CHAPTER X. Tennessee Baptists.
There is perhaps no State in the Union that has received more attention on the question of alien immersion and valid baptism than has Tennessee . It is the home of the lamented J. R. Graves, who during his life time was one of the most active and able defenders of regular baptism. Such was his prominence for half a century, or nearly so, that many have charged him with originating the doctrine commonly known as Landmarkism.
This is doubtless due in some cases to inadvertence, in others to ignorance, and it is to be feared that prejudice in some instances has much to do with the charge.
J. R. Graves was born in Vermont , April 10, 1820 , and came to Tennessee July 3, 1845 , and in the fall of 1846 he became associate editor with R. B. C. Howell on The Baptist, a paper then being published in Nashville . It was through this paper that he exerted his most powerful influence for nearly half a century. It has been charged that, “such a thing as making the reception of alien immersion a test of fellowship, was never known until about sixty years ago, when it was brought into Tennessee by J. R. Graves and imported from Tennessee into Kentucky .”
The utter groundlessness of this statement has already been seen in the foregoing pages and will be overwhelmingly disproved in the pages to follow. All true Baptists of Tennessee delight to honor the memory of J. R. Graves. But neither he nor they ever saw the day that they would tolerate new things much less originate them. It was only a strenuous effort to perpetuate the old and time-honored doctrines and practices of the Baptists, such as the rejection of pulpit affiliation and alien immersion.
The coming of Baptists to Tennessee was mainly from Virginia and North Carolina . By reference to the chapters on these States, it will be seen what manner of Baptists they were. Their history in this State begins with the latter part of the eighteenth century. The history of East Tennessee is largely told in the history of Virginia and North Carolina . So we will confine this chapter mainly to Middle and West Tennessee .
The coming of Baptists into Middle Tennessee dates back to 1786. The first Association (Mero District) was constituted ten years later. This, however, was of short duration. The oldest Association of permanent duration was the Cumberland constituted in 1803. These Baptists were strict constructionists, and would tolerate nothing that was irregular. We have before us the Confessions of Faith of some of the Old Associations which I will here give. The Red River Association (Middle Tennessee), constituted 1806, from Cumberland :
Art. 12. “We believe that no ministers have a right to the administration of the ordinances only such as are regularly baptized, called, and come under the imposition of hands by the presbytery.” Hardy-Wallace Debate, p. 180.
The Concord Association is the oldest Missionary Association in Middle Tennessee, being constituted in 1810. This was ten years before J. R. Graves was born, and I may say that this is the Association to which J. R. Graves belonged in after years while he was located at Nashville . Here is one of the articles in their Confession of Faith upon which they were constituted in 1810:
Article 10. “We believe that ministers have no right to administer the ordinances, only such as are regularly baptized and come under the imposition of hands by the presbytery.” Bond’s Hist. Concord Association. P. 14.
Salem Association, Middle Tennessee, was constituted in 1822. Here is what their Confession of Faith says:
Art. 10. “We believe that no minister has a right to administer the ordinances only such as are regularly baptized and come under the imposition of hands by a presbytery.” Hist. Middle Tenn. Bap., p 14.
The Enon Association, constituted 1850, adopted the same Confession, in fact practically all the old churches and Associations of Middle Tennessee adopted this or a similar Confession of Faith.
That the reader may further see how these Baptists stood on this question, we quote the following preamble and resolution offered by Elder John Bond, and passed by Concord Association in 1840:
“Whereas, Certain causes operated to influence this Association several years ago to adopt an order recommending the churches composing it to reject members of the churches then denominated Separates, who might apply for membership with us; and where as, these causes have now ceased to exist; therefore,
“Resolved, That we do hereby rescind said order, and recommend to the churches to exercise their discretion in the premises as occasion may require.”
The Salem took like action. The explanation of this is, that the Separate Baptists in the division of 1827 had among them some who were under the influence of Alexander Campbell’s teaching and these old Associations drew the line of fellowship against them until they would rid themselves of this trouble. As soon as they had time to settle themselves they did “shove those infatuated with Campbellism to the woods: and hence the above action on the part of these Associations.
Again: In 1844 Salem Association passed the following:
“Whereas, The Freedom Association (of Kentucky) has proposed a correspondence with us; resolved, therefore, that we send a friendly letter and delegates to inform them that we are willing to correspond with them, provided they will correct the error of one of their churches for receiving members into their fellowship who were immersed by unauthorized administrators.” For all the above see the minutes.
Freedom Association did correct the trouble. See Spencer’s Hist. Ky. Bap., Vol. 2, p. 559.
All the above occurred long before the coming of J. R. Graves to Tennessee .
In the minutes of Salem Association for 1850 we find the following;
“Resolved, That the churches be advised to receive none but those who have been baptized on a profession of their faith in Christ, by a legal administrator; and that we esteem legal only such as act under the authority of the regular Baptist church as organized after the model of the gospel.”
Again; In 1854 the following was passed:
“Resolved, That it is inconsistent for Baptists to recognize Pedo-baptist preachers as gospel ministers, denying as we do the legality of their official acts, by inviting them to occupy our pulpits or preaching with them.”
We turn now to West Tennessee . The Baptists of this section in the main came from Middle Tennessee. But that the reader may see how they stand, we will quote the Confession of two of their oldest Associations. The Western District Association, constituted 1823:
Art. XI. “We believe that no minister has the right to administer the ordinances, only such as are regularly baptized and come under the imposition of the hands of a presbytery.” Edgar’s Church Hist., p. 7.
Indian Creek Association, constituted early in last century:
Art. XII. “That none but such as have been baptized by a regularly ordained Baptist minister, have a right to church membership or communion.” (See The Baptist for Dec. 12, 1846.)
Obion Association ( Tennessee and Kentucky ), constituted 1828:
Art. XI. “We believe that no minister has a right to the administration of ordinances, only such as are regenerated and born again, regularly baptized, specially called of God to the work of the ministry, and come under the imposition of the hands of a presbytery.” Edgar’s Church Hist. p. 26.
In their minutes of 1829 they say: “We are willing to receive a correspondence from any of our sister Associations, upon the principle on which we were constituted.” Again in 1830 and 1834 they make this matter a test of fellowship.
The following editorial is taken from The Baptist of 1888:
“Rev. J. H. Grime, of Shop Springs , Tenn. , has recently baptized a church. They belonged to the ‘Christian Baptists’ (?) but after hearing Bro. Grime preach a week they agreed by vote to accept baptism and become Baptists right. Among them were two preachers who went down into the water singing, ‘Am I a Soldier.’ And came up singing, ‘How Happy Are they Who Their Saviour Obey.’ Who were they, Bro. Grime, Campbellites?”
The above refers to Boiling Springs church, Putnam county, Tenn. They were similar to the Free Will Baptists. The preachers baptized were J. D. and Samuel Howell. They are today prominent ministers of that section.
We will conclude this chapter with a statement from the Southern Baptist Review:
“The grandfather of Dr. Wm. Whitsitt, of the Louisville Theological Seminary, who died at an advanced age, left an able paper with me upon this question (alien immersion), which he prepared the last year of his life. His eighth objection is:
“We object to receive the baptism of Pedo-baptists, because we think it a dangerous innovation. We have no recollection that the history of the Baptists furnishes an example of the kind, and we are well assured that the common sense and piety of the Baptists were as strong one hundred years ago as they are now. This question we have before us must be a new-comer. We hope it will not be very obtrusive. …We say again, we think this a dangerous innovation.’” South-Bapt. Rev., vol 5. p. 388 and Old Landmarkism. P. 213.
There was no man in Tennessee better prepared to speak on this question than Elder James Whitsitt. Some one has said that his history was largely the history of the Baptists of the Cumberland Valley . He was considered the Historian of the early Baptists of Tennessee and wrote many historical sketches. He wrote the above in 1848, doubtless, or early in 1849, as he died early in the spring of that year. He says at that time, that the question was a “new-comer.” This is conclusive evidence that the practice of receiving alien immersion is of recent date.