"Old Time" Baptists

By the middle of the eighteenth century, Baptists had begun to settle the mountain valleys of what is now East Tennessee, and by 1786 their small churches were numerous enough to establish what became the second Baptist association west of the Alleghenies, the Holston Valley Association. However, these early Tennessee Baptists brought with them a doctrinal division that had flourished before and after the Great Awakening. “Regular Baptists” held an allegiance to the Philadelphia Association (established in 1707) and to that organization’s creed, the Philadelphia Confession (adopted in 1742 as a heavily Calvinistic, limited atonement document). “Separate Baptists” had become non-credal, Arminian, general atonement Baptists. Although most of the larger Baptist churches of Tennessee now are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, there still are Regular and Separate congregations within the state, preserving many of their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century traditions.

“Old Time Baptists” or “Old Baptists” are informal titles employed by some in the Central Appalachians to indicate not only the Regulars and the Separates, but also a host of equally small denominations with titles such as Old Missionary Baptists, Old Regular Baptists, Regular Old School Baptists, Regular Primitive Baptists, and United Baptists. All are derivatives from either the Regulars, the Separates, or both, and share many of the same tenets such as the observance of such traditional practices as lined a cappella singing, rhythmically chanted impromptu preaching, congregational shouting, and warmly tactile worship behavior; strict adherence to “natural water” (also called “living water”) baptisms and communion services that are followed by footwashings; the practice of such governance rules as Paulinian gender mandates, Paulinian directives for elders and deacons, and articles of decorum that date from the earliest history of colonial Baptists; and restrictions on divorce and “double marriage” (remarriage after divorce, while the original spouse still lives). A common liturgical format that, for example, makes the typical Regular Primitive service appear remarkably similar to those of Regular, Old Regular, and United Baptists includes–among other common liturgical elements–at least three sermons, and as many as seven or eight, depending on the nature of the service.

In terms of doctrine, these “Old Baptists” are a mixed lot. With the exception of the Separates, each of these subdenominations believe in some version of “election.” However, Primitives usually interpret election as meaning that before the beginning of time God chose who would become the beneficiaries of Christ’s atonement, while Regular, Old Regulars, and Uniteds generally see election as a process by which God individually “calls” the sinner to regeneration and redemption. Separates have adopted a general atonement doctrine that grants to the individual the “free will” to choose or reject redemption. One unique Regular Primitive group found in Appalachia, the Primitive Baptist Universalists, believes Christ’s atonement is for all, with the result that at the “Resurrection” all of humankind will be reunited with God and Christ in heaven.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title "Old Time" Baptists
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018