For quite awhile now, I have been reading the literature (and visiting the churches) of Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB). I would point out that they span an increasingly wide variety of doctrinal positions, some more biblical than others. I am especially impressed by IFB David Cloud and churches that take his positions. Some of the most obvious of these views are: holding to the King James Bible (and the Textus Receptus NT and Masoretic OT), opposing Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), etc.
However, coming from a Wesleyan Holiness background, there are some beliefs of mine which do not quite match those of IFB churches, including those in Bro. Cloud’s circle. One of these which I hold is the Arminian position of conditional eternal security. So I was fascinated when I recently came across an association/denomination called the Free Will Baptists. This is how Wikipedia begins its article on the Free Will Baptists:
Wow! From what I’ve researched so far, this sounds like the kind of association/denomination I’d love to attend and/or join.
Some background: I left the Evangelical Friends Church International aka EFCI years ago, and have vowed I will never become an EFCI member again. Today the EFCI is continuing to back Spiritual Formation’s heretical contemplative Richard Foster, who got his start in the EFCI. Also, the EFCI continues to be heavily involved in heretical Emerging/Emergent teachings – in spite of repeated warnings.
Note – just as I am beginning to research the Free Will Baptists, I am discovering that various Free Will Baptist churches, schools and individuals (including many in high leadership positions) are drifting away from separatist fundamentalism, the KJB, etc. They, like the EFCI and many other evangelical denominations, are having more and more “itching ears” for the heresies of Spiritual Formation and the Emerging/Emergent church movements. Thus, I can only recommend Free Will Baptist churches and schools which are continuing to hold strongly to separatist fundamentalist teachings and practices. The most obvious trait I’ve found in the separatist fundamentalist churches and schools, is that they continue to hold exclusively to the KJB. Thus, in this and future blogs I write about separatist fundamentalist Free Will Baptist churches and schools, I plan to simply refer to them as KJB Free Will Baptists.
I should mention a few distinctives of the Free Will Baptists. I am very impressed with some of these distinctives; I have mixed feelings regarding others. I hope to explore Free Will Baptist doctrines in other blogs. Following is a good summary of Free Will Baptist distinctives/differences from other denominations, found here:
There are a few doctrinal positions on which Free Will Baptists hold a distinctive position, even from other groups with whom we may enjoy close fellowship and cooperation. So the question often arises, “What’s the difference between Free Will Baptists and..
We believe the Scriptures give consistent emphasis to the responsibility every Christian has to continue to trust Christ throughout his life (Hebrews 3:6, 14, 10:23). Contrary to what some say Free Will Baptists do affirm salvation by grace through faith only, and further insist that the faith that saves is an on-going and active faith. (John 10:1-21). Further, Free Will Baptists believe that there are sufficient warnings in scripture that suggest the possibility that one may forfeit the faith (Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:29), though such a forfeiture is not probable. We do not believe that the forfeiture of the faith is easy, nor sudden, but do affirm the truth that if such state is reached, there remains no more sacrifice (Hebrews 6:6). Consequently, that person who forfeits his faith is irreversibly lost.
Nazarene, Methodist, Holiness Groups? – These groups are generally called Wesleyan , the founder of which was the 19th century Methodist Evangelist, John Wesley. A key distinctive of their theology is the teaching that a person may experience a second, definite work of grace, at which time the believer reaches a point of entire sanctification, and from that moment forward, the believer is capable of living a sinless life. We believe, on the other hand, that the Holy spirit is at work in the believer’s life to progressively mold him into the image of Christ, and that this process will not be completed until we reach eternity.
Assembly of God, Charismatic/Pentecostal Churches? – We believe that the sign gifts mentioned in the historical record if the early church (the book of Acts) were used by God for the unique purpose of validating the authority of the Apostles, through whom He transmitted the Holy scriptures (I Corinthians 12-14). Do we believe that these gifts have ceased altogether? No, we do however assert that with the completion of the New Testament canon, the need for, and exercise of these sign gifts faded. We do not seek a Baptism of the Spirit sub-sequent to salvation, nor support the use of tongues or other sign gifts as evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Christian life.
Presbyterian, Reformed Churches? – Rather than affirming the predestination of specific individuals for grace, as the Reformed Churches do, we believe that when acted upon by the Holy Spirit, and individual as the freedom of will to accept or rejects God’s offer of salvation. We do not believe, as we are often accused, in a works oriented salvation, affirming with Paul that faith is not a work (Ephesians 2:8-9). Further, we agree that sinful man is dead in sin, that is, he is unresponsive and insensitive to the work and presence of God unless and until he is acted upon from the outside by the Holy Ghost. Once the individual has experienced this work of grace by the Holy Ghost, it is given that he should persevere in that faith until the end. We hold that whosoever will may exercise his God given freedom of the will to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and in believing, receive everlasting life. (John 3:16)
I have reposted the current (as of 02/18/13) Wikipedia article on the Free Will Baptists below. Click here for the original source of this article. I have emphasized certain points by bolding in orange, and inserted comments in [bolded orange in brackets].
Free Will Baptist
Free Will Baptist is a denomination of churches that share a common history, name, and an acceptance of the Arminian theology of free grace, free salvation, and free will. Free Will Baptists share similar soteriological views with General Baptists, Separate Baptists and some United Baptists. Evangelism and the self government of the local church are highly valued. The denomination remains relatively small-town demographically and is especially strong in the southern United States and Midwest, although it was once also strong in New England. The National Association of Free Will Baptists reports just over 250,000 members. The National Association’s offices are located in the Nashville, Tennessee neighborhood of Antioch. The denomination operates a regionally accredited college, Welch College (formerly Free Will Baptist Bible College), in Nashville; North American and International Missions agencies; and a publishing house, Randall House Publications. Smaller groups unaffiliated with the National Association are the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, the United American Free Will Baptists (African American), and well as several local associations in the South.
- 1 Theology and practice
- 2 Historical sketch
- 3 Free Will Baptist Bodies
- 4 Notes
- 5 Sources
- 6 External links
- 7 References to Free Will Baptists in Literature
Theology and practice
Free Will Baptist congregations believe the Bible is the very word of God and without error in all that it affirms. Free Will Baptist Doctrine holds to the traditional Arminian position, based on the belief in a General Atonement, that it is possible to commit apostasy, or willfully reject one’s faith. Faith is the condition for salvation, hence Free Will Baptists hold to “conditional eternal security.” An individual is “saved by faith and kept by faith.” In support of this concept, some Free Will Baptists refer to the Greek word translated “believeth” found in John 3:16 KJV. This is a continuous action verb, and can thus be read, “..that whosoever believes and continues to believe shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” The concept is not of someone sinning occasionally and thus accidentally ending up “not saved,” but instead of someone “repudiating” his or her faith in Christ.  Thus “once saved always saved” is rejected by the denomination. Many Free Will Baptists believe that once a person has truly turned from his or her faith, it is impossible for that individual to return to Christ(Hebrews 6:4-6) and the person will have reached a point in which God will have ceased to deal with his or her heart, disabling the individual from even desiring to repent (John 6:44, Genesis 6:3,Romans 1:21,28). Thus Free Will Baptist do not believe that an individual can oscillate between being lost and saved. There exists some Christian denominations which believe that salvation can be lost and found repeatedly; Free Will Baptists do not fall into this grouping. Free Will Baptists believe that once a believer has abandoned his faith and has lost his or her salvation, there is no more hope for that person. The book of Hebrews offers many supporting verses to this concept, particularly chapters 2:1; 3:6,12-14; 4:1,11; 6:4-8,11,12 & 10:23-39 where the Apostle Paul consistently warns that one must “hold fast” till the end.
On Perseverance of the Saints from the official Treatise:
“There are strong grounds to hope that the truly regenerate will persevere unto the end, and be saved, through the power of divine grace which is pledged for their support; but their future obedience and final salvation are neither determined nor certain, since through infirmity and manifold temptations they are in danger of falling; and they ought, therefore, to watch and pray lest they make shipwreck of their faith and be lost.”
Free Will Baptists observe at least three ordinances: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Washing of the Saints’ Feet, a rite occurring among some other evangelical groups but not practiced by the majority of Baptist denominations.
Free Will Baptist congregations hold differing views on eschatology, with some holding premillennial and others amillennial views. Churches advocate (voluntary) tithing, totally abstaining from alcoholic beverages, and not working on Sunday, the “Christian Sabbath.”
Free Will Baptists can be traced to General Baptists from England who settled in the American colonies in the late seventeenth century. The first Baptists, who originated with the ministry of Thomas Helwys near London in 1611, were General Baptists. That is, they believed that the atonement of Jesus Christ was “general” (for all) rather than “particular” (only for the elect). They were Arminian in doctrine.
Benjamin Laker was an English Baptist who arrived in colonial Carolina as early as 1685. Laker had been associated with Thomas Grantham, an illustrious General Baptist theologian and writer, and had signed the 1663 edition of the General Baptists’ Standard Confession of Faith. The earliest Free Will Baptists in America developed from English General Baptists in Carolina, who were dubbed “Freewillers” by their enemies and later assumed the name.
Two distinct branches of Free Will Baptists developed in America. The first and earliest was the General Baptist movement described above, known as the Palmer movement in North Carolina, from which the majority of modern-day Free Will Baptists have their origin. The later movement was the Randall movement, which arose in the late eighteenth century in New Hampshire. These two groups developed independently of each other.
The “Palmer” Line
In 1702, a disorganized group of General Baptists in Carolina wrote a request for help to the General Baptist Association in England. Though no help was forthcoming, Paul Palmer, whose wife Johanna was the stepdaughter of Benjamin Laker, would labor among these people 25 years later, founding the first “Free Will” Baptist church in Chowan, North Carolina in 1727. Palmer organized at least three churches in North Carolina.
His labors, though important, were short. Leadership would descend to Joseph Parker, William Parker, Josiah Hart, William Sojourner and others. Joseph Parker was part of the organization of the Chowan church and ministered among the Carolina churches for over 60 years. From one church in 1727, they grew to over 20 churches by 1755. After 1755, missionary labors conducted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association converted most of these churches to the Particular Baptist positions of unconditional election and limited atonement. By 1770, only 4 churches and 4 ministers remained of the General Baptist persuasion. By the end of 18th century, these churches were commonly referred to as “Free Will Baptist”, and this would later be referred to as the “Palmer” line of Free Will Baptists. The churches in the “Palmer” line organized various associations and conferences, and finally organized a General Conference in 1921. Many Baptists from Calvinistic Baptist backgrounds, primarily Separate Baptists, became Free Will Baptists in the nineteenth century.
The “Randall” Line
While the movement in the South was struggling, a new movement rose in the North through the work of Benjamin Randall (1749–1808).
Randall initially united with the Particular or Regular Baptists in 1776, but broke with them in 1779 due to their strict views on predestination. In 1780, Randall formed a “Free” or “Freewill” (Randall would combine the words “free” and “will” into a single word) Baptist church in New Durham, New Hampshire. By 1782 twelve churches had been founded, and they organized a Quarterly Meeting. In 1792 a Yearly Meeting was organized.
The “Randall” line of Freewill Baptists grew quickly. However, in 1911, the majority of the Randall Line churches (and all the denominational property) merged with the Northern Baptist Convention. Those churches that did not merge and remained Freewill Baptist joined with other Free Will Baptists in the Southwest and Midwest to organize the Cooperative General Association of Free Will Baptists in 1916.
The Union of the Lines
Fraternal relations had existed between the northern and southern Free Will Baptists, but the question of slavery, and later the Civil War, prevented any formal union until the 20th century. On November 5, 1935, representatives of the General Conference (Palmer) and the Cooperative General Association (a mixture of Randall and Palmer elements west of the Mississippi) met in Nashville, Tennessee to unite and organize the National Association of Free Will Baptists. The majority of Free Will Baptist churches organized under this umbrella, which remains the largest of the Free Will Baptist groups to this day.
Free Will Baptist Bodies
Other major Free Will Baptist groups include:
- Original Free Will Baptist Convention – a North Carolina based body of Free Will Baptists that was organized in 1913 and initially joined the National Association of Free Will Baptists, but split from the National Association in 1961 due to some inner differences. The Convention comprised the majority of North Carolina-based Free Will Baptist churches, though a minority would split from the North Carolina state convention and maintain affiliation with the National Association. The Convention also maintains mission activity in eight countries – Philippines, Mexico, Bulgaria, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Liberia, and Guinea.
- United American Free Will Baptist Church – the largest body of African-American Free Will Baptist churches, organized in 1901 and headquartered in Kinston, North Carolina.
- United American Free Will Baptist Conference – a body of African-American Free Will Baptist churches that withdrew from the United American Free Will Baptist Church in 1968; headquartered in Lakeland, Florida.
- Unaffiliated Free Will Baptist local associations – a number of local Free Will Baptist associations remain independent of the National Association, Original FWB Convention, and the two United American bodies. Researchers have identified 10 such associations, though there may be more. The unaffiliated associations of Free Will Baptists include over 300 churches with an estimated 22,000 members. They have no organization beyond the “local” level.
- Eastern Stone (TN)
- French Broad (NC)
- Jack’s Creek (NC,TN) Has member churches in these states according to the 2008 Minutes of the Jack’s Creek Free Will Baptist Association
- John-Thomas (NC,KY,WVA,VA)
- Mt. Mitchell (NC)
- Original Grand River (OK)
- River Valley Association (AR)
- Stone Association of Central Indiana (IN)
- Toe River (NC,TN, & SC)
- Western (NC)
- Western Stone (TN)
- A Free Will Baptist Handbook: Heritage, Beliefs, and Ministries, by J. Matthew Pinson
- A History of Original Free Will Baptists, by Michael Pelt
- Baptists Around the World, by Albert W. Wardin, Jr.
- Dictionary of Baptists in America, Bill J. Leonard, editor
- Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, Samuel S. Hill, editor
- Sub-Groups Within the Baptist Denomination (in the United States), by R. L. Vaughn
- The Free Will Baptists in History, by William F. Davidson
|Wikisource has the text of the 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article [[s:The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Baptists, Freewill|]].|
- Benjamin Randall – Christian History Institute’s Biographical Sketch
- Arkansas State Association of Free Will Baptists
- California State Association of Free Will Baptists
- International Fellowship of Free Will Baptist Churches
- National Association of Free Will Baptists
- United American Free Will Baptist Conference, Inc.
- The Convention of Original Free Will Baptist Churches
- The Original Free Will Baptist International
- The Original Free Will Baptist Mission Church of Liberia
- Missouri State Association of Free Will Baptists
- Tennessee State Association of Free Will Baptists
- West Virginia State Association of Free Will Baptists