Frank Newesome: Page 2
Elder Frank Newsome preaches at the Little David Church in Buchanan County Virginia, where he has lived for the better part of 45 years. Frank and his congregation are part of a sub-denomination of the Baptist Church known as Old Regular Baptists. While their numbers are comparatively small, their rural locations, predominantly around the shared borders of West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky, and their strict adherence to church doctrine have helped the Old Regular Baptists to maintain many of their religious folkways. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in their tradition of lined-out hymnody — a sound at once seemingly ancient yet palpably immediate. Because Old Regular Baptist Church doctrine forbids musical accompaniment in their services, the congregation sings a cappella, a style once the mainstay in many denominations in America and Europe. This tradition consists of a preacher—often referred to as an elder—singing a line of hymn, and the congregation repeating the same line in a mournful blend of voices. This style and practice was particularly well suited to the demands of the early churches, its call and response format allowing participation from those in attendance, many of whom could not read words or musical notation. The Old Regular Baptists are among the last practitioners of this beautiful religious song tradition.
The Old Regular Baptists base their religious observances and their moral code in daily life on a literal interpretation of the Bible. One defining belief of the Old Regular Baptist Church concerns man’s attainment of salvation from God. They believe that man cannot receive salvation and redemption until God calls. Because each person must answer God’s call only when it comes, they see no need to attempt to convert or otherwise act as missionaries. Visitors are made to feel quite welcome in Old Regular Baptist services, but no particular effort is made to get them there; the business of saving souls is left to God. Similarly, the Old Regulars offer no Sunday Schools for their children. Children attending services in many Old Regular Baptist churches are allowed to roam about freely. Unlike in most denominations, baptisms usually occur later in life, often into a person’s 50′s and 60′s. Once again, it is not a parishioners’ choice to become saved, but rather an event to experience whenever God offers it.
As the New Testament contains no reference to musical instruments in worship, the Old Regular Baptists forbid their use. This belief is traceable back to Calvinist theology of the Protestant Reformation. While almost every other denomination has “modernized” itself in the 500-plus years since the Reformation, the Old Regulars steadfastly hold to the early conviction. Like their musical cousins, the shape-note singers, they have helped to preserve the art of the American folk hymn in a way that almost certainly would have been lost decades ago, if not for their stubborn insistence on keeping alive the “old ways” that they and their forebears embraced and continue to share and teach.