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The Anti-Missionary Controversy in the Cincinnati, Ohio Area
in the Early 1800s.
By G. W. Lasher, D. D.
      . . . . [There was a controversy] and the rupture which grew out of it. That it was an error, and that the responsibility for the results were those of the anti-missionary, dissenting majority, is beyond controversy, as appears from a study of the minutes.

      In 1810, the Association had planted itself squarely on the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, and, in 1814, it had entered into hearty sympathy with the Baptists of the East and South in the organization of the Baptist Triennial Convention for the support of Adoniram Judson and his fellow-missionaries in the foreign field. It ordered that the Constitution of what it called the American Missionary Society, constituted for the purpose of spreading the gospel in heathen lands," be printed with the minutes of the Association; and it said further: "We do solicit the several Churches to take the matter into serious consideration, and exert our efforts, with our brethren in other parts, bringing the proceeds of our liberality to the Association next year, where proper persons shall be appointed to receive and to forward the same to the general assembly in Philadelphia." In 1816 it received the report of "the committee appointed last year to draft a Constitution for a Missionary Society, which was read, agreed to and ordered to be printed with the minutes." And it was so printed. "The Subject of Missionary Establishments" was the theme of the Circular Letter published in the minutes of the same year. The Constitution of the Missionary Society referred especially to "domestic missions," but it provided for a membership and management outside of the Association itself, its immediate management being vested in a board chosen by ballot and continuing

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in office until their successors were elected. The Circular Letter was prepared and signed by Stephen Gard and R. Ayres.

      In 1818 the Association entered into hearty sympathy with the organization of the Ohio Baptist Education Society, and requested the Churches to aid in "the laudable undertaking." In 1819 it declined to aid in the establishment of Columbian University, at Washington, because of having "advised aid to the institution of the same kind, organized in this State;" and the same year it advised the Churches "to become auxiliary to the Baptist Board of Foreign and Domestic Missions in Philadelphia."

      In 1824 some of the Baptists of Cincinnati organized a Society for missionary purposes, called "The Cincinnati Missionary Society," and "held its first public meeting in September, 1825, when seven Churches beside those in the city were represented; but there is nothing to indicate that the Association, as a body, had anything to do with the Society, or that it made any impression upon the Association as an organization. The Ohio Baptist Convention was formed in 1826, and the Association voted recommending that the Churches inquire into its purposes and methods, and govern themselves as it might to them seem proper. Beyond this the Association seems not to have had any connection with the Convention.

      In 1820 a collection was taken, amounting to $13.12, to be sent to Rev. Isaac McCoy, then engaging in a mission among the Indians at Fort Wayne, Ind.; the Churches were advised to make contributions to the same object, and, at the time of the meeting, Elder Wilson Thompson, then pastor of the Pleasant Run Church, had under consideration a proposition to join Mr. McCoy in his work, and soon after the plan was consummated, the engagement fully made. But within three months from that time his mind underwent a great change. The evening of the day before he was to set out for Fort Wayne, he heard a voice saying: "Who hath required this at your hands?" and those words started in his mind a process of reasoning by which he became convinced that "modern missions " were not of God, but were of human origin and human planning, and therefore he could not have a part in them. The voice said: "God 'worketh all things after the counsel of His own will;' if He intends to send the gospel to the Indians, or to any heathen nation, He has not only fixed the time for it, but has arranged the system. And have you the evidence that this is either the time or the system which He hath appointed?" He decided negatively, and from that time onward became a persistent and powerful opponent of the missionary cause. He did not go to Fort Wayne, but soon after accepted a call to the pastorate of the Lebanon Church. Thompson was a native of Kentucky, and was at that time about thirty-two years old, having had a varied experience in new settlements in Missouri and Indiana, before coming to Ohio. He bad enjoyed no educational advantages, but was possessed of a commanding physique; had no little natural ability and eloquence as a public speaker and preacher. He was, in the fullest sense, a backwoodsman, and prided himself on his original thinking. He was a student of the Bible, but he carried to it ideas which he had wrought out in his own mind, and he saw the word of God in the light of his own thought. As is characteristic of ignorant people, he was given to reliance upon impressions, dreams, and voices; and his interpretations of Scripture were often fanciful and entertainingly original. In his antagonism to missions, it is evident, he did not know his own heart, nor take into due account the motive operating upon him. He had formed a warm personal and fraternal friendship with Elder Stephen Gard, pastor of the Elk Creek Church, and had the sympathy and confidence of several others of the ministers of the Association. Stephen Gard was a man of less preaching ability, but was more reserved and probably better balanced, though in thorough sympathy with Thompson's views on the subject of missions, as well as his predestinarianism.

      About the same time the writings of Rev. Andrew Fuller, in England, had come to be recognized in this country, and his views of the atonement of Christ had been heartily adopted by a great many of the most thoughtful and devout Christians of all evangelical denominations. Whereas the popular view, among what were known as Calvinists, was that, in His work of grace, Christ died for

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"the elect," and that all for whom He died would be saved, while it was possible to extend the salvation to no others, so making it useless to carry the gospel to any but "the elect," Fuller taught that, while the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all the human race in every age, it is valueless to those who do not hear the gospel, or do not accept it. It is not for us to know who are "the elect," and it is our business to carry the gospel "to every creature," having no regard to the question of election. Consequently, Andrew Fuller was in the deepest sympathy with the cause of missions in every land, and was the untiring Secretary of the English Baptist Missionary Society. But his views were rejected and denounced by a considerable section of Baptists, especially the less educated and the narrower-minded. Thompson, Gard and their sympathizers arrayed themselves against what they denounced as "Fullerism;" and so the lines were drawn.

      For ten years Gard was Moderator and Thompson Clerk of the Association, and it seems not to have been healthy for any other man to aspire to either office. Either one or the other, or both, was the principal preacher at every meeting. In 1833 Gard preached the introductory sermon, and was made Moderator; Thompson was appointed to preach on the Sabbath, to prepare the Circular Letter, and to preach the introductory sermon the next year. In 1834 Thompson preached the introductory sermon, Gard was made Moderator, was appointed to preach the introductory sermon the next year, and to write the Circular Letter for the next year, and Thompson was appointed to write the Corresponding Letter for the next year. Gard served as Moderator for eighteen years; Thompson preached the introductory sermon six times; and with one exception the two men alternated in the introductory sermon for seven years. Thompson wrote the Circular Letter four times and Gard seven times.

      It was in 1820 that Thompson had arranged to go to Fort Wayne and had his remarkable experience. He did not go. In 1821, a motion that the Churches be recommended to form societies to cooperate with the Triennial Convention was "negatived." The issue had been made. In 1823 a request for aid came from Isaac McCoy, at Fort Wayne, and Thompson was appointed to answer it. In 1824 a circular letter from the Missionary Society in Cincinnati was presented, read and "laid aside," and, in 1825 a committee, consisting of Mulford, Gard and Thompson, was appointed to revise "the Platform of Faith," the object evidently being to make it conform to the new views on the subject of missions.

      In 1831 a new name appears in the minutes of the Association, a new force in the meetings of the body. Rev. S. W. Lynd had become pastor of the Sixth Street, subsequently the Ninth Street Church, Cincinnati. He had come from New Jersey, from the vicinity of Philadelphia, where he had been in touch with the great leaders in the cause of foreign missions. Soon the pot began to boil. For five years Lynd was a member of the Association before he preached the introductory sermon. In 1833, "Appointed Elder W. Thompson to preach the introductory sermon next year, and Elder S. W. Lynd in case of his failure." In 1834, "Appointed S. Gard to preach the introductory sermon next year, and Elder S. W. Lynd in case of failure." "Appointed Elder S. Gard to write the Circular for next year, and Elder W. Thompson the General Corresponding Letter." In 1835 the application for membership of a Church, called Mt. Zion, and known to be anti-mission, was the occasion for a resolution looking to a rupture. The subject was deferred to the second day, and then the following was adopted by a vote of 42 to 21:

"Whereas, There is great excitement and division of sentiment in the Baptist denomination relative to the subject of the benevolent institutions of the day (so called), such as Sunday-schools, Bible, Missionary, Tract and Temperance Societies, therefore
"Resolved, That this Association regards those said societies and institutions as having no authority, foundation or support in the sacred scriptures, but we regard them as having had their origin in, and as belonging exclusively to the world, and as such we have no fellowship for them as being of a religions character, but do hereby declare non-fellowship with those brethren and Churches who now advocate them.

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"Resolved, That this Association grant to the Churches, friendly or opposed, the entire liberty of withdrawing and forming a new Association according to their own views."
      The subject of the Circular Letter, written by Stephen Gard, was "The Atonement," and while it generally harmonized with the truth, it led up to the point in question, "the extent of the atonement," and the question was asked: "Dear brethren, if the atonement of Christ is so important in its nature, and so salutary in its effects, the question will naturally arise, for whom was this greatest of all God's works performed?" Then it was argued: "The atonement of Christ is only for His sheep, which is the Church, and they alone will partake of its benefits."

      It is easy to understand that such men as S. W. Lynd, Daniel Bryant, John Blodgett were not to be controlled by such resolutions, and that Ninth Street Church, Lebanon and Dayton could not regard themselves as bound by such action. The "Platform of Faith" did not justify such action, and no majority could compel the acceptance of a new "Platform." The dissenters went right on making their contributions, and the fame thereof reached the ears of the opposing brethren, so that, in 1880, the climax was reached. Several of the Churches sent up requests that the Association "drop from her minutes and fellowship all Churches now engaged in advocating or supporting the societies and institutions against which the Association declared non-fellowship last year;" and it was

"Resolved, That we drop from our minutes the following Churches, viz., Sixth (now Ninth) Street, of Cincinnati, Middletown, Lebanon and Dayton,"
      The resolution carried by a vote of 35 to 6, "the rest being neutral, except those criminated by the resolution." And it is said: "These, had they been permitted to vote, would have prevented the resolution from passing;" from which it appears that the Churches against which charges were brought were regarded as criminal, and, as such, prohibited from voting on a question which was to determine the status of the Association.

      We do not need to stop here to tell the rest of the story; how the excluded Churches, by their representatives, immediately organized and held to the original "Platform of Faith," declaring that they constituted the Association as previously organized, and that they had a right to the name; how some of the Churches, notably that at Lebanon, divided and became two Churches, and how the missionary body began to grow, while the other began to dwindle and continued to dwindle until it is now difficult to find it, unless it be the minority in the Churches, composed of those who do not now contribute to the cause of missions, and who are engaged in no particular Church work.

      The question of the right of the excluded minority to declare itself and to take to itself the name - "The Miami Baptist Association" - should have some consideration. The Association had itself declared, in the case of the Sugar Creek Church - which had divided on a question of doctrine some years before - that a steadfast minority was entitled to be regarded as the "original and regular" institution; and the civil courts have, for many years, taken the same position, so that a minority of two or three can hold property, as against a large majority which has departed from the faith. . . .


[From the 100th Anniversary Edition of the Miami Baptist Association Minutes, 1898, a portion of “Doctrinal Defections and their Phases”, By G. W. Lasher, D. D. This document is from the Miami Baptist Association office. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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