Sometime prior to the year 1819 Blaygrove Hopper and his son, Wm. Hopper, from Virginia, settled on the Cumberland river in Knox county, Ky. These ministers found a few Baptists living on the headwaters of Laurel river, among whom was David Weaver, who afterward became eminent as one of the pioneer ministers of the Gospel in this section. Here they organized Providence Baptist church with 15 members in the year 1819. Then followed the organization of the Rockcastle, Mt. Pleasant, Lynn Camp and and Indian Creek Baptist churches.
These five churches met with Providence Baptist church on the first Saturday in October, 1831, and organized the Laurel River Baptist Association on the principles of general union. The total membership was 153. Wm. Hopper was the first moderator and annually re-elected until his death, which we think occurred in 1859. Abraham Baugh was the first clerk and re-elected until his death in 1859. The elder Hopper had died and David Weaver had been ordained before the association was organized. Wm. Hopper and David Weaver were the only ministers in the organization. Hopper was regarded as a preacher of much ability and sound in the doctrines of the Bible. Weaver was a powerful exhorter and was endowed with those qualities that insure success in evangelical work. He was greatly loved and instrumental in leading many souls to Christ. He was blind, or nearly so, for many years.
During the early history of the association nothing out of the ordinary occurred, only that the preaching of these pioneers of the Gospel was blessed of God in the salvation of souls, churches were multiplied to which the Lord added the saved. Most of the leading ministers and the association have favored ministerial support and missions, but nothing was undertaken on the line of mission work until the year 1866 when a missionary was appointed to supply the destitution, and the churches were advised and requested to contribute to his support. This plan was pursued at intervals for several years, the missionary reporting his work to the association. These reports show a very meager compensation for the work done. In 1888 an Executive Board was created to superintend this work, but because of the churches not having conformed to the spiritual plan of regular and systematic giving, there has not been much done in this line of work.
For a number of years there was a Hardshell element which sought to obstruct every effort for the spread of the Gospel, and [were] opposed to missions, Sunday-schools, education and an educated ministry; men had been placed in the ministry who gave no evidence that God had called them to the work, and who did not possess the requisite qualifications, and being ignorant of the fundamental principles of the Gospel and desiring to be leaders, very naturally opposed that which tended to intellectual improvement in the ministry. This element by a "packed" delegation from a few churches where this class of ministers were in charge obtained the ascendancy at the session of the association in 1887 and adopted a motion or resolution to discontinue correspondence with all associations with whom we were in correspondence and to refuse correspondence with any who were auxiliary to the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky. This action so aroused the churches to the danger that confronted them that at the next meeting this action was rescinded by an overwhelming majority and amendments to the constitution and articles of faith adopted with a view of settling once for all the policy of the association on the subject of missions and also to place beyond cavil our belief on the subject of election. These were also adopted by a like majority. There is another organization in the country arrogating to itself the name of Laurel River Association, the origin of which is explained or exposed as follows: In the year 1881 Rev. B. R. Caudill, a regular predestinarian Baptist, came among us and effected an organization of that faith and secured a following in a number of our churches. By denouncing all missionary efforts, Sunday-schools, theological schools, temperance, benevolent and charitable institutions, he drew to himself a number, both in and out of the church, who were opposed to any or all of these. He offered affiliation with those of our churches who would adopt a resolution of non-fellowship with those institutions which he thus denounced. This resolution was introduced and pressed for adoption in the church at Rough Creek by J. H. Yader, who had become the leader of his followers in that church. After considerable discussion and contention this was voted down by that church. Not deterred, however, they persisted in their efforts to bring about the proposed affiliation, insisting that our churches were originally what is popularly known as "Hardshell Baptists" and claiming that their purpose was to restore the original faith. The strife was thus continued until in April, 1889, the church excluded the leaders of this faction.
The excluded party then got together and assumed to exclude those who had excluded them and set up a claim to be "the church." At the meeting of the Association that year both parties appeared by letter and delegates, asking recognition and for an investigation of claims. Whereupon the whole matter was referred to a committee of five corresponding brethren, viz: Elds. J. G. Parsons, John Ward, Henry Ponder, Daniel Ward and Bro. Rob't McCollum, who, after a long and tedious examination of records and oral proof offered by the parties unanimously agreed upon a report vindicating the action of the church in the premises and that the excluded party ceased to be United Baptists, which report was adopted and the regular delegates [were] recognized and seated. At the session of 1890 charges were brought against the church at New Salem for violation of the compact and for permitting its ministers to officiate for the excluded party at Rough Creek with the knowledge and consent of the church. After investigation, by a unanimous vote this church was excluded.
Following this the church at Union passed an order withdrawing from the Association and on the 4th of January, 1890, delegates from these two church met at New Salem, as they declare in the minutes of their proceedings, to declare non-fellowship with the Laurel River Association or what they termed its unconstitutional acts, charging it with violations of its constitution in the adoption of amendments and in exclusion of New Salem. They published the constitution and a circular letter, written by Wm. Hopper, on the powers of an association, to sustain the charge.
The first of which in the tenth and last article says the association may amend whenever it deems it necessary. The latter, that an association may properly expel a church for the violation of its compact. They then declare their belief in "unconditional personal election" and that all of "Adam's line (or posterity)" may come to Christ and receive a "conditional Salvation." The meaning of which we conclude neither they nor anyone else can understand, and then complete the farce by claiming to be the old original association of United Baptists, against which they had just declared non-fellowship.
Since being rid of this element the association has had entire peace and harmony.
The moderators have been: Wm. Hopper, G. B. Foley, H. D. Harman. Geo. Brock, Hiram Johnson, J. w. Moren, Joel Philpot, and T. P. McCracken. The Clerks: Abraham Baugh, Dr. J. C. Westerfield, Levi Jackson, T. J. McWhorter, J. W. Moren, D. R. Brock and Andrew Jackson.
The Association in 1897 numbered 32 churches, more than 2,700 members and about 15 ministers. Including the associations that have grown out of it, about 80 churches, 8,000 members and 100 ministers.
What success has attended it has been, next to the grace of God, attributable to a self-sacrificing ministry, among whom may be mentioned the Hoppers, Weaver, Parman, Barton, Walters, Wiser, Brock, Philpot, Catching, Revel and last but not least our beloved Moren and others, who now enjoy the reward of their toils and labors in heaven, and many others who are still with us. Eternity alone will reveal the magnitude and worth of the labors of these faithful servants of God. May what has been accomplished in the past be an inspiration to renewed efforts for the salvation of souls and the glory of God.
D. R. Brock,
B. F. Johnson,
J. I. Weaver,
[From The Baptist Argus, October 13, 1898, p. 10. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Baptist History Homepage