Old Regular Baptists

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The Old Regular Baptists are a Christian denomination based primarily in the Appalachian region of the United States.


Many Regular Baptists merged with the Separate Baptists near the beginning of the 19th century. The party names were dropped in favor of United Baptists. The use of the name Regular has persisted among some Baptist groups, particularly among primitive sects that reject modern methods, including missionary and educational auxiliaries for the churches.

Most Old Regular Baptists and Eastern Kentucky Regular Primitive Baptist can be traced back to the New Salem Association of United Baptists organized in 1825 and her mother the Burning Springs which originated in eastern Kentucky in 1813. The name was changed to Regular United in 1854, to Regular Primitive in 1870, to Regular Baptist in 1871 and then in 1892 to Old Regular. The minutes of New Salem Association in 1892 indicate that they feared the extremism of an absolute Predestination doctrine which taught that God is the direct author of sin or that he influences men thereto.

Some Old Regular Baptist associations and churches, do not trace their lineage through the New Salem .The Mountain, Mud River, Twin Creek, Spencer and others have originated from different clusters of churches and associations like the North District Association of Kentucky some churches trace back through the Sandy Creek Association churches and even the Philadelphia and Ketockton associations. The Twin Creek which formed from a split in the Licking River Particular Baptist Association in 1850. Twin Creek was one of the first Associations in Kentucky to title itself "Old Regular Baptist" in 1850. The Mud River Association originated from a split in the Pocatalico Particular Baptist Association in 1888. (The Mud River used the title Primitive Baptist when lettering to the New Salem Association for many years and later titled itself Regular or Old Regular Baptist.) The Sandlick Regular Primitive Association and the Mates Creek Regular Primitive Baptist are both daughters of the New Salem Old Regular Baptist Association. The word old was added to Regular Baptist soon after many Regular Baptists had joined and or began to correspond with mission boards. This was done to distinguish the Old (or original) Regular Baptists from the New School Baptists that had emerged throughout the United States.The terms Old School, Old Regular and Old Order, came into usage during the same time period and were being added to the Baptist name to show they were of the old form of worship and had rejected what they considered modern innovations.[Sunday or Sabbath Schools, theological seminaries, missions boards etc...][ See Black Rock Address]

Old Regular Baptists have had several divisions through the years. In the late 19th century to early 20th century, they had major splits over Absolute Predestination of all things, Actual Eternal Vital Union and Eternal Creation theory; differences over the Atonement and Election doctrines also led to divisions. Three of New Salem's daughters, the Union, Mates Creek, and Sandlick, divided, the New Salem also dropped correspondence with the Burning Springs Association, her mother, because she had members that belonged to secret orders. In the 1960s, a debate started over when eternal life began, or was regeneration before belief and repentance or after. Some Old Regular Baptists hold the same views as other Primitive Baptists on regeneration that it is instantaneous on hearing the Voice of the Son of God [John 5:25] known as the Light is Life doctrine.This view teaches that faith and repentance are the effects of regeneration and not the cause of regeneration. They hold that the individual is quickened and has eternal or everlasting life prior to belief and repentance. This faction is known as the" Hardshell Side"of Old Regular Baptist.Those Old Regular Baptist that hold that Light leads to Life and that faith and repentance are prior to life and regeneration are known as the "Softshell Side".

Historians consider the Old Regular Baptists a branch of the Primitive Baptists[primitivism] that held to a stricter order but were more liberal in doctrine, allowing for different views on the atonement.[This stems from an earlier agreement made by the Regular and Separate Baptist when forming the United Baptist in Kentucky] While the doctrine of some Old Regular Baptists would be in harmony with the London or Philadelphia Confessions of Faith advocating Particular Atonement, others among the Old Regulars hold to a more modified Calvinism and Fuller's view of the atonement, and yet there are others holding to a General Atonement. The original compromise on the Atonement made by the Regular and Separate Baptist was never kept, it then led to doctrinal splits, on the Atonement, these divisions were widespread throughout Appalachia. The Light-of-Life split took place in the Union Association was the second time the Union had a large division over doctrine, this division soon spread to other associations brought on by requests sent to them from the Union Association, resulting in the isolation of the Mud River Association and the formation of the Bethel Association. Associations like the New Salem chose not to divide over this issue.[Light and Life]. Today there is still debate among the Old Regular Baptists regarding when one receives faith, men and women's dress, the receiving of divorced members, and the doctrinal differences over hope and knowledge.

In the 1990s, a debate arose in the Northern New Salem over one of its member churches' use of fermented wine in communion (wine was the original Regular Baptist custom) vs. grape juice. A query was sent into the association by a sister church against the church that used wine. All evidence shows that the church that sent the query had not taken the proper steps according to Old Regular Baptist decorum. The Association involved itself, failing to send the query back to the church that sent it, and violated its own orders. This led to two member churches breaking fellowship with the Northern New Salem. The two member churches, and one formed later, lettered to the Original Mountain Liberty Association and was found to be orthodox and orderly and were dismissed to form the Sovereign Grace Association in 1997. The Sovereign Grace Association's doctrine would be in total harmony with the Old Line Primitive Baptists of today or close to the Original Philadelphia Association of the past.

Faith and practice[edit]

The theology of the group [Old Regular Baptist] is "election by grace", as stated in the scripture: "By Grace are ye saved through faith." While all Old Regulars preach "election by grace", a difference of opinion exists among them concerning election and predestination. Today, depending on which group you hear preach, their doctrine ranges from absolute predestination to man being a free moral agent. The majority of Old Regular Baptists hold to a doctrine that is between these extremes, with absolutism the smallest minority. Some churches and associations would be in doctrinal sympathy with the Old Line Primitive Baptists; others would be closer to the United Baptists.

Churches form local associations by which they fellowship with one another. This fellowship is formally maintained by the election of correspondents to attend the meetings of the other associations. Preachers are God-called (not trained by man), unpaid, and preach improvisational (often chanted) sermons. Baptism (in running water), the Lord's supper and feet washing are held to be ordinances. Shouting is a frequent occurrence at an Old Regular meeting, particularly among the female membership. Conversion experiences may be a lengthy process, beginning with an awakening to sin, through a period of conviction and travail of the soul, to repentance and belief.

Current status[edit]

The strength of Old Regular Baptists is in Appalachia, particularly along the Kentucky and Virginia border, although Old Regular Baptist churches exist as far north as Michigan and as far south as Florida, and several churches still exist in the state of Washington. Currently there are seventeen local associations: New Salem, Northern New Salem, Old Friendship, Old Indian Bottom, Philadelphia, Sardis, Union, Bethel, Friendship, Indian Bottom, Mountain, Mountain II, Mud River, Original Mountain Liberty, Solid Rock, Sovereign Grace, and Thornton Union. The first seven on the list maintain correspondence with one another, while the remaining ten exhibit various correspondence patterns, including three that have correspondence with the Primitive Baptists and two with the United Baptists. These seventeen associations and independent bodies (not lettered to an association) contain over 350 churches with over 10,000 members. The folk singer Jean Ritchie was a member of the Old Regular Baptists in Kentucky.

Current membership among associations:

Association Year No. of churches Membership Organized Dissolved Armed from
Bethel 2010 6 134 1962 Active Union division
Cumberland N/A N/A N/A 1972 1982 Thornton Union (Indian Creek churches)
Friendship 2007 15 799 1917 Active Union (Pineville Churches)
Indian Bottom 2012 43 1785 1896 Active Sandlick division
Indian Creek N/A N/A N/A 1972 1972 Union churches
Kyova N/A N/A N/A 1924 1990s New Salem
Little Dove N/A N/A N/A 1982 1992 Original Mountain Liberty
Mountain 2008 8 538 1836 Active North District
Mountain II 2009 5 192 1836 Active Mountain division (1960)
Mountain Valley N/A N/A N/A 2002 2008 Thornton Union division
Mud River 2008 1 5 1888 Not Active Pocatalico
New Salem 2009 55 1470 1825 Active Burning Springs
New Sulphur Springs N/A N/A N/A 1941 1947 Friendship
Northern New Salem 2009 24 560 1957 Active New Salem
Old Friendship 2009 11 317 1917 Active Friendship division (1972)
Old Indian Bottom 2009 15 149 1896 Active Indian Bottom division (1960)
Original Mountain Liberty 2010 2 100 1973 Active Thornton Union
Philadelphia 2009 5 93 1925 Active New Salem
Pineville N/A N/A N/A 1895 1917 Elkhorn District division
Sardis 2011 25 727 1893 Active Mates Creek division
Solid Rock 2007 5 203 2000 Active Split from Union and Northern New Salem
Sovereign Grace 2014 6 112 1998 Active Original Mountain Liberty
Thornton Union 2009 6 601 1945 Active Union
Union 2009 70 1500 1859 Active New Salem (Union Primitive division 1894)
Independent Churches 2010 40 600 N/A N/A N/A

Lined-out hymnody[edit]

One noted feature that has gained much attention to the Old Regular Baptists is their lined-out, non-instrumental, congregational hymnody. Old Regular Baptists: Lined-out Hymnody vol. 1 and Songs of the Old Regular Baptists vol. 2 by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings are notable in the folk music industry. Though Old Regular Baptists are not the only group to retain lined-out hymnody, theirs may be the purest, since it is the only form of singing used in their churches. Having said that, Gaelic-speaking congregations in the Scottish Highlands and Islands sing in exactly the same way (only in Gaelic). See Salm vols. 1 and 2, which has recordings from the Hebrides. According to Jeff Titon, "The leader sings the very first line, and the congregation joins in when they recognize the song. After that, the song proceeds line by line: the leader briefly chants a line alone, and then the group repeats the words but to a tune that is much longer and more elaborate than the leader's chant or lining tune." E. D. Thomas' Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1877) and Edward W. Billups' The Sweet Songster (1854) are two "words-only" hymn books preferred by these churches. Also The Baptist Song Book by Elder Bobby Scott Sr. Old German Baptist Brethren and Old Order Amish churches also use books without notes.


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  • Association Minutes
  • Benedict, David. A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, and Other Parts of the World.
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  • Radecki, Patricia Marie (1991). "The World in the Text and the Text in the World: A Study of Old Regular Baptist Discourse." A.D. thesis. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan.
  • Semple, Robert B. and George William Beale. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Bapitsts in Virginia.
  • Spencer, John H. A History of Kentucky Baptists.
  • Wicks, Sammie Ann (1983). "Life and Meaning: Singing, Praying, and the Word Among the Old Regular Baptists of Eastern Kentucky." Ph.D. dissertation. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas at Austin.
  • Yonts, Wesley. History of Old Time Baptists in America.

External links[edit]