September 28, 1981
The Banner of Love
Elder A. E. Richards, Editor
Ralls, Texas 79357
Dear Elder Richards:
After much reluctance I am writing you in regard to an article contained in your August, 1981 issue of "The Banner of Love". The "Banner" title of the article, found beginning on Page 7 is "A Visit to the Oldest Primitive Baptist Church in U.S.A.". This attracted my attention quickly, since for the last ten years I have been pastor of what every historian who has written on the subject says is the oldest Primitive Baptist Church in America, Welsh Tract Old School Baptist.
I hope to address this matter to you in the same spirit that I would want it addressed to me were the circumstances reversed. I trust I come in a brotherly manner.
I would desire to avoid making your correspondent an offender for a word, as it is known that practically all people professing religion know the difference between the church building (meeting house) and the assembly that meets in the building, but several instances in this article the writer confuses the two. Paragraph 1, Page 7 is one example. Comments under the picture titled "Landmark Church" is another. The most blatant statement, however, is found in Par. 1, Page 8, and I quote -"The Landmark Church was formed by the group which moved away from the Welsh Tract Church because members felt the Welsh Tract Church congregation was becoming believers of what is referred to as "Absolute" Predestination. The building was built in 1715 and is the oldest Primitive Baptist Church building in America. The church meets every Sunday except First Sunday, Thus also making it the oldest continuously active church. The building is of beautiful native stone and has been well maintained now for the more than 266 years that it has been used." The next bit of confusion on this point is found under the picture titled "Welsh Tract Church", Page 8, and again I quote - "The old Welsh Tract Church is officially the oldest Primitive Baptist Church in America. The church was set up in 1903 (1701-J.F.P.) in Newark, Del. This building, which is now a Delaware historical structure, was the third (second-J.F.P.) building, for the church and was built in 1746. This is the oldest church but not the oldest continuously used building." There are other similar references but I will pass them by.
Pray tell me, Elder Richards, if Welsh Tract Church is the oldest church then at best is not the headline of this article and other similar references confusing on the surface? I give your writer benefit of the doubt that he was not deliberately misleading.
But now for a few facts on an article that was highly deficient of the same.
The Welsh Tract Church did not split, or divide, in 1715 with anyone over anything. Your correspondent says in Par. 6, Page 7, "The Welsh Tract Church split into two groups in 1715. The group which most people refer to as 'Absoluters' was in the original church building." We are in possession of the original records of Welsh Tract written in Welsh and English and I have gleaned them many times never seeing such information as this. Copies of this original record abound and can be verified by anyone desiring truth. If the writer of this article would carefully identify his source of information we would be very glad for the same. The truth, the simple truth is, dear Brother, no such information exists. Also note well that Welsh Tract Church did not split then or at any other time over Absolute Predestination or for that matter, over any other problem.
I will quote now the next sentence of Par. 6, Page 7- "The other group set up a church about 10 miles north and became known as the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church." I ask pointedly and earnestly for your writer to tell us where he got such information as this. No record on earth exists (which could be considered genuine) of a Landmark Primitive Baptist Church being established in 1715. Even as late as 1832 when the famous Black Rock meeting was held their letters went out with this heading (address) "To the Particular Baptist Churches of the 'Old School' in the United States". Churches in the North then, as now, used the appellation "Old School" but as early as 1715 neither Primitive Baptist or Old School was used. Baptists were Baptists. The point I make is this - who ever is trying to pawn off the notion that a church known as the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church was constituted in 1715 or anywhere near that date is thoroughly void of any knowledge of Baptist history. I may add that not only was the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church not in existence in 1715. it was not in existance in 1815, nor had it even come into existance in 1915, as I will shortly prove.
Next I want to notice the expression under the picture on Page 7 which reads in part, "The Landmark Church (sometimes called London Tract)....". For those who know their history, the meeting house in question has always been called the London Tract Meeting-house even to this very day. This is according to the records of Welsh Tract Church, London Tract Church, and all official documents whether local or State of Pennsylvania. Also, so long as a congregation existed at the meetinghouse (the last member died in the 1930's), the congregation was always known as London Tract Church. Never, ever was such a group as the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church heard of in that part of this Nation. I beg for records that prove otherwise.
For the record, I am sending you a copy of the original constitution of London Tract Church (lately attempted to be called Landmark Primitive Baptist Church) as taken from the record book of that church. You will note that the date is 1780, not 1715. You will note there was no division with Welsh Tract, their mother church. You will note they were dismissed in good standing to constitute the London Tract Church, not the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church. Are we speaking of two different churches? By no means! If so, where was the supposed Landmark Primitive Baptist Church for the 65 years before London Tract Church was duly constituted out of Welsh Tract? Again, we beg for even a scrap of record.
Let it be further known that that great work called "Hassell's History of the Church of God" makes no record whatever of any Landmark Primitive Baptist Church constituted in the first half of the 1700's (see Page 552, Hassell) or for that matter, at any other date in history. Hassell and all other historians do say, however, that London Tract was constituted in 1780. Also, in agreement with this is the record of the first one hundred years of the Philadelphia Association. (See A.D. Gillette, "Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association").
Brother Richards, this, to me, blows holes in the notion that Landmark Primitive Baptist Church is the oldest church or church building either. If that building is 266 years old, as your correspondent says, and yet no congregation existed for the 65 years between 1715 and 1780, to what purpose was it built, and for whom? We may err on opinions and interpretation of the scriptures, but we must view history as concrete. What has occurred and is, is a matter of record and cannot be disputed. Records abound on this subject but none to support the article of question. I have wondered if possibly your writer has confused London Tract Church with Hopewell Old School Baptist Church in New Jersey, which was indeed established in 1715 according to Hassell's History, yet I cannot see how such an article as this could be approved by those people who today call themselves the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church.
I submit for your further consideration a document which is a complete contradiction to the article in question. This is the agreement the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church entered into with the Trustees of London Tract Church, agreeing to pay $100.00 annually to rent the London Tract building. It is signed by the President and Secretary of the Trustees of London Tract and also signed by Elder Thompson of Bel Air, Maryland, and others representing the so called Landmark Primitive Baptist Church.
Only one question need be raised here and it is this: Why would the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church lease a building they claim they built in 1715 and met in continuously for 245 years?
We also have the records stating clearly when the Landmarkers first petitioned the Trustees to use the building and were refused. This was in 1942, two hundred twenty-seven years after the supposed constitution of the Landmark movement.
In December 1945 the Trustees met and voted to let Mt. Cannel Church, Bel Air, Maryland use the building (still known as London Tract meetinghouse) and I am sure not even your correspondent believes two different churches were meeting there. What, then of all these claims?
Fact: Landmark Primitive Baptist Church did not exist until the middle of the 20th century, a bit late to be the oldest Primitive Baptist Church in America.
Fact: London Tract did exist from 1780 on the same spot of ground claimed by the Landmarkers and continued until the last member died in the 1930's.
Fact: Welsh Tract and the only church existing at that vicinity (properly called London Tract) were in full fellowship, first in the Philadelphia Association and later in the Delaware Association. This can be established by volumes of Minutes and other records. They were never separated over predestination, as they believed the same thing on the subject.
Brother Richards, I will not burden you with further evidence on this subject. Any fair minded person can see the article in question is without historical or factual basis and is, at best, a loosely gathered compilation of erroneous views.
We intend to publish this letter to you in the "Signs of the Times", and hope you will do the same in the "Banner of Love". If you can send me a response to the same in the next 30 days, we will be glad to submit it also in the interest of fairness.
In closing I will add one further comment. It is lamentable that those holding to the doctrine of Conditional Time Salvation (a doctrine which exists nowhere prior to the middle of the last century) have such a malignant attitude towards those they call "Absoluters". Anyone who traces the history of their Primitive Churches must go back thru the period when all Old School or Primitive Baptists were unlimited predestinarians and subscribed to the London confession as written previous to the Fulton Convention mutilation of it in 1900.
Thank you, Brother Richards, for taking the time to read my response to the Landmark issue. Believe me when I say I hold no ill will to you, your paper, or your correspondent. In hope of life to come,
(Elder) James F. Poole
Elder Richards answered my letter by saying he had visited welsh Tract once, but he declined to comment on my letter or give a reason for printing such a garbled attempt at doctoring up history.
Signs of the Times
Volume 150, No. 3 - March 1982