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The William Whittsitt Controversy and
the Northbend Baptist Association

By James R. Duvall

     William Whitsitt while President of Southern Seminary and professor of church history wrote several anonymous articles in a religious encyclopedia stating that immersion as Baptists practiced it did not begin until 1641 in England. The Baptists in northern Kentucky and throughout most of the nation believed that immersion could be traced back to the New Testament where Jesus was immersed by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. This caused a controversy when it was realized that Whitsitt was the author of these articles.

     The first reference locally to William Whittsitt was before he wrote the articles. He came to the annual associational meeting held at Beaver Lick Baptist Church in 1892 and spoke "in behalf of the theological seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He made an appeal for aid in regard to the students' fund, which was responded to by the representatives of the churches generally, agreeing to take up collections for that object during the year." [Northbend Baptist Association Minutes.]

     The next reference to President Whitsitt in the associational Minutes was after he was known to be the author of the baptism articles and a convention-wide effort to remove him from his position at Southern Seminary had begun:

     Resolutions from the North Bend Baptist Association, 1897:

      "Bro. J. C. Revill [a messenger from the Burlington Baptist Church, Boone County] presented the following resolutions:

     Whereas, The Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, at their recent session in Wilmington [NC], took no definite and decided action in regard to the Whittsitt matter, and
     Whereas, We believe this inaction was in a large measure due to the failure of the Baptist bodies to officially lay their wishes before the board; and,
     Whereas, Dr. Whittsitt has pursued such a course as to alienate from him the great mass of the denomination; and,
     Whereas, It is the firm conviction of the Association that so long as he continues President of the Seminary and Professor of Church History the great mass of Southern Baptist[s] will withhold from the institution their co-operation and support.

     Resolved, First - That we hereby heartily indorse and approve the action of the General Association of Kentucky at its recent session in Georgetown in adopting a resolution requesting the Trustees of the Seminary from Kentucky to urge, insist upon and vote for the retirement of Dr. Whittsitt from the Presidency of the Seminary and from the Chair of Church History.
     Second - That the clerk of this association be hereby instructed to forward a copy of these resolutions, duly signed and certified by himself and the Moderator, to the Hon. Joshua Levering, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with the request that they be laid before the Trustees at their next meeting.
     Third - That in appointing representatives to attend the Southern Baptist Convention (1898) and the General Association of Kentucky (1898), brethren be appointed who are in sympathy with these resolutions, and that the said brethren be instructed to vote for any measure looking toward the accomplishment of the above named desires.
     Fourth - That we unqualifiedly and wholly indorse the course pursued by Dr. T. T. Eaton and the Western Recorder, and urge them to continue their crusade until our Seminary shall be managed by those who are in fullest sympathy with Baptists."

     "The adoption of said resolutions was moved and seconded after which the same were discussed by Revs. [T. L.] Utz [Belleview], and [James A.] Kirtley [Bullittsburg], [along with four pastors from Kenton County]. A visiting pastor from Memphis, TN and one from Indiana also spoke about the issue. [Two men from Burlington church also spoke about the matter.] On a rising vote the resolutions were adopted by a vote of 61 to 1, the one voting in the negative having expressed himself in favor of Dr. Whittsitt retiring from the Seminary, but thought the resolutions would effect nothing."


[Northbend Baptist Association Minutes, 1897, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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