Kelleyites - An Arkansas Schism

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by rlvaughn, Jan 6, 2003.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2001
    Messages:
    5,140
    Likes Received:
    25
    Last night I was reading some material written by Eld. E. J. Lambert, a Primitive Baptist minister. In it he mentioned the connection of he and his family with the "Kelly Division of the Missionary Baptist Church." I had not thought of this group in awhile. Some of you might find their history interesting.

    The only written material that I am aware of specifically on this group is Welcome, Church of Christ - Instrumental: A Study of the Kelleyites by Willard D. Hughes [Missionary Baptist Seminary Press, Little Rock, AR, 1977]. This book is out of print. Hughes was a former member of the Kelleyites and says it is not the purpose of his book to "prove the validity nor expose the error" of these churches. He is simply trying to record their history and practice. He also states that his use of the term "Kelleyite" is not derogatory, but for the purpose of clearly identifying of whom he speaks. Their official name is "Church of Christ." Eld. Lambert, whose father was a minister of the Kelleyites, consistently refers to them as the "Church of Christ (Kelly Division of Missionary Baptists)." Hughes has found them referred to as Kelleyites in official documents of the Works Project Administration (WPA) in the 1940's.

    The Kelleyites owe their name and origin to Samuel Kelley. Kelley was born in 1817 in what is now Pike Co., Arkansas, but in early adulthood he moved to Illinois. In Illinois, he first connected himself to the Methodists, but later joined the Baptists and was ordained by them in 1838. Shortly after this he returned to Arkansas. A difference in practice between the Baptists with whom he was connected in Illinois and the Baptists in Arkansas was evidently a contributing factor to the rise of the Kelley division of the missionary Baptist church. Kelley was a prominent and successful citizen by the standards of his day. He lived in Pike Co. and later in Howard Co. He was elected to at least one term in the State Legislature. His church was a member of the Red River Association. In 1856, he was invited to preach at the meeting of the Caddo River Association. In this sermon, he preached the doctrine of apostasy, or falling from grace. The next morning the Caddo River Assn. passed resolutions against Eld. Kelley, his doctrine of apostasy, the fact he had not been baptized by a Baptist, and also withdrew fellowship from the Red River Association. The next year the Red River Association excluded Samuel Kelley and his followers. Kelley evidently preached between 1857 & 1870 wherever he could. In 1870, Kelley convinced the Philippi Baptist Church to adopt open communion and change their name to the Philippi Church of Christ. [The only change to "Church of Christ" would simply be dropping the Baptist name from the common practice of that day; e.g. Whatever Baptist Church of Christ becomes Whatever Church of Christ.] This church withdrew from the Caddo River Association that year, and the Association also withdrew from them. This can probably be considered the official date of the division of the Kelleyites from the Baptists (although as I have noted, persons such as Eld. Lambert still considered them to be Baptists). Other churches were organized or adopted the doctrine and practice of the Kelleyites, and this movement grew for a time. Later the movement would decline, and now survives with about 4 or 5 churches in Hot Spring and Clark Counties in Arkansas. My first inclination would be to think it was the ecumencial nature of the doctrine, rather than lack of evangelization, that led to the decline - just an opinion.

    The major differences doctrinally between the Kelleyites and the missionary Baptists of Arkansas at that time seem to have been that the Kelleyites held final apostasy (or falling from grace), open communion, and alien baptism. They are similar in doctrine and practice to the Free Will Baptists, but have evidently never had any connection with them. They also hold footwashing as an ordinance. This is an issue that would separate them from most present-day missionary Baptists in Arkansas (SBC, ABA, BMA, etc.), but would have been of little consequence in the mid-1800's. According to Hughes, they also have three offices: pastor, elder, and deacon. I find it interesting that a large number of Baptists in Arkansas might now be in agreement with two of the three major differences that existed: alien baptism & open communion.
     
  2. Jeff Weaver

    Jeff Weaver
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2001
    Messages:
    2,056
    Likes Received:
    0
    By RLV:

    Sounds like they could have been Christian Unity Baptists as well. These three items were chief among their tenants as well.

    Thanks for the history lesson, I learned something new.

    Jeff.
     
  3. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2001
    Messages:
    5,140
    Likes Received:
    25
    I sent an e-mail to a member of the History and Archives Committee of the State Association of Arkansas. He added a couple of items that are either not in Hughes' book or I did not catch. (1) That the Kelleyite theology is a mixture of old time Methodist & Baptist doctrine; (2) that the Baptists in Illinois received Samuel Kelley on his Methodist baptism; and (3) that the Kelleyites preserve their links to Baptists by using the Sunday School literature of the American Baptist Association. I suspected the first point, and thought the second was implied, but I am surprised about the Sunday School literature, considering that the doctrines of the ABA on apostasy, baptism and communion would be opposite of the Kelleyite positions.
     
  4. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2001
    Messages:
    5,140
    Likes Received:
    25
    At some point after their separation from the Caddo River & Red River Associations, the Kelleyites formed "The Council of the Church of Christ." This council is fashioned on the order of a Baptist association and meets annually. Rules would be similar and they seem to preserve the autonomy of the local church. The council has no authority to act on local church matters, nor even to advise unless the church asks them to do so.
     
  5. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2001
    Messages:
    5,140
    Likes Received:
    25
    I just received an e-mail from a person who attempted to obtain the statistics of the Church of Christ - Instrumental (Kelleyites) for the RCMS. Though he did not get the membership statistics, he did confirm that there are 5 churches, 4 in Hot Spring County and 1 in Clark County.
     
  6. Jeff Weaver

    Jeff Weaver
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2001
    Messages:
    2,056
    Likes Received:
    0
    Robert

    Do these Kellyites have fellowship with anyone else besides themselves? Any clue on how they view themselves if they don't?

    Thanks for the update.

    J.
     
  7. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2001
    Messages:
    5,140
    Likes Received:
    25
    Jeff, I'm not familiar enough with these people to speak to your question. I've sent a few e-mails inquiring about it. I observed that their doctrine is ecumenical (e.g. not limiting themselves to be "the church", inviting all Christians to communion, etc.). But Hughes also mentions that article 14 of their constitution states, "No minister, except regular ordained ministers of the Church of Christ, shall be permitted to preach or conduct services in any individual church without special permission from the pastor and members of that particular church. (Exceptions being made for funerals.)" This article might reveal an interest in self-preservation - that they desire fellowship with other Christians, but also seek to preserve what they feel in their unique heritage. I will let you know if I receive any response to my inquiry.

    I did get, though, a "guestimation" of membership in these five churches. The member of the History & Archives Committee that I mentioned previously said, "As to membership I would estimate that the only church with a large membership is the Prairie Bayou Church, their largest. I would suppose they might have some 200 or so members, say 75 in Sunday School. Others may have a membership of 30 to 50." So there might be roughly 400 members of the Church of Christ - Instrumental.

    [ January 09, 2003, 08:46 PM: Message edited by: rlvaughn ]
     

Share This Page

Loading...