Very few of the current organizations within Baptist fundamentalism existed before the 1920s. Of those, I know of only one that was actually founded before the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Churches in the USA). This grandfather fellowship among fundamental Baptists is the Minnesota Baptist Association.
For decades, the legal name of the MBA was the Minnesota Baptist Convention. It used to be the state Baptist convention in Minnesota. For some years, it did business as the Minnesota Baptist Association until the legal name was changed to match the label that everybody knew.
Two men deserve much of the credit for anchoring the MBA to a fundamentalist position. The first is W. B. Riley, long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Under Riley’s pastorate, First Baptist became one of the capitals of fundamentalism and was easily the most influential church in the state convention. When liberals tried to take control of the machinery, Riley fought them off and held the organization true to the faith.
The other key figure is Richard Volley Clearwaters, pastor at Fourth Baptist Church of Minneapolis from 1940 until his retirement in 1982. A younger protégé of Riley, Clearwaters joined him in the battle against liberalism. When neoevangelicalism emerged during the 1950s, Clearwaters championed the fundamentalist cause and held the convention to a separatist position.
Some of those struggles were costly. Both liberal and neoevangelical churches left the Minnesota convention. Some opted not to affiliate with any other group. Some sought fellowship in less separatistic organizations. At the end of the day, however, “Doc” (as Clearwaters was called) was proud that in Minnesota, fundamentalists “not only saved the faith, but also the furniture.”
The Minnesota Baptist Association still counts around fifty congregations in its fellowship. As might be expected, many of them are concentrated around Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Nevertheless, vigorous churches from every quadrant of the state participate in the association. Some participate more than others, as is fitting under Baptist polity. The Minnesota Baptist Association is the creation of the churches, which are free to involve themselves in its activities or not as they wish.
This year’s 156th annual meeting of the Minnesota Baptist Association was held at First Baptist Church of Marshall, where Greg Linscott is the pastor. Marshall is located in the southwest corner of Minnesota, facilitating involvement by some of the smaller congregations in that region. They came in strength, along with other churches from around the state, filling the auditorium at First Baptist.
The conference speaker was Pastor Mike Harding from Troy, Michigan—a pastor who represents the kind of fundamentalism with which Minnesota Baptists wish to identify. Harding’s sermons took the shape of expositions that focused upon biblical characters. Music was provided by First Baptist and included a choir of Karens from Myanmar. The Karens were the people most touched by the ministry of Adoniram Judson. Under persecution from the government, many of them have immigrated to the United States, and a considerable number have settled around Marshall. Listening to believers who trace their spiritual heritage directly to Judson was a remarkable experience indeed.
For several years the association has had no full-time field representative. The last person who held the position full time thought that the association would be better served if he devoted himself to planting churches, so he led the board to change the name of the position to “State Missionary.” He never did plant a church, but he did rescue a faltering work and became its pastor. He was succeeded by Robert Fuller, Sr., a retired pastor who was able to devote himself to the work of the association only part time. For some years now, the fellowship has been searching for a full-time state missionary who would function primarily as a field representative.
This summer the Minnesota Baptist Association extended an invitation to Dr. Robert Fuller, Jr., to become its state missionary, and he accepted the position. He will operate the association’s office and publish the association’s periodical, the North Star. His main responsibility, however, will be to encourage pastors and churches, both inside and outside the fellowship of the MBA.
For decades, most of the pastors of MBA churches have been trained at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Many of the fellowship’s older pastors came up under Clearwaters’ influence (the new state missionary is among them), and they have been the backbone of the organization. A growing body of younger men received their preparation under the presidencies of Ernest Pickering and Doug McLachlan.
With the generational change has come a shift in emphasis. The fellowship is as strongly separatist as ever—perhaps more so. But its primary interest has moved away from politics and polemics and toward ministry. The current generation of pastors is most interested in strengthening churches of like faith and order, regardless of whether they share the same organizational ties. So MBA churches are reaching out both to Minnesota Regular Baptist churches and to unaffiliated Baptist churches that share the same principles. The result is a pulling together of Baptist fundamentalists within Minnesota, a phenomenon not often seen in today’s ecclesiastical climate.
The MBA faces the same challenges that most of fundamentalism is facing. To a greater degree than most, however, it is under the leadership of younger men who understand the environment in which they find themselves. They are men of integrity and courage, men who have a heart for God and a yearning to see His work flourish. Like the fundamentalist movement as a whole, the MBA may not take the same shape in the future that it has in the past. Nevertheless, under their leadership it is being guided by sound and biblical principle.
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.
Thy Word, O Lord
Albert Midlane (1825–1909)
Thy Word, O Lord, Thy precious Word alone,
Can lead me on;
By this, until the darksome night be gone,
Lead Thou me on!
Thy Word is light, Thy Word is life and power;
By it, oh, guide me in each trying hour.
Whate’er my path, led by the Word, ’tis good,
Oh, lead me on!
Be my poor heart Thy blessèd Word’s abode,
Lead Thou me on!
Thy Holy Spirit gives the light to see,
And leads me to Thy Word, close following Thee.
Led by aught else, I tread a devious way,
Oh, lead me on!
Speak, Lord, and help me ever to obey,
Lead Thou me on!
My every step shall then be well defined,
And all I do according to Thy mind.