Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 276 - 279)

J. P. Kefauver was born December 19, 1819, near Roanoke, Virginia. He was an only son of Jacob and Nancy (Vinyard) Kefauver. His father was from Maryland, and was of German extraction. His mother was from Washington City, and her ancestors were French. Brother Kefauver was a classical scholar, having had good educational advantages from his youth, first in the nearby district schools, and later a five Years' course in what is now Hollins Institute, then a first class high school for boys as well as girls. In early manhood he was married to Miss Sarah Sively, of Virginia, who brightened his life for one brief year and died.

At the age of 20 he was converted and received what he felt to be a divine call to the ministry. He was ordained to the work of the ministry, December 11, 1857, by the authority of Blue Ridge Church, of which he was a member - the credentials given him by the ordaining council bearing the signatures of "Thomas C. Goggin, David Staley, Geo. W.  Leftwich,  Pleasant Brown." He came to East Tennessee in the fall of 1861. On December 12, 1861, he was married to Miss Nannie R. Cooke, daughter of Dr. Robert F. Cooke, of Madisonville, Monroe County. To this union were born two sons and two daughters.

For seven years Elder Kefauver had the pastoral oversight of the First Church of Chattanooga, during and following the e Civil War, protecting the sheep as best he could from the dogs of war, and rehabilitating the church, by the kindly aid of the brethren of the North, after the desolating winds of war had passed over it, leaving wreck and ruin in their wake. At the close of the war, in company with Dr. J. R. Graves, he attended the General Convention of Baptists, meeting in Chicago, and was invited to make a statement before that body of the condition of Baptist affairs in Tennessee, and particularly in Chattanooga. When he had made his talk, the convention with one accord voted to furnish money with which to reseat and repair the house of worship for the Chattanooga brethren. The house was repaired and Brother Kefauver still served as pastor till the death of his father-in-law, Dr. Cooke, made it necessary for him to turn over the work of rebuilding Baptist interests in Chattanooga to other hands, in order to take charge of a large farm and business which had been willed to his wife. But notwithstanding this extra burden thrust upon him, he continued to do a great deal of preaching and pastoral work, in Monroe, McMinn and adjoining counties. He was pastor, at different times, of Sweetwater, Old Sweetwater, Prospect, Madisonville and other churches. He was a great constructive force in the Sweetwater Association. He was a man of convictions and used great plainness of speech in teaching the churches their duty to support the ministry and to give to missions. In emphasizing the apostolic injunction that "they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel," he did real and effective pioneer work. He believed that a church ought to have a Scripture warrant, a "thus saith the Lord," for every item of its faith and practice, and that the preacher ought to "declare the whole counsel of God" on all questions of truth and duty, the question of "giving" included. When he took charge of the Madisonville Church the church was considerably in debt. Instead of preaching to the church for nothing till it could pay off the debt, he instructed the church to pay on the debt what they "owed" him as pastor. For a number of years he served, under the direction of the Home Mission Board of New York, as a missionary to "destitute fields," on a salary of $1,000 a year, and did effective work in that capacity - his labors being greatly blessed of the Lord in leading souls to Christ. His sermons, on all occasions, were "argumentative, backed up by Scripture quotations, and were convincing and effective. He was composed and dignified in the pulpit, and his manner more conversational than otherwise." Such men as W. A. Nelson and I. B. Kimbrough and others paid him this compliment: "To attend his preaching and hear his lectures is like being in a theological school; he knows how to expound the Scriptures and teach the people." From a Baptist layman, who heard him often, we have this testimony: "Elder Kefauver was clear-headed, scholarly and sound. He was systematic in the discussion of any subject, setting his Scripture proofs in order with great clearness and force. In receiving members into the church, I have noted that he was always careful to stress the Scriptural evidences of conversion, thus safe-guarding the purity of the church and at the same time keeping many a soul from Satan's snare of self-deception."

After a long illness, this faithful servant of the Lord was called from his earthly labors to the heavenly rest, June 6, 1893, trusting in God and rejoicing in Christ as his Savior, making the request that nothing be placed on his tombstone but the words, "Saved by Grace." His association (Sweet water) memorialized him by a committee report, which bore testimony to the "integrity" of his character, his "devotion" to the cause of Christ, his great "interest in the fifth Sunday meetings, and the faithfulness of a ministry that was blessed of the Lord in winning many souls to Christ."

Elder Kefauver is survived by his widow, a woman of Christian culture and consecration, and the four children, two sons and two daughters.

NOTE: : As a sidelight on the character of Elder Kefauver I append the following incident: On a certain occasion, at the close of a protracted meeting, Elder Kefauver was to preach by request on "The Subjects and Mode of Baptism." The house was filled with an expectant audience. Entering the stand to begin the services, he found a note on the pulpit, addressed to the preacher, which read as follows: "Will the reverend gentleman please tell us how Paul was baptized? The Bible says he was on a street called Straight, in the house of Judas. We suppose he will construct a pool in that house for the purpose of dipping." Reading the note aloud he said to the audience, without a moment's hesitation: "I will let Paul answer this question for himself." So he turned to the sixth chapter of Romans and the second chapter of Colossians and read to the audience where Paul speaks of his baptism as a "burial," as a "baptism into death," and as a "resurrection" to a new life. Having read the passages, letting Paul answer for himself, he laid the note aside and proceeded with the services.


Burnett, J .J.  Sketches of  Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers.  Nashville, Tenn.:  Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.


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