The Free Will Baptist denomination is a fellowship of evangelical believers united in extending the witness of Christ and the building of His Church throughout the world. The rise of Free Will Baptists can be traced to the influence of Baptists of Arminian persuasion who settled in the colonies from England.
The denomination sprang up on two fronts at almost the same time. The southern line, or Palmer movement, traces its beginnings to the year 1727 when one Paul Palmer organized a church at Chowan, North Carolina. Palmer had previously ministered in New Jersey and Maryland, having been baptized in a congregation which had moved from Wales to a trace on the Delaware River in northern Pennsylvania.
The northern line, or Randall movement, had its beginnings with a congregation organized by Benjamin Randall June 30, 1780, in New Durham, New Hampshire. Both lines of Free Will Baptists taught the doctrines of free grace, free salvation and free will, although from the first there was no organizational connection between them.
The northern line expanded more rapidly in the beginning and extended its outreach into the West and Southwest. In 1910-1911 this body of Free Will Baptists merged with the Northern Baptist denomination, taking along more than half its 1,100 churches and all denominational property, including several major colleges. On December 28, 1916, at Pattonsburg, Missouri, representatives of remnant churches in the Randall movement reorganized into the Cooperative General Association of Free Will Baptists.
Free Will Baptists in the southeastern United States, having descended from the Palmer foundation, had often manifested fraternal relationships with Free Will Baptists of the Randall movement in the north and west; but the slavery question and the Civil War prevented formal union between them. The churches in the southern line were organized into various associations and conferences from the beginning and had finally organized into a General Conference by 1921. These congregations were not affected by the merger of the northern movement with the Northern Baptists.
Now that the remnants of the Randall movement had reorganized into the Cooperative General Association and the Palmer movement had organized into the General Conference, it was inevitable that fusion between these two groups of Free Will Baptists would finally come. In Nashville, Tennessee, on November 5, 1935, representatives of these two groups met and organized the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
This body adopted a Treatise which set forth the basic doctrines and described the faith and practice that had characterized Free Will Baptists through the years. Having been revised on several occasions, it serves as a guideline for a denominational fellowship which comprises more than 2,400 churches in 42 states and 14 foreign countries.
The logo of the Free Will Baptists incorporates four symbols used by the earliest communities in Christendom: the ship, the fish, the anchor, and the cross.
In the four corners of the ship's sail, the symbols of earliest Christianity are enhanced by modern emblems of a vital, living faith - the Holy Bible, the Loaf & Cup, the Basin & Towel and Clasped Hands - the symbols of Free Will Baptists.
The Ship symbolizes the Church and represents all the members pulling in one direction, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Seeking to fulfill Christ's last command to the Church, Free Will Baptists unite in one purpose with one priority to proclaim the good news of the gospel throughout the world.
The Fish , represented in the symbol by the space between the bottom of the sail and the top of the ship's body, is one of the most popular symbols for Jesus Christ. Many believe that it was a secret symbol which identified Christians during periods of persecution. The word "fish" in the first century Greek (ichthus) is an acrostic for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.
The Anchor on the bow of the ship symbolizes the Christian hope of salvation, "the sure, strong and steadfast anchor of the soul."The Cross forms the emblem in the mast of the ship. It is the most familiar symbol in the history of the world. The Cross - an instrument of execution and death turned into a worldwide emblem of hope and love by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Bible has always been at the heart of our life as Free Will Baptists, the centrality of the scriptures. Free Will Baptists adopt the Word of God as our only rule of faith and practice. We believe the scriptures to be inspired, inerrant, infallible and immutable.
The Loaf & Cup represent the Lord's supper, one of the gospel ordinances. This ordinance commemorates the death of Christ for our sins in the use of the bread which He made the emblem of His broken body and the cup the emblem of His shed blood. Participation in this ordinance expresses love for Christ, faith and hope in Him, and serves as a pledge of perpetual fidelity and faithfulness to Him.
The Basin & Towel historically symbolize the service and outreach of the church, but for us it has an added significance of representing our practice of washing the saints' feet.
The Clasped Hands symbolize many things to us: fellowship, brotherhood and the warmth of our faith. Perhaps the most important thing symbolized by the clasped hands is our commitment to reach out to people around the world with the good news.
Having given ourselves to God, by faith in Christ, and adopted the Word of God as our rule of faith and practice, we now give ourselves to one another by the will of God in this solemn covenant.
We promise, by His grace, to love and obey Him in all things, to avoid all appearance of evil, to abstain from all sinful amusements and unholy conformity to the world, from all sanction of the use and sale of intoxicating beverages, and to "provide things honest in the sight of all men."
We agree faithfully to discharge our obligations in reference to the study of the Scriptures, secret prayer, family devotions, and social worship; and by self-denial, faith, and good works endeavor to "grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together for church conferences, public worship, and the observance of the ordinances of the Gospel; nor fail to pay according to our ability for the support of the church, of its poor, and all its benevolent work.
We agree to accept Christian admonition and reproof with meekness, and to watch over one another in love, endeavoring to "keep the unity of the Spirit" in the bonds of peace, to be careful of one another's happiness and reputation, and seek to strengthen the weak, encourage the afflicted, admonish the erring, and as far as we are able, promote the success of the church and of the Gospel.
We will everywhere hold Christian principle sacred and Christian obligations and enterprises supreme; counting it our chief business in life to extend the influence of Christ in society, constantly praying and toiling that the kingdom of God may come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
To this end we agree to labor for the promotion of educational and denominational enterprises, the support of missions, the success of Sunday schools, and evangelistic efforts for the salvation of the world. And may the God of peace sanctify us wholly, and preserve us blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.