December 16, 2017

Dr. Ed Nelson On Separation

In the last part of my interview (and see here) with Dr. Nelson, we touched on the subject of separation. Dr. Nelson was involved in several critical struggles for the fundamentalist philosophy during his ministry. He was in the center of battles over the New Evangelicalism in the Conservative Baptist Association. His experience underscores the need for diligence among God’s people as we are confronted by error in many forms. He speaks to us concerning the approach we need to have when standing for the faith. More information on some of the particulars he addresses can be found in a history of Baptist World Mission, by Fred Moritz, Now Is The Time.

P&D: I want to change topics a bit. I listened to your birthday sermon at Red Rocks Baptist Church, at least the highlights of it, a few weeks ago. That’s where I got the idea to do this interview. You had mentioned the controversy that occurred with the Conservative Baptist Association. I wonder if you could expand on that a bit, maybe offer some lessons that should be preserved from that, and also do you think younger preachers today have an adequate appreciation of these lessons?

Dr. N: No, I don’t think so. I think that they assume it is all about the Billy Graham issue [and nothing more].

I think the way we stood on the Billy Graham issue, well, today the issues may be the same though the names may be different. But the issues are still there and it all involves the issue of separation. It comes to this, is separation a doctrine of the Bible or is it a preference of the preacher? Is it just something we don’t need to abide by? The issues today are the same. I see it in the fundamental churches that are plagued with problems today. They haven’t defined the issues.

Now, the Conservative Baptist Association of Colorado is where the division of the Conservative Baptist movement began. The reason for that was the Seminary was founded in Denver. It was a new evangelical seminary, it was headed the wrong direction, and it was here where we could see it first hand and see new evangelicalism at work. There were two men in the state who led the group out. I should say that included me and the other was Wayne Van Gelderen. We decided something ought to be done. Now, we weren’t alone. There were a lot of other fellows involved. When we divided the Association, when we finally had the vote to pull out of the Association, the vote was 60 to 32. The 32 were the ones who wanted to stay in the Association and the 60 were those who said we wanted to stay true to the Bible. That group of 60 stood in that day. I suppose we should have maybe tried to hold them together, I wasn’t too much for doing that at that time, maybe we should have, I don’t know.

I started fellowshipping with the BBF, Baptist Bible Fellowship group, but I realized I wasn’t one of them either. They didn’t always hold exactly the positions I held, so I just went independent. Many of the others [also] went independent and then the New Testament Association was founded. It was never very strong, I think it is good association and try to do a good job, but I never did join it, maybe I should have.

The Billy Graham issue was a big issue at that time, but another issue was the Mission Boards. That was what precipitated the division of the Conservative Baptist movement. The Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Board and the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Board were patterned after the American Baptist Convention and they did not want to take a stand on the issues of separation and issues of the second coming or the pre-trib position. The executives of the Mission Boards were undermining the churches and pastors who did not agree with new evangelicalism. They would say to the Women’s Missionary Society or whoever they could get with and say, “You need to get rid of the pastor and get one of our men in. That was going on here in Colorado very definitely.

The battles were very difficult. I remember one time my wife said to me, “How can you stand going to another one of those meetings? I don’t see how you can take it.” One time we had a meeting at Beth Eden Baptist Church, we had two groups of people, one was called the “Hard Core” and the other was the “Soft Core.” The Soft Core were the compromisers and the Hard Core were those of us who stood for the issues and standing on the Bible. When it came time for the discussion, [laughing] we had a line for the Soft Core to line up and a line for the Hard Core to line up. We lined up and waited for our turn, we’d have one Soft Core speaker and then one Hard Core. I remember a fellow named [xxxx] was up speaking and I was next in line on our side. He was on the Soft Core side. a good man, but just misled. He looked over at me and said, “Nelson, are you going to speak next?” I said, “I plan to, sir.” He said, “Honey, get out of that pew, I’m going to walk off this platform and we are going to walk out of this building, I can’t stand to hear this man speak!” [laughter] She got up, and out the door they walked. Then I got up and spoke my part.

I remember one time we were meeting in First Baptist Lakewood and we had invited Jack Hyles to speak. He was kind of popular with us guys at that time, we later definitely had to break from him, but at that time we had him in to speak. There were a number of the Seminary guys there in the meeting. When Jack Hyles was introduced to speak, every Seminary guy that was at the meeting pulled out a newspaper in front of their faces, held it up and rattled it as if they were reading the paper and rattling it. They did that the whole time Jack Hyles was preaching, so we heard this rattling all over the auditorium. These Seminary guys were rattling these newspapers. So that’s how bitter the battle was.

We finally got to the vote and voted 60 to 32 to divide the Association. The 32 went with the Conservative Baptists and most of those churches have gone the whole distance into new evangelicalism. I don’t know of any of them that takes a rightful stand today. Now on our side, the problem was with the 60 that they were so used to fighting that they kept on fighting among each other. So when we’d get together they’d still want to fight, so some of us just went independent to stay away from that fighting spirit.

The issue [then] was the same as the issues today. The issue was separation and are we going to be a separated people.

In those days, there was a pastor Clearwaters at Fourth Baptist in Minneapolis. His attitude was, “Fellows, don’t let them have the furniture. When we leave this, we want the furniture, we don’t want them getting the furniture.” In Colorado, we let them have the furniture. We thought, they can have the office, they can have the Mission Boards, we’re not going to fight for that. We were willing to be independent and stand alone. And out of that Baptist World Mission [also see here] was organized as the [World Conservative Baptist Mission]. We eventually wanted to be clear we weren’t part of the Conservative Baptists so we finally made it the Baptist World Mission as it is today.

P&D: In the area of separation, I think a lot of young people have a hard time with it. How do we communicate these things to them?

Dr. N: Well we must teach the Word of God. The Bible does say “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” We must teach it, and we must teach that separation is a doctrine, not a preference. It starts way back in the book of Genesis, when God separated the waters from the waters, and you can follow that all the way through the Bible. For example, Genesis chapter 34, it has to do with Jacob’s daughter Dinah and the brothers insisted that the Canaanites be circumcised to join with them. And Shechem and his father said to their people, “If we will do this, think of all the possessions that will be ours, we’ll gain if we join with them.” The world’s attitude is there revealed. They will try to make a compromiser out of you, as they did in Nehemiah’s day. They tried to make a compromiser out of Nehemiah. Nehemiah refused to come down, he determined to stand.

We do need to stand for the Biblical doctrine of separation. It is vital. Somehow we’re getting more and more away from that today.

P&D: Thank you very much, Dr. Nelson. I just want to say I’ve always appreciated your ministry since I first heard you preach at Bob Jones University when I was a student there in the seventies. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Part OnePart Two ♦ This is Part Three

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