Generally speaking, groups that identify themselves as Primitive Baptists fit within the ranks of orthodox Christianity. As with most church groups, however, Primitive Baptists espouse a spectrum of beliefs that cannot be pinned down in one article. The word Primitive in their name refers to their desire to adhere to the original teachings and methods of the early church rather than the newer traditions that have accumulated over the years. The Primitive Baptists have also been called “Particular Baptists,” “Regular Baptists,” “Old School Baptists,” and “Hardshell Baptists,” though “Primitive” has become the preferred name in most cases.
The Primitive Baptists first became an identifiable group after meetings in Black Rock, Maryland, in 1832, in which they expressed concerns about extra-biblical groups like tract societies, Sunday schools, cooperative missions programs, and theological training schools. After the Black Rock meeting, the Primitive Baptists separated from all such “innovations,” claiming to follow only the New Testament model for church practice. Primitive Baptists are strongly Calvinistic, but they do not apply that term to themselves, preferring to be identified as predestinarian. Primitive Baptists are to be distinguished from Missionary Baptists, General Baptists, and Southern Baptists, although they all share a common lineage.
Another connotation of the name “Primitive” is the idea of simplicity. Rather than getting caught up in programs and fads, the Primitive Baptists hold simple meetings that include preaching, praying, and singing a cappella. They do not use musical instruments in their services, believing them to be an addition to the biblical pattern (Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15). Instead of graded Sunday schools, Primitive Baptists have instructional times for the whole assembly, believing that children will learn from and with their parents far more effectively. They do not usually pay their preachers, and their ministers are not usually seminary-trained. Regarding doctrine, Primitive Baptists teach the total depravity of man, the total sufficiency of Christ’s substitutionary death, and the effectual call of God to repentance by the elect. They practice three ordinances: believer’s baptism by immersion, communion, and foot-washing. In order to join a Primitive Baptist church, one must have been baptized by a Primitive Baptist minister. A group known as the Progressive Primitive Baptists has relaxed some of the prohibitions on cooperative missionary endeavors, paid preachers, and instrumental music.
Much of the teaching of the Primitive Baptists accords with the Bible. However, some Primitive Baptists emphasize predestination to the extent that they say the elect are saved by God’s grace, even if they have never heard the gospel—a teaching that comes close to universalism. As with any church, it is wise to do some research into its history, practices, and teachings before joining.