Warmly Tactile Worship Behavior

Posted by | February 27, 2007

When it comes to Baptists, “my father’s mansion has many rooms” is certainly true in Appalachia. “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 sub-denominations 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.

Howard Dorgan, Appalachian State University

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