Thursday, April 20, 2006

Primitive Baptists

In his nice overview of the Civil War in Appalachian Virginia and Kentucky, Contested Borderland, Brian McKnight made an interesting observation about the role of religious doctrine in rallying support for the Confederate cause. Specifically, he talked a bit about the Primitive Baptist sect ('primitive' as in clinging to strict interpretations of older doctrines such as Predestination). McKnight argued that the worshippers's strict interpretation of Predestination fostered a firm attachment to the new Confederate cause--after all, it was preordained. He didn't mention if he also believed it eased the transition toward defeat and Reconstruction. Mark Wetherington also wrote about the Primitive Baptists among Georgia's wiregrass population in Plain Folk's Fight, but did not explicitly make the interpretive leap that McKnight made.

(P.S. It made me wonder if this particular sect has much influence today. With the help of Google, I browsed a few sites. Acknowledging the difficulty of estimating this group's current membership size, this site estimated that only around 8,500 adult Primitive Baptists remain as Strict Predestinarians.)


  1. Hello Andrew.

    I was lucky enough to discover your blog today thank to a link on Eric Wittenberg's blog. I have enjoyed browsing your site today, but felt compelled to comment on this specific post.

    I am a Christian Civil War author from Fredericksburg and "specialize" (if that is the correct word for a non-expert) in the religious aspects of the War Between the States. I visited the link that you provided to the Primitive Baptist page and agree that some of the doctrine "may be" interpreted by some as extreme or even a fundamentalist philosophy.

    I cannot comment or judge them specifically, but would like to add (as a southern Presbyterian) that the concept of "predestination" is also part of our (and many other protestant faiths). To define it according to our doctrine sounds a little less "radical" and I just wanted to share it with you [NOT to preach in any form] BUT rather in order to broaden your perspective on the concept according to other denominations. It can mean other things.

    Presbyterian USA definition of predestination: "Predestination is a teaching to which some Christians have adhered, including the Reformed theologian John Calvin. While the doctrine of predestination has sometimes been hotly disputed, it belongs within the larger context of John Calvin's teachings about God's grace. Calvin argued from Scripture that God has "predestined" or "elected" some people to be saved in Jesus Christ and others not to be. He insisted, nonetheless, that we could be sure only of our own salvation; we were never in a position to judge whether or not another person was saved. As the Second Helvetic Confession says, We must hope well of all, and not rashly judge any man to be a reprobate. (5.055) For Calvin, the point of the doctrine of predestination was to remind us that God is free and gracious. There is nothing that we can do to earn God's favor. Rather, our salvation comes from God alone. We are able to choose God because God first chose us. Properly understood, the doctrine of predestination frees us from speculating about who is saved and who is not. God has already taken care of these matters in the mystery of God's own being. We are called to hear God's good news in Jesus Christ and to trust in God through Jesus Christ. For the preaching of the Gospel is to be heard, and it is to be believed; and it is to be held as beyond doubt that if you believe and are in Christ, you are elected. (Second Helvetic Confession, 5.059) The doctrine of predestination is to be "held in harmony with the doctrine of [God's] love to all mankind . . . [and] with the doctrine that God desires not the death of any sinner, but has provided in Christ a salvation sufficient for all" (amendment to the Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.192)."

    Also, if you are interested in some additional material, please feel free to visit my website at: as I have written many "faith-focused" articles and published two religious-based biographies (Thomas Jackson [a HUGE proponent of predestination] and JEB Stuart).

    Thanks for your time and I plan to add your website link on my own links page during my next update cycle. - Michael

  2. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for visiting. My own very limited knowledge of the concept of Predestination is similar to what you write. What I found strange and interesting was McKnight's linking the concept of Predestination to earthly events (I wasn't aware that it went beyond personal election) like political movements (i.e. secession) or the like. I certainly don't know enough about Primitive Baptist theology to know if the linkage is accurate or not.

    The link I provided was merely to lead interested readers to the site where I obtained the 8,500 membership numbers.


  3. I understand now. I agree, but I can also see how the ideas of "personal election" to participate (or not)in earthly events can be considered as predestined. Thanks again. I plan to come back here often as I am very lacking in knowledge of the Western theater and heard you are "the man" in this regard.


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