Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 4, 1954
NUMBER 38, PAGE 2-3b

"Dixie Baptists Look At Selves In Study" — Behold: A Mirror

Robert F. Turner, Tyler, Texas

Under the above title, a New York, January 14, AP press release discusses a recent history of the Southern Baptists; a "full-length view" written by Dr. William Wright Barnes of S. W. Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth. The AP writer says the Baptists are "generally" pleased with what they see, but that they are also in for some surprises. I'll vouch for the "surprises," not because I have such a great personal knowledge of Baptist reflexes, but because it is a safe supposition that the Baptist masses are no more aware of the changes taking place in that denomination than are many Christians of the changes taking place in the "brotherhood."

The press-release says that Dr. Barnes' findings point up some widely unnoticed developments, such as:

"1. That intensely independent Southern Baptist churches have moved steadily toward more consolidated denominational organization.

"2. That only after a sharp struggle did they throw off a movement for 'high church' exclusiveness that held Baptist churches were the only valid true churches. (Italics were in original article. RFT)

3. That the denomination, once hesitant to speak out on community questions for fear of detracting from emphasis on individual redemption, has increasingly recognized the need to project the Gospel into 'every individual and social problem.'

"4. That Baptist churches, in their mistrust of ecclesiastical authority once were even suspicious of having denominational seminaries to train ministers. The denomination's five major seminaries now enroll nearly 1,500.

"5. That Southern Baptists, with continuing consistency, have refused bids to join any of the rising interdenominational bodies, either on the national or world scene — though some have favored it." (Again, italics in original article. RFT)

Students of church history will have no difficulty in recognizing these "developments." They are the same in principle — and practically, in detail — that can be found in dozens of protestant religious organizations from the time of the Reformation. Here is the pattern: (1) Big-church abuses and large scale digression; (2) Conservative minority rebels, and forms separate party; (3) Reforms enacted are zealously and aggresively taught and practiced; (4) Party grows, early doctrinal zeal gives place to zeal for "prestige" and an accepted "place" in community; (6) Organizational machinery (exact form or type unimportant) hampers individual freedom (of thought, speech, action) — almost always, "for the good of the greater cause"; (6) With "headquarters" established, abuses multiply; (7) Eventually, conservative minority rebels — and we are back where we started. There are lots of different ways to describe this cycle, but regardless of words used, it smells the same. (Or should I say, "stinks"!)

Do our brethren have any idea how those "intensely independent" Baptist churches "moved steadily toward more consolidated denominational organization"? Perhaps you remember newspaper accounts of a Texas Convention held some months past, and the heat generated in the impossible attempt to keep congregational autonomy while oiling Convention machinery. The "Simultaneous Revivals" idea was another unobtrusive move — ("Surely there could be no harm in that — look at all the good we accomplished"!!!!) — which said to each Baptist congregation, "Get in line — have your meeting when we do, or declare yourself an obstructionist." Those "little" things, like the convention "Broadman Press" in Nashville — sort of a "brotherhood" publishing house, — Baptist Book Stores, and the like. When even a private business concern proposes to be the "Baptist Store — " — or "The Church of Christ Store — " some consolidation has taken place, even if only in name. Object to such triviality? Oh my, no! I wouldn't think of it! I'm waiting a few more years, until some good brother asks the address of "our" publishing house.

Did you notice that, according to the AP article, "only after a sharp struggle did they throw off a movement for `high church' exclusiveness that held Baptist churches were the only valid true churches." I think I know a few old fashioned Southern Baptists that might still scrap a bit on this "dead" subject. I suppose they are the remnants of the army that made that sharp struggle, and for all their error their plight strikes me as rather pitiful. I think I can realize and appreciate how they must feel when they read the newspaper article. Come on over to the study fellows, and if there are none of my brethren around, I'll give you a fight that will make your blood tingle.

The number three "development" — about recognizing the need to "project the Gospel into 'every individual and social problem'" — is framed in language typical of the situation. In ordinary street talk this means the Southern Baptists are giving less attention to their own business (Baptist variety of "redemption") and more and more attention to someone else's business. It has become increasingly important to "project" into social and civic business. Of course this is all done in order to win more souls (Baptist style) and none but the crankiest of Baptists would object to the "expanded activities." After all, we must contact more people in order to save more; and the church needs to be better "known"; and perhaps more of "our" preachers — but no, "our" preachers would never drift into such a "development" — Oh, no.

Number four "development" — Well, we can just skip that one. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was anti-college — after all, didn't I graduate from one of "our" colleges. Besides, when "our" colleges are called "Seminaries" it is all a mistake, and the sponsoring church withdraws the literature that made the mistake. Schools are good things, and just because Baptist churches are sometimes called upon to support the schools, and stuff like that — well, I said, let's just skip that "development."

Finally, "Southern Baptists, with continuing consistency, have refused bids to join any of the rising interdenominational bodies...though some have favored it." Too bad those last five words could not have been penciled out. It's nice to end a summation of "developments" with a strong note for the home team; and downright heartbreaking to see "continuing consistency" dwindle down to "though some have favored it." Of course we must remember that these named developments are but the "surprises" in store for Baptists who read Dr. Barnes' book, and we are assured that "generally they're pleased by what they see — " about themselves.

Well, that's nice! Our brethren like to be pleased by what they see in various books and papers. Just last week a brother told me that all this talk about "apostasy" in the church of Christ was a lot of tommy-rot, and that he did not care to read a journal that dealt with such wild tales. "We're doing more than we ever did," he said. "Our colleges are turning out more preachers, our missionaries are going more places" — (and finally) — "our church is one of the fastest growing churches in the country."

"Yeah," I mumbled — down real low, for this brother doesn't like to hear about anything bad — "the Lord's church couldn't hold us a candle."