The Kehukee Association
The first Baptist churches in North Carolina were Arminian General Baptist. They were organized principally as a result of the evangelizing efforts of Elders Paul Palmer and Joseph Smith. In his book, A Concise History of the Kehukee Baptist Association, Elder Lemuel Burkitt lists several churches in North Carolina which were originally founded on the Arminian plan of the General Baptists. They included the churches at Tosniot, Kehukee, Falls at Tar River, Fishing Creek, Reedy Creek, Sandy Run and Camden County. He notes of these churches, "They preached and adhered to the Arminian, or Free-will doctrines, and their churches were first established upon this system." Further, Elder Burkitt notes these early churches were composed of any who believed in baptism by immersion. "They gathered churches without requiring an experience of grace previous to their baptism; but baptize all who believed in the doctrine of baptism by immersion, and requested baptism of them."
While this may seem very strange to us, it must be remembered that all the established churches, from which most people joined the Baptists, practiced pedobaptism. Pedobaptism does not require an experience of grace prior to baptism. The Calvinist Presbyterians and Congregationalists along with the Anglicans, all baptized unbelievers. When, Palmer and Smith came into North Carolina, they did likewise except they baptized by immersion.
These churches continued with their Arminian plan for several years until Elders Van Horn and Miller from the Philadelphia Association arrived preaching Calvin's theology. By the preaching of these two Elders many members of the General Baptist churches were converted to Calvinism. However, Elder Burkitt notes of these brethren what Jonathan Davis noted of the Welch reformers, Wroth, Erbury and Powell; they were not converted enough. The churches retained members baptized before they had an experience of grace. Some of those so retained asserted they had received baptism in the hope of being saved.
Seven churches formally organized themselves into the Kehukee Association of Regular Baptists in 1765, adopting Keach's Philadelphia version of the 1689 London Confession as their Articles of Faith. They established formal correspondence with the Charleston Association. They held no fellowship or formal visitation with the Separate Baptists in the area.
Noting the rapid increase of the Separate Baptists in North Carolina and Virginia, the Association sent Elders Jonathan Thomas and John Meglamre to the 1772 session of the Virginia Separate Baptist Association for the purpose of establishing correspondence. The Separate Baptists agreed to consider the possibility of fellowship and sent Elders Elijah Craig and David Thompson to the Kehukee Association held later that year. After investigating their order, the delegates found the Kehukee in disorder and returned to Virginia with a recommendation that the Separates withhold recognition and fellowship.
Elder Sylvester Hassell notes the Separates initial rejection of the Regulars' overtures of fellowship. "These Separates objected to the Regular or Kehukee Baptists in the following particulars: 1. Because they did not require strictly from those who applied for baptism an experience of grace. 2. Because they held members in their churches who acknowledged they were baptized before conversion. 3. Because they indulged too much in superfluity of apparel. There were other objections of minor importance. The most forcible objection of all appeared to be the retention of members who had been baptized in unbelief; and this was admitted on the part of the Regulars to be wrong; on which account several of their churches sought to correct it, by requiring all such of their members be baptized. This course gave offense to some other churches, who opposed the reformation; and, as a consequence, the churches at an Association held at Falls of Tar River, in October, 1775, divided; a part of them holding their session in the house, and the others in the woods, both claiming to be the Kehukee Association."
The first and second objections proved to be of greatest concern to the Kehukee brethren. According to Elder Burkitt, the issue of unconverted members was a carryover from their General Baptist days. As already noted, during that time, people were accepted for baptism and church membership without concern as to whether or not they had any spiritual evidence of a prior work of grace. Although they later came to be Regular Baptists, some members admitted they originally requested baptism as General Baptists with the hope they would be saved.
Apparently Elders Van Horn and Miller, the Regular Baptist ministers from the Philadelphia Association who converted these churches, felt that General Baptist baptisms were acceptable for membership in Regular Baptist Churches. This suggests their support of a principle of open membership. When the General Baptists were converted from the Arminian plan to Calvin's plan, becoming Regular Baptists, there is no evidence their baptisms were investigated though performed by authority of the Arminian plan. In his history of the Kehukee, Elder Burkitt never raises the issue of rebaptism. Since he is very specific as to the details of the Kehukee's transformation from Arminianism to Calvinism, had these brethren been rebaptized, it seems reasonable Elder Burkitt would have included this fact. Also, both Elders Burkitt and Hassell use language in their respective accounts which indicates they were not.
From this mid-eighteenth century episode, together with the Philadelphia Association's 1806 acceptance of "Tunker Universalist" baptisms, it may be assumed the Regulars recognized other denomination's baptismal authority as long as it was by immersion. It is evident from their confession that they required believers baptism in principle; however, it appears even at this early date, their practice of this tenet was lax.
The wording of the Separates first objection suggests that at the time the objection was raised the Kehukee Churches were still lax about investigating a candidate's condition of grace before they administered baptism. This was a serious charge, but one Elder Burkitt did not deny. In fact, his subsequent statements and actions suggest that he agreed with the Separates. This would explain why the charge is leveled against the Kehukee churches as a present error. This error later brought great agony to the Kehukee brethren. Some ministers said they were baptized, ordained and had baptized others before having a true experience of grace themselves. Some members said they were baptized with the hope of getting saved. This was in keeping with the Arminian plan of offering salvation to all who said they believed. People fearing the fires of hell were willing to believe if believing would save them. Thus, they stated their belief in Christ and were baptized, yet without a true work of grace in their souls. This also was in keeping with the practices of the Presbyterian and Congregationalist Calvinists who practiced pedobaptism and had a remnant of their membership they termed "inferior members," people baptized as infants who yet did not possess evidences of grace.
A brief discussion concerning this matter must be injected. The idea of having members who were baptized without a personal experience of grace seems strange indeed today. However, in the eighteenth century religious affiliation was compulsory both by law and as a strong cultural more. Because of this, it is reasonable to accept at face value the numerous statements made by writers of that day as to the presence of false professors. People had certain beliefs about God because belief in God was mandated both by society as law and culturally as acceptable behavior. However, in reprobates this belief was not heartfelt. It was the natural belief Paul spoke of in Romans 1:19-20. Natural belief in God was strengthened by the existence of mandated religion which resulted in people with no experience of grace receiving extensive instruction in the gospel. Natural belief was also sustained in the fact that most institutes of learning were operated by churches. Because of the societal norm of belief in God, reprobates believed He existed, were concerned with the thought of going to hell, and, therefore, professed religion to avoid it.
Such is not the case today. Today, reprobates are simply unbelievers, rather than false professors. Today, People who have no faith also have little natural belief about God. Twentieth century society is absent enforced societal norms concerning God and generally void of strong mores which might serve to promote strict belief in God by society as a whole. Society has degenerated to the conclusion of Paul's description of reprobates in Romans 1:21-32. Therefore reprobates no longer possess significant natural understanding about God because they are not compelled to do so. Thus, they also do not feel compelled to make false professions to avoid final judgement, because they do not believe in a final judgement.
It is presumed the rigid legalism of Calvinism may have lent itself to compelling unregenerates to a conjured belief. This was complimented by a societal fiat of exposure to gospel instruction. Such a circumstance could have perpetuated the problem of unbelievers baptism even after the Kehukee churches adopted Calvin's theology.
With a back door works system of "fruit inspection," which judges people's salvation based solely upon external practice, Calvinism places limited emphasis on the need for a heartfelt religion. It is not that the Regular Baptists rejected the notion of a heartfelt experience; however, the practices of Calvinist legalism tends to obscure such experiences. Without heartfelt religion, these brethren were forced to focus solely on manifestations of obedience which they interpreted as acts of righteousness. Thus, people were lead to a mistaken assumption that works alone were reliable indicators of unmistakable and irrefutable evidences of grace.
Baptism was one such work. Calvinist ministers spoke of obedience in baptism both as an evidence and requirement of salvation. Their doctrine of gospel instrumentality insisted that regeneration was accomplished in concert with hearing the gospel; and, their doctrine of strict perseverance mandated baptism as the first act after regeneration. The partnership of these tenets convinced people that all true believers are baptized; and, if one is not baptized, he is not saved because he lacks the first evidence of salvation. Thus, even after the Arminian plan was set aside, people who were void of a heartfelt work of grace evidently continued to present themselves for baptism to fulfill the first requisite and manifest the first evidence of salvation. They were baptized not to get saved; rather, they were baptized to prove to themselves and others they were saved. Though this is a distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism relative to gospel instrumentality, it arrives at the same conclusion, unsaved church members. In practice, most people were unable to make a distinction. This is why unbelievers baptism continued to be a problem even after the Kehukee churches transformed from Arminianism to Calvinism.
This problem was not particular to the Kehukee Association. In 1753, in response to a query from Kingswood Church regarding the necessity of an assurance of faith prior to baptism, the Philadelphia Association responded as follows. "It appears to us, both from scripture and experience, that true saving faith may subsist where there is not assurance of faith. Therefore, in answer to the second query, That a person sound in judgment, professing his faith of reliance on Christ for mercy and salvation, accompanied with a gospel conversation, ought to be baptized." This statement seems to indicate the Philadelphia Particular Baptists were also suffering from the logical consequence of Calvinist legalism, which quenches the spirit. Thus, spiritual motivations of rational outward expressions of the spirit such as weeping, shouts of praise, joyous countenance, and peace are lost. Simply stated, in general, their religion was not heartfelt.
Void of heartfelt religion, the Calvinist Regular Baptists were forced to view only works as evidences of grace. They encouraged people to be baptized even if they did not feel the assurance recieved by the witness of the divine indwelling of the Spirit. They reasoned that baptism, as a response to the need for assurance of salvation, indicated salvation. The theology of Calvin placed the Regulars in the awkward circumstance of accepting people for baptism despite their inability to profess an immediate experience of grace or some experiential evidence of God's indwelling.
This was not acceptable to the Separate Baptists who practiced a heart felt religion. Their scriptural searching and own experiences taught that the effects of regeneration on the soul was felt throughout the newly born again. They would not accept people for baptism who could not express a faithful hope of assurance, that they felt the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost dwelling urging their obedience to baptism. (This is precisely the issue of Covenant of Works verses Covenant of Grace which greeted Elder John Clarke when he arrived in Boston in 1637).
When the Separates came along, preaching a gospel of heartfelt religion which stirred believers souls and compelled them to weep and shout with joy, the Kehukee Particular Baptists were astonished. Such displays of religious fervor were unknown to the Regular Baptists. However, when they saw the effect of such preaching and fellowship, and the great revival God was accomplishing through the Separate Baptists, they could not deny its validity. When the Separates pointed out the effect of the Regulars' Calvinist legal system of belief and salvation, the Kehukee brethren could not ignore their criticisms. They evidently had members among them who lacked an experience of grace, which was the logical conclusion of both their Arminian and Calvinist theologies.
The lax practices of the Regular Baptists concerning heartfelt expressions of belief and hope in Christ, as an evidence of grace prior to baptism, and retaining members who could not honestly make such a statement caused a division in the association. The Separate's criticisms forced the Regular churches to examine their doctrine and practice. Evidently some churches were not satisfied with what they found. Three of the churches in the association adopted a declaration of withdrawal against "every brother that walked disorderly." Stating their motive, Elder Burkitt wrote, "we were under very great impressions to begin a reformation of the churches." The association, and one church, split.
The churches which resisted reformation, holding to their original plan of baptism, were Tosniot, Fishing Creek, Reedy Creek, and part of Falls at Tar River. Their Elders were John Moore, Charles Daniel, William Burges, and Thomas Daniel.
Reformation of the Kehukee Association
Reformation of the Kehukee occurred in 1777. The Separates, who first identified their problems, helped in the reformation. Among the cadre of ministers of the Kehukee only Elders John Meglamre, David Barrow and Lemuel Burkitt originally supported reformation. However, owing to these brethren's sincere desire to put the cause of Christ ahead of man's desires, the Separates lent their support. Four Separate Baptist Churches joined the reformed Kehukee Association.
In all, ten churches gathered at Sussex Meeting house in August, 1777, to reform the Kehukee Association. The six Regular Baptist churches of this union were; Bertie, Elder Lemuel Burkitt, Pastor; Sussex, Elder John Meglamre, pastor; Brunswick, Elder Zachary Thompson, pastor; Isle of Wight, Elder David Barrow, pastor; Chowan, no pastor listed; and Granville, Elder Henry Ledbetter, pastor. The Separate Baptists Churches included; Bute, Elder Joshua Kelly, pastor; Sussex, Elder James Bell, pastor; Rocky Swamp, Elder Jesse Read, Pastor; and Edgecombe, Elder John Tanner, pastor.
It is interesting to note Elder Burkitt supplies a very general explanation as to why a new Confession was adopted. His explanation is pointedly absent any reason why the Philadelphia Confession was not retained. However, he references the Separates concern as to the orthodoxy of some of the Regular Baptists. Further, it is clear from the new Kehukee Confession of Faith and the Sandy Creek Church statement of beliefs, together with the Sandy Creek Confession of Faith of 1816, the Separate Baptist brethren did not hold to some of Calvin's theories. Elder Burkitt's complete explanation for the new Confession is as follows.
1. Some of them were churches that claimed a prerogatives [sic.] of being the Kehukee Association, that never had departed from their original principles; therefore in order to convince the other churches and the world at large, that they still held the same faith and order they were at first established on, it was necessary to present to this Association, and make public, the confession of faith.2. As some of these churches which at this time were about to unite in the Association with us, had never before been members, it was necessary they should present a confession of their faith, that it might be known whether we all agreed in principles or not.
This statement is a little confusing since it does not explain why the association dropped the London Confession and adopted their own. Also, it seems to indicate that certain churches refused to acknowledge their past irregularities of faith and practice. Further, none of the Regular Baptist Churches were holding to their original principles of faith since originally they were Arminians.
What may be concluded from the statement together with the fact of adoption of the new confession is the new Confession of Faith is an accurate representation of what the brethren of the Reformed Kehukee Association believed. Further, The Kehukee brethren made a conscience decision to drop the London Confession in 1777. That is fact. They did so as part of a reformation of their churches. That is fact. The Separates who joined the Association did not reform, as their criticisms of the Regular Baptists prompted the reformation. That is fact. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude the Kehukees reformed their doctrine and practice to conform to the doctrine and practice of the Separate Baptists.
Further, the first article of Elder Burkitt's statement tends to intimate a bit of a contentious attitude in some of the Kehukee Churches. He was evidently speaking of churches which wished to reform with the Kehukee, but claimed they were orthodox as the original Kehukee. This is an extraordinary situation. They refused to admit they had erroneous practice, but desired to join in a reformation with sister churches who freely admitted the original Kehukee was disorderly. If this is what Elder Burkitt is alluding to, it is understandable that the Separates were suspicious of these churches' soundness. Perhaps the phrase, "to convince other churches" refers to a need for some of the Kehukee Regular churches to allay the suspicions of the Separate Baptist Churches, as well as the properly reformed Kehukee churches.
Perhaps since Elder Burkitt's book was contemporary and because he had come out from the Regular Baptists where he, no doubt, had many friends, he felt it the better part of expediency to avoid specific discussions of the reasons the Kehukee adopted a new Confession of Faith. Whatever the reasons, the effect of their action was far reaching. Today all orthodox Primitive Baptist Churches have long since abandoned the London Confession.
In 1787 the Lord allowed the Separates and Regulars of Virginia to effect recognition and fellowship. These two groups, which were very similar in doctrine and practice, were allowed to set aside differences and join in a unity of fellowship.
The 1789 general union of the Separate Baptists and Regular Baptists of North Carolina occurred after many years of only limited fellowship. The reformed Kehukee finally agreed to unite with their former Regular brethren. Although a small fellowship had taken place in 1777, the larger body of Separate Baptists remained distant from the Regulars.
In 1785 the Association appointed a committee to work out a plan to combine all the Regulars and Separates in the area. The committee returned the following year with a recommendation that the association propose fellowship with the Separates based upon common beliefs plus a statement of three of principles concerning baptism. The principles were:
1. We think that none but believers in Christ have a right to the ordinance of baptism; therefore, we will not hold communion with those who plea for the validity of baptism in unbelief.
2. We leave every church member to decide for himself whether he has been baptized in unbelief or not.
3. We leave every minister at liberty to baptize, or not, such person as desires to be baptized, being scrupulous about their former baptism.
With the issue of believer's baptism squarely addressed, the Separates and Regulars agreed to join in a broader fellowship. A union between the two groups was formerly agreed to on October 10, 1789. The Association passed a resolution they titled A Plan or Constitution of the United Baptist Association, Formerly Called the Kehukee Association. The Union included the ten churches of the Reformed Kehukee, and several Regular Baptist Churches, including some which had dissented from the reformation of the Association in 1777. In all, fifty-two churches joined the new United Baptist Association. Further, the union established fellowship with the numerous Separate Baptist Churches throughout Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. It is from this nucleus of churches in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina, that most modern Primitive Baptist Churches branched or descended.
It is interesting to note, it was not until after the Kehukee Association united that the spiritual revival of the Great Awakening reached them with full force, and even then it was twelve years after their union. Twelve is a number with ecclesiastic significance, representing completeness. There are three significant events in the history of the Kehukee Association which are each divided by twelve years. In 1777 the Kehukee reformed, purging itself of the error of unbelievers baptism. Twelve years later, in 1789, they established a united fellowship with their former sister churches and the larger body of Separate Baptist churches. Twelve years later they began an era of tremendous revival, beginning in 1801.
Since their original constitution in 1765 the churches of the Kehukee had complained of spiritual coldness. Their distress was so great they formally adopted resolutions to petition God for revival. Their first resolution called for a day of fasting and prayer each month. The second resolution called for each member of the Association to pray simultaneously every day for revival. Their last resolution called upon each church to meet for a day of prayer once each month. They noted there was to be no preaching or exhortation and that each man could pray no more than thirty-minutes.
Elder Burkitt documents complaints of coldness from the churches, concerning their spiritual conditions. With an air of disappointment he included the following notations in his book, concerning the lack of revival and in-gathering. "There were but few added by baptism for several years. In 1798, only fifteen members were added in all the churches. In 1790, there were four hundred and forty-six baptized. In 1791, ninety-nine. In 1792, one hundred and ninety-two. In 1794, fifty-seven. In 1795, only nineteen. In 1796, only thirty-three. In 1797, thirteen. In 1798, forty-three. In 1799, seventy-two. In 1800, one hundred and twenty-nine. In 1801, one hundred and thirty-eight were returned in the letters from the churches to the Association. Thus the work progressed but slowly, but there always appeared some worthy characters in every church sensible of the coldness of religion, and at almost every Association would be devising some ways and means to bring on a revival."
All this time the Lord was preparing the Kehukee brethren for revival. He had already sent the Separate Baptists into their midst. He showed them errors in faith and practice which required correction. He allowed their leaders to place the cause ahead of popular sentiment, even at the risk of division. He gave them an ancient and orthodox creed to adopt as their Articles of Faith. He allowed them to grow in knowledge and understanding for twelve years until they were able to help their former sister Regular Baptist churches correct the same errors. He gave them twelve more years to grow spiritually in grace, in order to be mature sufficiently for the tremendous revival he was to effect. When they were knowledgeable enough in the doctrines or grace, their walk obedient enough, and they were spiritually mature enough, the Lord sent revival.
According to Elder Burkitt the full impact of revival reached the Kehukee Association in 1801. Upon his return from a preaching trip, he announced publicly the churches in Kentucky alone had baptized six thousand in the previous eight months. Elder Burkitt's announcement created a profound stirring within the members of the Association. Of the 1801 session of the Kehukee he notes, "Such a Kehukee Association we had never before seen. The ministers all seemed alive in the work of the Lord, and every Christian present in rapturous desire was ready to cry, "Thy kingdom come." The ministers and delegates carried the sacred flame home to their churches, and the fire began to kindle in the greatest part of the churches, and the work increased."
Elder Burkitt continues his description of this revival, noting that preachers were liberated to preach with divine power and demonstration of the Spirit of God, as had never been experienced before. "The word preached was attended with such a divine power that some meetings two or three hundred would be in floods of tears, and many crying out loudly, "What shall we do to be saved?" He continues, "Old Christians were so revived they were all on fire to see their neighbors, their neighbors' children and their own families so much engaged. Many backsliders who had been runaway for many years, returned weeping home. The ministers seemed all united in love, and no strife nor contention amongst them, and they all appeared to be engaged to carry on the work, and did not seem to care whose labors were most blessed so the work went on; and none seemed desirous to take the glory of it to themselves, which ought carefully to be observed."
Acknowledging the effect of spiritual revival, Elder Burkitt describes numerous instances of conversions. "The work increasing, many were converted, and they began to join the churches. In some churches where they had not received a member by baptism for a year or two, would now frequently receive at almost every conference meeting, several members. Sometimes twelve, fourteen, eighteen, twenty, and twenty-four at several times in one day. Twenty-two and twenty-four were baptized several times at Flat Swamp, Cashie, Parker's meeting-house, Fishing Creek, Falls at Tar River, etc. Some of the churches of the revival received nearly two-hundred members each. In four churches lying between Roanoke and Meherrin Rivers, in Bertie, Northampton, and Hartford counties, were baptized in two years about six hundred members."
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