The General Association Organized — A Great Revival Follows
THE failure of the Kentucky Baptist Convention was regarded a triumph for the enemies of missions, and tended to discourage the friends of evangelical effort. But God had preserved for himself, in this hour of deep darkness, a few men of wisdom, courage and consecration to His service. These felt, as deeply as ever, the necessity of uniting and arousing to activity, the discordant and discouraged churches. The plan advocated by M. Noel, in 1813 — the organization of "a general meeting of correspondence" — still appeared to them the most plausible means of accomplishing the desired end. A call was made on the churches and district associations to send messengers to meet in Louisville, for the purpose of organizing such meeting, Agreeably to this call, "a number of delegates and brethren, from various associations and churches, met in the Baptist meeting house, in the city of Louisville, on Friday Oct. 20, 1837, for the purpose of organizing a General Association of Baptists in Kentucky.
"A sermon introductory to the proceedings of the meeting was preached by Elder William Vaughan, from Acts xx:24. "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God,."
"The meeting was called to order by Elder W.C. Buck, when, on motion, Elder George Waller was appointed chairman, and brethren John L. Waller, and J.M. Pendleton, secretaries, pro tempore."
The names of messengers from churches and associations were then enrolled as follows;
Bloomfield. WILLIAM VAUGHAN, William M. Foster and George Duncan.
Frankfort. G.C. SEDWICK.
Washington, Mason Co. GILBERT MASON.
Shelbyville. R. GIDDINGS, L, W. Dupuy, R.W. Coots, John Hansbrough, William Owen and George Robertson.
Russell Creek Association. D. MILLER; R. Ball and Mason W. Sherrill.
Columbia. DANIELS. COLGAN.
Elizabethtown. JOHN L. BURROWS, S. L. Helm and J. Eliot.
Brandenburg. Minter A. Shanks.
West Union Association. J.P. EDWARDS.
Mount Moriah, Nelson Co. H. Hamilton.
Little Union, Spencer Co. E. Wigginton and W. Lloyd.
Friendship, Green Co. F.F. SEIG, J. Durrett and J. Barbee.
Forks of Otter Creek, Harden Co. J. NALL, and T. Thomas,
Youngers Creek, Hardin Co. W. Quinn.
Louisville. W. C. BUCK, B. F. FARNSWORTH, H. C. THOMPSON, C. Vanbuskirk, C. Quirey, Wm. Colgan, F. Garr, John B. Whitman, James E. Tyler, H.W. Nash, T. R. Parent and J. L. Waller.
Bowling Green. JAMES M. PENDLETON and W.H. THOMAS.
Sharon, Gallatin Co. JOHN SCOTT and Ben Jackman.
McCools Bottom. [Now Ghent.] F. Fisher.
Pleasant Grove, Jefferson Co. Silas Yager and J.W. Yager.
Mt. Olivet, Green Co. Z. WORLEY.
The following persons were present without having been appointed and were admitted to membership: GEORGE WALLER, JOEL HULSEY, Gad Davis, John T. Stout, John Ford, W. S. Robertson, J. Tichenor and J. C. Woodson.
Whites Run Church, Gallatin county, and Franklin Church, Simpson county, appointed messengers, but they were not present. The following constitution was adopted:
1st. This body shall be called the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky. 2nd. This Association shall be composed of representatives from such Baptist churches and Associations in this State, as are in regular standing.
3rd. Every such church and association, contributing annually to the funds of this Association, shall be entitled to a representation. 4th. This Association shall, in a special manner, aim to promote, by every legitimate means, the prosperity of the cause of God in this State. 5th. It is distinctly understood that this Association shall have no ecclesiastical authority. 6th. At each meeting of this Association there shall be elected by ballot, a Moderator, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, Treasurer, and eleven Managers, who shall constitute a Board of Directors for the management of all the business of this Association during the recess of its annual meetings, and annually report to the same their proceedings. 7th. The Moderator, Secretaries and Treasurer, shall perform the duties usually performed by such officers in similar associations. 8th. All associations contributing to this, and co-operating in its designs, shall be considered auxiliary to it. 9th. A General Agent may be appointed by the Association or Board of Managers, whose duty it shall be to survey all the destitution, the means of supply. &c., and report regularly to the Board, so as to enable them to meet the wants of the destitute. He shall also raise funds, and in every practical way promote the designs of the Association, for which he shall receive a reasonable support. 10th. Any visiting brethren in good standing, as such shall be entitled to sit in counsel in the annual sessions of this Association, but shall not have the right to vote. 11th. The annual meetings of this Association shall be on Saturday before the third Lord’s Day in October. 12th. This constitution, may be amended, or altered (the 5th article excepted) at any annual meeting, by a concurrence of two-thirds of the members present.
Under this constitution, the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, was now fully organized by the election of George Waller, Moderator, James E. Tyler, Recording Secretary, John L. Waller, Corresponding Secretary, and Charles
Quiry, Treasurer. A committee to nominate a Board of Managers, at least ten of whom should be located in or near Louisville, presented the following names, which were confirmed by the Association: B. F. Farnsworth, Wm. Colgan, C. Vanbuskirk, T. R. Parent, W. C. Buck, E. A. Bennett, John B. Whitman, J. C. Davie, W. Vaughan, G. C. Sedwick and James M. Pendleton.
The Association was composed of fifty-seven members, twenty of whom were ordained preachers, one a licensed preacher, and the remaining thirty-six, private church members, The visiting brethren present were Elder Alfred Bennett, agent of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions; Elder Noah Flood, of Missouri, Silas Webb, M.D. of Alabama, Elder T. G. Keene, of Philadelphia [now Dr: Keene of Hopkinsville, Ky.,] and Elder R. B. C. Howell, of Nashville, Tennessee.
This was not a large meeting, yet it was one of very great importance to the Kentucky Baptists. It was destined to inaugurate a line of policy so different from that which had been pursued from the planting of the first churches in the West as to almost amount to a revolution in the practice of the denomination in the State. The men who were about-to set forth the principles to be advocated, and the ends to be attained by the Association, though few in number, were representative men, from all the more intelligent regions of the State. The twenty-one preachers who were members of the new organization included the best ministerial talent in the State. The names of Wm. Vaughan, John L. Waller, J. M. Pendleton, George Waller, J. L. Burrows, W. C. Buck, S. L. Helm, Jas. P. Edwards, R. Giddings, and others of this noble band of Christ's ministers, will be household words, as long as the history of Kentucky Baptists is held in remembrance. They fully appreciated the importance to the cause of their Redeemer, of the enterprise they were now engaged in, and were united and harmonious in council and subsequent action. With great unanimity, they set forth four objects, to the accomplishment of which they proposed to devote their energies.
1st. To induce the churches to support their ministers, especially as a means of supplying the destitution in the homefield. They expressed it in the following language:
"Resolved, That it is the opinion of this Association, that
nothing ever will be effected of a permanetly beneficial character towards supplying the churches in this State with a stated ministry, until the churches can be influenced to practice upon the principle that they that 'preach the gospel, should live of the gospel.'
"Resolved, Therefore, That one of the primary objects of this Association should be to effect this important measure upon the part of the churches.
"Resolved, That whenever the churches can be influenced to discharge their duty in this respect, other missionary objects will be measurably, if not entirely superseded within the limits of this State."
In the circular letter they say: "To produce concert and harmony among the churches, to supply the destitute with the preaching of the gospel, and to call into action andarouse the dormant energies of our denomination . . . 'THE GENERAL ASSOCIATION OF BAPTISTS IN KENTUCKY,' was organized."
2nd. To foster a more thorough education in the ministry and to encourage education among the people.
"Resolved, That in the opinion of this Association, it is highly important to the interests of the churches, and the advancement of the Redeemer's Kingdom in our State, that adequate facilities for obtaining an extensive and thorough education be offered to such pious and gifted young men among us, as in the mind of the churches are called of God to the sacred work of the ministry."
In the circular letter, they say: "There is nothing that more intimately pertains to the prosperity of the Baptists in Kentucky, than the establishment of a school or schools for the education of those of our young ministers who may desire it."
3d. The distribution of the Bible among the people.
"Resolved, That in view of the vast field before our denomination for the distribution of the word of God, every effort should be put forth to accomplish the work."
"Resolved, That in our opinion, the formation of State Bible Societies is best calculated to facilitate this desirable object; and we therefore recommend to the churches the formation of such a society in Kentucky."
4th. The support of Foreign missions. The circular letter contains the following: "In providing for our own destitution,
let us not forget to let our prayers and alms ascend before God in behalf of the idolatrous millions of earth. Foreign missionary operations in modern times owe most of their success, under God, to the Baptists."
After discussing the principles and the practical details of plans for applying them, the association adjourned, and these men of God returned to their respective fields of labor, to engage in the war they well knew their counsel would evoke. It was anticipated that the organization of the General Association would afford occasion for additional strife among the discordant elements of the denomination; but these earnest men of God felt that they were authorized to imitate their beloved Master, who "came not to send peace but a sword." The result was just what had been expected. The denomination was agitated and confused throughout the State. Of forty-three associations, only nine were represented in the meeting that formed the General Association, andthree years later, when the number of associations had increased to fifty, only eleven had endorsed the objects set forth by that body. It afterwards became manifest that the great body of the denomination favored the principles of the General Association from the beginning. But the few who did oppose them were found in every association, and in almost every church, and were very bitter and determined in their opposition. The subject was introduced, usually, by means of queries or remonstrances, sent in letters from the churches, in almost every association in the State.
In many of the associations, even where large majorities favored the General Association, the messengers were anxious to avoid a vote on the subject, lest divisions should be introduced among the churches and associations. On the other hand, the opposers of missions and theological education were so confident of the justness of their cause, that they were determined to have the matter settled, as far as they were concerned. The missionary party was generally, if not universally, willing and even desirous to compromise the matter by allowing every man to act according to his own convictions. A few of the churches and associations succeeded in obtaining temporary quiet by adopting the compromise measure so familiar at that period, "That giving or not giving shall be no bar to fellowship." This included contributions to the support of
pastors, as well as to missionary operations. But only a few churches and associations were so fortunate as to obtain peace, even on these terms. In most places the enemies of the General Association forced a vote on the subject. Where they were in the majority, they promptly excluded their opponents, where they were in the minority, they went off and set up for themselves, adopting such distinguishing appellations as would indicate their opposition to "all benevolent institutions, (so called)." Green River, Licking, Drake's Creek, Stockton's Valley, Burning Spring, New Salem, North District, South Concord, and perhaps some smaller associations, came out in a bold and direct opposition to the General Association. Small factions dissented, declared in favor of missions, and have grown into such fraternities as Liberty, Bays Fork, Freedom, South Cumberland, and other influential associations, while the mother bodies have generally dwindled into insignificance. The particulars of these divisions, and their results, will be detailed at greater length when we come to give the history of the several associations. It is sufficient for our present purpose to say that the agitation was kept up, and much excitement and no small degree of bitter feeling, prevailed during a number of years, where the denomination became purged of its anti-missionary element, at least in a large degree, and quiet and peace were restored to the churches, at last, after an almost incessant war with Campbellism, Anti-nomianism, Two-seedism and Anti-missionism for a period of nearly twenty years.
But a much more pleasant result than that of the Anti-mission war, in the churches, immediately followed the organization of the General Association. This was the most extensive religious awakening that had occurred in Kentucky since the great revival of 1800-3. It is remarkable that this awakening began in the first church in Louisville, where the General Association was constituted, and during the meeting which convened for that purpose, October 20, 1837. The revival continued in this church six years, during which 637; were baptized into its fellowship. From Louisville, it spread over the country in all directions, till it reached every part of the State, and prevailed five or six years By far the largest ingatherings were in those churches which had espoused the cause of missions. During this remarkable revival, a zeal, hitherto unknown to the Baptists
of Kentucky, prevailed, wherever the revival prevailed. New terms of designation, new forms of worship, new methods of reaching the unconverted, and new modes of preaching were introduced. Every thing connected with divine service seemed to partake largely of the spirit of missions.
There was, at this period, a great scarcity of preachers, while there was a great demand for religious teaching. The field was white unto the harvest and the laborers were few. To make up the deficiency in ministerial labor, prayer meetings were held from house to house in destitute neighborhoods by private church members. In these meetings, there was much singing. Many new songs and choruses of an eminently devotional character were introduced, and sung with great zeal, especially by the young converts. Many warm, spirited exhortations were delivered by persons who had been hitherto unaccustomed to speak in public. These missionary prayer meetings were greatly blessed, not only in strengthening and developing the people of God who engaged in them, but in leading the unconverted to the Savior also.
Protracted Meetings came in vogue about this time. Hitherto, even during revival seasons, meetings were held only on Saturdays and Sundays, with an occasional night meeting, and that usually at a private house; and the most zealous and enterprising minister could not stretch his conscience beyond "a three days meeting." But now the meetings began to be protracted from day to day, during a period of two weeks. "The first regular protracted meeting, ever held in Ohio county, was begun and carried on by Alfred Taylor, at Walton's Creek church, December, 1837. Many were openly against the meeting. Others would shake their hoary locks, doubting what all this might lead to."1 Mr. Taylor went from church to church, holding meetings, during the winter and spring. His biographer estimates that he baptized 600 people within six months. As it was, under the ministry of Alfred Taylor, so was it, in most partsof the State. Everywhere there were suspicions of, and opposition to protracted meetings. But as in Ohio county, so everywhere else, they triumphed over all opposition, and became a feature of the polity, not only of the Baptist churches, but also of all other religious denominations.
Effort meetings was a term by which these continued series of meetings, were often designated. This implied that those who conducted the meetings were making efforts to bring sinners to salvation. This was very offensive to the anti-missionaries, and especially to that branch of them, commonly called Antinomians. About this period, it was, to say the east, of very doubtful orthodoxy among the Baptists, to speak of making an effort to bring sinners unto salvation. This was supposed to be exclusively the Lord's work, and for men to assume to take any part in it, seemed little less than blasphemy. It was characteristic of the time, however, for men to take a more practical view of divine teaching, and hence they did not hesitate to devise means for bringing the ungodly to Christ, that they might be saved.
By means of these protracted meetings, and the prayer meetings referred to above, the revival continued to prevail from the close of 1837, about six years. During this period vast numbers professed conversion, and were added to the churches. It was estimated that not less than 30,000 were baptized, during the first three years of the revival. This estimate was made by John L. Waller, corresponding secretary of the General Association, and embodied in his report in 1840. The statistics contained in the minutes of the associations, show the estimate to be about 12,000 too large. The real number baptized during that period was (approximately) 17,761. It is probable that 12,000 were baptized during the next three years: so that the denomination was greatly increased in numbers.
One of the strongest convictions on the minds of the Kentucky Baptists, at the period of which we write, was the need of more efficient organizations, through which they might act with greater unity. Up to this period, they had had no permanent organization, through which they could promote any system of benevolence. Many small Bible and Missionary so cieties had been formed, in various localities, but the Anti-missionary spirit which had been kindled in the churches by Daniel Parker, Alexander Campbell and other foes of systematic benevolence, soon crushed them out of existence. Several of the district associations were strong enough to have done much in supporting home and foreign missions, or Bible distribution. But such was the violent and intolerant opposition of the Antimissionary
element, that they did not dare to attempt any systematic support of benevolent institutions. In organizing the Kentucky Baptist Convention, much pains was taken, by its founders, to propitiate the anti-missionists, who formed anelemenin most of the churches. But the founders of the General Association, five years later, came out boldlyand defied the antimissionary element in the denomination. That organization was by no means popular, in the beginning; only about onetenth of the preachers, and a smaller proportion of the churches, gave it an open endorsement. But the character of the ministers and churches which did endorse it, and the wisdom and spirit with which they set forth its objects and plans of operation guaranteed its permanency. It rapidly grew in popular favor, and was soon approved by all the brethren who were truly missionary in spirit. No other medium was needed for carrying out home missions. But there were some other important religious enterprises demanding the attention of the Baptists, just at this period. There came a new and unexpected demand for Bibles in the Foreign Mission fields, especially in India and China. Hitherto the American Bible Society, which claimed to be non-sectarian, and to which the Baptists in America had contributed more than $100,000, had supplied the Baptist missionaries, as well as others, with means to print their Bibles. This policy continued till 1836, when the Board of Managers refused to aid the Baptist missionaries in India, in circulating their Indian versions of the Bible, because the word
and its cognates had been translated in those versions by a word signifying to dip or immerse. Thrown upon their own resources, the Baptists met in convention, in Philadelphia, April 26, 1837, and organized the AMERICAN AND FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY, the object of which was to circulate faithful versions of the Bible, in all languages. This was only about six months before the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky was constituted. The
KENTUCKY AND FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY was formed, in 1838. This organization was auxilary to the American and Foreign Bible Society. Auxilary to the State Society, a number of local Bible societies were formed, in different parts of the Commonwealth.
THE ROBERTS FUND AND CHINA MISSION SOCIETY for the
Mississippi Valley, with its Board of Managers located at Louisville, Ky., was organized near the same period. The object of this society was to hold in trust, and properly dispose of certain lands in the State of Mississippi, donated by Elder I. J. Roberts, for the benefit of China Missions, and to collect and appropriate monies for that Mission.
The General Association has continued to grow in favor with the denomination, till it has now been endorsed by every association and church in the State, not avowedly anti-missionary in the ordinary sense of that term. The subordinate societies, formed during the same decade, enjoyed a good degree of prosperity till the excitement on the slavery question caused their separation from the parent societies, during the next decade, after which they speedily dissolved.
The improvement in the condition of the Baptists denomination in Kentucky, from 1835 to 1840, was so marked as to become a matter of public thanksgiving. The antimissionary element that had embarrassed the church and associational councils, and bitterly opposed every benevolent enterprise, for a period of about twenty-three years, had been in a large measure purged away. Many of the Churches were giving a reasonable support to their pastors. Most of the more populous and wealthy associations were maintaining missionaries in their bounds. Liberal contributions were being made to Foreign Missions and Bible distribution. Georgetown College was in a flourishing condition. And, during a continual revival of three years, large numbers had been added to the churches.
The minutes of the associations, for 1840, show that there were in Kentucky, at that period [approximating very nearly] 50 associations, 711 churches, and 49,308 members. The population of the State, in 1840, was 779,828. This gives (in round numbers) one church to every 1,096 of the population, and one Baptist to every 15 of the population. The Methodists reported, the same year, 8 districts, 83 circuits and stations, 109 preachers, and 37,000 members.
The Presbyterians reported about 8,000 members. The Campbellites may be estimated at 28,000. The Cumberland Presbyterians at 12,000.
We have, at hand, no data for a reliable estimate of the number of Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans, at that period. _________________
1 Biography of Alfred Taylor, pp. 32-33.
[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984.]
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