News Articles

Conservative resurgence, at 25, called a ‘take back’ to SBC roots

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Rejecting a description of the conservative resurgence as a “takeover” of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land told a 25-year “Conservative Resurgence Reunion” that the reformation was “a take back to where our spiritual forefathers founded it — on the cross of Jesus Christ and the absolute infallible Word of God.”

Jerry Falwell of Liberty Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., opened the June 14 gathering at the Indianapolis Convention Center in prayer, thanking God for “the 25-year miracle that we never thought could happen.”

Land recounted statements by early Southern Baptist leaders like J.M. Frost, founder of the Baptist Sunday School Board, who clearly accepted Scripture as the “all sufficient and infallible rule of faith and practice.”

In contrast, “liberalism and higher critical thinking was a cancer that implanted itself” in the convention in the last half of the 20th century, Land noted, calling that approach to the study of Scripture “a dangerous interloper that would have been a lethal one had it been allowed to continue.”

Land credited the late William Powell, a former Home Mission Board employee, retired Houston Judge Paul Pressler and current Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson with understanding “our forefathers had given us some way to deal with” a denomination that was straying to the left.

“Our ecclesiology saved us. We believed in the autonomy of the local church and that all of our boards and agencies ultimately are accountable to the messengers from the local churches,” Land said.

“We need to tell the story of what happened, why it was necessary and learn from those stories of history the lessons that will keep it from happening again,” he continued, challenging SBC entity leaders to “make certain we keep these agencies leashed to the cross and founded on the infallible, inerrant Word of God.”

Criswell College President Jerry Johnson of Dallas said it is impossible to talk about the conservative resurgence without thinking about the legacy of W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and two-term SBC president who founded the college with a Christian worldview and witness.

“He being dead yet speaketh,” Johnson said, noting that the Criswell Legacy Project (at www.wacriswell.com) provides an opportunity for Southern Baptists to hear and read sermons delivered by the popular preacher. The audience sampled video clips of sermons Criswell delivered in 1985 and 1988, including his reference to “the curse of liberalism” in mainline denominations.

“We have taken the great, sanctified Baptist doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and made it to cover every damnable heresy that I could imagine,” Criswell declared in a message replayed for the reunion audience of nearly 700. “No minister who has embraced a higher critical approach to the Gospel has ever built a great church, held a minor revival or won a city to the Lord,” Criswell stated. “They live off the labor and sacrifice of those who paid the price of devoted service before them.”

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards said he looks forward to the next 25 years as the most fruitful and blessed in the history of the SBC. He recognized “leaders at each entity who affirm and ascribe that they believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.”

Richards said conservative leaders realized a turnaround was possible only by electing a conservative SBC president. “The president would appoint conservatives to the Committee on Committees which would in turn nominate for convention approval a Committee on Nominations, which would nominate trustees for SBC agencies,” he explained.

“Through this convoluted process, Southern Baptists could impact their agencies,” Richards said of the “course correction” that was accomplished. Conservatives on the Committee on Committees and Committee on Nominations understood the needs of Southern Baptists, he said, and “by virtue of their fidelity and dedication” nominated others who shared the same dedication.

“We must never lose sight of the method that was used,” Richards said. “And although now we would consider ourselves all conservatives, we must remember that as we go along through the course of years that we could never wink at someone who may be wavering, and that we can never sacrifice truth on the altar of compromise, though we must continue to stay vigilant through the years.”

Richards publicly recognized the current leaders of the 11 SBC entities, describing them as “men who affirm and ascribe that they believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.”

At one point, Richards asked those who served in any capacity on a board or committee to stand as he named the many positions of influence to which they were elected. “The roll call of faithfulness extends beyond the platform. It is my joy to recognize the unsung heroes of the conservative resurgence who are here tonight.”

In addition to the primary focus on biblical fidelity, Richards said a secondary issue produced a sort of unusual phenomenon. “SBC leadership in 1979 was generally erudite, aloof and condescending. The common Baptist and small church pastor were oftentimes made to feel inferior by the denominational moguls,” Richards said. “Because of the foresight of our founders, the polity of the convention allowed for Mom and Pop Baptist to have a voice. In unprecedented numbers they came to the annual meeting, culminating in the largest deliberative body to ever meet, around 45,000 strong in Dallas in 1985.”

For nearly 20 years, Richards said, “rural and small membership church members participated in the process of calling the Southern Baptist Convention back to the Bible,” often at a great price. “Some pastors were blackballed in their association or state convention. Others were castigated in the press. Friends and families were divided. Even congregational struggles took place because a person of God, man or woman, was willing to stand for the infallible, inerrant Word.”

To critics who “whine that the resurgence was about politics or power,” Richards said, “It was about saving a denomination. Without the resurgence, Southern Baptists would be debating ordaining women and homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.”

Johnson introduced Patterson, noting his theological leadership, and Pressler, noting his strategic leadership in rallying conservatives to reform the denomination. “I don’t know anyone who sacrificed more than these two men,” he stated.

“The heroes of the conservative resurgence are not those people whose names you know, but those who have come sacrificially to the conventions and voted their convictions and said the Word of God is going to be glorified among Southern Baptists,” Pressler said. “We cannot come and rest on our laurels because there’s a lost world of lost individuals who need to come to know Jesus as Savior. If we hesitate, we’re going to lose it.”

Patterson told the story of how his father, the former executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, wept when the younger Patterson informed him that God had directed him to take a public stand in seeking reformation of the denomination. “He said, ‘Son, I never thought it would be you, but if that’s what God told you to do, then you’ve got to do it.’

“I did what I did because I did not want to tell my children I was too big a coward to try it,” Patterson continued.

Like Pressler, Patterson spoke of unnamed heroes like the two pastors he met at the 1981 Los Angeles convention who drove from south Alabama in a green Volkswagen van.

“They slept in that Volkswagen and went down to the local truck stop to bathe and shave, had one meal a day under the sign of the arches and were there every day to vote their conscience. Their number is legion,” Patterson said.

Patterson heralded pastors and laymen who served as leaders in each state, educating people on the need for change in the denomination. “We didn’t have any buses, although I was proud to have my picture taken in front of some of the buses liberals drove in,” he added humorously.

Thanking “those who left positions where they were pretty safe to go to positions where the trustees were not fully in their corner yet,” Patterson referred to SBC entity leaders who were the first to follow moderate administrators.
From his friendship with Land, Patterson said he received well-timed encouragement that carried him through days when he was so low that he could slip into his office “without opening the door.” Both Pressler and Patterson thanked their families for sacrificing time spent apart.

At the close of the reunion, Richards announced the creation of a scholarship honoring the legacy of Southern Baptist journalist James C. Hefley, author of “The Truth in Crisis” series that chronicled the conservative resurgence. He also called on SBTC missions director Robby Partain to describe a project the Texas convention introduced to reach “the emerging generation through relationships and involvement with cooperative missions and ministry.”

Richards warned: “Unless the next generation is incorporated into the life of the denomination, there will be no one to carry on the benefits of our victories.”

In the benediction, Florida pastor Bobby Welch of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., thanked God for “the sweetness and joy of victory” and the recovery of a soul-winning zeal.
“For so many of us this has been some of the most distasteful work we’ve ever been involved with in ministry,” he added, referring to “sleepless nights and the hardest gut-wrenching decisions.”

Expressing a recommitment to share the Word of God so that “God may touch souls all over this world,” Welch, the founder of FAITH Sunday School Evangelism Strategy, exhorted Southern Baptists to become a “fire-breathing, soul-winning, hell-fighting, heaven-bound, exceedingly great army for the glory of God.” He asked God to use Southern Baptists “as we reach, witness, win and baptize a million souls for the glory of God and for your coming Kingdom.”

Borrowing from Criswell’s repertoire, Welch repeated his prayer, “‘Lord, why not us? Why not here? Why not now?’ O, God, may it be so for the winning of souls and the Kingdom of God and heart of this great nation.”

    About the Author

  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter