JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) — I can’t imagine where I would be if it weren’t for the Baptist women who reached out to my mother after her divorce.
They not only met our family where we were at a tough time; they shared their lives and the Gospel with us. We came to know the Lord, were set on the road to discipleship and became involved in the ministry of a local Baptist church.
I didn’t know it then, but as I look back I realize that in that church I was exposed to a number of good and godly Baptist leaders. The more I walked with Christ and the longer I participated in church, I grew to know and appreciate that I was a part of a bigger body — the Southern Baptist Convention.
When I was in high school, Dr. W.A. Criswell, the inimitable pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas came to our church and preached. As I listened to him, I incredulously heard him speak of Baptists who denied foundational doctrines and refused to believe that the Bible was God’s Word. I can still see him throwing his Bible from the pulpit out into the aisle — making the point that there are some who wanted to throw out the Bible. Not long after that sermon, I read Criswell’s “Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True,” and I thanked God for W.A. Criswell.
During my student days at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with Dr. Herschel Hobbs, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Dr. Hobbs preached there from 1949 to 1972 and said in his autobiography that he was “first and foremost a pastor and would remain one if he had 10,000 lives to live.”
Speaking to several of us, Dr. Hobbs kept tapping us with his cane and told us, “Remember, Baptists are not dogs on a chain. They are more like cows in a pasture.” Each is different. Some, like cows, like to graze over there in that part of the pasture. Others like to graze in other parts of the pasture. He told us that there is a fence and that a cow is either inside the pasture or outside the pasture. He said that as we served as pastors, we would need to realize that while there is indeed heresy outside the pasture, there would be good and healthy diversity inside the pasture. I remember going back to my house that night and realizing I had experienced a profound moment, and I said a prayer thanking God for Herschel Hobbs.
Years ago, Dr. Criswell preached what was a life-shaping sermon for me and, in seminary, Dr. Hobbs gave me a metaphor that I have carried with me to this day. Rarely do I go a day without thinking about the words I heard from these two men. I often seek to apply the wisdom I heard from them to my relationships.
Sure, there are things such as orthodoxy and heresy. It’s essential to know the difference. Matters of orthodoxy are worth fighting over. Within the orthodoxy pasture, and more particularly the Baptist pasture, it’s important to know that when it comes to where we or others stand and graze, preferences are not worth fighting over.
I’ve often wondered what Dr. Criswell and Dr. Hobbs would say about Baptists in the 21st century. In light of current events, deteriorating culture and the church’s potential in society, I think they might lead us by preaching the Gospel, standing for righteousness and calling Southern Baptists to unity in our mission in the process.