James Carlin (J.C.) Lilly
Western Kentucky Baptist Minister
By Cecil Fayard
James Carlin Lilly was one of the most fascinating preachers of the Gospel that I have ever known. J.C. Lilly did not change with the times, he did not compromise on moral issues or on doctrinal ones. Early on, he was not alone in standing against the vices of the world. In the 1925 annual report of the Ohio River Baptist Association, the Committee on Temperance and Morals said. "We would recommend that no Christian man or woman vote for any candidate for any office if he is in favor of legalized gambling." They also gave the following recommendation, “Whereas, our young people are being decoyed into vice and sin and immorality; moving picture shows, cigarette smoking, card playing, mixed bathing, the social dance and Sunday baseball. We urge pastors and Sunday School teachers to speak in no uncertain sound on these sins and vices." The world changed and the churches changed over the years, but James Carlin Lilly did not. In 1928 Brother Lilly prepared and read the report on Schools and Colleges. It is interesting to note that the Dean of Bethel College was at the meeting of the Ohio River Baptist Association. I will only give a small portion of this powerful report. Brother Lilly wrote, "These are days of daring departure from the old paths religiously. It is not a question debatable that modernism is rife on the right hand and on the left. We give our definition of modernism, and do it with emphasis, by saying that, "Modernism is an attack on the word of God at any point. To cast doubt on the word of God at any point is to fellowship (with) the devil. . . . The most distinctive teaching of any Baptist school or college should be their emphasis on Bible doctrines. The Bible should be the biggest textbook. . . . The only right they have to exist is to give that which state schools do not give. We speak of indoctrination in the word of God.”
I first met Brother Lilly in 1976 when I was a student at Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College in Mayfield, Kentucky. Brother Charles Cloyd, one of my professors, who had grown up under Brother Lilly’s ministry, told Brother Lilly that he had a student who could lead singing, as the Central Baptist Church song leader, Brother D. P. DeHart, was not able to do so. The speakers for that Conference were, Bob Jones of Clarksville Baptist College, Clarksville, TN, Tildon Garner, Pastor of the Southside Baptist Church, Paducah, KY and Dr. O.C. Markham, President of Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College. We had a great meeting, great preaching, singing and fellowship. At the meals Brother Lilly would instruct my wife and me on proper Christian decorum. I remember him telling my wife that her hair was too short and that it was not right for women to have bobbed hair.
James Carlin Lilly was born on the 21st of December 1896 in Livingston County, Kentucky to Henry G. Lilly (1870-1936) and Minnie Maud Craddock Lilly (1875-1949). J.C. Lilly preached his first sermon in Smithville, Kentucky when he was seventeen years old. Brother Lilly received his theological education at Bethel College in Russellville, Kentucky and at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, during the years when John R. Sampey and A.T. Robertson were professors there. During his time at Southern Seminary he was an Assistant Pastor at Walnut Street Baptist Church, Louisville.
He was a Missionary evangelist for the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1920’s, holding meetings in communities that did not have a Baptist church. The Mexico Baptist Church in the community of Mexico, Kentucky was organized out of one of the meetings. In 1922 Brother Lilly held a revival meeting at the First Baptist Church of Sturgis, Kentucky. This church had been greatly affected by World War I and the flu epidemic of 1918. In that revival the Lord greatly blessed and the church saw 85 additions to its membership.
Brother Lilly pastored the Buena Vista Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky for three years and the First Baptist Church of Marion, Kentucky for forty-one years. T.P. Simmons, author of A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine was Associate Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Marion in the 1930’s and the Baptist Examiner, which Simmons edited, was published in Marion during this time.
In 1926 Brother Lilly accepted the call to the First Baptist Church, Marion, KY (founded in 1883), and that same year he began having an annual Bible Institute. Over the years many of the greatest names in Kentucky Baptist history, as well as others, preached in these Institutes. Among the notables were C.D. Cole, E.R. Henderson long time pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Grenada, Mississippi (1921-1954). It was my privilege to pastor this great church from 1993-1998. Such preachers as George Ragland, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Lexington Kentucky for 27 years; H. Boyce Taylor who pastored the First Baptist Church, Murray, Kentucky from 1897-1931; Roy Mason the Author of The Church That Jesus Built, Buell Kazee and C.D. Cole, who pastored at Mortons Gap, Kentucky, and who served as a professor at the Toronto Baptist Seminary, Toronto Canada, and a host of others. In 1950 Brother Lilly asked his son Billy to go up to Toronto and ask T.T. Shields if he would consider coming to Marion and preaching a meeting at First Baptist. Dr. Shields answer was, “Wherever the Lord leads me.” Dr. Shields, also known as the 'Spurgeon of Canada', came to Marion and preached at First Baptist in 1951 and in 1953. While Arthur W. Pink pastored in Kentucky, Brother Lilly invited him to preach at Marion. Mrs. Lilly told me that Pink was rather eccentric and did not like to have too many children around; the Lilly’s had nine children. When Mr. Pink said that he would have to have other accommodations, Brother Lilly took him to the train and sent him back toward Scottsville, Kentucky.
During Brother Lilly’s long years of pastoring he came to the place where he was against the Sunday School and church choirs. His reasoning was that the Sunday School broke up the local body and he saw the choir as a place for gossip and division. The First Baptist Church of Marion used the box system of taking an offering as does the Central Baptist Church today. I must say that my pastorate at the Central Baptist Church in Marion was the most peaceful and in a number ways, the most productive of my years in pastoral ministry.
Everybody in Marion knew J.C. Lilly. There were those who may not have liked him, but they all respected this man of God. During World War II brother Lilly was called upon to perform many weddings, both for members of First Baptist and those who were not, as men were about to be shipped out they turned to a man they knew was reliable. The Second World War deeply affected J.C. Lilly. As the pastor of those men how gone out to serve from the First Baptist Church. I was told of his grief at seeing them and others go off from Crittenden County to fight. Several of the men of the First Baptist Church served in WWII and a number of them were still alive and members of the Central Baptist when I pastored there.
J.C. Lilly was an able speaker and writer. I have one of his booklets in my possession, “The Churches” which deals with the Landmark doctrine of the church as being local and visible and not universal visible or invisible. He also edited The Baptist Review, published by the First Baptist Church in Marion. In 1928 Brother Lilly preached the annual sermon to the Ohio River Association. His text was Revelation 3:8, “Christ and His Church.” His sermon outline was:A. The Lord knows what His churches are doing.The following comment was made in the association minutes concerning the message, “Brother Lilly brought a great mission message in which he emphasized the fact that New Testament Churches are the custodians of God’s Word, and that every opportunity for preaching His Word is an "open door" with divine protection for those who will enter in His name." (p. 7)
B. The Lord tests the love His churches profess to have for Him.
C. The Lord encourages and honors every worth effort put forth in His Name.
D. The Lord checks up on His churches as to what they do with His Word.
E. The Lord is jealous that His church be proud of His name.
In 1929 we find an interesting note in the Ohio River Association of Baptists, "On motion by Elder J.C. Lilly and seconded by Elder Carroll Hubbard, the Association authorized the Clerk to record in the minutes a motion that was voted down during the afternoon session which would have allowed the Standing Committee on Foreign Missions to mail the report, which had been prepared by Elder Edward C. Woodall, to the clerk of the Association for publication in the minutes without its having been read before the body for discussion and adoption." This motion was opposed by Brother H.F. Green and voted down by the body. That afternoon J.C. Lilly and Brother J.B. Dycus worked through the lunch hour and prepared the Foreign Missions Report, "in compliance with the order of the body." The report was read and adopted. That gives an idea of J.C. Lilly’s tenacity. During the 1929 session, J.C. Lilly made the following proposed change to the Constitution of the Association, "That this body shall receive churches for membership only upon unanimous vote of the body." This proposal was to be voted on in the next session of the Association. That motion did not pass and in the 1930 annual meeting of the Ohio River Baptist Association the Marion Baptist Church was approved for membership in the Association by the vote of 57 to 27. The Committee to investigate the Marion Baptist Church states, "As to organization we find the church we organized on August 12th 1928...."(p.8) A list of the ministers and deacons on the Committee are listed in the minutes. The committee goes on to say, “We find that they have adopted Articles of Faith as recorded in Pendleton's Manual, which articles have been accepted heretofore by this Association. We, the Committee, recommend the acceptance of this Church to membership in this the Ohio River Association."(p. 8) Here is what makes the above information so crucial. The Marion Baptist Church was formed out of disgruntled members of the First Baptist Church of Marion. The group that formed Marion Baptist tried to remove Brother Lilly from the pastorate of First Baptist; Brother Eugene Hughes, who grew up from a child in First Baptist told me that the disgruntled went to the local poor house and recruited members who lived there to vote to remove Brother Lilly, but they got confused and voted to keep Brother Lilly. The Marion Baptist Church was started primarily by those disgruntled members. I have never been able to uncover what the greatest point of contention was.
Brother Lilly led the First Baptist Church to join the Blood River Association for a time, but the church eventually became an independent Baptist Church.
After Brother Lilly retired from the pastorate, he and his wife, along with some other members of the First Baptist Church of Marion joined the Union Baptist Church in Crittenden County. This church is one of the oldest in the area having been organized in 1810. Being the strong personality that he was he could not keep silent. He and several of the former members of the First Baptist Church of Marion requested authority from Greenfield Baptist Church near Kirksville, Missouri to constitute the Central Baptist Church of Marion, Kentucky which was organized in 1969. I pastored this church from 1987-1992.
[From Cecil A. Fayard Jr., D.Min., LHD. He is a missionary to the Gulf Coast international shipping industry. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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