December 17, 2017

Comments on An Unexpected Message

Don Johnson

Editorial note: We are in the midst of a series of posts from the messages delivered at the Pre-Convention Conference of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1920. From the Conference the Fundamental Fellowship was formed which is today known as the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The messages from the conference were published in a book called Baptist Fundamentals. The book has been digitized by Maranatha Baptist University and is available as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives collection in Logos format, available here. Links to previous posts will appear at the end of this post.

This post is a commentary on the last message posted.

After a number of messages by moderates, we come to a message from the 1920 Pre-Convention Conference by a man who expressed a thoroughly fundamentalist philosophy. We skipped another message by a moderate to get to this one. We may post that message later, or portions of it, but the speaker we skipped made positive comments about the Interchurch World Movement, a hot-button issue in 1920, strongly opposed by fundamentalists as a compromise with liberal social gospel interests. Opposition to this effort was a factor prompting the Pre-Convention Conference’s existence.

The “Unexpected Message” comes to us from Dr. J. W. Porter, the editor of a paper called The Western Recorder and the pastor at the time of the First Baptist Church of Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Porter was a Southern Baptist, studied at Southern Seminary under John Broadus, and was noted among the Southern Baptists of his day in opposition to the Higher Criticism and the Interchurch World Movement. His message was “Unexpected” in that it appears he attended the conference as an observer (being from the Southern Baptist Convention) and reporting for The Western Recorder. Apparently due to his outspoken fundamentalism, he was asked to address the Conference. He offered to publish the addresses, but his offer was declined as noted at the end of yesterday’s piece. Two biographical sketches can be found here and here at a Baptist history site on the internet.

Dr. Porter’s message begins with an earnest plea for contending for the faith:

Contention is the law of life, from the cradle to the grave. Apparently, God has not always permitted the survival of the fittest, but in all ages and with all people, he has decreed the struggle for existence. Life begins with a gasp, and goes out with a groan, and ceaseless contention marks each step of the way. Only in the religious realm do men deny the necessity for constant contention. Alas, we have fallen upon times, when many seem to believe that one faith is as good as another, and that no faith is good enough to contend for. The man who believes one doctrine is as good as another, is doctrinally good for nothing. Practically the entire civilized world has been contending on the bloody battle-field. Millions have not counted their lives dear, that victory might come in the battle for universal freedom. Oh, that something of this same earnestness and deathless determination might characterize the soldiers of the Cross!

It is true that there is a right way and a wrong way to contend, and it is true that there are right and wrong battles to wage — some issues are not vital to “the faith once delivered” — yet it is no less true that contention is a part of Christian life and has been since the beginning. The apostles engaged in it, they urged it on their followers and even a cursory reading of the church fathers and church histories will show that no time in the long history of the Christian church has ever been free of it. It is naïve to think that we can somehow achieve a contention-less Christianity, at least not on this side of heaven. And it is unbiblical to think that such is possible or even desired by God in this age. His followers are called to contend.

Dr. Porter says,

We should bear in mind that contending for the faith is not a matter of choice, but of positive command. It is impossible to obey Christ and please God without contending for the faith. The man who will not contend for the faith is not apt to contend for the Christ. Surely we can afford to contend for him who contended with death and hell for us.

On the Interchurch movement, Roland McCune says:

The main impetus that triggered the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the Convention and the subsequent establishment of the Fundamentalist Fellowship was the Interchurch World Movement. Begun after World War I, it was an interdenominational relief organization controlled by liberals that wanted $100 million from the Baptists. The 1919 Convention voted to participate, and the fundamentalists objected.[1]

Dr. Porter reacts to the Interchurch movement this way:

The churches are on the Mountain of Temptation. Only recently they have been offered the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, if they would substitute social service for a blood-bought redemption. If they would only open their doors to the unregenerate and the unbaptized, they were promised untold wealth, and suitable salaries for preachers. With all the earnestness of our soul we believe the success of the Interchurch Movement would mean the recrucifixion of Christ, and that too, at the hands of his professed friends. Millions of noble men and women followed in its train, and yet its attack was more deadly than any ever launched by its enemies.

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, I hope you will. Dr. Porter has a stirring way with words. We are not faced with the same issues, but we are not faced with less need for earnest contention.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Link to Baptist Fundamentals and other works available in Logos format as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives, produced by Maranatha Baptist University.

Baptist Fundamentals series:


Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Opening Address

Historic Baptist Principles? … or the seed of defeat in the soil of revival

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (1)

Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage (2)

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: Fidelity to Our Baptist Heritage

Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals: The Divine Unity of Holy Scripture

Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Comments on Baptist Fundamentals – The Significance of the Ordinances

Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

Comments on Northern Baptists and the Deity of Christ

An Unexpected Message

  1. Rolland D. McCune, “The Formation of the New Evangelicalism (Part One): Historical and Theological Antecedents,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal Volume 3 3 (1998): 25. []

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