Primitive Baptists, also known as Hard Shell Baptists, Anti-Mission Baptists, or Old School Baptists are conservative, Calvinist Baptists adhering to beliefs that formed out of the controversy among Baptists in the early 1800s over the appropriateness of mission boards, Bible tract societies, and temperance societies. The adjective "Primitive" in the name has the sense of "original."
This controversy over whether churches or members should participate in mission boards, bible tract societies, and temperance societies led the Primitive Baptists to separate from other general Baptist groups that supported such organizations, and to make declarations of opposition to such organizations in articles like the Kehukee Association Declaration of 1827.
Primitive Baptist churches arose in the mountainous regions of the southeastern United States, where they are found in their greatest numbers.
African-American Primitive Baptist groups have been considered a unique category of Primitive Baptist with approximately 50,000 African Americans affiliated with African-American Primitive Baptist churches as of 2005. Approximately 64,000 people were affiliated (as of 1995) with Primitive Baptist churches in the various other emergences of Primitive Baptists.
Since arising in the 19th century, the influence of Primitive Baptists has waned as "Missionary Baptists became the mainstream".
Primitive Baptists trace their origins to the New Testament era, rather than to John Calvin. In fact, they oppose elements of Calvin's theology, such as infant baptism, and avoid the term "Calvinist." However, they are Calvinist in the sense of holding strongly to the Five Points of Calvinism and they explicitly reject Arminianism. They are also characterized by "intense conservatism".
Primitive Baptist practices that are distinguishable from those of other Baptists include a cappella singing, family integrated worship, informal training of preachers, and foot washing.
Primitive Baptist church in Florida
is an exception to the usual practice
of excluding musical instruments: a piano and organ are visible.
A cappella singing
Primitive Baptists generally do not play musical instruments as part of their worship services. They believe that all church music should be a cappella because there is no New Testament command to play instruments, but only to sing. Further, they connect musical instruments in the Old Testament with "many forms and customs, many types and shadows, many priests with priestly robes, many sacrifices, festivals, tithings" which they see as having been abolished; "had they been needed in the church Christ would have brought them over." African-American Primitive Baptists may not share the general Primitive Baptist opposition to musical instruments, however.
Family integrated worship
Primitive Baptists notably reject the idea of Sunday School, viewing it as unscriptural and interfering with the right of parents to give religious instruction to their children. Instead, children are expected to attend at least part of the church service.
Informal training of preachers
Primitive Baptists consider theological seminaries to have "no warrant or sanction from the New Testament, nor in the example of Christ and the apostles." Instead, a male (never a female) in the congregation expresses his desire to preach and learns by practice and example.
Primitive Baptists are recognized for practicing the ritual of foot washing as part of their religious observance. The sexes are separated during the ritual where one person physically washes the feet of another. The practice is credited with increasing equality, as opposed to hierarchy, within Primitive Baptist churches.
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- Bertram Wyatt-Brown. "The Antimission Movement in the Jacksonian South: A Study in Regional Folk Culture," Journal of Southern History Vol. 36, No. 4 (Nov., 1970), pp. 501–529 in JSTOR