Navigating Muddied Waters

A popular perspective of movements shaping fundamentalism from 1880s to the 1920s, being a lightly edited transcript of a series of lectures given for the Adult Bible Fellowship of Tri-Cities Baptist Church during the spring of 2012  (Part 3)

by Dave Sproul

Click here for Part One – and here for Part Two

Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary was founded in 1952 in Denver, Colorado. The founding president, Dr. Vernon Grounds, invited Dr. R. V. Clearwaters pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota to be the inauguration speaker. Four years later in 1956, the New Evangelical trends were so strong at the Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver that Dr. R.V. Clearwaters started Central Conservative Baptist Seminary. The struggle over Biblical separation between those two schools only heightened over the following years.

You may ask, “What is New Evangelicalism?” W. E. Ashbrook wrote an article entitled, “The New Evangelicalism—the New Neutralism.” He warned believers to beware of the New Evangelicalism for four valid reasons. “First, it is a movement born in a spirit of compromise; Second, it is a movement nurtured on the pride of intellect; Third, it is a movement growing on appeasement of evil; And finally, it is a movement doomed by the judgment of God’s Holy Word.”

Dr. Charles Woodbridge, professor at Fuller Seminary for some years, preached Ashbrook’s outline at Dallas Seminary in 1961 when I was a student. The following year I heard him preach the same message at the annual meeting of the Conservative Baptist Association meeting at Cobo Hall in Detroit. By that time there was heightened dissension in the CBA referred to as the “hardcore” / “softcore” controversy. “Hardcore” referred to those who were strong on separation and “softcore” to those who had New Evangelical leanings.

In 1953, six years after its beginning, the CBA met in Portland, Oregon for its annual meeting and passed a strong resolution on Biblical separation called the Portland Manifesto. But the 50s were a time of rapid change. In 1964 the CBA met for its annual meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Dr. Ernest Pickering, a brilliant theologian, president of several schools, pastor of three large churches, and highly acclaimed speaker wrote a report on the 1964 CBA meeting entitled Betrayal on the Boardwalk. Basically the resolution passed in the 1964 meeting undid that which had been established in the Portland Manifesto only eleven years before.

History reveals that a certain percentage of pastors were willing to leave the NBC in 1947 in opposition to unbelief, but when confronted with the New Evangelicalism they were unwilling to separate from disobedient brethren, whomever they may be, who were fellowshipping with unbelief in some manner such as ecumenical evangelism. Previously, the line was clearly drawn between belief and unbelief. The Scriptures were clear. Along came New Evangelicalism and muddied the waters. The line was not as clearly drawn as in the past.

As an illustration, we ask a question. Did Dr. John MacArthur violate Biblical separation in speaking numerous times at the Founder’s Conference of Moody Bible Institute when Moody was clearly New Evangelical? Moody strongly supported Billy Graham in three city campaigns in Chicago where there were numerous liberals and Roman Catholic priests on the platform, and these were a part of the various committees; if someone professed salvation from one of their churches, the counselors were instructed to send them back to the church of their choice.

The question for MacArthur or any Bible-believing pastor became: Can I Scripturally support any ministry that in turn works and fellowships with liberals in some type of an ecclesiastical setting? Is the brother fellowshipping and working with liberals a disobedient brother? If so, will not my presence, fellowshipping and preaching for a disobedient brother not give tacit approval to his actions of publicly working with liberals and Roman Catholics?

In 1986 Dr. James Singleton, founder of Tri City Baptist Church, along with Dr. Ed Nelson of South Sheridan Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado and Dr. Wayne Van Gelderen from Marquette Manor Baptist Church in Downers Grove, Illinois met with Dr. John MacArthur in California for several hours. Drs. Nelson and Van Gelderen came away from the meeting saying they believed Dr. MacArthur was definitely a New Evangelical. Dr. Singleton personally told me that he thought MacArthur was the most dangerous man in America. Why would he say that? No doubt because of his voluminous writings and the large conferences for pastors that he was regularly conducting.

Meanwhile, the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship was manifesting a strong stand on biblical separation in the 80s and 90s. Attendance at regional and annual meetings had never been better. Strong resolutions relating to current issues were well received. Dr. James Singleton was a member of the resolutions committee and then chairman of the resolutions committee for several years. (I, too, had the privilege of being on the resolutions committee for a period of time).

In 1980 the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship met for its annual meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. Hundreds of pastors were assembled. (I was present at that meeting). It unanimously passed a resolution on New Evangelicalism.

The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship believes that the religious movement known as New Evangelicalism has encouraged disobedience to the plain teachings of Scripture concerning separation and that it has changed the message, mood, methods, morals, and music of those who formerly were known as Fundamentalists; and that it is to be rejected by true Fundamentalists. This would include, but not be limited to, new evangelicalism in evangelism as practiced by the Billy Graham, James Robison and Luis Palau crusades; new evangelicalism in education as illustrated by Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary, California Graduate School of Theology; new evangelicalism in campus movements such as Campus Crusade, Young Life, Youth for Christ, and Intervarsity Fellowship; now evangelicalism in publications such as Christian Life and Christianity Today; New Evangelicalism in missions such as Wycliffe Translators, and new evangelicalism in the pastorate such as W. A. Criswell. It is questionable whether some of the above, such as Billy Graham and Fuller Seminary can still be considered merely as New Evangelicals since by their continuing compromises they move toward complete apostasy.

But why would the FBF promote and vote on resolutions pertaining to issues of the day? Is not the posting of a doctrinal statement sufficient? Do we need to mention names?

Obviously, a well-written doctrinal statement is of great importance and verifies the biblical position of a church, a parachurch, or an organization. It occurs at a point in time. However, history is replete with churches, colleges, seminaries, and mission boards who have kept the same doctrinal statement for the past 50 years while they drifted radically to the left. When questioned they will often respond with their doctrinal statement while they are totally undermining their historic position by their practice. Remember, the Bible is our source for faith and practice. A doctrinal statement forthrightly sets forth the “body of faith” we believe is biblical; resolutions declare in an up-to-date manner our practice of declaring and defending our faith.

Resolutions declare the present state of conditions in the affirmative or negative as the voting body deems necessary. It is not a matter of being more spiritual or less spiritual if you vote or do not vote on resolutions. Rather, it is a matter of godly honorable men believing we need to be constantly reaffirming our position to our constituents, other believers, and the unsaved world.

It is disconcerting to hear a vocal minority, mostly young men, denouncing resolutions and thereby assuming they are more spiritual than their forefathers. From the grave methinks I can hear Dr. G. Archer Weniger, Dr. Monroe Parker, Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm and Dr. James Singleton standing firm on the usage of resolutions.

I understand that the FBF is presently discussing the change of terms from “resolutions” to “position papers.” As long as the proposed “position papers” clearly enunciate the biblical position on current day matters, there should be no problem with that.

In this regard we are reminded that wrongdoers in the Bible were often publicly rebuked. Paul openly rebuked Peter to his face when he withdrew himself from Gentile believers. Diotrephes loved the place of preeminence according to the loving John. Alexander the coppersmith did Paul great harm. It was not any coppersmith. It was Alexander.

Was Charles Haddon Spurgeon in error when he rebuked the compromisers in the Down Grade movement by name? Was Dr. Bob Jones Sr. wrong when he publicly denounced Dr. Billy Graham from the chapel platform in 1957 concerning the upcoming New York “57” campaign?

In summation, “resolutions,” “pronouncements,” or “position papers” gives a body of believers the opportunity to publicly declare themselves on pertinent matters of the day that concern the ongoing- ministry of the body of Christ.

Dr. David Sproul is a senior consultant with International Baptist Missions.