January 19, 2018

Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

J. C. Massee, D. D.

President at the Pre-Convention Conference
Buffalo, New York, June 21, 1920
Opening Address

With this article we commence the publication of the messages published in Baptist Fundamentals. Last week we posted the Introduction which explains what the book is about and how the messages contained in it came about. We also included an introduction provided by the editor of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives (Maranatha Baptist University) explaining the electronic publication of this work.

The first message is the opening address given by J. C. Massee, President of the Pre-Convention Conference of the what was to become the Fundamental Fellowship. In it you will discover ambitions and values that remain the of concern to the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International to this day. The old connection to the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Convention) is long gone, but the concerns and goals remain the same.

Brethren, this is the Call which is responsible for this Conference:

To all Baptists within the Bounds of the Northern Convention:


We view with increasing alarm the havoc which rationalism is working in our churches as evidenced by the drift upon the part of many of our ministers from the fundamentals of our holy faith. The teaching in many of our educational institutions is proving disastrous to the faith of the young men and women who are to be the leaders of the future. A widespread and growing worldliness has crept into the churches, a worldliness which has robbed us of power and brought upon us open shame.

We believe that there rests upon us as Baptists an immediate and urgent duty to restate, reaffirm, and reemphasize the fundamentals of our New Testament faith. Beyond all doubt the vast majority of our Baptist people are as loyal as were our fathers to our Baptist principles and our Baptist policy, but this loyalty will not long continue, unless something is done to stay the rising tide of liberalism and rationalism and to preserve our principles in their simplicity and purity.

Therefore, acting upon our own initiative as your brethren, we issue this call for a conference on “The Fundamentals of Our Baptist Faith,” to be held in the Delaware Avenue Baptist Church of Buffalo, from 7 p. m., Monday, June 21, to 9.30 p. m., Tuesday, June 22. These dates immediately precede the meeting of the Northern Baptist Convention.

All Baptists within the bounds of the Northern Convention are invited to attend this Conference. Let increasing prayer be made for the guidance and favor of God.

The Committee issuing this Call is a self-appointed Committee. We acted entirely upon our own initiative.

In the minds of the members of the Committee responsible for the program of this Conference its purpose is purely that of conference. It is not legislative. We trust that your courtesy and forbearance will permit the Conference to proceed along the lines for which it was called.

The constituency of this Conference is purely a voluntary one. It is not a delegated assembly. It is not responsible to any one. We are here because we have chosen to come. Our deliberations and conclusions will be those we voluntarily reach. The design of the Conference is to furnish a forum open to all Baptists in the interests of the time-honored, historic fundamentals of our Baptist and New Testament faith. In other years, in connection with the meetings of the Northern Baptist Convention, certain small groups have constituted themselves steering committees of the Convention and have assumed for themselves responsibilities to determine in secret conference courses of action for the whole body. We propose that this Conference shall differ radically both from that conception and from those efforts. If influences are begotten here which shall be carried into the Convention, if conclusions are reached here which would seek to influence action in the Convention then all Baptists in the bounds of the Northern Baptist Convention, having open access to the Conference, may have privilege of participation in its counsels and thus in determining its influence upon the Convention. For that reason our call was directed and addressed to “all Baptists in the Northern Baptist Convention.”

Regarding the reason for and timeliness of this call to conference, we who issued it are assured that some of our treasured historic fundamentals of the faith are in jeopardy. The situation in our schools and seminaries is critical. The faculty of a school or seminary may be nine-tenths sound, sensible, and spiritual, but if such school permits the presence and the unrestricted teachings of even one or two men in the faculty who undermine the faith, upset the convictions, and alienate the hearts of the students, that institution becomes and remains unsafe until it has purged itself of that source of pernicious percolating poison. We do not acknowledge the necessity of furnishing specific cases wherein this situation obtains, though we are quite able to do that. Everybody knows of the present drift away from the ancient landmarks, of the present tendency toward modernism in theology and rationalism in philosophy, as well as the wide-spread materialism in life which has long since passed the point where it is simply disturbing, and has reached a condition which can only be described as destructive.

We are, we believe, justly concerned at the presence in our schools of the radical, scientific attitude of mind toward the Bible, of the materialistic evolutionary theory of life and the extreme propaganda in behalf of the gospel of social betterment in substitution for the gospel of individual regeneration.

We are equally distressed, and justly so, at the growing tendency on the part of some ministers and laymen to advocate openly the practical abandonment of the historic ordinances of the church and the creation of an open church-membership. This advocacy appears in many modifications of opinion, from those who advocate a simple liberal construction of Baptist policy and practice to those who would make the church of Christ equally the home of all men who have a semblance of reverence for God without further distinction of creed or further demand upon life, and apart from any vital faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been uneasy in the presence of these demands of liberalism as an indication that some among us would join those from without our Baptist circles, who insistently pursue the vain purpose to promote organic church union throughout Christendom, beginning with Protestantism, and the discarding of all distinctive principles, practices, and preachings.

To some of us at least, there is serious menace in the fact that practically all our schools seeking support from the churches represented by the Southern Baptist Convention, are beyond even the indirect control of those churches through the Convention. Self-perpetuating boards of trustees easily entrench men in positions of responsibility as teachers, who maintain their positions on the ground of pleasing personality, personal friendships, or even family ties, or in the interest of New Theology and the modernistic view of our Christian faith and the Christian church. We covet the frank discussion of this situation. A recent editorial in The Baptist indicates that not only the promoters of this conference, but the leaders of the denomination at large recognize the necessity for immediate and serious attention to the situation in our schools. For the schools are the fountains from which all our youth must slake their thirst for knowledge and receive the life refreshings of their intellectual and moral faculties. To change the figure, our schools are the hotbeds from which we must in future years continue to transplant the individual slips that in the field of our activities will grow into the leaders of our denominational life. What should be done in this situation? What can we do? Let us take counsel together.

Responsibility for the language of the Call as printed is in the Brooklyn Committee.

Responsibility for the Conference belongs to them and to those who signed the Call, the consent of every signer having been obtained before his signature was affixed.

Responsibility for the program itself belongs to the Brooklyn Committee.

What shall be said by the individual speakers on the program is to be determined by those speakers alone, and responsibility for their utterances will be theirs as the responsibility for all utterances from the floor of this Conference will belong to those who make utterance. In that connection, it is perhaps wise to say now that the chairman of this committee, having been asked by the committee to preside during the sessions of this Conference, will tolerate no interruptions of speakers. Since ample opportunities of open forum for discussion have been provided, criticisms, questions, and other temptations to interruption must be held in abeyance until the hour of the open forum.

The Brooklyn Committee has earnestly desired that the Conference should adhere to the purpose expressed in the Call, to restate, reaffirm, and reemphasize the fundamentals of our New Testament faith. The Conference is called frankly and openly in the interest of the conservative interpretation of our historic position and principles. While we would earnestly say, “Cursed be he that removeth the ancient landmarks,” yet we would not write nor consent to the writing of a formal creed. Orthodoxy, like the virtue of a woman, need not be, indeed cannot be, defined, but when once lost leaves an ineradicable taint upon those who have departed therefrom. Therefore we would seek to save our Baptist family from the disastrous results of a departure from the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and we would save them before they are lost.

We believe in the essential loyalty of the great mass of Baptists to the New Testament. We are willing to trust the body of believers in our Baptist brotherhood. We are not seriously concerned for them except that they shall be supplied with and assured of the proper leadership; “Like priest, like people.” The multitude can be led astray by false teachers who are willing still to maintain the terminology of orthodoxy while injecting into it a new content which, when finally understood by those who have given their confidence to leaders employing it, will have subverted the faith of the people and will have instituted a final apostasy disastrous at once to the church and to the world.

If we would save them, we must cease now to let Philistine teachers plow with our educational heifer, lest our denominational Samson, stripped of the goodly garments of his faith and virtue, fall under the witchery of a scholastic Delilah, and be permanently shorn of his strength, blinded as to his spiritual eyes, and bound to the unspeakable service of godless and mocking masters.

Some years ago I stood in the tropical gardens surrounding Tampa Bay Hotel in the city of Tampa, Florida. Among other things of special interest apart from the varied flora of the garden, was a cage filled with chattering, laughing, prank-playing monkeys. Some practical joker had thrust into this very large cage one big, sadly distressed cat. The poor cat was very anxious to leave the cage. There were friends on the outside quite willing to aid his escape. Again and again the door of the cage was opened, and the cat invited to come forth. He made many attempts to do so. But every time, just as he reached the point from which he could escape, a watchful monkey, supported by his own caudal appendage from the transverse bar above the cage door, reached down and, catching the cat by the tail, ignominiously flung him back across the cage. I was never more amused, hardly ever more filled with sympathy at the situation of a helpless victim than at the situation of that cat.

The incident has many times been reproduced in my mind. Even now it provides a rather adequate illustration of the situation in which we find ourselves. Our educational cages contain many scholastic monkeys, who with Darwinian complacency confess their parentage. A student in such an institution is like the cat in the Tampa Bay cage, with the ridiculous hand of some evolutionist upon the tail of his religious beliefs. It seems to me high time for us to take the hands of our theological, philosophic, and scientific monkeys off the tail of our denominational convictions.

We are often asked why we should concern ourselves with what others teach. We are told that the truth will take care of itself. That is just a new specious phase of the appeal for personal liberty made by all destroyers of the rights and securities of others. It belongs at once to the Model Liquor License League and the liberal modernist in school and church. Even if we were willing to let them alone, they will not let us alone! Like all German philosophy, theirs is at once a philosophy of materialism and of conquest. I am reminded of an incident which aptly illustrates what I wish to say. Our street-cars in New York are often crowded to the point of practical suffocation. We are so crowded together that we can neither move nor see in any direction save at those angles from which with immovable bodies we are able to turn our heads. In that situation some time ago, a woman sought to find the pocket of her dress in which she had buttoned her purse. Her first effort failed. The gentleman sitting at her right, against whom she was hopelessly wedged, since he could not rise, courteously offered to assist her. She courteously refused his assistance. A second time she tried, and a second time he proffered his help. Again she declined. When he offered the third time to help her in her unavailing search, she became indignant. He apologized for his repeated offers, saying, “Madam, I would not annoy you, nor persist in my efforts to help you find your pocket, but you have already three times unbuttoned my suspenders.” Now the trouble with the men who endanger our denominational integrity is that in their vain search for their own pockets of privilege, they are unbuttoning the suspenders of our security.

When we are told that it is idle to protest, we have this to say, “We shall see whether it be vain or not.” When we are advised that a protest now is inopportune, we ask, When shall we call attention to the situation and make a stand against it? When all our schools have been captured by liberalism? When our denominational machinery is under the control of the modernists, and when our people generally have been delivered to the teachings of the radical theologians in their pulpits?

In making such a protest and inviting such a conference as this, are we enemies of our organized work? We do not fear a comparison of our activities as expressed in our churches with any others. We invite attention to any utterance of ours expressing disloyalty to our denomination or to our Convention. If we at any time have seemed to be out of sympathy with any effort of the denomination, that sympathy has been withdrawn not from the denomination nor from the Convention, but from individual leaders who have undertaken to exercise lordship in a situation which demanded more wisdom and more courtesy than they were able to find for it.

What is to be the effect of this Conference on the Convention? That is altogether problematical; that is beyond our computation or our control. We cannot escape carrying into the Convention the impressions and conclusions which this Conference may beget. Of this be assured, we will not carry into the Convention because of this Conference, any less loyalty, affection, and fraternity, but more of all these than ever before. We will not go with swords sharpened to conflict, but with spirits prayerfully called to unity on the basis of our historic evangelical Baptist faith.

Therefore, in formally opening this Conference, I voice the earnest prayer and constant desire of the men who have called it and of the Brooklyn Committee who have arranged for it, that we may here abide in the bonds of unity in Christ our Lord, and that the results of our Conference may be to his glory, the furtherance of his gospel in the earth, and the further establishment of those great truths, dear to our fathers, and to us as dear as life itself.

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