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The Old Regular Baptists

By: Carolyn Huff

 

                        Precious memories, how they linger

                             How they flood my soul

                          In the stillness of the midnight

                        Precious sacred scenes unfold…..

 

            These hauntingly beautiful lines from the old gospel song “Precious Memories” are still being sung by the Old Regular Baptists in the same lined-out style that was in use hundreds of years ago.  There are approximately 55 Old Regular Baptist churches in the New Salem Association.  While a few of these churches are in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, and Michigan, the majority of them are located in the hills of Eastern Kentucky; the hills of home.

            The beauty of an Old Regular Baptist church house lies in its simplicity.  Usually a plain, unadorned oblong building, the older churches were mostly made of white clapboard.  These days, they are more likely to be more modern in design.  You will not find a steeple or bell in an Old Regular Baptist Church building.  The interior is rather plain also.  The members sit aside from the congregation on a raised section up in the front of the church.  This section takes up approximately 1/3 of the church. This area has pews that face inward to the pulpit and usually the women sit on one side of the church and the men on the other side.  The deacons and preachers sit on pews that face the congregation, directly behind the pulpit.  The rest of the church is given to the congregation with pews lining the center isle as in other churches.  Old Regular Baptist baptisms are always held outside in the creek, so there is no baptistery inside the church.  Pictures of some church members who have passed away can be seen on the walls of the church behind the area where the members sit.

            Each church has its own government within the church, but is governed overall by the New Salem Association rules.  Each church has a moderator, a clerk, a treasurer, and several deacons.  Women are denied a formal voice in church government.  “Women are not supposed to speak in church government.  It’s in the Bible.  Women can’t teach nor preach.,” Mrs. Moore explained to me.

            The churches meet monthly on Saturday and Sunday mornings and their members often attend the services of other Old Regular Baptist Churches on the Sundays when they don’t have a meeting at their ‘home’ church.  Some churches have started having services on Sunday evenings once a month also.  Church business is discussed on Saturday morning.  Members and visitors alike come in and the singing begins.  After the singing, a prayer is held and then the moderator welcomes everyone.  He will then choose a preacher to speak, and afterwards, the church business is discussed.  A third preacher will follow with another sermon and then after one last prayer and song, church will be dismissed.

            People generally start coming in at around 9:00 or even 8:30 on Sunday morning.  By 9:30 the church is beginning to fill and the singing will begin.  There are no musical instruments of any kind allowed in an Old Regular Baptist Church.  A male church member will pick up a songbook and start singing in the “lined-out” style.  The person who began the song will read the first line of the song and then the members will repeat the line in a slow melodius style.  Each line of the song is ‘given out’ and then repeated in this manner until finished.  The women of the church do join in and help with the singing, but they do not start the songs.  Someone else will then start another song.  Usually between 4 and 6 songs are sung and by then, the church is beginning to fill and it’s time for church services to begin.

            The moderator of the church will ‘take the stand’.  After welcoming everyone, he will ask another preacher to come to the stand.  Since there will probably be at least 2 to 4 preachers, and sometimes even more, the moderator will invite anyone who has “a mind” to preach to come up.  If nobody comes forth, he will call on whomever he feels like should preach.  Visiting preachers, as long as they are within the New Salem Association or an association that is in correspondence with the New Salem Association, will be asked before the preachers belonging to the home church.  An Old Regular Baptist preacher never knows whether he will be preaching when he gets to church or not.  If he is called upon to preach but doesn’t feel like it, he will make that known and the moderator will ask someone else.  There are always at least two preachers to ‘take the stand’, if there is only one preacher present, only singing, and prayers will be held.  The Old Regular Baptists believe very strongly that there must be two preachers present before church can be held.  An Old Regular Baptist preacher does not need any schooling to become an ordained minister.  To be an ordained minister, a man must be a member of the Church and feel as if he has had a ‘calling’ from God to preach.  He simply announces that ‘he feels like he has been called to preach,” and the moderator will invite him up to do so.  He will then preach whenever he is ‘called to take the stand’ at various Old Regular Baptist churches.  After he has been preaching for a period of time, the preacher will be ordained as a minister of the Old Regular Baptist Church.  Old Regular Baptist ministers receive no salary for their preaching.  The church does not support them in any way and they never accept money from the collection plate.  All money that is collected is used within the church; on taking care of the electric bill, repairs, taxes, etc.  The preachers are schooled entirely from God and not from a seminary school.  Their sermons are never written out in advance, they rely on God to ‘fill their mouths.’  The duties of a preacher are many.

            They are expected to be in church and to perform wedding ceremonies, preach at funerals, visit the sick and the elderly and to visit the sick in nursing homes and hospitals.  Often a member or even a non-member will request that a special church service be held in their home.  The preachers furnish their own transportation for these journeys.  All of this, they do without payment.  See Matthew 10:7-10 and Matthew 10:19-20 for further reference.

            A person may go to church every Sunday for years before he or she feels that the Lord has saved them.  There is never any pressure put on a person to join the church, however it is strongly preached that every sinner should ‘get right with God’.

            Mrs. Peacie Warren, a member of the Old Regular Baptist Church for thirty-five years, is now 91 years old.  When asked about the experience that led to her joining the church, she said, “I’d thought about it a lot of times.  I’d read in the Bible.  I’d go to bed and cry.  I joined at Stone Coal.  My mom and dad and my grandpa belonged there.”  She said. “ I waited until the next church time to be baptized so all my children could be there.  I would have rather went on right then”. “I’d prayed for about 6 months and about that time, I felt like God saved me”, said Mrs. Hazel Hicks.  She has been a member of the Old Regular Baptist Church for 36 years.  “I lived on Left Beaver behind the Pilgrim’s Rest Old Regular Baptist Church at that time.  The first preacher I talked to about it was Brother Troy Nickles.  I was going through the travail.”  I asked her to explain the travail.  “A person can get saved in the twinkling of an eye.  The travail is the period in which a person has to become willing to give up all worldly things in order to be saved.  So people say it took six months to be saved but what they really mean is that it took them six months or whatever to become willing to be saved”.

            Mrs. Dorothy Moore has been a member of the Old Regular Baptist Church for 21 years.  She said, “If I had my life to live over, I wouldn’t wait as long as I did.  It’s good if you go when you’re young.  I wouldn’t change now.  You see dreams and visions and then you’re not the same.  You have to be born again.  You have to change.  I joined church in October.  There was a snow on the ground.  It’s as fresh in my mind today as it was then.  I didn’t go to church that morning to join

            Didn’t have an idea!  I don’t know how I got there”.  Mrs. Moore said, “The Lord puts a love in your heart.  I always said, if I ever got right with the Lord, I would make my home the Old Regular Baptist Church.”

            The Old Regular Baptists believe strongly that a person must work out his or her own salvation with God before joining.  When a person has come to the understanding that he or she has been saved, he will give his testimony and request church membership.  If the church members feel that the person is sincere, they accept him or her as a member and a time is discussed for the baptism.   A person can join in any church that is within the Association and then take their membership to another church within the Association.

            The baptism is usually held at the next meeting time.  This gives the persons’ family and friends a chance to see it.  Churches are usually located close to a creek or river and the baptisms are always held outdoors in running water whether in the summer or winter.  Total immersion, back foremost is the only method used.  The men usually dress in white shirts and dress pants, the women in long white dresses.  Both men and women cover their heads with white cloths.  It’s a very emotional time not only for the person being baptized but for everyone within the church as well as for family and friends.  Prayer is held at the riverside and then the preacher leads the person into the water as a song is being sung.  Afterwards, there is much rejoicing in the neighborhood.  Usually the family of the new church member will have a huge dinner to celebrate.  Everyone is welcome to go to the dinner.

            Mrs. Hicks, commenting on her baptism said, “I was baptized about a month after I joined.  We had a church meeting at my house and I was baptized in the creek in front of the house.  Sherman Stone and Hawley Warrens baptized me.  I sure wouldn’t want to be out in the world no more.  Sacrament is the most joyful time of the year.  I get more rejoicing on that day than any other.”

            Talking about the day her father was baptized, Mrs. Warren said, “It was so cold, they had to break the ice in the creek.  When he got home from the baptizing, they had to thaw his clothes out in front of the fire before he could get undressed and change.  In those days, you had to either walk to church or ride horses”.

            Referring to the day she was baptized, Mrs. Moore said, “Prettiest bunch of people I’ve ever seen on the creek bank.” I asked her if she shouted that day.  “Yes”, she said, when the Lord blesses you, you feel like if the Lord comes to get you, you are ready to go!  But when you get back in Nature, you want to live a while longer.”

            A day of great rejoicing in the Old Regular Baptist church is the day of Sacrament.  According to Article 8 of the Articles of Faith, “We believe that the Lord’s Supper is the command of the Savior and that by use of bread and wine, and feet-washing should be kept until His Second Coming by His believers.”  Communion, or Sacrament, as it is commonly called is held in the summer months.  Each church has a certain Sunday for this.  It is done once a year in each church.

            In preparation for Sacrament, the deacons and the wives of the deacons of the church get together at the home of on of the deacons, Mrs. Warren explained.  “The deacon’s wives do all the baking of the bread on Saturday that is used in the service on Sunday morning.  They sing and hold prayer after the bread is baked,” she added.  “It’s unleavened bread.  They bless it and the grape juice, which is to symbolize the wine.”  The preachers present always hold prayer and bless the bread and wine.

            The next day, people come form far and wide, both to take part in this ceremony and to be a part of the congregation to observe.  Regular church services are held and the moderator of the church advises the members to look deep within their hearts to see if they are able to take part in this.  “Examine yourselves,” he admonishes them.  Only the people who are in good standing within an Old Regular Baptist church, which is in fellowship with this particular Association may take part.

            Church is not dismissed on this day at any point.  The people who aren’t directly involved in preparing the Supper go outside to wait and then they hear the beginning of a song.  This is the signal that it’s time to continue.

            People begin filing back into the church.  A table has been brought in and under the snow-white cover on the table is the bread and wine.  The deacons gather around this table and slowly remove the white cover and then a prayer is held to bless the bread.  Scripture is read from the Bible to explain why this is being done.  The deacons then symbolically break the bread into pieces.  The deaconess’ then begin serving bread to the women members of the church and the deacons begin serving the men.  After all the members have partaken, the deaconess’ serve each other, as do the deacons.  The next step is the blessing of the wine.  This is actually grape juice.

            After all members have partook of the ‘wine’, following the same pattern as the serving of the bread, the deacons and deaconess’ gird themselves with towels while the other members prepare to wash each others feet.

            A pan of water is carried by one deaconess to the women members and a second deaconess will follow with the towel.   This towel will be wrapped around the waist of the member who is having her feet washed.  The person having his or her feet washed will remain sitting on the pew and the person doing the washing will kneel down at that person’s feet.  After he or she is finished, the deaconess will help them switch places and the other one will get their feet washed.  There may be one or several teams of deaconess’.  While these deaconess’ in teams of two are helping the women members, the deacons do the same for the male members.  This is an emotional moment in the church and as the members humble themselves to wash another’s feet, there is usually a lot of spiritual shouting.  It is a day of rejoicing.  See Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:19-20, I Corinthians 11:27-29, and John 13:14-18 for further reference.

            The Old Regular Baptists do not have Sunday School classes in their churches.  I asked Mrs. Moore why children don’t join the Old Regular Baptist Church.  She explained to me that until a child reaches the ‘age of accountability’ they are without sin and have no need to be saved.  That age is not counted in years, but just in a knowledge of when a child fully realizes that he or she is a sinner.  Talking about children going to church on a regular basis, Mrs. Moore said, “If you make them go, it’s like begging them in.  Someone else can beg them out.  I just ask them to go”.  Mrs. Warren commented, “It means everything to me to be an Old Regular Baptist”.  Elder Elwood Cornett once made the statement that “Old Regular Baptists are a peculiar people”.  Mrs. Warren agreed with him.  “We are a different people”, she said.  “It’s in the Bible.  He meant that in a Biblical sense”.

            “We are! I don’t do all these things that other people do.  You are chosen out of the world and you won’t want to do those things anymore,” Mrs. Moore definitely had the same thoughts.

            The beliefs and time-honored practices of the Old Regular Baptists are rooted in a history that dates back almost 400 years to the early teachings of John Smyth in Holland and England.  He was one of the leaders of a group of Separate Baptists who lived in Amsterdam.  Smyth and his followers had retreated there because of the persecution of James I.  While in Holland, Smyth was heavily influenced by the teachings of the Mennonites and rebaptized himself and his group as Anabaptists.  Together they formed the first English Baptist Church in 1609.  His little flock would only follow him so far, however.  When Smyth tried to get them to give up their English heritage and turn into Mennonites, they excommunicated him.  Later the group went back to London, England, and still under persecution, they organized another Baptist Church.

            The Particular Baptist Church was formed on 1638 and three years later, the Immersion Baptists were formed when a group of worshipers from the Particulars left the church.  It was during this period when the term Baptist became widely recognized. (35-37)

            According to Torbet, “Any attempt to describe a Baptist would include the following points:  1. Belief in the Supremacy of the scriptures, rather than in the church or a hierarchy.  2. Belief in religious liberty, in the freedom to worship without any compulsion from or by the state.  3. Belief in the baptism of believers, rather than the baptism of infants.  4. Belief in the independence of the local church. (26)

            The Philadelphia Baptist Association was the first organization of its kind in the New World.  It began with Thomas Dungan who was born in Ireland, but later immigrated to Rhode Island, seeking freedom of religion.  He did not find things much better in New England.  A member of a Baptist church in New Port, Dungan later brought a band of Baptists when he relocated to Cold Spring, Pennsylvania.  This church had come into being around 1688 and continued to flourish until about 1702 when it ceased to be.  At that point, although the reason is not known, a group of immigrants from England continued the church under the name of Old Pennepack Church.

            Pennepack Church was the mother of four other important churches in the area.  Middletown Church was organized in 1688 in New Jersey and Piscataway was formed the following year.  Cohansey came into being in 1690 and in 1698, The Philadelphia First Baptist Church of Philadelphia was organized.  On July 27, 1707, the five churches above created The Philadelphia Baptist Association. (209-210)  Clifton E. Olmstead points out that during the period these churches were being formed, Pennsylvania and New Jersey offered the most freedom of religion in the colonies.  Baptists were drawn toward the middle colonies because of this.  He states: “Thomas Dungan and a group pf Baptists from Newport settled at Cold Spring, Pennsylvania and founded there a church.  Four years later Elias Keach organized a church at Pennepack.  Before the end of the century, congregations had been formed at Middletown, Piscataway, and Cohansey in New Jersey, and at Philadelphia, making advisable the formation of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, the first continuing Baptist Association in America, in 1707.”  He goes on to say that this Association, although lacking in formal authority over the individual church members was influential in the lives of its church members.  Various questions were brought before the Association, such as the requirements for church members, the role of women in church, the question of slavery, and the use of musical instruments in public worship. 

            Olmstead explains that the Philadelphia Baptist Association adopted the London Confession of Particular Baptists in 1742.  This suggests a definite lean towards Calvinism and helped to shape future Baptist theology.  By 1762, the Philadelphia Baptist Association numbered 4,018 members.  (Olmstead 108-109)

            During the 1740s, a religious revival had swept the colonies.  The fiery sermons of itinerant preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield caused people to fear for their souls.  Bringing promise of salvation, these men, and others like them spread their message throughout the colonies.  The “Great Awakening” as it is now termed, also caused divisions among churches.  Some church leaders reaffirmed their beliefs in orthodox doctrine while others preached against the orthodox doctrine of predestination, election, and original sin.

            As Masters noted, one such evangelist was Shubal Stearns. “Shubal Stearns, who was to become a mighty Baptist influence in the Southern Colonies, Stearns was converted under the special ministry of George Whitfield and joined a Separate Society, and soon became a minister among them.  He, like many of the Seperates, after examining the Scriptures was convinced of the futility of infant baptism and of the importance of believer’s immersion as the Scriptural form of baptism.  He came out boldly as a Baptist, and was baptized Masters also makes notes that Stearns, along with John Gano, preached in the Yadkin region of North Carolina, near Daniel Boone’s parents and that in 1775 the Boone’s Ford Baptist church was organized.  Daniel Boone’s younger brother, Squire, became a Baptist minister and later performed the first marriage ceremony on Kentucky soil.  This marriage was between Betsy Callaway and Samuel Henderson in the summer of 1776. (Masters 1953)

            During this period, Baptist churches and associations in the Kentucky region that went by the Philadelphia Confession of Faith were known as Regular Baptists, while some members who did not agree with all the terms of it, became known as Separate Baptists. Because of these differing beliefs, when Kentucky was officially admitted to the Union in 1792, some communities would have two churches bearing the same name, but having two different doctrines preached inside.

            The representatives of the Kentucky Regulars and Separates began the process of forming a united association in June of 1785.  The Virginia Regulars and Separates, had already become united, but the Kentucky Baptists were unable to accomplish this, due to the continuing differences of opinion on following ‘The Philadelphia Confession of Faith.’

            On October 1 of that same year, the Elkhorn Association was formed in Woodford County at the home of John Craig.  William Cove was selected as the moderator of the Association.  The messengers from the Separates decided not to adhere to the doctrine of ‘The Philadelphia Confession of Faith’, and did not enter the association.

 

            Twenty-nine days later in Nelson County, after the Elkhorn Association was organized, another association was formed.  This one was called the Salem Association.  This association was made up of Regular Baptist Churches.   On Saturday, October 29, 1785, three Regular Baptist Churches, Seven’s Valley, Cedar Creek, and Bear Grass snet messengers to the Cox’s Creek Church.  On the following Monday, these four churches formed the Salem Association: “Resolved, That the churches have adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, and Treatise of Discipline, hereto annexed, and hold ourselves in full fellowship with the Philadelphia and Ketockton (VA) Associations, and proper measures endeavored to obtain assistance from, and correspondence with the same.”

            Whether the lack of communication or for other reasons we are unaware of, no mention was made of the Elkhorn Association, which had already been formed. (Masters 1953)

            In 1801, the Elkhorn Association joined with the South Kentucky Association of Baptists.  This occurred the second Saturday in October at the Old Providence meeting house in Clark County Kentucky.

            Masters tells us that in October of 1787, the South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists was formed.  Among the delegates called upon to preach at the formation of this association were Joseph Craig of Boone’s Creek, Robert Elkin, James Smith of Rush Branch, James Skaggs of Nolin, and Moses Bledsoe of Huston’s Creek.  According to Masters, the Elkhorn Association of Baptists united with the South Kentucky Association of Baptists on the second Saturday of October 1801.  This union took place at the Old Providence meeting house on Howard’s Creek in Clark County Kentucky.

            The following year, the South Kentucky Association was divided into two groups with the Kentucky River being the dividing line.  The churches on the North side composed the North District while the ones on the south side of the river were in the South District. (Masters 1953 153-167)

            Shortly afterwards a small church was established in Letcher County.  The Thornton Minutes points out that the Indian Bottom Church dates back to 1810.  It was organized by a group of Regular Baptists at the home of Isaac Whitaker near Indian Bottom from which it took its name.  Elders Salsberry, Thompson, and Justice who constituted the Indian Bottom Church, were from the above mentioned North District Association.  In 1811 the Indian Bottom Church sent delegate Electious Thompson to the Washington Association in Washington County, Virginia, asking to be accepted.

            The church was received and was a member of the Washington Association until 1814.  During this time close to one hundred families settled in is now Letcher County.  John Adams, James Caudill, Ance Cornett, John Dixon, Stephen Caudill, and their families were some of the first settlers.

            The Indian Bottom Church prospered and records show that the membership numbered 70 members.  The Sand Lick Church was lettered from the Indian Bottom Church on August 13, 1815.  Five years later, the Sand Lick Church lettered the Ovenfork Church.

            On October of 1814, the first Burning Spring Association of Baptists was held in Floyd County at Mud Creek.  The churches having delegates present were Burning Spring, Mud, South Fork, Buffalo Shoal, Stone Cole, Red River, Indian Bottom, Quick Sand, New Salem, Big Blain, and Low Gap.  The total membership of these churches stood at 403.

            By 1824, the total membership of the 20 churches, which made up the Burning Spring Association numbered 539 and in 1825, a new Association was formed.  Reasons are not given for this division, but the 1824 Minutes of the Burning Springs Association states the following:

            “The Association agrees that a line be drawn as follows for a division of this association-beginning at the mouth of Rockhouse Fork of the Kentucky River , thence to Prestonburg, thence to the mouth of Bull Creek on the Tug Fork of Sandy and also dismisses all the churches above this line to become a new Association and appoints Brother John Nickle to write article for the same purpose.”

            These first Minutes tell us that the churches, which entered the New Salem Association were New Salem, Mud, Sand Lick, Stone Coal, Union, and Oven Fork.  This new association was held for the first time on the fourth Saturday and the following two days in August of 1825 in Floyd County, Kentucky at the Mud meeting house.  Brother William Salisbury preached the introductory sermon from Romans 6:22,  “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruits to holiness, and the end everlasting life”.  Simon Justice was appointed Moderator and Alexander Lackey became the clerk.  After several letters were read, the Raccoon and Louisa Fork churches were received.  The total membership of the New Salem Association numbered 272.

            Records show that the following messengers represented churches at this first meeting:  Simon Justice, William Salisbury and Alexander Lackey came from New Salem, Owen Owens and Joel Estepp from Mud, James Craft from Sand Lick, Peter Hale, Cudberth  Stone, Sam Coburn and Christopher Patton from Stone Coal, William Tackett from Union, James Caudill and Abel Pennington from Oven Fork, Hammon Williamson and A. Penson from Raccoon as did Isham Atkins from Louisa Fork. (Akers and Dixon 1983)

            Until 1832, the title “New Salem Baptist Association” was used in referring to the association, but in the 1833 Minutes, the term, New Salem Association of United Baptist was used.  The term, “|Regular Baptist” came into use in 1854 and this name was used until 1871, then the name was changed to “New Salem Association of Regular Baptist.”  This name was in use until the 1905 association meeting was held with the Enterprise Church in Pike County, Kentucky with Elder N.T. Hopkins as moderator.  The term “Old Regular Baptist of Jesus Christ” was put into effect then.  (Akers and Dixon 1983)

            The Old Regular Baptist churches are alive and well today.  Their members are an inspiration to their communities and are conveying the message, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is heaven.  Matthew 5:16

            ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:  Akers, Walter, and Dixon, Dexter.  Minutes of Burning Spring and New Salem:  Association of Old Regular Baptists, 2 vols.  Pikeville, KY Executive Printing and Office Supplies, 1983; Masters, Frank M.  A History of Baptists in Kentucky.  Louisville, KY  Kentucky Baptist Historical Historical Society 1953; Olmstead, Clifton E.  History of Religion in the United States.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ;  Prentice-Hall 1960  Rosten, Leo Religions of America, A New Guide and Almanac; New York London Toronto Sydney Tokyo Singapore Simon and Schuster 1975; Torbet, Robert G. A History of the Baptists. Valley Forge Judson Press 1963; Thornton Association Minutes 1974.