When I was preparing for ministry, Ralph Colas was a prominent leader in the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. He was a member of the Council of Eighteen. He had pastored multiple important churches in the Regular Baptist movement. He also served for many years on the board of the American Council of Christian Churches (he would serve as both its president and its executive secretary). I thought of him as an Important Man.
Imagine my surprise when, while I was still a seminary student, Colas showed up at the door of my apartment. He said that he had heard about me and just wanted to visit. For the next two hours he let me question him about events in the Regular Baptist movement, the American Council, and fundamentalism in general. I was astonished that an Important Man would take the time for a nobody like me.
Over the years our relationship deepened into a friendship. Like all friendships, ours included both agreements and disagreements. There were occasions when I was wrong and I had to apologize to him—and he was always gracious in forgiving me.
When it came to trends and events in professing Christianity, Ralph was the best-informed man I ever knew. His press credentials gave him access to meetings of the World and National Councils of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Religious Broadcasters, and other groups. His reports of those meetings meant much to those who wanted to keep current.
He was also a man of considerable courage. He was the sort of guy who was willing to carry his documentation into an American Baptist church to convince them that they ought to come out of the convention. He even had the conviction and courage to stand against his friends when he thought they were wrong—and that is the rarest courage of all.
Ralph was strongly committed to biblical separatism. The strength of his conviction came not only from his knowledge of Scripture (which was sound) but from his unusual awareness of trends and movements within contemporary Christianity. His convictions sometimes made him controversial, but he was usually on the right side of those controversies.
Last week Ralph Colas went home to heaven. I have lost a friend, and fundamentalism has lost a statesman. Thinking back over what I know of his life, his activity, and our relationship, one thought emerges. Ralph Colas was the kind of fundamentalist I want to be.
The Midwest Regional Fundamental Baptist Congress is now history. I had the privilege of addressing the group on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The gathering was under 200, I believe. No one yet knows whether the event might have an effect that goes beyond its size.
Other participants included Bernie Augsburger, John Greening, Robert Fuller Jr., Mike Augsburger, and Jim Tillotson (these are the names that I can remember). Among the attendees were individuals from the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches, the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Baptist Churches, the Minnesota Baptist Association, and Regular Baptist fellowships from Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois-Missouri. Schools that sent representatives included Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary, Maranatha Baptist University, and Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. The event was worth attending for the relationships alone.
The Congress featured two panel discussions. One was about the value of labels like fundamentalist and Baptist. The other was about church music. That one was particularly interesting, providing a rare, public conversation between some of the most contemporary and some of the most conservative views within fundamentalism. That panel may have been the most instructive part of the Congress.
Years ago, I was in Virginia and stopped to see an acquaintance at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. While I was there, he showed me around the campus a bit, then introduced me to Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan. My visit was purely personal and had nothing to do with any endorsement of Pentecostalism in general or Pat Robertson in particular—and nobody thought that it had.
Apparently, if you’re Steve Pettit, you aren’t allowed to make personal visits. Steve was in Chicago and dropped by the campus of Wheaton College to greet a personal acquaintance. While he was there, this acquaintance showed him a bit of the campus (the C. S. Lewis shrine is worth visiting—I’ve been there, too). No endorsement of Wheaton or its policies was considered or implied.
But somebody snapped Steve’s picture, then wrote up an article in the Wheaton student paper. Next thing you know, bloggers like Adam Laats and John Fea were speculating about some sort of rapprochement between Wheaton and Bob Jones University. Oh, my.
It’s all bunk, of course. Laats and Fea are trading in guesswork and gossip over an event that has no significance at all. BJU is not moving toward neoevangelicalism, and Wheaton certainly isn’t moving toward fundamentalism. If anyone is moving at all, it would be Laats and Fea, since guesswork and gossip are the two most important contributions of some fundamentalist blogs. Perhaps we should welcome these men to the fold.
In July, the Wall Street Journal published a series of critical articles about accreditation. Then an October 5 editorial characterized accreditation as a cartel and a racket, labeling the accreditors as busybodies. The negative exposure sent the world of higher education into a bit of a tizzy. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the organization that accredits the accreditors, sent a delegation to the offices of the WSJ to meet with the editorial board. The WSJ said it is not backing off.
Even CHEA acknowledges merit in some of the WSJ’s criticism. Everyone in higher education knows that there are problems with accreditation. But what to do?
The days of non-accreditation are past. Too many unaccredited institutions have issued worthless diplomas. There has to be a standard, and it has to be public.
The alternative is federal control—and virtually nobody in higher ed wants that. If accreditation is bad under private control, just imagine what it would be like if run by the same people who operate the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Transportation Safety Administration.
What complicates the matter further is that accreditation can readily be used to enforce social trends. There are already hints about that happening in private education. If accreditation is enforced by the government, the problem will become much worse. Whatever happens, it’s likely to be hard on fundamentalist institutions.
If a father can be permitted to rejoice for a moment, another Dr. Bauder has come into the world. She defended her dissertation successfully this week at the University of Toronto. She is actually Dr. Lott, but because of the peculiarities of Canadian policy, and because she is an American married to a Canadian, her diploma will be issued under her maiden name. Yup, another Dr. Bauder. Is the world ready?
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.
Charged With the Complicated Load
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Charged with the complicated load
Of our enormous debt,
By faith, I see the Lamb of God
Expire beneath its weight!
My numerous sins transferr’d to him,
Shall never more be found,
Lost in his blood’s atoning stream
Where every crime is drown’d!
My mighty sins to thee are known;
But mightier still is he
Who laid his life a ransom down,
And pleads his death for me.
Oh may my life, while here below,
Bear witness to thy love:
Till I before thy footstool bow,
And chant thy praise above!