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Regular Baptists, also known as Primitive Baptists, are groups who believe "orthodox, Baptist doctorine" and "affirm the rule or measure of the Scripture," according to the Baptist Bulletin.[a] As compared to General Baptists or Free Baptists, Regular Baptists were strict in their beliefs, and therefore also called Strict Baptists.
Merriam Webster defines Regular Baptists as "a member of a moderately Calvinistic Baptist sect that is found chiefly in the southern U.S., represents the original English Baptists before the division into Particular and General Baptists, and observes close communion and foot washing."
The term Regular Baptists developed in America from English immigrants who had been influenced by the Particular and General Baptists churches that were established in England. According to Stuart Ivison and Fred Rosser: "By 1638 there were also congregations of ‘Particular’ Baptists, who held that the Atonement was of particular application, i.e., for the sake of the elect only." The General, also known as Free Baptists, however, believed that all people could reap the benefits of atonement. This meant, particularly for the western pioneers, that individuals that were baptized were allowed to become church members and take communion.
The number of Regular Baptists began to increase over the number of General or Free Baptists after the 1707 formation of the Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA), which in 1742 developed a Confession of Faith.[b] The influence and mission program of the Philadelphia Baptists shifted many of the Free Baptists to Regular Baptists. John Asplund traveled the United States and created the first comprehensive list of Baptist denominations in the United States in 1790 entitled Annual Register of the Baptist Denomination in America. He found that the greatest number of Baptist churches at that time were Regular Baptist churches.
Early in the 19th century, the two dominant groups of Baptists in the United States (Regular Baptists & Separate Baptists) effected a merger and dropped their party names in favor of the appellation United Baptists.
There are still a number of organizations that are considered Regular Baptists, but the degree of strictness regarding atonement beliefs may vary across Regular Baptists churches today.
- Old Regular Baptists is a group formed in Kentucky in 1825 from the New Salem Association of United Baptists, which was formed in Kentucky in 1825. After several name changes, its name has been Old Regular since 1892. They practice foot-washing and observe closed communions.
- The Sovereign Grace Association of Old Regular Baptist Churches of Jesus Christ conducts many of the practices of the Old Regular Baptists, but consider themselves more conservative.
- The General Association of Regular Baptist Churches — organized in 1932 by conservative and fundamentalist churches withdrawing from the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches).
The term Regular Baptists denotes churches with strict, orthodox Baptist beliefs. In 1928, the Union of Regular Baptist Churches was formed in Hamilton, Ontario. It was succeeded in 1957 by the Association of Regular Baptist Churches of Ontario, Canada, which continues to uphold closed communion teaching and practice.
- Union Baptists — a strand of Regular Baptists that owes its origin to the Civil War. Churches and associations, especially in border states, were rent asunder by this national conflict. Tensions over secession, war and reconstruction, as well as the fact that Primitive Baptists did not allow members to hold membership in secret societies, combined to incubate the Union Baptists. Many pro-Union Primitive Baptists joined Union Leagues, and were expelled from their churches and associations. The Mountain Union Association, formed in 1867, was the first "Union" Baptist association. Unlike other areas, this distinction, at least in name, has persisted, and some churches and associations consider themselves "Union Baptists". There seems to be no doctrinal distinction between Union Baptists and Regular Baptists. Three associations — Original Mountain Union, Primitive and Union — have about 3300 members in 36 churches. Mitchell River Union Baptist Association may still be in existence.
- Regular Baptists — found in 5 local associations; much like the Old Regular Baptists, and located in the same region, but more open to changes in worship and lifestyle. Churches have allowed notated hymnals, Sunday Schools, revivals and even instrumental music. Three associations, mostly in North Carolina, are in correspondence — Little River, Little Valley and Mountain Union (708 members in 15 churches in 1999). Two others are in isolated areas and not connected to the first three — East Washington in Arkansas (1560 members in 10 churches in 1999) and Enterprise in Ohio, Kentucky and bordering areas (4288 members in 63 churches in 1999).
- Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada — although the FEBCC is not generally considered Regular Baptist, some churches of this Fellowship still carry Regular Baptist as part of their name, especially in British Columbia. Three of four major bodies forming and entering the FEBCC from 1953 to 1965 were Regular Baptist.
- Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln's parents, were members of the Licking-Locust Association of Regular Baptists in Kentucky.
- In this case, the definition of the English word "regular" comes from the Latin term regula, which means "rule or example". For instance, the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary definition for the adjective "regular" is: "Ecclesiastically subject to, or bound by, a religious rule, belonging to a religious or monastic order."
- The Confession of Faith was heavily influenced by the 1646 Presbyterian Westminster and the 1689 Second London Confessions of Faith.
- Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion (August 19, 1996). Memory and Hope: Strands of Canadian Baptist History. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-88920-267-2.
- Achilles Coffey; Thomas J. Carr (1877). A Brief History of the Regular Baptists, Principally of Southern Illinois. Martin.
- Howard Dorgan (November 1990). Giving Glory to God in Appalachia: Worship Practices of Six Baptist Subdenominations. Univ. of Tennessee Press. ISBN 978-0-87049-666-0.
- Howard Dorgan (August 1, 2001). The Old Regular Baptists of Central Appalachia: Brothers and Sisters in Hope. Univ. of Tennessee Press. ISBN 978-1-57233-160-0.
- Samuel S. Hill; Charles H. Lippy; Charles Reagan Wilson (2005). Encyclopedia of Religion in the South. Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0-86554-758-2.
- Bill J. Leonard (August 14, 2012). Baptists in America. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-50171-2.
- James R. Mathis (2004). The Making of the Primitive Baptists: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the Antimission Movement, 1800-1840. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-94871-5.
- James Harvey Oliphant (2006). Principles and Practices of the Regular Baptists. Elder Harold Hunt.
- Rufus Perrigan (1961). History of Regular Baptist: And Their Ancestors and Accessors. Rufus Perrigan.
- John J. Ruhlman (1976). A History of Northwest Regular Baptists: the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, 1939-1975. Regular Baptist Press.
- Joseph M. Stowell (1949). Background and History of the General Association of Regular Baptists.
- Albert W. Wardin (1995). A Look at Baptists Around the World. Florida Baptist Historical Society.
- Terry Wolever (January 1, 2014). A Noble Company, Volume 4: Biographical Essays on Notable Particular-Regular Baptists in America. Particular Baptist Press. ISBN 978-1-888514-46-9.