Kelleyite Churches of Christ

The Kelleyite Churches of Christ constitute a small Christian denomination located in west central Arkansas. Its founder was the Reverend Samuel Kelley, a Baptist preacher from Illinois who lived in southern Pike County.

Although Kelley claimed to be orthodox in his beliefs, his strong advocacy of the possibility of “final apostasy” caused him to be excluded from the local Missionary Baptist associations in 1856 and 1858. Shortly after the Civil War, he became the pastor of the Philippi Missionary Baptist Church in western Hot Spring County. About 1866, a controversy arose within Philippi congregation over allowing non-Baptists to participate in the church’s communion service. Within a short while, the church rejected its traditional Missionary Baptist beliefs and adopted Rev. Kelley’s theology. It also advocated an open communion policy. Kelley’s new church took the name of the Philippi “Church of Christ.” In 1870, it ordained its first minister, Dr. George W. Hunt. He quickly became a leader within the movement. The organization of additional churches soon followed.

Although maintaining the name “Church of Christ,” over the years the churches have been known as the “Kelley” Churches, the “Kelleyites,” or the “Church of Christ—Kelleyites.” In 1893, the denomination founded the Council of the Church of Christ as an advisory body. By 1910, the Kelleyites had some eleven congregations located in Hot Spring, Garland, Clark, and Montgomery counties. However, by 1940, only seven remained. Today, there are five active congregations: Philippi, Pleasant Hill, Oak Bower, and Prairie Bayou in Hot Spring County and Shiloh in northern Clark County. In order to distinguish themselves from the much larger Churches of Christ movement, these churches stress the use of musical instruments in their worship services.

For additional information:
Hughes, Willard D. Welcome, Church of Christ—Instrumental: A Study of the Kelleyites. Little Rock: Baptist Seminary Press, 1977.

Records of the Council of the Kelleyite Churches of Christ 1893–1967. Microfilm. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Russell P. Baker
Arkansas History Commission and State Archives


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