Early Kentucky Baptists unite for missions

By R. Charles Blair

Published: August 1, 2019

Partly because of its unique geographical location, Kentucky was settled from two directions—the Northeast (or New England) and the Southeast (from Virginia down to South Carolina). Baptists came from both directions, bringing with them slightly differing traditions.

R. Charles Blair

Those from New England, often known as Regular Baptists, brought with them an allegiance to the old London Confessions, as slightly rewritten by the "Philadelphia Association," which stressed an educated ministry, the sovereignty of God and uniting with other Baptists for mission work, especially among the Indians.

Those from the southern coastal states were often known as Separate Baptists. They were influenced strongly by the general revivalism in the early years of the new nation, cared less for formal education, and incorporated some of the British General Baptists, though most of these were "Tories" who went to Canada or back to old England after the Revolution. While not fully Arminian as were the Methodists and some others around them, they supported revivalism and the "New Light" approach which often involved "trembling, weeping, screaming and catalepsy" (Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, p. 44). The first reaction of New England Baptists to such camp meetings may well be imagined!

Yet these two parties soon found themselves neighbors in the new "dark and bloody ground" of Kentucky—"land of canes and turkeys." And very soon they found that they were in such general agreement on the great principles of the gospel that fellowship, especially in this wilderness, seemed absolutely essential.

The year was 1801. On the second Saturday of October, in the Providence Meeting House on Howard's Creek (Clark County), messengers (not delegates) from churches in the Elkhorn (Regular) Association and churches in the South Kentucky (Separate) Association gathered to discuss "terms of union" on which all could agree. While recognizing the freedom of each church, they "agreed to unite on the following plan":

1. That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the infallible Word of God, and the only rule of faith and practice.

2. That there is only one true God, and in the Godhead, or divine essence, there are Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

3. That by nature we are fallen and depraved creatures.

4. That salvation, regeneration, sanctification and justification are by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

5. That the saints will finally persevere through grace to glory.

6.That believer's baptism by immersion is necessary to receiving the Lord's Supper.

7. That the salvation of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.

8. That it is our duty to be tender and affectionate to each other, and study the happiness of the children of God in general; to be engaged singly to promote the honor of God.

9. And that the doctrine that Christ tasted death for every man shall be no bar to communion.

10. And that each may keep up their associational and church government as to them may seem best.

11. That a free correspondence and communion be kept up between the churches so united.

Unanimously agreed to by the joint committee: Ambrose Dudley, Robert Elkin, John Price, Thos. J. Chilton, Joseph Redding, Daniel Ramey, David Barrow, Moses Bledsoe, Samuel Johnson.

(Spencer, History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. I, p. 546)

The term "United Baptists" seemed appropriate for the new fellowship, already in use in the seaboard states. However, some continued to call themselves Regular Baptists and more of the "Separates" kept their earlier name.

They soon began assisting the sending of missionary preachers among the Indians, in part with the possible motive of encouraging friendship which would provide more safety for the new settlements — but by and large, no doubt, with a sincere evangelistic zeal.

Statement No. 9 in the list is of special interest in the light of the current discussion of Calvinism among Kentucky Baptists. It is surely notable that on this contentious issue (then as well as now) the two parties agreed on a statement taken directly from scripture (Hebrews 2:9), the final rule of faith and practice for both groups.

Spencer and Masters (the latter my first Bible teacher at Mayfield, 1958) compiled thorough and highly commendable general sketches of early Baptist life in the western lands of Virginia, which became the Commonwealth of Kentucky.


R. Charles Blair is a retired Baptist pastor in Clinton, Ky., and a past president of the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.