Sunday, November 6, 2011

Elder Hildreth on Hardshell Decline

Back in the middle of September, as I have previously reported, I attended the Bear Creek Association of "Primitive Baptists." This was the Association I was a member of before I left the Hardshells. At the associational meeting, I obtained the minutes from the 2009 session. I looked into that section that gave the list of churches, with their additions and subtractions of "members," I noticed how their churches have all drastically declined since the 70s. Union Grove, where I most often attended in the late 70s, was then pastored by Elder C. M. Mills and assisted by Elders Charles Smith and Newell Helms, the latter the father of my first wife. It had about 220 or so members then, and large crowds. They only met once per month, and they always had large meetings on their 4th Sunday meeting due to large visitation from the other churches. But, as of last year, this church had only about 120 members, and this in spite of the fact that this church has, in the past few years, built a small cathedral of a church building, and gone to meeting every Sunday. High Hill church, a church not far from Union Grove, had also declined. They once had about a hundred or more members, but had now gone down to about 40 members.

I also recently called the home of one of the church families of one of the two Hardshell churches I pastored back in the early 80s.  I had not spoken to them in about 35 years.  I found out that the two churches had become one church and that the membership had declined since I was there.

Of course, the Hardshell churches have been in decline since the 1850s and are now only but a "spinter" group, one that has developed into a cult.

Recently I ran across this Internet article by Elder Joe Hildreth, a preacher I met back in the 70's. He wrote this article in May of 2010. It can be found here and is titled "Primitive Baptists And The 20th Century."

Hildreth wrote (emphasis mine - SG):

"The 20th century was not kind to us when we consider our testimony and our numbers. Even as the population of America increased greatly, the number of our churches and our membership sadly declined, possibly near 50%. Many churches have closed and I am afraid this will continue for some years to come. As we know, many of our churches have as few as ten to twelve members or less."

But, this is exactly what the old Missionary Baptists predicted back at the time when the Hardshells seceded from the main body of predestinarian and particular Baptists.  It is what also has been traditionally and regularly denied by the Hardshells.  They have said that the prediction of Benedict, the Baptist historian, that all the Hardshells would die out, was false, and have often pointed to their continued existence as proof that Benedict was wrong.  But, the confession of Elder Hildreth shows that Benedict was not wrong.  Yes, they have not gone totally out of existence, but they continue to dwindle year after year. 

Hildreth says he does not see anything changing, saying "I am afraid this will continue for years to come."  Yet, after saying this, he concludes this article by saying "there is clear evidence in this 21st century the tide will turn."  What a contradiction!

Hildreth wrote:

"There is clear evidence in this 21st century the tide will turn. We must continue to fight the good fight of faith. It is most encouraging to see the present generation of younger ministers as well as some older ones of our day, proclaiming the gospel in new places both here and abroad."

What this "clear evidence" is, one can only guess, since Hildreth did not tell us what it is.  Of course, "proclaiming the gospel" would be a good start, and that "in new places," rather than simply in existing places where there are either Christians or Hardshells.  They could try preaching the gospel to sinners and doing true evangelistic work.  I suspect that Hildreth is alluding to those younger preachers who are now preaching the gospel in foreign lands, and who may be part of the "liberal movement," a reform movement among the Hardshells to take them back to the faith of their fathers.  Obviously the Hardshells cannot keep doing the same things they have been doing, since their beginning, if they are to see growth.

Hildreth wrote:

"Why did the 20th Century bring such decline and even devastation and so much heartache to our beloved church?"

Well, that is easy for me to answer, but difficult for Hardshells themselves to answer.  For the answer requires confession of wrong, and many seem unwilling to confess such.  Most simply convince themselves that their decline is actually proof that they are Jesus' "little flock," and so comfort themselves about their decline.  Hildreth is honest about the 20th century being a "devastation" of the Hardshell denomination. 

Hildreth wrote:

"(1) Consider the establishment of one Sunday a month worship during the pioneer and frontier most of our churches meet only once or twice a month. What kind of impression do we leave when the doors of our churches are closed on the day of worship? I am not sure there is a ready solution to this long-time custom. Nevertheless, this situation has taken its toll."

Hildreth is right about the Hardshells keeping the 18th century practice of meeting only once per month, due to the circuit riding preachers and scattered churches in rural areas, as a "tradition."  Today it truly does give the wrong impression.  Of course, Hildreth would probably say that it is a false impression, for he would say that the Hardshells are not really guilty of having little concern for regular worship, and for being a witness for God in the community.  But, perhaps it is a very telling impression of what the Hardshells truly represent.  Hildreth says "this situation has taken its toll."  But, meeting every Sunday is not the solution to their problem.  It is not the thing that will save them from further "devastation" and "decline."  Not meeting every Sunday is a symptom of the disease, and not the disease itself. 

Hildreth wrote:

"(2) Sometimes the rural churches were not easy to find and were not a part of a community."

Cult sign!  Seclusion!  "Us versus Them" mentality.  This I have shown, in my book on "The Hardshell Baptist Cult," in that section dealing with their cult status, and with their cult peculiarities.   Hassell, Hardshell historian, even commented how Hardshell churches could not be found in large cities, that large cities only had apostate churches and Christians. 

Thus, so far, Hildreth has alluded to two Hardshell traditions, such as keeping the old times of meeting, from the circuit riding preacher and frontier days, and staying in sparsely populated rural areas.  These two traditions are often seen as a mark of a truly "primitive" church!  They would keep the appearance of being "primitive," like the Amish, but their doctrine would not stay, in every respect, "primitive." 

How could a church that had come to believe that the gospel was not to be preached to lost unregenerate sinners be expected to reach out to the community?  How could a people who rejected evangelism towards all indiscriminately be expected to feel part of the community?  The Hardshells have traditionally had the idea that those who God had chosen to become Hardshells, from the community, would come to them, and so they had no need to go to any that may come. 

Hildreth wrote:

"(3) As many of our churches became smaller, they began to look inwardly rather than outwardly."

Another cult sign!  Psychology of cult members is unique.  Hardshellism a mental disease.  A study in group sociology and psychology.  Here is what one old Baptist preacher wrote about the Hardshell psyche.  He wrote these words as a medical doctor and when he came in "first contact" with a Hardshell anti-missionary. 

Elder J. C. Hurst, M.D., born 1864 in Roanoke, Virginia, but worked as "resident physician to Maternity Hospital" in Baltimore.  According to the book "Biographical History of Primitive or Old School Baptist Ministers," by Elder R. H. Pittman (1909), we read this about Dr. Hurst.

"In his practice, in which he was very successful, he mingled with various denominations among which were some Old School Baptists, but he had no love for them, and was disposed to ridicule their experimental religion.  On one occasion he heard an Old School Baptist tell his experience. He noted down what he said and wrote a thesis on it as a form of insanity which was published in a medical journal."

I would love to read what Dr. Hurst wrote in his "thesis."  I have several good guesses about the nature of the insanity and psychology that Dr. Hurst referred to, among those who were members of the Hardshell cult. In fact, I have some other historical documents and evidence to use in chapters where I discuss Hardshell cult and group pyschology.  But, Hildreth alludes to one kind of mental illness that has infected the Hardshell group pysche or spirit.  He alludes to "introversion" and "introspection."  Hardshells are "inward-looking, brooding, contemplative, meditative, subjective, pensive, inner-directed," a leading definition of introversion.   They study themselves, looking for certain feelings and evidences, and delight in feeling convicted for their sins, believing that this is the only way for them to find hope and assurance of salvation.  They are "stand-offish," believing that they are to remain aloof from all outside their own cult. 

Hildreth wrote:

"(4) Children were not made to feel they had an important place in worship as they grew older...When I grew up I never saw a child baptized, and very few teenagers. The nearby churches we attended had very few young people, and they were not members."

The Hardshell cult is mainly made up of the elderly, not unlike some other social and religious cults.  Many Hardshells rather than seeing this as the sympton of something being amiss, will rather see it as the sign that something is good!  Lack of youth is turned into a virtue, where the absence of youth is proof that the Hardshells are the one true church of Christ.  Why have children, in Hardshell churches, been "made to feel" that they had no important place in Hardshell churches?   Were the children wrong in their feelings, or correct?  Was it not the Hardshells who were indicted by the feelings of the young?  But, this is what one would expect would happen to a group that decried Sunday Schools and bible classes for children!  Yes, they justified it, affirming that the parents are to do all the teaching to their own children, at home, and not in the church, and that the church had no duty to teach the young in special classes. 

Hardshells do not believe it is a church duty to fulfill the words of Jesus who said to his disciples - "suffer the little children to come unto me."  They don't even encourage adults to "come to Jesus," for that would be "Arminianism" in their minds, so it is no surprise that they would not encourage little children to come to Jesus. 

Hildreth wrote:

"(5) Limited teaching of practical godliness made it harder for many to learn the application of biblical exhortations to their daily lives, thus dulling awareness of how to “let your light so shine” in our communities and making the gospel seem disconnected from one’s pressing needs and problems. In some cases churches became no more than museums of man-made traditions, inimical to spiritual growth."

"Biblical exhortations"?  Is that not the thing that Elder (Dr.) John Watson talked about in 1866 when he published his work - "The Old Baptist Test"?  Elder Watson spoke of his "ultraist" brethren, the ones who finally took over the denomination, of neglecting "exhortations" to the lost regarding their salvation, and exhortations to the membership about their duty and perseverence.  These "ultraists" brethren thought it was "Arminianism" to so exhort and so they lost the good that comes from the gift and duty of exhortation. 

Hildreth speaks of the "dulling awareness" of Hardshells regarding their duty and their work as Christians.  But, what is the cause of this "Antinomian" spirit?  The Hardshells have been called "Do-Nothings" with just reason.  Dulling awareness would be just such a symptom that one would expect from anyone diseased with unconcern for the spiritual welfare of others. 

Hildreth said that the Hardshell churches "became no more than museums of man-made traditions."  What an appropriate description of Hardshell churches!  A person cannot help but admire Hildreth for his honest confession.  Of course, it is curious pyschology to study the reasons for his choice to stay in such a group so described!  Can that denomination, with such a description, actually be the "millenial kingdom of God"?  The "one true church of Jesus Christ"?  God's "peculiar people"?  God's "little flock"?  The "elect of the elect"? 

Hildreth wrote:

"(6) Frequent splits and divisions in the early part of the 20th Century were traumatic and dishonoring to the Cause of Christ...These splits and controversies had traumatic effects upon our people. Especially was the absoluter division devastating."

"Traumatic" to the Hardshell group mind!  What was the nature of these "traumatic effects"?  Did it correct and improve them?  Make them more aware of their errors?  Or, make them more introspective and "loners"?  This further "devastation"?  Did it bring repentance and confession?  Or, did it further harden the Hardshell heart and spirit?  Did it make them more or less bitter?  Or, did it sweeten their spirit towards others? 

Hildreth admits that the Hardshell divisions were also "dishonoring to the Cause of Christ."  Well, that should be no surprise to anyone not in the cult and who knows their teachings, traditions, and spirit. They began, as a denomination, with "declarations of non-fellowship" against a host of other Christians and Baptists, and they have continued "raising bars of fellowship" against nearly everyone so that they are now a very small circle.  It makes one think of the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said of some, that they say "come not near to me, for I am holier than thou."  (Isa. 65: 5)

Hildreth wrote:

"(7) We cannot ignore the societal factors that have had much affect upon us. These include the high divorce rate, exposure to the very liberal media, especially television, and the problem of liberalism in our schools, especially colleges and universities."

Here Hildreth attempts to excuse the Hardshells by blaming their lack of church growth on others and on other things, rather than upon themselves.  But, some churches have grown in spite of these same societal factors, so his excuse is very weak.

Hildreth asked - "What can reverse the trend the 20th Century has brought us?" 

He answers first:  "1. Frequent and earnest prayer to our God and Saviour."

Well, they certainly cannot "reverse the trend" by doing the same things that they have been doing for the past 180 years!  Also, since when has "frequent and earnest prayer" been a means for improvement among the Hardshells?  They are against "protracted meetings," "revival meetings," and special "prayer meetings."  They are against praying for the eternal salvation of the lost.  All they pray for is the growth of the Hardshell cult.

He nexts offers this direction, as part of his overall "prescription":

"2. Every Sunday worship if at all possible."

But, though this would be good and profitable, it is nothing unless they repent of their doctrine and practice.  To preach the Hardshell gospel on more Sundays is not going to increase the denomination.  It is not how often they preach but what and how they preach.  Several churches that have gone to meeting every Sunday still do not have growth, and even have less attendance, due to churches not being able to rely on other church's members meeting with other churches on their "off Sundays." 

He then suggests:  "3. Merge small churches."

But, this too has been done with no improvement in overall growth. 

He then suggests:  "4. Emphasize family worship, both in church and home."

But, this too has been emphasized for many years without little success.  Perhaps their opposition to the church being a teaching institution, and it being a sponsor of bible classes, is the real problem.

He then directs:  "5. Reach out to others in our communities, i.e. visitation in nursing homes, hospitals, etc."

Notice how Hildreth does not mention "reaching out" to dead sinners!  Notice that there is no mention of prison ministries, foreign missions, and other avenues to reach the lost.  Further, what message do they have to give to those in hospitals and nursing homes?  Do they offer them the way of salvation?

He then suggests:   "6. Church buildings located where they can be seen and easily found."

But, in order to accomplish this, the Hardshells will have to become less cultic and throw away the idea of Hassell who said that true churches cannot be found in large cities. 

He then suggests:  "7. Consult with our sister churches that have been successful in finding solutions."

Why not consult with those Calvinistic Baptist churches who have had the most success?  With the Sovereign Grace Missionary Baptists?  Further, why not consult with the new testament scriptures?  They fully support mission work, bible teaching as part of the mission of the church, and give the prescription for growth and success.

He then suggests:  "8. Church members have gatherings often to build fellowship among all ages and interests – not separate but together."

Hildreth almost adopts Sunday Schools and bible classes in this prescription.  Almost, I said.  For he leaves himself safe with his Hardshell brethren by saying that such "gatherings" be composed of "all ages," but not in "separate" groups.  That would be a sin to the Hardshell mind and conscience!  For the sisters to get together to pray, have bible study, without the men, would be a sin!  To teach the younger children, by themselves, would also be a sin to the Hardshell. 

He then suggests:  "9. Realize we are in the age of technology and meet the challenges and the opportunities of our day."

But, this is exactly what our forefathers, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, were doing!  Providence had opened the way for the churches to do more in evangelism, with the new techologies, such as better transportation and communication.  But, the Hardshells did not see these technologies as signs that the time had come for churches to do more by using those means!  Ironic!  If the Hardshells did not "meet the challenges and the opportunities of the day," in the early 19th century, why does anyone think they will now do so?  Further, is the purpose to win souls to Christ or to win them to the Hardshell cult?

He then suggests:  "10. Emphasize that worship services are very important – including singing."

Why this need for emphasizing if it is already a trait of the Hardshells to emphasize worship?  Are they not against most special meetings for revival, prayer, and for instruction in the bible?

He then suggests:  "11. Have regular Bible study which the pastor conducts."

Notice how he seems to come close to supporting Sunday Schools and bible classes.  He puts in the caveat, however, and says that these bible studies ought to be led by the pastors, and not by anyone else.  But, why not let others who have lessor gifts also do some of the teaching?  Since when do the scriptures limit all teaching in the church to pastors only?

He then suggests:  "12. Preachers who are also dedicated pastors. In this day it is important that the pastor know each member, not just by name, but learn their problems and personalities – visit in their homes as often as possible."

Are they not dedicated now?  Perhaps what they need is ministerial education, the thing they have traditionally decried!  Maybe they need preachers who give themselves fully to the work?  But, how can they do that if they neglect to support their preachers financially? 

He then suggests:  "13. Preachers who emphasize both the doctrines of grace and instruction in facing the challenges of daily life and becoming more Christ-like."

Apparently, according to Hildreth, the Hardshells have been "emphasizing" the wrong things.  Since they have not been emphasizing the right things, they are not as "Christ-like" as they should be.  And, what have they traditionally "emphasized"?  Is it not the message that says - "we are right and everyone else is wrong"?  Is it not the message that says - "salvation is not by faith and discipleship"?  They need to quit their "anti" preaching, their negative attacks on other Christians, and begin to be positive in their preaching.

He then suggests:  "14. Be careful in reacting to the problems arising between our sister churches and brother ministers. Be sure the medicine is not worse than the disease. From the 20th Century have we not learned that divisions create a “remedy” having the stench of death?"

How they are ever going to rid themselves of such a problem without repenting from being a cult is not foreseeable.  Divisions will continue to be a part of the cult as each faction declares itself to have the keys of the kingdom.

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