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8 “Written that Ye May Believe” Primitive Bap­ tist Historiography John G. Crowley A denomination with Primitive in their title proclaims a deep commitment to the principle of ad fontes and, therefore, a profound commitment to the past, at least as they understand it to have been.Two factors hamper their investigations. First, most Primitive Bap­ tist history is purely oral or recorded in unpublished church minute books or brief associational minutes , which often conceal more than they reveal.Though seldom read, the manuscript church minutes are carefully guarded, at least until they pass into the hands of descendants of members who throw them out with the trash.The history known to the average Primitive is an oral tradition that extends with some accuracy for about three generations.1 Reading old records can have an alarming effect on the brethren. Perhaps the most dramatic effect of the resurfacing of old records occurred in the Bennett Faction of the Alabaha River Association.While some members of the association pondered their ancient ban on receiving “missionary ” baptism, a meddling historian, who shall remain nameless, pointed them to the 1765 minutes of the Philadelphia Association. Smith’s Creek Church queried the association “whether it be proper to receive a person into communion who had been baptized by immersion by a minister of the church of England, if no other objection could be made?”The association answered “Yea, if he had been baptized on a profession of faith and repentance .”The Alabaha concurred, and the shock waves disrupted church fellowship across a large reach of southeastern Georgia and caused the complete disintegration of the woefully misnamed “Peace” faction of the Union Primitive Bap­ tist Association.2 Another barrier to Primitive Bap­ tist historiography lies in their widespread suspicion of religious literature as a futile infringement on the pre- 206 John G. Crowley rogative of Almighty God. In this vein, the authors of the 1832 Black Rock Address, the very Magna Carta of the Old School, condemned extreme claims made for religious tracts as “charg[ing] God with folly; for why has he given us the extensive revelation contained in the Bible, and given the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Christ and show them to us, if a little tract of four pages can lead a soul to the knowledge of Christ.” Likewise, the Black Rock Convention condemned the idea of denominational schools, because it “implies that our distinct views of church government, of gospel doctrine and gospel ordinances, are connected with human sciences, a principle which we cannot admit: for we believe the kingdom of Christ to be altogether a kingdom not of the world.”3 In spite of their suspicion of worldly wisdom and uninspired writings, Primitive Bap­ tists’ strong identification with the Bap­ tist past inevitably led a few of them into writing history of a sort. I define Primitive Bap­tist history as writing on historical themes by Primitive Bap­ tists for Primitive Bap­ tists. I propose to examine four such writings. Joshua Lawrence: The Ameri­can Telescope (1825) Elder Joshua Lawrence was a leading figure in the Kehukee Association of North Carolina, one of the most influential anti-­ missionary bodies. After tolerating missionary activity in their membership for several years, the Kehukee declared nonfellowship with Missionism in 1827, one of the earliest associations to do so. Lawrence led the opposition to missions.4 Born in North Carolina in 1778, Lawrence had little formal education, but a powerful mind and eloquent pen, and no small stock of information for a largely self-­ educated bivocational Bap­ tist preacher in the pine barrens and pocosins of Eastern North Carolina.5 His The Ameri­can Tele­ scope, published under his usual pen name,“A Clodhopper of North Carolina ,” was a tract of twenty-­ four pages that relied heavily on historical references .6 Lawrence’s chief concern stemmed from the difference between a spontaneous , genuine “revival” and what he saw as a spurious excitement gotten up by human agency. Lawrence knew many who had experienced the Great Awakening and had himself witnessed the Great Revival. He contrasted the dependence on financial support of the modern missionary with the figures of the past: “How unlike the prophets, John the Bap­ tist, Jesus Christ, the apostles, a Luther, a George Whitfield, a Wesley, a Dow, and a thousand others who are ornaments to the free gospel of Christ; all impressed with the worth of souls; and who go forth taking up their cross, Primitive...


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