Primitive Baptists

Primitive Baptists
   The Primitive Baptists (also called Hard-shell or Old School Baptists) emerged in the 1820s as Luther Rice (1783-1836) moved through the United States to organize support among American Baptists for the new enterprise of foreign missions. The first gathering of the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions (generally called the Triennial Convention as it met every three years) was held in 1814; it expanded its concern three years later to include home missions and education. Several organizations were set up for these purposes, each of which received moneys from Baptist congregations and developed programs for all of them. Simultaneously, Sunday schools gained a foothold; by the 1820s, Sunday schools were being organized by most Baptist congregations.
   Not all Baptists were happy with foreign missions or Sunday schools. Theologically, their conservative Calvinist faith did not support efforts to convert the heathen either at home or abroad, the spread of faith being God's work alone. They also found no Scripture to support the idea of Sunday schools.
   By 1827, the Kehukee Association of churches in North Carolina issued statements rejecting both missions and Sunday schools. over the next decade, additional associations aligned with Kehukee, and individual churches withdrew from their local associations to create new anti-mission and anti-Sunday school associations. A number of Baptist elders and members met at Black Rock, Maryland, on September 28, 1832, and published their Black Rock Address, which explained their intention to withdraw fellowship from those adhering to the new innovative practices.
   The Primitive Baptist movement is conservative in its Calvinist faith and strictly congregational in polity. They tend to identify with one of three subgroups. The main body accept "conditional time salvation," meaning that while God predestined who would be among the elect, it was up to each person to manifest their salvation. The Absoluters suggested that God predestined all things. The Progressives, the last group to arrive on the scene, adopted a number of innovations rejected by the other two groups. The Primitive Baptists are strongest in the American South, and a fourth subgroup is defined solely by race. African-American Primitive Baptists organized the National Primitive Baptist Convention in 1907.
   Primitive Baptist Churches form associations of churches in any geographical region, purely for fellowship purposes. Each association has a statement of faith that represents the agreed upon standard for a congregation's membership. Individual associations issue and receive letters from other associations of like mind.
   Among the practices rejected by the Primitive Baptists was instrumental music, the spread of the organs in the 19th century being a sign of affluence in different churches. Within the churches, a form of hymn singing known as shaped note or Sacred Harp music identified with Primitive Baptists has enjoyed a revival in the last generation by those interested in folk music.
   Because of its extreme congregationalism, it is difficult to get an accurate count of membership. Estimates run from 50,000 to 70,000.
   Further reading:
   ■ John G. Crowley, Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1998)
   ■ Beverly Bush Patterson, The Sound of the Dove: Singing in the Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995)
   ■ James L. Peacock and Ruel W. Tyson Jr., Pilgrims of Paradox: Calvinism and Experience among the Primitive Baptists of the Blue Ridge (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989)
   ■ Albert W. Wardin, ed., Baptists Around the World (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1995).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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