The Kentucky Baptist Convention - 1832
"The Kentucky Baptist Convention" is an almost forgotten chapter in Kentucky Baptist history. It was like man born of woman "of few days and full of troubles."
In March of the year 1832 a number of Baptists met in Bardstown and organized a state convention which had a short and checkered career. Spencer (Vol. I, page 651) says: "The whole number of delegates was thirty-four: Silas M. Noel was elected moderator, and Henry Wingate clerk. The meeting adopted the following:
Constitution of the Kentucky Baptist State Convention
"Art. 1. This convention shall be known by the name of the Kentucky BaptIst Convention.
"2. It shall be composed of those, and those only, who belong to or are in correspondence with the General Union of Baptists of Kentucky.
"3. Any church, auxiliary society or association belonging to the Baptist connection shall be entitled to three representatives qualified as in Article 2.
"4. The representatives of the churches, societies and associations, when assembled in convention, shall have no ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the churches or associations, nor act even as an advisory council in cases of difficulty between churches, nor shall they interfere with the constitution of any church or association, nor with the articles of general union.
" 5. The convention, when met, shall elect a moderator, three corresponding secretaries, clerk, treasurer, and as many other members as the convention may, from time to time, think necessary;
who, together with said officers, shall be an executive board; a majority may constitute a quorum for business. During the recess of the convention, its business shall be transacted by the executive committee, who shall have power to fill vacancies in their own body, and shall submit a report of their proceedings to each annual meeting.
"6. The convention shall, annually, collect and publish a statistical account of the churches and asso- ciations in. this state, devise and execute plans for supplying destitute churches and neighborhoods with the gospel of Christ, and have the power to disburse monies, contributed by the churches and associations, in the manner specified by the contributors, provided special instructions are sent. "7. All monies contributed by the churches, associations and others to aid traveling preachers and to advance the benevolent views and objects of the convention generally shall be specifically appropriated to those purposes. "8. The convention shall send forth men of tried integrity and usefulness to preach the gospel.
"The two only remaining articles relate to the time and place of meeting, and the amending of the constitution. A brief circular letter was appended to the minutes of the convention, explaining the objects of the institution, as set forth in the constitution. The sum of $190.68 3/4 was placed at the disposal of the convention, and after passing some unimportant resolutions it adjourned to meet at New Castle the following October. "The only important business transacted at the 'adjourned meeting' at New Castle was the adoption of Rules of Decorum and the report of a special committee, that had been charged with the duty of establishing a weekly newspaper as the organ of the convention. This duty had been discharged by the establishment of The Cross and the Baptist Banner, the first Baptist weekly that was published in Kentucky. The first number had been issued previous
to this meeting of the convention. Uriel B. Chambers was its editor, and assumed all the pecuniary responsibility of its publication, taking the profits of the paper as a compensation for his labors.
"The first annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention was held at Lexington, beginning May 25, 1833. George Waller preached the introductory sermon. There were present twenty-six delegates, representing ten auxiliary associations and three churches. The report of the executive committee was encouraging. Forty commissions had been issued, ten of which had been accepted by the missionaries. Ninety weeks of missionary labor had been performed, and between 400 and 500 had been baptized. The receipts of the committee during the year amounted to $595.52 1/2, which was overdrawn by the missionaries, leaving a small indebtedness on the committee.
"The second annual meeting of the convention began in Louisville October 18, 1834. Alfred Bennett of New York preached the introductory sermon. Only fifteen delegates were present. Only three churches were represented, the other twelve delegates being from auxiliary associations. The report of the executive committee was gloomy and discouraging. They lament the death, from cholera, of David Thurman, Herbert Waggener, James H. L. Moorman and David Kelly, all friends of the convention, and the last two in its employ as missionaries at the time of their death. The treasurer's report showed the receipts for the year to have been only $339.17 1/2. It was sufficiently manifest that the convention, which was unpopular from the beginning, was constantly becoming more so. The friends of the organization made strenuous efforts to sustain it. But their efforts were in vain. It was manifestly falling to pieces. Some of the district associations passed resolutions against it, while others were silent on the subject. A newspaper, called the Baptist Banner, was started in Shelbyville, edited by J. S. Wilson, M. D., and issued semi-monthly as a
rival of, if not in opposition to, The Cross and Baptist Weekly Journal, the organ of the convention.
"An adjourned meeting of the convention was held at Frankfort in January, 1835. John S. Wilson preached the introductory sermon. Ten ministers and seven delegates were present. It appears from the wording of the minutes that the preachers present were not delegates. The finances of the convention were less satisfactory than at the previous meeting."
In addition to the account as given by Spencer, we have a more extended account given by Dr. J. M. Pendleton in his Jubilee address in Jubilee Volume, page two, and following in which he says:"Messrs. Noel and Wilson, with others, felt that something should be done to supply the destitute parts of the state with the preaching of the gospel. In furtherance of this object, the Kentucky Baptist Convention was organized at Bardstown in March, 1832. Doctor Noel was chosen moderator, and the number of messengers was only thirty-seven. Truly this was, in one sense, 'the day of small things,' but in another sense it was the day of great things. It was the planting of a grain of mustard seed which germinated slowly and grew slowly in its early years, but which has now become a tree of respectable size, and destined, as we trust, at no distant day to send out its branches so that all parts of the state may enjoy its grateful shade.
"From the constitution adopted at Bardstown we learn that the chief functions of the convention were to 'devise and execute plans for supplying destitute churches and neighborhoods with the gospel of Christ,' 'to disburse monies contributed by the churches and associations in the manner specified by the contributors, provided special instructions are sent, and to send forth men of tried integrity and usefulness to preach the gospel.'
"The convention began its work with less than two hundred dollars in its treasury, and if all the BaptIst ministers in the state had been its friends the
[p. 120]number would not have been much in excess of two hundred, while the churches were not far from five hundred, and the members not much more than thirty- five thousand. The difficulty of bringing these comparatively small numbers into harmonious coperation was much greater than most persons can now easily imagine. Many brethren were, of course, suspicious of interference with the independence of the churches, and many others knew that, as the purposes of the convention could not be carried into effect without money, the best way to keep their money was to stand aloof. There were doctrinal differences among ministers. Some in the upper part of the state were probably too Calvinistic, and some in the Green River section had Arminian proclivities. Brethren were afraid of one another, and very jealous for the interests of orthodoxy as held by themselves. Each minister believed himself orthodox, and always looked away from himself to find heterodoxy, and very often found what he looked for. In short, the state of things was by no means promising.
The convention having been formed at Bardstown, adjourned to meet at New Castle in October, 1832. The convention at New Castle was not numerously attended, but some choice spirits were there. I saw Doctor Noel, a fine looking man, somewhat inclined to corpulency, and as competent to say a good deal in few words as almost any man I have seen. Dr. George W. Eaton, then of the faculty of Georgetown College, was there and said eloquent things. Dr. Ryland T. Dillard was present, a fine specimen of manly beauty, and the words he spoke were words of wisdom. A few other ministers were there, among whom was Blackburn, of Woodford County; but they have all passed away. I am, so far as I know, the only man living who was at the convention at New Castle in 1832.
"In May, 1833, the annual meeting of the convention was held in Lexington, and the introductory sermon was preached by Rev. George Waller. The
[p. 121]attendance was small, only twenty-six messengers present. Ninety weeks of missionary labor were reported by ten missionaries who had baptized over four hundred persons. Receipts of money during the year amounted to nearly six hundred dollars. There was an adjourned meeting of the convention at Russellville in October of the same year, though Doctor Spencer in his history does not refer to it. I remember well Rev. William Warder was moderator, and the ministers present were George Waller, John S. Wilson, William C. Warfield, Robert T. Anderson, Daniel S. Colgan, and others. Of the laymen present there was no better specimen of a Christian gentleman than Dr. A. Webber, of Hopkinsville.
"The convention transacted very little business, but passed a number of resolutions. It has ever been easy to resolve.
"The second annual meeting of the convention was held in Louisville, October, 1834. Rev. Alfred Bennett, of New York, agent of the old Triennial Convention for Foreign Missions, preached, by request, the introductory sermon. The discreditable fact can not be denied that fifteen messengers only were present. The receipts of the year were a little more than half as large as those of the preceding year. This was discouraging; but it was more discouraging that such men of God as David Thurman, Herbert Waggener, J. H. L. Moorman, and David Kelley had fallen victims to cholera. The last two were missionaries, and their death cast sadness and gloom over the convention. The prayer of the Psalmist was appropriate, 'Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth.'
"The convention met, by adjournment, at Frankfort, in January, 1835. It was a small meeting. There were present ten ministers and seven laymen. A sermon introductory to business was preached by Rev. John S. Wilson, and a committee, appointed at the annual meeting in October, 1834, 'to devise a more efficient plan of itinerant preaching,' made a
[p. 122]long report. This committee consisted of John S. Wilson, George Waller, U. B. Chambers, John Scott, Silas M. Noel, and Samuel Haycraft. The report is rather a strange paper, and what it says about 'sub-ordination and coincidence in the arrangements for systematic labor' defies the comprehension of ordinary mortals. It was referred to by John Stevens, editor of the Baptist Advocate, of Cincinnati, as an 'able report.' It was written by Wilson, and concurred in by the other members of tbe committee; and while Wilson was exceedingly brilliant as an exhorter, he was not very happy as a writer.
"The report recommended that the state be divided into three parts, to be styled Eastern, Middle, and Western, and that a 'Helping Evangelist' be appointed for each division. There was to be in each division what was called the 'Evangelical Band' (probably evangelistic was meant), and this 'Band' was to be aided by the 'Helping Evangelist,' and to make report to him.
"The report,. though it seems to have in it some of the visionary element, was adopted by the convention, and three 'Helping Evangelists' were elected by private ballot, namely, William C. Buck for the eastern, George Waller for the middle, and William C. Warfield for the western division. It is not probable that these brethren accepted the places offered them. If they did, so far as we know, they made no report of their work. Indeed, it is almost certain that they saw, on reflection, that they :were clothed with powers, the exercise of which would not be agreeable to ministers or churches.
"The third annual meeting of the convention was held in Louisville in October, 1835. It met with the First Church, on Fifth and Green streets. It was a time of sadness and sorrow. The pastor, the beloved John S. Wilson, had died the preceding August, and the church made great lamentation over him. He was followed to his grave by a loving band of sincere mourners. It was arranged for Doctor Noel to preach
[p. 123]a funeral sermon on Sunday morning of the convention. His text was Luke 12:37: 'Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching.'Baptists at this time were afraid of conventions. The very name did not sound good to their ears, and then they were afraid of ecclesiastical authority, so the convention died and its demise was mourned by but few.
"There was but little business done at this meeting of the convention, and there was not much to justify the hope that the organization would ever accomplish a great deal. The convention, however, held an adjourned meeting at Greensburg in May, 1836; and in the meantime the stroke of death had fallen on William C. Warfield and Walter Warder, whose brother William died in August following. Thus the workers were ceasing while the work demanded earnest prosecution. Prospects were gloomy, and the friends of Zion wept in secret places.
"If there was an annual meeting of the convention in October, 1836, it has escaped my memory, and Doctor Spencer makes no reference to it in his history. This, however, does not absolutely prove that the convention did not meet; for Doctor Spencer does not mention the meeting at Louisville in October, 1835, and the one at Greensburg in May, 1836. This shows how difficult it is not to overlook some historical facts; for who could do better than the historian of Kentucky Baptists has done?"
Dr. Silas M. Noel, however, did not give up his efforts to organize the work of the denomination in Kentucky.
The Baptists of Kentucky owe much to the untiring efforts of the Rev. Silas M. Noel, D. D., for the organized work of the state. He, more than any other, seemed to realize the need of a general organization for the promotion of our state work.
[William D. Nowlin, Kentucky Baptist History, 1922, pp. 116-123. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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