Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Kelleyites - an Arkansas Baptist division

For the history lover: A little history on a little known group of churches in central Arkansas - the Church of Christ Instrumental, or Kelleyites

Willard Hughes, a former member of the Kelleyites, wrote a booklet not to "prove the validity nor expose the error" of these churches, but simply to record their history and practice. His use of the term "Kelleyite" is not derogatory, but used for the purpose of clearly identifying those of whom he speaks. Their official name is "Church of Christ." Eld. E. J. Lambert, whose father was a minister of the Kelleyites, consistently refers to them as the "Church of Christ (Kelly Division of Missionary Baptists)" in his book "Tried in the Furnace". Hughes 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. Later he 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 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 preached 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 Association 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 preached between 1857 and 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. Many Baptists in the mid-1800s referred to themselves officially as the "Baptist Church of Christ". So this change was merely dropping the name "Baptist". The Philippi church withdrew from the Caddo River Association that year, and the Association also withdrew from them. This should be considered the official date of the division of the Kelleyites from the Baptists. Persons such as Eld. Lambert considered them still to be missionary 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 5 churches in Hot Spring and Clark Counties in Arkansas. Perhaps the ecumenical nature of the doctrine, rather than lack of evangelization, led to the decline.

The major differences doctrinally between the Kelleyites and the missionary Baptists of Arkansas at the time of their division was 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 evidently never had any connection with them. They also hold feet washing 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. A large number of Baptists in Arkansas might now be in agreement with the Kelleyites on two of the three major differences that existed: alien baptism & open communion.

Welcome, Church of Christ - Instrumental: A Study of the Kelleyites by Willard D. Hughes (Missionary Baptist Seminary Press, Little Rock, AR, 1977).
Tried in the Furnace by Elder E. J. Lambert (Print Shop, Gordonville, PA, 1955).

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