The Baptist Church: Its Various Sects

By Larry Ray Hafley

There are scores of Baptist vines, each of which produces its own particular fruit and flavor. As has been established in this series of essays, Baptist branches are not of New Testament stock. Their root is not in the ground of Christ; their seed it not of the word of God; their plant is not in the garden of God, and, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13). Limited space prohibits a detailed historical analysis of all the various Baptist systems, therefore, only a few will be examined.

Common Baptist Tenets

Most Baptists subscribe to the following ideals: (1) The Bible is the word of God; (2) The Bible is “the only rule of faith and practice”; (3) Baptist churches are independent; (4) Baptism is immersion; (5) Baptism is for believers only; (6) Church and state (civil government) are separate; (7) Baptism is essential for membership in a Baptist Church. Perhaps other items could be cited, but these are the views most commonly accepted among Baptists of every shape and shade.

Southern Baptists

When the general public thinks of the Baptists, it usually pictures a Southern Baptist. Though the denomination has fallen on hard times of late, they have been famous for their strict Biblical interpretation, fundamentalism and high moral requirements – no dancing drinking, card playing. Their influence and profile on these matters has always been high, but, like other conservative sects, they have been under attack from liberal forces. The liberals want compromise in several areas. They want to “play down” the inspiration and authority of the Bible, place less emphasis on sin and salvation, and be more active in social, governmental issues. Sound familiar?

Southern Baptists have not escaped the influence of the charismatic movement. With their Calvinistic background, they were fertile soil for the seeds of Pentecostalism. Southern Baptists have always used the terminology of the Pentecostal system in referring to the regeneration and leading of the Spirit. Without scriptural knowledge and understanding of the work of the Spirit, it is easy to see why many have fallen prey to the Neo-Pentecostal whirlwind.

Southern Baptists, while paying lip service to congregational independence, are steeped in societies and ecclesiastic organization. The liberal and highly educated, modernistic professors and leaders of some Southern Baptist organizations have created problems for the conservatives.

Primitive Baptists

Primitive (“Hardshell”) Baptists like to refer to themselves as “the Old Baptists.” This infers that they are of New Testament origin and that they are not “new” or modernistic. They are often called “hyper-Calvinists.” In reality, they are nearly pure Calvinists. Their detractors among the Baptists would do well to refer to themselves as “sub-Calvinists” and to the Primitive Baptists are true or strict Calvinists.

Primitive Baptists subscribe to Calvinism’s five major tenets as identified in the well known acrostic “T-U-L-I-P.”

(1) Total Hereditary Depravity: The sin of Adam corrupted the human race. We inherit the guilt and effects of this sin by “natural generation.”

(2) Unconditional Election: Since man is totally depraved, he cannot choose or will to be saved; therefore, God chose certain individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world without regard to conditions, character, or conduct, hence, arbitrarily.

(3) Limited Atonement: This point says that Christ died for only a select, elect group. He did not die for all men. He did not die for the non-elect.

(4) Irresistible Grace: The elect (those for whom Christ died) are irresistibly, effectually, called to salvation by the Spirit. The non-elect cannot hear or heed, “Nevertheless God continues to hold them responsible to respond to His call” (The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 3).

(5) Perseverance of the saints: Those who have been elected to salvation are unconditionally elected. Their salvation is not conditioned upon anything which man does, either faith or faithfulness. All of the sins which a man may commit after becoming a Christian, from fornication to murder, do not and cannot separate him from God.

Primitive Baptists practice footwashing as a church ordinance and closed communion. They forbid the use of instrumental music, Sunday schools, societies and ecclesiastical organizations. They do not believe in “missionary work.” Obviously, if their doctrine is correct, there is no need for gospel preaching. The chief paper among Primitive Baptists is entitled, The Christian Baptist. It is presently published in Atwood, Tennessee. They present the standard “Hardshell” position.

Free-Will Baptists

According to historians, Free-Will Baptists originated in the 18th century. Their early leaders were Benjamine Randall and Paul Palmer. Other Baptists consider them “Arminian” because of their belief in “free will.” In other words, they deny certain aspects of Calvinism. They believe Christ died for all and that one is free to accept or reject salvation. They believe in the possiblity of apostasy and are opposed ardently by other Baptists for this doctrine. They have historically contended for foot washing.

Free-Will Baptists make the same arguments as Southern and Missionary Baptists when in debating the gospel plan of salvation. You may see other articles in this series for a study of that topic.

Seventh Day Baptists

As the name implies, these Baptists observe Saturday, the Sabbath. They use the arguments and doctrines of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination in attempting to bolster their belief in Sabbath keeping. The first Seventh Day Baptist Church was established in England during the Cromwell era. They claim a link with Baptists back to the days of the apostles supposing and imaginging as they do, that Baptist Churches were established by the New Testament disciples.

Ironically, these Calvinistic Sabbatarians are a doctrinal incongruity. They follow a work of the law in contending for the Sabbath but denounce works of any kind for salvation!

Missionary Baptists

There are several sects known as Missionary Baptists. Historically, a Baptist is one who baptizes or one who believes in immersion. A “Missionary” Baptist is a Baptist who believes in the need for “missionary” work or preaching, evangelizing. Missionary Baptists reject the Calvinistic view of unconditional election, limited atonement, and, to a degree, irresistible grace. Thus, they see the need for preaching and are labeled, “missionary.”

Some of the more prominent doctrines of Missionary Baptist Churches are documented below:

I. Successionism:

A. “Baptist churches are the only true churches on the earth that have an unbroken lineage of faith, doctrine, practice and history, through the Dark Ages, beyond the origin of Roman Catholicism to the first week of our Lord’s personal ministry. As local congregations . . . our Lord has preserved His church” (Dr. Albert Garner, Defense of the Faith, p. 122).

B. “Careful study . . . has served to form within me a conviction almost as strong as life itself. That conviction is that the first church that was ever organized was what we would today call a Baptist church, and that churches of the same form, characterized by the same doctrines and practices, have existed from the day that the first one was established to the present moment, and will continue to exist until the Lord comes again . . .

“What, then, is meant by perpetuity as used by Baptists?

. . . Baptists claim that the first New Testament church organized by Jesus was in doctrine and practice essentially the same as Baptist churches of today. They claim that there has never been a day since Jesus started the first one when such churches have not existed to bear true witness to Him. They claim that there is sufficient historical proof to demonstrate that Baptist churches of today have direct historical connection with the churches of apostolic times” (Roy Mason, Th. D., The Church That Jesus Built, pp. 6, 10, 11).

C. “Thus, when the Lord organized His church …. He set it in the world and it has never gone out of existence, not even during the dark ages. There has never been one split second when there has not been a church in the world just like the first one Jesus organized, and there shall never be until the Lord comes to receive the church unto Himself” (L.D. Foreman, editor of The Baptist World, in Biblical Proofs For Identifying The True Church, p. 28).

D. “When we speak of the perpetuity of Christ’s church we mean it has had perpetual existence since the day the Lord Jesus first began assembling it . . . it has existed in every century, every year, every month, every day since it has its beginning.” (Calvary Baptist Church, Ashland, Ky., The Origin And Perpetuity Of The Baptists, p. 9).

E. “The author believes that in every age since Jesus and the apostles, there have been companies of believers, churches, who have substantially held to the principles of the New Testament as now proclaimed by the Baptists . . . There is no intimation that there was not a continuity of churches, for doubtless there was . . .” (John T. Christian, A History Of The Baptists, p. 21).

F. “`We believe that the great commission teaches that there has been a succession of missionary Baptist churches from the days of Christ down to this day”‘ (Doctrinal Statement of the American Baptist Association, as quoted by Ben M. Bogard, The Baptist Way-Book, p. 80).

II. Church Established Before Pentecost Of Acts 2.

A. “If you are looking for a church with the characteristics, or identifying marks, of the Bible Church, you must find one that began in the days of Jesus and from the baptism of John . . . there was a church from the baptism of John” (L.D. Foreman, editor of The Baptist World, in Biblical Proof For Identifying The True Church, pp. 28, 29).

B. “The church did not begin on Pentecost . . . the book of Acts does not tell us that the church originated on that day . . . It wasn’t built on Pentecost . . . Before Mark 3 and Matthew 16 Christ had an assembly of baptized disciples” (Calvary Baptist Church, Ashland, Ky., The Origin And Perpetuity Of The Baptists, pp. 4, 5, 7).

“The church of Jesus Christ was instituted by Jesus Christ during His personal ministry on earth . . . the church was established during the personal ministry of Christ. Abraham’s day was too early, Pentecost is too late” (E.C. Gillentine, Baptist Doctrine, pp. 25, 30).

D. “The third distinctive mark of a New Testament church is that it had its beginning during the days of Jesus Christ on earth . . . There is enough evidence in the Scriptures to convince any reasonable person that there was a church before Pentecost” (Roy M. Reed, The Glorious Church, pp. 21, 23).

E. “When our Lord established His church He declared He would build it up, edify it, enlarge it, and the gates of hell should not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18) . . . His church was already in existence when He uttered these words . . .” (Ben M. Bogard, The Baptist Way-Book, p. 30).

III. Repentance Before Faith.

A. “Which comes first, repentance or faith? Answer Matt. 21:32; Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21 . . . Nobody can reasonably trust Jesus to save him, or depend on Jesus for salvation, until he has repented . . . Hence, repentance necessarily, logically and scripturally comes before faith. Everywhere in the Bible where repentance and faith are mentioned together, repentance is put first” (Ben M. Bogard, Fifty-Two Doctrinal Lessons, pp. 17, 18).

B. “Baptists believe and practice the New Testament Order of New Testament Commandments, which are as follows: 1. Repentance. 2. Faith. 3. Baptism. 4. The Lord’s Supper.” (E.C. Gillentine, Baptist Doctrine, p. 35).

IV. There Is No Universal Church Only Local Congregation.

A. “A New Testament church is not made up or composed of all the saved . . . A New Testament church is not an invisible, universal, intangible, mystical fellowship of spirits of saved men . . . The evil idea of a universal, invisible church was instigated by the Roman Catholic Church and has been copied and siphoned along by Protestants . . . The idea that one automatically becomes a member of a big universal, invisible, spiritual church the instant he is saved, is an erroneous idea.” (Dr. Albert Garner, Defense Of The Faith, pp. 107, 108).

B. “It is therefore not correct to speak of `The Baptist Church.’ There is no such thing. There are thousands of Baptist churches, as each congregation of baptized believers is a church, but these congregations are not combined in any way so as to make the one great Baptist Church” (Ben M. Bogard, The Baptist Way-Book, pp. 14, 15).

C. “One of the most widespread theories of this day is the theory that the church that Jesus founded was not a local, visible assembly, but a Universal Invisible Church to which all believers belong, and of which they were made a part . . . It will be the purpose of the author to show the fallacy of this theory in this book” (Roy Mason, The Myth Of The Universal Invisible Church Theory Exploded, p. 3).

D. “The church, in the Scriptural sense, is always an independent, local organization” (John T. Christian, A History Of The Baptists, p. 14).

E. “Now the kind of church which is emphasized in the New Testament is neither invisible nor universal; but instead, visible and local. The Greek word for `church’ is `ecclesia.’ and those who know anything of that language are agreed that the word signifies `an assembly.’ Now an `assembly’ is a company of people who, actually assemble. If they never `assemble’ then it is a misuse of language to call them `an assembly.’ Therefore, as all of God’s people never have yet assembled together, there is today no `universal church’ or `assembly”‘ (A.W. Pink, Questions And Answers As To Church Authority, p. 37).

F. “I have shown that the idea of a great Universal Invisible Church, or a Visible Universal Church composed of all the visible churches, or, as some claim, of all baptized, independent of local churches, can not, by any fair exegesis, be found. (J.R. Graves, Questions And Answers As To Church Authority, p. 37).

G. “It should be remembered that by church, Baptists mean what the New Testament teaches – a local, real congregation of baptized believers united together for God’s service” (S.H. Ford, Questions And Answers As To Church Authority, p. 37).

V. Missionary Baptist Churches Are The New Testament Church Of Christ.

A. “They not only hold on the authority of the Word of God and reliable history that the churches of the New Testament were what would be called Baptist churches today; that Baptists are historical descendants of these same New Testament churches . . .” (Roy Mason, Th. D., The Church That Jesus Built, p. 11).

B. “The author personally believes, firmly and passionately, that the church with which he is associated, known commonly as `The Missionary Baptist Church,’ is the church that is identified in the New Testament” (Roy M. Reed, The Glorious Church, p. 11).

C. “Baptists teach that the Baptist Church is the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ and it is” (L.D. Foreman, editor of The Baptist World, in Biblical Proofs For Identifying The True Church, p. 7).

D. “The church known as the Missionary Baptist Church is Scriptural in origin, doctrine, practice and name” (Proposition affirmed in debate by Ben M. Bogard, Missionary Baptist, Porter-Bogard Debate, pp. 1-195).

E. “The churches known to my brethren and me as Missionary Baptist Churches are scriptural in origin, name, doctrine, and practice, and have had a continuous existence from the time of their origin to the present day” (proposition affirmed by Wayne Camp, President of the Illinois Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary, during debate with Larry Ray Hafley in Peoria, Illinois, August 23, 24, 26, 27, 1971, The Marantha Messenger, edited by Wayne Camp, August 17, 1971).

Of course, Missionary Baptists have been the most vocal and aggressive Baptist group when it comes to defending salvation by faith, before and without water baptism, and the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. In recent years, however, there have not been as many public debates on these vital issues. Honorable discussion always benefits the cause of truth. After reading this special series of studies, perhaps some Baptists will invite further study.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 4, pp. 101-104
February 17, 1983