CHAPTER VI. Virginia Baptists.
Virginia was a center of Baptist influence in the Colonial days of American civilization. It is of importance in the study of this question that we know how they stood in these days. The preceding chapter has largely covered this ground, but we proceed to give a few additional items, which we think will shed some additional light on this question.
“Some time in the year of 1766, and a short time after Mr. Thomas’ preaching (in Virginia ), three of the parties, viz.: Elijah Craig and two others, traveled to Mr. Harris’ house in order to procure his services in Orange, and the adjacent parts, to preach and baptize the new converts. They found to their surprise that he had not been ordained to the administration of the ordinances. To remedy this inconvenience he carried them about sixty miles into North Carolina , to get James Read, who was ordained.” Semple’s Hist, Va. Bap. P. 21.
These were what were called “Separate Baptists,” also in their order of business No. 4, we find this; “Every ordained minister of the same faith, etc., being legally called upon by any church, may administer the sacraments among them, and with the help of their church, ordain their elders or deacons if found qualified; and in case they have made choice of a minister whom they desire to be examined and ordained, they may petition neighboring ministers to proceed in the said work.” Semple’s Hist. p. 71.
In 1771 we have the following query from the church in Orange : “Whether we have a right to dismiss a member from under the care of our order? (that is to another denomination). Answered in the negative.”
Again from “Amelia Church: What are the terms of Communion fixed in the word of God? Answered. Fellowship in the same faith and order.” Semple’s Hist. p. 73.
In regard to this first question it would seem apparent that if they would not dismiss a member to the outside, they would not receive one from the outside. And in the latter, the terms to communion are plainly stated.
In the proceedings of Dover Association in 1790 we have the following query and answer: “Whether baptism was valid when administered by an unordained person? To which the Association replied: ‘That in cases where the ordinance had been administered in a solemn and religious manner, that it might be considered as valid, and that persons so baptized might be admitted as members of the church upon hearing and approving their experience!” Semple’s Hist. p. 122
This has been quoted to prove that Virginia Baptists, in the eighteenth century, stood for alien immersion. So far as we have been able to discover this is the only instance which has any seeming bearing in that direction. And it takes but a glance to see that this has no connection with such an idea. This Association, at this very time was in the throes of a heated controversy involving two points in one. One of these was: What does it take to constitute legal ordination? And the other was: Should church action settle all matters, or should certain things, as the ordination of ministers, be turned over to councils and presbyterys of ministers?
Many of this Association thought that church action was sufficient without the laying on of hands by a presbytery. This is the only thing involved in the action referred to above, as any one can see by consulting their minutes of 1786 and 1792. (Semple, pp. 121, 124.) In 1792 they forever settled the matter in favor of regular ordination.
We have still another case involving the same question, but with different action. This occurred in 1777, with Culpeper Association, as follows:
“When the Rev. John Leland, from New England , came preaching among them, and became a member of Mountponey church, the church unanimously called him to the administration of the Word and ordinances without ordination by the imposition of hands. This being contrary to the established rule of the Ketocton Association, and indeed of the Baptists of Virginia generally, when the church sent her delegates to the next Association they were rejected. The habits of the Baptists in New England and of those in Virginia respecting apparel were also much at variance. Mr. Leland and others adhered to the customs of New England , each one putting on such apparel as suited his own fancy. This was offensive to some members of the church. The contention on this account became so sharp that on the 25th of July, 1779 , about twelve members dissented from the majority of the church and were, of course excluded. The dissenting members formed themselves into a church, and sued for admission into the next Association, and were received. The majority dismissed Mr. Leland in order, and soon after this he submitted to ordination by the imposition of the hands of a presbytery.” Semple’s History, p. 234.
This action, making this question a test of fellowship, what some modern historians are pleased to call proscription, occurred more than forty years before J. R. Graves was born.
But to forever settle the question of the attitude of Dover Association, we refer to her action in 1844, as follows:
“Whereas, Many individuals, who have been immersed by a Pedo-baptist ministry, wish to unite with the African Baptist church in Williamsburg , and, whereas, the church desire advice as to the propriety of their reception;
“Therefore, Resolved, That in view of the advice sought by the African Baptist church in Williamsburg, we recommend, according to the decision of this Association at its meeting at Clark’s Neck, and subsequently at Emmaus’, that the individuals referred to be not received.”
This action was published in The Baptist before the coming of J. R. Graves into Tennessee , while R. B. C. Howell and Wm. Cary Crane were the editors.
“This is the Association to which Broadus, Jeter, Ryland, Taylor and others of prominence belonged.” They refer, as will be seen, to two former actions of this body in harmony with this one. The vote stood 52 to 10 in favor of the resolution.
The following from the Ketocton Association, the oldest Association in Virginia , being constituted in 1766, it seems would forever settle the question as to the attitude of Virginia Baptists on this question.
“In 1791, a case was brought before the Association which produced considerable agitation. James Hutchinson, who was born in New Jersey , but raised in Loudoun county, Va. , had gone to Georgia , and there first became a Methodist and then a Baptist preacher. Previous to his joining the Baptists he had been baptized by a Methodist and then a Baptist preacher. Previous to his joining the Baptists he had been baptized by a Methodist preacher. When he offered to join the Baptists of Georgia it was made a question whether his baptism, being performed by an unbaptized person, was valid. The Georgia Baptists decided that it was valid.
“In the year above mentioned, Mr. Hurchinson came to Virginia to see his relations in Loudoun county. While he was there his preaching became effectual to the conversion of many. Mr. Hutchinson baptized them. These things stirred up the question in Ketocton Association, whether the baptism of Hutchinson and his new disciples was valid? The decision here was just the reverse of the decision in Georgia . They determined not to receive either him or those baptized by him, unless they would submit to be rebaptized. After some time they consented and the ordinance was re-administered.” Semple’s Hist., p. 391.
The historian speaks of this as a radical action. But if any action to the contrary ever occurred among early Virginia Baptists, the name of the body, and the time it occurred is not recorded, so far as our research has extended. That some of the Virginia Baptists of later years have grown lax on this question is true. But it is equally true that they firmly opposed anything like alien immersion through their early history. They made it a test of fellowship.
These instances, recorded above, are a little bit hard on some modern historians, who cannot extend their vision ‘beyond sixty years ago.”