December 18, 2017

Baptist Fundamentals: Modernism in Baptist Schools (Part 1)

W. B. Riley, D. D.
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minn.

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.

I am to speak on a theme, not a text; I am to deliver an address, not a sermon, and my theme is “The Menace of Modernism in Baptist Schools.” Shortly after the appearance in “The Watchman-Examiner” of a “Call” for this Conference, there came to my desk a letter written by Dr. Frederick B. Greul, saying:

Your name, affixed to this call, implies that you claim that many of our Baptists ministers are drifting from the faith held dear by Baptists; and that many of our educational institutions are breaking down, or undermining the faith of the students therein. Your affixed signature indicates this to the denomination as the reason why you joined in the call for the conference alluded to. If such is your belief, your right to do this is in no way questioned. As one of the interested multitude, addressed by this call, I desire to ask a reply to the following questions: 1. Are you prepared to make personally the charges to which you subscribe? 2. Are you able and willing to specify the schools alluded to, and state, to proper parties, in what particular they are using a disastrous influence on their students? Have you definite knowledge of the ministers alluded to in the call, and are you willing to designate them?

On June the fourth I sent to Doctor Greul the following reply:

“Your letter has just reached me. In answer to all three of your questions, one word — YES. I hope to have in print by the time of the Convention abundant proof of all of these points.”

My theme relates itself particularly to the second of these questions, although it is impossible to treat it without answering all three of them.

A father in Israel, a great and wise friend, once said to me. “In discussing, insist upon definitions!” So I propose definition for the first step, discussion for the second, and in conclusion, some words of warning.

It could hardly be necessary for me, in the very outset of this address, to disclaim all disposition to offensive personalities. Some of the schools to which I refer, I have never seen; the most of the men whose names I shall call and from whose lips and pens I shall quote, are delightful, cultured gentlemen; to know them intimately is to be enamored of them. I love them!

This discussion has to do wholly with opinions, not with personalities, and I propose to relate it to three themes: The Baptist Faith Defined, The Baptist Faith Denied, and The Baptist Denomination Endangered.

The Baptist Faith Defined

There has been a report, spread throughout the length and breadth of the land, to the effect that the conveners of this Conference were interested in but a single phase of truth — eschatology; and were determined to compel the denomination to consent to their peculiar views of “the Second Coming,” as the great, if not solitary fundamental of Baptist faith. The falsity of this report is abundantly proved by the very language of our program, its personnel, and the content of our plea. The explanation of the motive of this report we leave to the people who have so industriously made it. It would be easy to show that “That Blessed Hope” has played a conspicuous part in Baptist history, and was as certainly the faith of our forefathers as it is conceded to have been the faith of prophet, apostle, and Lord. But the discrediting of that fundamental is not the disturbing factor in Baptist theological thinking.

The Pythian priestess, in the Delphic cave, is reputed to have sat upon a bronze altar while she delivered her oracles, and that altar was supported by three legs, and took the name of tripod. Every Baptist who retains aught of fellowship with his forefathers, accepts three pillars for his support.

Baptists believe the Bible to be an inspired, and consequently an inerrant book; Baptists believe Christ to be the very God, and hence infallible; Baptists believe Christianity begins with a new birth, known as regeneration!

It may not be an easy matter to define “A Baptist,” and we consent without controversy, that some Baptists are incapable of definition; but it still remains a conceded fact that “go where you will among those that wear the name, and you will find them holding a certain set of beliefs concerning God and Christ, the Scripture and the ordinances.” If, therefore, one were thinking of uniting with them, it would be natural for him to ask what those beliefs are, unless he belonged to the unthinking crowd who seek human fellowship for its own sake, and care nothing at all for “metes and bounds” in brotherhood.

The attempt to substitute for Baptist foundations “the Baptist flavor” is, to say the least, a nebulous endeavor. People who think of uniting with us will continue to ask “the particular points of doctrine from which we look out upon life and religion.” They need not ask in vain.

Not to multiply these points indefinitely, nor to make mention of any of lesser moment, we turn again to our tripod.

Baptists believe the Bible to be an inspired book and hence inerrant! The editor may tell us that “from the beginning Baptists have boasted that they have no creed,” but in the next sentence he will be compelled to concede the first article of our faith, namely, that “The Bible is the only rule of faith and practice”; and, if, instead of a mere reference to that article, he rehearsed it in full, it would read after this manner:

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction, that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error, for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

And if he consulted the proof-texts printed after this article he would immediately discover that there is no difference between the Baptist creed and the Bible; that the first is the succinct statement of the elaborate teachings of the second; and that instead of men entering this denomination having to make a choice between a human statement and Divine Scripture, the second is absolutely included in the first and demanded by it!

If Baptists have never had any Confession of Faith, what does Thomas Armitage mean when he says of the Swiss people, “It was customary for the ancient Baptists to use private declarations of their principles, drawn up by some member of their communion”? Why did they take such pains “to conceal these Confessions” lest the State lay hands upon them and charge them with treason against the State religion? If they never had any “Confession of Faith,” what was the significance of “the seven articles” drawn in the year 1527? And did Zwingli lie when he declared that he had “two copies” of that Confession in his pocket; and charged every Baptist with having a concealed copy somewhere about his person? If Baptists have never had any “Confession of Faith” what was that instrument drawn up by John Bunyan, and forty elders, deacons, and brethren, and approved by more than twenty thousand Baptists, and presented to King Charles II in London in 1660; and concerning which they declared, “We are not only resolved to suffer persecution to the loss of our goods, but also life itself, rather than decline from the same.” If Baptists have never had a “Confession of Faith,” what was the origin of the phrases, “The New Hampshire Confession” and “The Philadelphia Confession”?

We would not at all be willing to have Baptist churches replace the Bible with a creed, but we did suppose when we united with this denomination (and we imagine that other people proposing to unite with it, still suppose) that “there is a certain set of beliefs concerning God, Christ,” the Scripture, and the Ordinances, etc., to which Baptists universally subscribe.

Our problem is not, as stated by the editor, “Where shall we find our infallible interpreters of this inspired volume?” The question is an altogether different one — have we an inspired and an infallible volume to interpret? If not, the first leg is gone from beneath the Baptist base; and the denomination that was steady on its tripod will be found tottering on two remaining legs. The attitude, therefore, of professors, schools, and preachers toward the first fundamental of our holy faith will determine the whole question as to whether the denomination is being menaced by Modernism.

But, with equal emphasis, Baptists believe Jesus Christ to be very God, and consequently infallible. Their common “Declaration of Faith” is in the following unmistakable speech:

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is Jehovah, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct but harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.

From the days of the apostles until the beginning of the twentieth century, scarce a single man denied the deity of Christ and dreamed of retaining fellowship in the Baptist denomination; and in that same time, not a one attempted the camouflage of so defining Christ as to make him a mere mortal, son of Joseph vs. the Holy Ghost, and yet continue to talk of him as “divine.” That is the new method; that is the increasingly common method. I beg pardon; for the moment I forgot my Scripture! So far away as Peter’s time he said, “But there were false teachers also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” (2 Peter 2: 1).

If Christ is not divine, very God of very God, the infallible, inerrant One, then the faith of all our fathers was falsely fixed, the chief foundation-stone upon which our denomination has always rested, is once and forever removed: every Baptist contention has been without occasion; and Christianity itself is in collapse. Henry Van Dyke, to whom believers are indebted for many admirable statements of truth, never expressed a more fundamental one than when he declared: “The unveiling of the Father in Christ was, and continued to be, and still is, the palladium of Christianity. All who have surrendered it, for whatever reason, are dispersed and scattered; all who defend it, in whatever method, have been held fast in the unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” In the language of John Watson, “the life-blood of Christianity is Christ.” It is not in Jesus of Nazareth, a mere man, it is in Christ! “Other foundation can no man lay” (for a true church) “than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Mark you, not Jesus the man, but “Jesus Christ!” Mark you, not Christ the son of Joseph, but Christ the Lord! Mark you, not “the earthly Christ” in “contradistinction to the heavenly,” but Jesus the Christ!

Before I have finished this address I will be found addressing some of my brother ministers in the pathetic complaint of the woman in the Garden, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” Take him away, and the denomination totters on a single leg; and the time of its fall is not far!

But while that remaining leg, contrary to the contention of some Modernists, is altogether insufficient, if it stand alone, it is also too important to be passed without presentation.

Baptists believe Christianity begins with the new birth, namely regeneration. “That the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace: through the mediatorial offices of the Son of God.” In this they are not setting up a creed against the Bible, but they are calling attention to the proper emphasizing of the contention of Christ. “Ye must be born again.” “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Only a few years since, a liberal theologian, occupying a most prominent pulpit, said of regeneration, “I never experienced any such thing and neither has any member of my family.” And then he strangely concludes, “Such an experience is not essential to a place in the Christian church,” as if the failure of one man to understand the divine demand, abolishes the demand itself!

Prof. Gerald Birney Smith, a member of the faculty of the Divinity School of the Chicago University, asks the question, “Who is a Christian?” and answers it, “A Christian is one who shares the life and manifests the spirit of Jesus Christ.” By this text, therefore, the Roman Catholic who wrote, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea,” was a Christian. So was Whittier, the liberal Quaker poet, who wrote, “We only know we cannot drift beyond his love and care.” “To be a Christian means to trust the living God and Father of Jesus Christ.” That would almost pass for orthodoxy; but when the Modernist talks of the living God as “the Father of Jesus Christ” it is well to ask what he means, and if you learn he holds God is the father of all men, the former sentence loses its significance, and when he defines Christ as a product of evolution, whose Messiahship, essential deity, was a posthumous propaganda, then nothing is left. Not only the liberal, Whittier, but also the Jew and the Unitarian trust that same God, and may with equal occasion be called “Christian.” In fact, no less an authority than a former and most excellent President of this Convention, Mr. Coleman, has given to the world his convictions of church-membership after this manner:

My ideal church would be so big and broad, so true and tolerant, so virile and varied, so strong and secure in the hearts of the people, that no one would think of having more than one such institution to serve any given community or neighborhood, even though such district might embrace five or ten thousand souls. Of course it would be a Christian church. But it would be unlike any sectarian church you ever heard of. You would find within its fellowship Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, Trinitarian and Unitarian, ritualist and evangelist. Even the reverent agnostic would not be barred out of such a church if I were its doorkeeper, and I have seen some so-called atheists who wouldn’t hurt such a spiritual fellowship. This would bring about a conservation of our spiritual forces which are now so widely scattered and so fearfully wasted.

That President was a member of a Baptist church when he made that declaration. That it was distinctly in line with Modernism no man will dispute; but, up to the present, even Modernists have not set up the contention that this would be A BAPTIST CHURCH, or that its organic constitution would entitle it to fellowship in a Baptist Association and in the Northern Baptist Convention.

To be continued tomorrow…

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

Comments on An Unexpected Message

The Bible at the Center of the Modern University (1)

The Bible at the Center of the Modern University (2)

Comments on The Bible at the Center of the Modern University

The Baptist Program of Evangelism

Comments on The Baptist Program of Evangelism

Things Not Shaken

Comments on Things Not Shaken

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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