May 7, 2010

Hardshell Liberal Movement

Since I began writing my book against those today who call themselves "Primitive Baptists" (see the link titled "Hardshellism" for chapters published in my ongoing book "The Hardshell Baptist Cult"), I have had several interactions with elders in the PB church. Some of the discussions have involved the "liberal movement," which began among the Hardshells in the 1990's, chiefly as a result of Elder Lasserre Bradley Jr., pastor of the Cincinnati Primitive Baptist Church.

Elder Bradley began his ministry as a young teenager among Sovereign Grace Baptists until the late 50's when he and his flock became converted to "Primitive Baptist" teachings and were re-baptized and reconstituted as a Hardshell Church. This event was heralded and applauded by the "Primitive Baptists" as a second Pentecost. Elder Bradley became an overnight sensation among the Hardshells and was the most popular preacher among them, travelling far and wide to hold meetings for them. His radio program, the Baptist Bible Hour, became a leading voice in promoting the denomination.

I know Elder Bradley personally. I have been in his home and have had several telephone conversations with him during the years when I preached for the PB's. I was invited by him to stand in for him at the Cincinnati church. When a young preacher, living in the Cincinnati area, in the mid 70's, I use to visit the Cincinnati church frequently.

Elder Bradley and the Cincinnati church were instrumental in constituting my dad's church, which had also formerly been a Sovereign Grace Missionary Baptist church, into a Hardshell church in the mid 60's. They re-baptized my dad and his small church, after they united with the Cincinnati church, and then reconstituted them into a church.

What led Elder Bradley, and my father, and some other Sovereign Grace Missionary Baptists, to join the Hardshells was their coming to see that regeneration precedes conversion (faith and repentance). This led them to believe that the gospel, and faith and repentance, were not means or accompaniments in regeneration, and were therefore not necessary for regeneration. They embraced the idea that regeneration was distinct from conversion, that the former was necessary for salvation, but the latter was not. They were also led to believe that this view was the view of the Baptists prior to 1832, the formal date when the Hardshells declared non-fellowship with Mission Baptists and became a distinct denomination.

This view also led Elder Bradley to take an unbiblical view of what constitutes the experience of regeneration and what it means to "persevere." He was given the Hardshell hermeneutic regarding passages which seem to teach the necessity of faith in Christ, and the means of the gospel, in order to be eternally saved. He was told that those passages which teach the necessity of faith in Christ for "salvation" did not relate to "eternal" salvation from sin and eternal hell, but to a "timely" salvation from errors, a topic I have addressed exhaustively in my book on the Hardshells.

After several years of preaching for the Hardshells, however, Elder Bradley seems to have become disillusioned with the Hardshells, just as I had in the early 80's. He began to swing back to his older views.

His turning back seems to have started when he organized a "preacher's school" at the Cincinnati church, at first designed for the benefit of young preachers, to help them counsel with their members on many social and spiritual issues. He at once began to be attacked by the hardliners, they accusing him of being "liberal" and departing from the faith and practice of PB's, who had stood against the practice of having anything akin to a seminary, Sunday School, or bible classes.

See here and here for more information by the hardliners against Elder Bradley.

In time he also became disillusioned with their teaching regarding "time salvation," believing that the Hardshells were twisting scripture in order to uphold their false theories. He also apparently began to do more research on their history and began to see how there had been intense debates over this new teaching, in the late 1800's, and that the first PB's did not make a distinction between time and eternal salvation, and that those who did so were simply refusing to see their errors regarding means in salvation, and of the necessity of faith and repentance. He also began to see how the PB's had changed in their view regarding the "perseverance" of the saints, a doctrine that modern PB's reject, although their forefathers embraced the teaching. Thus he began to assert the perseverance of believers, and to gently reject the idea of "time salvation."

At some point, Elder Bradley asked Elder Thomas Mann of West Virginia to come to Cincinnati and assist him with the editing and publishing of his paper, The Baptist Witness. I know Thomas Mann. His father, Norvel Mann, was in my second ordination as a Hardshell and invited me to preach in West Virginia back in the late 70's. At a service of the Cincinnati church, Elder Thomas Mann taught the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, and of the means of the gospel in regeneration. This sermon was one of the leading catalysts in spurring the controversy over means in regeneration, over faith and repentance as necessary constituents in the new birth, and over the matter of perseverance.

One of the churches that split in the 90's, over these things, was the Lexington PB church, in Kentucky. Elder Bradley had started this church soon after he joined the Hardshells. When I was a young preacher with the Hardshells I used to visit this church frequently, when Elder Paul Trautner was its pastor. Elder Trautner was one of several young Missionary preachers who joined the PB's with Elder Bradley. After serving this church for many years, Elder Trautner resigned to serve another church in Kentucky and the church called a young man to serve as pastor whose name was Ernie Fletcher. Ernie, together with his parents, were members of the Lexington church. Ernie, who later became Governor of Kentucky, began to teach means in regeneration, the necessity of faith and repentance for salvation, and the doctrine of perseverance, and also began to promote bible classes and such like. After three years this church divided over these issues. I am told that Ernie and his group joined the Southern Baptists and the few who were left and remained Hardshells called Elder Michael Gowens as pastor (whom I cite frequently in my book on the Hardshells).

This movement in doctrine and practice began to be called the "liberal movement" by the hardliners. I am told, as of this date, that about two dozen well known preachers are now part of this movement and that the movement is growing.

Through my writings against the Hardshells I have been contacted by several elders in the PB's regarding this movement and I am glad to be informed of it. It is my hope and prayer that this movement grows and that more PB elders and churches will repent of their errors in doctrine and practice and join this movement.

It is a misnomer to call it a "liberal movement," because, as I have shown in my book on the Hardshells (still in progress), the views of these men in the movement represents no new doctrine, but the ones that Baptists have always believed, even by those who were the founding fathers of the PB denomination. Actually, today's "conservatives," as history shows, became the "liberal" innovators, in the mid to late 1800's, when they began to depart from the faith of their fathers, in denying the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, the necessity of means in the new birth, and of the necessity of perseverance.

Elder Gowens published, in 2009, his views regarding this "liberal movement," and it is his view and writing that I now wish to examine. It was sent to me by one who has come to see the truth on these issues and is in sympathy with the movement.

The writing by Elder Gowens is titled - "Q & A regarding recent PB tensions" and was published and sent out in April 2009. I will first quote from Elder Gowens and then respond to his comments.

Elder Gowens wrote (all emphasis mine - SG):

"The following is an attempt to answer the most frequently asked questions I’ve received regarding various theological tensions among Primitive Baptists during the past eight years.

Q. How did you get involved in the present crisis?

MG: I pastor a church (Lexington, Ky., PB Church - SG) that was sadly disturbed in the early 1990’s over these very issues. The previous pastor (who has since left the PB’s and joined the Southern Baptists) (Elder and Governor Ernie Fletcher - SG) became disenchanted with the “exclusivity” of PB’s and wanted to give the church here a more positive image in the community. This ecumenical objective translated, first, into some changes in church practice, like having children’s church, women’s groups, etc. Though some in the church “raised an eyebrow” to these changes, they didn’t say much about them. Soon, however, he began to preach “bullet-in-the-hole” Calvinismthe idea that an evangelical belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and eternal life are inseparably connected, just like a bullet and the hole that it makes are inseparably connected. A few in the church actually agreed with his new emphasis, and some recognized it at once as a departure from the truth concerning the purpose of the gospel and the hallmark PB distinction between regeneration and conversion. Most were simply confused and disillusioned by the controversy."

It would be nice if Elder Gowens and his hardline brethren, the "ultraists," as Elder John Watson called them, in the 1860's, would come forward and debate these matters. I would love to demonstrate to them their errors, in two respects.

First, I would show, as I have done in my book on the Hardshells, how the Bible does not distinguish between regeneration and conversion, and secondly, show how the old confessions and articles of faith of Baptists, all teach that regeneration and conversion refer to the same experience. I would also show how the founding fathers of the Hardshell denomination taught against the view held to by their descendents. Both the Bible and the founding fathers of the Hardshells taught the necessity of faith and of the gospel in the new birth.

Gowens wrote:

"These men were ridiculing the practice of distinguishing between eternal salvation and temporal or gospel salvation. They mocked the ignorance of Primitive Baptists who believed this way and expressed how embarrassing it was that we were so different in this regard to other Christians. I saw their desire to remove this classic PB distinction and to push the idea that the present life has eternal significance – that is, to teach only “one” salvation – as the kind of classic reformed theology popularized by MacArthur, Piper, Sproul, Mohler, and Nettles in our day. It soon became evident that an effort to modify PB doctrine, particularly in regard to this distinction between unconditional eternal salvation and conditional temporal salvation, was gaining momentum in a few PB circles..."

Gowens calls the dividing of salvation passages into the categories of "time" and "eternal," a "hallmark PB distinction." He may be able to cite Hardshells of the late 1800's who taught this arbitrary distinction, but he will not be able to find anyone among the first Hardshells who espoused it. It is an invention designed to circumvent those passages which teach the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation and of means. He may think that this is "rightly dividing the word of truth," but it is not, but is rather an example of twisting scripture to uphold a false proposition.

Gowens wrote:

"Now, PB’s have characteristically held, not to “Lordship Salvation” but, to “Temporal Salvation”. That is to say, our position has been that there is a distinction to be made between Sonship and Discipleship—between being a child of God and being a follower of Jesus Christ. In the Lordship Salvation paradigm, regeneration and discipleship are so intertwined that one does not exist without the other. In 2002, a PB preacher in Virginia (Thomas Mann - SG) preached a sermon in which he labored to prove that “belief in Jesus Christ and eternal life are married—you cannot put asunder what God has joined together.” That’s the “Lordship Salvation” position. But Primitive Baptists do not believe that regeneration automatically produces discipleship."

When Gowens speaks of what has "characterized" the PB's regarding salvation and discipleship, he means his modern brethren, for clearly the first Hardshells did not make such a distinction between time and eternal salvation, or between sonship and discipleship.

When Gowens proclaims how his Hardshell brethren do not believe that one has to be a disciple of Jesus in order to be saved, he surely is teaching unbiblical and unBaptistic doctrine. His brethren actually teach that one can be a rejecter of Christ, an antiChrist, and yet be "born again"! He cannot cite a single Baptist, prior to the 1850's, who held to such a view.

Gowens wrote:

"This practice of distinguishing between eternal salvation and time salvation, between union with Christ and communion with Him, between regeneration and gospel conversion, between preservation and perseverance, between predestination and providence, etc. is crucial to the correct interpretation of God’s word. God’s child may in fact live in disobedience to God’s revealed will for his life, and fail to glorify the Lord who redeemed him in this world..."

Again, this is rank heresy! Elder Gowens and his Hardshell brethren must be blind not to see how their views are against the plain teachings of scripture. I answer this nonsense in my book on the Hardshells. One passage is all I need to cite to disprove it.

Wrote Paul:

"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." (II Thess. 1: 7-9)

Gowens and his Hardshell brethren do not believe what Paul wrote! They will twist and distort it and try to make it say something other than what it plainly says. Does Paul affirm Hardshell doctrine? Does he affirm that many of God's born again people reject and live outside of the gospel? Does he affirm that obedience and disobedience to the gospel are merely temporal matters?

Gowens wrote:

"When these ministers began to circulate these views among the Old Baptists and sought to implement a new paradigm of Biblical interpretation that blurred the classic distinctions between sonship and discipleship—that is, when they married both concepts and taught that regeneration inevitably leads to gospel repentance, faith, and obedience—they stirred confusion among the PB’s. They began to apply passages that Old Baptists had characteristically interpreted in the context of Christian discipleship and the “salvation” that is to be found in obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ in terms of eternal salvation..."

No. Bradley, Mann, and his "liberal brethren," were not implementing a "new paradigm" or doctrine, when they coupled regeneration and conversion, sonship and discipleship, but were rather teaching the Old Baptist doctrine as believed prior to the 1850's, what is expressed in the Philadelphia and London Confessions of faith. They were teaching the same thing Paul taught in the above citation.

Gowens wrote:

"Passages such as Mt. 7:13-14 (i.e. the narrow way vs the broad way), Romans 10:1ff (Paul’s prayer for Israel to be saved), Mr. 16:16 (the salvation in believing and being baptized), Acts 16:31 (Paul’s counsel to the Philippian jailor) and others that had almost, without exception, been viewed in terms of discipleship among mainstream PB’s were now reinterpreted by these men in terms of eternal salvation. This blurring of distinctions that PB’s have deemed crucial to hermeneutical integrity posed a threat to the very heart and soul of the gospel of grace, as we believe it."

Gowens reveals the manner in which Hardshells approach holy scripture. They take their doctrines to the Bible rather getting them from it. He could just as well include the above words of the apostle Paul about "such passages"! Gowens and his hardliner brethren would try to say that the verse has nothing to do with eternal salvation! He believes that many of the Lord's "born again" people are walking the "broad way" that leads to death! He cannot find a Baptist who taught such nonsense prior to the formation of the modern Hardshell church! He believes that Paul was only praying for the temporal deliverance of the Israelites in Romans 10: 1, 2! He believes Paul was not discussing eternal salvation in Romans!

Bradley, Mann, and the "liberal brethren," are not "reinterpretting" the Bible or historic "Old" Baptist faith, in interpreting the above passages, and many more like them, when they see them dealing with eternal salvation, rather than what is merely temporal.

"Hermeneutical integrity"? That is a joke! Laughable if it weren't serious! To preach that faith in Christ is necessary for eternal salvation and new birth, that is a "threat" to the "gospel of God's grace"? No, what is a real "threat" go the gospel and the salvation of souls, is the teaching of Hardshellism, the teaching that you can be an unbeliever, a Christ rejecter, and still be saved in heaven! Hyper Calvinism is the real "threat"!

Gowns wrote:

"And this current controversy deals with an issue of equal importance. In fact, it deals with the very heart and soul of who we are as Primitive Baptists. It is this very practice of distinguishing between Unconditional Eternal Salvation and Conditional Gospel Salvation that separates PB’s from virtually every other group, even those that profess to believe in the Doctrines of Grace."

Here is evidence that demonstrates the cultic nature of the Primitive Baptists. They see themselves as the only ones who properly interpret scripture in the area of salvation. In my book on the Hardshells I give the reasons why the PB's are a cult. The "very heart and soul" of PB's is to condemn all efforts to preach the gospel to the lost.

Gowens wrote:

"I know of no other group whose message is as consistent as the Old Baptist message. I heartily believe that it is the truth. To understand that certain passages refer to eternal salvation and that others have to do with how the child of God is supposed to walk and serve God in this life as a grateful response to His amazing grace—to understand that God’s gift of salvation is wholly unconditional on man’s part but that glorifying Him by a life of faith and obedience involves man’s will and deliberate effort—to understand that discipleship does not affect or determine whether or not a person will live in heaven after they die—is to make sense of the Bible in a way that no other group besides Primitive Baptists can do. I don’t think that is a matter of trivial or minor importance at all."

The Hardshells have a cultic view of themselves. They have the "we be Abraham's seed" mentality. They see themselves as the Christian "elite," the "elect within the elect." You can see the arrogance in the above statements. Only they "make sense of the Bible."

Again Gowens repeats his assertion that obeying the gospel and following Christ "does not affect or determine whether a person" is saved or lost. How a person can read the Bible and make such a statement is incredible. Gowens says this is a critical matter, one of major importance. One wonders why? If what a person believes does not affect his eternal standing with God, but only affects his temporal blessings, then who, we may ask, makes believing and obeying the gospel a "trivial" matter?Is it not the Hardshells? It is no wonder that the Hardshells have had numerous divisions over the subject of "No-Hellism" and universalism.

Gowens wrote:

"These are the actual statements from various PB ministers that started this great crisis. But as some of our ministers recognized these statements as a hybrid form of “bullet-in-the-hole Calvinism” and these brethren were challenged on the claim that the gospel is instrumental to eternal salvation, they retreated to other ground. They then began to espouse that “everything happens in the new birth”, that is, when a person is born again, he automatically believes in Christ, repents of his sins, grows in grace, and perseveres in holiness...They were saying that if a person has truly been born again, he will repent, he will believe, he will persevere; those who do not give evidence by their disobedience that they have never truly been born again."

Gowens cited statements from those elders in the "liberal movement" in making his charges. But, the making of the preaching of the gospel an instrument of God in eternally saving his elect, is taught clearly in scripture, so those who preach it are preaching Bible. They are also preaching what was the Baptist faith prior to the rise of neo Hardshellism. Notice how Gowens denies that one must repent and believe in Christ to be eternally saved! How unscriptural! Obviously, the preaching of this Hardshell doctrine is the real "threat"! How absurd to affirm that unrepentant, Christ and gospel rejecting sinners, are "born again"! Why won't Gowens and his hardline "ultraist" brethren come forth and debate these things?

Gowens wrote:

"It all stems from an effort to dismiss the practice of distinguishing between eternal and temporal salvation, the one feature in Biblical interpretation that makes PB theology more consistent than any other theological grid."

It is ironic that Gowens and his Hardshell brethren claim to be "Primitive," or "Original," or "Old" Baptists, when they say such things! Gowens should give us the historical proof that any Baptist (of the Calvinistic or Particular ones), espoused such propositions of falsehood, prior to the 19th century! This he cannot do, however. The true "Primitive" Baptists endorsed the London and Philadelphia confessions of faith and clearly stated their views further in their individual church "articles of faith." I would love to have a debate with them on "Who Are The Primitive Baptist?"

"Theological grid"? That is laughable, and ironic. They, it can easily be shown, are the ones who have taken theological "grids" TO scripture and made the scriptures void by their traditions. What a Hardshell "grid"! They are the ones who claim to "rightly divide the word of truth," yet they are the only ones who sub-divide into neat little categories! I challenge Gowens to tell us where he got the category of "regenerated unbeliever"? Who added to the matrix grid then? It was not Paul, Peter, or John. Not Jesus. Who divided the Bible up by saying "there are two kinds of salvation in the Bible" and "there are two kinds of believing in the Bible" and "there are two kinds of repentance in the Bible," and "there are two kinds of" this, that, and the other?

Gowens wrote:

"But now it seems that this evolving view is returning full circle to where it began. One of these men recently said regarding his labors in a foreign country, “We held up Christ to them in the gospel; they turned to Him and He saved them.” (again, a direct quote). In all candor, that sounds more like Missionary Baptist doctrine to me than Primitive Baptist doctrine. So, to make a long story short, it appears that their position is again morphing back into its original form."

Fascinating! How he can legitimately claim to know and believe holy scripture and yet condemn people who testify of Christ and who speak of those who "turn to him" and whose jargon is - "the Lord saved such and such a man"? Who talks more scripturally in this regard? The "Primitive" or the "Missionary" Baptists?

"Morphing back into its original form"? But, if that is so, then the original form is the one expressed in the old confessions and articles. Gowen's Hardshellism is not historic among Baptists but is a late 1800's creation "hybrid." But, it is clear that the "orginal form" of Gowen's brethren began in the mid to late 1800's with the likes of Potter, Cayce, Daily, and Thompson.

"Where it began"? Well, "it" began in the mid to late 1800's, if "it" is modern Hardshellism. It "began" with those whom John Watson called "ultraist" brethren (in his book "The Old Baptist Test"). It began with Hardshell leaders like Lemuel Potter, S.F. and C.H. Cayce, some of the famous Thompson preachers, in the mid to late 1800's.

"Evolving"? I would call it "reforming." It can be shown, historically, that Gowen's "ultraist" brethren are the ones who have been "evolving" over the past 150 years or so. Will he come forward and demonstrate how his group of Hardshells can trace themselves, unchanged, over the past 150 years?

Gowens wrote:

"Ask yourself “Is there any context in which a real, died-in-the-wool Primitive Baptist would accept the statement ‘The gospel minister is God’s instrument in the eternal salvation of the elect’?” Is there any context in which a PB could endorse that quote? How about, ‘A certain amount of Christian orthodoxy is necessary to final salvation’? Is that what Primitive Baptists believe? No. That’s what Calvinism asserts. Such a claim is a smokescreen – a rhetorical trick – designed to distract people from what was actually said."

The true original Baptists taught that "the gospel minister" is an instrument of God in the salvation of the elect. Can Gowens give us some citation of our forefathers, prior to the 1850 (1840? 1830? etc.)? Why doesn't Gowens give us some citations from Baptists, prior to the 19th century, who taught as he and his brethren?

Gowens wrote:

"We’re not talking about novices here; we’re not talking about immature, impressionable beginners in the faith, but about some of the most respected and trusted ministers among the PB’s."

Well, that surely ought to cause Gowens and his brethren to think seriously! Their ablest ministers acknowledging their departures from the true Old Baptist faith! Men who know their Bibles best are repudiating the Hardshell's departures from historic Baptist faith!

Gowens wrote:

"...one of the leading preachers of this movement wrote that there are “REAL, VITAL differences” (emphasis his) and that we are experiencing a “revival of the truth among Primitive Baptists” in these days."

A "revival"! Yes, that is what the Hardshell "hardliners," like Gowens, need. They need to see how their views are not historic Baptist teaching and confess the Hardshell departures from the faith. The reason why the Hardshells have been dwindling and dieing out for years. The only hope for Hardshells is to follow the lead of these trusted ministers and return to the faith of their fathers. Yes, they are "vital differences."

Gowens wrote:

"Q: What troubles you most about the Calvinistic view of perseverance?

MG: Without any hesitation, I would say that this view fosters a climate of condescension and judgmentalism. It creates a culture of super-saints, who do everything right—from homeschooling, to raising organic vegetables, to taking notes in church and repeating a catechism—and then proceed to scrutinize the rest of us under a cloak of “concern”. It is not a gospel for sinners, but for the righteous – for people who have all the boxes checked. It sets a person up as a judge to determine whether or not another individual has truly been saved. Probably two decades ago, a fellow minister boasted to me that he had been preaching on the marks of the unregenerate and had over half of his church members questioning whether or not they had ever been born again."

When Gowens condemns those who believe in perseverance, he is condemning his own forefathers! Gospel for the righteous? Ironic that Gowens cannot see how his accusation is more suitable to himself. Who refuses to preach to the unregenerate? Who denies the present responsibility to obey the Great Commission? Who doesn't have any concern for the lost?

I doubt that the "fellow minister" did any "boasting" about discovering that many of his church members were unregenerate. I rather think he was stating grief and acknowledging the fact that the preaching of Hardshellism has caused people to think they are saved when they are not, a charge I fully substantiate in my book on the Hardshells.

Gowens wrote:

"I have to admit that this preoccupation with the question of whether a person is born again or not is completely foreign to my frame of reference. It never even enters my mind when I go to a ball game or a school concert to question whether the person beside me is a child of God or not."

Does not this confession prove that he has no gospel for the lost? No word to speak to them? Does it not show how he has no concern for the lost? He has no gospel for the sick! He is the one who only has a gospel for the righteous, for that one whom he thinks has been born again.

Said Gowens:

"When people adopt an “I’m-more-spiritual-than-you-because-I-tithe…or homeschool…or wear a bonnet…or make my own bread…or don’t have a television…or take notes in church” mindset, a culture of legalism prevails."

Again, this is highly ironic. It is the Hardshells, the ones represented by Gowens, who have such an attitude. Don't the Hardshlls claim that "they only" preach the truth of the gospel? That they are they "only ones" who have remained uncorrupted and the "only ones" entitled to be judged the "church of Christ" and "kingdom of God"?

I doubt that the reformed "liberal" brethren are being properly represented in this description. Probably the message of the "liberal" brethren has been to affirm that good works and persevering and growing are the only sure evidences of regeneration and the lazy "do nothing" Hardshells feel condemned in themselves.

Gowens wrote:

"Years ago when I was reading the Puritans, I lost the peace and joy and assurance of my salvation, for I could never feel that I had attained the point that I could say that I was persevering. Try as I might, I could never seem to measure up. The more I examined myself, the more corruption I could see within."

Gowens here reflects the mentality of the Hardshells. They assume everyone is regenerate and do not feel any obligation to prove themselves. Gowens does not want to examine himself. Gowens wants to obtain his assurance by convincing himself that he is saved simply because he has religious interests. A universalist finds assurance in a different place than other Christians. Hardshells, like Gowens, have so narrowed the definition of what it means to be regenerated and born again, that nearly all of humanity can be assured of salvation.

Gowens wrote:

"Q: The argument has been made that modern PB’s, with their insistence on the practice of distinguishing between eternal salvation and temporal salvation, have departed from their roots and that these brethren are simply attempting to take the Old Baptists back to the faith of their forefathers—that this emphasis on “perseverance” is what Primitive Baptists originally believed. How do you answer that claim?

MG: Well, that is the very same argument made by the “missionary” Baptist Throgmorton in the Throgmorton-Potter debate of July 12, 1887. They debated the question “Who Are the Primitive Baptists?” for four days at Fulton, KY, with Elder Throgmorton claiming that the “missionaries” were holding true to the faith of their fathers, and Elder Potter claiming that the “hardshells” were the original Baptists. Both quoted extensively from history, finding ample evidence for their respective views in ancient Creeds and Confessions. Of course, both sides claimed victory after the discussion. I think that the premise of this claim is the assumption that the 1689 London Baptist Confession is the standard of orthodoxy—the “litmus test” of what our Baptist forefathers believed. That premise is arguable—in fact, it is very suspect. Elder Harold Hunt has written at length on this issue; he does a masterful job of showing that the 1689 was an attempt to construct an ecumenical document for the sake of unifying the English Baptists, but that it was unsuccessful. I believe that the use of Confessions as an instrument to promote unity tends toward credalism. Confessions can promote uniformity, but uniformity is not the same thing as “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4)."


Two things are worth noting from these words, from the question and answer. Gowens, in order to convince his brethren that their views on salvation are original and primitive, cites from the debate that Lemuel Potter had with W. P. Throgmorton, in the late 1880's. Why does he not go further back than Potter? Potter and company were the ones who created the modern Hardshell denomination.

Notice how Gowens, like his modern brethren, repudiate the London Confession of Faith, and yet this is the document (via Philadelphia Confession) that all his forefathers embraced as stating what is the "Primitive" or "Old" Baptist faith. Why did his forefathers not reject it as he does? Is it not because Gowens and his brethren have departed from it and cannot therefore legitimately claim to be "orginal" or "primitive"?

Gowens wrote:

"Q: Another common criticism is that the terminology of “temporal salvation” and the practice of what you call “rightly dividing the word of truth” in distinguishing between an unconditional eternal salvation and a conditional gospel salvation is a relatively new hermeneutic, or manner of interpreting Scripture – that it’s only been around since about 1900.

MG: I answer that by saying, first, (1) It is not true. John Gill distinguished between eternal salvation and temporal salvation, and actually used the terminology, numerous times in his commentaries. He lived and ministered in the 1700’s. Furthermore, quotes could be produced from C. H. Cayce showing that his PB grandfather made such distinctions, early in the 1800’s. I would answer secondly, as I just stated, (2) Controversy tends to refine theological precision."


The question posed to Gowens is a good one, indicting his Hardshell brethren. He attemps to prove that his making all verses that use the word "saved" (or one of its forms) and speak of conditions, like faith and repentance, refer to temporal salvation, and not to eternal salvation. He thinks John Gill agrees with him. He does not, a point I have proven clearly in my book on the Hardshells, devoting several chapters to Gill and the Hardshells. Did Gill ever think that the word "saved" ever meant "temporal" salvation? Yes, and so do all other Christians. No Christian, that I know, believes that the words of Paul - "except these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved," thinks that this was dealing with eternal salvation, but a salvation from physical death. But, does this mean that Gill and others believe that all passages that speak of being saved by faith in the gospel, and by repentance, is dealing, likewise, with a temporal salvation?

Gowens can well cite C. H. Cayce, for he is the one who promoted this view and gave it prominence among Hardshells, but I deny that this doctrine of "time salvation," as it has evolved since the days of Cayce, was the view of his Hardshell "anti mission" brethren of the first part of the 19th century. It surely was not a view held by any prior to the 19th century.

Gowens wrote:

"Men like J. H. Oliphant saw that this view bypassed the moral will of a child of God. That’s why he and other notable ministers in our ranks stated “We believe there is a time salvation, separate and distinct from eternal salvation” in the footnotes to the Fulton documents. I concede that the use of the terminology became more prevalent around 1900, but it was only because the need to make the distinction was forced by the absoluter controversy."

Again, Gowens cites a Hardshell leader from the late 1800's! Why not go further back than Potter, C. H. Cayce, or Oliphant? By citing authors from the late 1800's he is showing that this is as far back as he can go with his novel views.

Next, Gowens refers to the "Fulton documents." These were the results of nearly a hundred Hardshells who got together in Fulton, Kentucky, at the start of the 20th century, to affirm their historic allegiance to the London Confession of faith, the very one now condemned by Gowens and his brethren! Granted, the Hardshells, in the Fulton meeting, though confessing that the old confession was their history and heritage, nevertheless began to do a "hatchet job" on the old confession, making it, by their attached "footnotes," to say what it didn't say on matters which Hardshells could not endorse. Many Hardshells, since the Fulton meeting, have confessed the dishonesty of the brethren who met at Fulton.

Gowens wrote:

"Usually a sincere inquirer will ask what you mean and you can then say that it is important in interpreting scripture to distinguish between a person’s sonship or relation to God, which is wholly unconditional, and a person’s discipleship or fellowship with God, which is conditional on the part of the child of God. If you don’t make such a distinction in interpreting Scripture, you will be more confused than a termite in a yo-yo."

This is a joke. It is Hardshell doctrine that confuses! It is the Hardshell intention to make all verses, dealing with means and conditions, to deal only with "time salvation," that confuses!

Gowens wrote:

"...love for God must supersede neighbor-love. This current quest to maintain the integrity of PB doctrine is too.

If you ask me, there is nothing more unloving than to take a church that was living together in peace and unity and to split it into sawdust by foisting “reformed theology” upon it.

I’ve told several people, “If you don’t like the tension, don’t get mad at me. I didn’t start it. Be upset with the men who have changed their position and are trying to change the Old Baptists. Tell them that you don’t appreciate the strife that has been caused by the attempt to convince PB’s that they’ve been wrong for the past 100 years.”


Gowens believes that his "liberal" brethren are not showing love to neighbors by their attempting to reform their brethren and by restoring them to the truth and to the faith of their fathers, but I would argue that it is he and his brethren who are not showing love to their neighbors when they refuse to witness to them or show an interest in their salvation.

Gowens wrote:

"Q: Hasn’t the tension died down some in the past couple of years?

MG: As a matter of fact, no – it has increased.


This is good news! I hope and pray that the effort to reform the PB's will continue and that it will be blessed by God. I hope more and more of their trusted ministers will search their Bibles and their Baptist history and see their errors and become truly "Primitive."

Gowens wrote:

"Q: Where do you think this will lead? Where is it heading? Is a “division” in the making?

MG: No. There is no “division” here. There is a “departure” – a departure from the faith -- by a relatively small group of PB’s. People sometimes have the impression that PB’s are pretty well evenly divided. That’s not true. There are really only about two dozen ministers who are intrigued by reformed theology. People may have the impression that it is more widespread, but they shouldn’t mistake the circulation of a single media ministry as evidence that PB’s endorse these outlandish views. It is not representative of where PB’s are.


In fact, in any State you might name, I could name perhaps one or two churches that are caught up in this attempt to remake the Old Baptists, but scores, or even hundreds, that are still committed to walking in the old paths, wherein is the good way."

Actually, there have been several divisions over these things among the Hardshells. The "means question" has always been a thorn in the side of this cult.

No, Gowens, it is you and your brethren who have "departed from the faith." Want to come forth and debate it, as did your founders, like Potter and Daily?

5 comments:

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Robert said...

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Christian.com

Anonymous said...

What a waste of space this is! Lots of misrepresentation, both of Primitive Baptists and Elder Gowens, and an apparent lack of understanding about not only the BASIC Bible teachings, but basic Primitive Baptist beliefs as well. Why not just promote whatever it is you believe (and attempt to prove it with Scripture) rather than bash others?

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear A:

It would help to know who you are and what proof you have to back up your baseless charges. Anyone can see that I prove my points in my writings against the Hardshells.

Blessings,

Stephen