Monday, May 08, 2006

History and Heresies of Hardshell Baptists, chapter 5

Here is chapter five of the series on Hardshell Baptists by Brother Bob Ross.



Chapter Five:


An Examination of How the Hardshells Diluted the London Baptist Confession

One of the most reprehensible acts by a group of Primitive Baptist ministers was perpetrated in November 1900.

From the 14th day to the 18th day -- five days of infamy -- "fifty-one ministers, representing three-hundred and thirty-five churches, aggregating fourteen-thousand five-hundred members in direct correspondence with over one-hundred-thousand Baptists," set themselves -- after adorning their nefarious scheme with all the proper and pious camouflage of the most sanctimonious session of the Scribes and Pharisees -- to the work of "clarifying" and "adding some explanations to" the most highly respected confessional document in the history of English-speaking Baptists, The Baptist Confession, set forth in London, England in 1689.

This 20th century "Sanhedrin" was shepherded in part by a couple of well-known elders of Old School craft, James H. Oliphant and John M. Thompson, who proved to be two veritable Jehudi's (Jeremiah 36:23). Not content with their rejection of the London Confession, they found it more to their liking to distort it and perpetrate the distortion under the "unanimous vote" of their ministerial accessories among which "tears filled eyes," contemplating their deed as "doing God service" (John 16:2). This meeting had all the "holy smoke" of a Papal election. And no one can puff more "sweet" and "comforting" holy smoke than the "little lambs" of Hardshellism.

The hallowed ground on which this holy convocation of Hardshell "rabbis" took place was the meeting-house located in Fulton, Kentucky, and the grand product of this enclave in Zion was published under title of A Comprehensive Confession of Faith. I am the proud possessor of a maroon hardback edition of this blessed creation, published by those professing to be "servants" -- E. D. Speir, R. E. Cagle, and E. D. Speir, Jr. -- in this current form in 1981.

These brethren of the Old School, in a humility worthy of the likes of Madam Guyon and St. Thomas of Assisi, announced that they felt themselves "under profound obligations to thank God and labor faithfully for the prosperity of his holy cause," and with "humble gratitude" to the "gracious and divine providence of God," recognizing that "language naturally undergoes some change," they "deemed prudent" the adding of "some explanations to those sections that seemed ambiguous" in the Baptist Confession of 1689.

The sanctified purpose of the "explanations" and "clarifications" was -- of course -- "increased gladness and the sweetest union," "general prosperity," "establishing union and fellowship," and similar attendant blessings within the sweet Old Baptist "home." Who could possibly have ever entertained the doubt that such "obedient servants" as Thompson, Oliphant and their fellow butchers would prove to be triumphant in behalf of their beloved Zion?

But despite their holy fervor, sweet prayers, tears, explanatory abilities, and unanimous vote, it seems that the old Baptist Confession has proved to be too much of a piece of granite, and their efforts at patching up Zion, where she was "torn into factions in so many places," failed; -- tears, rents, and factions are at this late date greater than at the turn of the century. "For many years, I have seen the spiritual decline approaching . . . The problems have obviously become worse," bemoans Elder S. T. Tolley (The Christian Baptist, 4/92, p.5).

Viewed from our own perspective, it would have been far more the act of honesty and candor had this solemn assembly of Scribes and Pharisees simply acknowledged the fact that their own theology was so far removed from that of the 1689 Baptist Confession they must cease the hypocrisy of claiming the Confession, then they should have composed their own confession. This would have at least relieved them of the necessity of the contemptible spectacle of "clarifying" what they and everyone else understood perfectly to be the doctrinal sentiments of the Baptists who set their names to the 1689 Confession.

THE FACT IS, IT WAS "UNDERSTANDING" THE BAPTIST CONFESSION WHICH MADE IT NECESSARY FOR THIS GATHERING OF HARDSHELLS TO HACK AND HEW ON THE CONFESSION IN THE EFFORT TO MAKE IT ACCEPTABLE. All of their pious reasons notwithstanding, the truth is, these Old School Primitive Baptists DID NOT BELIEVE the doctrines of the London Confession and would have set up "bars of fellowship" against every last one of those who originally signed the 1689 Confession had the signatories arisen from the dead and asked for a "home" among these Hardshell brethren.

We have already called attention to Elder S. T. Tolley's repudiation of the London Confession (chapter four) on those chapters of the Confession which he specified, as he called for the composing of a new confession which would accurately represent Primitive Baptists. Another Hardshell, Elder R. V. Sarrels, who wrote a book presenting Hardshell doctrine, ostensibly called a "Systematic Theology," very candidly confesses that Primitive Baptists "do not believe" chapter three of the London Confession, and he charges that the Fulton Convention of 1900 wrote a footnote "to make this old article MEAN WHAT IT DOES NOT SAY" (Systematic Theology, pages 109, 110).

Sarrels indicates that the sweet brethren who gathered at Fulton, Ky. in 1900 were engaged in a "literary effort of TORTURING of language" when they tried to "clarify" and "explain" the London Confession. He says, "Moderate or Non-fatalist Calvinists must either repudiate this statement [in the London Confession] or resign themselves to the endless task of trying to make it mean what it does not say" (page 111).

Why didn't the 1900 Fulton Convention do the honest thing and simply repudiate the London Confession and write their own separate confession? Because they are of the "We-be-Abraham's Seed" progeny, claiming they are the "true," "only," "legitimate" church and ministry in succession back to the 17th century Baptists. To come out and honestly state the truth of the matter, they would thereby be giving up their farcical and spurious claim. To avoid this humiliation, they took the route of adding "clarifications" and "explanations" in footnotes, presuming that naive Baptists didn't have enough sense to read and understand what the 17th century Baptists plainly stated.

Throughout the Confession, significant places were selected by the Hardshell scribes for "footnoting," wherein they have placed their leaven of Hardshell aberrations. The two primary doctrines which merit the most attention are (1) predestination, and (2) "means" in the new birth. On these, the reader is treated to the views of the Hardshells which are clearly in opposition to the views of the 17th century Baptists. The modern Hardshells deny these doctrines as they were believed by the Baptists of the London Assembly of 1689.

The Theory of "Patternism"

Three major "schisms" divided the professing Baptist community in the 1800's, and all three had certain philosophies in common. These three schisms were (1) the Campbellite movement, led by Alexander Campbell; (2) the Anti-Mission movement, promoted by John Taylor, Daniel Parker, Joshua Lawrence, and Gilbert Beebe; and (3) the Landmark movement developed on the principles advocated by James Robinson Graves.

Accounts of these movements are available in Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, with regard to Campbellism; History of the Church of God, on "Primitive Baptists" (Anti-Missionism) by Hassell; and Old Landmarkism - What is it? by James R. Graves. My books (1) Campbellism -- Its History and Heresies, and (2) Old Landmarkism and the Baptists, are exposures of the errors of these schisms, and (3) these current writings on Hardshellism are similarly designed.

One of the notions shared in common by all three of these schisms is what is sometimes called "patternism."

PATTTERNISM is the idea that the Bible presents a specific pattern, plan, method, procedure, or precedent, given for the purpose of subsequent conformity by succeeding generations of Christians. Campbellites are fond of the term "pattern," the Hardshells like the word "order," and Landmarkers like the term "scriptural." Of course, these are not the only terms used by these various groups, but whatever the term used, the concept is the same -- the idea of a "Divine Pattern" given in the Scriptures designed for our conformity.

If any one of these groups "lived up" to their own contention, there might at least be one incentive for us to give their teaching a moment's serious consideration; however, the only thing to result from the theory of "patternism" is open hypocrisy, endless contentions, and crystallized, sectarian legalism. In every instance wherein the alleged "divine pattern" is defined and applied, it comes down to being whatever the strongest "leader"of the sect holds to be the "truth." When two or more "leaders" butt heads over some point of doctrine and practice in the "pattern," then factions develop, and non-fellowship is declared. This accounts for many of the endless controversies and divisions which have taken place in the history of Campbellism, Hardshellism, and Landmarkism.

Among the Hardshells, the curse of "patternism" was very well demonstrated in their history in the state of Alabama. Reading the history of the Alabama Hardshells is akin to reading the history of gang warfare. Arminianism, Missionism, New Schoolism, nor any other outside "ism" has done as much damage to Hardshellism in Alabama as their own committal to "patternism," with its natural consequences. A trip through Alabama Hardshell history is like a visit to a leper's colony or some plaque-stricken area of the world -- conflict, division, dissolution, and death abound.

Elder E. B. Watts' A History of the Primitive Baptists in Alabama depicts the most notable internal troubles, issues, splits, and personality clashes which afflicted Hardshellism in that state. Most notorious among these were the Shelton - Ballew controversy and the Allgood - Ballew controversy, being situations where Hardshell "leaders" differed on something in the "pattern," or "order," and the natural result was division, splitting both churches and associations. Setting up so-called "bars of fellowship" was common to Alabama Hardshell "associations," which is just one example of contradicting their own "patternism" philosophy. One will find a "convention" in the same passage he finds an Old School "association," an "ordination council of ministers," or "singing school."

If nothing else refuted the theory of "patternism," the changes that invariably take place over a period of time would be sufficient. Among the Hardshells, the changes have been many, despite their congratulating themselves as being one with the "Old Baptists." Elder Watts says:

Whether we accept it willingly or not, the first hundred years of the Primitive Baptists in Alabama, and elsewhere, saw several drastic changes of policy in churches and in associations. The first of these was the revolt against systematic missions which came about in the 1830's and early 1840's. Up to this time, most, if not all, Baptist churches respected "domestic missions" or to be more specific, "itinerant preaching" within the bounds of the associations. It was not until the churches and associations became agents of the Baptist State Convention, did they abandon the support of missions in every form . . . revivals and protracted meetings were commonplace among most, if not all, the Baptists before the division (page 113).

"Orthodoxy" among the "patternists" is generally determined by those who become the virtual "popes" over those who permit such "lordship."

Elder W. J. Berry was one of the few editors among the Hardshells who saw the evil tendencies and consequences of "patternism" as it manifested itself through "associations" and their virtual "popes." In the November 1958 issue of his Old Faith Contender magazine, Elder Berry published one of the most scathing and incisive articles on Hardshell ecclesiasticism I have read in my lifetime. Here are excerpts from the remarks by Brother Berry:

"Now, all things honestly and carefully considered, in respect to church life and government, the Primitive Baptists are no longer under the government of grace, but have fallen under the old yoke of a law bondage, by the power and fear of man-controlled church orders (page 297).
"In the last one hundred years Primitive Baptists have been extremely active in establishing new doctrines and new church orders, each faction claiming theirs to be 'orthodox' and all others as 'heretical.' While they are not able to burn the heretics at the stake, or send them to jail, they do go the limit in other means of pressure, ostracizing, 'cutting off,' etc. (page 298).
"The various factions of Old School, or Primitive Baptists have, by their leaders conjured an endless list of standards for orthodoxy [the same is true of the Campbellite and Landmark factions -- BLR], withdrawing from all as 'heretics' who do not submit to their particular mode of orthodoxy . . . The various factions over the land today manifest by their attitude and actions that they know ALL the truth and have ALL the truth . . . How dried up have we become! and how lean and naked, to be satisfied with a little brass sounding and tinkling cymbals! (page 298).
So today, that people known as Primitive Baptists have been brought into the bondage and power of religious politicians, and have followed their regulations and traditions until they have been shattered into many factions, each one of which is in the firm grip of the system that has brought them into bondage (page 293).

[On "associationalism" among the Hardshells, Berry says:] "They drew up many rules and regulations of what -- to the leaders -- was doctrine, order and disorder. They drew up resolutions of non-fellowship, and each time a division came, another set of rules, and another set of non-fellowship resolutions were added. Each faction published itself as the 'original' and the other side the 'so-called,' or 'disorderly' side . . . Each faction and each leadership calling what they believed and practiced 'the old order,' when really all of them combined had departed from the principles of truth and the gospel of Christ!" [page 293].

Bro. Berry could have pointed out that the Hardshells were only repeating the spirit and divisiveness which were responsible for the original movement when certain "leaders" pressed the churches and associations to declare against their Baptist brethren with whom they differed on mission methods. It appears they gave birth to a beast which in time turned upon the parent and rent it in pieces, all in the name of the "Old Order."

Berry alleges "there are now [1958] not more than nine men whose dictates control all the principle groups of Primitive Baptists throughout the United States." He says, "It is the most ruthless tyrannical machine ever developed among Baptists."

Chapters previously mailed:

#1: "Hardshellism" - A Modern Cult
#2: Which Primitive Baptist Faction is the "Original Church"?
#3: The Original Issue in the Anti-Missions Movement
#4: Distortion and Repudiation of the London Confession of Faith of 1689


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