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Affects West Kentucky Baptists Today
By Ben Stratton, 2022

      William Faulkner is famously quoted as saying, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This is especially true with regard to Kentucky Baptist history.

      So many things about Kentucky Baptists are a direct result of the past. Below are three such events. The first one affects the entire state today while the second two are particularly relevant for Baptists in the western third of Kentucky. We will also seek to give a Biblical application to each event that can encourage us today.

The great Kentucky Revival of 1800

      It is difficult to imagine how different Kentucky was before the Second Great Awakening. The Kentucky Baptist historian J.H. Spencer said, “The beginning of the year 1800 was the darkest period that has ever occurred in the religious history of the Mississippi Valley.” So many settlers, who came to Kentucky for the good hunting and cheap farmland, left their religion behind them. Sundays were given over to every activity except going to church. Deism was spreading rapidly across the state.

      In the midst of such dark days, Christians across the state began to fervently pray for God to send revival. And the Lord answered. In the summer of 1800, the power of God began to move across Kentucky. Multitudes were converted, lives were changed and new Baptist churches were planted.

      The results can be seen in the associational reports. In 1800, the six largest Baptist associations in the state claimed a combined membership of only 4,766. By 1802, they had grown to include 13,569 Baptist church members in their bounds. Even more amazing is the quote from Virginian George Baxter, who visited in 1802. He declared, “I found Kentucky the most moral place I had ever been in!”

      Baptists never looked back as this revival laid the foundation for them to become widespread across the entire state. Spiritual giants such as Jeremiah Vardeman, John Taylor, William Vaughn, J.P. Edwards, Willis White, the Warder brothers and countless others carried the fires of revival in all directions. Kentucky Baptists continued to grow rapidly throughout the 19th and into the 20th century.

      The religious landscape in the 21st century can be very discouraging. Kentucky Baptists must remember that God hasn’t changed and neither has the “power of the gospel” (Romans 1:16). Let us continue to pray and share Christ with those around us. What happened in Kentucky in 1800 and what happened with Saul of Tarsus, Zacchaeus and the woman at the well can still happen today!

The Primitive Baptist / Missionary Baptist Division

      Beginning in 1825, Kentucky Baptists divided into two groups.The question in dispute was: Should any “means” be used in advancing the Kingdom of God?

      Those Baptists who only believed in praying, singing and preaching the Word at the church house became known as “Primitive” Baptists.

      Those Baptists who did these things, but also believed in sending out missionaries and preaching the gospel to the lost became known as “Missionary” Baptists. It was a bitter conflict that saw churches and associations divide all across the state.

      During the antebellum period, there were almost as many Primitive Baptist congregations in Kentucky as Missionary Baptist churches. In Graves County, where I serve, nearly every community has a Primitive Baptist cemetery. The sad fact is the vast majority of these churches eventually closed their doors. While the Primitive Baptists had plenty of powerful preachers and writers, their lack of evangelism caused them to virtually die out in Kentucky. Whereas, the Missionary Baptists, with their gospel fervency, continued to grow and prosper.

      In western Kentucky, many older Baptist congregations continue to use the name “Missionary Baptist” on their church signs. This is a holdover from days gone by. It was once needed to distinguish their churches from the then common “Primitive Baptists.” Some still find the term “Missionary Baptist” useful in areas where “General Baptist” congregations are widespread.

      The story of Kentucky Primitive Baptists warns us that without evangelism, churches will soon die. In the parable of the Great Supper, Jesus said, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23). Every region of Kentucky is full of “unchurched” people. The question is will we compel those around us to come to Christ?

The Establishment of Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College

      In 1949, a small Bible college was started in Clinton named West Kentucky Baptist Bible Institute. It was founded to train area pastors as well as the many young men who had surrendered to preach in the years after World War II.

      In 1957, the school moved to Mayfield and changed its name to Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College, which was shortened to Mid-Continent College in 1993. It later became Mid-Continent University in 2004 before finally closing in 2014.

      Mid-Continent’s impact on the western part of the state cannot be overemphasized. Hundreds of “preacher boys” were trained there. Through the years, these young men were taught by such conservative professors as C.O. Simpson, Frank Masters, O.C. Markham, L.W. Carlin, Frank Carlton, Wendell H. Rone, LaVerne Butler, Charles Cloyd, Charles Blair and many more. This is the reason why, when many Southern Baptists were dealing with Biblical inerrancy and women’s ordination, west Kentucky Baptists never struggled with these issues. Indeed Mid-Continent passed on a staunch Baptist identity that can still be felt today. The school was essentially a theological preservative that other regions in Kentucky didn’t have.

      While Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College is gone today, there is still the need for doctrinal truth to be passed on to the next generation. In 2 Timothy 2:2 the apostle Paul said, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” It is primarily the responsibility of the local church to carry out this command. Let every pastor and church leader commit to making sure that those younger than us (physically and spiritually) know the great doctrines of the faith.


[From Kentucky Today, September 27, 2022; via Internet. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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