A recipe for church extinction
July 25 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

A recipe for church extinction | Friday, July 25, 2003
  • Never, ever change. "The ways of the Primitive Baptists have not changed and probably never ever will," Blalock said. "I hope it won't anyway. They are deeply rooted and founded in the old ways, and they'll never change. We have no desire for change."

    Primitive Baptists believe "the old ways" of worship practice should be an accurate reflection of the first century church. So, if they can find no evidence of innovations such as a piano or organ in the early church, they assume they don't belong in churches of any other age.

  • Oppose innovation. Primitive Baptists consider innovations such as outreach programs and Sunday School to be "worldly" contaminants that should be avoided. "The things that the worldly people do are not appealing to the Primitive Baptists," Blalock said. "Other churches do things to entertain and draw in. They have breakfasts, cookouts, send the children off to Sunday School or another room. Not the Primitive Baptists. And we don't go for new Bibles. It's all the old King James Version."

    Choosing not to train up children in Sunday School and deciding not to "draw in" new members through intentional outreach activities or culturally relevant worship styles are obvious ingredients in a recipe for self-extinction.

  • Minimize education. The lack of Sunday School is not the only area in which education gets the short shrift among Primitive Baptists, where clergy are not expected to have any more theological education than the first disciples.

    In Blalock's words, "The preachers don't study nothing. Whatever is on his mind, and that is given by God, that's what they say. He will speak on that and he has nothing written down. I've heard them talk so fast you couldn't hardly listen that fast."

  • Downplay stewardship. Primitive Baptist clergy tend to be bi-vocational because the churches believe pastors should not be paid just as strongly as they believe money should not be collected for missions. "I've never seen a collection plate in a Primitive Baptist Church," said Blalock. "I don't think you can pay a man to preach."

    Primitive Baptists are not opposed to charitable giving, but do not believe the churches should set up organizational structures that require financial support.

  • Be satisfied. The churches' gradual demise is not a particular matter of concern for Primitive Baptists because they follow a strict brand of Calvinism, believing that God ordains who will be saved and who will be damned with no need for human intervention. The future of the church is likewise left in God's fore-ordaining hands.

    "I don't think the churches closing or the numbers being down bothers the Primitive Baptists that much," Blalock said. "I don't hear them saying that anyway, because what's coming is Primitive Baptist. We know it is all fixed. It is the way God would have it."

    I suspect I am not the only one who thinks that sitting on the sidelines and watching churches die (along with all the sinners they did not reach) is precisely not the way God would have it.

    Most other Baptists I know would strongly disagree with the Primitive Baptist approach to belief and polity. We should ask ourselves, however, whether our actual practice suggests that we are almost as averse to change, complacent about outreach, lacking in education, unconcerned about stewardship and satisfied with the status quo as our Primitive Baptist kin.

    If so, we could be well on the way down the same path to extinction, but without the comforting belief that God has predestined our demise.

  • Friday, July 25, 2003

    A recipe for church extinction

    By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

    A quick glance at the annual reports in almost any Baptist association's book of reports will reveal that many of our churches are clearly in decline.

    I'm not sure what strategy has brought them to that point, but I think we could learn something from the example of another group of churches that are not long for this world - the Primitive Baptists.

    There was a time, focused in the 1820's and 1830's, when the biggest controversy among Baptists was over the issue of missions and whether churches should form cooperative societies to support them.

    Anti-missions proponents argued that the first century church had no missionary societies collecting money for evangelistic efforts, so the 19th century church shouldn't have any, either.

    They shunned the missions movement, along with other ideas like teaching children in Sunday School and using musical instruments in the church, as liberalizing influences.

    Today, the North Carolina landscape is dotted here and there with Primitive Baptist church buildings, but very few of them hold regular services. Most have only a tiny handful of members, virtually all of them quite elderly.

    "Foot-washing" used to be a distinctive characteristic of Primitive Baptist worship, but now is rarely practiced because the few remaining members are often too disabled to carry the water and get on their knees to wash each other's feet.

    Raleigh's News and Observer recently published an interview with Ethel Blalock, an earnest lady from Stem who remains a staunch supporter of the Primitive Baptist movement. It is not my desire to criticize that dear lady who clearly loves her church and its ways. But, her straightforward comments explain a lot about why those churches - and others who follow their lead - are fast fading away.

    Here are some ingredients for insuring that a church has no future:

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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