Since the Primitive Baptist church figures prominently in the lives of many of my ancestors, and since many readers may not know much about their beliefs, I would like to attempt to explain what I know about them. I ask forgiveness if I don’t explain something just right, because I wasn’t raised in that tradition. My mother was raised Primitive Baptist, but she enrolled me in the Cradle Roll Sunday School class at Red Fork (Southern) Baptist Church as a baby. I’m assuming she did so because there wasn’t a PB church around, but the result is that I know a lot more about the Southern Baptists than the Primitive Baptists. But since the PB church seems to have arisen as a reaction to Southern Baptist actions that they thought were erroneous, I can at least make a comparison between the two doctrines. So here goes—
“Primitive” in this context means “original.” The practice of Primitive Baptists is based on the worship practices of the early Christian church described in the 1611 King James Bible. For that reason, Primitive Baptists do not use musical instruments in their worship services because descriptions of early Christian services do not mention them. Ministers are exclusively male, called Elders, and are self-trained, as were the leaders of the early Christian church. The concept of “Sunday School” as church training for children is one of the Southern Baptist innovations that Primitive Baptists reject, especially since women often teach Sunday School. Primitive Baptists do not consider themselves Protestants, since they model their worship on the original church, not on the Protestant tradition.
The Primitive Baptist doctrine of predestination, however, is perhaps its most distinguishing belief. Only a certain number of people, the “elect,” have been chosen by God and will be saved. The final break with other Baptists came over the establishment of mission boards (the agencies that send missionaries.) Primitive Baptists reject the idea that missionaries bring the means of salvation to the unsaved; salvation comes only from God through Christ’s sacrifice. If you come to God, it is because he has selected you for salvation, so it cannot be because you heard the Gospel from missionaries, or showed repentance, or even had faith. Since God chose you, you can never lose your salvation—what is often called “once saved, always saved.” The two ordinances of the PB church are baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper (communion), which often includes the practice of feet washing.
The break with other Baptists was announced in the Black Rock address of 1832 in Black Rock, Maryland. Those that became known as Primitive, Hard Shell, or Old School Baptists disagreed with other Baptists who were beginning to establish mission boards and Bible tract societies. According to the Wikipedia article on Primitive Baptists, the churches “arose in the mountainous regions of the southeastern United States, where they are found in their greatest numbers.” Perhaps that is why I have so many Primitive Baptists in my family background—since my ancestors are almost exclusively Southern.
Another characteristic of Primitive Baptists is that they form Associations of churches and meet together annually. The migration of Primitive Baptists through the southeastern United States to Texas and Oklahoma is something I need to research. It might help explain how my Wheats, Mings, and Bells became so intermingled. They may have attended church together, or met at Association meetings, which led to marriages and migration together.