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First Baptist, Dallas, votes to ‘loosen’ BGCT ties, align with conservative

DALLAS (BP)–First Baptist Church of Dallas, in a historic action certain to reverberate among the 2.7 million Southern Baptists throughout Texas, voted Nov. 17 to loosen its nearly century-long relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and join the new, more theologically conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
In a near-unanimous voice vote among the approximately 300 members in a church business session, the church elected to dually align with both conventions while continuing to monitor the activities of a BGCT leadership that has been distancing the state convention from the Southern Baptist Convention.
The vote came after a presentation by Mac Brunson, First Baptist’s senior pastor, in which he shared the findings and recommendations from a year-long study conducted by a six-member deacon committee.
The committee produced a sweeping 18-page report that contains 100 documented sources linking nearly 100 BGCT leaders to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Texas Baptists Committed, two organizations of Baptist moderates opposed to the SBC, and a host of theologically and politically liberal organizations also critical of the SBC’s conservative stances on biblical and moral concerns.
Brunson and W.A. Criswell, First Baptist’s pastor emeritus, said in a joint statement following the vote:
“It is apparent that the BGCT, under the elected leadership at its own admission is moving away from its historic relationship, commitment, and cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. …
“With absolutely no malice or criticism of our brothers and sisters in the BGCT, but with sad heads, we loosen our ties, but with great anticipation that God is about to do something new,” Brunson and Criswell stated.
Some observers believe the decision by First Dallas to join the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is but the first of dozens of churches — at least two larger than 12,000-member First Baptist — expected to join the fledgling convention in the coming weeks. The SBTC has grown from 130 to 260 member churches in just its first year with its staunch support of the SBC, its belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, and its zeal for evangelism, missions and church planting.
“I’ve been impressed with their [the SBTC’s] tremendous spirit,” Brunson said. While not criticizing any individuals, he noted that the SBTC “has not been attacking the BGCT, yet the BGCT is constantly harping on anything the SBC does in order to find fault.”
When asked if First Dallas would completely sever its ties with the BGCT and align solely with the SBTC in the future, Brunson replied, “I think that’s something the church will revisit in the next year.”
The move by First Dallas, which counts evangelist Billy Graham among its members, is significant because of the church’s longstanding ties to the BGCT. The church also is regarded by many as a fountainhead of conservative theology — particularly when it comes to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible — among Texas Southern Baptists, who compose the largest state convention in the SBC.
It was the inimitable George W. Truett who pastored First Dallas for 47 years and launched the BGCT. He was succeeded by Criswell, now in his 55th year of ministry at the church. It was Criswell, a former SBC president widely held as the patriarch of Southern Baptists in Texas if not worldwide, who sounded an alarm against theological liberalism in the SBC in 1969 with his book, “Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True.”
“That book fell like a bombshell on the theological landscape of the day,” the deacon’s committee report noted. “The Association of Baptist Professors of Religion passed a formal resolution blasting the book and excoriating the Baptist Sunday School Board for publishing and promoting it.”
The people who have passed through the hallways of First Dallas sound like a Who’s Who of Southern Baptist life. Among its sons are Jimmy Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC; O.S. Hawkins, president of the SBC Annuity Board; Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Ralph Pulley, the highly respected former chairman of the board of trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a plethora of distinguished laypersons who have served as board members for various SBC agencies.
Brunson said the action came after “much prayer and agony,” but that the church felt “strongly about our commitment to the SBC and our historic commitment to evangelism, missions and church planting.”
The deacon committee report begins with some history, beginning with an overview of the “historical or critical method” of looking at the Bible, a method widely used by contemporary scholars. Born out the 17th-century movement known as the Enlightenment, and rationalistic and skeptical in tone, this methodology challenged all existing claims of truth, including those of the Bible.
“The supernatural and the miraculous content of the Word of God became a casualty of this way of viewing history and religion,” the report explains. “Moderates [a term often used by BGCT and CBF leaders to describe themselves] by and large have been those who have embraced some, if not all, of the tenets of ‘higher criticism,’ while conservatives generally reject this methodology.”
The report goes on to state that in 1961 Ralph Elliott, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a commentary on Genesis that embraced the tenets of “higher criticism” and denied Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible. Elliott, the report notes, at the 1994 CBF General Assembly meeting was a general sessions program leader.
Among the more significant points raised in the committee report:
— The BGCT’s dwindling enthusiasm for the Cooperative Program. While calling the Cooperative Program “the greatest voluntary funding program in the history of Christendom,” the committee determined that BGCT leadership in recent years has “reduced not only the percentage amount of Cooperative Program money allocated to the Southern Baptist Convention but has changed the historical definition of the Cooperative Program itself.”
— How those who hold a contrary view of biblical integrity, truth and cooperation over the past 20 years have created “other denominational entities that more nearly reflect their own diversity and higher critical views, and have, when in control, shifted the direction of some state conventions.” The deacons were particularly alarmed at the activity of Texas Baptists Committed, regarded by conservatives as the political arm of the CBF and an organization that has offered grant money to liberal and moderates in others states willing to form similar organizations. It is this portion of the committee report that provides extensive documentation showing interlocking relationships between nearly 100 BGCT leaders with the CBF and other organizations like the TBC. “The committee found no reason to believe that any BGCT leaders embrace all of the views expressed by many of those with whom they serve in the CBF but in the world of reality leaders are often known by the company they keep,” the report states.
— The theological views of several scholars adored by the BGCT and the CBF. Among them Kirby Godsey, the president of Mercer University who wrote a book, “When We Talk About God … Let’s Be Honest,” that argues that “Jesus is not God; Jesus did not have to die;” dismisses the virgin birth as unimportant; rejects repentance and accepting Jesus as “the basis for salvation;” and claims that “Doctrinal soundness is arrogant theological nonsense.” Godsey served on the CBF Coordinating Council from 1991-93 and the CBF is currently housed in the Mercer School of Theology building in Atlanta, the report states.
— How the BGCT includes the CBF in its “cooperative program” plan under the Option 2 budget.
— The BGCT discouraging financial support for three SBC seminaries — Southeastern, Southern and Midwestern. All three schools “stand to lose as much as $3 million” if BGCT support is withheld, the report states.
— Three theologically moderate historians, cited by the deacons, acknowledge that the differences in recent decades between moderate and conservative Southern Baptists are not political, but theological in nature.
As a result of the committee’s findings, the following recommendations were made:
— First Dallas will maintain a voice within the BGCT by continuing to send $24,000 annually of its cooperative program gifts to the BGCT.
— All other Cooperative Program giving will be sent to the SBTC, designating $24,000 to be retained by the SBTC, and the balance to be forwarded to the SBC.
— That $24,000 heretofore sent through the BGCT and designated $12,000 each to Southwestern Seminary and Criswell College be sent directly to those institutions.
“The way the committee approached this, we were just gatherers of facts and information,” said Jim Bolton, chairman of the deacon committee. “We don’t take any delight in the conclusions we came to, but truth is truth and you just have to look at it,” Bolton said, citing Deuteronomy 13:14.

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  • Don Hinkle