SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION
May 6, 1953
J. D. Grey
When Wendell Phillips visited Plymouth on one occasion, he stood on that famous Rock. It is said that a citizen of Plymouth approached him and boasted that their town was very fortunate in having the Rock within its borders. Wendell Phillips relied: “This Rock underlies all America, it only cropped out here.”
We, the messengers of the churches, are met here in far-famed and nobly hospitable Houston to transact business for the Lord. With paeans of praise and doxologies of joy, we have begun the ninety-sixth session of the Southern Baptist Convention. With gratitude to our gracious Heavenly Father we look back over the road of service this Convention has marched for one hundred and eight years. During these brief but significant days, we shall enjoy the “fellowship of kindred minds” and sing again the songs of Zion. Reports of our agencies and institutions will thrill our hearts. Numerous brethren will inspire us with a fresh insight into the Word of God as they focus our attention upon our blessed Lord. Led by the Spirit of God, we shall survey the past, evaluate the present, and face the future. Blessed by his Presence, we shall understand and feel again the spirit that is the Southern Baptist Convention.
Fortunate indeed are we to be in the midst of and a part of this spirit. But, paraphrasing Wendell Phillips, let us say, “This spirit underlies our entire Southern Baptist life, it only crops out here!”
It is significant that our Convention should meet in Houston, Texas. It is worthy of note that this is the only city in which we have ever met that was named for a Baptist. Texas history records that fact that General Sam Houston was baptized by Rufus C. Burleson in Little Rocky Creek near Independence in 1854 into the fellowship of the Independence Baptist Church. Three years later when the Texas Baptist Convention met at Huntsville, General Houston reported as Chairman of the Indian Missions Committee.
There is another significant fact about our meeting in Texas. No other state in the Union, save Rhode Island, owes as much to the Baptist spirit and love of liberty in its political genesis as the Lone Star State. The Texas Declaration of Independence was adopted on March 2, 1836, in a blacksmith shop at Washington owned by a Baptist, N. T. Byars, who later became a preacher. The Baptist spirit of soul-freedom as well as political freedom, along with that of others, swept like a mighty prairie fire across these plains until the unholy alliance of political despotism and ecclesiastical absolutism was destroyed root and branch. Whenever the battle cry was raised, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” every Texan recalled that two praying Baptist preachers had fallen beneath the stroke of the assassins at Goliad. And when on April 21, the Mexican army, led by General Santa Anna, was defeated on the battlefield of San Jacinto, within a few miles of this coliseum, General Houston announced to the people of Texas, “By the blessing of God the war is over! The Mexicans are driven beyond the Rio Grande.” The days of the colonial impresarios were over, and religious liberty was secured!
While the pattern for the Republic of Texas was being developed, and as the Lone Star rose in its ascendancy until it was firmly fixed in the firmament of our Republic with the admission of Texas to the Union in 1845, many other states made their contribution to this cause of freedom. Two of the foremost were the Old Dominion and the Volunteer State. Virginia mothered Sam Houston; Tennessee developed him and gave him, along with Davy Crockett and others, to the cause of Texas independence. An almost holy passion had been kindled in the hearts of all these patriots in the states east of the Mississippi. This fire burst into a might conflagration in the Texas Declaration of Independence adopted in the blacksmith shop of the Baptist N. T. Byars with another Baptist layman, Judge Richard Ellis, presiding. That Declaration spelled out those ideals held by Baptists and other lovers of freedom as it emphatically complained of the omissions of the Mexican Government.
They said, “It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own consciences; by the support of a national religion calculated to promote the temporal interests of its human functionaries rather than the glory of the true and living God.” And, mark it well, they were making articulate the convictions of another lover of freedom, Roger Williams, who, two hundred years prior to that, had founded Rhode Island. They were following the shining example of Baptists and others, who just sixty years before, notably in old Virginia, had pled and bled for the cause of liberty. History can never forget those Baptist preachers in Virginia who gladly suffered in prison for the cause of freedom not merely as a political expediency, but as a deep, fundamental, religious conviction. And so, in this place, we behold the outcropping of freedom’s rock which underlies all America and upon which our nation must ever rest secure!
But we see here also the outcropping of another spirit which has always characterized Baptists. Just as those noble patriots came from east of the Mississippi to take up arms and suffer for freedom’s cause, so also our Baptist brethren came from the east to lift up, live out, and suffer for the gospel of the divine Son of God. This outcropping of the spirit of conquest for Christ is the might expression of the missionary passion which has ever and must always characterize Baptists. There is freedom in Texas today because men dedicated to the cause of freedom came here and fought that freedom might be established. There are Baptists in Texas today, praise God a mighty army of them, because Baptist preachers, and laymen alike, imbued with the missionary spirit, came here and suffered, bled, and died that the cause of Christ might be established.
Time would fail us to speak of Joseph Bays, the first Baptist preacher who ever preached in Texas; Z. N. Morrell, who delivered the first sermon ever preached in this city, in the year 1837; William Tryon, who under appointment of the Home Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, began his work as a missionary in Houston, July 25, 1845; James Huckins, who came to Texas in 1840 as a missionary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society as pastor of the First Baptist Church at Galveston; R. E. B. Baylor, that distinguished lawyer and jurist who was also a flaming and faithful preacher of the Gospel; W. H. Bayless; Major W. E. Penn, the noted evangelist; N. T. Byars; and a noble galaxy of other intrepid and consecrated souls.
Those men, fired with a missionary passion, came to Texas not as vacationists, but as vicars of Christ; not to dawdle, but to dare; not to loll lazily in luxury, but to light fired for the Lord; not to practice philosophical gymnastics, but to preach as dying men to dying men. That they felt they were expendable for Christ, is shown by an example of the daring Z. N. Morrell. The whole situation was tense. Brave Ben Milam, at the price of his life, had defeated General Cos and the large Mexican army in San Antonio. Prohibitions had been a force against any and all preachers of the evangelical faith. A Baptist minister, Isaac Reed, arrived in east Texas in 1834. He explained his silence thus: “It probably would have cost a man his life to have preached other than Catholic doctrines so near to Nacogdoches, the headquarters in east Texas at that time.” But on a January election day in 1836 in old Nacogdoches, Z. N. Morrell, sick of body but resolute of soul, mounted the foundation timbers of an unfinished house and called a crowd around him. While they gathered he led in singing, “Am I a Solider of the Cross?” He prayed and then preached from the thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah on, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” Here we see an outcropping of the Baptist spirit, of daring missionary, evangelistic conquest!
Another outcropping of the Southern Baptist spirit is the exemplification and fruition of our denomination pattern of missionary endeavor. A “chain reaction,” so to speak, was started in South Carolina when the Charleston Baptist Association was organized in 1751. In the realm of Christian Education, these brethren set a glorious example. Out of their Educational Fund, chartered in 1791, came Furman University. The fund became the theological endowment of Furman and was the nucleus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was given to the Seminary at its beginning in 1859. Then, too, this denominational pattern about which we speak is exemplified in another direction. Jesse Mercer, educated by this fund, went to Georgia and established a university which, until this day, bears his name. In 1839 the Baptist church at Washington, Texas, addressed an appeal for at least four men to serve in Texas. They set a high standard for these missionaries, saying, “We need men of understanding, of deep research, of giant intellect, clothed with the spirit of the gospel as a garment, that they may confound all our opposers, disseminate light, establish the churches, and be the means of pulling down the strongholds of Satan and building up the kingdom of God.” The American Baptist Home Mission Society responded to their appeal. Being typical Texans, never leaving any ground unturned, they worked the turn-rows and the fence corners. They sent copies of their appeal also to various Baptists newspapers. The Christian Index of Georgia printed it with editorial endorsement, commending the plea to the Home Mission Society of New York, then operating in the South. Jesse Mercer, like every good Baptist should do, received and read his Baptist paper. He added his appeal and substantiated it with a personal subscription of twenty-five hundred dollars. This produced the profound effect of giving inspiration to the whole cause of Home Missions in Texas and the Southland. James Huckins was the first missionary under the new program to arrive in Texas. Within a year he was followed by William Tryon, a graduate of Mercer University, who had been ordained in 1837 by Jesse Mercer and associates.
Through the efforts of these two missionaries and Judge R. E. B. Baylor, Christian education was begun. On February 1, 1845, a charter was approved by the Congress of the Republic of Texas, and Baylor University came into being at old Independence. Exactly sixty years later, under the valiant leadership of that spiritual and intellectual giant, B. H. Carroll, a Theological Seminary was established as a part of Baylor. Two years later it was separated and became an independent institution and its name changed to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1910 it was moved to its present site on Seminary Hill, Fort Worth. In 1923 that mighty soul and denomination statesman, L. R. Scarborough, who had succeeded B. H. Carroll as president of Southwestern, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, offered the Seminary to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Kansas City. A resolution offered by Dr. John Jeter Hurt was adopted, expressing the Convention’s pleasure over the offer and authorizing the appointment of a committee to work out terms of acceptance. The next year at the Atlanta Convention, the committee, headed by Dr. George W. McDaniel, reported favorably on the proposition. Our Convention voted unanimously to take over its control and support.
Thus we see the outcropping of the spirit that is the genius of our organized denominational life. A co-operative program was begun by the Baptists of South Carolina one hundred sixty-two years ago which, aided by Baptist mission boards, papers, schools, and other agencies, has given to Southern Baptists these two great seminaries, Southern at Louisville, and Southwestern at Forth Worth. But this is not all of the story. Through these two seminaries, Southern Baptists have wrought out a pattern of theological education and a program for the training of lay workers that is being bless of God in our three other seminaries—New Orleans, Golden Gate, and Southeastern. During the past eight months I have been inspired by our program for a trained ministry as I have been privileged to speak in all five of our seminaries. These institutions, together with our many Baptist colleges and universities supported by the state conventions, are dedicated to the sentiment found carved in stone at Harvard University, “That an educated ministry might not perish from the earth.” But the large numbers of zealous young men knocking at the doors of our five seminaries for admission is both encouraging and depressing. Encouraging, because while many denominations are lamenting their shortage of ministerial students. Southern Baptists behold a steady stream of consecrated young men surrendering for the ministry. Depressing, because each year many are denied admission due to the yet crowded conditions in our seminaries—this, not withstanding the fact that vast fields of the world with masses of countless millions without Christ are crying out, “Laborers, laborers, more laborers, oh, Lord!”
Another outcropping of this spirit that underlies Southern Baptists can be discerned in the example of the dividends that accrue from evangelizing the homeland. The investment made by the Southern Baptist Convention in this state through all those early years has borne fruit many hundredfold. Every dollar put into the work through all the years has been turned back into the stream of our denominational missionary program multiplied many times over. In a very real sense, the contributions made by our denomination have not been gifts; they have been the wisest and most profitable investments any corporation has ever made. The labor done by Southern Baptists has caused the work to grow apace until Texas is now a gigantic “Baptist empire.” The result has been that those who first were the objects of the Home Mission enterprise have become, along with others, primary subjects in advancing it. And let him who would, in a faint-hearted and short-sighted fashion, whisper that the service of the Home Mission Board is no longer needed, look across Texas and beyond to the sprawling areas of ripe harvest fields in the West and the Northwest.
Let Southern Baptists “face up” to their obligation to answer this modern Macedonian call as promptly and energetically as did Paul and his brethren at Troas. Let us be done with a “penny wise and pound foolish” point of view that whispers little lullabies and pious “ditties” over non-existent comity agreements and cries to maintain the status quo. More, much more, is involved than ethereal and nebulous “fraternal relations.” Souls are going to hell without Christ. Entire communities go on their godless way without a solitary church of any denomination to hold forth the Word of Life. Let us no longer stand back, our ears stopped with the soft down of indifference, our mouths stuffed with the “cotton candy” of sweet sentimentality, and our hands and feet bound with the red tape of “proper procedure.” If Southern Baptists had been as long answering the call from Texas for missionaries as we have been in answering the call of our western brethren, mesquite brush and tumble weeds would have overgrown every church in this state, and coyotes and jack rabbits would be sleeping in all their vestibules. But, no, what is worse, every “ism” (Dr. R. G. Lee says that ought to be a “wasm”) would have taken over this state as they are about to do in the far West, even in this hour.
The outcropping of this spirit of evangelizing the homeland calls for our best today as it did one hundred years ago. Our brethren in the far West ask for our assistance, but they are not resting in supine inactivity until we get there. During these recent years I have met with them in their conventions and evangelistic conferences. Their noble spirit is expressed in the sentiment of this verse which they often quote:
On these deserts let me labor,
In these mountains let me tell
How He died, the blessed Saviour
To redeem a world from hell.
Not only does the outcropping of the missionary spirit for evangelizing the homeland summon us to the West, but it calls us to reach the masses in our great cities. The rural areas are rapidly becoming depopulated. For every tractor put to use on a farm, one family moves to the city. An eminent sociologist from Peabody College told our Promotion Conference in Oklahoma City in March that one thousand country churches are dying every year. To be sure, our Home Mission Board will continue to strengthen our work in the rural areas, but the Board must be given enlarged support for its City Mission Program. The ungodliness of our nation demands that Southern Baptists, through a vigorous Home Mission Program, meet the challenge. Just as long as one marriage out of every four winds up in the divorce court, as long as our annual crime bill is twenty-five billion dollars, and as long as our nation has only one hundred eighty-two thousand churches of all faiths, but four hundred thousand bar, saloons, and other outlets for liquor, our Home Mission Board is still needed. Every reasonable man must agree that patriotic duty as well as Christian compulsion demands that we do our best to save our nation from destruction.
Another mighty outcropping of the spirit that is Southern Baptists-, discernible at this Convention, has to do with the glorious cause of world missions. Every church we organize in the homeland, every institution we set up, every program we project, should have as its end result the giving of the gospel of Christ to all peoples of all the world. The spirit of missions, or world evangelization, has made us what we are and it and only it will maintain us. Well as Dr. Robert E. Speer said, “Any man who has a religion is bound to do one of two things with it—change it or spread it. If it isn’t true, he must give it up. If it is true, he must give it away.” What is true of individuals is doubly true of churches and denominations. The formula for Christian growth operates like a miracle. Dr. Truett often used to quote Spurgeon as saying, “There was an old man some thought him mad; the more he gave away the more he had.”
The record of giving among Southern Baptists the past fifty years shows conclusively that they subscribe to this principle of giving and growing. In 1902, our per capita giving to all causes was $2.64 with 63 cents for missions. In 1942, our per capita giving to all causes was $9.73 with $1.80 going for missions. But last year, 1952, our per capita giving to all causes had increased to $32.48 for all causes with $6.00 going for missions. We haven’t reached the ideal yet, but we are making progress. We thank the Lord that Southern Baptists, through their great Foreign Mission Board, now have over nine hundred missionaries working in thirty-two areas of the world. But still we have not enlisted all our people in all the work of the Lord because last year twenty-six hundred churches, or 9 percent of our total, gave nothing, absolutely nothing, to missions. My brethren, when one out of every eleven of our churches goes twelve months without giving one copper to missions, we are made to realize how incomplete is our task. A church cannot save itself by withdrawing from the missionary enterprise; it signs its own death warrant when it refuses to give the gospel to others.
My heart was greatly moved last summer as I traveled on a 20,000 mile journey in many foreign lands. I ate with, prayed with, and fellowshipped with our valiant missionaries, even in those remote areas of the interior. I tell you, my brethren, the spirit of those missionaries would make glad the heart of the angels. Their sacrifice fro Christ was the greatest stimulus for heroic service for the Saviour my feeble life has even received. I saw those missionary doctors, nurses, teachers, and preachers making bricks without straw, doing the work of two men, every one of them, and doing it without complaining! They said again and again, “Do not feel sorry for us—but rather feel sorry for yourselves at home that you are not privileged to labor for the Master in this rich harvest field!”
This spirit of sacrifice for Christ, which we see outcropping here, compels us to become more vitally related to the missionary enterprise. Nothing, nothing in the world, must cause us to slacken our place or lessen our gifts for missions. Many of us in our local churches are contemplating, or have already completed, magnificent new buildings. Yes, we need them, and we must have them if we are to reach people with the gospel in communities where we serve. But, oh, beloved, how tragic indeed it would be to erect one of these fine new buildings and force the missionaries to pay for it. We must not chide nor criticize any in this regard, but it is our solemn duty to remind one another that any building erected at the expense of missions cannot and must not be dedicated to the glory of God. The statistics for 1952 encourage us in the thought that Southern Baptists agree with this sentiment. For instance, last year our mission gifts increased 23 percent while our gain in property valuation was only 17 percent. A reversal in this proportion would indicate “spiritual imbalance” and be indicative of a dangerous trend.
However, more than the mere matter of money for missions is involved. We must give renewed emphasis to providing man power for missions. Wider missionary education is a crying need in all areas of our denominational life. Perhaps one of the reasons for our increased activity in missions is that our people are increasing their knowledge of missions. It will be a great day for the missionary cause and for our whole denominational life when every Baptist reads his state Baptist paper, our Foreign Mission and Home Mission journals, as well as our numerous missionary publications. We must also increase our effort to train our young people for the mighty challenge of missions. We salute our Woman’s Missionary Union for the splendid work which they are accomplishing through their young people’s organizations. Our men need to take seriously the request of Paul and “help those women.” Many of our deacons and other capable men ought to be serving as counselors in Royal Ambassador Chapters. These who are mere lads today will be the men leading our churches tomorrow. Many missionaries have testified that their first impression that God wanted them in the mission field came when they were a G.A., R.A., or even a Sunbeam. But even those who are not called to go down to the mission field will stay at home and “hold the ropes” by supporting missions so others can go.
Our sixty-nine Baptist schools—academies, colleges, universities, and seminaries—are continuing to make a significant contribution to the missionary cause. They are training thousands of your preachers and missionaries. As long as they stay true to the Word of God and loyal to the work of God, Southern Baptists will continue to grow. But sad indeed will be that day when they become scholarly for scholarship’s sake and cease to emphasize a compassionate heart along with a trained intellect. When they do, Southern Baptists will become ritualistic, formal, cold, and dead like so many decadent denominations. At this Convention we shall face realistically the matter of giving a greater support to our Baptist schools. What Southern Baptists will be and do one hundred years from now will be determined by what we do with and for our schools this year and next.
By the same token, those having to do with these schools have a tremendous responsibility to our denomination. God grant that they will give increasing emphasis to the personal Gospel of salvation through our crucified Christ. Then they will take the next logical step of developing a Christian social consciousness. Only changed men can change society. Our Southern Baptist people have ever been sensitive to their obligation in this matter. With increasing interest in temperance, law enforcement, religious liberty, honesty in government, public health, social justice and every worthy cause, we have demonstrated that we are not “isolationists.”
We are grateful as we behold another outcropping of the Southern Baptist spirit. This has to do with the tremendously important matter of conviction. In 1946, J.B. Phillips, an English scholar, completed his translation of the twenty-one New Testament epistles. Entitled, “Letters to Young Churches,” it was published in this country by the Macmillan Company. In his translator’s preface, Phillips comments on the fact that the early Christians accomplished what they did because they were on fire with conviction. Then he says significantly, “Perhaps if we believed what they believed, we might achieve what they achieved.” He is right, for “believing and achieving” go hand in hand. Certainly no man of studied judgment would suggest that this Convention violate the sovereignty of the encyclicals, edicts, and mandates. However, it must be remembered that we have gone forward “propagating the gospel” as we have because this Convention has held to certain deep doctrinal convictions. Historically and practically, missions is a doctrine. The “hard-shells” split with us over this doctrine. Christian Education is another. Stewardship, emphasizing the tithe as the minimum, is another. Again and again this Convention has underscored its conviction on this by endorsing, “Every Baptist a Tither.” This is as it should be. And yet, when twenty-six hundred of our churches give nothing to missions and 80 percent of our members do not tithe, no on suggests that they be “read out” of the Convention. We must go on holding convictions on these and other doctrines that have distinguished our people through the years.
Southern Baptists have a job to do for the Lord. They can best do it in their own way and perform their duty as God gives to them to see their duty. We are pressured by two conflicting forces. On one side is the ecumenicalism of “United Protestantism”; on the other is the “anything-ism” of non-denominationalism. We are like a healthy, wealthy, attractive young lady. These ambitious “Lotharios” are “making eyes” at us. But we have not, cannot, and will not even “drop our handkerchief” to invite or encourage their attention. However, a few neighborhood gossips are whispering over their back fences that the wedding date has already been set. But those who know the least always talk the most.
One would-be suitor has made bold to announce that a chair is being reserved for us. But this young lady in all graciousness would suggest that before she occupies that chair it will have become an antique. She feels that for her, this chair would be virtually an “electric chair.” Personally I think the young lady is correct. For the moment she sits down in that chair, she signs her own death warrant and sets the date of her execution. This young lady doesn’t object to being friendly with her ambitious suitors, but she has no matrimonial intentions.
My brethren, let Southern Baptists face the future in faith, and continue in a united spirit to take up the task of the Lord with strengthened hands. During a crisis in the Texas Convention many years ago, Dr. B. H. Carroll gave this admonition, “Let us bury our differences beneath the cross.” We have always been able to do this. We will continue to do it this year and through all the years.
In 1921 the Southern Baptist Convention met in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Dr. J. B. Gambrell, who had relinquished the gavel the year before to Dr. E. Y. Mullins, had just returned from a tour of Europe. He was exhausted in body, but as usual, resilient in spirit. Unable to attend the Convention he sent a message of five short words which this Convention needs to hear and heed. That immortal Baptist statesman, “Uncle Gideon,” said, “… Do right and go forward!”