OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–In 1961, Ralph H. Elliott, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a book, “The Message of Genesis,” which created a theological controversy that shook the very foundations of the Southern Baptist Convention. Elliott’s liberal interpretation of the first book of the Bible had Southern Baptists all over the country asking, “What are we going to do about this?”
“It really stirred up Baptists everywhere,” said Garth Pybas, now retired at the age of 84, but who, in 1962-63, found himself on the front lines of the battle under way. “I remember coming down to a meeting at Oklahoma City, Capitol Hill, and there were about 500 people there all upset about the book.”
In response to the controversy, a committee composed of the presidents of the qualified state conventions and headed by SBC president Herschel H. Hobbs, was named in 1962 to examine Southern Baptists’ doctrinal statement, “The Baptist Faith & Message.”
Pybas, then pastor of Topeka, Kan., First Southern, and president of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention, was named to that committee, which was charged with studying the document and bringing back a report to the 1963 SBC convention in Kansas City.
Twenty-three state convention presidents made up the committee. Later, a “committee of five” was selected by Hobbs to do the groundwork and report back to the committee as a whole. Pybas was named to that small panel as well.
“I felt like a midget in the presence of giants,” Pybas said, referring to the others with whom he served. “It included James H. Landes, president of the Texas convention, which had almost one million members, while Kansas barely qualified with only about 25,000 members,” he recalled. “But, you know, those fellas respected everything I said and they were just a great group of men.”
Although he felt somewhat out of place among the SBC leaders of that day, Pybas brought a firm understanding of Southern Baptist doctrines to the committee. “I had two grandmothers who were very devout, but they weren’t Southern Baptist,” he revealed. “At the age of 16, I began to study the 1925 Baptist Faith & Message to be able to hold my own with my two grandmothers!”
Meeting at Gulf Shores Assembly in Mississippi, Aug. 18-21, 1962, the men gathered from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. each day to examine the original Baptist Faith & Message, as written in 1925. In the end, they basically confirmed the 1925 statement, substituting some words “only for clarity” and adding some sentences for emphasis.
Today, Pybas, who is a member of Oklahoma City, Southern Hills, has not changed his opinion of the 1963 statement. “I don’t think there is a thing that needs to be changed. I’m still fully satisfied with it today,” he said. “I believe the whole crux of the matter has to revolve around what we think about the Scriptures. If we do not believe they are the inspired Word of God, we’re in trouble. What else can we believe in?”
He does, however, fully support the Marriage and Family Amendment to the Baptist Faith & Message as approved in 1998. “There are some who say they believe the Bible is the Word of God, and then turn around and say they don’t support the family amendment,” he stressed. “Why, every word of it is from the Scriptures. Some also say it’s not for today, but if it’s not for today, then when is it for?”
The 1963 statement was “made against liberalism and not believing in the Bible,” Pybas added. “I was there, and we believed the Bible then and we still believe it today. If we do not believe that men are lost and that God placed that Great Commission on us to be concerned for lost souls, then our denomination is done for.”
A native of McClain County and reared in Dibble, Pybas rejects the notion that so-called fundamentalists are worshippers of the Bible.
“We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but some say we believe in idolatry and worship the Bible,” he countered. I don’t know of one Southern Baptist who worships the Bible, but we either believe it or we don’t. If we don’t, we’re in trouble.
“When you question the Bible, it kills evangelism in your church and you lose your concern for missions.”
And, to those who think fundamental Southern Baptists are out of the mainstream, Pybas has this to say: “We’re the real mainstream Baptists and we’re going to continue straight on down the road we have been on. I believe in our national and state conventions. Now, that doesn’t mean I always agree with everyone else about everything, but I still feel like we’re doing what God wants us to do.”
The former pastor of Britton Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, and Sunset Baptist Church, Ponca City, Okla., was ordained in 1938 by W.A. Criswell in Chickasha, Okla. and is still proud to be a Southern Baptist.
“I’m not ashamed of the name Southern Baptist because Southern Baptists stand for something and there are others who don’t,” he stressed. “The thing I want understood after being in the ministry for 61 years is that I stand doctrinally just where I started out, and while I can’t do a lot of the things I used to be able to, I still love the Lord, I still love the lost and I still love my church.”