Untiring Perseverance: The Rise and Fall of Particular Baptists in Vermont (1768-1880) | Cody S. Edds

by | May 18, 2022 | Church History, Practical Theology

Introduction

In 1762, the first church of Vermont was organized as the First Congregational Church of Bennington. Within 6 years of its organization, a group of believers holding Baptist sentiments headed north for Shaftsbury and organized a church in 1768,[1] not calling its first pastor until 1782 (12 years later).[2] This first Baptist Church in Vermont, the Baptist Church of Shaftsbury, served the state of Vermont in isolation for 12 years (besides one in Pownal which lasted for two years) until a second church—formed from the first—began to meet in 1780. These two churches, along with three churches from out-of-state, formed the Shaftsbury Association in 1780.[3] By 1800, the Shaftsbury Association consisted of 46 churches and the state of Vermont had 6 Particular Baptist Associations—most of which grew out of the Shaftsbury Association. Due to the zeal of these early Baptist pastors and church planters, over 200 Particular Baptist churches were planted in Vermont between Shaftsbury’s beginnings in 1768 and the year 1839. That’s an average of 29 churches planted every 10 years. But then, almost overnight, this growth comes to a halt. Beginning in 1840, Particular Baptists planted 12 churches in 10 years at the same time that 29 churches died. The following decade saw 11 churches planted and 9 die. Since that day, Particular Baptist churches have continued to decline to the present day. Today, of the 243 churches planted by Particular Baptists from 1768-1880, 31 remain, none are Confessional Baptists, and many are liberal.

Today, the state of Vermont whispers of its Particular Baptist heritage in a handful of recent church plants. Today, the state of Vermont remains dry, parched with churches preaching Confessional Baptist doctrine. Besides this, only 54% of Vermont residents profess to be Christian. Of that 54% only 61% believe strongly in God, 34% go to church weekly, and 49% believe their religion is very important.[4] This means that half of the Christians in Vermont profess a Christianity that barely believes in God, hardly ever worships Him, and thinks very little of their own religion. Half of Vermonters profess to be Christians, and half of those “Christians” profess a religion that is not Christianity. What happened? What went wrong between 1840 and 1849 that so strongly killed the Particular Baptist expansion of churches? What happened from 1850-1880 that kept this expansion from reviving? Given the grand work accomplished and the untiring perseverance of Particular Baptists in early 1800s Vermont, how did the state become so dry today? Before we get to the fall of Particular Baptists in Vermont, and the question of how we got here, we must begin with their rise.

 

The Rise and Triumph of Particular Baptists in Vermont (1768-1839)

As previously mentioned, the Shaftsbury church served Vermont for 12 years alone from 1768-1780. In Pownal, there was a small Baptist church that formed for two years only to dissolve in 1774 and reorganize in 1782, but beyond this small church there was only the church of Shaftsbury. From this one church, other churches were planted; from those churches other churches were planted; and from those groups of churches formal associations were organized. This associationalism is key to understanding the rise of Particular Baptists in Vermont. As these churches were organized in associational bonds, they were led by pastors of great faith and strength. These men sought to build up their churches and their associations for the glory of God and the good of the cause. They remain heroes for Reformed Baptists today—although many are unknown—and they served as a primary reason for the faithful growth of Particular Baptist churches throughout Vermont. With faithful pastors associating their churches with one another, the Second Great Awakening swept through Vermont, and a perfect storm of outstanding growth was set. These three factors serve to explain the rise of Particular Baptists in Vermont, and to these three we now turn.

 

Associationalism

The pattern of planting churches that plant churches that form associations is a pattern seen throughout the storied history of the rise of Particular Baptists in Vermont. A fitting example of this can be seen in the Shaftsbury Association. In 1780 the Shaftsbury Association was organized with 5 churches. This association went on to plant churches and organize the Saratoga Association in 1804 with 14 churches, the Hudson River Association in 1815 with 6 churches, the Berkshire Association in 1827 with 14 churches, the Washington Union Association in 1827 with 8 churches; and the Stephentown Association in 1832 with 15 churches.[5] Eventually in 1855, the Shaftsbury Association merged with the Vermont Association which itself had organized the Addison Association in 1833 and the Manchester Association (lasting 10 years) in 1818.[6] This associationalism is key to understanding the rise of Particular Baptists in Vermont.

Many of the Baptist Associations in Vermont, as can be seen by the historical sketch preceding, continuously sought to plant churches, and as these churches began to be planted further away from their home-church, more associations were formed to better suit the new churches. Besides the associations already mentioned, there was the Windham County Association which organized in 1793, having 14 churches in 1796;[7] The Woodstock Association formed in 1783 with 5 churches;[8] and the Richmond Association in 1795 with 5 churches (itself organizing the Fairfield Association in 1812 with 14 churches and the Onion River Association in 1834 with 17 churches—both of which joined together in 1844 to form the Lamoille Association with 27 churches);[9] the Barre Association (commonly called Vermont Central Association) was organized in 1807, having around 12 churches in 1810;[10] and the Danville Association in 1809 with 5 churches.[11]

The above sketch of associations should impress the reader. The Particular Baptists of Vermont believed that their churches could not survive without associating with one another, and these pastors were at pains to uphold that associational bond. A great example of associational work within the Particular Baptists of Vermont can be seen in the Woodstock Association. Elisha Ransom was a traveling minister, filling pulpits as need-be throughout the New England colonies for the Warre association in Rhode Island. In 1780 he came to Woodstock, Vermont where he formed a Baptist church and served as their pastor for close to 20 years.[12] Three years after its organization, the church increased to 80 members and in February of that year they joined with three other churches to form the Woodstock Association.[13] The Association added seven other churches in three years, and by 1828 had 27 churches with a total membership of 2,682 (almost 100 members, on average, per church).[14]

In the minutes of 1786, the Association recorded its sentiments, plan, and articles of faith. As one of the earliest and most influential associations in Vermont, this record of the minutes gives us an opening into what Vermont Associationalism looked like during this period. The sentiments of the Woodstock Association collect the thoughts and judgments of its founders on why such an association is necessary. First, associationalism is “prudent” and “useful” for the churches as it brings about better “union and communion among themselves, maintaining more effectually the order and faith once delivered to the saints, having advice in cases of difficulty, and help in distress, being more able to promote the good of the cause.” Second, Associationalism is “consistent with the independence and power of particular churches, because it pretends to be no other than advisory council, utterly disclaiming superiority, jurisdiction, coercive right and infallibility.” Finally, and because of the former two, the Association “should consist of men knowing and judicious, particularly in the scriptures.”[15]

These sentiments lay forth the why of the Association while the plans lay forth the what. The plan of the association was simple: messengers would be sent to an annual meeting of all the churches where letters from each church would address the Association with updates, needs, questions, and advice. The Association thus gathered would then deliberate on any needs of particular churches and the council necessary to meet those needs. It was here in these gatherings that new churches were to be judged, reviewed, and admitted into the Association by vote. Interestingly, in the very plan of this association is the final note to associate with both the Warren and Shaftsbury Associations. Finally, the articles of faith for the Woodstock Association were those doctrines “set forth in a confession put forth by upward of a hundred congregations (in Great Britain) in the year 1689.”[16] The Woodstock Association, then, followed the London Baptists in doctrine, plan, and sentiment, reflecting the heritage begun in London through their own organization and work.

The work of the Woodstock Association also gives us an opening into what Vermont Associationalism looked like during this period. The first order of business for the Association was within its own bounds as, at each gathering, arrangements “were made for the supply of pastorless churches” so that “the weaker churches were not allowed to go long without preaching.” Crocker’s comments are telling even for us today as this shows the careful thought and the sincere interest “of the stronger churches, and pastors of them, in the welfare of their weaker organizations.”[17] In 1791, the Association began missionary efforts to “journey to the northward to preach the Gospel in a great number of infant settlements . . . through the north part of the State of Vermont.”[18] According to T.H. Archibald, this is the earliest record of missionary efforts by Baptists in America that sought service beyond the borders of its own Association.[19]

The missionary zeal of the Association is one of particular interest. In 1806, the Association formed a missionary society and sent 9 men to plant churches throughout northern Vermont, and continued sending men for many years until in 1825 the society was merged with that of the Vermont Baptist State Convention.[20] In 1814, Luther Rice visited the Woodstock Association and encouraged them to formulate a foreign missions society, and in 1816 the Association did just that. This society supported many missionaries throughout the years including Nathan Brown in 1845 who translated the New Testament in the language of the Assamese and the Japanese. In 1814, the Association also organized a “Charitable Education Society for the purpose of improving the minds of pious youth, who are called to the Gospel ministry.”[21]

When multiplying this associational support and missionary zeal throughout the rest of the Vermont associations, one sees how the Particular Baptists could plant churches throughout the state with such expansive regularity. All of the associations in Vermont were associational minded and mission focused, joining together in the Vermont Baptist State Convention for this very reason. This associationalism is key to understanding how the Vermont Particular Baptists rose to such prominence, but as is the case throughout history, this rise to prominence would have been impossible apart from faithful pastors of untiring perseverance.

 

Pastoral Service

When studying the early Particular Baptists of Vermont, one is easily impressed by the service given to these churches by their pastors. In fact, just as the pastoral service of these men is key to understanding the rise of the Baptists, so the lack of pastoral service in the 1840s and following is key to understanding their fall. An unanswered tension remains between the faithful service of the pastors of this early generation and the unfaithful fickle service of the pastors to follow. One such example of the former is a pastor of the Woodstock Association, Aaron Leland.

Although Leland came to Vermont a year after the formation of the Woodstock Association, they considered him their father at his passing.[22] Leland was 25 years old when he arrived in Chester, Vermont to pastor a small group of Christians there who had requested his service. He remained at the pastorate of the church in Chester for 46 years. The growth of Chester Baptist was slow at first, but the means of its growth is outstanding in highlighting what the Woodstock Association would call Leland’s “untiring perseverance” in pastoring and planting churches.[23] Upon arriving at Chester, Leland took up the pastoral duties over the small flock there. Leland would scour the country for miles around, “Seeking converts, and encouraging Christians, and organizing them into churches.”[24] Cutting paths through forestry, Leland would come upon a town and would preach to the residence. As he made converts, he would return to Chester and those new converts would make their way to Chester on the Lord’s Day or would form their own churches of which Leland pastored. For instance, Rockingham, 8 miles from Chester, recorded the church’s pastor as Leland from 1786-1793. In this way, Leland grew the Chester Church within 10 years to 142 members, leading them through a revival in 1799 where 186 members were added to the church by baptism.[25]

Leland’s example of church planting is also astounding. In 1803, the church at Chester sent out 4 churches in one day to be planted in Cavendish, North Springfield, Andover, and Grafton. This caused the membership of the Chester Church to be reduced from 253 to 79.[26] More concerned for the unreached of Vermont, Leland didn’t mind the smaller numbers within his own fold. Smaller numbers that would swell once again and, under Leland’s hand, would return to 237 by 1831. Upon baptizing his last convert in 1832, just a few weeks before his death, Leland looked to the heavens and proclaimed, “Now Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” After 46 years of service, Leland’s last address to his church in Chester—days before his passing—was remember well, “His whole soul burning with love for Christ and for his people, and with wonderful power he expressed himself.”[27]

Leland was also active in the Woodstock Association, acknowledged and loved as a leader and father. In 26 sessions he was the moderator, in 6 sessions he was the preacher of the annual sermons, and he was also the author of three Circular letters and one Corresponding letter from the association. At other associations, Leland represented Woodstock almost every year, and within the Association itself he was often filling pulpit supplies around Vermont. Leland also formed the constitution of the Association’s Educational Society, was president of the board of the Union Missionary Society of Vermont and New Hampshire, was a founding father of the Vermont Baptist State Convention. In the Baptist State Convention, Leland was one of the only dissenting voices not to form the Convention for fear it “would jeopardize the independence of the churches.”[28] Upon the Convention’s formation, Leland stayed and was voted as its Vice President, serving the Convention until his passing in many different roles. In 1832, Leland passed away at the age of 71, 46 years the pastor of the Chester Baptist Church. After his passing, the Woodstock Association acknowledged his service to the Church, the Association, and Vermont by remembering “the faithful services and untiring perseverance of our lamented father Aaron Leland, long an efficient member of this body.”[29]

 

Conclusion

The Woodstock Association serves as an example of the associational resolve of the Vermont Particular Baptists, and so Aaron Leland serves, in the same way, as an example of the untiring perseverance of the pastors of that land. These two key facets of the Particular Baptists are central to understanding their rise in Vermont. As the Woodstock Association—along with 6 others—formed throughout the state, they did so to ensure the health, prosperity, and missionary work of the churches. Associating in unity over historic Confessional Baptist doctrines, these churches and their pastors sought to build one another up, to fill their pulpits, to send out missionaries, and to form educational institutions for men to be trained and educated for the ministry. The pastors of these associations, much like Aaron Leland, were men of great faith, untiring perseverance, doctrinal conviction, and genuine missionary zeal. These two factors together set the stage for the height of Particular Baptists in Vermont: Over 200 churches planted, 7 associations, hundreds of revivals, missionaries sent throughout Vermont and abroad, and seminaries organized. The years from 1768 to 1839 were fruitful years defined by the blessings of God and work of the Spirit in the midst of the church of Christ.

 

The Fall and Decline of Particular Baptists in Vermont (1840-1849)

So, what happened? How could such faithful work and such ardent fruit grow to spoil to the present day? At this point, the reader may be wondering about the Second Great Awakening and its impact on the Particular Baptists of Vermont, but the Second Great Awakening didn’t reach Vermont until 1835, and even then it was held with some suspicion.[30] Largely brought about by the efforts of Jedidiah Burchard, a revivalist preacher converted under Charles Finney’s preaching, Vermont’s “Great Awakening” didn’t look like the rest of New England.[31] At the time, Vermont was rugged terrain newly settled, and revivals often took place within the context of the local church. Surprisingly, the Congregationalist Churches were wary of Burchard and the Finnian revivals “on social as well as theological grounds.”[32] It is interesting to note that in all the associational minutes during this period, none of the Baptists mention Burchard but many mention revivals as early as 1800 up to 1830—well before Burchard made his way into Vermont.[33] Burchard seemed to have had a much greater sway with the Free Will Baptists; a sway that explains their advancements in number throughout Vermont in the 1830-40s.[34] In this way, the Second Great Awakening did more harm than good for the Particular Baptist churches of Vermont, and was one of the catalysts for the decline of those churches throughout the state. Although it did great harm, it wasn’t the only cause of decline.

 

Millerism and Murrayism

Along with the revivals that swept through the Free Baptist Churches of Vermont, Millerism and Murrayism served great harm to the Particular Baptist cause. Millerism. Millerism, begun by the New York Baptist preacher William Miller, was the idea that Christ’s Second Coming would occur between 1843 and 1844. While Miller was preaching this throughout the 1830s in New York, Millerism swept through Vermont in 1841-1843, and many Particular Baptist churches lost members to its false doctrine.[35] The promise of an imminent return of Christ was too tantalizing, and tickled the ears of not a few.

At the same time that Millerism was wreaking havoc on the churches, Orison Murray began to publish false doctrine widely across the state. Murray was initially a Baptist of high regard who published a paper, the Vermont Telegraph, which was strongly supported by Baptists. But after rejecting the faith, Murray began to subtly interject false doctrine into his Baptist journal. A trusted source, many Baptists in Vermont believed what they were reading and eventually rejected the faith altogether.

 

Anti-Slavery Discussions

Then came the anti-slavery discussions. In the Particular Baptist Churches of Vermont, the discussion regarding slavery was one of strong agreement: slavery is evil and must be abolished. Where the disagreement lie was in how to go about abolishing slavery. Hibbard recounts, “Many were not willing to allow others the liberty of seeking its overthrow in whatever way might seem to them the most promising, and so the discussion grew hot,—nay, almost fierce.”[36] This led to a serious and lengthy disruption of the unity within the churches around 1842 and many left for other like-minded churches outside of their associations. While Millerism and Murrayism were both tearing the church apart, the church itself—agreeing on the abolition of slavery—tore itself apart in disagreeing over how to bring it about. Meanwhile, Free Baptist churches were experiencing the revivals of Burchard and were organizing in towns across the state at excessive rates until the end of the next decade.

 

The Greatest Cause of Decline

Behind all of the reasons previously mentioned, there lies one primary cause for the decline of Particular Baptists in Vermont. Charles Hibbard, addressing the Vermont Baptist State Convention in 1875, recounted the main cause of decline between 1840 and 1849 to “the inefficient ministry.” Hibbard famously said that this cause was “greater than any one—nay, than all these, because it left an open door to them all.”[37] In other words, the Particular Baptists “had no adequate supply of even partially trained men, in the ministry, to meet the evils that came in like a flood.”[38] Therefore, all of the above reasons came and festered in the churches because of a great lack of pastors and church planters equipped and prepared for the life of ministry. The associations continued to fill pulpits where necessary, but pastors could only do so much for other churches. When the Church of Shaftsbury, the first Baptist church of Vermont, lost its pastor after 40 years of service, nobody was there to take up the church. It dissolved one year after the loss of their pastor in 1843.[39] Within the years of 1840-1849 a total of 29 churches dissolved and many held numbers far below the usual of the decades before due to the lack of pastoral care.

This lack of pastoral service is evident through a survey of some of the Vermont churches of the Windham Association. These few churches lend us a picture of the nature of pastoral work across the state. James Mann served the church at Somerset for 17 years from 1812-1829, but 3 years after his leave the church dissolved without a pastor; Jonathan Huntley served the church at Dummerston for 32 years from 1802-1834, but the church remained pastorless for much of the century after Huntley passed away; and James Carpenter served the church at Readsboro for 20 years from 1823-1843, but it dissolved without a pastor soon after Carpenter’s leave.[40] Other churches within the Windham Association and across Vermont saw multiple pastors come and go after faithful pastors left. Phineas Howe served the church at Pondville for 15 years from 1824-1842, but then the church appointed and dismissed 12 pastors until 1880 (each serving an average of 3 years);[41] Mansfield Bruce served the church at Wilmington for 24 years from 1819-1843, but then the church saw 8 pastors come and go until 1880 (each serving an average of 4 years). Even the large churches of the Woodstock Association followed faithful pastorates with short ones. Leland’s church in Chester saw 9 pastors come and go, each serving 5 years on average;[42] and Mount Holly (one the biggest church in the state) saw 13 pastors come and go—each serving 2 years on average—following the pastorate of Packer who served for 34 years.[43]

 

Conclusion

With few exceptions, the picture painted from the above examples is one seen throughout the state of Vermont from 1840-1880. This decline of faithful pastorates serves as the primary reason for all the causes listed previously of the decline of Particular Baptists in Vermont. As pastors of faithful and long service passed away, those who took up the pulpits were men not prepared for such service. Churches saw pastors come and go with shocking regularity, causing unease, disunity, and a lack of spiritual strength among the people. Meanwhile, Millerism, Murrayism, Burchard’s revivals, the anti-slavery debate, and the growth of Free Will Baptists wreaked havoc on a church struggling to fill its pulpits. The following decades of the 1880s saw a continuation of these struggles, and the decline only hastened to its end.

 

The Continual Decline of Particular Baptists in Vermont (1850-1885)

The pressing question of the following era no longer regards how the Particular Baptists declined as they did, but rather, how they continued to decline without much resistance. From 1840 to 1849, the Particular Baptists experienced an exodus of its members due to multiple attacks on the unity of the churches. From theological differences to social issues, the Particular Baptists saw many churches split, dissolved, or lose members. All the while, its pastors were serving an average of 2-3 years. No healthy church can remain healthy while 15 different pastors come and go in 2-year increments. Unfortunately, this pattern of pastoral service continued throughout the rest of the 1800s. But so did other struggles. The Catholics and Unitarians, who had been in Vermont for over a hundred years, grew exponentially due to immigration in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Then came the Civil War, and by the 1870s, the Particular Baptists couldn’t seem to recover. This last era of 100 years of associationalism continues the story of decline.

 

Catholics and Unitarians in the 1850s

The Roman Catholic Church had been present in Vermont since the early 1600s as Jesuit Missionaries made journeys into the state to convert the Native Americans there.[44] But the Catholic presence in Vermont wasn’t felt until much later in the 1850s. For instance, in 1830 there were just 1,000 Catholics in Vermont, but by 1853 there were 20,000.[45] It was in that year, 1853, that the Burlington Diocese was formed, overseeing the organization of many Catholic churches throughout Vermont in the years to come.[46] The growth of Catholic churches throughout Vermont can be explained by the Irish Potato Famine that began in 1845. These Irish immigrants were overwhelmingly Catholic and the period of their greatest migration to Vermont—and the rest of America—was the late 1840s through the 1850s.[47] In this context, from 1850-1880, the Particular Baptists saw more Catholic families migrate to their towns than they saw Baptist churches planted. The Catholic boom was here, and the “glory days” of Particular Baptists in Vermont was over.

In this period, with the Catholic Church booming and the Particular Baptist churches continuing to decline, the Unitarians continued their growth. Denominationally, Unitarians had but 4 congregations in the 1850s, but theologically, Unitarianism had an imposing presence in Vermont from as early as the late 1700s. By the mid-1800s Unitarianism was settled and secure in almost every major town of Vermont.[48] A quick survey of Unitarian churches in Vermont today shows Unitarianism has continued to surge to the present day. Churches holding Unitarian views of the Trinity can be found in almost every town across Vermont. The Catholics have continued to grow as well. According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, Catholics make up the largest denomination in the state today.[49] Following the massive decline of Particular Baptists of the 1840s, the following decade saw both Catholics and Unitarianism grow at exceeding rates. Today, Catholics and Mainline Liberal Protestants make up the largest portion of Christianity in Vermont. The cause of this can be traced as far back as the 1850s.

 

The Civil War in the 1860s

For Vermont—as with every state—the Civil War caused unspeakable “anxiety, suffering, sacrifice, and sorrow [for] those who remained at home,” including “the trials endured by the Baptists of Vermont.”[50] Vermont, at the time of the Civil War, was still very small and rural. Therefore, the war was especially hard on the state and the churches there. As Crocker recounts, “Heavily drained of its able bodied men . . . without large towns or floating population, and having thus much less than the average proportion of the material out of which modern armies are made,” Vermont still “sent to the war ten men for every one hundred of its total population.” In short, “In proportion to her population Vermont had more of her sons killed in battle than any other northern state.”[51] This loss was no doubt felt among the Particular Baptists. By 1862, the Vermont Baptist State Convention reported of its churches, “They have been perplexed more than they can describe in ascertaining the path of duty . . . Their numbers have been diminished, and their [financial] ability reduced, by the enlistment of their members.”[52] This “demand upon our people for money, as well as men, was heavy and continued” throughout the period of the war and even after.[53] War doesn’t end overnight, and neither does enlistment or the need for financial support.

 

Pastoral Service in the 1870s

Throughout the 1870s, the minutes of the State Convention meetings were taken up with the embarrassment and special mention of the instability of pastoral service. For instance, in 1870, the Convention noted regretfully, “The frequent changes occurring throughout the state in the pastoral relation. The feebleness and consequent inefficiency of a large proportion of our churches is due, in a great measure, we believe, to this cause.” The Convention keenly noted that “more is lost in one change than can be regained in a three or four years’ pastorate.” The extent of this “evil” (as the Convention called it) was startling since “forty of these changes have occurred, within the bounds of the Convention, during the year under review [1870].” The board then recommended a Committee to prepare an extensive report on this issue which was read at the next year’s Convention meeting. The Convention Committee set the cause of pastoral changes “in the want of love between pastor and people, or any real, earnest desire to make the relation permanent, and, consequently, a want of a willingness to make the proper sacrifices and put forth the proper effort.”[54] Unfortunately in 1880, with the close of 100 years of associationalism in Vermont, this evil persisted. As both the Shaftsbury and Woodstock associations celebrated 100 years in 1880 and 1882, ministerial changes were still causes of anxiety. By 1883, “More than one-third of the pastors enrolled had changed church relations.”[55] The 1880 report by the Committee on Convention Work closes the century of associationalism on a sad note, “While the denomination has increased six-fold in the country during the [last] fifty years, it has increased by one-fifth in Vermont.”[56] This increase continued to slow and the pastorate saw continual decline of faithfulness and longevity up to the present day. The primary cause for Vermont’s barrenness of Confessional Baptist churches began in the 1840s, continued through the rest of the century, and remains the same today: the lack of qualified and well-equipped men of God.

 

Conclusion

The first 100 years of Particular Baptist associationalism in Vermont was marked by early flashes of increase and blessing only to be followed by a drastic decline and a continual stagnation. The first 50 years of associations in Vermont are a testament to faithful pastors and zealous believers, both committed to the doctrines of the Reformation and the distinctives of the Baptist faith. Associations like Woodstock, Richmond, and the Baptist State Convention are examples of the Particular Baptists’ adherence to the vitality of associationalism. Churches were rarely—if ever—planted apart from a mother-church and association. The Particular Baptist heritage of Vermont is also expressed in its pastors of the first 50 years. Men like Aaron Leland served their churches for decades, and served them well. They planted other churches, were active in their associations, and were involved in the community in which they lived.

The 1840s tell a new and different story. Associations began to break apart, churches declined in membership, and pastors served an average of 2-3 years. By the 1850s, the Particular Baptists and their churches were hurting. The growth of the Catholics and Unitarians, along with the Civil War and the continual lack of faithful pastors, gave the Particular Baptists very little opportunity to recover from the major losses of the 1840s. The end of a century of associationalism is a song of lacking. But this isn’t the very end of the story.

The landscape of Confessional Baptists in Vermont remains scarce, but good work is being done and faithful pastors are serving their churches. The last 30 years have seen a resurgence of church planting in Vermont among Baptists and Evangelicals. A good example of this is Christ Memorial Church outside of Burlington, Vermont. In January of 1991, Wes and Sue Pastor made their way to Burlington, and in 1992 they planted Christ Memorial Church. Wes Pastor has faithfully served Christ Memorial since that day, a pastorate of almost 30 years. In the year 2000, Christ Memorial launched NETS, a center for church planting throughout New England.[57] Since then, NETS has planted 6 churches, is currently revitalizing 3, and is affiliated and supporting 5 churches—all within New England (7 of which are in Vermont). NETS, is an interdenominational organization within the Reformed tradition, with most of its church plants holding to the First London Confession of Faith of 1646. These churches association with one another and seek to continue the associational heritage of the Particular Baptists of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Along with NETS, there are many Evangelical endeavors to plant and support Christ-centered and orthodox churches throughout Vermont. These include Small Town Summits, The Gospel Coalition, Vermont Church Planting, Rivertown Church in Brattleboro, and New King Church in Burlington which has just planted Redeemer Church in St. Albans, a church confessing the 1689 Confession. There are also orthodox Baptist churches throughout Vermont that are Calvinistic and doing wonderful work for God. For instance, Concord Community Church was organized in 1844 by Universalists, but became evangelical in the 1970s and 1980s, joined the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999, and moved towards Reformed theology in 2011. Churches such as these are still too few for a state the size of Vermont. Vermont continues to be a post-Christian state with the majority of professing Christians in Vermont not even believing in God. The need for church planters and pastors of Vermont to recover our confessional heritage has never been greater.

 

About the Author

Cody Edds is pursuing an MDiv at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary and is a member of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Lookout Mountain, TN. Cody and his wife Amber live in Fort Oglethorpe, GA with their sons Zechariah and Daniel.

 

 

[1] Stephen Wright, History of the Shaftsbury Baptist Association (Troy, NY: A.G. Johnson, 1853), 16.

[2] Henry Crocker, History of the Baptists in Vermont (Bellows Falls, VT: P.H. Gobie Press, 1913), 18.

[3] Ibid., 35.

[4] The Pew Research Center, “Christians who are in Vermont,” Pew Research Center, accessed August 20, 2021, https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/state/vermont/christians/christian/.

[5] Wright, Shaftsbury, 246-254.

[6] Crocker, History, 44.

[7] Ibid., 185.

[8] Ibid., 225.

[9] Ibid., 343-346.

[10] Ibid., 285.

[11] Ibid., 314.

[12] David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America (Boston: Lincoln & Edmands, 1813), 343.

[13] Issac Backus, Church History of New England (Boston: Manning & Loring, 1796), 297-298.

[14] Crocker, History, 226. 

[15] Ibid., 227

[16] Ibid., 230.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 231.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Albert Vail, The Morning Hour of American Baptist Missions (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 119.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Henry Crocker, Elder Aaron Leland (Burlington: Vermont Baptist Historical Society, 1906), 39.

[23] Ibid., 39.

[24] Ibid., 10.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 11.

[27] Ibid., 24.

[28] Ibid., 28.

[29] Ibid., 39.

[30] Henry Muller, “Jedidiah Burchard and Vermont’s ‘New Measure’ Revivals; Social Adjustment and the Quest for Unity,” Vermont History 46 no. 1 (1978): 7.

[31] Ibid., 8.

[32] Ibid., 9.

[33] Crocker, History, 168.

[34] Muller, “Jedidiah Burchard,” 8.

[35] Crocker, History, 461.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 463.

[39] Ibid., 61.

[40] Ibid., 190-193.

[41] Ibid., 202.

[42] Ibid., 247.

[43] Ibid., 265.

[44] Andrew Beaupré “’The Jesuit Mission Proves We Were Here’: The Case of Eighteenth-Century Jesuit Missions Aiding Twenty-First Century Tribal Recognition”, Journal of Jesuit Studies 8, no. 3 (2021): 454.

[45] William Lucey, “The Diocese of Burlignton, Vermont: 1853,” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia 64, no. 3 (1953): 136.

[46] Richard Clarke, History of the Catholic Church in the United States from the Earliest Period to the Present Time (Philladephia: Gebbie & Co., 1890), 28.

[47] Gene Sessions, “Years of Struggle: The Irish in the Village of Northfield, 1845-1900,” Vermont History 55, no. 2 (1987): 69.

[48] Zadock Thompson, History of Vermont: Natural, Civil, and Statistical (Burlington: Chauncey Goodrich, 1842), 189.

[49] The Pew Research Center, “Christians who are in Vermont,” Pew Research Center, accessed August 20, 2021, https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/state/vermont/christians/christian/.

[50] Crocker, History, 474.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., 480.

[53] Ibid., 482.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 489.

[56] Ibid., 490.

[57] Christ Memorial Church Website, “Our Story,” accessed August 23, 2021, https://www.cmcvermont.org/our-story

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Man of God phone
Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

“Is it true that all people are equally sinful? If someone has sinful anger in his heart, but never acts on it, is that person really the same as someone who has sinful anger in his heart and then murders his whole family?”

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