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Church Divisions PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Montgomery   

Dear Friends,
 
There has been some statements on this list regarding church divisions, separation of fellowship, and particularly, what is the cause if these schisms.  When I speak of schisms and divisions, I am referring to those that involved many churches and usually crossed State lines. In my historical studies, I have read article after article about these events and have become familiar with these sad events. Below I have listed some of the splits that occurred among our people in the past 200 years. This is not an exhaustive list but merely the ones I can think off the top of my head. They are listed in no particular order.
 
1. The Gospel Means Division which involved Elders Pence, Burnham and Yates and other that occurred in the late 1890's. Read "Trial and Decision of Mt. Carmel Church" and "Regeneration or the New Birth" for the details of this division. This division was mainly along the east coast but was also found in several pockets across the nation, i.e. Kentucky and Missouri. Basically, the opposers contended that all the elect will hear and obey the gospel, and by that belief, they are saved. Sadly, we are hearing this old heresy among some in our present generation today.
 
2. The Association Wars which occurred in several parts of the country including Texas, Georgia and other States. The opposers contended that each individual church must be a member of an Association to be considered orthodox. They styled themselves as "Old Liners" and "Conservatives" and those who felt associational membership was optional were called "Liberals."  These old monikers have been recycled into use today. There was a lot of bad blood in this division....folks really got angry and mean with each other. Many friendships were destroyed, reputations were unjustly ruined and both sides got into the flesh time and again. I cannot understand why people got so mean and spiteful over this issue.
 
3. The doctrine of Two Seeds was hotly debated throughout the 1800's. Largely spurred by the publication of the infamous book, "Diagram of the Churches" by Dr. S. F. Carlton of Rusk, Texas. Most of the churches in Texas officially made it a test of fellowship. Many heresies take their root from Two-Seedism; namely Eternal Children, Eternal Devil, Eternal Vital Union, and Absolute Predestination of All Things. Two-Seedism is the dead end of all these heresies.
 
4. The doctrine of Absolute Predestination was hotly debated throughout the 1800's and on into the 1900's. In the Bonham Council of June 1902, Texas made it a test of fellowship. To contradict the Bonham Council, the Fort Worth Council of October 1902 adopted Absoluter language into their articles of faith which as accepted by several churches. Twenty years later, most of these elders were dead and their churches had disbanded. Only one elder, namely J. H. Fisher, came back to the mainline churches. It is my personal belief that the Bonham Council prevented Absolutism from taking a foot-hold in Texas and thus saved many of our churches.  The eastern half of North Carolina is wasteland today because Absolutism ran amok. It also killed most of the churches that were planted in Washington and Oregon in the late 1800's. This is why I get real nervous when I hear Absoluter language in sermons today and get put out with folks who do not think it is such a big deal.
 
5. The Clark-Beebe Wars and Division of the 1840-50's which affected churches along the east coast and in other areas. For years the churches in the Northeast would refer themselves as "Clark Baptists" or "Beebe Baptists." I think wrong was done on both sides. Elders Gilbert Beebe and Samuel Trott used confusing and ambiguous language in defining some doctrinal points...Elder John Clark misunderstood them and made too big a stink out of it. I really do not know the facts in this fight. Elder Clark wrote a book about this but I have not read it. Would love to have a copy of it and make it available to our people. I do have a portion of an article written by Elder Hassell that sheds light on this schism.
 
6. The Webb-Newman Wars and Division of 1917 which affected churches in Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, California, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Like the Clark-Beebe schism....Elder J. S. Newman used confusing and ambiguous language in defining the outward effects of Regeneration on the person. Several people, including Elders T.L. Webb Sr and R.V. Sarrells, misunderstood Elder Newman and challenged his view. The fall-out resulted in a split that lasted over 70 years.  This is too much to tell about the ramification of this split in one brief paragraph. Several years ago, I created a web site that details this schism. Go to http://www.primitivebaptist.org/Texas_Trouble/Default.htm
 
7. The Garden Redemption heresy of the 1970's. This is the belief that Jesus sweat blood while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and this blood that was "sweated" was the blood of Redemption. The preachers that confessed this heresy have been ignored by mainstream Old Baptists. Some of the advocates of this heresy have passed on, the rest are just hanging on.
 
8. The "War of 1832." Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice fanned the flames of latent Arminianism among some of the Baptists in the early 1800's. They got their ideas from Carey and Fuller and before you knew it, most of the Baptists were indoctrinated with their heresy. Certain men met in Black Rock Maryland to decry the heresies, among them Elders Samuel Trott, Gilbert Beebe, Thomas Barton, T.P. Dudley and others. Some five years earlier, Elders Joshua Thomas, C.B Hassell and others issued the Kehukee Declaration that declared against the same heresies. I have often speculated that these declarations really happened 40 years too late and how many could have been saved had they been issued earlier. Somebody ought to write a book about all this.
 
Recently, the old confessions of faith have taken a severe beating. I do not think you can blame these divisions on language contained in the London confessions of faith as some might charge. I think it is as Hassell once stated: divisions largely stem from misinterpretations of SCRIPTURE. If people are taking their doctrines from confession of faith then they need quit. I am also hearing from some today that the Fulton Confession of Faith is an Absoluter/Calvinist manifesto and controversies have resulted from that document. I find these charges somewhat annoying. I have in my possession, copies of "Signs of the Times" and "Zion's Advocate" from the 1840's,  50's and 60's. These doctrinal issues were being controverted back then, 50 years before the Fulton Confession. There was more going on at the Fulton meeting than meets the eye. If you would study the designs of the Kirkland brothers, who called for the meeting, you will learn that they had a lot more in mind than just reaffirming the old London Confession. They desired to "nationalize" the Primitives Baptists by instituting a national association, a national church paper and to have a national church headquarters. Elders Oliphant, Cayce and others thwarted their schemes. The next year, at the infamous St. Louis meeting, they had things their way, but the majority of the brethren rejected them. It wasn't too long before the Kirklands left the Primitive for the Missionaries. You can learn these facts by reading Cayce's editorial and various church papers of that time. So, before we throw off on the Fulton Meeting, let us consider what was going on and give these good brethren a break.
 
Elder Hassell said, "The cause of most controversies is the affirmative of one part and the denial of another part of the truth." This is a very good statement and accurately defines the cause of most controversies. Sometimes, we tend to ride hobby-horses to the point that we are presenting a stilted view of truth. We tend to gravitate toward extremes and in an attempt to save face, we dig in to defend a position that is not Scriptural. Most controversies result from this dilemma. I have learned that pride, ego and vanity of our ministers are usually the fuel that fires church divisions. Solomon said in Pr 29:1 "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." I have read of many sad cases where good men who were so profitable to the church, latched on to some strange view and would not let go of it and thus led many others astray and disturbed the peace of the church. This, I feel, is the main reason we have church divisions. It is far better to be humble and listen to many wise counselors.

There is much more I would like to say but must close. Thank you for reading this.
 
In His service,
David Montgomery

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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.