Kevin T. Bauder
The New Testament Association of Baptist Churches voted itself into existence and adopted a constitution in 1965 at Beth Eden Baptist Church in Denver. The occasion was a gathering of the Conservative Baptist Fellowship, which set aside time during its meeting to initiate the new association. That summer, B. Myron Cedarholm resigned as general director of the old Conservative Baptist Association to take the presidency of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota. The break between the hard core and the Conservative Baptist movement was virtually complete.
The new association held its first annual meeting at Eagledale Baptist Church in Indianapolis during June of 1966. Again it was a combined meeting with the Conservative Baptist Fellowship. Two months before the meeting, a letter from Richard Weeks implied that all messengers would have the opportunity to vote on association business. That letter led to significant confusion.
The problem lay in the new association’s constitution. It stipulated that churches would seek fellowship with the NTA by congregational vote, and only those churches that voted into fellowship would be permitted to authorize messengers. At the time of the Eagledale meeting, only 28 churches had committed to fellowship in the association. The 300-odd messengers who attended actually came from about 120 churches. Those who were authorized to vote constituted a very small minority of the entire assembly.
The opening morning was nearly a disaster. When someone challenged the voting rights of the messengers from churches that had not voted into fellowship, the chair ruled that only messengers from the 28 churches (only 21 of which were actually represented) could vote on association business. This decision led to a good bit of rumbling from the audience, and the Committee of 25 caucused to discuss the matter.
When the afternoon session opened, the committee offered a straightforward apology for the impression created by Weeks’s letter—but still maintained that only messengers from the 21 churches would vote. The committee did concede that all attendees would be permitted to speak to association business. Then someone suggested a further concession: every item of business could be voted twice, once by the whole assembly and then by messengers of the 21 churches. The first vote would be advisory, but the second vote would be binding. This procedure was accepted, and as it turned out, both votes agreed in every instance.
Many, however, were not happy that some messengers could only cast an advisory vote. One of the congregations that had voted into the NTA was the host church, Eagledale Baptist. Before the church could be received into fellowship, Pastor Warren Dafoe stood to announce that he was withdrawing the church’s application. Dafoe’s action created another crisis. In principle, only churches can vote into associational fellowship and only churches can vote out. A pastor does not have the authority unilaterally to override his congregation’s decision. So what to do about Dafoe’s announcement? In the long run, the group decided to accept Dafoe’s word as an expression of the church’s will “in Christian courtesy.” Later the church voted not to fellowship with the NTA.
The assembly then made the provisional constitution permanent. A doctrinal statement based on the New Hampshire Confession was presented, but attendees from San Francisco pointed out that it was so vague that it did not even exclude Pentecostals. Consequently, the association adopted a resolution against the tongues movement and accepted the doctrinal statement as provisional. Over the next year, the statement would be reworked by faculty from San Francisco Baptist Seminary. Allan Williams was elected president and Richard Weeks became vice president. The fellowship’s name was finalized as the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches.
Almost immediately after adjournment, the new NTAIBC board began to hear rumblings that the Eagledale proceedings were unethical. When the board met in October, its irritation was palpable. It passed and published a resolution expressing “deep disappointment and strong resentment” against the complainers. In January, however, the board rescinded the October resolution and published a new one with much more concessive language.
That same month the board of the CBF voted to change that organization’s name to the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. This action clearly signaled a division among the hard core. Worse still, the FBF decided to hold its annual meeting separately from the NTAIBC. The latter organization planned to meet in Rockford, Illinois, on May 17-19, while the FBF scheduled its meeting for Denver on May 23-25. Attendees could go to both meetings, but geography would force most people to choose one or the other.
The FBF published both the October and January resolutions from the NTAIBC board immediately before the annual meetings, underlining the tension between the two groups. Some of the problem was regional. Many Midwestern men thought that leaders from the West (especially the Wenigers) controlled the mission agency. Some even talked of starting yet another new mission. On the other hand, the Westerners believed that the power structure from the old Central Regional had taken over the NTAIBC at Eagledale. Many held Richard Clearwaters of Minneapolis to be responsible.
At the NTAIBC meeting, the San Francisco faculty’s revisions to the statement of faith were accepted. The NTAIBC also adopted a resolution committing itself to a literal interpretation of 24-hour days in the Genesis account of creation. A comparable resolution was narrowly rejected that summer by the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Most in the NTAIBC saw this difference as vindication of their separate organization, especially since the Baptist Bulletin had been spanking them for not joining the GARBC. Wayne Musson became the new president of the NTAIBC, and Richard Weeks continued as vice president.
The FBF kept G. Archer Weniger as president and Mitch Seidler as vice president. In the old CBF the members had elected the board; before long, the new FBF altered the structure to make the board self-perpetuating. In spite of the differences, the rift between the FBF and the NTAIBC was not yet complete. Some individuals were still trying to work in both groups at once. That was about to change.
Richard V. Clearwaters was near the center of power in the NTAIBC. Over the next year, his relationship with B. Myron Cedarholm (president at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College) deteriorated sharply. When Cedarholm left Minnesota to establish Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin, he threw his support exclusively into the FBF. With Clearwaters dominating the NTAIBC and both Cedarholm and the Wenigers prominent in the FBF, the distance between the two groups was rarely bridged.
It would be easy to see this division as a matter of ecclesiastical power and politics. Tempting as it is, that explanation is too facile. A real difference existed between the NTAIBC and the FBFI. That difference is worth exploring in a final discussion.
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.
Dear Lord! Accept a Sinful Heart
William Cowper (1731–1800)
Dear Lord! accept a sinful heart,
Which of itself complains,
And mourns, with much and frequent smart,
The evil it contains.
How eager are my thoughts to roam
In quest of what they love!
But ah! when duty calls them home,
How heavily they move!
Oh cleanse me in a Savior’s blood,
Transform me by Thy power;
Oh make me Thy beloved abode,
And let me rove no more.