Three years after the township of Caroline, New York was organized in 1811, Baptists followed by organizing the First Baptist Church of Caroline. According to an historical sketch of Tompkins County penned in 1894, “This society [i.e. the First Baptist Church] was organized in 1814 with fourteen members and Rev. Pliny SABIN pastor. In 1848 a house of worship was erected; this was removed in 1863 and a neat building erected at Brookton, which was dedicated January 11, 1864; its cost was $2,500. The society also owns a parsonage. The pastor is Rev. William A. HOUSE” (emphasis original).
Beginning in 1834, William Spaulding became Pastor and served until 1862 (minus one year sabbatical).1 According to Lewis Halsey in the History of the Seneca Baptist Association with Sketches of Churches and Pastors (1879), a controversy arose in the otherwise peaceful and stable Caroline church over missions and the death of Jesus. Halsey explains:
The church seems to have enjoyed peace and prosperity from its organization up to 1839, when a rupture occurred on account of differences of opinion in regard to the doctrines and practices of the church. The two parties called themselves respectively “New School” and “Old School.” The old school held to “particular atonement,” and were opposed to missions and benevolent organizations. The pastor, Elder Spaulding, and the other portion of the church, declared for “general atonement,” and in favor of benevolent and missionary societies. A large minority seceded, and organized a church known as the old school Baptist church of Caroline. They built a church edifice in 1843. Their present pastor is Elder Kinner Hollister. Trustees, Jacob Lane, Geo. E. Stevens, Chas. Bogardus; number of members thirty-two. They claimed to be the original church, and that the other body, adopting modern views of doctrine, had left them.
According to Halsey, the Caroline church embraced “general atonement,” an atonement Spaulding apparently preached to them for over a quarter century.2
The historical record seems to continually demonstrate the controversial element strict Calvinism injects into Baptist life. Spaulding does not seem to have been a contentious fellow. In fact, Halsey describes Spaulding as a Baptist church “patriarch” who, after resigning the pastorate because of failing health in 1862, retained his membership in the church until his death in 1877. “For more than fifty years he was known among the churches as a faithful minister, and he died in the triumphs of faith. When the Seneca Association met here in 1876, he was able to take part in its deliberations, and dismissed its messengers with the apostolic benediction.”
What is more, Halsey goes on to indicate other Baptist churches in the Seneca association had the same theological reservations about “particular atonement” as did the Caroline church.
Both parties called councils from sister churches known to favor their respective views, and each was sustained by its own councils.
Unlike today, it was common then to call sister churches to assist in deciding on a particular issue. Notice both the “particular atonement” advocates and the “general atonement” supporters had churches which supported their respective views.
Does this sound as if strict Calvinism with its unrelenting insistence upon “particular atonement” held the theological lien on the title to Baptist theology?
History vindicates the theological richness of Baptist life not the historical reductionism of theological polemicists.
1Contrarily, Halsey’s History identifies the first pastor as Benjamin Oviatt with Pliny Sabin coming only after four other pastors served the Caroline church (p.120) Halsey indicates all six pastors served prior to 1834 when Spaulding was called as Pastor.
2Unless, of course, Spaulding had changed his mind about “particular atonement” somewhere amidst those 26 years he served as pastor