Somerset Christian Church
Establish in 1829
"In the meantime, the Disciples that had withdrawn from Grassy Lick, met together again, and resolved to build a meeting-house as soon as practicable. The site selected was a richly wooded hill that overlooked the Somerset, two miles east of Grassy Lick, and six miles north of Mount Sterling. There, in a maple grove, they met for awhile, united by a common faith, and constituted on the Word of God, the creed of each disciple. Until the house was completed, they continued to worship in the grove, where they had erected a rude stand, and rolled the logs together for seats. They met at first monthly, on the third Sunday; forSmithhad promised to be with them, on that day, as long as he could. They had no elders for some time; but David Badger and Franklin Taylor were chosen deacons; afterward, when they began to meet weekly, Philip Hathaway, Newton Lane, David Cassady, and Samuel Carrington were ordained elders. The church continued to grow in influence and in numbers, and faithfully tried to conform, in all respects, to the Ancient and Apostolic order of things." - 1829 - Life of Elder John Smith, page 293 (1870 edition) 248 (later edition)
This little church, just a few miles north of Mount Sterling, Kentucky, can trace its history to some of the earliest years of reform in the state of Kentucky. It was a time when the forty-five year old, "Raccoon" John Smith, was in his prime. Changes among the Baptist church in and around Mount Sterling been brought about by way of the influences of Alexander Campbell, who had visited the region just five years before the founding of the Somerset church. His focus on recapturing the existence of the first century church led thousands across the nation to forsake their creeds and take the Bible as their only standard of authority. The church at Sommerset was among the earliest of churches in the whole country that determined to adopt the Scriptures alone as their guide for faith and practice.
The following chapter from The Life of Elder John Smith, by John Augustus Williams, explains the role that the Reformed Church at Somerset played in bringing to an end the organization of the North District Baptist Association as a governing body among churches under its authority. The meeting took place in July, 1831. Note the following:
North District meets at Somerset—Dissolves her Constitution—Resolves to meet as Disciples, at Sharpsburg, in 1832—Address to the Brethren.
Theday for the gathering of the churches at Somerset arrived. A large majority of the Disciples, as we have said, were ready to dissolve the Association; but some were still fearful that the spirit of reform was becoming wild and revolutionary, and they paused to commend a more conservative policy. There was no express precept or example for an Association, they granted; neither was there any law to forbid it. "But may not such assemblies," they asked, "be proper, if, indeed, they are not necessary to the welfare of the Church?" All were determined, however, that, when they came together, nothing should be done through strife or vain-glory; that they would be one in action, though divided, it might be, in opinion.
On the 23d of July, 1831, the Association convened—save, indeed, seven churches and four parts of churches, which met at Howard's Upper Creek, on the same day—under the leadership of James French and David Chenault. Messengers from fourteen churches and four parts of churches, representing thirteen hundred and eighty-two Disciples, were formally enrolled under the old Constitution.ElderThomas White was chosen Moderator, and Buckner H. Payne, Clerk. It was agreed that thepreaching brethrenpresent should decide among themselves who could most profitably address the people on Lord's day; and, accordingly,John Smith,Peter Hon, andJohnN. Payne, a brother to the Clerk, occupied the stand, while Asa Maxey and Archibald Stewart addressed those who assembled in the house. A committee had duly prepared a table for the Commemorative Supper, and they all sat down, as one body, and broke the loaf together.we should always cultivate a forgiving, kind, and charitable temper, seeing that the Scriptures saith that 'if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." We are fully aware that perfection belongs not to any man, or an entire exemption from error to any body of people; and we should ever be ready to accord to others that indulgence for their weakness and improprieties which we ask for ourselves. At the same time, we would remark that, to persist in error, if that error can be manifested from the Word of God, we utterly disclaim as forming any part of our character.
On Monday, the interesting question was asked:Where shall the next Association be held? Usually, many churches claimed, or begged the honor of entertaining the next Association; but now no such claim was set up, and no petition was preferred—not a congregation in all the bounds of North District proffered either house or grove!
"Has the Association the right,"was then asked,"to impose itself upon any church, or to obtrude upon the hospitality of any community?"and a decided negative vindicated the dignity of the Association and the independence of the churches.
Some one, at this interesting crisis, perhaps in the goodness of his heart, sympathizing with the supposed embarrassment of the Association, proposed that it should hold its next meeting in the woods! He doubtless took it for granted that it must needs meet again somewhere; or, perhaps, he could not see that the glory of the old North District was about to pale before the rising of the Ancient and Apostolic Order of things. "Let us meet in the woods next year!" said he.
But the main question, which had been held in reserve, was now solemnly propounded:"Is there any authority in the Word of God for this Association to meet at all?"After some debate, in which nothing was said or done to give offense, they finally, and with much unanimity, resolved: (NORTH DISTRICT DISSOLVED.417)
No church requesting the next Association to be appointed at any of their meeting-houses, and this body not having authority to force it upon any; and every church which appeared here by her letter and messengers unanimously agreeing that the Word of God is the only rule of faith and practice for Christians— on motion and second,that the Constitution of the North District Association of Baptists be dissolved—after consultation among the brethren, when the question was put, it was carried in the affirmative; and the said Association was thereby dissolved.
Upon after consultation, the brethren agreed to attend at Sharpsburg, at the request of her messengers in the name of the church, on the Friday before the third Saturday, and the days following, in August, 1832, and there communicate with one another, either by letter or otherwise, such information respecting the progress and affairs of each church as they may think of sufficient importance or interest to communicate.
North District Association thereupon, in the twenty-ninth year of its age, formally and quietly adjournedsine die.
The Disciples now ordered the publication of an address to the churches, from which we make the following extract:
DearFellow-christians:—We have concluded that it is best to notice the principal objections urged against us by some of our brethren, who have withdrawn their fellowship from us. And here we beg leave to remark that, let those brethren say what they will concerning us, let us never speak evil of them—never return railing for railing, or reproaches for reproaches. It is unbecoming our character as Christians so to do; for let them act toward us, or speak of us as they may, their improprieties should rather draw forth our Christian sympathies and prayers, and can never furnish us with a justification for violating that law of Christ, which forbids our speaking evil of any man. To err is human; and we have no doubt that we have many errors to ask forgiveness for; and, whilst that is the case,
The first objection to which we shall call your attention, as presented by our brethren of the opposition, is, that we are charged with denying the "special operation of the Spirit in quickening the dead sinner."
In answer to this, we, in the first place, remark, that the expression"special operation of the Spirit"is nowhere to be found in the Bible. In teaching the Christian religion, in reference to man's receiving the Holy Spirit, we prefer using Bible terms to those invented by men, because the Apostles would not speak of those things in words taught by human wisdom, but in "words taught by the Holy Spirit."—i Cor. ii: 13. We do not believe, neither have we ever taught, that men can be Christians without receiving the Holy Spirit; but the difference between us and our opposing brethren is this: We teachthat the Spirit is received through faith,whilst we understand them to teachthat its first reception and operation is in unbelief.We know of no promise of the Holy Spirit to any person, in the Bible, whilst in unbelief; but, on the contrary, the Apostle Paul expressly teaches, that "without faith, it is impossible to please God;" and the Savior says,Johnxiv: 17, that the Comforter, or Holy Spirit, which he would send, "the world can not receive." Our opposers say it can—Jesus says it can not. Our opposers say that the sinner must be regenerated by the Spirit before he believes; Paul says, Gal. iii: 14: "That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith," and not in unbelief. The Savior says, Johnvii: 38,(INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.419) 39: "He that believeth (not one that don't believe) on me as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they thatbelieveon him (not those who would not believe)shouldreceive" (not had received before they believed). Again, Paul, Eph. i: 13: "In whom ye also trusted, after (not before) that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation; in whom also,after that ye believed, (not before) ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise," etc. Again, Gal. iv: 6: "Because yeare sons(not unbelievers), God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into yoilr hearts, crying, Abba, Father." And Peter, on the day of Pentecost, says, Acts ii: 38: "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall (not that ye had already received, but ye shall) receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." From the foregoing, it is evident that neither the miraculous nor common gifts of the Holy Spirit wereever promisedto men in unbelief. Now, brethren, we know that if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his; and we do teach men that they must believe and obey the Gospel, in order to the reception and enjoyment of the Holy Spirit.
The second objection is, "that we teach that themereact of baptism, or immersion,alonecan wash away sins; or, in other words, that mere baptism aloneconstitutes regeneration."
In answer to this, we say, we do not believe, neither do we teach, that immersionalonecan wash away sins, or that it is regeneration. But we do believe and teach that "he that believeth (not one thatdon'tbelieve, orcan'tbelieve) and is immersed, shall be saved."—Mark xvi: 16. And we do teach that Peter (Acts ii: 38), did tell the believing Jews, or those who gladly received the word, to "Repent and be immersed for theremissionof sins;" and that Ananias, by the immediatedirection of the Lord,did say unto Saul (not that his sins were washed away), but "Arise,and be immersed,andwash away thy sins,calling upon the name of the Lord;'' that the Eunuch, and the jailer with his household,heardtheword, believedit, wereimmersed, (420) and didrejoicein the Lord, etc. And as the apostles did thus teach, so we believe and so we teach—and those things which God has joined together,we will notput asunder.
The third objection is, that we receive and administer baptism upon a "bare historical faith," or that we will baptize any person who merelysayshe believes that Jesus is the Christ.
As to the term "historical faith," it being an invention of men, of which the Bible knows nothing, we consequently have nothing to do with it; but we do teach that for a man to believe with all his heart, through the teaching or word of the apostles, according toJohnxvii: 20, and xx: 30, 31, and confess it with the mouth, that no man can forbid water: for proof of which we refer to Acts viii: 37. Andwe know we are rightwhen we do as the primitive Christians did in the apostles' day, by the apostles' directions.
The fourth, and last objection which we shall notice for the present, is, that we deny "heart-felt religion or Christian experience."
This we do humbly conceive has arisen from a misapplication of terms. We can not see how a man can have the experience of aChristianuntil he is one—all the workings of his mind before he becomes a Christian, we could only call faith and repentance, and not Christian experience—therefore, whatever an individual may feel or experience, either in mind or body, of either despondency, or hope and joy, before they become a Christian, we humbly conceive it would be a great prostitution of language to call "Christian experience."We, therefore, do not call it such, yet we believe that every Christian has felt these sensations more or less vivid; but we can not call or recognize (neither do they) any man or woman as a Christian until they have, by a confession with the mouth of their faith, and immersion, become one. They may have felt all the dark and desponding sensations commonly talked about, and all those happy and joyous feelings, and yet, unless theyobeythe Lord Jesus Christ, we can not call them Christians, or invite them to the Lord's table; neither do, or will, any of our opposers. Whilst(CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE.421) we admit, then, that those feelings and sensations are experienced by every person, more or less, before they are baptized, we can not, nevertheless, agree to call it a "Christian experience,"for the individual has not, as yet, put on Christ. We believe that it is by faith and obedience an individual has the promise of the Spirit, and that they do feel and rejoice in the promises of God; and we do set at naught all Babylonish terms and phrases not found in the Word of God, and all traditions, and all commandments, and doctrines of men, and we urge all to disregard every thing as matters of faith or practice not found in the Word of God. We, therefore, profess to be followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of no mortal man, and our enemies, who, by way of opprobrium, call us followers of Alexr. Campbell, do (while we are following in the footsteps of Christ) insult the King of Saints, by robbing God of his own glory and giving it to man."
Life of Elder John Smith, (Original Edition-1870, by John Augustus Williams, pages 415-421
Directions To The Somerset Christian Church
The Somerset Christian Church is located about three miles north of the Mount Sterling exit off I-64 in NE Kentucky. Heading east of Lexington on I-64, go to exit 110, and turn left (north) on Maysville Rd. Go about three miles to the Somerset church building on the left. This building is not the original building, but it is the location of the historical group that made up the Somerset Reformed Church beginning in 1829.
or D.d. 38.118584, -83.960789
Photos Taken May, 2011
Courtesy of Scott Harp