The Twentieth Century
By Timothy Binion
The Southern Baptist Convention entered the Twentieth Century with three general boards, no standing committees, and no continuing commissions. The president simply presided at the annual sessions; between sessions the office hardly existed. The convention had no “headquarters” and no continuing officers to occupy it if they had a “headquarters”. The Executive Committee has great historical significance because it changed the nature of the Southern Baptist Convention. This change becomes an important key to understanding our History. The Executive Committee did not exist before 1917 and had little to do before its enlargement in 1927.
By 1909 a perceptive editorial pointed out, “it must be frankly admitted however, that the real work of the Convention is no longer done by the convention itself . . . We are coming rapidly to the place, if we have not already reached it, when we must rely wholly upon the Boards and standing committees to do our thinking for us. It is not best for us, . . . that our great representative body should degenerate into a mere celebration, a place for set and from all reports and addresses, a sort of spectacular gathering, full of holy enthusiasm, it may be, but lacking utterly the deliberative element.” This push for change, where standing committees and boards did the thinking for the Baptist denomination brought about a devastating transformation. This kind of consolidation was lead by the Baptists of Texas. The Baptists General Convention of Texas, for example, consolidated all of its work under one executive board in 1914 and within a few years most states had made similar moves. Baptist Churches suddenly became subjected to a whole new system of government. The Convention (state and national) closely resembled a typical association until this controlling influence called an executive board began.
The turning point for the SBC occurred in 1917 by creating its present Executive Committee. Before this the SBC had no structure for correlation of its work. In fact, legally the SBC existed only during the few days it was in session; during the rest of the year, with no continuing organization, it went out of existence, or at least went dormant. The Executive Committee changed all that and by 1927 the committee was enlarged and its functions expanded.
The Seventy-Five Million Campaign, 1919-1924, brought added funds into SBC coffers to employ a staff. After the turn of the century, the Southern Baptists launched their “Seventy-Five Million Campaign” L. R. Scarborough was appointed as south-wide director. The Campaign Commission launched the most intense campaign of publicity and promotion Southern Baptists had ever known, pastors preached on the campaign, laymen were enlisted as “four-minute speakers” (a method adapted from the Liberty Bond drives) and Baptist papers blitzed their readers with information appeals and reports. By the end of Victory week pledges totaled $92,630,923. At the 1920 “Victory Convention” Scarborough reported that this response represented the greatest victory since Pentecost. On the strength of those pledges, most SBC agencies expanded their work at once, on borrowed money.
Its easy to see how God took the wind out of these sails, when the seventy-five million dollars proved easier to pledge than to collect. A recession hit the South in 1920, Agricultural prices driven up in World War I, dropped sharply. Crop prices dropped by about 50 percent. The bottom line, Baptists had collected only $58,591,713.69.
A great travesty occurred in 1928 when treasurer Clinton S. Carnes of the Home Mission Board embezzled $909,461 from that agency. One final financial blow remained that would clearly show God’s objection. In 1929 the stock market crashed followed by an industrial depression. The message was clear, God disapproved and the whole nation suffered once again.
The two mission boards cut their work to the bone, and other SBC institutions, especially the seminaries, faced imminent foreclosure, and the SBC and its entire assets could probably have been thrown into bankruptcy.
Donnie G. Melton Concluded, “Some effects were bad, others were good, but no one could deny that after the Seventy-Five Million Campaign the Southern Baptist Convention would never be the same again.”
The Seventy-Five Million Campaign was not a one-time shot for out of it came a permanent convention financial plan. By 1917 the Home Mission Board was thirty-eight thousand dollars in debt, by 1921 the debt exceeded a half million dollars. By the end of 1926 the debt of all SBC agencies reached six and a half million dollars and eventually exceed eighteen million dollars. While others were persuaded to continue with these governmental changes within the convention, we did not. Many Missionary Baptists pulled out of the convention to preserve autonomy. We’ve continued to do our own thinking and answer to Christ and not a board. Most churches, once sound were changed by relinquishing control to a new way innovated and introduced to Baptists in the twentieth century. One might say they lost their soundness by losing their mind.
The remaining portion of History may best be summed up from portions of a book written by W. T. Russell entitled Basic Principles Plus Their Extremes Equal Inconsistences And Confusion: The following is from the minutes of Bledsoe Association for 1920, pages 4-5- “Immediately after the unanimous adoption of the above report, P. F. Burnley offered the following resolution which was unanimously adopted.- To avoid useless wrangling, strife, and confusion at the sessions of our association.. Resolved that only brethren from churches and associations in sympathy and fellowship with us in our cooperation with the Tennessee Baptist and Southern Baptist Conventions, in educational, missionary and other denominational work be recognized either as visitors or corresponding messengers.”
The Wiseman Baptist Association was in session at the same time at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Westmoreland, Tennessee. News of the action of Bledsoe Association came to the Wiseman, and in the minute of this body for 1920, and on Thursday afternoon, August 19, Elder A. J. Sloan offered the following Resolution as the answer to the one adopted by Bledsoe: “Whereas, there is great unrest among some of the churches on the question of mission methods, and whereas, the line of fellowship has been drawn against all who do not cooperate with the ‘Organized work’ of the Southern Baptist Convention by the Bledsoe Association, while in session with Chestnut Grove church on August 18, 1920, and Whereas, we believe that said Southern Baptist Convention is unscriptural in its origin and practices, but being willing that all have liberty in the matter of mission plans used, therefore, Be it resolved that we, The Wiseman Association of Missionary Baptists, recommend that the churches composing this body DO NOT draw the line of fellowship on the question of mission methods, but that all our churches give their means as they may desire. We further desire to go on record as recommending that individuals heed Paul’s admonition, ‘to give as they purpose in their hearts’.”
This Resolution was unanimously adopted by the Association, and it is plain for me to see the wisdom exercised in the presentation and adoption of this resolution. These brethren and Wiseman Association could see the ultimate danger in building a fence between Wiseman and Bledsoe Association churches, which would sever any future opportunity in their territory.
To my knowledge this was ever the position of Elders A. J. Sloan, C. B. Massey, Calvin Gregory, N. C. Fuqua and all of our older brethren. To foster any action, unless a principle was sacrificed, which would limit their opportunities to reach out with the truth which they contended so earnestly for, was to them a great mistake.
These servants of God did not fail to expose what they regarded as error anywhere and anytime, but their hearts were set on so conducting their actions as to strengthen what remained and refrain from fencing themselves and the churches into a corner with no opportunity on the other side.
When I refer to strengthening what remained, I refer to conditions leading up to the Dixon’s Creek and Bledsoe Association affair. This all started as a result of the Seventy-Five million (dollar) Campaign, fostered by the Southern Baptist Convention, which was to raise this amount of money from the churches to finance their many enterprises. These men fought it in the pulpit and in the press and won the victory for the truth on scriptural methods of financing the Lord’s work in carrying out the great commission given to the church.
The Convention had almost captured the territory. Even Enon Association in her earlier history affiliated with and was in cooperation with the programs of the Convention until the uprising against the Seventy-Five Million campaign. As a result of our forefathers taking a stand against the methods and design of Conventionism, the result was a voluntary withdrawal of churches from this system and a continuation of methods used before the Southern Baptist Convention was heard of.
Just here I want to take up the Resolution introduced and adopted by the General Association of Missionary Baptist which met in Nashville, Tennessee, March 29, 1969, found in the minutes of this meeting, pages 5 – 6.
BE IT RESOLVED:
1. That since the days of Christ and the Apostles, the true churches, known today as Missionary Baptist churches, have been traced through twenty centuries by the strict adherence to the observances of the two ordinances of the church – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
2. That since it is a known fact that today some of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have departed from the Biblical observance of these ordinances, but at the same time others are still scriptural in the observance of the ordinances.
3. That under these considerations that we do not withdraw fellowship from “all” Southern Baptist Convention churches, but rather make an investigation of each individual church in our granting or receiving letters, as to their stand in observance of the ordinances.
4. That this rule for fellowship be used regardless of whether the church be of the Convention or otherwise. That an eye of love and consideration be kept even among our own churches.
5. That this recommendation be made to all the churches representing in the three associations named in paragraph 1, of this instrument, and all sister churches who share with us the interest of the Kingdom of God.
6. That a copy of this Resolution be mailed to each of the churches of the Enon, Wiseman and Siloam Missionary Baptist Association and any sister church who cares to have one. Signed: H. C. Vanderpool, W. T. Russell, F. L. Ray.
The reader will note that the very premise of this Resolution is the principal by which true Baptist churches have been identified down through the centuries, that being, strict adherence to the observance of the two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That there has been a departing from the scriptural observance of both by some churches in the Convention is a known fact, and that our fellowship with any church should be based upon the soundness of each church in their observance of the same. We are restricted, by this Resolution, from refusing to fellowship all churches identified with the Convention but investigate each one individually as necessity may require in the granting or receiving of letters from them. This rule is to be followed concerning any church, the practice of which we are not able to know, whether it be a Convention church or otherwise.
Just here I (W. T. Russell) want to give you a copy of a Questionnaire that is used in every case of this kind by Fairview Memorial Baptist Church, Bowling Green, Kentucky, of which I am pastor.
Fairview Memorial Baptist Church, in a recent business meeting inaugurated a new policy regarding the granting and receiving of letters. We are sure you will not refuse to co-operate with us in this matter; therefore we request that you give us the information we need by answering the following questions;
1. Does your church require those coming to you for baptism to have an experimental knowledge that they have been born again?-…If not please explain.
2. Do you receive into your fellowship members of denominations, other than Baptist, on their baptism? …… If so, explain why.
3. In your observance of the Lord’s Supper, do you restrict it to: a. Church members only …… b. Church members, and visiting Baptist church members c. All who consider themselves qualified ……
4. Does your church believe that baptism can be administered scripturally in any other way than by a duly ordained minister, and by the authority of the church?
Sincerely yours in Baptist Faith and Practice
Fairview Memorial Baptist Church —————— Clerk
This Questionnaire is a good way to determine the soundness of a church in their observance of the ordinances as well as their soundness in requiring a converted membership. The church has had to refuse correspondence with three or four churches as a result of this investigation. Furthermore, it is in keeping with this Resolution and the following.
The following is a Resolution adopted by Wiseman Association in 1969. Minutes of 1969, pages 19 – 20.
BE IT RESOLVED:
1. That we show the world that we are determined to be consistent in faith and in order, in doctrine and practice.
2. That we acknowledge that we have neglected to adhere strictly to the phrase, “of the same faith and order,” in our correspondence with other Baptist Churches.
3. That we make inquiry into the practice or churches, about which we do not know, as to their requirements of candidates for baptism upon receiving and granting letters.
4. That each candidate for membership in our churches be required to give evidence of a change of heart (and experience of grace) regardless of how they come to us, by letter, as well as for baptism.
5. That we refrain from seating in our association, and in our business meetings, members of churches which we regard as out of order in practice.
6. That we refuse to correspond with churches which are out of order in practice, neither take letters from nor grant letters to go to them.
7. That we recommend this action be taken by the churches.
Signed: W. T. Russell