I was an elder in the Primitive Baptist Church and recently resigned and left the denomination.
My wife and I left the Southern Baptist Church for the Primitive Baptists and were rebaptized in January 1995. I began exercising in January of 2005 and was ordained an elder in June 2008. I pastored two small churches and fulfilled a standing monthly appointment at my home church in Fredericksburg, TX since 2005.
I had been increasingly spiritually troubled for some time leading up to my studies in Romans. I preached through all the New Testament save for Romans, Luke, and Revelation, and had gotten good at defending and promulgating “conditional time salvation.” Something just broke within me and I realized it was a great error – the greatest PB error, though not the only one. I had grossly mishandled God’s word and become what I warned against – a false teacher.
I was never a star within the PBC, but I was orthodox and could have travelled much more and fulfilled many speaking opportunities at the endless meetings common in the denomination. My wife and I were baptized (rebaptized!) by Hulan Bass and my father in the ministry was David Montgomery. These men are two of the more famous PB ministers of the modern era, especially in Texas. I am a professor of music at Angelo State University, and the two churches I pastored included Eldorado PBC – a small town about 45 miles from San Angelo – and New Hope PBC here in San Angelo. Our membership was at New Hope PBC in Fredericksburg, Texas, where David Montgomery is still the pastor. Three different churches in four Sundays a month was quite taxing at times, and San Angelo is 200 miles from sizable cities (San Antonio, Lubbock, and Austin, for example) which is a big reason I didn’t travel much to the various meetings. It also felt a little strange to put so much emphasis on the endless meetings when so many of the churches were dwindling in numbers and couldn’t even support weekly services. I think the meetings have become a placebo or replacement for the demanding work of preaching the true gospel and growing the membership of these little churches.
At first the sovereign grace aspects of PBC theology were attractive, though I did not really understand the PB version when we joined the denomination 23 years ago. I felt a very strong call to preach after we moved to San Angelo in 2004, and I set out to become “ultra-orthodox.” David Montgomery used to have a website featuring many historic and modern PBC authors that is now defunct. Nevertheless, I deeply imbibed the readings of the leading lights of the denomination as I worked my way through scripture from the pulpit. After ten years studying music – BM, MM, and PhD – I was if nothing else prepared for long hours of study.
I became good at using what I call the “magic decoder ring” for certain passages regarding the gospel, faith, and eternal salvation. It felt great for a few years. I could get the “amens” by preaching conditional time salvation and “rightly dividing” the word. But it bothered me more and more as I had to take beautiful, powerful, simple, clear scriptures and make them mean what they manifestly did not say. I never could get with the program on the Landmarkism of the PBC. I love a cappella singing and the old hymns but became increasingly burdened that this was a preference, not God’s law. My studies continually took me to commentary by Gill and others who taught gospel means salvation as well as Calvinistic thought. My two teenage children – not PBs thank God – demonstrated more effort in evangelism through volunteering in a local children’s Christian outreach than I had in 12 years of preaching. After much prayer, reflection, study, and hours of conversations with my wife, we left the PBC.
I preached the gospel clearly on May 7. My last sermon was my best. After working through the first part of the chapter, I got to Romans 1:16 and said I had reached the verse that spelled the end of my ministry as a PB elder. I articulated God’s word clearly and forcefully. I let the handful of people in my house church know that I had mishandled God’s word and had twisted it into untruths. We asked that our names be taken from the membership rolls at the home church in Fredericksburg, which was accomplished on May 21.
Fortunately, the church in Eldorado was down to two members (a third rarely came) and a couple of regular visitors. It had been on death’s doorstep for many years. The church in Angelo was only slightly better off. We had sold the church building several years ago and were meeting in my living room. I made the difficult decision to stop preaching altogether because I don’t have the emotional or physical resources to somehow strike out and pastor a non PB church. I also want my children to be part of a larger, vibrant Christian church culture that I can’t provide in my living room to a handful of people. I told the few gathered that I had twisted God’s word, that this would be my last sermon, and to find a good church in the greater San Angelo community.
We have made the decision to return to the SBC. Our first few Sundays back in a Southern Baptist church have thus far been invigorating. To hear the gospel preached ably and with a call to repentance and faith has warmed the depths of my soul. I feel like I have escaped from something and have rejoined the larger Christian body. I have repented to God for my false teachings.
There is much to commend the PBC. They are fine people and bring tasty food on Sundays. I have been treated very well by the members and the leadership across the state. There is no bad blood that caused any of this. I simply studied my bible, read useful commentary, prayed, and thought. I feel liberated but am horrified over what I did to the gospel when I was preaching. I did help a few people, preached several funerals at our dying churches, and enjoyed visiting the sick and elderly. I am convinced God used my membership in the PBC and His call to service for those reasons if nothing else. I am proud of that part of my service to God.
I have enjoyed your blogs. You have a reasoned and balanced approach. I have read many of your other posts and blogs as time has permitted. Keep writing – you never know who you touch through your blogs.
May God Richly Bless You,
Stephen D. Emmons, PhD
San Angelo, TX
Dear brother Stephen:
God be praised! What else can I say? Perhaps you can help other Hardshells by joining Kevin and me on this blog as a contributing writer? The Hardshells need to retrace their steps and go back to being like their forefathers and become evangelistic Calvinists. I am going to share your letter to me with the readers of the Old Baptist Test blog (which is the one mostly dedicated to the Hardshells) unless you tell me not to do so.
About 10% of Southern Baptists are Calvinists as Spurgeon. I wish it were more. You remind me of Elder Ernie Fletcher. He was a good preacher at Lexington Primitive Baptist Church and also saw the errors of the Hardshells. He left and joined the Southern Baptists. He also became governor of Kentucky.
Perhaps the Lord will open up a ministry for you, and for others who are coming out of the Hardshell church, like brother Kevin and Jeremy Sarber and others.
God bless and keep in touch!
I plan to write more on this. Stay tuned! It certainly is encouraging to me to hear that our labors to instruct and save the Hardshells is being used by the Lord! Pray for this brother! Pray for the Hardshells!