Kevin T. Bauder
Of the various conferences that I attend, one that I look forward to is the annual meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, International. It’s also one that I don’t have the privilege of attending very often. It is usually far from my home, and it typically falls in the middle of the summer modules that I teach.
This year it looks like I get to go, and I’m looking forward to it for several reasons. The first is that it’s close to home. The FBFI is meeting on the campus of Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin. That’s within driving distance of anyone from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, or Michigan. It also happens to fall at a time (June 13-15) when I am not otherwise obligated.
Second, this year’s meeting promises to be a genuinely historic event. The FBFI is holding its meeting jointly with the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches. Both of these organizations stem from the fundamentalist branch of the old Conservative Baptist Movement. They grew out of what was called the “Hard Core,” which was represented primarily by the Conservative Baptist Fellowship. When the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society was clearly committed to move in a neoevangelical direction, the CBF created a new mission (now the Baptist World Mission). This act brought reprisals from the “Soft Policy” leadership. Eventually the CBF had to create a new national association—the NTAIBC. Unfortunately, there were misunderstandings about representation and organizational principles, and these were aggravated by personal differences. The result was that some of the Hard Core leaders went with the NTAIBC, while others reorganized the CBF into the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. The two organizations have been following distinct paths now for half a century.
The difference is essentially this: the NTAIBC is an association of churches and is ultimately accountable to those churches. The FBFI is an individual fellowship accountable to a self-perpetuating board. The NTAIBC was led by people like R. V. Clearwaters and Earle Matteson. The FBFI was led by B. Myron Cedarholm and the Weniger brothers, among others. Over time the NTAIBC developed a close working relationship with Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, while the FBFI edged toward the interdenominational Bob Jones University. At one time the Joneses were prominent leaders in the FBFI, and for many years Rod Bell of Virginia Beach was its president. That office is now held by John Vaughn. Richard Paige and Garry Thompson have recently served as national representatives for the NTAIBC. Marlon Meilke was its last president; Garry Thompson now holds that office.
While the organizations differ in their format, they are identical in their convictions. Both are good fellowships and worthy of all consideration. The church of which I am a member—Fourth Baptist Church in Plymouth, Minnesota—fellowships with the NTAIBC (as do many of the Minnesota Baptist churches). I am also a member of the FBFI. Frankly, I am more comfortable with these organizations than with any other ecclesiastical fellowships I can think of.
Of course, every organization represents a range of doctrine and practice. Some of the people in the NTAIBC and the FBFI draw the lines of separation a bit more narrowly than I do, but I’d rather be involved with groups that might be too cautious than with groups that are too careless. Some of their people are a bit more specific about the use of the King James Version than I think is necessary, but I love the King James Bible, and as long as they don’t make it a doctrinal issue it’s no problem for me. Both fellowships have a few people who are a bit difficult to get along with, but that’s true of all fellowships. What’s more, I know that I can sometimes be difficult to get along with, too (and I’m working on that), so I have little room to be critical of others at that point.
A third reason I’m looking forward to this meeting is that the preaching promises to be good. The joint committee has scheduled speakers like Bob Loggans and Mike Sproul (to name only two). These are thoughtful men who know how to expound the Word of God. In fact, as I look at the list of speakers, I don’t see a single person whom I wouldn’t want to hear. Not every address has to be an expository sermon. There is a time and place to address topics and issues. But even topical preaching must not abuse the Scriptures, and I don’t believe that any of these speakers will.
I have a fourth reason for looking forward to the meeting at Maranatha. I believe that the arts (including music) are languages. As languages, they are capable of saying some things that ought not to be addressed to God or brought into worship. In short, I believe that conservative worship is biblically necessary. I know in advance that the NTAIBC and the FBFI are not going to present music that will depict the divine majesty in trivial, debasing, and insulting ways. I don’t have to go into this meeting cringing in advance at the music I’m going to hear. In short, I genuinely look forward to not being slammed with impieties (and blasphemies?) from the platform.
Both the NTAIBC and the FBFI are engaged in ongoing, constructive work. Both offer necessary fellowship for pastors who are grinding away at the mills of ministry. Both are endorsers for the United States Department of Defense, which means that both provide chaplains for the military. Both can help churches seeking pastors and pastors looking for ministries. Both provide a way for fundamental Baptists to speak to important issues with a common voice.
Besides the benefits that both groups provide, the FBFI also publishes Frontline, which is probably the most useful periodical within Baptist fundamentalism. The magazine has recently featured writers such as Mark Minnick, Dave Saxon, Andy Hudson, Michael Riley, and Mark Ward. These authors among others are good thinkers, decent writers, and careful listeners. They are producing some of the best literature to come out of the fundamentalist movement today.
Two recent issues of Frontline deserve special mention. One was critical of “convergence,” a term that seems to designate the effort to collapse the distinctions between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. The other featured younger leaders explaining “why I’m still here,” i.e., why they have stayed in fundamentalism rather than moving to some broader version of evangelicalism. These editions of Frontline drew criticism from opposite sources, but the combination was brilliant. Years ago I pled for fundamentalists to launch a journal of opinion in which differences could be explored honestly and frankly. These two issues of Frontline are the closest anybody has come to fulfilling that request.
So I’m looking forward to the preaching. I’m looking forward to seeing friends in ministry and sharing their concerns. I’m looking forward to decent music. I’m looking forward to an historic event as two fellowships join for a common meeting after fifty years of division. This should be good. In fact, if you haven’t made other plans, you might want to think about going.
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.
Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)
When for the thorns with which I long, too long,
With many a piercing wound,
My Saviour’s head have crowned,
I seek with garlands to redress that wrong:
Through every garden, every mead,
I gather flowers (my fruits are only flowers),
Dismantling all the fragrant towers
That once adorned my shepherdess’s head.
And now when I have summed up all my store,
Thinking (so I myself deceive)
So rich a chaplet thence to weave
As never yet the King of Glory wore:
Alas, I find the serpent old
That, twining in his speckled breast,
About the flowers disguised does fold,
With wreaths of fame and interest.
Ah, foolish man, that wouldst debase with them,
And mortal glory, Heaven’s diadem!
But Thou who only couldst the serpent tame,
Either his slippery knots at once untie;
And disentangle all his winding snare;
Or shatter too with him my curious frame,
And let these wither, so that he may die,
Though set with skill and chosen out with care:
That they, while Thou on both their spoils dost tread,
May crown thy feet, that could not crown thy head.