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The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International

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From their earliest days, Baptists have erected organizations to assist them in coordinating ministries that are beyond the ability of most individual churches. Among these organizations are both church associations and individual fellowships. Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to attend the meetings of three such organizations, two at the national level and one at the state level. Together these three organizations help to provide a glimpse into the current state of Baptist fundamentalism. I propose to devote one essay to each organization.

The first was the annual meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International, held in Taylors, South Carolina. The FBFI is an individual fellowship, governed by a self-perpetuating board under the presidency of John Vaughn. It claims to have been founded as the Fundamentalist Fellowship of the Northern Baptist Convention in 1920, though the claim is open to dispute. The people who met in Buffalo in 1920 established no organization either that year or for several years following. Still, what is now the FBFI undoubtedly grew out of the 1920 conference.

At one time named the Fundamentalist Fellowship, the FBFI remained in the convention until it was forced out in 1946. It had already renamed itself the Conservative Baptist Fellowship and had organized Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society. It soon followed with a Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society, a Conservative Baptist Association of America, and a Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver. Soon, however, the Conservative Baptist Movement found itself embroiled in controversy over the New Evangelicalism.

Not long after 1960 it became clear that neoevangelicals had control of the Conservative Baptist Movement. The fundamentalists had already started two new seminaries: one in Minneapolis and one in San Francisco. They controlled the Central Regional of the CBA of A. Other agencies were, to a greater or lesser degree, unable to make a clear break with the New Evangelicalism. The worst offenders were the Denver Seminary and the CBFMS. Finally, the Conservative Baptist Fellowship called upon the fundamentalists to organize a new mission, much as they had already organized new seminaries.

The result was the World Conservative Baptist Mission, now known as Baptist World Mission. While the Conservative Baptist Movement was able to tolerate rival seminaries, it was not willing to tolerate a rival mission board. By the mid-1960s the new mission was declared to have no standing in the Conservative Baptist Movement. Its supporters—the fundamentalists from the Conservative Baptist Movement—began packing up to leave the older organizations and to establish a new movement around their mission agency.

The flagship organization of the new movement was going to be a New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches, but hardly was the new association organized when its leaders fell out with one another. Some believed that it should function as an association of churches, while others favored a more individual fellowship. In the long run, the fundamentalists who left the Conservative Baptist Movement split among themselves. Those who favored an individual fellowship stayed with the Conservative Baptist Fellowship. They renamed it the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. Concerned that their opponents might vote them out, they placed the governance of the FBF under a self-perpetuating board.

Having lost the support of many Baptist fundamentalists, the FBF entered an alliance with the interdenominational Bob Jones University. For many years the Joneses were powerful figures on the FBF board. Other prominent names included the Weniger brothers from San Francisco, B. Myron Cedarholm of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, Frank Bumpus of Schaumburg, Illinois, and Ed Nelson of Denver, Colorado. Eventually the organization came under the presidency of Rod Bell from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Bell left the presidency during the mid-2000s, and John Vaughn was chosen as the new leader of the FBFI. The organization has been rigorously separatistic. Of all Baptist groups, it has probably been the most concerned with what is sometimes called “platform fellowship.” During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the FBFI deliberately took a moderating position on issues like Lordship Salvation and the King James Only controversy, passing resolutions to the effect that these matters would not be made tests of fellowship.

While its dispensationalism is a bit fuzzy, the FBFI is definitely anti-Reformed. A question was raised at this year’s meeting as to what sort of Reformed theology the group opposed. One speaker answered that the group had room for three- or four-point Calvinists, but not for five-pointers or for people who placed regeneration prior to faith in the ordo salutis. No one contradicted this speaker’s dictum—at least not publicly.

The FBFI features some of the best pulpit expositors within contemporary fundamentalism. John Vaughn can deliver superb pulpit exposition, as can preachers like Mike Harding, Mark Minnick, Steve Pettit, and Gordon Dickson. Steve Hankins also delivered a good expository sermon at this year’s meeting. In view of the high quality of pulpit presentation that these men and others can provide, one wonders why the organization would tolerate a moralistic allegory of Scripture such as was delivered by one preacher this year.

Meeting only ten minutes from Bob Jones University, the FBFI was near the heart of its strength. During the evening sessions on Wednesday the auditorium was packed—area churches cancelled their midweek services in support of the event. During the day, however, when only the FBFI members were in attendance, the number was more like a couple of hundred. Of these, fewer than a dozen appeared to be under forty years of age.

If this year’s meeting is any indication, the FBFI is dwindling. In one way, that is not surprising. The younger pastors have been trained to value preaching that directly reflects the text of Scripture. They also tend to lean toward some version of Calvinism. By featuring pulpit allegories and by attacking mainstream Calvinists, the FBFI is more likely to drive young leaders toward conservative evangelicalism than it is to attract them to its own valuable positions. It would do well to cease featuring non-expositional treatments of the Word of God, and it would do well to adopt a more welcoming stance toward mainstream Calvinist fundamentalists.

The FBFI is worth perpetuating. It holds many fine principles and includes many fine leaders. Its publication, Frontline, is one of the two or three best fundamentalist magazines today—and on some months, it is the best. Its voice has recently been strengthened by contributions from the faculty from Maranatha Baptist University.

Speaking of Maranatha, the FBFI will hold its next annual meeting at Watertown, Wisconsin. This meeting will present an ideal opportunity for Midwesterners to visit the FBFI, to enjoy its strengths, to evaluate its weaknesses, and to make an informed decision as to whether membership might be worthwhile. Even those who are outside the usual FBFI orbit would do well to visit the meeting.

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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.

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Now Let Our Mourning Hearts Revive
Philip Doddridge (1702–1751)

Now let our mourning hearts revive,
And all our tears be dry;
Why should those eyes be drowned in grief
Which view a Savior nigh?

What though the arm of conquering death
Does God’s own house invade?
What though the prophet and the priest
Be numbered with the dead?

Though earthly shepherds dwell in dust,
The agèd and the young,
The watchful eye in darkness closed,
And mute th’instructive tongue.

The eternal Shepherd still survives,
New comfort to impart;
His eye still guides us, and His voice
Still animates our heart.

Lo! I am with you, saith the Lord,
My church shall safe abide;
For I will ne’er forsake My own,
Whose souls in Me confide.

Through every scene of life and death,
This promise is our trust;
And this shall be our children’s song,
When we are cold in dust.

Kevin T. Bauder

About Kevin Bauder

Kevin T. Bauder is 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 this post expresses.

9 Responses to The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International

  1. For the record, and making no comment on anything else in this piece =), the FBFI has issued precisely two formal resolutions referencing “Calvinism”:

    In 1979 and 1980 the FBF issued the following resolution:

    While recognizing that great pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and revivalists such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon, William Carey, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards have aligned themselves with the theological system known as Calvinism, yet we reject in this day a hyper-Calvinism which negates or eliminates human responsibility in either the proclamation or reception of the Gospel message as destructive to a Biblical evangelism which would offer the Gospel freely to all men.

    In 2004 they issued the following resolution “Concerning unity in the essentials”

    Historic fundamentalism exercised great latitude among the brethren regarding convictions over which good men disagree. Therefore, we must not so restrict this latitude in our day by narrowing our fellowship exclusively to those brethren with whom we agree on all points and thereby hinder the greater cause of Christ. We must continue to study, know, and defend the essentials and to agree to disagree, if necessary, on those which are not (such as philosophy of youth work, pastoral authority, political involvement, versions, certain aspects of Calvinism, dating, divorce, evangelism/discipleship methodology, etc.). As Baptists we certainly wish to practice the doctrine of individual soul liberty and allow others to do so, but we need to pursue unity in every biblical way that we can, especially in a day when there is much division over things not essential. Within the fundamental Baptist movement we must prioritize an active love for our brethren, so that we demonstrate a biblically-based tolerance towards those with whom we disagree.

    (emphasis mine)

    The whole list is here.

  2. ————–
    “The younger pastors have been trained to value preaching that directly reflects the text of Scripture. They also tend to lean toward some version of Calvinism. By featuring pulpit allegories and by attacking mainstream Calvinists, the FBFI is more likely to drive young leaders toward conservative evangelicalism than it is to attract them to its own valuable positions. It would do well to cease featuring non-expositional treatments of the Word of God, and it would do well to adopt a more welcoming stance toward mainstream Calvinist fundamentalists.”
    ————–

    What you say is true, but I think there is more to it than that, as well. While there may have been historical reasons that made sense for a self-perpetuating board, the fact is that now, the only way to have any influence in the FBFI is to do something that merits the attention of a board member who generally would share your views. While it might be a bit too disparaging to call it a “good old boys club,” the reality is that if the majority of the board has particular leanings on certain issues, they will be less likely to populate the board with those who have dramatically different emphases than theirs. While anyone has the opportunity be a member provided they agree to the statement and pay their dues, that membership is essentially a subscription to the magazine and a listing in the directory. No official cooperation, nothing (apart from arguably the magazine) is accomplished that could not be by a larger church with the resources to put on a pastors conference. If you were a member and wanted to see more of an expositional emphasis than there has been, there is no mechanism available to you other than voicing your concern to a board member. You don’t approve the program or speakers, nor do you elect the people who do so. It isn’t necessary to be an FBF member to come to their meetings… when I was in Maine, I think there were two of us in the state, but plenty more were invited and came to the regional meeting. You get some potential cross-pollination between graduates of different institutions (as a Faith grad, I made some connections when I pastored in Maine that were probably helped by being an FBF member), but in a way, the internet has made that less valuable than it once was.

    Associations have their warts and flaws, but they also present opportunities for joint ventures such as cooperative church planting, camp ministries, educational institutions… while giving churches and pastors a sense that involvement and investment can bring with it a measure of influence. There is a reason to get together, to work through and alongside people with whom you don’t agree with on everything, because together you are able to do what you could not as well on your own. In a setting like the FBFI, if you hold an unpopular position, it can be much easier to conclude that there are better ways to spend your time and resources, because why would the board, long established with their own positions, listen to you?

    This is also, I suspect, a reason some are drawn to conservative evangelicalism, and specifically the SBC. While there are conservative positions to be championed, there are also tangible things to be gained if battles are won (conservative control of seminaries and colleges equaling teaching opportunities for those with conservative leanings, cooperative program advantages for missionaries…). Influence is accessible if you are willing to work. The breadth of the SBC allows for manifold differing voices, but conservative voices definitely have a place at the table.

    The FBFI has articulated general doctrinal positions I can (and for the most part, could still) support. At the same time, when I ultimately allowed my membership to expire, it wasn’t because of any particular dissatisfaction or disgust. Rather, I didn’t see what unique benefit I derived from belonging to it, nor what benefit I provided the organization and others by belonging to it. The same kinds of missionaries called me before, during, and after I was a member. I was able to go to the meetings (and find about about them online).I had no chance to get on any board, but I’m not sure I would have while I was a member, and what would it have accomplished if I had been selected?

    If the FBFI wants a future, they need to make a clear and compelling case for membership- things that one gains that one would not have otherwise, causes that would not be aided, service opportunities that one could not seize… They also need to consider the downsides to their current self-perpetuating board structure. What made sense historically may end up relegating them to history. That might not mean dispensing with the structure entirely, but Baptist congregationalism should not be so entirely foreign to a Baptist organization like the FBF that members have no official voice whatsoever.

    Take it FWIW.

  3. Kevin,
    I appreciate your commentary. I find it refreshing to read well-rounded evaluations of the organizations within fundamentalism. This type of article would have been excoriated even ten years ago because the “good old boys” wouldn’t tolerate it. The internet changed much of this. You don’t play by the rules and that’s what many find refreshing about you. Your old enough that you should “get it” and promote the gig vs. criticize it. Even then, we both know your criticism was light in regards to what you could have said.

    I believe the FBF is probably beyond salvaging because any changes made were too little, too late. If they’re still figuring out their national platform of speakers, their value on expositional preaching, and the degree to which they marginalize Calvinists, they have no future with the younger generation. You already made mention of the lack of young blood in your article and Greg, a convinced and energetic fundamentalist, laid out the case as to why he’s not compelled to join.

    One would hope that fundamentalism would self-correct after a period of self-awareness and self-criticism (the 2000’s), but I’m not convinced the hope is well-founded. I watched the BJU Alumni Q and A with the new president and it seems like what is still foremost in the minds of many are dress standards, Bible versions, musical styles, associations, etc, etc, etc. Fundamentalism’s ultimate failure will be it’s failure to focus on the fundamentals.

  4. Mark,

    Thanks for pointing readers to the FBFI position statements that mention Calvinism. Notice the vagueness of these statements–they never do say which aspects of Calvinism are tolerable and which are not–only “certain aspects.” At least one spokesman stated that both limited atonement and prioritizing regeneration in the ordo salutis are outside the pale. You would know this spokesman, I believe. As far as I know, no official voice has contradicted him yet.

    By the way, a reader also wrote to point out that the FBFI doctrinal statement is decidedly on the dispensational side, and questioned my use of the word “fuzzy.” And I agree–the FBFI is certainly dispensational. What makes this dispensationalism fuzzy is the lack of clarity over questions like a dual hermeneutic, whether an inaugurated kingdom exists already, and the present status of the Davidic throne. That is to say, the FBFI appears deliberately to have made room for dispensationalism as redefined after the middle of the 1980s.

    Thanks again for the useful citations.

  5. Greg,

    In fairness, I think it’s worth pointing out that Baptists have organized many service agencies with either independent memberships or self-perpetuating boards. Like you, I am a believer in associationalism, but I have been more than happy to work with a self-perpetuating board at Central Seminary. Many, perhaps most, fundamental Baptist agencies are under the governance of boards. It is possible to argue that the FBFI is doing nothing different.

    What appears to feel different to you is that the FBFI has members. What does it mean to be a member of the FBFI? I’m honestly not sure I know how to answer that question. I sign my card and pay my $35 every year. I get my magazine in the mail. Occasionally I go to the meeting, as I did this year. But it does not do anything for me.

    So why be a member? I signed up because I was asked to, and because I thought I could be useful. While I’m not hesitant about critiquing the organization where it is–let’s say–idiosyncratic, I believe that my membership puts a certain moral weight behind my agreement with the principles that the FBFI has formally articulated. In other words, while the FBFI does not make much of a difference for me, I believe that I can be an encouragement to it, or at least to those men in it who most need to be encouraged and whose position most needs vindication. It is, first and foremost, a fellowship–and as a fellowshipping member I want to do my best to reprove, rebuke, and encourage, with great makrothumia and didache. One does not need a vote or a position on a board to do that.

    Some pastors and Christian workers find little fellowship outside of the FBFI. To you and me that seems like an impossibly narrow world, but it’s true. If I want to encourage those individuals, I’ll have to do it from within the ranks. So I’m in the ranks!

    Kevin

  6. Jason,

    But I was writing and saying these kinds of things ten years ago, and I was not being excoriated. Far from it, I was being invited to join the board of the FBFI (which I did not). I think it’s possible that you have misjudged the situation even as it stood then.

    And I think you’ve given less-than-adequate consideration to versions of fundamentalism that weren’t rooted in the FBFI-BJU environment. To those inside that movement, it seems like the whole world, and perhaps that’s your perspective as well. But it’s just one segment of one branch of Baptist fundamentalism, and certainly not the most influential.

    You may be right about change in the FBFI being “too little, too late.” I hope not. But Christianity in America is declining–all of it. Fundamentalism has not escaped the decline. I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around, but I would rather ask how things ought to be done differently in the future. In my own terribly naive way, I’m still trying to make a case for a fundamentalism worth saving.

    I’m interested in the list in your last paragraph: dress standards, Bible versions, musical styles, associations. Doesn’t it seem to you that these are not only different issues, but issues of different kinds? To treat them all as secondary or tertiary hardly seems justified.

    For example, suppose your assistant pastor showed up to Sunday morning worship wearing only a Speedo. As a senior pastor, don’t you suppose you would find the issue of dress to be suddenly rather important?

    Are you suggesting that associations never matter? I’m certainly not going to try to make that argument. If the FBFI has been a bit ham-handed in its application of “platform separation,” there are plenty of other fundamentalists who seem quite incapable of recognizing that when they are identifying themselves with teachings that they ought to reject. What we need here is not simply to shout back and forth, “Doesn’t matter!” “Does too!” What we need is to explore thoughtfully the biblical principles that will help us to make judicious decisions about when and how to engage in platform fellowship (I’ll be publishing in this area soon).

    As for musical styles–you are remembering where you’re posting this comment, right? The RAM web site represents an intercontinental fellowship of pastors and doctors who think that music (among other things) does matter. Do you really mean to dismiss their concerns as a “failure to focus on the fundamentals?” That claim requires some justification, especially here. Remember, there are practical and affective fundamentals as well as doctrinal fundamentals.

    In any case, it came as a pleasant surprise to hear from you. It’s been too long since we touched base.

    Kevin

  7. ————-
    I believe that my membership puts a certain moral weight behind my agreement with the principles that the FBFI has formally articulated. In other words, while the FBFI does not make much of a difference for me, I believe that I can be an encouragement to it, or at least to those men in it who most need to be encouraged and whose position most needs vindication.
    ————-

    Fair enough. I would observe, though, that unless you’re a board member, there is really no official way to articulate concerns when something is articulated from an FBFI venue like a publication or platform, even like some of the issues you have raised in your critique. You have a platform, and it is good that you use it as you do. Others with similar concerns but less presence might not have the same ability to air them as you do.

    I can also appreciate what you observed about the self-perpetuating boards at institutions like Central. That seems different to me, though, than what we are discussing here. With a seminary, you recruit students, who by the nature of the relationship understand that there is expertise the faculty possesses that they do not. By agreeing to be a student, you acknowledge that you are placing yourself under the influence of the professors at least to some degree. In the context of a fellowship, it seems to me that the nature of the relationship is usually more egalitarian. In the case of the FBFI and its structure, however, it is not.

    I realize that there are different problems that can exist in associations where voting and such takes place- but at least in theory, there is potential for those problems to be addressed through the actions of individual members or messengers representing congregations (assuming, of course, they have possession of their messenger cards… heh). More often than not, the affirmation of voting tends to be a formality, but if you don’t have it, especially in a broad, national organization where members don’t all get to know who all the board members are, a sense of disconnectedness can develop.

    Furthermore, if there is a perception that the board appears to be populated by people whose degrees come from the same 2-3 schools, it can be easier to conclude that the identity and unity of the organization is at least as much about shared cultural experiences as it is about shared ideas.

    I should say that though this reply as well as my earlier response may seem hostile to some reading, I don’t intend to be seen as such. Rather, I am trying to offer possible explanations for those currently in positions of influence within the FBFI to consider as to why others are not drawn to their ranks. I would think it a very positive development to see the FBFI expand its influence and ranks- but I think they need to consider the things I mentioned if they wish to do so. A concern with preserving what remains can sometimes turn into the equivalent of the steward who buried his talent rather than investing it. Forward motion requires some measure of risk. That doesn’t justify recklessness, but it does justify careful and calculated changes based on analysis of the circumstances from time to time. Hopefully what you have offered in your critique will be taken in that spirit, as I hope my observations will be as well.

  8. Greg,

    You’re probably right about the limited opportunity that the average pastor (let’s say) has to express an opinion within the FBFI. I’ve got two advantages, one of which you note, i.e., that I have a platform of my own, so that I can be heard when I want to speak. My other advantage is that I just don’t care about all the politics: I’m not trying to climb the ladder (I’ve already turned down a seat on the board), and I’m not relying on these people for my next ministry. Not caring gives me a wonderful sense of liberty. I do not have to be afraid to speak up, because I can’t imagine any way these guys could damage me without the Lord’s permission. Consequently, our conversation is genuinely a conversation among equals.

    The average pastor could make himself heard if he wanted to. Look at Don Johnson. While he now has a seat on the FBFI board, his real influence comes through the blogs that he writes or comments on. At a less public level, any pastor can write letters or make phone calls. I grant you that some FBFI leaders will be inclined to give them the brush-off, but a determined leader can make himself heard whether he has a formal position or not.

    The second factor is the bigger issue. Few young pastors feel that they can afford to alienate the official gatekeepers, and fewer of them wish to be chewed up by the unofficial watchdogs. Every group has its political assassins, but fellowships of individuals (as opposed to associations of churches) tend to give the brokers more direct power. If someone connected with the FBFI were to use his influence to close doors against a younger pastor, or if he were to use his voice to try to besmirch a younger pastor’s character, or if he were even to hint to church members that their younger pastor needed to be fired, that younger pastor could find himself applying for a job a Home Depot.

    Not that such a thing would ever happen, of course. The discussion is purely theoretical, one hundred percent organic, and no animals were harmed in the production of this comment.

  9. Dr. Bauder,

    Thank you for your article. I did not attend the FBFI meeting this year and, therefore, appreciated your helpful report. Wish I was there when the spokesman said that those who prioritized regeneration in the ordo were outside the pale of the FBFI. Dr. McCune clearly taught that regeneration was a theological priority to saving faith. It is clearly documented in his systematic theology. I might add that the New Hampshire Confession of Faith also gives the same theological priority of regeneration to saving faith. How many Baptist churches subscribe to the NHCF in their church documents? Thousands! Is this spokesman suggesting that the most popular Baptist confession of Faith in the United States is outside the parameters of the FBFI? This is ignorance on steroids. Several of the speakers in the workshops and on the platform hold to this theological priority (not chronological).

    I realize that some DBTS profs prioritize these items as illumination, faith, regeneration. Essentially, however, illumination here is the regeneration of the mind. The FBFI doctrinal statement is four points on the Calvinistic scale. Does the FBFI spokesman even know this?

    I think bringing in Sexton was a mistake. He is now speaking at Hammond’s conference. Sexton, to my knowledge, is not even a member of the FBFI. This had to be a political move in order to bridge with Baptist Friends. Disappointing.

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