Please pardon the fact that this is almost two weeks late, but I thought it a neat item to post. In teaching about BW Stone, I’ve found this particular episode quite poignant. Pedagogically, it gives a wonderful window into Stone and his issues with the Presbyterian climate surrounding him. In other words, a discussion of doctrine gets helped along by Stone’s very human struggle. Life and doctrine are intertwined, as Stone’s life reveals (so it also for us…a point we may miss if we do not purposefully attend to it). Historically, it is a crucial bridge between his very early life experiences with David Caldwell over against his Anglican family roots and Stone’s openness during and after the Revival. Theologically, it is a helpful opening to discuss creeds, freedom of thought and the nature of an oradined ministry. So…I really like it. And it happened 210 years ago last week.
Two-hundred ten years ago today, on October 4, 1798, Barton Warren Stone was ordained to the Christian ministry serving the congregations of Concord and Cane Ridge, Kentucky. It was not an easy process, for Stone had misgivings about the creedal nature and theological content of the Confession of Faith. He preserved for us–in his Autobiography–his soul-searching in the days leading up to the ordination:
In the fall of 1798, a call from the united congregations of Caneridge and Concord was presented me, through the Presbytery of Transylvania. I accepted; and a day not far ahead was appointed for my ordination. Knowing that at my ordination I should be required to adopt the Confession of Faith, as the system of doctrines taught in the Bible, I determined to give it a careful examination once more. This was to me almost the beginning of sorrows. I stumbled at the doctrine of the Trinity as taught in the Confession; I labored to believe it, but could not conscientiously subscribe to it. Doubts, too, arose in my mind on the doctrines of election, reprobation, and predestination, as there taught. I had before this time learned from my superiors the way of divesting those doctrines of their hard, repulsive features, and admitted them as true, yet unfathomable mysteries. Viewing them as such, I let them alone in my public discourse, and confined myself to the practical part of religion, and to subjects within my depth. But in re-examining these doctrines, I found the covering put over them could not hide them from a discerning eye with close inspection. Indeed, I saw they were necessary to the system without any covering.
In this state of mind, the day appointed for my ordination found me. I had determined to tell the Presbytery honestly the state of my mind, and to request them to defer an ordination until I should be better informed and settled. The Presbytery came together, and a large congregation attended. Before its constitution, I took aside the two pillars of it, Doct. James Blythe and Robert Marshall, and made known to them my difficulties and objections. They asked me how far I was willing to receive the confession? I told them, as far as I saw it consistent with the word of God. They concluded that was sufficient. I went into Presbytery, and when the question was proposed, “Do you receive and adopt the Confession of Faith, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Bible?” I answered aloud, so that the whole congregation might hear, “I do, as far as I see it consistent with the word of God.” No objection being made, I was ordained.