Greeting - Dearly beloved, it becomes my duty to write you this simple statement of things that have caused the present distressed condition of the Baptist in these parts. There has been a great deal said and written (purporting to be facts) in reference to the rise and progress of the trouble now existing among us. I am, indeed, very sorry that the brotherhood is so confused and torn to pieces. And more so, as some hold me responsible for the present confusion. Not that I am sorry that I have taken the stand I have against the encroachment of errors, but that my stand, or action, has been misconstrued; and this willingly by some. I cannot believe that my brethren would censure me if they fully understood the things that I have had to contend for. I make no pretension to infallibility, for I am reminded every day that I am a poor erring mortal. If I have opposed error and contended for truth, I am constrained to say, "Yet not I, but the grace of God, that was with me."
Now, please read a plain, simple statement of the causes (that I now feel it my duty to make to you) that have caused all this division and heart-rending sorrow among the Baptists in this country.
Above twelve years ago, (1885) we had an outbreak of what is known as the "Means Doctrine" in our association. Elders N. R. Little and J. K. Stephens championed the "means" side; Elders K.M. Myatt, S. F. Cayce and myself opposed them for a while, until all of a sudden Elders Myatt and Cayce offered to compromise by a resolution they presented to our union meeting. I objected to the compromise. This engendered a deep-seated prejudice against me among the Means element. From this time on I fought the battles alone, "yet not I" The result of the fight was we dropped three of the then four existing churches that now compose the Plielesic Association from our fellowship, together with Elders Little and Stephens. Elder Stephens and others manifested great bitterness against me during this time. But soon after this, all of these churches acknowledged their error and begged forgiveness and were received back with us. Almost immediately these churches began wanting to divide our Association, as they said "for convenience."
About this time, Elder J.V. Kirkland, who was then a member of Soldier Creek Association, became sick and claimed to have seen a vision in which he saw that the Baptists had been preaching and practicing wrong (as is shown in his published statement), and he set himself to oppose them "if he should get well." The result of this resolution was, when he got well, he turned right about from his former course in preaching and practicing. Before this, he had been a staunch defender of unlimited predestination, and the "Grace alone" system; but he now began to denounce Predestination as being "Fatalistic," etc. All these sayings he had borrowed from the enemies of the truth. He began teaching that, after regeneration, the child must make his own way here in this time world, according to his own choice; that God had promised him rewards "if he would obey Him;" and that obedience was wholly the work of the child of God and depended upon the free volition of the child's will. Pretty soon, he and others organized a Sunday School at Palmersville, Tennessee, with J. B. Ezell as secretary. This school was composed of members of any and all denominations who might wish to join. In their exercises they sang and prayed together, being led by any one, irrespective of religious order. Elder Kirkland espoused the "New Association Movement" and began to canvass the churches (that had been mostly involved in the Means heresy), and to urge them to get letters from the Bethel Association, and succeeded in getting four of our churches to follow him. They turned what they had called "meetings of days" into protracted, or rather distracted meetings [revivals meetings, so-called] in which they almost in toto neglected doctrinal preaching except to denounce and vilify it with such sayings as "strong diet would cause dyspepsia." As you have read in the papers, that if you waited for God to make you join the church you would never join. That God "wanted" you to join, but had left the matter with you; that God in regeneration gives His children ability to obey all of His commandments; that He "wanted" His children to be happy during this time life, that there was no need of all these doubts and fears that we complain of if we would do our "duty," that if we would do these things, which they would take the pains to assert we had the power to do, that we would reach a higher plain where we could enjoy the sunlight of God's smiles. They would tell the people that there were thousands that had a hope, but did not know it. They would tell how people might "know" that they were born again; that if the young people, when they came home on Sunday night, thought of something that they had said or done during the day that was wrong, and were sorry for it, it was a clear evidence that they were born again, and if they "wanted" to be happy, just come and join the good old church and be baptized for (in order to) the remission of sins; that there was no use telling an experience of grace; that all the Bible required was for them to confess the Saviour - that they believed that Jesus was their Saviour - that thousands were kept out of the church by this long experience telling, and wind up by telling (what they had read in some Sunday School book) of an empty rocking-chair, an unturned plate at the table, a little red-striped stocking hanging on the wall, and by this kind of foolishness these Primitive Baptists have the people crying all over the house. Now they would tell their brethren and sisters if any of them had friends present that they thought ought to join the church for them to go to them and persuade them to come to the church, and the result would be a "large in-gathering."
Now this is no fancy sketch. I have witnessed nearly everything that I have here mentioned in their meetings, and this is not all. They have introduced Arminian hymn-books into their churches (they say for class singing) for the use of the church in her devotional exercises. At first, they began to use such sayings as these: "I would to God that our people would send men to every nook and corner of the earth, that everyone might hear the Gospel preached," and that "we ought to have some system by which to send the Gospel to the destitute," etc. They would and did in the presence of our own preachers call on Methodist ministers to lead them in their devotional exercises.
I saw them (the Kirklands) invite all denominations to give the hand of fellowship to those joining the church, heard them deny the foreknowledge of God, and preach that baptism is in order to the remission of sins, saw them receive a man without any relation of an experience of grace, heard them preach against telling an experience before the church, and tell the people that all who had a hope ought to join some church, as though one denomination was as good as another.
In view of all this, what could I do but object to this as being "Primitive Baptist faith or practice." "But," says one, "did no one else object but you?" Answer: Yes. Many of the old members objected and complained of these "new things." But the Kirklands and their associates had baptized a "majority" into their churches, and those that opposed their way of doing had to submit or withdraw from the majority. This was what brought about the separation at Bethel. The majority tried to force the minority to retain Elder R. S. Kirkland as pastor, and make the minority receive the communion at his hands, which they were unwilling to do, as Elder Kirkland had been charged with departures, and the Bethel Primitive Baptist Association, of which Bethel church was a member, because of these charges had refused to receive correspondence from the Philisic Association. The minority contended with the majority that it would be disorder from them to retain Kirkland as their pastor, he being under charges, that it did not matter, per se, whether he was guilty or not, that he was under the charge, and that he "thereby forfeited all of his rights and privileges as pastor' until these charges were removed. The majority part, or conditionalists, would not hear to this; whereupon the minority withdrew from the majority, and declared themselves to be the church in order. Some two hours afterwards, the majority acted and pretended to exclude the minority for breaking church covenant. After this the minority in conference called upon each church of our Association to send three messengers, each, to meet with them and to look into their acts and advise them as to whether they had done right or wrong.
The majority of the churches responded, and after due investigation, decided that the minority had done right. And was the church at Bethel in order? The decision of this Council was, that any minister under charges of heresy, whether he be guilty or not, was thereby disqualified to administer the ordinances, and that the minority had the right to withdraw, or, in other words, exclude the majority. They based their decision on the following Scripture and Baptist discipline: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." (II Thess. 3:6) It has been a precedent established among Baptists from the beginning that when a majority of a church become heretical, or departs from the original practice of the Scriptures, that the minority have a right to withdraw from them, and that when they do so they are, and always have been from Novatian until now, regarded as the church in order. Therefore, this Council could do nothing less than recognize the minority [the Predestinarians] at Bethel as the church, and so reported it, and she was acknowledged by the association as such. The majority, of course, held on to Elder Kirkland, and Kirkland publicly said that he would serve them if he had to wade through blood to his knees, denying the charges against him and publicly denouncing me as a liar!
At the suggestion of Elder S. F. Cayce, he, J.K. Stephens, R.S. Kirkland and J.V. Kirkland, and myself met in Fulton, Ky., to try to adjust the matter in some way. At this meeting I presented the following charges against R. S. Kirkland:
1. That he (at Bethel) received a member without a relation of an experience of grace.
2. That he invited all denominations to give the hand of Christian fellowship to those who joined the church.
3. That he said in his preaching that all who had a hope "ought to join some church, as though one church or denomination would do as well as another for a Home for God's children.
4. That he sent his members into the congregation to talk to their friends to get them to join the church.
5. That at this meeting, he (Kirkland), preached that repentance and baptism are "in order to" the remission of sins.
6. That he denied that God foreknew all things.
The result of the meeting at Fulton was that Elder R. S. Kirkland frankly acknowledged three of the charges. In proof of this, I refer you to Elders K M. Myatt, J. M. Perkins, A. J. Luther, and Monroe Kitts -all preachers, who say that Elder S. F. Cayce told them a few days after the meeting that he, (Cayce), believed Kirkland was guilty of everything Boaz had charged him with, for he had frankly acknowledged three of them publicly and virtually confessed them all.
With this knowledge, Cayce published in a few weeks after this meeting, in his paper, [The Primitive Baptist] their denial of these charges, and then refused me space for a reply for months. The Kirklands now began to screen themselves, and grew bold in denouncing Boaz as a liar. The brethren began making propositions for an investigation. I accepted every proposition that was made. Then they refused every one, until finally Elder Sylvester Hassell came through this country at their request. When he came, the Kirklands took charge of him and hardly let him get out of their sight while here. After he left this part of the country, the Kirklands still with him, he wrote me the following proposition which I accepted: That I select three distant and disinterested brethren, and they (the Kirklands) three, and that they and I agree on the seventh; these to compose a Council to investigate all the differences between us, etc. But in the meantime our churches had seen the deceitful workings of the Kirklands, until they were unwilling to have any intercourse with them whatever, hence they refused for a time to have anything to do with the proposition. But finally, at Mount Zion meeting house last May, the Union Meeting, which was composed of all our churches, agreed to accept "The Hassell Proposition," and referred it to the churches for their ratification, - the churches to report at the next Union, of course.
Elder S.F.Cayce, the very one who made this motion, contended that the Union could not lord it over the churches, that this belonged to the several churches that composed the Union, not to the Union. At the next Union Meeting, which met at Little Flock last September, seven (7) churches reported that they were opposed to the having anything to do with the Hassell Proposition (the churches right), five (5) reported in favor of it; whereupon C. H. Cayce, a son of S. F. Cayce, made a motion that seven churches be dropped from the Union, and that they be allowed NO VOICE in this matter. Elder S. F. Cayce arose and made a speech in favor of his son's motion without being interrupted by anyone. When he sat down, I attempted to speak, but the Moderator, Elder K.M. Myatt, ordered me down, saying that I was out of order, that the accused had no right to speak!
In proof of the statement I have here made, I will refer you to nine out of every ten persons that were present at the meeting. The reason that I am thus particular in referring to proof is, Elder S. F. Cayce published a report of this meeting in his paper, in which he says that "the Moderator proposed to rule that the motion should be acted upon without any debating whatever on either side." The seven churches had gone contrary to my wish in denying the "Hassell Proposition," but they had done precisely what Elder S. F. Cayce and the Union meeting at Mount Zion had said was their right, and only theirs, to do; and because they had done this Elder Cayce and his son and Elder Myatt wanted to unseat them. I was unwilling to remain silent and see the rights of my brethren run over in any such way as this.
The motion failed, and Cayce and Myatt had their churches to quit us instead. But these seven churches reconsidered the matter, and concluded that it would be best for the Cause for them to accept the "Hassell Proposition." Accordingly, at our Association last fall it was agreed that the Hassell Proposition was accepted, and I at once opened correspondence with the Kirklands, the most of which has already been published, and will be unnecessary to repeat here. But there is something published in connection with these letters that I think should be noticed. I had proposed to them that each witness to be used in the investigation should be before the Council, and be sworn, if necessary. They refused to answer me, but insisted on calling the Council. In their mention of this in their papers, they say they accepted my terms and then I backed down, and prove their statement by three witnesses. I will say this of these three witnesses: That I know, and so do they, that two of them - Morgan and Croft - did not hear the conversation between Kirkland and myself. I was watching them, and by actual measurement later, they were thirty-two feet from us, on a crowded street with people talking, laughing and passing. The other name that they published as a witness I could not say where he was, but I will say this, that it does not matter where he was, for he did not hear Kirkland say that he would accept the terms proposed by me "in my letter." In proof of this, when we met the 12th of January, 1897, I presented the same "terms" to them, and they positively refused to agree to them in the presence of quite a crowd of witnesses.
I reminded them of their publication where they stated they had accepted them, and insisted that they agree to it again now, warning them that there were witnesses all around; but they refused to do it. When I found that I could not get them to agree to this, I then yielded to them, and we agreed to call the Council, and I asked them who they would agree upon for the umpire, or seventh man. They answered, "Hassell." I replied that I objected to him. They answered immediately that if they did not get Hassell they would not have anyone. I pleaded with them that it would be a violation of the Proposition itself to have Hassell, seeing as he had shown by his writings that he was biased. They answered that when Hassell wrote the Proposition they were present, and that it was an agreement between him and them that he was to be the seventh man. [The whole affair appears to have been politically rigged!] Then I told them that I could not, nor would not, submit to Hassell's being the seventh man. They knew before they named Hassell as the seventh man that I would not, nor could not agree to it, and doubtless took this course to break up the investigation.
Now, reader, I leave hurriedly passed over the causes of our present condition, and hope you leave not become wearied in reading. I have, of course, left out many things connected with this unfortunate affair that I would like to have mentioned. I have tried to give, in as few words as possible, a true statement of the rise and progress of our present troubles. We are now being stigmatized with such foolish sayings as "Can't-help-it-doctrine," "Fatalistic doctrine," and all such sayings as are now being published in Cayce's and Kirkland's papers -all because "we trust in the living God."
The Bethel Association is today contending for the doctrine [predestinarian] that she has always contended for. We believe in good works, and try under God's grace to perform them. But we DO NOT believe that the Gospel is a bundle of propositions and offers to be made to God's children or anyone else, but we believe it "is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth," and when we preach, we try to preach it. We do not believe that we or anyone else is preaching the Gospel when they are preaching the power of man, as the Cayces, the Kirklands, and others are doing now. We preach the gift of repentance, but we preach it in the name of Jesus; that He is "exalted a Prince and Saviour for TO GIVE repentance to Israel." We preach faith, but as being "the fruit of the Spirit." We try to teach God's children how poor they are in themselves, and how rich their Saviour is. We teach our weakness, but His power; our ignorance, but His wisdom; our sinfulness, but His righteousness, while those that have now departed from us are teaching to the reverse of this, if not, we would be together yet. This is where the Bethel Association has stood ever since I have been a member, which is 28 years last June (since 1869), and because we have opposed these new things, we have subjected ourselves to the misrepresentations and slanders of those that have introduced them.
Some that are now against us fought bravely with us until they thought they were on the unpopular side. Then they turned against us and have tried, and are yet trying, to destroy Bethel Association - all this "for filthy lucre's sake," supposing that gain is godliness. But, beloved, there are a few of us that are yet feeling content "to contend earnestly for the faith that was once delivered to the saints," and rejoice (at times) "that it is not only given us to believe on His name, but also to suffer for His sake."
Esteeming it a great blessing from God that we have been "reserved unto Myself (Himself) and have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal," (for we are not better than they who "slanderously report us,") we would have gone into the same idolatrous practices that they have, had not grace prevented us. Hence we have nothing to glory in but the Lord.
Hoping, dear reader, that God will give you to see the Truth, and make you love and practice it.
I am, Your friend, and, I hope, brother in Christ,
R.H. Boaz, a poor sinner.