Named after the French Broad River flowing 210 miles from Western North Carolina to East Tennessee, the French Broad Baptist Association organized in 1807 with six churches, three each from two existing associations—Holston Association and Broad River Association.1 The organizers immediately prepared for adoption both a Covenant and Rules of Decorum for the newly established association. The Covenant or confession of faith contained twelve articles, the first four of which are provided below:
Article 1. We believe in the only living and true God, and that there are three persons in the Godhead—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and that these three are one in substance, and equal in power and glory.
2. We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and the only rule of Faith and practice.
3. We believe in the doctrine of Original Sin.
4. We believe in man's impotency to recover himself from the fallen state he is in, by his own free will and ability.2
The French Broad association thrived over the next 20 years, the association playing a vital role in establishing first the North Carolina Missionary Society (1814) which became the North Carolina State Baptist Convention in 1830.3
In 1827, the prosperous enterprise of saving souls came to a sudden halt when seven churches withdrew from French Broad and formed the Big Ivy Association. According to the association's history committee, "The conflict grew out of a debate over the Calvinist doctrines of election and predestination."4 Within the French Broad association, two men led opposing factions. Stephen Morgan led the strict Calvinist side holding that "God from all eternity had chosen some men for eternal life, without any regard to faith and good works, and that these would be 'Called, Sanctified and Saved' while all the others were doomed to eternal damnation."5 On the other hand, Garrett Deweese led a group in the association who held that "in the gift of His Son God had provided the means of salvation for all. They believed that sinners by their free will could choose life through repentance and faith in Christ."6
Morgan apparently pushed heresy charges against Deweese and, with only a few members from agreeable churches, had him excluded from the association. However, Deweese's church stood by him. Within a month or so, six churches withdrew and formed the Big Ivy Association.7
From this tragic event, we learn about our Baptist forefathers what we rarely learn from strict Baptist Calvinists today. Namely, Baptists in both north and south, both in east and west, prior to, during, and after the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 did not agree with strict Calvinism and even split over it when they were theologically manhandled into accepting it.
Furthermore, it remains theologically wrong-headed and historically double-dealing to insist, in the face of historical evidence like we present here, that historic Southern Baptist theology is Calvinistic to the core; that virtually all the "founders" of the Southern Baptist Convention were strong, convictional Calvinists; that Southern Baptists were at peace with the Calvinistic doctrines of grace; and consequently, Southern Baptists have been rocked in the cradle of Calvinism and remained staunchly Calvinistic well into the 20th century. Please stop insulting the intelligence of anyone with half a brain and an ounce of effort to dig into our past and find mound after mound of historical data indicating just the opposite is true.
A final note.
Recall above the four articles from the confession of faith the French Broad Baptist Association adopted in 1807. Compare articles three and four with corresponding articles in the Big Ivy Association's confession adopted twenty years later in 1827 after splitting with French Broad over the Calvinist doctrines of election and predestination. Both are listed below to assist the comparison
3. We believe in the doctrine of Original Sin.
4. We believe in man's impotency to recover himself from the fallen state he is in, by his own free will and ability.
3. We believe in the doctrine of Original sin, and that all mankind, since the fall, are by nature the children of Wrath, one as much as another.
4. We believe in man's impotency, or inability to recover himself out of the fallen state he is in, therefore a Saviour is absolutely needed.8
There's denial by Big Ivy neither of Original Sin nor whether human depravity entailed the inability of fallen humans to save themselves. Instead what the strict Calvinists at French Broad were apparently insisting upon was a deterministic understanding of God. We get a hint of this in Article 16 in Big Ivy's confession of 1827.
16. None of the above-named articles shall be so construed as to hold with Particular and Eternal Election and Reprobation, or so as to make God partial, either directly or indirectly, so as to injure any of the children of men.9
Big Ivy Baptists had no issue with Original Sin, total depravity, or human inability. Instead they had a problem with what can only be dubbed a fatalistic understanding of God's sovereignty.
And to be honest, I think ultimately that's the real point of contention between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention. We've got guys so enamored with men like Jonathan Edwards (via many celebrity Calvinists) that they've trapped themselves into a theological paradigm which can only produce full-blown Hyper-Calvinism when it's taken to its logical conclusion.
1History Committee of the French Broad Baptist Association (N.C.). History of French Broad Baptist Association, 1807-1994 : and histories of the fifty-eight churches (Kindle Location 165). Taylors, South Carolina : Faith Printing Company. ND
2Kindle Locations 60-66.
3Kindle Locations 128-130.
4Kindle Locations 165-166.
5Kindle Locations 176-177
6Kindle Locations 177-178
7Kindle Locations 180-181
8Kindle Locations 189-192
9Kindle Locations 213-216