BAPTISTS IN THE UNITED STATES—IRREGULAR BAPTIST BODIES
THUS far we have considered only the “Regular” Baptists in the United States. There are numerous other bodies that agree with these “ Regular” Baptists in their fundamental doctrine of the constitution of the church and the nature of baptism. Any Christian body that practises believers’ baptism—meaning by “baptism” immersion, and by “believer” one who gives credible evidence of regeneration—is fundamentally Baptist, by whatever name it may be called, or whatever may be its oddities of doctrine or practice in other respects.
The earliest of the irregular Baptist bodies—and the term “ irregular” is used simply as a distinguishing epithet, with no idea of disparagement—are various organizations that differ somewhat among themselves, but agree in holding an Arminian theology. The first of these to become definitely organized were the Six-principle Baptists. They have existed in Rhode Island from 1639, some of the original members of the church founded at Providence by Roger Williams seemingly having been of that persuasion. From 1670 they have held a definite standing, and, as we have seen, their yearly meeting in New England was the second organization of the kind to be formed. A second yearly meeting or Association was afterward formed in Pennsylvania, where it still exists, with a membership of five churches. In all, this body has but eighteen churches and not a thousand members.
In 1729 a number of Baptist churches in North Carolina that held Arminian notions joined in an Association. Some of these afterward became “Regular,” and the rest were popularly known as “Freewillers.” This name was accepted after a time as a fitting one, and still later, to distinguish themselves from other bodies of like name, they called themselves Original Freewill Baptists. Their Confession of Faith is distinctly Arminian, not merely in asserting that Christ tasted death for every man, but that all men, at one time or another, are found in such capacity as that, through the grace of God, they may be eternally saved. They also hold that God has not decreed the salvation or condemnation of any “out of respect or mere choice,” but has appointed the godly unto life and the ungodly who die in sin unto death. They practise the washing of the saints’ feet and the anointing of the sick with oil, as perpetual ordinances of the gospel. A plural eldership is also a feature of their churches. There are three annual conferences, which have more power than the regular Association, since they can try and “silence” preachers and settle difficulties between the churches. They had in 1890 in the two Carolinas one hundred and sixty-seven churches and eleven thousand eight hundred and sixty-four members.
The body better known as Freewill Baptists dates, as a separate organization, from 1780, when Benjamin Randall organized the first church of this order at New Durham, N. H. He had been converted under the preaching of Whitefield, and was at first a Congregationalist, but adopted Baptist views and joined a Regular Baptist church. Before this he had begun to preach the gospel with much acceptance and power. In his preaching he declared that God was not willing that any should perish, that a full atonement had been made for the sins of all, and that every man might, if he would, come to Christ—such doctrine as every successful evangelist has preached. But the Baptists of his time and region were of the straitest sect of Calvinism and would have none of this theology. In a brief time Mr. Randall found himself practically disfellowshiped, though he was never formally excluded by his church. In 1780 he was ordained by two Baptist ministers who shared his views, and the new denomination began. It rapidly extended in New England, and in 1841 the Free-communion Baptists of New York united with this body. Before this, in 1827, a General Conference had been organized, which formerly met triennially, but of late years holds biennial meetings.
During the anti-slavery agitation the Freewill Baptists took strong ground in favor of abolition, and declined overtures for union made by about twelve thousand Baptists of Kentucky, because the latter favored slavery. The Freewill Baptist Foreign Mission Society was organized in 1833, and has a vigorous mission in India. A Home Mission Society was formed in 1834, and an Education Society in 1840. The denomination sustains Hillsdale College, in Michigan; Bates College, in Maine; besides numerous schools of academic grade. It also has a publishing house, formerly located at Dover, N. H., but now at Boston, Mass. The official name of the body was changed some years ago to Free Baptists, though they are still usually called by the old and better-known name. Their numbers are now under ninety thousand. The old asperities of theological difference have been greatly softened, and many suggestions have been made in recent years for the union of the Free and “Regular” Baptists. Thus far possibly the chief barrier against such union has been the teaching of the Free Baptists that participation in the Lord’s Supper is the “privilege and duty of all who have spiritual union with Christ,” and “no man has a right to forbid these tokens to the least of his disciples.” No other Christian body has, in its official confessions, declared that the unbaptized have either right or duty to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
The rise of the Separate Baptists, in connection with the Whitefield revivals, has already been told. They were also known as Free-communion Baptists. In the Northern States they have been largely absorbed by the Free Baptists, and in the South most of them reunited after a time with the Regular Baptists. Two Associations in the South, which still retain the name Separate, are counted with the Regular Baptists, but a single Association in Indiana still refuses any fellowship with the Regular Baptist churches. There are twenty-four churches in this Association, which had one thousand five hundred and ninety-nine members in 189o. When the “Separates” and “Old Lights” united in the South they assumed the name of United Baptists at first. For the most part this name was gradually dropped, and the United Baptists became simply Baptists and are reckoned with the “Regulars.” But in a number of States (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee) there are still churches and Associations that retain the name United and hold aloof from all other organizations. In 189o there were two hundred and four churches of this order and thirteen thousand two hundred and nine members. The terms of the union provided that the teaching of a general atonement should be no bar to communion, but most of the United Baptists are Calvinistic in theology. They hold that feet-washing should be practised by all believers.
In 1824 an Association called the Liberty was organized in Kentucky, composed of churches holding Arminian views, but practicing strict communion. In 1830 they adopted the practice of open communion, and in so revised their articles of faith as to make them more unmistakably Arminian. Churches of this order were rapidly organized in the neighboring States, especially Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, and everywhere bore the name of General Baptists. The connection of this body with those of the same name in England is shadowy, if not impossible to trace. In 1870 a General Association was formed that represents three hundred and ninety-nine churches in seven Western and Southern States, with a membership of twenty-one thousand three hundred and sixty-two.
There are also a number of Calvinistic Baptist bodies that for one reason or another decline fellowship with the Regular Baptists. A considerable number of Baptists in the early part of this century separated from the other churches on account of doctrinal and practical differences. Holding a hyper-Calvinistic theology, they were opposed to missions, Sunday-schools, and all “contrivances which seem to make the salvation of men depend on human effort.” These differences may have been latent from an earlier time, but they first began to manifest themselves actively about 1830, and from 1835 onward they produced schisms in many churches and Associations. They call themselves Primitive Baptists, and have been called by others “Anti-mission,” “ Old School,” and “ Hard-shell “ Baptists. Their Associations decline fellowship with any church that supports any “missionary, Bible, tract, or Sunday-school union society or advocates State Conventions or theological schools.” Washing of the saints’ feet they hold to be an ordinance of the gospel to be continued until Christ’s second coming. They have churches in twenty-eight States, and are strong in the country districts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. There has been an impression until late years that they had become a feeble body, rapidly on the way to extinction. Such is undoubtedly the case in the North, but in the South they seem to be not merely holding their own, but increasing. Jn 1890 they had three thousand two hundred and twenty-two churches and one hundred and twenty-one thousand three hundred and forty-seven members.
Even more fiercely Calvinistic are the Old Two-seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, who are said to owe their origin to the curious theology of Elder Daniel Parker, a Baptist minister who labored in the States of Tennessee and Illinois from 1830 to 1836. Parker taught that part of Eve’s offspring were the seed of God and elect to eternal life; part were the seed of Satan and foreordained to the kingdom of eternal darkness. By the divine decree all events whatever, from the creation to the final consummation, were foreordained, so that nothing can interfere with or change his plans. Many of these Baptists object to a paid ministry, and they agree with the Primitive Baptists in reprobation of all “modern institutions,” including theological schools. They practise feet-washing. In 1890 they had four hundred and seventy-three churches and twelve thousand eight hundred and fifty-one members, distributed through twenty-four States. They are strongest in Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas.
The Baptist Church of Christ seems to have originated in Tennessee, where the oldest organizations were formed in 1808, and where more than half the membership is still found. From this center they have spread to six other States, and in 1890 had one hundred and fifty-two churches and eight thousand two hundred and fifty-four members. They are mildly Calvinistic and practise feet-washing.
The Seventh-day Baptists had their origin in Rhode Island, a church being founded at Newport in 1671 by Stephen Mumford, who had been a Sabbatarian Baptist in England. A General Conference was organized early in the present century, which has met triennially since 1846. They formed a foreign missionary society in 1842, and support a tract and publishing house. Their headquarters are at Alfred Center, N. Y. Here they maintain a college, while another is located at Milton, Wis. They have one hundred and twelve churches, and over nine thousand members. German immigrants, settling at what is now Germantown, Pa., in 1723, formed the first German Seventh-day Baptist church. According to the census of 1890, there were then one hundred and six churches of this order in twenty-four States, and nine thousand one hundred and forty-three members. The Seventh-day Baptists are strongest in New York, one-fourth of the churches and one-third of the members being found in that State.
Thus far all of the irregular Baptist bodies that we have considered embody the word Baptist in their official titles. There are a number of other bodies, called by various names, that accept the fundamental principle of believers’ baptism. The most important of these is a body that calls itself simply “The Brethren,” but is usually called Dunkards, sometimes Tunkers, and occasionally “German Baptists”; but they are not to be confounded with the regular German Baptists. The Dunkards originated in Schwartzenau, Germany, about 1708. To escape persecution they emigrated to Pennsylvania, where they settled in considerable numbers from 1719 to 1730, and have prospered greatly in numbers and wealth. They hold in the main the same doctrines as the “Regular” Baptists, but add some peculiarities of practice, chief among which is trine immersion. The candidate kneels in the water, and is immersed forwards at the naming of each person of the Trinity in the baptismal formula. They have an ordained ministry, but pay ministers no salary, regarding even the receiving of fees with great disfavor. They oppose Sunday-schools and secret societies; practise feet-washing as a religious ordinance; interpreting literally the words of the apostle in I Cor. 20, they “ greet one another with a holy kiss.” They bore consistent testimony against slavery, and are now active advocates of total abstinence. They were for a time inclined to regard higher education as conforming to the world, but they have now several colleges and high schools in which co-education is practised. They still oppose the establishment of theological schools and seminaries, but some of their ministers are educated in other institutions. Owing to differences of various kinds, chiefly about matters of discipline, they have become broken into four separate bodies, one of which observes the seventh day. In 1890 there were nine hundred and eighty-nine churches.
The Winebrennerians, or “Church of God,” owe their origin to the labors of Rev. John Winebrenner, who in the year 1820 was settled as pastor of the German Reformed Church at Harrisburg, Pa. A great revival of religion began among his people, and the work aroused much opposition in the church, which looked unfavorably upon such manifestations of abnormal excitement (as they viewed revivals). After five years of conflict, Mr. Winebrenner and his people separated from the German Reformed Church and formed an independent congregation. About this time similar revivals occurred in the surrounding towns, and resulted in the organization of new churches. Tn the meantime, Mr. Winebrenner had been studying the Scriptures, and came to the conclusion that neither in doctrine nor in discipline did the German Reformed Church correspond. to the apostolic model, which he now conceived to be independent churches, composed only of believers, and without any human creed or laws, the Scriptures alone being accepted as the rule of faith and practice. In October, 1830, a meeting was held at Harrisburg, at which a regular system of co-operation was adopted by the churches sympathizing with these views, and Mr. Winebrenner was elected speaker of the Conference. This body now meets annually, and fourteen other Conferences or annual elderships have since been organized, besides a general eldership that meets triennially. The Church of God has an itinerant ministry, the appointments being made by the respective elderships; they practise feet-washing as a religious ordinance, recognize only immersion of believers as baptism, and hold that the Lord’s Supper should be administered to Christians only, in a sitting posture, and always in the evening. The church has a publishing house at Harrisburg, an academy at Bosheyville, Pa., and a college at Findlay, Ohio. In 1890 they had four hundred and seventy-nine churches and twenty-two thousand five hundred and eleven members, and were represented in fifteen States.
The River Brethren, probably of Mennonite origin, settled in eastern Pennsylvania, near the Susquehanna River, about 1750; from their baptizing in that river they gained their name. They practise trifle immersion and feet-washing; and in the doctrines of non-resistance and non-conformity to the world they resemble the Friends as well as the Mennonites. There are flow three divisions of the River Brethren. In 1890 there were one hundred and eleven churches and three thousand four hundred and twenty-seven members, and they have spread from Pennsylvania into eight other States.
Several other bodies practise adult immersion, though they are not in all cases scrupulous about requiring evidence of regeneration. The Adventists arose from the teachings of William Miller, before described, and are already broken into six sects or groups, with a total strength of over sixty thousand. The Christadelphians have some affinity with Adventists, but reject the doctrine of the Trinity, though believing Christ to be the Son of God. They are a small body of about twelve hundred members. The Christians or Christian Connection originated about 1806, in several independent movements, and are very like the Disciples of Christ in doctrine and practice. They have no formal creeds, but practise immersion of believers only; and while no one type of theology prevails among them, their teachers nearly all oppose Calvinism. Their polity is mainly congregational, though they have annual Conferences, composed of ministers and lay delegates, which receive and ordain their preachers. A General Convention, meeting every four years, has charge of their missionary and educational work. In 1890 there were seventy-five conferences, one thousand two hundred and eighty-one churches, and ninety thousand seven hundred and eighteen members. The Social Brethren is a body that originated in Arkansas and Illinois about 1867, from Baptist and Methodist churches, and partakes of the peculiarities of both denominations. These Brethren reject infant baptism, but agree with the Methodists in permitting a candidate to choose between immersion, pouring, and sprinkling. It is said that immersion is chosen in the majority of cases. In 1890 they had twenty churches and nine hundred and thirteen members. These last-named bodies are mentioned, less because they have genuine affinity with Baptists than to answer questions continually coming to the author from readers of this history, about the doctrines and practices of these denominations.
Title Page - Index
Chapter 25 - Baptist Churches - Baptists in Other Countries