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Alum: Seminary’s heritage entails missions, cooperation, confessionalism

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Recounting the beginnings of his alma mater as a missionary training institute, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus Alan Day celebrated the seminary’s adherence to its heritage and its doctrinal standards in a Founders’ Day address.

On the day observed each October to celebrate the seminary’s opening on Oct. 1, 1917, Day translated his chosen text, Deuteronomy 32:7, as “Remember the good ole days.” Taking that backward glance Oct. 2 in chapel, he pointed to three essentials of the character and constitution of New Orleans Seminary, noting that it was a divine commission that conceived her, a denominational cooperation that created her and doctrinal confessionalism that confirmed her.

Day, pastor of First Baptist Church, Edmond, Okla., noted that on the official seal of his alma mater is the text of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, from which the seminary was conceived. Decades before the then-called Baptist Bible Institute opened her doors, “there were voices calling for the establishment of a missionary training institute in New Orleans,” Day said, explaining that New Orleans was seen as the gateway not only to the Mississippi valley, but also to all of Latin and South America.

These voices included P.I. Lipsey, then editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, G.H. Crutcher of Louisiana, and representatives of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), the Mississippi and Louisiana Baptist conventions. Writing resolutions that called the seminary’s “primary purpose the object of missionary propaganda,” these founders envisioned the training of pastors and layman would serve as a springboard for evangelizing New Orleans.

In 1917, the year BBI was established, there were six struggling Baptist churches in New Orleans, with a total of 1,300 members, Day recounted. Within a decade, the six churches had increased to 16 and the 1,300 members had increased to nearly 5,000. In addition, new churches and missions were beginning throughout south Louisiana as the direct result of the efforts of faculty and students of Baptist Bible Institute.

“We are a missions school,” Day affirmed. “Let us not forget that our alma mater was started as Baptists responded to the Great Commission. We’re here to reach this region with the gospel of Christ as well as to prepare God’s people for ministries elsewhere.”

Day emphasized this point in light of the fact that he is continually answering the question from prospective students and faculty, “Isn’t New Orleans a hard place to live?” He answered, “Since when do missionaries argue with God about where they are to go? Does God not send people to difficult places?”

For more than seven years, Day has served as a trustee of the International Mission Board, where he has prayed over several missionaries being sent to some of the toughest and most dangerous places on the earth. He said the missions agency sent them knowing they will be separated from their families and often from their children, they would endure hardship and some of them would die.

“Yet we have celebrated their decision to go and we call on more to follow their examples. We are on mission with God, and missions is not about comfort. It is about obedience to our risen Lord,” Day said.

“Where better to train missionaries than in one of the most needy cities in our nation?” he asked.

Day reminded the seminarians of the denominational cooperation that created the seminary, noting that NOBTS was the first seminary to be created by direct action of the Southern Baptist Convention, in connection with numerous denominational bodies, including the Mississippi and Louisiana Baptist convention, the Home Mission Board and Sunday School Board.

Day recounted how Lipsey and Crutcher, along with M.E. Dodd and six others, met in February 1916 and developed a number of resolutions calling for the beginning of a missionary training school in New Orleans. Upon their invitation, the 1917 annual convention was held in New Orleans, and upon their recommendation, the new institution was formed.

Convention officers instructed the Home Mission Board to join the Louisiana and Mississippi conventions in the enterprise and within a few months, the Tennessee, Florida and Texas conventions also voted to become involved with the school, Day said, noting, “Our seminary is a child of our denomination.”

Nonetheless, some have forgotten what it means to be a Baptist, he lamented. Pointing to NOBTS’ doctrinal standard, the Articles of Religious Belief, Day read Article 10, titled, “Baptist Loyalty to Distinctive Baptist Doctrines” to the seminarians: “We believe that Baptists stand for vital and distinct truths, to many of which other denominations do not adhere, and that we cannot compromise these truths without disloyalty to the Scriptures and our Lord.”

Day, responding to those words, said, “Now, we may not and probably should not be as dogmatic as our fathers were concerning the historical secession of Baptist churches. But I’m a little bit like the Baptist deacon who when asked what he’d be if he wasn’t a Baptist, replied, ‘I’d be ashamed.'”

When BBI’s first president B.H. DeMent was nearing the end of his life and was under the care of a Presbyterian physician, Day recounted, the doctor asked the ailing DeMent to recommend a good book on Baptist beginnings, to which DeMent smiled and said, “I recommend the New Testament.”

“Now that’s the Baptist spirit!” Day said. Then expressing his concern, he said, “I am no longer sure that Southern Baptists today have the conviction that Baptists have a distinctive heritage and that we also have distinguishing convictions and doctrines.”

Expressing concern that some are thinking they no longer need the Southern Baptist Convention — case in point, First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, which recently voted to sever from the Southern Baptist Convention — Day continued, “We’re being assured repeatedly that we are now in a post-denominational age. They say people no longer care which denominational label one wears. Why should we care?”

He answered, “Southern Baptists have produced some of the largest, most effective seminaries in the world. We have created the most effective missionary-sending agencies in the world [NAMB and IMB]. We’re sending new missionaries at a record pace. Baptist churches everywhere are known for our evangelistic and missions thrust. We’ve just lived through over two decades of internal struggle and the result is we have clearly defined our doctrinal convictions, and those convictions are the bedrock convictions that our Baptist fathers stood upon.

“It is a great day to be a Southern Baptist,” he said.

He noted that in 1969, when he first came to seminary, Southern Baptists were in danger of losing their Baptist conservative covering to the forces of moderate theology and egregious denominationalism.

“I’ve wept about this on numbers of occasions,” Day said. “I could not believe my ears the first time I heard the doctrine of the substitutionary death of our Savior called into question. I was puzzled by the attacks on the accuracy and inerrancy of the Scriptures, and how thankful I am for the redirection of our convention and the solid platform that this school has theologically for doing education.

“On this Founders Day, may we as an institution recommit ourselves to our Baptist heritage and our Southern Baptist Convention. New Orleans Seminary is indeed a child of our denomination.”

Finally, Day urged his listeners to remember the doctrinal confessionalism that confirmed the seminary. Before BBI opened its doors in October 1918, President DeMent, with some assistance, had written the Articles of Religious Belief, Day said, and every faculty member since has signed the articles at the beginning of their tenure.

“Now some may think that it is an infringement on the rights of professors to require that they sign a doctrinal confession. Indeed a few interpreters of our Baptist heritage have said that Baptists are not a creedal people, that any doctrinal standard is a potential limitation of the rights and freedoms of individual Baptists,” he said.

Day then reminded how James Boyce, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s first president, outlined the future of theological education among Southern Baptists in his inaugural address at Furman University in 1856. Anticipating that a Southern Baptist seminary would soon be created, Boyce suggested three changes in theological institutions.

First, provisions should be made to educate ministers who had not had the benefit of formal education.

The second change would entail advanced studies to produce biblical and theological scholars who can teach and write without dependence on foreign scholarship.

The third change, in Boyce’s own words, is “the adoption of a declaration of doctrine to be required of those who assume the various professorships.”

Day explained that Boyce was particularly sensitive to the encroachment that [father and son] Thomas and Alexander Campbell [who founded the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) faith] had made in the Baptist ranks. Day read Boyce’s words about Alexander Campbell, “Playing upon the prejudices of the weak and ignorant among our people, decrying creeds and an infringement upon the rights of conscious, making a deep impression by his extensive learning and great abilities, Alexander Campbell threatened at one time the total destruction of our faith.”

Had Campbell occupied a chair in one of our theological institutions, that destruction might have been completed, Day said.

Baptists have perhaps forgotten how powerful and attractive the Campbellite movement was, Day said. At one time even First Baptist Church of Nashville, Tenn., was totally captured by Campbellite doctrine, he said, pointing to historian William Lumpkin’s words: “Alexander Campbell took hold of the popular prejudices against confessions and ministerial education and used them mightily during his early years of preaching to establish his movement. To the regular Baptists of the frontier, he preached anti-organization with great effect. But to the Baptists of separate background, he constantly preached anti-confessionalism and anti-ministerial education.” Lumpkin said that in Kentucky alone, 10,000 Baptists defected to the Campbellite movement.

Day continued, “Now the statement, ‘Baptists are not a creedal people,’ has been made so often that to some Baptists it is their only creed.”

There is truth in this statement, he said, noting that when Baptists say they are not creedal, they are affirming the ultimate authority of the Scriptures and that they require no creedal test prior to membership in their churches.

Noting that Baptists’ doctrinal standards are generally referred to as confessions rather than creeds, Day also affirmed that Baptists are not creedal in the sense that they do not believe that affirmation of a creed makes one a Christian. However, Baptists have found it impossible to achieve lasting unity and purpose without clear doctrinal standards, he said.

He quoted E.Y. Mullins of Southern Seminary, who wrote, “Creeds arise as the effort of religious men to interpret and reduce to scientific form the contents of revelation and of Christian experience. Also, creeds form for purposes of Christian unity and as a means of propagating the faith.” Day noted that the seminary fathers did not see creeds as devices, they saw them as creating unity and evangelistic thrust.

He pointed to an interesting anecdote from the early years that served to illustrate that even freedom-loving Baptists believed in the requirement to commitments to doctrinal standards. He recounted when a committee led by Mullins brought the recommendation of the Baptist Faith and Message to the 1925 Southern Baptist Convention, there was an effort to amend Article 3 so as to condemn evolution. Though the amendment failed, Day recounted how the very next year, the convention president in his presidential address spoke these words, “This convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was a special creation of God and rejects every theory, evolution or other, which teaches that man originated in or came by way of a lower animal ancestry.”

A motion was made that the convention affirm this statement and that all the agencies and institutions of the convention would affirm it as well. That motion passed, Day said. Southern and Southwestern Seminaries affirmed the action and DeMent informed the convention that each faculty member of BBI had signed a personal statement affirming this statement on evolution “without mental reservation.”

“There is historical precedence not only for requiring the adherence to doctrinal standards, but also for the clarification of specific theological points which are being debated,” Day said. “This seems to be forgotten in the recent debate over the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and whether those who have already affirmed the 1963 statement should now be required to affirm the 2000 version.

“Those who are agents of the Southern Baptist Convention should gladly affirm the official doctrinal standards of this convention,” he said.

“I guess I am a little weary of hearing that some people have the courage of their convictions. The person refuses to sign a confession of faith or breaks the traces and says, ‘I can no longer support that,’ we say that he has courage of his convictions.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Osama bin Laden had the courage of his convictions. Timothy McVeigh had the courage of his convictions when 168 Oklahomans died. The issue is the right convictions and out of those convictions comes the right kind of godly courage,” Day stated.

Concluding his address, Day said God is still doing what he has been doing since the beginning, gathering people for his name. “He’s calling out of darkness those who embrace the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s forming his church from men and women of every kindred nation, tongue and tribe — and the thrill of it, the sheer joy of it is that you and I have been given the opportunity to join God in this mission.

“We do not have to give our lives to Christ. We get to. We do not have to participate with Christ in his effort to reach the world with the gospel. We get to. And we don’t have to be a part of this great seminary, but thank God, we get to.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ALAN DAY.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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