in vain; should they still persist in sowing the seeds of discord, disturbing the peace of the church, we do and shall feel ourselves bound, as a church, to treat them as disorderly walkers, in that respect.
Resolved, Therefore, that this church highly disapproves of every means and every measure that has been or may be taken which has a tendency to produce discord or schism in this or any other orderly Baptist Church; and that we do, in the bonds of Christian love and regard, admonish each member of this church in particular to endeavor by all means to guard against a spirit of disunion, and to pursue the ways of peace with all men, and yourselves, and the God of peace will bless you. Amen.
The preamble and resolutions were passed; but, at the next meeting, a protest and condemnation of the Covenant and Articles of the Church were presented, signed by thirty-one members. The result was their expulsion. The affair created considerable stir, and the action of the church was recorded in the church book at length. It is as follows:The committee, appointed to make out a statement of facts relative to the cause which led to the exclusion of thirty-one members at our March meeting, submit the following statement of facts, viz:
We have known for twelve months that some of our brethren and sisters had embraced Alexander Campbell's system of religion, and have been very anxious to restore the church to the ancient order, as they call it, but we were still in hopes that the storm would blow over and not interrupt the peace and tranquility of the church; but in this we were mistaken, for at our December meeting, 1829, William True, one of the brethren above alluded to, requested that the church covenant be read, which was done. He then made a motion to expunge the said covenant and receive the Scriptures in lieu thereof, and got a second in order. A proposition was then made to the said True to revise the said covenant, but he said he would not have a vestige of it. Several of the brethren then objected to expunging the covenant, and pointed out the consequences that would result from urging the question; that it would in all probability split the church, and produce a wound that would not be healed in his day, and requested him, for the honor of the precious cause, and for the peace and happiness of the church, to withdraw the motion; but the said True observed that he could not withdraw his motion, for he had put his hand to the plow; he could not look back; the brethren must excuse him; he had come up to the battle of the Lord against the mighty and I call upon you, brethren, in the name of my God, to help me throw out that covenant, for it is not a bit better than Aaron's golden calf; nay, it is not as good, for Aaron's calf was out of the camp; the covenant is in the church. The children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt; they came out. The children of Israel were in bondage in Babylon under Cyrus; they came out. I can't withdraw my motion. I won’t withdraw it. The church shall come out of Babylon.
The church at that time quashed it by the previous question at our January meeting, 1830. Inquiry being made by the Moderator for fellowship, several of the brethren observed that their feelings were wounded and their fellowship broke with some of the brethren who had been so industrious to get helps to expunge the covenant, and some of the helps had come about this time. R. Proctor, one of the brethren above alluded to, moved for the covenant to be read; but the Moderator observed that it was not in order at that time, and as the church was not in fellowship, it was best to adjourn and do no business. Some applications were then made for letters of dismission, which was objected by one of the brethren, stating that if she was not in order to do business she could not give letters, &c.; but a particular request being made by the clerk for a sister that was going to leave the State before our next, the church granted their letters, &c. At our February meeting the said True was taken under the discipline of the church for his unprovoked attack upon our covenant, and his obstinacy in refusing to withdraw his motion, and for comparing our covenant to Aaron's golden calf, and speaking of the church as being in Babylon. After much having been said, for and against, the voice of the church was taken on the conduct of True, and she voted that he was guilty of disorder. It was the opinion of some that he ought to be excluded, but it was urged by others that as he was a young member and inexperienced, and, as he had heard the voice of the church, which went to show him his improprieties, a reproof, it was hoped, would be sufficient; accordingly, a majority of the church voted that he should be reproved and borne with.
After receiving the reproof from the Moderator, he rose, and observed that he had received a very good reproof, and he had no doubt it was given from the best of motives; but immediately he went on to express his determination to pursue his course of opposition against the covenant, &c. He was entreated by the Moderator to desist, as he had just been borne with by the church. At this meeting the church adopted a preamble and resolution designed to stop the progress of schism and contention, affectionately admonishing the members of the church to cultivate the principles of brotherly love and Christian forbearance, solemnly declaring that all who pursued a different course would be considered disorderly walkers, and would be dealt with as such. But the forbearance of the church with True, as well as the admonitions she had given, were disregarded; for at our March meeting, the disaffected members presented a written remonstrance against the church. It appeared that nothing but an unqualified submission to their own views would satisfy them. The voice of the church, given on a former occasion, was disregarded, and a determination was manifested by them still to pursue their schismatical course; they even demanded an interest in the house. It appeared that since the last meeting they had held a number of meetings, and circulated their papers urging the members of the church to subscribe their names, and even enrolled the names of some without their consent. All these facts being before the church, the discord which they had caused, the longsuffering which they had abused, the admonitions which they refused to attend to, and withal, a determination to produce a schism in the church, it appeared that everything which the gospel required in the case had been complied with, and that the church was reduced to the disagreeable necessity of passing the sentence of exclusion upon them; this, however, was not done until each individual present belonging to the party were called on personally, who declared that they had put or caused their names to be put to the paper, and wished their them to remain there, one youth excepted, who declared that his name had been enrolled on that paper without his knowledge or consent, but as it was there it might remain there.
Upon a view of the whole case, we, as your committee, sorely lament the state of things which has been produced in the church and in the neighborhood. Husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, masters and servants, neighbors and friends, have been separated, and, what is still worse, the mouths of gainsayers have been opened, and the best of causes greatly dishonored; and we pray the Father of mercies to grant our unfortunate fellow beings a speedy repentance and return to the church from which they have been so justly excluded.
Soon after, at the August meeting, 1830, Vardeman was dismissed by letter, and removed to Mo [Missouri]. The present venerable and able pastor, Dr. R. T. Dillard, received a unanimous call at the following meeting, and his continued labors have been attended with abundant good.
Note -- This has been hastily written from the old church book, granted me years since by a vote of the church. - shf ===============[From Samuel H. Ford, "History of the Kentucky Baptists," The Christian Repository, 1858, pp. 805-812. - jrd] _______
Mr. Ford wrote more than twenty essays on the History of the Kentucky Baptists and published them serially in his monthly magazine in the 1850s. The collected essays are for the first time published here.
Ford's Kentucky Baptist History Index
Kentucky Baptist Church Histories
Baptist History Homepage