December 18, 2017

A Personal Look at Fundamentalism

A farewell interview with Dr. G. Beauchamp Vick, the late patriarch of the Baptist Bible Fellowship

Richard G. Adams

[Proclaim & Defend editorial note: G. Beauchamp Vick was a leader among Fundamentalist Baptists in the middle of the 20th century. He came from the era of ‘big men’ which has been much maligned of late. Perhaps some of the criticisms are justified. Nevertheless, Vick is representative of his era and is especially interesting due to his connections with the (in)famous J. Frank Norris. We discovered this interview in Faith for the Family, published in 1976, shortly after Vick’s death. We republish it here because it gives valuable insight into the past that only eyewitnesses can provide.]

To refer to Dr. George Beauchamp Vick as a great Christian leader would be understatement. His love and labor for the Lord Jesus was monumental, far above what the overworked adjective “great” can describe. Perhaps Kansas City pastor Truman Dollar expressed it best: “G. B. Vick was a maximum leader. He served with a rare combination of strength, grace, and restraint.”

For 25 years, until his home-going September 29, Vick was the guiding force’ of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International, Baptist Bible College (in Springfield, Missouri), and metropolitan Detroit’s huge Temple Baptist Church. Grandson Billy Vick Bartlett depicted him as a “benevolent dictator,” but certainly the emphasis was on “benevolent.”

This Christian statesman’s influence extends back well beyond 1950, and just as surely it will project forward for generations to come, should the Lord tarry. He was unquestionably one of the last strong links with early Fundamentalism.

Shortly before his passing, I had the privilege of chatting with Dr. Vick at length about his 65 years of Christian service-from his salvation in 1910 at the age of nine, through his initial and later association with the “Texas Tornado,” J. Frank Norris, the birth of the BBF, right up to his opinions about Fundamentalism’s present and future status. Some of “Mr. Vick’s” insightful comments are here presented for your perusal.

Adams: Dr. Vick, what was your first contact with Fundamentalism as a movement?

Vick: The first I knew anything about it was the era of tabernacle building. You know, Cadle Tabernacle, Indianapolis; Churchill Tabernacle in Buffalo, New York. There were men who were individualists, and who had some convictions, and they came out of the old-line denominations. The tabernacle movement flourished because there was no other organized place; they became largely nondenominational.

Vick moved in 1920 to Fort Worth, Texas, where he soon joined First Baptist Church, “the Church of the Cattle Kings.” Norris had accepted the call to ride herd there in 1909, and the dynamic orator was making it the outspoken center of Fundamentalism in the South. “Norris was the chief thorn in the sides of the Modernists in the Southern Baptist Convention,” recalled Vick.

Vick’s relationship with the controversial Norris began as superintendent of the elementary department, later moving to the junior department, then joining the full-time staff in 1924. His duties included “a little of everything,” part of which was a daily radio broadcast and “almost all the funerals that were conducted in the First Baptist Church, which at that time was about 10 percent of the population of Fort Worth.”

Adams: You were in Fort Worth with Dr. Norris for about 10 years. Where did you go from there?

Vick: I went into evangelism in 1930. [Evangelist] Wade House came to Fort Worth and held a meeting with another fundamental church there. The song leader got sick, and I had to help him out. I did it for two or three nights and House twisted my arm to go with him. We held city-wide meetings for about six or seven years together. We centered in places like Texas and Kentucky and Tennessee, and we had a very fruitful time.

Mordecai Ham did some arm-twisting, as well, and Vick joined his evangelistic tours briefly. In 1936 they held a revival campaign at Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. Norris was then pastor there, in addition to his duties at First in Fort Worth. Vick’s former boss, who was having some difficulty dividing his time between a pair of congregations more than 1000 miles apart, pressed him to stay on as General Superintendent of the Motor City edifice. In the dozen years following they frequently swapped locations, Vick journeying to Fort Worth while Norris rode north to preach in Detroit. Vick was named co-pastor at Temple in 1948, more a recognition of his responsibilities than it was a promotion.

Adams: Do you think Dr. Norris was trying to bring you in as his successor?

Vick: Yes, no question about it. We had gotten along well for many, many years together. And that was always a wonder to many of our friends because Mr. Norris hadn’t had people who stayed a long time with him.

The Lord blessed the church tremendously. When we started working together at Temple we were averaging 700. And the Lord blessed and we were running over 3000.

He asked me to be in this dual capacity both at the First Church in Fort Worth and Detroit and I didn’t want to do that. Then he asked me to take the [presidency of the] school [Fort Worth’s Bible Baptist Seminary, begun in 1939]. I didn’t want to do that. I said, “I’m not a school man.” But actually he was anxious to get out from under responsibility. He had high blood pressure. He said the doctor insisted that he turn it over to somebody, and I guess he couldn’t get anyone else. And the school was in the red; I think he wanted me to get them out of the financial jam.

I took the school down there for two years [1948-50]. And I told him it will mean our break if I do. And he said “No, it won’t.” I said, “Yes, it will. If I take the responsibility, I’m going to have the authority.”

He and I didn’t have the same ideas at times, as you know. His idea was to stay as far in debt as you could all the time. That hurt my Scot’s soul. He used to say borrow as much as you can, the Lord’s going to come before it comes due. They owed everybody in the country.

I insisted that the trustees go over every financial report — every penny expenditure and every penny received. I tried to establish confidence and put the Seminary on a different basis.

After Vick had liquidated much of the school’s indebtedness, the aging Norris decided it was time to resume command. That was in1950, the year of the break between Vick and Norris, the year of the split in the World Baptist Fellowship, the furor which led to the formation of the Baptist Bible Fellowship.

Adams: How did the break take place?

Vick: Mr. Norris tried first to undermine. Some of the pastors said my train wouldn’t be outside the city limits of Fort Worth before he would start trying to undermine me. And then it just got so there was friction. I told him, “Life’s too short to live in a constant friction.” I said, “If you want it [control of the Seminary], I’ll be glad to let you have it. Personalities are not worth splitting fellowship about.”

Adams: How did he specifically try to undermine your position?

Vick: He changed the by-laws. They never had been approved by the trustees of the school. I’d never seen them. The directors of the World Baptist Fellowship had never seen them. It hadn’t been voted on by the pastors. He just put them in on his own. And the new by-laws gave Mr. Norris veto power.

On Tuesday [May 23, 1950, at the annual meeting of the WBF] the showdown came. On Monday after noon he had spoken for about an hour, and I spoke for about an hour and a half. I had pretty well the whole thing documented.

A preacher from Florida got up and. suggested that they appoint a committee to investigate the new by-laws. Norris said, “This is my church and no committee’s going to do a thing about it.” That was when we had two test votes, and we beat them about 80 percent to 20 percent. So then our men decided they wanted to hold a meeting to organize.

Vick, John Rawlings, Wendell Zimmerman, W. E. Dowell, and a majority of the pastors present met at the Texas Hotel in Fort Worth on Wednesday and formed the Baptist Bible Fellowship, Baptist Bible College, and the Baptist Bible Tribune. Then they adjourned to a church in Denton, 35 miles away, to continue the meeting. On September 5, Baptist Bible College opened its doors in Springfield, Missouri, to 107 students, with Vick as the unanimously elected president.

Adams: Did you build the school from scratch, or did you take over some existing buildings in Springfield?

Vick: Well, we bought five acres, a city park. (We have about 35 acres now.) That summer we started our first dormitory. We had our classrooms in the High Street Baptist Church. Dr. Bill Dowell was pastor. He was president of the new fellowship. We then built buildings as fast as we could.

Adams: Remembering the break so vividly, what would you say was J. Frank Norris’ contribution to American Fundamentalism?

Vick: Oh, a tremendous contribution. He preached the pure Gospel. And he was a master at handling a crowd. If things came up — I’ve seen him speaking where the opposition was strong — he could sway a crowd. You can’t understand it, but he was able to cope with any situation that came up.

Mr. Norris made a tremendous contribution to the work at Temple Baptist Church, too. I don’t know of any other man in the world in that generation or now that could have built the Temple Baptist Church and gotten the attention of the fifth largest city in the country as he did.

He not only made a great contribution, he helped many a preacher who was contemporaneous with him -especially the young preachers. But he also left in his wake many a broken-hearted preacher and many a preacher that left the ministry.

Adams: Do we have a problem today with people following men?

Vick: Oh, yes.

Adams: And then when the man is gone …

Vick: Yes, I think that’s especially true concerning those men who are known as independent pastors, those not associated with any work. I was out in California some time ago and a man came up to me and said, “I met you 17 years ago. Do you know what you said to me?” I said, “No telling.” He said, “I introduced myself and gave you my name and said I was pastor of an independent Baptist church. And 17 years ago you said, ‘I’m just as independent as you are; I’m just not an isolationist.’”

Adams: Is there a danger, on the other hand, of fellowships or associations developing a ‘conventionism’ attitude?

Vick: That’s purely rationalization to excuse isolation. We lean over backwards toward the autonomy and the independence of every church. That’s cardinal with us. And we’re just as much against ‘conventionism’ now as ever. More so, perhaps, because the Southern Baptist Convention has gone farther downgrade than it was when we started.

Adams: One of the weaknesses of early Fundamentalism was the preacher-dictator. Are there men today who feel that they, as pastor, are sovereign in their church? Or have Fundamentalists moved more toward a committee-oriented organization?

Vick: I think if the children of Israel had been run by a committee they’d still be in the wilderness. Our churches have strong leadership, not dictators, but they do have strong leadership. There are a few dictators, but they’re not common. We have 2400 churches in our fellowship and in so many of the instances they are the most influential and the largest churches in their respective areas. Now that’s not God’s only test, but they are under the blessing of the Lord — they’re prospering, and the pastors do exercise strong leadership.

Personally, I try to keep my people in touch with what’s going on. I tell them if it’s great I want them to rejoice with me; if it’s bad I want them to get under the load with me.

Adams: Do you think the people in the churches, the laymen, feel a part of the movement? Do they feel that they’re Fundamentalists?

Vick: Oh, they feel they’re Fundamentalists, sure. Our fundamental churches, our people, are indoctrinated, and they know why we’re separatists and why we’re not in and of the compromising movement, why we’ve heeded the Scripture, “Come out from among them” (II Corinthians 6:17) and “neither be partaker of other men’s sins” (I Timothy 5:22).

Adams: One of the charges leveled against Fundamentalists is that we are too negative, that we attack others unnecessarily. Is this true?

Vick: Not in our own work. We don’t give near as much time to answering charges. We take our stand against compromise and false doctrines and things of that sort. But most of our time and energy is taken up in getting out after lost people. Trying to win them to Christ is a positive thing. I think there’s more emphasis on winning the lost among Fundamentalists than there ever has been since New Testament days.

Adams: What do you see as problems confronting present-day Fundamentalism?

Vick: The same problem that’s confronted Christianity all through the years — the world is no more a friend of Christ than it was when they hung Him on a cross. There’s not particularly any new problems. There’s more compromise perhaps. In among the “New Evangelicals” I think there’s more compromise in people who we used to consider stalwarts of the Faith. But that always has been true to some extent. There were compromisers in the early church. We just know about those of this generation.

Adams:· Will Fundamentalism grow in the future?

Vick: Well, Jesus asked that question: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). And He will. Now I don’t know whether it’s going to grow or not. It has been. Our fellowship has grown. We started out with 150 churches. Now we have 2400. And the churches have grown as well as the number of churches has grown.

Adams: Does Fundamentalism have an influence; will it continue to have an influence on society?

Vick: I think we have practically the only righteous influence that’s being exerted today. The Modernists, they’re not mad at anybody; they don’t have enough conviction to stand against anything much. Separatist Fundamentalists, those who have come out, I would say, are having the greatest impact in their own areas of any group.

This article was originally published by Faith for the Family in its January/February 1976 issue. We republish it here by permission.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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