To all who love the old church and desire to see her grow and prosper in the service of God:
Over the past few years we
have seen various practices borrowed from the modern religious world introduced
in places among the Old Baptists churches. These include, but are not limited
to, Sunday Schools (called Bible Studies), Youth Camps, mini-seminaries
(preacher training schools), organized missionary programs, a salaried ministry,
the teaching of tithing as a requirement of the New Testament Church, preachers
who demand a certain salary in order to serve a church, and the list goes on and
on. Any fair examination of the old-line Primitive Baptist churches of
twenty-five years ago will quickly conclude that these practices were unheard of
at that time among the Old Baptists
We are told that this will cause churches to grow and prosper, remove the stigma the world attaches to being an Old Baptist, and save our children to the church. We are told that there is no intention on their part to change the doctrine that has identified the old church over the years, just the practice (but have they considered that the practice identifies the church as much so as the doctrine?). To many of those who have introduced these unscriptural practices, this seems the perfect combination; we will keep the articles of faith and preach the doctrines of grace, but we will add the practices that work so well in the arminian churches about us. And we will no longer appear strange to those of other religious orders for our services will be like theirs and it will entice the world to join us.
Did you know that there is a faction
of Primitive Baptists who have been doing this very thing for 100 years now? I
am referring to the Progressive Primitive Baptist order. This movement began in
the late 1890's and with the introduction of musical instruments in some
Primitive Baptist churches in certain areas of the country, resulting in a split
when non-fellowship was declared for the churches that had engaged in this
practice in 1908. Almost without exception, the leaders of this movement
insisted at that time that they did not intend to vary the doctrine or to add
anything to the church; just the piano to help the singing. I have not seen
statistics on the number of churches involved, but have always been told that
there were roughly 100 churches with around 2,000 members who went with the
Progressive movement. These churches were mainly in central and south Georgia,
with a few in eastern Alabama, north Florida and southern Tennessee; as well as
a few in Indiana and Illinois. Many solid churches that had stood then in the
old paths for 75 years or more were led astray by those who thought it would do
no harm to add just a little of the world's practice to the Lord's church.
By the 1920's they had begun to add other things to the church -Sunday Schools, youth movements, Men's brotherhoods, Ladies circles, choirs, salaried ministers, and various denominational organizations. In fact they had added so much in the way of worldly organization that their leading preacher at that time, Elder William H. Crouse (an able preacher of the doctrines of grace and the author of a number of books of solid Bible doctrine), wrote an article in their paper, the Banner-Herald (he was the editor), advising any and all Primitive Baptists churches that had not added the piano to leave it alone, and not to attempt to add anything of worldly wisdom to God's church.
So the idea of mixing the religious
practices of the arminian churches with the preaching of the doctrines of grace
is not something new, it has been tried for a hundred years now. The
Progressives have (and have had for many years) everything that many among us
seek to introduce among old-line Primitive Baptists today. They have Sunday
Schools, youth camps, youth fellowships, organized mission programs, salaried
ministers, pastoriums, choirs (in many places, robed choirs), ministerial
schools and everything else that has been suggested. So we do not really need to
try this route to see what the results will be if we mix the practices of the
modern religious world with the doctrines of grace. Here are a people that have
been doing this very thing for 100 years. What have been the results? Did it
cause their churches to grow arid prosper? Have they maintained soundness of
doctrine, or has the intrusion of worldly practices also modernized their
doctrine? Did all of this save their children to the church?
According to the Banner-Herald directory of churches and ministers among the Progressive Primitive Baptists, as of January 2002, they have 111 churches and 109 ordained elders. Of these churches, 79 are in Georgia, 9 in Florida, 6 in Alabama, 5 in Tennessee, 4 in Indiana, 3 in Texas, 2 in Illinois and I each in Louisiana, Missouri and Virginia. In the October 2O01 issue of the same paper appeared their compilation of church constitutions among them. They state that in the years 1951 through 2000 that a total of 25 churches were constituted among them. Obviously not much in the way of growth in the past I 100 years, with basically no more churches among them now than there were to begin with. (Like all religious orders, they have had churches to close over the years; I can think of six here in the Valdosta-Titton, Georgia area that have close in the past 40 years). As you will notice, they are mainly limited to the geographical areas in which they began. The few churches in other areas are mostly former old-line churches who were non-fellowshipped by their sister churches for various reasons and were looking for somewhere to find fellowship. The one exception I can think of is the church in Virginia (Washington D.C. area), which was constituted by the Progressives.
How about the children? Have they kept
their young people in the Primitive Baptist fold through the Sunday Schools and
youth programs? Here I can speak from experience. I spent 20 years as a member
of this order (13 of those years as an ordained preacher among them), and
jointly with the late Elder Fred Bethea edited their paper, the Banner-Herald,
and published the songbook they then used in most of their churches (The
Pilgrim's Hymnal). Among the first churches I served when I was with the
Progressives were two that met every Sunday and had a full schedule of Sunday
School (called Bible Study) and youth programs. I heard a great deal of talk
from the members over what the Sunday School and youth programs were going to do
for them. In previous generations they had seen the children in the church
families grow up, move away, marry and often eventually unite with the religious
orders of the world. They told me that this would not happen again, because now
they had the Sunday School and all their children would grow up to join the
Primitive Baptist church. I watched that generation grow up, performed the
wedding ceremonies for many of them, and since have seen another generation come
along. And even with the Sunday School and the youth programs they still moved
away, married and eventually joined other orders. The Sunday School was not the
answer then, nor is it today. It is not the Sunday School or the youth program
that adds to the true church but God who does so (Acts 2:47).
In 1969 when Elder Fred Bethea and I left them to seek a home with the old-line Primitive Baptists, there were several other preachers who left around the same time; Edward Mines, Curtis Adkins, Tommy Hart and others. In more recent years Elders Bob Conner, Guy Smith, Ed Evans, P.O. Revels, Jr., M. C. Elmore (now deceased), Chad O'Quinn, Walter Todd, Ricky Harcrow and others have left them to seek for a home with the Old Baptists. Does this tell you something? Each of us left because we could find no place in the scripture to substantiate the worldly practices among them. In an excellent article in the January 2002 issue of the Advocate and Messenger, Elder Walter Todd tells of his experience among that order and of his deep sorrow to see the same practices being introduced among the old-line churches today. Every one of us who came out of that order to find a home among the old-line churches are opposed to the introduction of these worldly practices in our churches. Does that tell you something? Been there, done that - and it is not the answer.
Yes, we have churches that are dying (and
that have died), but we also have churches that are growing and where the spirit
of God is made manifest. It is not the Sunday School that will solve our
problems, but a return to God and to the teaching of His word. Before I left the
Progressives, I asked the late Elder 0. J. Rives to lend me the minutes of the
Union (old-line) Association of Primitive Baptists for the ten prior years
(1959-1969), which he kindly did. I compared this with the minutes of the ten
associations of Progressives Primitive Baptists in Georgia for the same period
(all ten were published each year in one booklet). The results amazed me. We had
in the Progressives everything you could think of to attract members. We had all
kinds of programs, song specials, revival meetings, short services you name it
(everything that is proposed among us now). The old-line Primitive Baptists in
this area then (and now) had nothing but preaching, praying and singing;
services that lasted 2 hours or more; preaching from 3 to 5 preachers; and
absolutely nothing to appeal to the world, and the number of their baptisms over
the ten year period far exceeded the number among the Progressives. (I compared
these baptisms as a percentage of total membership; thus statistically comparing
apples with apples.) We Progressives had everything to attract members, and the
old-line had nothing that would have been considered attractive by the world.
And yet they exceeded us in baptisms! And now, today, despite having added every
practice that can possibly be borrowed from the religious institutions of the
world, their periodicals contain articles of deep concern over the decline in
membership and the closing of churches among them.
As to doctrine, they had many sound and able preachers when l joined the Progressives. But even then there was a growing element of preachers who were anxious to soil-pedal the doctrines of grace and appeal to the world about them. In the 33 years since I left them, I understand that this movement has grown greatly A member of a nearby Progressive church told me several years ago that his pastor had actually preached on election and predestination the past Sunday, and it was the first time he had heard it preached in many years. How sad. Brethren, mark it down: corrupt practice will eventually breed corrupt doctrine.
When I left the Progressives in 1969, I
left many preachers and members that I still consider close friends; some of the
finest people on earth, many were my clients when I had my accounting practice.
I wish they could see and understand that the true church does not need worldly
wisdom to grow and prosper. You see, the church is a spiritual kingdom and the
only appeal she has is to those who have been born again of God's spirit and who
desire spiritual food. The true church is not a money kingdom in which
preacher's services are limited by monetary considerations. I knew many
preachers among the Progressives who would not even consider a call from a
church unless that church would pay them the salary they required. (Sadly, I
have seen the same thing develop in the liberal element among our people in
recent years). What do you have when you have sent all your preachers to man's
school to learn man's way of preaching? You have preachers that will preach the
wisdom of man instead of the message of the One who called them and sent them.
What do you have when your preachers refuse to make tents as the Apostle Paul
did in order to serve the kingdom of God, but demand their salary and a house to
live in? You have hirelings who think more of themselves than they do of the
cause of Christ. What do you have when you have to entertain folks to get them
to come to church? You have a worldly-minded congregation that will not receive
spiritual truths. You may answer these question differently, but the ultimate
truth is that whatever you have when you have robed it in worldly ways and
worldly wisdom is no longer the kingdom of God on earth.
It seems to me that 100 years of experimentation with the mixture of worldly ways with the doctrines of grace would be sufficient to show us that such is not the answer to the problems that face our churches. Do you want an answer to these problems? Try II Chronicles 7:14. It works.
Elder Bob Dickerson