Free Will and Missionary Baptists differ on whether salvation persists, or can be lost. The separation of these denominations followed schisms within the Baptist faith in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first happened during the early 18th century, when debate about Arminian theology created the Free Will Baptists. The second schism took place in the middle 19th century, over the debate between missionary and anti-missionary churches, and led to the birth of Missionary Baptists.
The various Baptist denominations are a product of the debate on Arminianism, a theology advocating that salvation is open to all and is a product of free will -- in other words, people, through their own actions, can fall from grace. While some joined the Free Will Baptists, others remained in the Reformed, or Calvinist, tradition because of their belief in the "perseverance of the saints." Once someone is saved, their salvation persists throughout their lifetime. The common saying is, “once saved, always saved.” The debate fractured not only the Baptist church, but also other denominations.
In the 18th century, the Baptists supporting the Arminian belief that people can fall from grace broke away to form the Free Will denomination. By 1780, there were two Free Will sects -- a northern, or Randall movement, and a southern, or Palmer movement. The sects unified in 1935 to create the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
Missionary Baptists arose from the missionary versus anti-missionary debate in the southeastern United States during the early 19th century. The Missionary Baptists believe in evangelizing and spreading salvation beyond the church. The anti-missionary, or Primitive, Baptists are more Calvinistic, with the belief that God alone grants salvation. To Primitive Baptists, God chooses those who receive salvation, removing human choice from the equation. Missionary Baptists advocate widespread church organization, but Primitive Baptists believe in individual church autonomy.
The largest organization of Missionary Baptists is the Southern Baptist Convention, an organization to promote missionary evangelism. They believe salvation is open to all who seek it, and adhere to the “once saved, always saved" stance, as opposed to the Free Will Baptists, who believe that saved members can lose their salvation through personal behavior.
- Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: Arminianism
- The Baptist Start Page: The Final Perseverance of the Saints
- National Association of Free Will Baptists: History
- Baptist History Homepage: The Missionary and Anti-Missionary Controversy of Baptists in Kentucky from 1832 to 1842
- Boise State University Scholar Works: Galvanized by the Gospel: Nineteenth-Century Baptist Missions and the Anti-Mission Response
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