Diligence required; liberalism lurking
Missouri leader recalls SBC conservative resurgence
By Bob Baysinger
August 17, 2004
KANSAS CITY – One Missouri Baptist who played a key role in the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) conservative resurgence 25 years ago says conservatives need constantly to be aware of the magnetic pull of liberalism.
“I thank God for the last 25 years,” said Fred Powell, former pastor of Pisgah Baptist Church, Excelsior Springs, and current interim pastor at Oakwood Baptist Church, Kansas City. “But Bible-believing Baptists need to be diligent. Diligence is the key.
“The general drift for the convention will be to the left. If we let down now – if we get careless – it will happen again. It’s almost like a magnetic pull that we have to resist. This young generation coming along doesn’t know the price that was paid or care. And it will happen again.”
Powell found himself drawn into the struggle for Bible inerrancy at the SBC level after getting involved in efforts to remove a Baptist college professor who was quoted in the Kansas City Star as saying he did not believe in a personal devil.
“In 1977, I brought a doctrinal integrity resolution against William Jewell College to the Missouri Baptist Convention that was meeting in Kansas City,” Powell said. “We lost by 12 votes. Larry Lewis teamed up with me and we brought it before the 1978 meeting in St. Louis. That was the year that we passed a resolution stating that the Bible is without error scientifically, theologically, philosophically and historically.
“I was contacted by Paige Patterson, who was at Criswell College at the time, and asked me if I would serve as a lieutenant for the conservative forces in Missouri and help rally the people here.”
In an Aug. 10 interview with The Pathway, Powell said he doesn’t regret for one moment being involved in the conservative resurgence.
“Without the resurgence, the SBC would have gone more and more the way of other mainline denominations. It was an insidious sliding away from the inerrancy of the Word of God. Inerrancy was — and is still — the issue. It wasn’t women in the ministry and any other side-road issue. Inerrancy and infallibility are the main issues.”
The conservative resurgence in the SBC set the stage for similar movements in state conventions like Missouri which were wrought with moderate leadership buoyed by a supportive news media and in many cases a network of sympathetic directors of missions and pastors. Theological conservatives in Missouri had been active through the early 1990s, but had been unable to stem liberal influences throughout the convention and its institutions. The movement finally took flight in the “Show Me” state in 1998 when conservatives under the banner of Project 1000 launched a five-year plan to gain control of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board. It was the means by which the overwhelming majority of pastors and lay leaders in the state united to win five consecutive presidential elections and thus gain control of the MBC Executive Board. The Executive Board oversees the nomination of trustees to the convention’s various agencies. The Project 1000 movement was so powerful that it forced moderate MBC Executive Director Jim Hill out of office and threw moderate trustees at the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist College, Word & Way, The Baptist Home and Windermere Baptist Conference Center into a state of panic that led them to illegally alter their charters by voting to make their boards self-perpetuating. That in turn has triggered a two-year legal battle that has reached the Western Division of the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City.
Although the conservative resurgence in Missouri did not reach its zenith until some two decades after it began at the SBC level, Powell’s actions 20 years earlier began having an impact in Missouri. After the 1978 state convention at St. Louis, conservative pastors felt as if there should be a follow-up on the colleges like William Jewell to see if they were adhering to the inerrancy resolution. Conservative leaders began meeting at a Columbia restaurant to stay abreast of what progress was being made.
The professor who had been quoted in the Star subsequently retired and two Bible professors at another Missouri Baptist college went elsewhere.
Powell said the most important aspect of the conservative victories in the SBC and MBC included winning control of the schools, including the seminaries.
“The key factor had to be the seminaries,” Powell said. “We had problems with them. If we didn’t get the seminaries, we would still be turning out bad products. Some people say this was just a political preacher fight. But it wasn’t. It was a fight for the life of our denomination. Biblical truth is not up for grabs; it is not up for debate.
“I still hear it said that it’s all about interpretation of the Word. Interpretation has nothing to do with it. Eschatology, of course, has its different views. And I am dogmatic about creation, but I realize there is room for discussion about time and days. But there is no room for discussion when it comes to the inerrancy of Scripture.”
Not all Southern Baptists jumped on the conservative bandwagon when Powell joined with other conservatives to launch the resurgence.
“There were about 36 state entities – each of them having its own personality,” Powell said. “Some were with us; some were not. Some claimed to be moderates and others liberal. But I didn’t care one way or another. If someone does not believe the first 11 chapters of Genesis, I would call them liberal.”
Powell is convinced that conservative, Bible-believing Baptists far outnumber liberals. He said his thinking was substantiated by the Project 1000 strategy in Missouri.
“They (liberals) have one number (of votes) they can reach in Missouri,” Powell explained. “I’ve never seen them get over 900 (votes at a state convention) unless there was a really hot issue. But there is no question that we need to stay diligent.
“There are no blatant signs now that there will be a liberal resurgence in Missouri or at the SBC level, but apathy allows for that. Apathy is what comes when we let down. We get so busy with church buildings, budgets and baptism that we let down the guard.
“Appointments are the key, and it isn’t just as matter of getting a man or woman who is conservative. It is a matter of making appointments of men and women who understand the issues and will be aware of the cunning of the other side.”