In his History of Baptists in Arkansas (1818-1978), J. Glenn Hinson uses the title “Gathering Up the Fragments” as a way of telling the story of what happened after the Civil War. “To a people weary of war and economically depressed, the task of gathering up the remains and restoring them to life must have seemed overwhelming.”
Hinson described it as “little short of miraculous” that abandoned congregations “resumed their efforts,” but he is also impressed by the fact that new congregations were founded in the years immediately after the Civil War. This took more time in Western precincts such as Scott County than in Central Arkansas, but even in these more primitive conditions the missionary and evangelistic impulse was strong.
The best historical source I have found about religious life of Baptists in Scott County, Arkansas, is an article written by Shirley and Clyde Denney, that was published in the Spring 1998 edition of ECHOES. The story begins with a gathering that took place in a school house in the Carolan Community on Oct. 17, 1873. “RULES OF DECORUM” . . . . For those of us who are not familiar with the geography, the changes in geography are a bit disconcerting. Some of the meetings take place up on the mountain at Shiloh. Others take place down in the valley at Ione (which is located in Logan County).
The earliest “rules for decorum” made it clear that gatherings of this church would be disciplined. At the same time, they agreed: “OTHER BRETHREN SHALL BE INVITED TO SIT WITH US” and that “THE DOOR OF THE CHURCH SHALL BE OPEN FOR THE RECEPTION OF NEW MEMBERS AT EVERY MEETING.” These Baptists agreed to conduct their meetings according to common parliamentary rules for order with the pastor moderating the meetings and the congregation electing the pastor on an annual basis. (14)
As the Dennys go on to explain in their explication of the local church “minutes” that they used as the basis of their article, “The rules for exclusions were usually for such things as dancing, swearing, drinking, fighting, and disorderly conduct. One member was excluded because he went to the Indian Territory without telling the church. A committee was appointed to investigate charges about errant members. Often the errant member came to the church and confessed his sins and was restored. At nearly every meeting the records show that a member or two were restored to the fellowship. If they did not confess they were excluded from fellowship. At one point a man was excluded for making his wife chop all of the firewood.” (14)
Apparently, the earliest group of Baptists were split over Landmark doctrine — a fact that interests me given the ways in which my father Bill Cartwright appropriated Landmark teachings and understood it in light of his father Jess Cartwright’s approach to church discipline. This topic is too complicated to stop to explain here, but I promise to provide a fuller explanation in a later post on Landmark Baptist teachings. In the meantime, interested readers can follow up at one of the many online articles about J. R. Graves and the history of Baptist movements in Kentucky, Tennesee, and Arkansas.
At the meeting of July 19, 1874, the church at Shiloh voted to withdraw from the Landmark Baptists. At that same time, the withdrawing group went on record as stating, “WE BELIEVE THAT FOOT-WASHING IS AS MUCH OF ONE OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS AS THE SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION AND THAT WE WILL CONTINUE TO OBSERVE THIS ORDINANCE.”
In November of 1876 the church was reorganized and Elder W. V. McNeely submitted the articles of faith. The first five of these doctrinal statements read as follows.
“1. We believe that there is only one living and true God, Jehova, and that in the unity of the God-head there are three persons: THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY GHOST.
2. We believe that the scriptures of the Old and new Testaments are the inspired word of God, constituting the only and all-sufficient standard of faith, doctrine and practice.
3. We believe that the election is the sovereign exercise of that eternal love, by which God has, according to his infinite wisdom, chosen his people to Christ, before the world was, and has pre-destined them, unto the adoption of children, through the sanctification of the spirit and belief of the true God, and doth keep them, by his power, through faith, unto salvation.”
4. We believe that man was created Holy , but by the willful violation of the laws of his make, he fell into a state of sinfulness and brought death upon his race, who being of natural descent in the unholy image of Adam, we are children of wrath by nature, without redemption.”
5. We believe that we have been led by the Spirit of God to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour and on the profession of our faith, having been baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, do now in the presence of God and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into the covenant of this love with as one body in Christ.” (14)
This material has been taken from “A History of the Ione, Arkansas Baptist Church” by Shirley Denney and Clyde H. Denney ECHOES: Scott County Historical and Genealogical Society Journal (Spring 1998): 13-16.
I have not attempted to compare these statements with other Baptist documents used in Arkansas in the 1880s, but the logic of this membership covenant is very clear. These five statements are classic examples of Calvinist teaching — upholding a doctrine of predestination with the affirmation of “perseverance of the saints” — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the congregation acted upon them consistently. As Bill Leonard and others have noted, at times Baptists in the South “talk like Calvinists, and act like Arminians” meaning that they can uphold a strong sense of the exercise of “free will” by human beings even if they ascribe sovereignty to God’s purposes in predestination. So it may also be the case that at least some of these Baptists were capable of “backsliding” in their resolve to live out the good news of the Gospel while still believing that “once saved, always saved.”
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