Among the benefits of my summer schedule is the opportunity to visit several Baptist associations and fellowships. This June and July I have attended three in particular: the Minnesota Baptist Association, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, and the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association. Over the next three weeks I will offer a report on each, beginning with the last. After all, In the Nick of Time is supposed to be a newsletter (though it is sometimes mistaken for a blog). These reports are the “news” part of the newsletter.
Unless you are one of a handful of people, you probably do not know about the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association. In fact, you probably think that I am talking about the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, International—but I am not. They are distinct organizations, though each is (as you might expect) both Baptist and fundamentalist. The FBFA is the older of the two and was the first to call itself the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship (the FBFI likes to trace itself to 1920, but the present organization effectively dates from the mid-1960s).
The FBFA has the distinction of being the first association or fellowship within Baptist fundamentalism to embrace full racial integration. From its founding in 1962, it determined to reject every form of racial exclusivism. Among fundamentalist organizations, it is still the leading body in its commitment to racial reconciliation.
The reason is simple: the FBFA was established in the crucible of segregation and racial prejudice. During the late 1940s, fundamental Baptists organized a Bible school in Cleveland to train African American church leaders. Over the next decade this school succeeded in producing energetic leaders who were committed to Baptist distinctives and to the principles of fundamentalist separatism. Men like Richard C. Mattox, Walter L. Banks, and Robert L. Hunter led in planting Baptist, fundamentalist churches in African American communities. They were eventually joined by younger church planters like Ezell Wiggins and John Williams.
These pastors and churches were steeped in the doctrine and position of the Regular Baptist movement. In everything except race they were indistinguishable from the GARBC. Logically and biblically, the GARBC should have received their churches into its fellowship, modeling the oneness of the body of Christ at a time when American civilization badly needed such a demonstration.
That never happened. In spite of repeated pleas from these black fundamentalists, the leadership of the Regular Baptist movement closed its doors to them. What the GARBC leadership wanted to see was a separate association for African American churches. After repeated rebuffs, the black leaders finally organized the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association in 1962.
From the beginning, however, the purpose of the FBFA was not to be an African American fellowship. The leaders saw themselves primarily as Christians, Baptists, and fundamentalists. They determined to welcome all people and churches who shared their beliefs, irrespective of skin color. They further committed themselves to loving those who had rejected them.
More than thirty years later, the GARBC issued a formal apology for the rejection. For a couple of years, the GARBC and the FBFA actually held their annual meetings together. Many churches that fellowship with the FBFA also fellowship with the GARBC. Nevertheless, each organization has its own uniqueness, and each has continued its own existence.
This week was my first visit to the FBFA, which was meeting in Kansas City. I was able to attend only a part of the annual meeting—in fact, the conference is still taking place as I am writing this report. Nevertheless, the parts of the meeting that I visited were a blessing and encouragement.
For one thing, it was nice to attend a meeting where almost nobody in the group knew who I was. For them, I was just another guy, and they had no particular reason to treat me in any special way. Yet I was welcomed as a valued guest—as I assume any fellow Baptist fundamentalist would be.
For another, it was a treat to hear strongly doctrinal and expository preaching. I was late for the first sermon that I heard, and walked into the auditorium in the middle of an exposition of Romans 8:28-30. To my surprise, the speaker was explaining how these verses teach that God’s election does not depend upon what God foresaw in the elect person. While the speaker did not use the theological label, I doubt that I’ve ever heard a more straightforward declaration of the doctrine of unconditional election—a plainer declaration than I would expect to hear in virtually any other fundamental Baptist fellowship. I do not believe that the FBFA is necessarily a Calvinistic organization, but it is evidently one in which Calvinists are embraced.
While the FBFA welcomes all fundamental Baptists, its membership is still mostly African American. During my visit I tried to select sessions that featured leaders of the association. To some extent, their agenda was dictated by the situation that biblical Christians face while ministering in black communities. These leaders are also aware of larger racial situations within American society—indeed, more than one speaker alluded to them. The leadership of the FBFA is in a position to offer godly, biblical perspectives on those situations that one might not hear in a predominantly Anglo organization. That is one of many reasons that the voice of the FBFA needs to be heard within American fundamentalism.
The FBFA has its roots in the Regular Baptist movement, but it is not just like any other body of fundamental Baptists. It has a unique role to play. Mainstream, historic fundamentalists should see it as a kindred organization that shares in our history and our biblical values. Next year’s conference will be in Indianapolis, and as God permits I hope to be there.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Partners of a Glorious Hope
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Partners of a glorious hope,
Lift your hearts and voices up,
Jointly let us rise, and sing
Christ our Prophet, Priest, and King:
Monuments of Jesu’s grace,
Speak we by our lives his praise;
Walk in him we have received,
Show we not in vain believed.
While we walk with God in light,
God our hearts doth still unite;
Dearest fellowship we prove,
Fellowship in Jesu’s love:
Sweetly each, with each combined,
In the bonds of duty joined,
Feels the cleansing blood applied,
Daily feels that Christ hath died.
Still, O Lord, our faith increase,
Cleanse from all unrighteousness,
Thee the unholy cannot see;
Make, O make us meet for thee!
Every vile affection kill,
Root out every seed of ill,
Utterly abolish sin,
Write thy law of love within.
Hence may all our actions flow,
Love the proof that Christ we know;
Mutual love the token be,
Lord, that we belong to thee:
Love, thine image, love impart!
Stamp it on our face and heart!
Only love to us be given!
Lord, we ask no other heaven.