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Baptist Confessionalism: Unity and Diversity Among Baptist Associations in the Southern States During the Nineteenth Century.

Perhaps the oldest confession still in regular use today by Christians transcending denominational parameters is the Apostles' Creed, a document purported by some scholars to have originated as early as the latter half of the second century. (3) While Baptists have consistently attempted to distinguish between ecclesially embracing confessions on one hand while rejecting creedalism on the other, (4) William Lumpkin is right to insist that "few Christian groups have confessed their faith so freely as the Baptists." (5)

The background for this paper, including the primary sources, evaluation, and conclusions in the body below are, in part, included in and based upon a much broader original research project covering confessionalism in Baptist associations in the southern states during the nineteenth century. (6) During the research more than four hundred Baptist associations in twelve southern states were examined for articles of faith to be compiled for confessional analysis. (7) The associations surveyed collectively represent 55-60 percent of the total number of Baptist associations organized during the nineteenth century in the southern states examined, and consequently yields a comprehensive profile which may stand as the broadest examination of Baptist associations for confessional documents in the southern states to date. (8) The findings can be depicted as both predictable and surprising, some key findings of which are included below.

Confessional Consensus

The model often employed to summarize Baptist confessional traditions in the nineteenth-century South suggests basically only two confessional sources: the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (PCF, 1742) and the New Hampshire Declaration of Faith (NHC, 1833). The narrative usually suggests that the Philadelphia confessional tradition was virtually monolithic in acceptance during the first half of the nineteenth century, particularly among Baptists of the South. Historian Timothy George has stated in various places that the delegates who met at Augusta, Georgia in May 1845 to organize a new southern convention of Baptists came from churches and associations all of which had adopted Philadelphia's confession: "Each of the 293 'delegates,' as they were then called, who gathered in Augusta to organize the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, belonged to congregations and associations that had adopted the Philadelphia/Charleston Confession of Faith as their own." (9)

What is more, George's assertion has been uncritically echoed by many contemporary Baptists who embrace a basically Reformed Baptist theological perspective. Perhaps more than any other, Tom Ascol, executive director of Founders Ministries, has repeatedly appealed to George's historical assertion to argue that Southern Baptists should get back to their theological roots, their historical, strictly Calvinistic roots. (10) Others have followed George's confessional narrative for Baptists in the southern states during the nineteenth century, including Baptist historians Thomas J. Nettles and Nathan Finn. (11) And, to illustrate the broad confessional impact George's historical assertion about Baptist confessionalism has had upon the local church, note what one church expressed as its rationale for embracing the Philadelphia confessional tradition: (12)
In order to fully express our faith to the world and to demonstrate our
commitment to the heritage and mission of the Southern Baptist
Convention, we do hereby adopt as our confession of faith the
Charleston Confession of Faith (also known as the Second London Baptist
Confession of Faith of 1689), the confession held by the churches and
all 293 delegates that established the Southern Baptist Convention in
1845. (13)


The second confessional source cited in understanding Baptist confessionalism in the southern states during the nineteenth century is the New Hampshire confessional tradition. Continuing the normative narrative held presently, while the NHC was adopted by the New Hampshire Baptist Convention in 1833, it remained mostly local and had little, if any, impact on Baptists outside the North, Northeast, and perhaps the West before the mid-nineteenth century. William Lumpkin's claim appears typical: "This document might not have become known outside of New Hampshire except for the work of one of its authors, J. Newton Brown, who...revised the confession on his own authority and published it in The Baptist Church Manual." (14) Changing some wording of the original sixteen articles, Brown further composed and included two additional articles--one on "Repentance and Faith" and another on "Sanctification." (15)

Consequently, the NHC gained tremendous traction in circulation. Other church manuals written by popular and well-respected Baptists also included Brown's version of the NHC in their publications--James M. Pendleton in 1867 and Edward T. Hiscox in 1868--adding a new level to the circulation of the NHC finally breaking into the South. (16) However, even then it is suggested the NHC was received mostly in the North, East, and West. Accordingly, the PCF remained the most popular and predominant confessional source upon which Baptists in the South depended. (17) The main difficulty with this commonly rehearsed historical narrative of nineteenth-century Baptist confessionalism is the abject lack of original sources to substantiate the claim. After examining the confessional documents gleaned from more than four hundred Baptist associations in twelve southern states during the nineteenth century, it remains clear to this author that echo chambers appear to have far too often driven the conclusions concerning what Baptists confessed in the nineteenth century. McGlothlin makes a general claim, which Mullins uncritically accepted. Mullins' claim is repeated by Lumpkin, and perhaps because Lumpkin remains one of Baptists' most esteemed authorities, his claim is uncritically accepted by Leonard. The echo continues. Hence, this paper challenges the historical echo that during the nineteenth century, Baptists in the southern states drew water from basically only two confessional streams: PCF and NHC. As the evidence will indicate, several confessional traditions or "families" are detectable among Baptist associations in the nineteenth-century South. (18)

Furthermore, perhaps the greatest observation concerning confessional documents this researcher gleaned about Baptist associations in the South during the nineteenth century is that neither the Philadelphia confessional tradition nor the New Hampshire confessional tradition influentially dominated the confessions and abstracts of faith adopted by associations in the southern states. (19) Instead the evidence appears to indicate that, when the confessions are collectively compiled into respective traditions, a major yet often overlooked confessional influence on Baptists was independent of rather than slavishly dependent upon either the PCF or the NHC.

Consequently, the traditional historical taxonomy of two confessional sources (PCF and NHC) broadly framing our understanding of Baptist confessionalism in the nineteenth century is a lens that only blurs our ability to appreciate the full richness of unity and diversity in the Baptist free church tradition. Perhaps the time has come to put the two-confessional-sources theory for southern Baptist belief and cooperation in the nineteenth century to rest.

After briefly examining some examples of the confessional unity expressed among Baptist associations in the South, we will offer a confessional taxonomy more indicative of the rich diversity among Baptists in the southern states during the nineteenth century. Included in the taxonomy will be confessional examples from select associations within all twelve southern states included in the original research project.

Confessional Unity

Perhaps most predictable of all generalizations is the breadth of confessional unity found among Baptists of the South. (20) In the survey sample, several layers of doctrinal unity quickly rise into plain sight. (21)

On the doctrine of God there remains little variation. (22) Baptists were virtually universal in their confessional expression of "one true and living God" revealed as "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." There were, however, expressions in some of the "freestyle" confessions (23) that some observers would perhaps rightly judge, if not inadequate, then certainly far too vague for reasonable theological parameters. For example, Alabama's Union Baptist Association's brief article on God confessed,
[We believe in] the being of a God, a trinity of persons in the
Godhead..." (24)


More nebulous in their confessional expression for the doctrine of God were the Baptists of Alabama's Big Bear Association who merely confessed they believed in the "sublime truth" of "The Being of a God-head." (25) Few Baptists today would be satisfied confessing Big Bear's article on the doctrine of God. More common were articles expressing belief in God in language with which most of today's Baptists would likely theologically identify. Arkansas' Big Fork Baptists are a good example:
Art. 1 We believe in only one true and living God. And that there is a
trinity of persons in the God head, the Father, the Son, and Holy
Ghost, and that these three are one. (26)


The doctrine of the church also displayed remarkable confessional unity, with all associations examined displaying consistency in affirming baptism and the Lord's Supper as gospel ordinances. Associations invariably claimed immersion as the only "legal" mode of baptism, while almost always expressing the ceremony of baptism itself as prerequisite to partaking the Lord's Supper:
We believe that none but regularly baptized members have a right to
commune at the Lord's table. (27)


Occasionally an association named foot-washing as a gospel ordinance, but this was rare:
We believe that Baptism, the Lord's Supper and the washing of the
Saint's Feet, are Ordinances of Jesus Christ, and true believers are
the only fit subjects of those Ordinances, and believe the only true
mode of Baptism is Immersion. (28)


Rarer still did associations encourage in their article on gospel ordinances the practice of foot-washing while making it clear foot-washing did not qualify as New Testament ordinances such as baptism and the Lord's Supper. But the North Alabama Association constitutes one of those rare exceptions. Its Article 10 reads:
We believe that water Baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances
instituted by Christ, and should be continued until his second coming,
and that washing the Saint's feet is a duty that should be practiced by
the church. -Mark, 16:15; 1 Corinth, 11:23, 24, 25. (29)


Scriptural authority is another universal article found in virtually all Baptist confessions. (30) While verbal variants existed among the hundreds of confessions adopted by the southern associations, a universal core expression seems to have transcended all the confessions. Georgia's Central Association is a good representative of most southern associations in its confession:
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and
the only rule of Faith and practice. (31)


For them, the Bible is God's word and constitutes the sole authority in ecclesial matters, spiritual life, and moral development. North Carolina's Brier Creek Association confessed similarly:
We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the
word of God, and the only rule of faith and practice. (32)


Yet some associational articles on scriptural authority possessed wording not commonly found in other confessions. For example, the North Alabama Association's article on Scripture appears to make a hard distinction between the word of God and the rule of faith:
We believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the
word of God, and the New Testament the rule of faith and practice--2
Timothy, 3:16; Matthew, 9:13; Hebrews, 10:9. (33)


South Carolina's Edgefield Association possessed a phrase in its article on Scripture affirming human reason as a legitimate hermeneutical tool in discerning God's will, a phrase not found in any other confession examined in this project. After affirming the Old and New Testaments as God's word and only authority for faith and practice, Edgefield Baptists added:
Yet we are free to admit the exercise of human reason, on Scriptural
principles, in cases in which the Scripture has not expressly provided.
(34)


Moreover, Missouri's West Fork Association adopted a one-of-a-kind article on scriptural authority among the associations examined in this research by connecting scriptural authority exclusively to the King James Version translation:
2. We believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament, (the
translation made in the reign of King James) are the words of God, and
the only rule of Faith and practice. (35)


Virginia's Hebron Association also embraced somewhat unusual language in its article on Scripture:
Art. 1--The Bible--the Bible alone--is a sufficient rule of faith and
practice; whatsoever, therefore, is enjoined by the Bible is binding
upon Christians, and whatsoever is allowed by the Bible is expedient
and lawful to be done. (36)


Even so, regardless of these slight and at times unusual verbal differences, Baptists in the South were confessionally united on the nature and authority of the Bible.

Other unifying confessional themes include the person of Christ and his unique role as the sole Redeemer, justification based exclusively upon the work of Christ and his imputed righteousness, sinful human depravity, (37) perseverance of the saints, (38) a general judgment, bodily resurrection, and eternal bliss for the saved but eternal torment for unbelievers.

Confessional Diversity

Given the evidence assimilated from surveys of the associations, a new taxonomy for understanding Baptist confessionalism in the nineteenth century includes several confessional profiles, with each profile representing a different confessional tradition. (39) Below is an initial proposal to consider in extending the confessional interpretation by Baptists in the South during the nineteenth century beyond the present binary approach limited basically to the PCF and NHC.

The Philadelphia Confessional Tradition

Out of the 424 associations examined, ninety-six confessions clearly adhered to articles reflecting Philadelphia's legendary confession, including articles of faith possessing either explicit language affirming the Philadelphia tradition as the confessional guide to the association, or abstracts of faith containing distilled (40) affirmations of the doctrine of Unconditional Election expressed in the PCF. Words and phrases such as "eternal particular election," "effectually called," "certain number," the elect "in particular are redeemed," and "impossible for the elect to resist the call of God," among other phrases are fit qualifiers for this confessional profile. That less than a hundred confessions gleaned from several hundred associations appear to flow from Philadelphia Calvinism seems to be a major challenge to traditional confessional narratives, which suggests the PCF ruled the doctrinally cooperative life of Baptists in the southern states during the nineteenth century. (41)

The New Hampshire Confessional Tradition

A total of ninety-one of the 424 associations examined are classified in the New Hampshire tradition. This confessional tradition could well be broken into two distinct sections, the Original New Hampshire Confession (1835) and the New Hampshire Confession (1853). Contrary to many who insist the NHC did not become prominent until J. Newton Brown published his church manual in 1853, and especially so among Baptists in the South, the evidence shows the original sixteen articles of the NHC were well circulated prior to 1853 and had made huge inroads into associational life even in the Deep South including Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina. The widely overlooked venue for circulation of New Hampshire's original sixteen articles is its inclusion in the 1835 edition of The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, a volume whose editor was none other than J. Newton Brown. No fewer than forty Baptist associations across nine of the twelve states examined had adopted the original articles. (42)

In the research, fifty-one of the 424 associations examined for articles of faith yielded clear indications that Brown's 1853 version of the NHC was the confessional source for the association's adopted document. The NHC (1853) was also found in nine of the twelve states examined. Since only about half of the total associations organized in the nineteenth century were examined in this study, most other associations probably adopted the NHC (1853) as well as the original articles.

The Broad River Confessional Tradition

North Carolina Baptist historian George Paschal describes the origins of two confessional traditions beginning in the Carolinas at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries as confessional traditions that embraced short abstracts of faith as confessional documents rather than long and pedantic doctrinal confessions like the PCF (43) These documents became what one historian calls "distilled versions" of longer confessions such as the PCF. (44) Paschal describes the need for and the usefulness of briefer abstracts of faith: "It was recognized that the Philadelphia Confession...was too long and confusing a document to be understood by many of the members of Baptist churches. For the present purpose a briefer and simpler statement was needed--an 'abstract of Baptist principles'." (45) Hence, an abstract of faith reflecting the PCF was composed and apparently reproduced in John Asplund's 1791 edition of the Baptist Register. (46) The abstract clearly reflected the Unconditional Election statement of the PCF in Article 3:
We believe in the doctrine of eternal particular election.


As noted above, at least ninety-six associations in the southern states adopted a confession reflecting the unconditional election in the PCF, many associations of which used the very wording of Article 3. North Carolina's Yadkin Association evidently adopted the abstract of faith found in Asplund's register when it formally organized in 1790. (47) In 1800, however, the Broad River Association was organized with churches from both North Carolina and what would later become South Carolina, (48) churches that did not necessarily accept, in theological union, the unconditional election of the PCF. (49) Thus, while the Broad River Association partially accepted the Baptist abstract of principles as found in Asplund's Register (1791), unlike Yadkin Baptists who apparently accepted in full Asplund's published abstract, (50) Broad River Baptists consciously rejected both the "eternal particular election" found in Article 3 and Article 7 that stated,
We believe that God's elect shall be called, converted, regenerated,
and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (51)


Dropping Article 7 completely from the abstract, Broad River Baptists substituted for Article 3 an alternate interpretation on the doctrine of election:
We believe in the doctrine of Election through sanctification of the
Spirit and belief of the truth. (52)


Paschal found other associations in North Carolina that were neither theologically loyal to nor confessionally dependent upon the PCF, subsequently adopting the identical abstract of faith as did Broad River Baptists. (53)

What Paschal could not have known since he dealt exclusively with North Carolina Baptists was that Baptists all over the South eventually began using the same confessional expression for the doctrine of election in their articles of faith, as did the Broad River Association. Of the 400-plus associations examined for confessions, no less than seventy-two in eleven of the twelve states yielded either an exact reproduction or very similar wording as did Broad River Baptists in expressing the doctrine of election. (54) Consequently, the Broad River confessional tradition seems to fiercely challenge the widely accepted narrative often asserted or assumed, at least so far as associational confessions are concerned, that the PCF dominated the confessional expression of Baptists in the southern states during the nineteenth century until the NHC usurped it later in the century--if it usurped it at all.

The No Election Confessional Tradition

Among the most unpredictable findings derived from the survey was the large number of associations that neither composed nor confessed an article addressing the doctrine of election and/or predestination. Out of the hundreds of associations surveyed for articles of faith, at least forty composed articles that generally looked and read like other abstracts of faith across the South. The one conspicuous difference was their silence concerning the doctrine of election. (55)

What is more, some of the associations that adopted articles of faith without addressing the doctrine of election are among those where the doctrine of election might most be expected. South Carolina's Edgefield Association is a prime example. (56) Organized in 1807 in western South Carolina along the Savannah River, Edgefield Baptists had adopted articles of faith, including an article on election that, while unique, arguably reflected the Philadelphia confessional tradition. In 1824, Article 4 in Edgefield's Abstract of Faith read:
We believe that all Saints are chosen in Christ Jesus to be holy and
obedient, according to God's sovereign purpose and free grace before
the world began: and that they all receive the effectual call of the
Holy Spirit, are justified, and are kept by the power of God, through
faith, unto salvation, and final glory with Christ in Heaven. (57)


However, by 1843, the Edgefield Association had changed its confession significantly, including an entire rewrite of its abstract of faith, leaving no article on election in the abstract of faith published in 1843. (58) Consequently, Edgefield's silence on the doctrine of election stands as a formidable challenge to those who insist that all delegates to the 1845 Augusta meeting to form a new southern convention came from churches and associations that had adopted the PCF as their own. Edgefield Association categorically did not. After all, just how Calvinistic is a confession of faith that fails to address the most significant characteristic of the Philadelphia confessional tradition--i.e. the doctrine of election? (59)

The Freestyle Confessional Tradition

In examining the confessions of the associations, some patterns emerged that fit neither the Philadelphia, Broad River, nor New Hampshire confessional tradition. These articles appeared to be locally composed, with little evidence that other confessions were used as models.

At least thirty-five associations in twelve states adopted articles addressing the doctrine of election, articles we have labeled the "freestyle confessional tradition." (60) For example, North Carolina's Elkin Association addressed the doctrine of election with extreme minimalist language. Article 3 in its entirety reads:
We believe in the doctrine of Election by grace. (61)


No major confession expresses the doctrine of election this succinctly. (62)

Alabama's Big Bear Creek Association embraced a freestyle abstract of faith, containing one long article that covered basic doctrines in short phrases all linked together. (63) Big Bear Creek Baptists confessed simply that:
God's elect are called and sanctified by the influence of the word of
God, and operation of the Holy Spirit.


No other associational confession examined worded the process of election quite like this. (64)

Arkansas' Saline Association also embraced a freestyle article on the doctrine of election made up entirely of biblical verses and phrases. Article 3 stated:
We believe in the doctrine of election, according as God has chosen us
in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy
and without blame before him in love, in whom ye also trusted, often
[sic] that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in
whom also after ye believed ye were sealed with that holy spirit of
promise. Eph. 1st chapter, 4th and 13th verses. 1st Peter, 1st chapter,
and 2nd verse. 1st Thess. 2nd chapter, 13th and 14th verses. (65)


Kentucky's Bethel Association embraced the doctrine of election and confessed it quite differently from either the PCF or the NHC. Yet it was similar to but more robust than the Broad River confessional tradition concerning election. Article 4 reads in full:
That the election taught, in the scriptures, is through sanctification
of the spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus
Christ; and that none are authorized to consider themselves elected to
salvation, until they repent, and believe the gospel. -1 Peter 1-2-2
Thcs. 1-1:5. (66)


Bethel's article on the doctrine of election possesses an original literary aura and seems to address a local issue that had arisen in the churches; namely, the belief in eternal justification. Following English Particular Baptist theologian John Gill (1697-1771), some strict Calvinists reasoned that since God chose his elect before the foundation of the world--that is, from eternity--it followed that his elect were justified from eternity. Therefore, Bethel Baptists, perhaps confessionally addressing eternal justification, responded, "none are authorized to consider themselves elected to salvation, until they repent, and believe the gospel."

Conclusion

The standard scholarly narrative of Southern Baptist Associational Confessions of Faith is that they depended primarily upon either the PCF (typically during the first half of the century) or the NHC (typically during the second half of the century). Examination of hundreds of Baptist associational confessions from twelve southern states provides abundant evidence to challenge this interpretative model as too simplistic. Instead, what emerges is a rich linguistic diversity in the confessions, raising the questions of both sources and theological emphases. Frankly, it remains difficult to determine with precision, at least for now, if any one confessional tradition influentially dominated Baptist associational life during either part of the nineteenth century. (67)

One confessional trajectory may be safely put to rest, however. Those who insist that all 293 Baptist delegates who met in Augusta, Georgia to organize a southern convention in 1845 came from churches and associations that embraced the PCF must re-evaluate their claim in light of the historical record. Dozens of Baptist associations, some of which were represented in Augusta, existed in the southern states at the mid-nineteenth century, and hundreds existed over the entire span of the nineteenth century that held no theological loyalty to or confessional dependence upon the PCF--or any major confession for that matter. Rather, the historical record suggests that Baptists in the nineteenth-century South held to a much more robust confessional diversity than many scholars appear to appreciate. (68)

Notes

(1) Many scholars insist creeds or basic statements of doctrinal belief are rooted within the Christian scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. For example, "The origin of creeds is rooted... in the nature of revelation itself." See J.H. Leith, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, vol. 1 (New Haven, CTi Yale University Press, 1992), 1203. However, the present essay deals with the historic existence and ecclesial use of creeds and confessions specifically within the Baptist faith tradition, rather than the biblical warrant for the existence and continued usefulness of confessions or creedal documents.

(2) Brooke Foss Westcott, The Historic Faith. Short Lectures on the Apostles' Creed, 4th ed. (London: MacMillan & Co., 1890), 17.

(3) Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 87. See also, R.G. Turnbull, ed., Baker's Dictionary of Practical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), 278, and H.B. Swete, The Apostles' Creed: Its Relation to Primitive Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908), 9-18.

(4) James E. Carter boldly claims, "Baptists have always been careful to draw the distinction between a confession of faith and a creed." See "A Review of Baptist Confessions of Faith Adopted by Major Baptist Bodies in the United States," Baptist History and Heritage (April 1977): 75. Baptist historian William Lumpkin makes an even stronger claim: "Few Christian groups have confessed their faith so freely as the Baptists, but no group has been more reluctant than they to elevate these confessions into authoritative symbols or creeds." See Clifton J. Allen, ed., Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, vol. 1 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1958), 305-306. Finally, William McGlothlin understood the Baptist tradition toward confessions as "strictly speaking, statements of what a certain group of Baptists, large or small, did believe at a given time, rather than a creed which any Baptist must believe at all times in order to hold ecclesiastical position or be considered a Baptist. In the latter sense there has been no Baptist creed." See Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), xi. Some perceive a shift taking place in more recent years by many American Southern Baptists toward confessional usage exploited more as authoritative creeds to determine belief rather than historic confessions to describe belief. See William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 2nd rev. ed., ed. Bill J. Leonard (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2011) 3-5; and Thomas H. Graves, "Baptist Identity in the Twentieth Century," Baptist History and Heritage (Summer/Fall 2000): 15-22.

(5) Lumpkin, Encyclopedia, 305-306.

(6) E. Peter Frank Lumpkins, "The Decline of Confessional Calvinism among Baptist Associations in the Southern States during the Nineteenth Century" (Ph.D. diss., University of Pretoria, 2018).

(7) The states examined were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, all of which were either represented at or sympathetic to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention at Augusta, Georgia in 1845. Associations surveyed in this research were based upon available minutes from the various southern state associations. Furthermore, since it was only within the scope of this project to ascertain and document the existence of a broadly embraced confessional diversity among Baptist associations in the southern states, no attempt was made to be exhaustive to conclude more accurately how much confessional diversity existed among the associations, a question entirely suitable for further research.

(8) According to vols. 1 and 2 of Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, approximately 768 associations were organized in the respective states no later than 1900.

(9) Timothy George and Denise George, eds., Baptist Why and Why Not (Nashville: Broad-man & Holman Publishers, 1996), 11. See also Timothy George, "Southern Baptist Ghosts" in First Things 93 (1999): 19. As one traces George's claim, however, it seems he did not begin with such a bold assertion that "each of the 293 delegates" (italics added) held to the Philadelphia confessional tradition. Rather, he was content with suggesting most delegates held to the PCF. Compare George's statement in 1989: "[I]t was unnecessary for the nascent Convention to adopt a specific theological standard because of the overwhelming doctrinal consensus which prevailed among the messengers, most of whom belonged to congregations which adhered to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, an American adaptation of the 1689 Second London Confession." See Timothy George, "The Priesthood of All Believers and the Quest for Theological Integrity," Criswell Theological Journal (January 1989): 283-294. Less than two years later, George's paper was republished in Founders Journal (Fall/Winter, 1990-1991): 7-12. Why George chose to absolutize his earlier claim, a claim that could have had empirical teeth, remains a mystery. As it presently stands, the empirical record certifies George's claim as erroneous.

(10) No fewer than eight times does George's claim concerning the theological and confessional profile of the Augusta delegates show up in Ascol's publicly written and/or spoken words. See, for example, Thomas K. Ascol, "Calvinism, Evangelism & Founders Ministries," The Founders Journal, 45 (Summer, 2001): 7; T. Ascol, "Different Name, Same Purpose," Founders Journal, 31 (Winter, 1997): 6; T. Ascol, "From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva to Do with Nashville?" Founders Journal, 70 (Fall 2007): 19. Founders Ministries is the largest network of strict Calvinists within the Southern Baptist Convention.

(11) Nettles echoed Timothy George's claim that each of the approximately 290 delegates to the Augusta meeting represented a strict Calvinistic body that adhered to the PCF. See Douglas K. Blount and Joseph D. Wooddell, eds., The Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Critical Issues in America's Largest Protestant Denomination (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), xxiii-xxiv. Nathan Finn repeated a slightly different version of George's claim in a brief essay on the influence of the PCF. See Between the Times, http://betweenthetimes.com/index.php/2014/02/26/on-fhe-baptist-confession-of-1689/ (accessed Nov. 29, 2017). See also Jared R. Longshore, "The Duty of Love to God: The Spiritual Theology of John Leadley Dagg" (Ph.D. diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2016), 107. Also compare Stan Reeves, though Reeves fails to give George credit. See Confessing the Faith: The 1689 Baptist Confession for the 21st Century (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2012), 8.

(12) The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742), and the Charleston Confession of Faith (1767) are virtually identical in their strictly Calvinistic theology and hence make up the foundational sources of the Philadelphia confessional tradition discussed in this paper.

(13) Grace Covenant Baptist Church, Great Falls, Montana. Grace Covenant Baptist Church, https://www.gracecovenantbaptist.org/about/doctrine/constitution/ (accessed Nov. 11, 2017). For more churches relying on George's historical claim for confessional purposes, see Riverside Baptist Church, http://riversidebc.com/resources/1689-baptist-confession (accessed Nov. 17, 2017); Grace Heritage Church. Grace Heritage Church. 2017. http://graceheritage.org/what-we-believe/ (accessed Nov. 17, 2017); Grace Baptist Church, Grace Baptist Church of North Tampa Bay, http://www.gbcntb.com/1689-introduction (accessed Nov. 16, 2017); Westside Baptist Church, Elders' Affirmations Concerning Salvation, http://westsidebaptistgf.org/aboutus/our-doctrine/elders-affirmations-concerning-salvation/ (accessed Feb. 11, 2018); and New Hope Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church, http://www.newhopemarianna.org/doctrine/1689-london-baptist-confession (accessed Feb. 11, 2018).

(14) Lumpkin, Encyclopedia, 308. See also, T George and D. George, Baptist Why and Why Not, 12, and Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2006), xl; also see Bill J. Leonard, Baptist Ways: A History (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2003), 190, and Dictionary of Baptists in America (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1994), 202; C.C. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962), 293-294; McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 300-301; William H. Brackney, A Genetic History of Baptist Thought: With Special Reference to Baptists in Britain and America (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2004), 41.

(15) McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 300.

(16) J.M. Pendleton, Church Manual Designed for the Use of Baptist Churches (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1867); E.T. Hiscox, The Baptist Directory: A Guide to the Doctrines and Practices of Baptist Churches (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1868).

(17) Edgar Young Mullins, Baptist Beliefs (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1912), 84. For an extended challenge to the well-established presumption that the New Hampshire confession held little to no confessional influence over Baptists in the southern states prior to 1853, see E. Peter Frank Lumpkins, "The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith: Reevaluating Its Impact on Baptists in the South During the Nineteenth Century," Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry (Fall 2018): 30-47.

(18) Arguably, up to nine confessional "families" or traditions existed among Baptist associations in the southern states. For more on all the various traditions, see Lumpkins, "The Decline of Confessional Calvinism." However, only the major traditions will be cited in this paper.

(19) Obviously, there remains broad overlap between all Baptist confessions concerning many articles of belief. So in this sense, virtually all American Baptist confessions could be considered "dependent upon" the Philadelphia confessional tradition. However, as we shall observe below, the doctrines of election, predestination, and atonement represent well the confessional variables expressed among Baptist associations in the South.

(20) Paradoxically, while Baptists themselves remain unsurprised concerning the broad confessional unity found in the American Baptist tradition, one must wonder, given the free church congregational polity embedded within the fabric of Baptist ecclesiology, how such theological unity might exist, and exist for so long.

(21) Space prohibits all but minimal examples of both unity and diversity among the associational confessions cited. Thus, the examples of confessional unity below are not intended to be exhaustive in identifying all unifying aspects of Baptist confessions. Nor is it necessary since this paper particularly focuses on doctrinal diversity rather than unity.

(22) Most of the variations between the confessional articles on Theology Proper among the various associations were either verbal or linguistic in nature rather than substantive.

(23) "Freestyle" is a literary expression that seems to bear little to no confessional dependence upon a more well-known confession of faith such as the PCF and the NHC. For example, "truth without any mixture of error" found within an otherwise unknown abstract of faith would lead one to reasonably suppose a confessional dependence upon the NHC for the particular article. But some confessions contained wording in their articles that appeared to be originally composed by local Baptists. For instance, some Baptist confessions were composed entirely of direct quotes from the Bible. In my estimation, at least 35 Baptist associations across all 12 southern states had adopted "freestyle" confessions. More on "freestyle" confessions below.

(24) Minutes, Union Association (AL), 1844, 6.

(25) Minutes, Big Bear Association (AL), 1895, 10.

(26) Minutes, Big Fork Association (AR), 1889, 11.

(27) Minutes, Coosa River Association (AL), 1850, 13. For similar statements, see Minutes, Gasper River Association (KY); Minutes, Russellville Association, 1830, 2; Minutes, Caddo Baptist Association (LA), 1892, 8; Minutes, Friendship Association (NC), 1866, Appendix A, 1.

(28) Minutes, Lower Canoochee Association (GA), 1861, 6.

(29) Minutes, North Alabama Association, 1892, 7.

(30) While it is possible I may have overlooked an association that failed to confess Scripture, I remain confident in the unanimous assertion. The only variation I recall concerns the placement of the article in the confession. In the majority of documents, the article on Scripture seems to have been placed second in line after the article on God.

(31) Minutes, Central Association (GA), 1834, 5.

(32) Minutes, Brier Creek Association (NC), 1850, 2. For similar statements on scriptural authority, see Minutes, Calhoun Association (MS), 1882, 10; Minutes, Moriah Association (SC), 1859), 12.

(33) Minutes, North Alabama Association, 1892, 7.

(34) Minutes, Edgefield Association (SC), 1824, 9.

(35) Minutes, West Fork Association (MO), 1848.

(36) Minutes, Hebron Association (VA), 1857, 7. Hebron Baptists also confessed a rare article of faith addressing one of the social issues of the day. "Art. 6-The use of intoxicating liquors, as a beverage, is positively interdicted" (Ibid). What is more, Hebron well represents an association clearly embracing the Philadelphia confessional tradition. Article 7 reads, "We hold and maintain the doctrine of total depravity of human nature, predestination, eternal, personal and unconditional election; effectual calling, and the final perseverance of the saints" (Ibid). While not all affirmations in the article indicate loyalty to and dependence upon the PCF, certainly the phrase "eternal, personal and unconditional election" along with "effectual calling" tip the scales in that direction.

(37) While articles on sinful human depravity were virtually ubiquitous within every associational confession across the South, the extent of the noetic effects of the Adamic nature had no standard interpretation acceptable by every Baptist body.

(38) The perseverance of the saints, like both the doctrine of God and the authority of Scripture, was all but universally present and positively affirmed in the hundreds of associations examined across the South.

(39) The categories or "traditions" offered here are only preliminary in nature since only approximately 55%-60% of the existing Baptist associations in the 19th century South was examined for adopted articles of faith. However, we remain confident that the swath of Baptist associations examined adequately represents a sufficient number of Baptists to glean a substantial rendering of Baptist confessional traditions.

(40) Nettles uses the term "distilled" to describe the nature of Baptist abstracts based upon the PCF. Of Basil Manly's exposition of two articles in the confession of Alabama's Tuscaloosa Association in 1844, Nettles concluded, "Manly rightly believed that the shorter confessions used by many Baptist associations in the South were distilled versions of the Philadelphia confession, that is also the Charleston Confession." See "Basil Manly: Fire from Light: The Transforming Power of Theological Preaching, Part 2," The Founders Journal: Troubling Waters of Baptism, 22 (Fall 1995), 10. Unfortunately, given the general corpus of his commentary concerning Baptist abstracts of faith in the southern states, Nettles seems to assume that virtually all abstracts of faith were distillations of the PCF, an assumption the empirical record in every southern state challenges.

(41) The key component determining whether the guiding influence of the PCF served as the confessional basis for the article or abstract of faith is the doctrine of election and predestination.

(42) For a full treatment of the usage of the New Hampshire Confession during the 19th century, see Lumpkins, "The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith," 30-47.

(43) George W Paschal, The History of Baptists in North Carolina, vol. 2 (Raleigh: General Board, North Carolina State Convention, 1930), 239-264.

(44) The PCF without proof texts still exceeds 15,000 words, enough to double, triple, and sometimes quadruple the length of the annual minutes published by most associations. Thus, publishing the associational confessional document every year as was the practice of many associations became prohibitive due to expensive printing costs alone. Some associations overcame this obstacle by naming their confessional allegiance directly in the constitution or rules of decorum. For example, eliminating the need for publication, Tennessee's Holston Association had in its original organizing document, "We adopt as our Confession the same which was adopted at Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) in the year of our Lord-1742-" (Holston Association: Plan of Association on Holston River Association, 1786). The minutes are handwritten and therefore have no page numbers.

(45) Paschal, Baptists in North Carolina, 261.

(46) John Asplund, The Annual Register of the Baptist Denomination in North America (1791), 53-54.

(47) Paschal, Baptists in North Carolina, 263.

(48) Ibid., 346-354.

(49) Ibid., 359-360.

(50) I am indebted to Baptist historian Emir Caner, who pointed me toward an interesting statement about the Yadkin Association's full acceptance of Asplund's published abstract by historian John Sparks, who penned an enlightening biography on Separate Baptist leader Shubal Stearns. Sparks remarks that in Yadkin's 1794 minutes, the term "particular" in "particular election by grace" cited in Yadkin's article on election is barely legible and appears as if it had been erased. See The Roots of Applachian Christianity: The Life & Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), 242. If Sparks is correct, Yadkin was apparently moving away from the PCF within three to four years of officially organizing as an association.

(51) Paschal, Baptists in North Carolina, 262; Asplund, Annual Register, 54. However, Paschal failed to indicate that Article 7 was dropped completely by Broad River Baptists, a significant oversight since by dropping Article 7, it further implied Broad River Baptists' conscious dissent from the strict Calvinism found in the PCF.

(52) Paschal, Baptists in North Carolina, 358.

(53) Paschal mentions the Big Ivy Association.

(54) Among the associations in southern states that embraced the Broad River confessional tradition on election are Alabama's Harmony Grove Association (Minutes, 1896); Arkansas' Big Fork Association (Minutes, 1889); Georgia's Chattahoochee Association (Minutes, 1843); Louisiana's Concord Association (Minutes, 1886); Mississippi's Tippah Association (Minutes, 1869); North Carolina's Friendship association (Minutes, 1868); South Carolina's Tyger River Association (Minutes, 1886); and Tennessee's Hiwassee Association (Minutes, 1841). A full discussion of all 72 associations confessionally influenced by North Carolina's Broad River Association can be accessed in Lumpkins, "The Decline of Confessional Calvinism."

(55) The earliest associational confession this researcher found lacking an article addressing the doctrine of election was Kentucky's Terms of General Union in 1801, which appeared to indicate a massive shift away from the strict Calvinistic confessionalism by the Regular Baptists, who, up until 1801, had vociferously demanded absolute adherence to all within Philadelphia's confession (Lumpkins, "The Decline of Confessional Calvinism," 111).

(56) Other associations in southern states that embraced similar abstracts of faith that had no article addressing election and/or predestination include Alabama's Mt. Carmel Association (Minutes, 1896); Arkansas' State Line Association (Minutes, 1879); Georgia's Coosawattee Association (Minutes, 1881); Kentucky's Barren River Association (Minutes, 1887); Missouri's Rock Prairie Association (Minutes, 1872); and North Carolina's Catawba River Association (Minutes, 1827, 7). See Lumpkins, "The Decline of Confessional Calvinism," for all associations examined that had no article dealing with the doctrine of election and/or predestination.

(57) Minutes, Edgefield Association, 1824), 9-10.

(58) Minutes, Edgefield Association, 1843), n.p. It might be suggested that perhaps there was a misprint in the publication of Edgefield Association's minutes, and consequently the article on election was unintentionally left out of the confession in 1843, not necessarily an incredible suggestion. However, comparing the 1843 confession printed in that year's minutes with the confession published in the 1852 minutes reveals that apparently no such misprint or other mishap took place. Edgefield's 1843 and 1852 confessions are identical (Minutes, Edgefield Association, 1852, 14-15). It seems for unstated reason(s) that Edgefield Baptists consciously avoided addressing the doctrine of election.

(59) We further need to be reminded that W.B. Johnson, the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, represented Edgefield Baptists as a delegate and was most likely moderator of the association when they adopted their confession that chose to be silent on the doctrine of election. How ironic that the first president of the SBC represented an association whose confession judged the doctrine of election apparently too insignificant to yield public expression in their recently adopted articles of faith.

(60) While some associational confessions labeled the "freestyle tradition" are entirely unique, the focus in this paper solely concerns articles addressing the doctrine of election and/or predestination.

(61) Minutes, Elkin Association, 1885, 12.

(62) Nor does a major confession mention the doctrine of election this vaguely. Every branch of historic Christianity could hop on board this theological train.

(63) Minutes, Big Bear Creek Association, 1885, 10.

(64) One might also mention that Big Bear Creek Baptists could hardly have been mistaken for strict Calvinism or for embracing the Philadelphia confessional tradition since the doctrine addressed previous to God's elect was general atonement: "that he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

(65) Minutes, Saline Association, 1872. Other associations embraced articles of faith similarly or almost entirely of Scripture verses. See, for example, Minutes, Cedar Bluff Association, 1893, 6-11; and Minutes, North Carolina Tar River Association, 1885, 39-40.

(66) Minutes, Bethel Association, 1844, 10. Bethel Baptists consciously organized in dissent from the Philadelphia confessional tradition (Lumpkins, "The Decline of Confessional Calvinism," 106-112).

(67) More research into associations not examined in this research is necessary to determine if a "front runner" exists among the confessions.

(68) The claim for confessional diversity in this paper has consistently centered upon the doctrine of election and/or predestination.

Peter Lumpkins is director of TMU Press and associate professor of Christian studies at Truett McConnell University in Cleveland, Georgia.

Jerry Pillay is dean of the faculty of theology and religion and head of the Department of Church History and Church Polity at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
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Author:Lumpkins, E. Peter Frank; Pillay, Jerry
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
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Geographic Code:1U600
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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