committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

Chapter XIII

1777 Kehukee Association Articles of Faith

The 1777 Kehukee Association Confession of Faith is a document written during a time of crisis. The Association, and, in one case, a church, were evenly divided over the issues of receiving and retaining members who were baptized in unbelief. The origin of this situation was the Arminian theology upon which the seven churches were first constituted. However, when they later converted to Calvinism, adopting the Philadelphia Confession as their creed, the problem continued. It came to the point of schism among the churches when the brethren of the Virginia Separate Baptists rejected the Kehukee's overtures for fellowship and correspondence. After investigating their faith and practice, the Virginia Separates found the Kehukee Association to be disorderly in both Faith and Practice. Their faith was considered unorthodox because they practiced unbelievers baptism. Their practice was unorthodox because they retained unbelievers as members. By unbelievers, the Separate Baptists contended that anyone who could not give an adequate expression of an assurance, or effect, of grace in his life was an unbeliever. This is not to say one did not possess a rational belief about God, or was not persuaded that Jesus was his Son; rather, if one could not recount a personal experience of regeneration or else could not relate some evidence of effectual manifestations of God's grace in his life, he was considered an unbeliever.

Though this seems a bit unusual today, we must realize that both regenerates and unregenerates, in that day, were required to attend church, study their Bibles and live according to Christian principles of morality. This made it possible for unregenerates to possess significant intellectual knowledge about God, void of spiritual understanding. Satan used this circumstance to present some, who were spiritual unbelievers, for baptism and church membership.

The Baptists were only somewhat vulnerable to this potentiality because they required believer's baptism and were, therefore, required to make judgments about candidates personal salvation. They were placed in a position of careful discernment of evidences of grace in order to minimize the possibility of accepting a false professor. The Separate Baptists met this challenge by requiring spiritual evidences of a heart felt, soul stirring belief in God. If one could not profess some experience of God's inward workings, they were not accepted for baptism.

This was in contrast to both the Arminian and Calvinist Baptists who used submission to baptism as a requisite evidence of a work of grace. They encouraged people to submit to baptism in order to prove to the church and themselves they were saved. In the case of the Arminians, this practice resulted from their theology of pelagian free-willism. With the Calvinists, it resulted from a distorted perseverance theology of evidential sanctification.

For the Calvinists, baptism was the next evidence after belief in the journey of perseverance. If the journey stopped short of baptism, it was concluded that the person was a false professor. However, this doctrine had the effect of encouraging unbelievers, fearful of a final judgement, to seek baptism to prove their salvation through an act of perseverance in sanctification. This phenomenon compelled the Calvinist Baptists to be even more rigid in their judgments of perseverance of true believers. In turn, this forced a practice of perseverance which, void of spiritual motivation because fear had quenched the spirit, could not distinguish effectual sanctification from an obedience which was motivated by fear and plus other external pressures. It was a perseverance which quenched the Spirit, thereby obscuring love as the motive for obedience. Thus, it nurtured attitudes of both fear and self-righteousness. The dominance of such emotions produced a religious climate void of soul motivated manifestations of consolation and joy. Such quenching of the Spirit made it impossible for believers to experience heartfelt religion. With every member thus denied the experience of heartfelt religion, regeneration could only be estimated by evidences of obedience to a rigid works system.

In this environment the Kehukee churches were vulnerable to baptizing unbelievers because they were unable to distinguish between simple socially acceptable behaviors and effectual sanctification; because their only method of assessing sanctification was external evidences of perseverance. Further, because they were unable to make such distinctions, they could not define their problem. However, they knew a problem existed. The churches' early associational letters frequently expressed statements of concern over coldness and lack of spiritual blessings among their members. In response, the association passed several resolutions for prayer meetings, unified daily prayer, and days of fasting in attempts to effect spiritual revival.

In part, the Separate Baptists were God's answer to their prayers. Immediately, these brethren were able to understand the nature of the Kehukee churches' problem. At the first opportunity, the Separate Baptists identified one symptom, which was the practice of baptizing and retaining unbelievers. Further, by uniting with them in the reformed Kehukee, they took steps to insure the problem would not recur.

The Association split in 1775 over these issues. Those holding to believers baptism met in 1777 and reformed the Association. In the course of reforming, three of the dissenting churches denounced their former position and came back to the Association. In addition, four nearby Separate Baptist Churches petitioned for membership. In all, ten churches met to reform the Kehukee Association. In so doing, they adopted a new constitution and new Confession of Faith, dropping the Philadelphia Confession.

By today's standards, it seems remarkable the Kehukee brethren were willing to discard their Philadelphia Confession. However, it must be remembered this group of churches had a relatively short history of Calvinism. The Kehukee Churches began as General Baptists. Their constitutions began as early as 1720. By 1729 all seven churches were constituted and holding a combined annual meeting. They remained Arminian General Baptist Churches until around 1765. Even as late as 1777 when the Kehukee reformed, the older churches still had a longer history as Arminians than as Calvinists.

The Kehukee brethren did not have a long association with the Philadelphia Confession. They formed as an Association in 1765 and adopted the Confession in 1767. Further, their transformation from Calvinism to Primitive Faith was not nearly as dramatic as their original transformation from Arminianism to Calvinism. Thus, it was not particularly painful for them to abandon a document which they had not authored and which they formally embraced for only ten years. In fact, taking at face value Elder Burkitt's statement concerning the reasons for adopting new articles of faith, some churches did not realize their new confession represented a departure from the Philadelphia Confession.

In writing their reformed confession, the Kehukee brethren pretty much abandoned the structural format of the Philadelphia Confession. This includes omission of the detail oriented style of the former confession. While some few phrases were retained, in general the language of the new document is different.

Any of several reasons may explain why such a dramatic departure from the Philadelphia document occurred. Probably, the new document was a compilation of several statements of beliefs submitted by the member churches of the Association. Elder Burkitt intimated as much when he wrote concerning this matter. His statement indicates several of the churches had previously never adopted formal Articles of Faith; therefore, each church applying for membership was required to submit a statement of beliefs.

The new Confession was written and adopted at a time of upheaval for several of the member churches. They were experiencing their third theological transition in as many decades. While, God's providence must be credited with bringing the Kehukee Churches so far in such a short time, such upheaval may have left these brethren a little fearful about being too specific in stating their theology. Or, they may have realized that lengthy and detailed Confessions tend to take on the authority of a creed, or were difficult for the general membership to understand. Realizing the word of God was their only creed, these brethren may have purposely avoided the temptation to produce a more weighty document. They may have simply wished to produce a confession which adequately distinguished, rather than inadequately defined, their beliefs.

The 1777 Kehukee Association Confession of Faith may be considered the first such document written and adopted in America. Prior to its adoption, Baptist churches either ignored the idea of written confessions or adopted some version of a confession written in England or Europe. Its style and relative brevity speaks to American's desire for directness. It contains all the salient principles of grace.

1. We believe in the being of God as almighty, eternal, unchangeable, of infinite wisdom, power, justice, holiness, goodness, mercy, and truth; and that this God has revealed Himself in his word under the characteristics of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Article one is a well stated tenet of the trinity of God. It defines God's character and power.

2. We believe that almighty God has made known His mind and will to the children of men in His word which word we believe to be of divine authority, and contains all things necessary to be made known for the salvation of men and women. The same is comprehended or contained in the Books of the Old and New Testaments as are commonly received.

This article ascribes divine inspiration and sufficiency to the scriptures. It defines scripture as expressions of the mind of God. It contains a definite statement concerning its functionality in providing instruction and access to salvation. This must be a salvation of divine deliverance in time, since scripture is the source of information for the salvation of men and women.

3. We believe that God, before the foundation of the world, for a purpose of His own glory, did elect a certain number of men and angels to eternal life and that His election is particular, eternal and unconditional on the creature's part.

This statement of election is brief but very specific and clear. It removes any possibility of human activity or influence in election. It limits election to the just only as the destination of the elect is eternal life.

4. We believe that, when God made man first, he was perfect, holy and upright, able to keep the law, but liable to fall, and that he stood as a federal head, or representative, of all his natural offspring and that they were partakers of the benefits of his obedience or exposed to the misery which sprang from his disobedience.

This article defines the creative character of God. It stipulates that man is a created being. However, in defining the moral quality of man, as he was created, the Kehukee brethren ascribed holiness to him. This cannot be. The insertion of holiness was probably a simple misstatement. If man was created holy, he was created with the Spirit of God in his being, since the seed of God is the only scripturally defined source for holiness in man. Therefore, in the fall, the Spirit of God would have died in trespasses and sin. It is likely the Kehukee brethren actually meant man was created righteous; that is, given a sinless nature.

An interesting point about this article, especially in light of the Kehukee Association's later history, is that it eliminates predestination as a motive for Adam's transgression. It says he was able to keep God's law but liable to fall. This contrast of obedience and disobedience, all within the will of man, nullifies all accusations of God's culpability in the origin of sin. It eliminates fatalism as an ingredient of man's sin or sinning.

5. We believe that Adam fell from his state of moral rectitude, and that he involved himself and all his natural offspring in a state of death; and, for that original transgression, we are both guilty and filthy in the sight of our holy God.

Article five identifies original sin and its consequence. It defines man as dead in sin, and further describes his depravity as guilt and filth.

6. We believe that it is utterly out of the power of men, as fallen creatures, to keep the law of God perfectly, repent of their sins truly, or believe in Jesus Christ, except they be drawn by the Holy Ghost.

This article defines the complete inability of man to deliver himself, by thought, word or deed from the corruption and condemnation of sin. It reveals the Kehukee churches' belief that obedience, repentance and faith are all divine influences and without the presence of the Holy Ghost, all are impossible. This article does not go so far as to declare a requirement of indwelling; and so, taken alone could be interpreted as Calvinistic. But when read in the context of the entire confession, the phrase, "except they be drawn by the Holy Ghost" may be considered as the divine intervention of new birth.

No doubt, use of the term is in reference to John 6:44; "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day." In this verse, the Savior indicates the need of the divine power of God to bring one to him. In verse 45 the Savior more fully develops this point. "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh to me." This verse teaches a principle of direct divine instruction. It indicates that every man, without failure, which is taught by God is drawn by God, to Christ. That is, every one who hears the quickening voice of God proceeds to Christ in a redemptive sense. Though God quickens, it is Christ who redeems. All who are quickened are instantly presented to Christ for effectual redemption. Another way of saying the same thing is; it is by the application of the blood of Christ that we are redeemed from our sins.

The Savior indicated those who come to him are taught by the Father. This demonstrates a tutoring witness in regeneration. Paul described this witness and his testimony in Romans 8:16. "For the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."

This article does not exclude a need for gospel instruction in order to obey, repent or believe. The gospel is not mentioned because the article deals with the fundamental inability of man to approach God without a prior work of grace. It was not appropriate to discuss the gospel at this point. To do so may have confused some with notions of gospel instrumentality in regeneration.

7. We believe in God's appointed time and way (by means which he has obtained) the elect shall be called, justified and sanctified, and that it is impossible they can utterly refuse the call, but shall be made willing by divine grace to recieve the offers of mercy.

This article sets forth the principles of the operation of regeneration. It states that God's work of grace is irresistible. It identifies divine calling, justification and sanctification as the component principles of regeneration.

It also contains a remarkable parenthetical clause which clearing demonstrates how far these brethren had come in their journey. First, as Arminians, then Calvinists, these brethren would have identified the gospel as the means he has obtained.

By inserting the phrase (by means which he has obtained) the Kehukee brethren sent a message to all. They did not believe the gospel to be instrumental in regeneration. They are writing of means or methods which God alone utilizes in regeneration. This precludes man obtaining some means or methods to save himself or others. Because they are God's means they are not man's means. Some might suppose the means which the Kehukee brethren meant is gospel instrumentality. This is assigning a specific belief which they would not identify for themselves.

It is more likely they did not identify a specific means because they did not know it. This position is in keeping with a mystery to which Jesus Christ alluded when speaking to Nicodemus. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:7-8). These verses express the both the sovereignty and mystery of God in the time and circumstance of regeneration. We hear the sound of the wind at the same moment it is felt. We hear the quickening call of God and immediately feel the evidence of his presence. But having heard God's call, like hearing wind blowing, we cannot describe the exact circumstance or means of his calling to us. Neither, as with where the wind will blow next, can we foretell who will next hear the voice of God in regeneration.

8. We believe that justification in the sight of God is only by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, received and applied by faith alone.

Article eight expands the definition of justification as it is used in the previous article. The order of the last phrase "received and applied by faith alone" suggests the Kehukee brethren held the exact same position concerning the doctrine of justification as was held by the Midland brethren. They understood that effectual justification is received by the faith of the operation of God (Colossians 2:12) Further, they understood that it is applied experientially in the believer's life based upon his faithful obedience to God as detailed in the gospel. The distinction made in the phrase "received and applied" indicates two activities of justification. It is received effectually in regeneration. It is also recieved experientially after regeneration through faith. This is the lesson of Romans 4. Abraham was saved eternally years before the believing of Romans 4 occurred. Hebrews 11:8 - 9 proves he was saved already. Further, James 2 identifies Abraham's belief of Romans 4 as experiential. The experience was that, by obeying God's will, he was called the friend of God. (Being called the friend of God, when it is God who is calling you his friend, is an experience of joy unspeakable, full of glory, in the life of one so fortunate). Applying faith in our lives works an experience of justification. The Kehukee brethren called experiential justification applied justification.

9. We believe, in like manner, that God's elect shall not only be called, and justified, but that they shall be converted, born again and changed by the effectual workings of God's holy Spirit.

Continuing the discussion of the specific nature of regeneration, the Kehukee Confession reveals a principle of conversion. The word converted in this context deals with a fundamental change in the disposition of one born of God. The Apostle Paul characterized the fundamental nature of the conversion of regeneration in Romans 7 as initiating a warfare. He identified a basic change in affections as the stimulus of this conflict. This is the conversion of article nine.

10. We believe that such as are converted, justified and called by His grace, shall persevere in holiness, and never fall away.

This article is a statement of belief in the final preservation of the saints. The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principle gives the following theological definition to the word perseverance: Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory. No doubt, the Kehukee brethren had this definition in mind. Nothing more should be read into their use of the word persevere.

11. We believe it to be a duty incumbent on all God's people to walk religiously in good works, not in the old covenant way of seeking life and favor of the Lord by it, but only as a duty from a principle of love.

With this article the Kehukee brethren, like their Midland forefathers, identified love as the motivating principle for obedience. They make note that some have used obedience as a legal means to attempt to gain God's favor. They define the motive of obedience not as reward, but as love. Thus they retain a perspective of God's graciousness in all his dealings with his children. He does not simply reward, for every reward for faith and obedience, in reality, is a gracious gift. No effort by man is ever seen as worthy of the pleasure of God, unless it is appraised through the blood of Christ. Therefore it is futile for one to serve God with the motive of seeking rewards from Him. Love is the only acceptable motive for serving God.

However, the presence of grace does not preclude the necessity of obedience. Article eleven establishes this principle. Obedience is still required, but it is reckoned of grace, not of reward.

12. We believe baptism and the Lord's supper are gospel ordinances both belonging to the converted or true believers; and that persons who are sprinkled or dipped while in unbelief are not regularly baptized according to God's word, and that such ought to be baptized after they are savingly converted in the faith of Christ.

Article twelve is curiously stated. By today's standard, it is accepted without statement that sprinkling is not baptizing. This was also the case in 1777. However, the Kehukee brethren needed to make a statement about believers baptism and, perhaps, they did not wish to draw specific attention to the issue in a context of their own problems and subsequent reformation. Also, it is apparent from the history of the Kehukee churches that members who were baptized by immersion as Arminian General Baptists, reformed as Particular Baptists then reformed again as Primitive Baptists all without rebaptisms. They could not be too specific about baptismal authority because their own baptisms would be brought into question.

However, they did not entirely ignore the issue of those who had been baptized by immersion before they believed. They could not, because they reformed over this specific issue. It must be presumed that all those who had been immersed in unbelief had either been baptized again after they believed, or excommunicated from the member churches.

Though stated with a polemic tone, the heart of this article defines baptism by immersion, for believers only.

13. We believe that every church is independent in matters of discipline; and that Associations, Councils and Conferences of several ministers, or churches, are not to impose on the churches the keeping, holding or maintaining of any principle or practice contrary to Church's judgement.

The Kehukee brethren identify a principle of church authority and accountability in this article. They establish that churches may call upon one another, in various formats, for aid in counsel. However, they retain the authority of the nuclear church to make her own determinations. Simply stated, the rulings of councils are not binding on churches. This article implies that Christ alone is the head of the church and that scripture is the only rule of faith and practice.

14. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust, and a general judgment.

15. We believe the punishment of the wicked is everlasting and the joys of the righteous are eternal.

These two articles define the Kehukee churches' beliefs concerning the resurrection of the dead. They believed in a general resurrection of the dead, of the just and unjust. They believed in a final judgement. They believed in a literal heaven and hell. They believed the wicked will forever suffer in hell and the just will forever rejoice in heaven. Like the Midland brethren, they give no hint that they believed in a millennial reign.

16. We believe that no minister has no [sic] right to administration of the ordinances, only as are regularly called and come under the imposition of hands by the presbytery.

This article states the principles of ministerial authority, that only properly ordained ministers may administer baptism and the Lord's supper. Further it notes laying on of hands as the method of ordination. Laying on of hands implies a continuous succession of the ministry as Paul taught in II Timothy 2:2.

A point should be made here. The Kehukees evidently dropped the practice of laying on of hands of the newly baptized. This is significant because the Particular Baptists practiced this error. The Philadelphia Confession contained an additional article establishing this erroneous activity as a practice.

17. Lastly, we believe that, for the mutual comfort, union and satisfaction of the several churches of the aforesaid faith and order, we ought to meet in an Association way, wherein each church ought to represent their case by their delegates and attend as often as necessary to advise the several churches in conference and that the decision of matters in such Associations are not to be imposed, or in any wise binding, on the churches, without their consent, but only to sit as an advisory council.

The final article deals with the validity and authority of associations. The Kehukee brethren believed in the propriety of such unions but were careful to limit their authority. They present the association as a body of fellowship which may advice churches in matters of faith and order, but have no authority to impose their advice on the churches. The Confession is basically apologetic in style and substance. However, the underlying issues of the doctrinal issues which brought about the need for reformation are dealt with in a more polemic tone. Article twelve attests to the sensitivity the Kehukee brethren felt concerning baptism of believers. They specifically define true believers as those who are converted, inferring the possibility of unconverted (unregenerate) believers. Their own experiences testified to the fact that this class of believer not only existed, but sometimes sought baptism.

Their application of faith in justification shows their understanding of this doctrine to be consistent with the Midland brethren. Also, it is significant, that they omitted saving faith both conceptually and linguistically from their Confession.

Article seventeen defines the reason for the Association's formation and its scope and method of activity. Also, while article fifteen seems to exclude associational jurisdiction, article seventeen defines it as a consulting body; but, reiterates the limit of authority the association may exercise.

In all, the Confession is thoughtful and well expressed. It serves to distinguish clearly the doctrine of Kehukee brethren from Arminianism and Calvinism. As a first attempt to define their beliefs for themselves, while it is not exhaustive, it is comprehensive. No doubt, it provided these brethren a focal model of their doctrine. They could start with their various articles of beliefs and search the scriptures for deeper explanations. When Elders preached, the general membership could identify the subjects of their sermons with a particular Article of Faith and thereby enhance their own understanding with scriptural study and meditation. In all, the Kehukee brethren did a commendable job of compressing the body of their beliefs into Articles of Faith.

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