What is Primitivism?

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by rlvaughn, Sep 15, 2002.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    Primitivism is not a sub-denominational group within the Baptist camp, but is rather a broad type that transcends different associations or fellowships. It is in that sense comparable to fundamentalism or landmarkism. I have used this term on several occasions and have been asked what it means. While studying Baptist groups, I ran across the term in the works of Albert Wardin (Baptist Atlas and Baptists Around the World. In classifying Baptists, Wardin identifies a number of groups as Primitivists. Primitive Baptists are probably the largest group of Baptists that would be considered Primitivists, but primitivism is not synonymous with Primitive Baptists. A number of Baptist groups are considered primitivists, especially the Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Regular Baptists, United Baptists, "Two-Seed" Baptists, the "Duck River" Baptists, some old-time Missionary Baptists, and a few Free Will Baptists. Persons hearing the terminology "Primitivist" or "Primitive" Baptist often think of crude or backward. The idea is really "original." In other words, when people started using the term "Primitive Baptist", they meant that the "Primitive" Baptist was the strain of Baptist that best represented what Baptists originally were. Lemuel Potter (Old School) and W. P. Throgmorton (Missionary) once held a debate called "Who are the Primitive Baptists?"

    Back to the original question - What is Primitivism? My dictionary says, "belief in the superiority of a simple way of life close to nature." Translated in the religious realm this means a preference for the "simpler" times of the "primitive" (New Testament) church. Put another way, it is the desire of primitivism to recreate New Testament Christianity. Martin Marty calls it "the dream of restoration of a purer order."

    Primitivism in motivation is related to the restorationism of Alexander Campbell & others. One major different between primitivistic Baptists and Campbell would be that the Baptists would believe that they have constantly been recreating primitive Christianity, whereas Campbell believed that it had disappeared and needed "restoration."

    "An Anabaptist, (Michael) Servetus believed what has always been basic to restorationism: that the true, apostolic church went into apostasy, that all existing churches are false, and that the only way to have the true church again is by a restoration of primitive Christianity. This is also known as primitivism, which implies that the New Testament provides a detailed pattern for the church, so that in any age the true church can be reproduced by faithful adherence to the New Testament mode...[Leroy Garrett in Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, p. 641]."

    The above paragraph was written by a Campbellite so it reflects more of their idea of restoration, but I think does present the basic idea of primitivism - that the New Testament provides the pattern for the continual faithful reproduction of the church. Don't all Baptists believe this? Probably most would say so; but they do not mean it the same way as the small subsection considered "primitivists."
     
  2. rlvaughn

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    Now, I will try to give examples of how primitivism reveals itself among Baptists. The following information is from Local Baptists, Local Politics: Churches and Communities in the Middle and Uplands South by Clifford A. Grammich, Jr. In his research on six groups of primitivistic sects (Central, Duck River, Old Missionary, Old Regular, Eastern District Primitive, and United Baptists), Grammich compiled a grouping of "common characteristics" among these churches (pp. 93-111). These common characteristics should not be seen as synonymous with primitivism, but rather as the way primitivism has worked itself out among these particular churches. If primitivism is an attempt to recreate the purer order of the New Testament, the following ways are seen as part of how these six groups try to recreate that order. Grammich says, "What becomes evident is that this religion is a religion of the common people, and that the common people shape it...(p. 93).

    1. Belief in the King James Bible as the unerring Word of God.
    2. Emphasis on Ancient Origins of Their "True" Faith.
    3. Belief in Salvation somewhere between Predestination and Free Will [this commonality was possible because Grammich's study doesn't include the Regular or Absolute Primitives].
    4. Emphasis on Personal, Experiential Knowledge of Salvation.
    5. Nonprofessional Clergy without Formal Religious Education.
    6. Opposition to Missions.
    7. Simple, Egalitarian Style of Worship [examples include extemporaneous sermons, extemporaneous prayers, shouting, traditional hymns usually without instruments, outdoor baptisms, communion and footwashing].
    8. Weak Central Authorities
    9. Traditional Sex Roles.
    10. Rural Origins and Membership.
    11. Stable Growth at Home but Losses through Migration.

    Grammich notes parallels on the KJV issue with fundamentalists (point 1), but also quotes Deborah McCauley saying, "their preference in biblical literature differs profoundly from a preponderance of evangelical fundamentalism in particular...they accept ambiguity - running deep and broad - as an indisputable fact of life. They do not feel driven to resolve it in their preaching with semantically fancy footwork that artificially overcomes ambiguity by forcing all the pieces to fit together neatly...(p.95). Though he also sees a common theme with landmarkism in point 2, Grammich knows of no formal connection between the two.

    For internet reading: Sophisticated Primitives Then, Primitive Sophisticates Now by Martin Marty.

    [ September 15, 2002, 10:44 PM: Message edited by: rlvaughn ]
     
  3. Jeff Weaver

    Jeff Weaver
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    Bro. Robert

    My 3 cents (inflation) on your list.

    At least a strong preference for the KJV.
    I rarely hear this in the churches among whom I travel. :confused: I suppose we all know this is what we believe and it is a bit tiresome to hear it week after week.
    Believe it or not, when I was ordained there were a couple of fellows who objected because I had a college education -- not a religious college education either -- but they were in a severe minority of the group assembled for the occasion. They would have had a "fit" had they known I had studied Biblical Greek. [​IMG]

    I think this area is the weak area about primitivists groups. Ministers often get a couple of topics in their head and that is all you ever hear from them.

    That said, I know a few men who are quite elderly and barely literate, who can expound, with power of conviction and rhetoric, on various theological topics.
    I think the author misses some of the point on this one. It isn't strictly an opposition to missions, but rather an opposition to mission boards separate from the local church.
    Perhaps one of the most appealing things about primitivist bodies, [​IMG]

    Shouting is not as common as it once was, but still exists. There was quite a bit of it this weekend at our associational session. Some of it is a bit tiring though, in that the same women will shout at the same point in the same minister's sermon. See comment above about some ministers rehashing the same subjects over and over. Most of the shouting happens when someone is speaking of heaven and wanting to go on, at least in my experience.

    Shouting is almost an exclusive thing among women. Many of the men are gathered together in a "that's right" knot.

    On the other hand, perhaps I am too starched to appreciate it. :D
     
  4. tyndale1946

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    I agree with everthing Brother Jeff said and would like to add something on number six. I am not against mission if it, is done for the right reasons. If the main mission of the missionaries was to go over to these underdeveloped and help them to a better life I wouldn't mind.

    Unfortunately that is not the case as we have to dangle the gospel carrot before we will help them. I feel more would be accomplished if we would help the people first and let them get to know the workings of the christian by their deeds. The scriptures state by their fruits ye shall know them. If I am out of line set me straight. We are told only to feed sheep... God is the only one that makes them.

    I while back I was reading Griffins History of The Mississippi Primitive Baptist. I can't quote from it as I lost the book when we moved. One part always stuck in my mind that the observance of the writer was that those of the missionaries refused food to those hungry until they read certain portions of scripture. Dangling the gospel carrot so to speak... You don't read... You don't eat. Mind you this was written over 100 years ago but is it still going on? God only knows!

    I see it all the time on TV sponsor this child if you want the child to have a nice place to live... food... a good education. I have one question and I will be blunt what about those going hungry right under our nose. You know how many homeless people are in this city of San Diego and some because of no fault of their own. How many children?... If I had any money to give it would stay right here!... Didn't mean to get off the topic... Help your own first and then help others. Those who you help would also help when they are able in any capacity!... Brother Glen [​IMG]

    [ September 16, 2002, 05:47 PM: Message edited by: tyndale1946 ]
     
  5. HankD

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    Dear Bro glen,

    I don't think you went off topic, missions is an important issue on which Baptists have varying views.

    I know some Baptists don't support the modern missions movement because they believe the "Great Commission" was given to the original disciples only.

    Matthew 28
    18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
    19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
    20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    I would like to ask you a couple of questions rather than ask someone who is not a Primitive Baptist. You may not want to answer publicly and I'll understand, but could you email me then?
    It is important to me.

    I am genuinely interested to know and I'm not going to try to refute anything you say.

    Here are my questions:
    Was not the ordinance of baptism given in the Great Commission? Why then do we baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost if there are no more apostles to whom the Great Commission was given?
    We could also say that the ordinance of the Lord's Supper was given only to the Apostles.

    Are there other reasons why some Baptists don't support modern missions apart from the ones you have already given?

    HankD
     
  6. Jeff Weaver

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    Hank

    I'll give it a stab.

    Most Primitive Baptists would say that the Great Commission was given to the apostles and thier descendants, i.e., the clergy rather than to the church.

    The primary reason for opposition to missionary societies, however, is money, and how it is used. I think you can understand why this is if you look at the "ministries" of folks like Jim Bakker and Creflo Dollar. Jesus said "Go into all the world,..." not send into all the world. There is a difference.

    DId that help at all?

    Jeff
     
  7. tyndale1946

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    Hank D sometime I speak in a blunt manner but agree with everything Elder Jeff Weaver said... He's the preacher not me!... Where does the money really go?... Sorry Brother Jeff I let the preacher cat out of the bag... :eek: ... Are we still brothers?... Brother Glen :D
     
  8. HankD

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    Thanks to both of you!

    HankD
     
  9. rlvaughn

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    Well, I think that was almost ten cents worth! ;) Just a few "comments" on your "comments." It is probably unfair of me to give Cliff's skeleton list without giving more of his own comments, but there is only so much time and space. He does have an interesting, and more than just academic, perspective because his mother's family are Old Regular and United Baptists in Kentucky.
    Grammich says (p. 99), "Many of these churches refuse to ordain those with formal theological training...Even the small number of churches that have formally trained clergy have never required such training. They do not oppose higher education in general; some of their preachers hold graduate degrees in secular fields."
    Grammich does not discuss this per se, but he does seem to have in mind organized missions as opposed to simply traveling and preaching the gospel. But many have often missed this distinction.
    Amen! Simplicity thou art a jewel. [​IMG]
    Shouting seems to exist here only in the sweet memories of the elderly folks who refer to it fondly.
     
  10. Jeff Weaver

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    Bro. R.

    Thanks for the follow-up. It explains some things to me -- especially the part about his background.

    I don't know many of the United Baptist folks, but I do know considerable numbers of Old Regulars.

    I wish those folks (Old Regulars) would circulate more. I think their manner of doing things would have an appeal to those who could accept their theology (a milder-Calvinism than Primitive Baptists). Their services are beautiful, at least to my way of thinking.

    Jeff.
     
  11. Jeff Weaver

    Jeff Weaver
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    Bump.

    Bro. Robert

    FYI. I met Howard Dorgan yesterday, and had some discussions with him on some of these issues. I also dug up Children of a Happy God and reread some of his book. To the point -- would you have some definitive source for all groups you would call primitivists? If not, can we work on putting such a thing together?

    Hope all is well in Texas. Rainy, drizzly day here in Southwest Virginia. Skipped meeting this weekend - fell down and mangled myself up, and it is difficult to sit in any position for long.

    Jeff.
     
  12. Dr. Bob

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    In a nutshell, why would someone opt to associate with this group? They have (from your list) very narrow theological view and no great emphasis on evangelism.

    Obviously, I would not be attracted to many of the points listed, but why WOULD someone?

    Thanks for helping me under the MOTIVE as much as the MESSAGE of the Primitives . . . :cool:
     
  13. rlvaughn

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    Thanks to Jeff for bumping this back up. I have never met Professor Dorgan, but have corresponded with him numerous times. Also, I had intended to post the names of two other books. They deal with at least some peripheral issues of primitivism: The Small Sects in America by Elmer T. Clark, Abingdon Press, 1965; and Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875 by Richard T. Hughes and C. Leonard Allen, University of Chicago Press, 1988. Brother Jeff, I don't know of any definitive source on Primitivists. Wardin's work is probably the broadest. Dorgan's is possibly the most detailed, but only on specific groups. I hope to see more work by Cliff Grammich in the future, although he seems to focus more on politics than religion - that is his field. I have a broad collection of minutes of primitivistic Baptists - broad by groups, but not by years. I am willing to help if any way I can. What kind of idea do you have?
    Well, someone like me who has a very narrow theological view and no great emphasis on evangelism would find it very attractive! I find Grammich's 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th points especially appealing. Actually, though a few of the primitivistic groups are almost totally UNevangelistic, the "opposition to missions" is often misunderstood. Opposition to missions is actually an opposition to missionary ORGANIZATIONS, SCHEMES, etc. - not opposition to preaching the gospel. Many independent Baptists would find similar ground on this point. BTW, it was the "anti-missionary" Daniel Parker who braved indians and catholics to travel the most miles and organize the most churches in pre-republic days here in Texas.
    I hope everyone remembers that "Primitivism" is a mindset that is common to several Baptist groups, but that "Primitive Baptists" are a theologically identifiable group of Baptists.
     
  14. Jeff Weaver

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    Well, Dr. Bob, from all I have seen on this board, I could ask the same question about IFBs SBCs, etc.

    When I was a kid, sprout, youngster, little person, we took my grandmother to Primitive Baptist services once a month, and the rest of the time attended a Southern Baptist Church about a mile from where we lived. I joined this SBC church when I was very young, 7 years old IIRC. Obviously I knew very little, if any thing about theology at the time, but it seemed to be the thing to do. As I grew older, I actually started studying scripture, and in fact every book I could get my grubby hands around. I discovered that my understanding of scripture was considerably different from the semi-Arminian theology being espoused by this particular SBC church. At that point in my life, at age 18 or so, I sat out to find a church that matched my understanding of scripture, or as close as I could find. I attended for varying periods of time, from one visit to several months, every variant of church in the area in which I lived.

    There were two major points which impressed my mind from study -- that God had an active will, and that God's will was sovreign. I had not read John Calvin at that time, and had never even heard of Jacob Arminus. So, off on my quest I went, and about the same time started college -- State University. Being of a curious nature, I took a little bit of everything, and took the requisite philosophy classes, and had the great fortune of meeting a Calvinistic Methodist minister and Univeristy professor -- Richard Allen Humphrey. (Yes I realized Methodism and Calvinism don't usually go together).

    Rich never suggested anything, but was honest and open explaining this and that that troubled my youthful mind. By and by I made a visit to my grandmother's church, to which I hadn't been in many years except for funerals. The pastor there, who didn't know me from Adam's housecat at that time, knew me in ways that surprised me. He told me that he knew I had felt a call to preach -- which was true but I had admitted to only a couple of people at that time.

    The services were beautiful to my mind. The building was plain, the singing was doleful, the folks were in overalls and plain dresses. The churchyard was full of pickup trucks and 20 year old cars. But it was beautiful. Here were folks who held the same notion of what God is, and what his will was that I did. After about a year of attending and asking questions, I asked for a home, and they received me. Two weeks later I was baptized in the closest river, had to break out the ice to get there, but felt no cold, no water in the nose, it was a perfectly comfortable thing to do. The next meeting time, I was sitting in my seat, minding my own business, when they called on me to come and make a few remarks. A year later a small church without a pastor, asked my home church to ordain me, and for permission to call me as their pastor, all of which was done.

    To say that I agree 100% with every aspect of what being a Primitive Baptist entails I can't do -- because our folks do some things that annoy me. To say that we are 100% doctrinally correct, I cannot, because I don't believe it. But I do believe that their/our doctrine and practice is as close as I have found to what I believe scriptures teach.

    As to why others chose to join primitivist groups, each will have to speak for themselves, but I suspect that many have had a similar journey to my own. Others join because that is what is available in their communities. Others join because that is the faith of mom and dad.

    I opened this reply with a rejoinder of why someone would join an IFB, SBC, etc church. The Primitivists churches are fairly doctrinally consistent. By this I mean, that most Primitive Baptist churches nationwide are going to be pretty similar. Most Separate Baptist churches nationwide are going to be pretty similar. Most Old Regular Baptists, nationwide are going to be pretty similar. To parody Forest Gump When you bite into a SBC, IFB, etc church you never know what you are going to get.

    As for evangelism, I have to agree with Robert's comments above. It seems to me that there is considerable fraud or potential for fraud, in lots of these missionary activities, which has been the Primitive's principal objection to them from day one or at least since the Black Rock Declaration of 1832.

    We also believe that it is the Spirit that regenerates, not the written/preached gospel. We believe that when regeneration occurs, the subject of grace will seek the written/preached gospel.

    I can go on for a week or two, but hopefully this gets to the heart of the question as it pertains to me. Others will have to answer for themselves.

    Regards
    Jeff
     
  15. Jeff Weaver

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    Bro. R.

    I am answering apart from the reply to Dr. B. so as not to get lost in the crowd as it were.

    I am thinking of something along the lines of defining the various Primitivist sub-denominations, if possible. For example, I know of the Separate Baptists, and that they have a General Association, but not all Separate Baptists are part of the umbrella group. Who are they any what is the difference in the two. Is the difference theological or political.

    I am fairly well aware of the factions of Primitive Baptists and would list them in the following way (always subject to revision).

    Primitive Baptists (Principally European Descent)

    I. Regular (Old Line) Primitive Baptists
    A. Old Line Primitive Baptists
    1. Tolerant of Secret socities
    2. Intolerant of Secret Socities
    B. Semi-Progessive Primitive Baptists
    C. Political fragments
    2. Absoultue Predestinarian Primitive Baptits
    A. Political fragments
    1. Allied with the Signs of the Times
    2. Allied with Zion's Landmark
    3. Allied with The Remnant.
    B. The Canadian fragments
    3. Progessive Primitive Baptists
    A. The Usual suspects
    B. Eastern District Primitive Baptist Association
    4. Primitive Baptists Universalists
    A. Main Faction
    B. Elkhorn Association #2
    C. Those who believe that the resurrection is strictly a spiritual affair.
    5. Spiritual resurrectionists Primitive Baptists

    Primitive Baptists (Principally African Descent)

    1. Regular (Old Line) Groups.
    2. Absoulte Predestinarn Groups.
    3. Progressive Groups.
    A. National Primitive Baptist Convention
    B. Progressive Primitive Baptist fragments.

    One could, I suppose define the doctrinal positions of each, or at least the variant from the main (commonly agreed upon points of doctrine).

    I am familiar with Elmer Clark's work. I would envision a more detailed update on his work on the Baptists. Hopefully that makes some sense.

    Jeff

    [ October 21, 2002, 12:24 AM: Message edited by: Jeff Weaver ]
     

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