Primitive Baptists

Primitive Baptist Churches
Classification Protestant
Orientation Conservative Calvinist
Theology Reformed Baptist
Polity congregational
Region United States, mainly in the southern states
Origin 1800s
Separations Missionary Baptists

Primitive Baptists – also known as Hard Shell Baptists or Old School Baptists – are conservative Baptists adhering to a degree of Calvinist beliefs that coalesced out of the controversy among Baptists in the early 1800s over the appropriateness of mission boards, tract societies, and temperance societies.[1][2] The adjective "Primitive" in the name conveys the sense of "original".[1]


This controversy over whether churches or members should participate in mission boards, Bible tract societies, and temperance societies led the Primitive Baptists to separate from other general Baptist groups that supported such organizations, and to make declarations of opposition to such organizations in articles like the Kehukee Association Declaration of 1827.[2][3]

Primitive Baptist churches arose in the mountainous regions of the southeastern United States, where they are found in their greatest numbers.[4][5]

African-American Primitive Baptist groups have been considered a unique category of Primitive Baptist. Approximately 50,000 African Americans are affiliated with African-American Primitive Baptist churches as of 2005.[6] Approximately 64,000 people were affiliated (as of 1995) with Primitive Baptist churches in the various other emergences of Primitive Baptists.[6]

Since arising in the 19th century, the influence of Primitive Baptists has waned as "Missionary Baptists became the mainstream".[3]

Theological views

Despite having emerged as a recognizable group in the early 19th century, Primitive Baptists trace their origins to the New Testament era,[3] rather than to John Calvin. In fact, they oppose elements of Calvin's theology, such as infant baptism, and avoid the term "Calvinist".[1] However, they are Calvinist in the sense of holding strongly to the Five Points of Calvinism and they explicitly reject Arminianism.[1][3] They are also characterized by "intense conservatism".[4][5] One branch, the Primitive Baptist Universalist church of central Appalachia, developed their own unique Trinitarian Universalist theology as an extension of the irresistible grace doctrine of Calvinist theology.[7] They were encouraged in this direction by 19th century itinerant Christian universalist preachers of similar theological bent to Hosea Ballou and John Murray.[8]

Distinct practices

Primitive Baptist practices that are distinguishable from those of other Baptists include a cappella singing, family integrated worship, and foot washing.

This African-American Primitive Baptist church in Florida is an exception to the usual practice[9] of excluding musical instruments: a piano and organ are visible.

A cappella singing

Primitive Baptists generally do not play musical instruments as part of their worship services.[10] They believe that all church music should be a cappella because there is no New Testament command to play instruments, but only to sing.[9] Further, they connect musical instruments in the Old Testament with "many forms and customs, many types and shadows, many priests with priestly robes, many sacrifices, festivals, tithings" which they see as having been abolished; "had they been needed in the church Christ would have brought them over".[9] African-American Primitive Baptists may not share the general Primitive Baptist opposition to musical instruments, however.[11]

Family integrated worship

Primitive Baptists reject the idea of Sunday School,[12] viewing it as unscriptural and interfering with the right of parents to give religious instruction to their children.[13] Instead, children are expected to attend at least part of the church service.[14]

Informal training of preachers

Primitive Baptists consider theological seminaries to have "no warrant or sanction from the New Testament, nor in the example of Christ and the apostles".[13]

Foot washing

Primitive Baptists perform foot washing as a symbol of humility and service among the membership.[15][16] The sexes are separated during the ritual where one person washes the feet of another.[15][16][17] The practice is credited with increasing equality, as opposed to hierarchy, within Primitive Baptist churches.[18]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Jonas 2006, p. 158.
  2. 1 2 Mead, Frank S; Hill, Samuel S; Atwood, Craig D (2005). Handbook of Denominations in the United States (twelfth ed.). Nashville: Abingdon Press. pp. 207–8. ISBN 0-687-05784-1.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Garrett, James Leo, Jr. (2009). Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study. Mercer University Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-88146-129-9. Retrieved 2011-01-08.
  4. 1 2 "Baptists". The Columbia Encyclopedia (sixth ed.). 2008. Retrieved 2012-01-25
  5. 1 2 Crowley 1998, p. xi.
  6. 1 2 Brackney, William H (2009). Historical Dictionary of the Baptists. Scarecrow Press. pp. 457–58. ISBN 978-0-8108-5622-6.
  9. 1 2 3 Patterson, Beverly Bush (2001). The Sound of the Dove: Singing in Appalachian Primitive Baptist Churches. University of Illinois Press. pp. 11–14. ISBN 0-252-07003-8.
  10. Crowley 1998, p. 10.
  11. McGregory, Jerrilyn (2010). Downhome Gospel: African American Spiritual Activism in Wiregrass Country. University Press of Mississippi. p. 55. ISBN 1-60473-782-4.
  12. McMillen, Sally Gregory (2001). To raise up the South: Sunday schools in Black and White churches, 1865–1915. LSU Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-8071-2749-3.
  13. 1 2 Crowley 1998, p. 60.
  14. Crowley 1998, p. 167.
  15. 1 2 Cassada, Mary Eva (June 8, 1991). "'Primitive' rituals are few, simple". The Free Lance-Star. Associated Press. p. 12. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
  16. 1 2 Eisenstadt, Todd (August 21, 1987). "Baptist Group Looks To The Old, New". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
  17. Brackney, William H. (2009). "Foot Washing". Historical Dictionary of the Baptists. Scarecrow Press. pp. 219–220. ISBN 9780810856226. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
  18. Mathis, James R. (2004). The Making of the Primitive Baptists: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the Antimission Movement, 1800–1840. Psychology Press. p. 106. ISBN 9780415948715. Retrieved 2012-05-24.


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