Controversies in Baptist Life
Not a Silent People, Walter Shurden
- “What is it in the Baptist DNA that leads to controversy?”
- The 4 Fragile Freedoms lead to controversy.
- Freedom leads to controversy.
- Our very design as Baptists leads to controversy.
- Yet we believe the positives outweigh the negatives.
- The biggest issue is how far is too far. When does diversity become heresy?
- In the SBC one side longs for doctrinal uniformity and the other side longed for functional unison.
Controversy: When Did Baptists Begin?
So where did we come from? We have learned that 400 years ago 1609 we started in England. We understand we have connections to Anabaptists in Europe (Radical Reformers). We come from the Church of England and those who separated from that church. We have talked about our messy story but there have been those who have questioned and disagreed with what we have discussed.
- The Whitsitt Battle– Dr. W.H. Whitsitt was president and professor of SBTS and had to leave SBTS in 1899. What was wrong? He taught what I taught you but people didn’t like it. This was an argument about how old Baptists were. He traced us to the 1600s in England but others said we go back to the 1st century and are the true church.
- He pointed to 1641 when Baptists began to immerse (we poured when we started in 1609).
- He believed we ‘recovered’ believer’s baptism.
- He believed it was wrong to trace ourselves to the first century.
- Whitsitt faced attacks in state papers (Baptist papers). People accused him of saying Baptists invented immersion which was not what he said.
- The faculty supported their president. They begged the convention to support him.
- A resolution was passed at the KBC in 1897 against him and four other states joined in- LA, AK, TX and MI.
- The SBC met in 1898 and the issue came up in Norfolk, VA. There was a move to kick the SBTS out of the SBC. The seminary could lose all her money. SO Whitsitt left to save the school. He then went to U of Richmond and taught until 1909.
- Baptist Church Succession Movement
- The “Father of Baptist Church Succession” was a minister named G.H. Orchard.
- 1823 he found himself talking to a minister who said Baptists were more modern.
- THE ISSUE– A true unbroken church from the NT or starting in the 1600s.
- J.R. Graves came on the scene in TN. He died in 1893.
- He was the leader of the Landmarkist view.
- This lead to folks who would not allow non-Baptists to preach in their churches, accept baptism from anyone, etc.
- In Graves day folks were competitive and denominations were trying to prove they were the best/closest to the NT.
- This view spread as ministers moved to other places but it is centering in KY and TN.
Controversy: What about the Heathen?
- Does God want us to take the gospel to the world? The Mission controversy.
- The Anti-Missionary Movement
- This controversy rocked between 1820-1840 before the SBC existed.
- Yet in this frontier were we grew those Baptists moved to become anti-missions. Wow.
- American Frontier brings jealousy
- Organized missionary work began in 1814, Baptists were doing missions.
- Luther Rice helped lead to the Triennial Convention.
- Luther traveled around the nation to rally the cause.
- 1820-1830 the anti-missionary movement hit a high.
- Major reason- jealousy. The frontier preachers were uneducated and some couldn’t read. They were jealous of these guys from the East and didn’t trust these educated guys.
- The Urban East VS the Frontier.
- FIRST—This was really a suspicion of ministerial education.
- SECOND—This was also a suspicion of ministerial organizations. Are they really taking the money for missions or for themselves? Where is this money going? This didn’t want to see churches lose their independence.
- Money- big issue. Baptists disagree about how to spend it.
- The impact of Calvinism
- IF you buy into this then you have a backing to walk away from missions.
- C has always been in many Baptist churches. Usually modified and allowing missions but hard core didn’t allow it.
- Birth of Primitive Baptists.
- Popular C preachers like Daniel Parker. The 2 Seed in the Spirit Predestinarian Baptists.
Controversy: What about other Races?
- Slavery- the SBC started over this issue. As many denominations divided over slavery the SBC did. We never reunited with those in the North.
– Can missionaries have slaves?
– Is slavery Biblical? Folks used the Bible on both sides.
– Denominations divide!
– Baptists have had wrapped up their identity with being Southern.
- Civil Rights-Didn’t end with slavery. Baptists have poor history with race relations.
– How are race relations today?
– How do we confront racism?
– Hispanic, Asian, etc?
Controversy: What about other Denominations?
- Baptism– do we accept it from other denominations?
- Communion- open, closed, or close?
- Sharing pulpits
- These issues come up because of Landmarkism and other ideas from our past.
- Baptists tend to have a close system.
- We didn’t relate to other groups much. Fear of liberalism.
- This goes back to uniformity of doctrine versus functionality.
- Can we work with those we disagree?
- The culture is changing more folks are coming into the church that are not Baptist and this is leading to many conversations.
Controversy: What about Theology? (Theology , Genesis, and Moderate/Fundamentalist Battle) Mainly in the1029’s
– Higher Biblical Criticism, Evolution/science issues, Change in culture brings controversy.
– Fear of education. Fear of liberalism.
– The publication of the Fundamentals. Five points published and sent out for ministers to read.
- Divinely inspired and inerrant Bible
- Deity of Jesus and virgin birth
- Substitutionary atonement
- Christ’s bodily resurrection
- Personal, preminnial and imminent second coming.
– Most Fundmentalists left the NBC. Many other groups started.
- Genesis Controversy
– How do we read this in light of science and history?
– Broadman Bible controversy
Controversy: New Battles
- Homosexuality, Calvinism, Charismatic Gifts, More political battles, Church and national politics, Alcohol, Emerging Church
Fundamentalist, Conservative, Moderate
Southern Baptist Convention conservative resurgence/Take Over
The unity of the SBC since its founding in 1845 has been basically functional rather than doctrinal. The founders wrote: “We have constructed for our basis no new creed; acting in this matter upon a Baptist aversion for all creeds but the Bible.” Baptists have generally avoided authoritative statements of doctrinal belief (creeds). The creed becomes a list of beliefs one must subscribe to in order to belong. Instead, Baptists historically have used “confessions of faith” arrived at by group consensus instead of imposed by higher authorities. “The new denomination was not to be united by theological uniformity.” The unifying reality “was missionary, not doctrinal, in nature.”
An alternative vision was announced by conservative movement leaders from 1979 to 1987. In a formal statement, they declared their commitment to “doctrinal unity in functional diversity,” placing an emphasis on strict doctrinal uniformity. Conservatives argued that their beliefs did indeed represent a consensus among Southern Baptists. These individuals felt that while early Southern Baptists agreed on basic theological issues, by the 1970s many of these beliefs had come under attack in schools owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention.
1976. Paul Pressler, a Houston judge, and Paige Patterson, then president of Criswell College in Dallas, met in New Orleans and planned the political strategy to elect like-minded conservative/fundamentalist Convention presidents and in turn members of SBC boards. The strategy was extremely successful.
1978. W. A. Criswell and Adrian Rogers (both now deceased), along with Judge Pressler and Paige Patterson, met with a group of determined pastors and laymen at a hotel near the Atlanta airport to launch the resurgence/takeover. They understood William Powell’s contention that electing the president of the Southern Baptist Convention was the key to redirecting the entirety of the denomination. The Atlanta group determined to elect Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, as the first Conservative Resurgence president of the Convention.
- The concept of Inerrancy. Southern Baptists applied a new word, “inerrancy, ” to their understanding of Scripture. Since 1650 the adjective most used by Baptists to describe their view of the Bible had been “infallible”; however, the term “inerrancy” had been implied in the 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith (“truth without any mixture of error”) in wording that, by this time, had already been incorporated into the 1925 and 1963 editions of the Baptist Faith and Message. The word “inerrancy” was also used by the prominent Southern Baptist scholar A. T. Robertson in the late nineteenth century. Some Reformed theologians in Europe had utilized the term “inerrancy” in the same way that North American theologians used “infallibility.” Many conservative leaders championed the word “inerrancy” in this phase of the ongoing controversy—a phase that would later become known as the “inerrancy controversy.”
- Orchestration from the sky boxes. Also coming out of the 1979 Houston Convention was a well-organized political campaign, using precinct style politics, to wrest control of the SBC. Such tactics were not completely unprecedented; Jimmy Allen had openly campaigned for the office just two years earlier. Judge Pressler and theologian Patterson were accused of directing the affairs of the 1979 meeting from sky boxes high above the Summit where the SBC was meeting. Pressler said such accusations were false. The election on the first ballot of the more conservative pastor Adrian Rogers began the ten-year process. Ever since that meeting, the right wing of the denomination has prevailed in the SBC elections. There has been an unbroken succession of conservative-fundamentalist presidents. Each has appointed more conservative individuals, who in turn appointed others, who nominated the trustees, who elected the agency heads and institutional presidents, including those of the seminaries. Throughout the 1980s, Conservative Resurgence advocates gained control over the SBC leadership at every level from the administration to key faculty at their seminaries and slowly turned the SBC towards more conservative positions on many social issues. By early 1989 nearly every one of the SBC boards had a majority of Takeover people on it. The book entitled The Fundamentalist Takeover in the Southern Baptist Convention cites the following as further key events in the resurgence:
1984: The SBC voted in Kansas City to adopt a strongly worded resolution against women in the pastorate. The rationale cited was that “man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.”:p.159
1987: The president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, resigned after the trustees voted to hire only faculty members who follow the Baptist Faith and Message.
1987: The SBC voted in St. Louis to adopt a report from “The Peace Committee” that had been set up in 1985. The report identified the roots of the controversy as primarily theological, and called on Baptist seminaries to teach in accordance with the Bible.
1988: At the SBC Convention in San Antonio, a resolution was passed critical of the liberal interpretation of the “priesthood of the believer” and “soul competency.” Moderates and liberals accused conservatives of elevating the pastor to the position of authority in the church he serves.
1990: Roy Honeycutt, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, was accused by a twenty-five-year-old new trustee of “not believing the Bible.” The trustee cited some of Honeycutt’s own writings as evidence. This same trustee would later become chairman of the seminary board shortly after Resurgency leader Al Mohler became president.
1991: At their October meeting, the Foreign Mission Board trustees voted to defund the Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland.
1992: Keith Parks, president of the Foreign Mission Board, retired. In his thirteen years as president, missionaries entered forty new countries with a total of 3,918 missionaries.
1992: Lloyd Elder, president of the Sunday School Board, resigned under pressure and was replaced by former SBC president Jimmy Draper, a staunch conservative. A total of 159 employees retired (voluntarily or involuntarily) in November 1992.
1994: Russell Dilday, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth for fifteen years, was fired abruptly and trustees changed the locks on the president’s office immediately, thus denying him access. The day before, these same trustees gave Dilday a favorable job performance evaluation. These trustees sent letters to pastors and directors of missions to explain their reason for firing Dilday, saying he failed to support the resurgence at the Convention and that he held liberal views of the scripture.
The Seminary faculty disputed these charges. In a March 22 statement: “During his administration, his doctrinal stance was completely consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message statement, which is the seminary’s article of faith. The theology faculty affirms Russell H. Dilday for leading the seminary with a spirit of Christlikeness and a desire to be inclusive with regard to the finest theological and biblical perspectives represented in the Southern Baptist Convention. We deeply regret his firing as president of the seminary.”
1997: In October a forty-year staff member was fired at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for writing a private letter to the President of the SBC disagreeing with a statement he had made while speaking in chapel. Also in October 1997, a professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Theological Seminary was relieved of his teaching duties because he “voiced dissent about actions of the administration of the institution.”
1998: In June, Paige Patterson was elected president of the SBC without opposition. The man who helped plan the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention was now its leader. Jerry Falwell, who had criticized Southern Baptists in the days of moderate-liberal rule, attended his first SBC Convention as a messenger along with others from his church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Also the SBC amended the Baptist Faith and Message by adding a complementarian statement about male-priority gender roles in marriage, including an adverbial modifier to the verb “submit”: a wife is to “submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband,” followed by a lengthy description of a husband’s duty to “love his wife unconditionally.”
2000: The SBC adopted a new Baptist Faith and Message statement. Baptist historian Dr. Walter Shurden says this 2000 version, used as a creedal statement by SBC agencies, elevates the Bible to a position above that of Jesus himself and downplays the doctrines of priesthood of each believer and local church autonomy. Conservatives contend that the statement accurately reflects the beliefs of most Southern Baptists.
2002: Jerry Rankin and the IMB trustees began requiring missionaries to sign their assent to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Many missionaries resigned, and the requirement was said to “undermine missionary morale.”
2004: The Southern Baptist Convention withdrew as a member of the Baptist World Alliance(BWA).
2005: The Baptist World Alliance celebrated its 100th Anniversary in Birmingham, England, with 13,000 Baptists from throughout the world. Absent was its former largest member group, the Southern Baptist Convention. BWA leaders prayed “that unity may one day be restored.”
Liberal and moderate reactions
A relatively small group of congregations split away in 1987 to form the liberal Alliance of Baptists. With more than 2,000 individual members in 2010, 32 domestic and international mission partners, and 130 affiliate congregations the Alliance is an organization of Baptists promoting what they call progressive theologies, radical inclusivity, justice-seeking, ecumenism, and mission partnerships around the world.
In 1990, another schism occurred in which a large number of moderate congregations formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), originally organized as a “convention within the convention” to support causes not controlled by the majority within the SBC.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is a quasi-denomination in that it ordains both men and women as clergy, has theological seminaries which it directly sponsors and which support the moderate-conservative biblical interpretations of the CBF. It is a fellowship of Baptist Christins and churches who share a very similar passion for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. As of 2010 there were approximately 1,900 churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. It was partnering with 15 theological schools, 19 autonomous state and regional organizations and more than 150 ministry organizations worldwide. Based in Atlanta, the CBF has an annual budget of $16 million.
The exodus of these dissenting elements allowed for additional changes to the convention which culminated in yet another round of significant changes to the Baptist Faith and Message at the 2000 SBC Annual Meeting.
In addition to the groups mentioned above, additional new entities have come into existence to champion what liberals and some old-line leaders believe to be historic Baptist principles and cooperative spirit abandoned by SBC leaders. These include the Baptist Center for Ethics, Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM), the national news journal Baptists Today, the Associated Baptist Press, Smyth & Helwys Publishers, some fourteen new Baptist seminaries and divinity schools, and other entities. Ironically, many supporters of these new entities used to accuse conservatives of “disloyalty” when they used non-SBC literature and supported non-SBC schools.
State conventions react
Because each level of Baptist life is autonomous, changes at the national level do not require approval or endorsement by the state conventions or local associations. The majority of state conventions have continued to cooperate with the SBC. However, the state conventions in Texas and Virginia openly challenged the new directions and announced a “dual affiliation” with contributions to both the SBC’s Cooperative Program and the CBF.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), the largest of the Southern Baptist state conventions, did not vote in 1998 to align itself with the CBF, despite some reports to the contrary. The BGCT did allow individual churches to designate their missions dollars to a number of different missions organizations, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. One of the stated reasons for doing so was their objection to proposed changes in the 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message, which the BGCT said made the document sound like a “creed, ” in violation of historic Baptist tradition which opposed the use of creeds.
In a reversal from the national convention (where the moderates and liberals left and the conservatives/fundamentalist resurgents stayed), many Texas conservatives (fundamentalists) formed their own state convention, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Local congregations either disassociated completely from BGCT or sought “dual alignment” with both groups. Yet, other congregations (the vast majority conservative but not fundamentalist) solely align themselves with the BGCT. The BGCT is the much larger of the two state conventions, and universities such as Baylor only receive money from the BGCT. Similarly, fundamentalist-conservative Baptists in Virginia formed the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
The Virginia and Texas SBC Executive Committees receive and distribute funds from two conventions—one the traditional/original convention (BGAV and BGCT) and one new one that is only SBC (SBCVA and SBCTX). The Missouri SBC Executive Committee declined to receive money from the new more moderate Missouri group. They said it was not in Southern Baptists’ best interest to cooperate with another group opposed to the conservative leadership of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Individual churches in the newer convention may contribute to the SBC directly.
The American denominational landscape has experienced significant shifts in recent times, but one major story stands out among them all—the massive redirection of the Southern Baptist Convention. America’s largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention was reshaped, reformed, and restructured over the last three decades, and at an incredibly high cost.
– Albert Mohler, an architect of the Conservative Resurgence
…the takeover issue was never whether Baptists believed the Bible. The issue is and has always been Creedalism and Fundamentalism. Baptists have always been basically conservative, believing the Bible to be true, trustworthy, and authoritative. There have been individuals who deviated from that mindset but they did not last long among us. They went on to other movements in the Christian family.
– Jimmy R. Allen (President, SBC, 1978-79)
Critics of the takeover faction assert that the “civil war” among Southern Baptists has been about power lust and right-wing secular politics. Dr. Russell H. Dilday, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1978 to 1994, has analogized what he calls “the carnage of the past quarter century of denominational strife in our Baptist family” to “friendly fire” where casualties come as a result of the actions of fellow Baptists, not at the hands of the enemy. He writes that “Some of it has been accidental, ” but that “some has been intentional.” He characterizes the struggle as being “far more serious than a controversy, ” but rather a “self-destructive, contentious, one-sided feud that at times took on combative characteristics.”
Former president of the SBC Jimmy R. Allen writes that the resurgence/takeover leaders searched for a battle cry to which Baptists would respond. They found it in the fear that we were not “believing the Bible.” They focused on the few who interpreted the Bible more liberally and exaggerated that fact. Allen’s assessment is that “It was like hunting rabbits with howitzers. They destroyed more than they accomplished.”
A spokesman for the new leadership of the SBC, Dr. Morris Chapman, claims that the root of the controversy has been about theology. He maintains that the controversy has “returned the Southern Baptist Convention to its historic commitments.” Speaking as president of the “new” SBC’s Executive Committee, Chapman cites as examples some of the Conservative Resurgency’s claims:
- Baptist colleges and seminaries were producing more and more liberalism in writing, proclamation, and publication
- The adoption of a hermeneutic of suspicion which elevates human reason above the clear statements of the Bible
- The continued influence of many teachers and leaders who did not hold to a high view of Scripture.
While resurgence/takeover architect Paige Patterson believes the controversy has achieved its objective of returning the SBC from an alleged “leftward drift” to a more conservative stance, he admits to having some regrets. Patterson points to vocational disruption, hurt, sorrow, and disrupted friendships as evidence of the price that the controversy has exacted.”Friendships and sometimes family relationships have been marred. Churches have sometimes been damaged even though local church life has proceeded for the most part above the fray and often remains largely oblivious to it. No one seriously confessing the name of Jesus can rejoice in these sorrows, ” Patterson writes.”I confess that I often second guess my own actions and agonized over those who have suffered on both sides, including my own family.”