History of the Wabash District Baptist Association

The Wabash District Baptist Association was organized on the second Friday in July, 1809, by messengers from five pioneer churches in southwest Indiana, viz., Bethel (1806), Wabash, Salem (1808), Maria Creek (1809) and Patoka. It was the first Baptist Association in what is now the State of Indiana. The ministers among them, at first, were Elders Samuel Jones, Alexander Devin, James Martin, and licensed brethren Isaac McCoy, Stephen Strickland, and Jonathan Ruble.

The Association grew rapidly, as new churches were organized, for the first three years, but some were scattered by danger from the Indians during the War of 1812. These churches were established on principles typical of Baptist beliefs prior to the introduction of the mission system.

In May 1814, the Baptist Triennial Convention was organized at Philadelphia. In 1815, the Wabash Association, and most other Baptist Associations, received a printed Circular from the newly formed Baptist Board of Foreign Missions (the administrative board of the Triennial Convention), written by Rev. Luther Rice, as well as nine copies of the Board's annual report, to be distributed among the churches, the purpose of which was to request financial assistance for missions. In reply, "the Wabash District Association appointed Isaac McCoy corresponding secretary." History of Maria Creek Church, by B. F. Keith, pp. 31-32. In 1816 and 1817, Elder Isaac McCoy continued to correspond with the Board of Foreign Missions, and its Circulars and reports were received. (Ibid., Keith, p. 32.) In 1817, the following resolution appears in the minutes of the Association: "Resolved, That this Association has received with much pleasure the above mentioned circular, and is highly pleased with the information derived therefrom." (Ibid., Keith, p. 32.)

In October 1817, "Brother McCoy informed the [Maria Creek] church that he had accepted an appointment from the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions for the United States, for the ensuing year." (Ibid., Keith, p. 22.) In a chapter in his autobiography, Elder Wilson Thompson describes how the Lord warned him against joining Elder McCoy's mission among the Indians at Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The 1815 Circular Letter was greeted with considerable opposition. The Board's agent, the "Reverend" Luther Rice, raised suspicions with many pioneer ministers who had labored under the most severe conditions before, during, and after the Revolutionary War period. Luther Rice traveled thousands of miles, on horseback, to attend as many of the large associational gatherings as possible, and when permitted, preached a "missionary sermon," and took up a collection.

Luther Rice's Preaching, Described by Elder John Taylor

Elder John Taylor, a pioneer minister in Virginia and Kentucky, wrote the following in Thoughts on Missions, in 1819: "When Luther (Rice) rose up, the assembly of thousands (at the Elkhorn Association) seemed stricken with his appearance. A tall, pale looking, well dressed young man, with all the solemn appearance of one who was engaged in the work of the Lord, and perhaps thought he was. He also being a stranger, every eye and ear was open; his text was "Thy kingdom come." He spoke some handsome things about the kingdom of Christ; but every stroke he gave seemed to mean MONEY. He had the more pathos the nearer he came getting the money, and raising his arms as if he had some awfully pleasing vision, expressed without a hesitating doubt, that the angels were hovering over the assembly, and participating in our heavenly exercise, and just ready to take their leave, and bear the good tidings to heaven of what we were then about, in giving our money for the instruction and conversion of the poor heathen; and as if he had power to stop Gabriel's flight, in the most pathetic strain cried, 'Stop angels, till you have witnessed the generosity of this assembly.' About this time, perhaps twenty men, previously appointed, moved through the assembly with their hats, and near two hundred dollars was collected. Though I admired the art of this well-taught Yankee, yet I considered him a modern Tetzel, and that the Pope's old orator of that name was equally innocent with Luther Rice, and his motive about the same."

Opposition to the Mission System in Tennessee

At the Concord Association of Tennessee, where Elder Daniel Parker was elected the moderator of the 1815 session, the reading of the Circular from the Board of Foreign Missions touched off a heated debate, with Elder George Tilman leading the opposition. In 1816, the Association voted to sever correspondence with the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions. Luther Rice attended the 1817 session of the Concord Association in person, and Elder Parker confronted him to his face, but Rice was allowed to preach. The same year, Elder Parker had purchased land near Palestine, Illinois, and in December 1817 he moved there, and soon united with Lamotte Church, which had been organized in 1812. Lamotte Church was a member of the Wabash District Association.

The Mission Controversy Begins in Illinois

Elder Parker wrote the following concerning the beginning of the conflict over missions in the Wabash District Association: "The contest continued (in Tennessee) until I moved to Illinois, and joined Lamotte Church, where I hoped I should rest in peace, but my hopes were soon blasted. In a short time Elder Isaac McCoy visited Little Village Church, just below where I lived, and without leave from the church, presented a subscription paper for the support of the mission system, in such a way that it threw the church in great distress, and appeared like terminating in their utter overthrow; I visited the church in her distress, and it was the will of God that I should be an instrument in bringing about peace. But few months had elapsed before McCoy visited Lamotte Church, and I for the first time had an interview with him; I did not think it my duty to suffer the church at Lamotte to share the fate of Little Village, but to meet the error at the door; a sharp contest took place between McCoy and myself, and I was not a little surprised to hear him publicly assert, that he had caused no distress in churches, when I well knew the fate of Little Village. This began the war on the Wabash." - The Author's Defence, by Elder Daniel Parker, p. 5.

Little Village Church sent the following "Query" to the October 1818 session of the Wabash District Association: "Are the principles and practices of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, in its present operations, justifiable and agreeable to gospel order?" The Association voted to postpone a decision until the next year.

The Wabash Association Rules Against the Mission System

At the October 1819 session of the Wabash Association, the Query of Little Village Church was taken up, and answered, as follows: "We say they are NOT agreeable to Gospel order." This action, although not unanimous, had sufficient support, that the Association also then "dropped correspondence with the B. B. F. M." (Ibid., Keith, p. 33.) At the same session, "Lamotte Church asked the Wabash Association what was to be done with churches that let members belong to missionary societies. The Association recommended that "the churches bear one another's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ."

Publication of "A Public Address"

A few months later, sometime in 1820, Elder Parker published his first pamphlet, which not only gave his reasons for opposing the mission system, but also explained why those churches which adopt it would forfeit their place in the Baptist union. Elder McCoy, by this time, had left the area, but his brother-in-law, William Polke, an influential member of Maria Creek Church, undertook to defend the mission cause.

An Effort to Overturn the 1819 Decision

The first effort to overturn the decision of 1819 came at the October 1820 session of the Wabash Association. Maria Creek Church became the leader in the pro-mission movement by presenting the following request: "DEAR BRETHREN: United as we are in the bonds of Christian love, it is our happiness to render that respect to the Association which the wisdom and goodness of our brethren thus assembled demand. In your last minutes you informed us that the principles and practice of the B. B. F. M. were not justifiable according to Gospel order; but you omitted telling us wherein they were wrong. We do not wish any of our members to do wrong, and if it be improper for them to aid the Board of Missions, we desire to know the nature of the evils that we may endeavor to reclaim our brethren who may offend in the case. We therefore humbly request the Association to point out to us the wickedness of the B. B. F. M., and it will be our happiness to avoid everything which we conceive contrary to the mind and will of Christ." The Association answered: "We hope no use will be made of the decision of last Association relative to the subject of missions, to the distress of Zion, contrary to the commands of Christ." (Ibid., Keith, p. 33.)

Patoka Church, in Gibson County, then asked what should be done 'in cases where principles and practice of the B.B.F.M. are cherished and nourished among us.' In response the Association advised 'the churches to cherish brotherly love, and to walk in all the commands of Christ blameless.'" Ibid., Keith, pp. 33-34.

The Pro-Mission Churches Struggle To Retain Recognition

Not satisfied with the 1820 reaffirmation of the 1819 decision of the Association against missions, at the next meeting of Maria Creek Church, William Polke presented complaints, in the form of four charges, against Elder Parker, based on the positions taken in his pamphlet, A Public Address. This resulted in gospel labor between Maria Creek and Lamotte churches, which continued month after month, and was still not resolved by the time of the October 1821 session of the Wabash Association. (These letters between the churches were published in a history of Maria Creek Church, and we have transcribed them, for the sake of anyone who wishes to study the great effort to exhaust every means of resolving the differences peaceably.)

When the Wabash Association met again, on October 6-9, 1821 (four days), the pro-mission churches and brethren were still anxious to prevent the exclusion of the missionary-minded churches as heterodox. On Monday the Association "appointed a committee to draft amendments to our Constitution and present the same to the association tomorrow." On Tuesday, this Committee reported, by recommending that the Constitution (which provided that questions coming before the association from the churches should be decided by a majority vote), should be amended to require that questions (queries) from the churches (such as the one which Lamotte had presented regarding the mission system) must be referred to the individual churches and voted on by each church, and the result reported at the next meeting, which vote would then be decided by a majority of churches. The same day, they also "Appointed an association to be held at Patoka meeting house in Gibson County, Ind., to commence on Saturday before the second Sunday in June next, for the purpose of receiving from the churches by their messengers their voices respecting the amendments to the Constitution recommended by the association."

The June 1822 Minutes have not been preserved, but Elder Daniel Parker's pamphlet, Plain Truth, (approved by Lamotte Church on May 16, 1823), was written to express his dissatisfaction with the actions of the Association in amending the constitution in October 1821 without church authority, and for refusing to receive the charges exhibited by Lamotte Church against Maria Creek Church, at the session held in June 1822.

The charges which Lamotte Church presented against Maria Creek Church, in June 1822, were as follows, to-wit: "1st. She refused to receive and act on charges legally exhibited by a member of our body against two members of her body. 2d. For holding to and justifying her members in the support of the principles and practice of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, which principles, so far as connected with the ministry, we believe to be heterodox; and we also believe the practice in every respect, while practiced under the name of the Baptist, and at the same time is in no legal way under the government of the Baptist Union. And we also believe that both the principles and practice are contrary to the principles of our union." After investigation and due consideration of these charges, the association dismissed them. (Ibid., Keith, p. 60, 61.)

The final outcome of the whole debate over modern missions was now thrown into serious doubt, not only within the Wabash Association, but in other places where the question had begun to be debated.

The Moment of Decision Approaches

By October 1822, when the Wabash Association convened, its makeup had dramatically changed. Due to churches being dismissed to organize the Salem Association of Indiana later that month, the Wabash Association had only twelve churches rather than twenty-one, as in the previous year. On Monday, October 7, 1822, a majority of the messengers voted to "advise the churches to meet by Delegates on the day preceding our next annual meeting for the express purpose of altering or amending the Constitution of the Association." (The proposed amendments were published in the 1822 minutes.) But more importantly, the charges of Lamotte Church against Maria Creek Church were presented again for reconsideration, in compliance with the new procedure prescribed in the June 1822 amendments to the Constitution (which had been made through the efforts of the pro-mission churches). The wording of this action was as follows: "3. On motion, the following charge exhibited by Lamott Church against Maria Creek Church, at the special Association in June last, be referred to the Churches, one fourth of the Churches having requested the same, 'for holding to and justifying her members in the support of the principles and practices of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, which principles so far as is connected with the ministry, we believe to be heterodox; and we also believe the practice in every respect, while practiced under the name of the Baptist, and at the same time is in no legal way under the government of the Baptist union; and we also believe, that both the principle and practice is contrary to the principles of our union.' After hearing the subject investigated, agreed to refer the same to the Churches, and request that they report thereon to the next Association."

1823: The Final Crucial Decisions Are Made

The 1823 Minutes record the momentous decisions made by the Wabash District Association, which impacted the Baptists, not only in Illinois and Indiana, but nation-wide. On Monday, "2. Appointed Elders Moses Pearson, Samuel Anderson, and Rice McCoy, a committee to examine the letters from the churches and to report their views respecting the difficulty between Lamott and Maria Creek Churches on the mission subject, which was referred to the Churches last year by the Association, which committee report as follows, to wit:

The case of missions shall be no bar to fellowship 2

Neuters 1

Justify the conduct of Maria Creek Church 2

Cause of grief with Maria Creek Church 5

There were fifteen churches represented in the Wabash District Association in 1823, but three of them were admitted in that year, and therefore were not prepared or qualified to vote, and neither Lamotte nor Maria Creek were permitted to vote, for obvious reasons.

The Final Solution: Total Separation

After careful deliberation, following the vote, the churches of the Wabash District Association agreed the same day to the following course of action: "Item 6. By motion appointed a committee of five to prescribe a division line for this association, to wit: John Parker, Thomas Pounds, Asa Norton, Robert Elliott, and Daniel Parker, who report as follows, to wit: That the Wabash river be the line, and the Churches on either side of the river join which side they think proper ..." The result of this action was the formation of the Union Association the following year, composed mainly of churches in Indiana who were favorable to missions. But fellowship had been permanently broken over the mission system.

The "Two-Seed" Doctrine Was NOT the Issue

After careful study, we find no indication that the "two-seed doctrine" had been raised as an issue in the division of the Wabash Association in 1823. No mention of the doctrine of two-seeds is found in the Association minutes, nor in Parker's early writings, viz., A Public Address (1820), Plain Truth (1823), or The Author's Defence (1824). Parker's Views on the Two Seeds was published three years later, in 1826, followed in 1827 by his Second Dose of Doctrine on the Two Seeds, and A Short Hint, which was his reply to Thomas Kennedy's "Explication of Proceedings at Lamotte Church." Without proof to the contrary, we must assume that pro-missionary historians and writers who attribute the division to Parker's views on "two-seeds," are merely using propaganda to advance their cause.

Case Study 1: Conclusion

The division in the Wabash District Association drew a clear, firm line among the pioneer Baptists in the midwest. The early detection of, and careful manner of dealing with, the unscriptural mission system, by the Elders and Brethren of the Wabash District Association, spared hundreds of pioneer Baptist churches in the midwest from corruption or total overthrow, of the sort which occurred in other places, where the opposition to the new system arose "too little, too late." The original lump was best preserved by purging the leaven of false doctrine and practice from it before it could leaven the whole. The leaven, however, has spread and permeated through our secular society and has engulfed the thinking of the religious world, for nearly two centuries.

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