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Albert McClellan, key SBC staffer for 30-plus years, dies at 91

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Albert McClellan, one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s key staff members for more than 30 years, died the morning of Jan. 9 in Nashville, Tenn., after a lengthy illness. He was 91.

Morris H. Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, honored McClellan for his more than fifty years of ministry saying, “As pastor, author, denominational worker, editor, historian, and scholar he faithfully heralded the cause of Christ and reflected the heart of God.”

Chapman told Baptist Press, “He gave the SBC Executive Committee more than thirty years of exemplary service in the critical areas of public relations, Convention press, and program planning. His life and writings defined the very essence of the Executive Committee’s purpose within the Southern Baptist Convention.

“We are indeed grateful to God for Dr. McClellan’s life and leadership and the rich legacy he has left us.”

McClellan, when he retired from the SBC Executive Committee on Dec. 31, 1980, held the position of associate executive secretary and director of program planning. He joined the Executive Committee staff in 1949, serving 10 years as director of publications, which included responsibility for Baptist Press, the convention’s news service. He assumed his program planning assignment in 1959.

McClellan had a hand in the formation of the committee that drafted the SBC’s 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs and he was one of the 20-plus members of the SBC Peace Committee during the mid-1980s.

James L. Sullivan, president of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) from 1953-75, described McClellan as “a very brilliant man, totally dedicated to his work.” Sullivan also noted “his integrity and his freedom to be himself. He didn’t have anything to hide.”

Sullivan told Baptist Press he had so many exchanges with McClellan over the years “that I doubt I could isolate any one of them because his work overlapped ours in various areas. We could have had a dogfight any day [about an SBC-related matter], but he was always fair, open, above-board. You knew exactly where he stood, what his objectives were, what his relationships were.

“He served the whole convention,” Sullivan said.

McClellan was editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger from 1945-49, pastor of First Baptist Church in Waurika, Okla., from 1942-45 and a rural schoolteacher for three years. A native of Bowie, Texas, he graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee in 1939 and earned a master of theology degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1941.

He authored 14 books and hundreds of articles for denominational publications.

McClellan’s part in the formation of the committee to draft the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message involved a meeting he and Porter Routh, then-executive secretary of the Executive Committee, had with Herschell Hobbs, then-president of the SBC, in Oklahoma City, where Hobbs was pastor of First Baptist Church.

The three men met to discuss controversy from a commentary on the Book of Genesis by a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, and published by the Sunday School Board, that departed from a high view of Scripture.

The three men “decided to propose to the Executive Committee the appointment of a special committee to study the Statement of Faith that had been developed from the New Hampshire Confession of Faith and adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925” in response to controversy at the time involving the theory of evolution, Jesse Fletcher wrote in his history of the SBC published for the convention’s 150th anniversary in 1995. Their plan was modified during the 1962 SBC annual meeting from a proposed committee of seminary presidents to one consisting of the presidents of state Baptist conventions.

When theological controversy erupted again in the SBC in the late 1970s, McClellan was among those named to the Peace Committee, which issued a report in 1985 that sought to address points of contention between conservatives and moderates.

A number of quotes from McClellan’s writings were printed in the program for his 1980 retirement dinner, including:

— “Before I knew I was a Baptist, I was a Christian. Before I knew I was a Southern Baptist, I was pledged to God’s people whoever they are. I chose the Baptists because they seemed nearer the New Testament, and because they relied on the Holy Spirit, not the decrees of men, for unity” (The Baptist Program, predecessor to the Executive Committee’s SBC Life publication, October 1980).

— “In a society as large as the Southern Baptist Convention, there must be a certain amount of give and take. This is not to argue for compromise, but integration. Our SBC polity being what it is, we cannot be held together by any kind of authoritative control or paper pope. Neither is it right to compromise truth” (speech to the Southern Baptist Press Association, February 1964).

— “A church is not really a church unless it is in fellowship with other churches. If it tries to live alone, never cooperating with other churches in mission projects, it will cease to be a true New Testament fellowship long before its organ sounds a last note or its doors are finally shut” (“The Missions Task of a Church,” Convention Press, 1969).

“Albert McClellan was the consummate Southern Baptist on every level,” said David George, McClellan’s longtime pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville.

“As a former pastor he had a deep commitment to the local church,” George said of McClellan. “As a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville since 1955, he was the most supportive and dedicated member imaginable. He faithfully attended all the services unless he was out of town. He was there Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night, whatever the program. He chaired most of the key committees of the church, including a long-range planning committee early in my pastorate. He was the pastor’s friend, always encouraging and sometimes challenging and correcting.

“He was also committed to the work of the local Baptist association, which he believed to be a vital unit of Baptist life. He worked with many state conventions, and of course, he helped to lead the national denomination during some of its most productive years,” George said. “He also represented Southern Baptists throughout the world as he traveled to mission fields and meetings with Baptists in other countries. When he was away on convention business, he always sent his itinerary to the church office to let us know where he was.

“Albert was highly intelligent and widely read. He thought deeply about all things related to the spreading of the Gospel and the building up of the body of Christ. He was a remarkable person, a great friend and a faithful servant of God. He will be greatly missed by the pastor and people of Immanuel Baptist Church,” George said.

Leonard Hill, who worked under McClellan as managing editor of The Baptist Program publication for more than 20 years, said, “When I think of Albert McClellan — whether as friend, “boss,” denominational worker, servant of Christ — I remember a small two-sided sign he designed himself which used to rest on his desk. On one side were the words, “What are all the facts?” On the other side was printed, “What is the spirit of the matter?” The sign disappeared over the years, but the principles remained as guideposts in Albert McClellan’s life. He never ceased searching for all the facts. He never ceased exhibiting the finest Christian spirit, even in the toughest of times.”

Over the years, Hill said, “I marveled at Dr. McClellan’s multi-talents, great intellect, unlimited capacity for work — and amazing stamina in committee meetings. I also admired his unassuming humility which enabled him to get the job done, unencumbered with ego problems over who was going to get the credit. He was the finest example of what a follower of Christ should be of anyone I have ever known.”

McClellan is survived by two sons, Alan of Nashville and Renick of Chicago; and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mabel, in 2000.

Plans for services were incomplete at press time Jan. 9. Arrangements are being handled by Woodlawn Funeral Home in Nashville.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ALBERT MCCLELLAN.