Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 28, 1953

That Baptist Convention


Houston, Texas, a few days ago was host to the biggest gathering of Southern Baptists in the nation's history. Newspaper reports estimated the number of Baptists descending on the city to be no less than 30,000. It was the 94th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

There were a number of things happening in the great meeting which should be of interest not only to Baptists, but also to those of us who are content to be simple Christians. It should be remembered that there was rather close and friendly relations at one period in the Restoration movement between Campbell and his co-workers and the Baptists. Indeed, Campbell apparently never fully straightened out his thinking on the "church ecumenical," and to the very last held to his conviction that some such arrangement as the Baptists had was entirely right and proper for "brotherhood action." This paved the way for the later development of the American Christian Missionary Society. And this society, incidentally, had perhaps its most ardent backer and enthusiastic promoter in the person of D. S. Burnett, who had for a number of years prior to his association with the Campbell movement been a most active and aggressive preacher in the Baptist Church. When he left the Baptists, it is apparent that he did not abandon his ideas on the rightness of certain Baptist practices and arrangements.

Of particular interest in this Houston meeting were the following:

Church Independency And Autonomy

In spite of the obvious, Baptist leaders kept insisting that this Convention was NOT any kind of ecclesiastical or authoritative body, exercising control in any sense over Baptist churches. Even though they elected a president and two vice presidents, two secretaries, and one treasurer; and appointed members to an Executive Committee, a Foreign Mission Board, a Home Mission Board, a Sunday School Board, a Relief and Annuity Board, a Social Service Commission, and perhaps a dozen or more other denominational agencies and authorities — still they insist that there is no kind of hierarchy or denominational control exercised in any way over any Baptist congregation!

Dr. J. D. Grey, the president of the Convention said:

"Certainly no man of studied judgment would suggest that this convention violate the sovereignty of the churches, set itself up as a hierarchical, ecclesiastical authority handing down encyclicals, edicts and mandates."

That was what he SAID — and then the Convention blithely went right ahead to do the very thing Dr. Grey said "no man of studied judgment would suggest" that it do. It is really fatuous to argue that the Baptist Convention wields no authority over Baptist churches. Baptist pastors know (some of them to their sorrow) to the contrary. And so do others. This idea of "no interference" is a figment, a fiction, a make-believe that has long since ceased to have any relation to reality.

We think there is, or ought to be, a lesson here for those among the churches of Christ who are loud in their WORDS in favor of church independency and autonomy — but who go right ahead aiding, encouraging and promoting the movements and activities that are inevitably undermining and destroying that concept. The promotion of "brotherhood authority" for the control of such projects. The only kind of such concerted action in all the New Testament was the action of the many churches in sending relief to a stricken area. And that was to meet an emergency. Maybe the idea of independent action by local congregations, unorganized, and more or less haphazard is painful to our highly organized, systematized, efficient twentieth century dynamic outlook on life. But it happens that this was the only provision the Lord made. We had best abide by it.

"Un-Baptist" Practices

Of real interest to non-Baptists was a report by one of the committees to the effect that a survey revealed that 11.5 percent of Baptist churches were now receiving members who had NOT submitted to "Baptist" baptism, and that 5 percent of Baptist churches were now inviting non-Baptists to participate with them in the observance of the communion. Furthermore, some of the committee members hotly defended from the floor the right of these congregations to set their own practice in these particulars. Chairman of his committee (Committee on Church Relations) was T. C. Gardner of Dallas, Texas. Said he:

"A New Testament church as a spiritual democracy has the unquestionable right to receive or reject applicants for membership.

"But by the same comparative reasoning, a Baptist Convention has the right to determine its membership. If a church desires to receive into membership people from other faiths, it has a right to do so. If that church desires to have two types of members, that becomes a concern of ours only when that church seeks recognition as a sister Baptist Church in the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptist Conventions have no delegated authority over a church."

This emphasizes a point of Baptist doctrine which should not be overlooked; namely, that Baptists believe baptism is merely a rite or initiation into a congregation. One following that practice is immersed as a rule or rite of initiation into a Baptist Church; he is not baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins. His immersion as a means into a Baptist organization no more constitutes scriptural baptism than would an immersion as a requirement for entrance in to the Masonic Lodge or the Over-the-River-Burying-Society.

The Baptist Convention toward its close erupted into a wild, hot fight from the floor on the report of the Committee on Church Relations. There were 12,000 delegates accredited to the convention; and the newspaper reports covering the Convention felt that at one time at least a thousand of them were trying to get the floor at the same time! Dr. Grey finally lost patience and yelled into the microphone: "You will not get the floor by standing close to me and jerking my coat-tail!"

In spite of these flurries, however, the Convention on a whole was orderly and dignified. And it gave a demonstration of how a great denomination can act in solving "brotherhood" problems, and making "brotherhood" decisions — and all with absolutely no violation of the autonomy or independency of any local congregation. They say.

— F. Y. T.