Free Will Baptist Church

From Academic Kids

Free Will Baptist Church - any of several Baptist groups that share a common history, name, and theology of free grace, free salvation & free will, based on the idea of general atonement. Free Will Baptists share similar soteriological views with General Baptists, Separate Baptists and some United Baptists.


Historical sketch

The rise of Free Will Baptists can be traced to the influence of General Baptists from England who settled in the American colonies. Much of their early history is clouded in obscurity. In 1702, settlers in Carolina wrote a request for help to the General Baptist association in England. Though no help was forthcoming, Paul Palmer would labor among these people 25 years later, founding the first "Free Will" Baptist church in Chowan, North Carolina in 1727. Palmer organized at least three churches in North Carolina. His labors, though important, were short. Leadership would descend to Joseph Parker, William Parker, Josiah Hart, William Sojourner and others. Joseph Parker was part of the organization of the Chowan church and ministered among the Carolina churches for over 60 years. From one church in 1727, they grew to over 20 churches by 1755. After 1755, missionary labors conducted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association converted most of these churches to the Particular Baptist positions of unconditional election and limited atonement. By 1770, only 4 churches and 4 ministers remained of the General Baptist persuasion. By the end of 18th century, these churches were commonly referred to as "Free Will Baptist."

While the movement in the south was struggling, a new movement rose in the north through the work of Benjamin Randall (1749-1808). Randall initially united with the Particular or Regular Baptists in 1776, but broke with them in 1779 due to their strict views on predestination. In 1780, Randall formed a "Free" or "Free Will" Baptist church in New Durham, New Hampshire. By 1782 twelve churches had been founded, and they organized a Quarterly Meeting. In 1792 a Yearly Meeting was organized. This northern line of Free Will Baptists expanded rapidly, but were nearly extinguished in 1911, when the majority of the churches (and all the denominational property) merged with the Northern Baptist Convention. A remnant of churches in the Randall movement reorganized as the Cooperative General Association of Free Will Baptists in 1917.

The churches in the "Palmer" line organized various associations and conferences, and finally organized a General Conference in 1921. Fraternal relations had existed between the northern and southern Free Will Baptists, but the question of slavery, and later the Civil War, prevented any formal union. Representatives of the "Palmer" and "Randall" groups met in Nashville, Tennessee, on November 5, 1935, and organized the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

Free Will Baptist Bodies

  • International Fellowship of Free Will Baptist Churches - an international fellowship of Free Will Baptists with 12 member associations in Brazil, Canada, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, France, India, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Spain, United States, and Uruguay, evidently related to foreign mission work of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
  • National Association of Free Will Baptists - a national body of predominantly white Free Will Baptist churches in the United States and Canada, organized in 1935 and headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Original Free Will Baptist Convention - a North Carolina based body of Free Will Baptists that split from the National Association in 1961. In 1991 they reported over 33,000 members in 236 churches that were organized into 7 conferences.
  • United American Free Will Baptist Church - the largest body of African-American Free Will Baptist churches, organized in 1901 and headquartered in Kinston, North Carolina.
  • United American Free Will Baptist Conference - a body of African-American Free Will Baptist churches that withdrew from the United American Free Will Baptist Church in 1968; headquartered in Lakeland, Florida.
  • Unaffiliated Free Will Baptist local associations - a number of local Free Will Baptist associations remain independent of the National Association, Original FWB Convention, and the two United American bodies. Researchers have identified 12 such associations, though there may be more. The unaffiliated associations of Free Will Baptists include over 300 churches with an estimated 22,000 members. They have no organization beyond the "local" level.
    • Eastern Stone (TN)
    • French Broad (NC)
    • Jack's Creek (IN, KY, OH & VA)
    • John-Thomas (NC)
    • Mt. Mitchell (NC)
    • Muscle Shoals (AL & TN)
    • Original Grand River (OK)
    • Stone Association of Central Indiana (IN)
    • Tennessee River (AL & TN)
    • Toe River (NC & SC)
    • Western (NC)
    • Western Stone (TN)

External links


  • An Early History of Free Will Baptists (1727-1830), by William F. Davidson
  • Baptists Around the World, by Albert W. Wardin, Jr.
  • Dictionary of Baptists in America, Bill J. Leonard, editor
  • Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, Samuel S. Hill, editor
  • Sub-Groups Within the Baptist Denomination (in the United States), by R. L. Vaughn

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