Thursday, March 30, 2006

The SBC of Our Fathers

This week my mother sent me the following editorial from the December 1980 issue of Baptist Program. It was the last editorial written by Albert McClellan, a 31-year employee of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Dr. McClellan retired from SBC life on December 31, 1980, as Associate Executive Secretary and Director of Program Planning. I remember meeting him at a Southern Baptist Convention years ago. On January 9, 2004 Dr. Mclellan died at the age of 91. His death went remarkably unnoticed, but in this, the final editorial he ever wrote, Dr. McClellan connects us with our past, while at the same time prophetically addresses very pertinent issues of our present SBC. Any bold type in the editorial is my emphasis, not Dr. McClellans. The principles articulated by Dr. McClellan are based on his Executive Committee work, but are appropriate for any SBC agency. Read on . . .

"The first day I worked for the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention I touched hands with the beginning. Austin Crouch came to see me to wish me success in my new work. That was early in August 31 years ago, in 1949 when the reorganized Executive Committee was only 22 years old. Dr. Crouch, whose great spiritual character and financial acumen were legendary among Baptist leaders, had been one of the designers of the reorganization in 1927. He was also its first Executive Secretary. The two of us formed a friendship that lasted until that sad day when he was struck by a car on the street in front of the church where he was a member. When he died, something great in Baptist life died, but as God wills, greatness itself did not die.

Spiritual insight did not die. Moral responsibility did not die. Financial acumen did not die. These are still alive in Baptist life and nowhere more abundantly than in the Executive Committee. I have seen them over and over again in more than a hundred meetings of this sensitive, vital group, and in at least a thousand subcommittee, workgroup and staff conferences. The enormous integrity that Austin Crouch brought to the office prevails into the day of Harold C. Bennett. The dimensions of that integrity have been—and are—boundless, reaching into every facet of Baptist life.

(1). The elected members of the Executive Committee have been solid, middle-road Baptists, outstanding men and women—responsible, thoughtful, restrained, balanced and fair. They have not been impulsive, overreacted to issues or ridden hobby horses.

(2). The quality of the executive staff has been exceptional. The names of Austin Crouch, Duke K. McCall, Porter Routh and Harold C. Bennett will always be synonyms for good judgment and transparent honesty. The names of Frank E. Burkhalter, Walter M. Gilmore, C. E. Bryant, J.E. Dillard, Merrill D. Moore, John H. Williams, W.C. Fields and Timothy A. Hedquist will always be synonyms for skill, effectiveness and dedication.

(3). The Executive Committee has held power judiciously. It has not abused its authority to study and recommend.

(4). The Executive Committee has assumed that it is not a ruler of the agencies, and has held steadfastly that the agencies themselves are the leaders in the areas the Convention has assigned to them.

(5). The Executive Committee has shown almost total neutrality with respect to Southern Baptist Convention agencies, not competing with them and not judging unfairly among them.

(6). The Executive Committee has never hesitated to take strong stands and to recommend changes when they were needed. It has not won on all of its points, but it has never faltered in its own area of leadership.

(7). The Executive Committee has met each critical problem with restraint, balanced judgment and appropriate leadership. One significant national problem that might have swept weaker persons off their feet was the Urban Crisis of 1968. The Executive Committee met it with courage in recommending its statement on “Crisis in the Cities” to the Convention.

(8). The Executive Committee has walked humbly among the brethren. Neither the Committee or its staff has required pomp and circumstance to bolster self-images or as alibis for loss of credibility. The members of the Committee have not been a council of bishops or its staff a hierarchy.

(9). The Executive Committee has provided good working conditions for its staff and substantial materials for the work of the staff. As conditions improved, the materials have also improved. I have seen the Executive Committee go on to higher and higher plateaus of service for three decades.

(10). The Executive Committee has been generous with its employees and fair to the churches and the Convention, staying abreast of the job market but not ahead of it.

(11). The Executive Committee and its staff have been especially fair with me from the beginning until now. I have been honored to be its employee. Once I had an opportunity to move, but how does one leave the top of the mountain or where the fire burns brightest?

(12). The Executive Committee has been an open meeting from its organization in 1927. In 43 years there have been fewer than six executive sessions and most of them related to sensitive personnel problems. The Executive Committee has an open ear for anyone who wants to speak to it. For almost 25 years the gallery has been two to three times bigger than the size of the Committee, and the gallery has been permitted to ask any question, to give any information, to make any point and to offer any objection. The Executive Committee has dealt quickly and honestly with all appropriate petitions.

(13). The hallmark emblems of the Executive Committee since 1927 to this day have been financial sagacity, fiscal responsibility and total accountability.

(14). There have been no closed doors and no hidden agendas.

(15). The people who have made the decisions have represented the churches that have paid the bills through the Cooperative Program.

This does not mean the Executive Committee is without fault. The members are human, as is the staff. They do make mistakes. Only God is above error and he has marvelous tolerance for ambiguities, else he would not be forgiving. From him I have learned also to tolerate ambiguities. My faith does not require perfection except from God in Christ. I can accept my own mistakes, knowing that ambiguities need not destroy, and knowing also that Jesus accepted “smoking flax” and “broken reeds.” With smoking flax he can make whole cloth and with broken reeds weave whole baskets. Such is the mercy of God, and such also should be recognized in the assemblies of men.

There’s wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in his justice
Which is more than liberty.

Everyone knows the first verse of that old song, but do some know this other verse?

But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify his strictness
With a zeal he will not own.

Sometimes I wonder.

At least Dr. Crouch knew that verse, because he always had a twinkle in his blind eyes."


Jason Vaughn said...

Just a simple thank you.

Anonymous said...


You have wise parents. Isn't it amazing how our parents get wiser as we get older? They were dumb as dirt when we were 18. :)

We get so caught up in the rule of the majority, and in manufacturing majorities on our decision making bodies to insure that decisions go the way we want them. I like the comments of Mel Gibson's character in the movie "The Patriot" where when he is addressing the South Carolina Legislature he says in effect, "What is the difference between one tyrant 3000 miles away and three thousand tyrants one mile away?" This holds true in the church as well. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. It is a monarchy. The King holds all power. Any attempt to seize any temporal power by any means by any one is open rebellion. The system of leadership we have (usually democratic in our churches and our boards) only works when all are humble and listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit. Then a move of the Spirit is confirmed in several voices--this is shown in scripture as the true church government. All, however must be waiting on the King's voice and acting in obedience to His commands, and the commands of His Spirit always bear the fruit of His Spirit...never confusion, selfishness, anger, hatred or judgement. (Jesus Christ is alive, by the way, not just historical, and does speak to His children today, now---when they listen.) Look through the scriptures and see how often the majority were dead wrong, and the Holy Spirit was crying out through one voice, who was all too often persecuted by the majority. There is no room for any opinion but that of Jesus Christ, so His folks must listen, or fall.

The reason we have such contention and division in our churches and our boards is because we have so many who do not know how to listen, are unsaved with no relationship with Christ, or who are so self-centered that they have staged a coup de'tat in their lives and Christ no longer rules--they have replaced Him on the throne of their lives with themselves in active rebellion. I know this sounds harsh, but the truth hurts sometimes. "Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." Submit means---SUBMIT. Drop your sense of self importance and self righteousness. You have nothing that God needs or can't do without. You are not the indispensable person, in fact, the King doesn't need you at all. HE brings glory to His Name, you don't. Get out of the way, and follow Him if you want to be used. Otherwise, you will be cast aside, and He will glorify Himself some other way. He is Sovereign, and shares power with no one. We need to realise this if we want to be used.

The SBC has become proud because of all the money we can raise. God doesn't need your money, He wants your life. He can do the job of reaching the world perfectly well without us. He can in a flash raise up someone else to get His will done. Pride is the first sin, and we fall into its trap very easily. It goes before a fall. We need to remember that.

Thanks, Wade, for indulging my sermons. Vaya con Dios, my brother.

VBC, Muldrow, OK

Bob Cleveland said...


I wasn't going to comment today, but in reading the Editorial by Dr. McClellan, something struck me. Bigtime.

If you change the nouns and prounouns in the 15 points, most of them are illustrative of the characteristics of Jesus. As it should be. How can we do the work of Christ in any way other than the way He'd do it were He here in the flesh?

And, that's fundamental to more than just boards and committees, too.

For instance, the leadership of a husband in the home is to be sacrificial in nature. That thought is common throughout the Editorial, and should be throughout Jesus' Church.

I'm beginning to see there's a lot more at stake here than committees and missionaries.

Anonymous said...

Great and prophetic words from the late Albert McClellan. But there's no credible way to praise his conciliatory leadership on one hand, then embrace a "conservative resurgence" launched for the sheer purpose of replacing such leaders as McClellan who were falsely pegged as liberal bureaucrats of the former SBC establishment.

Almost every person you named either became directly involved in moderate Baptist life, was sympathetic to moderates, or was/is a member of a moderate-leaning congregation.

In his book, "A Hill on Which to Die," Judge Pressler does not share your view of Harold Bennett, or of the SBC's executive committee during those stalwart years under Routh, Fields, McCall and McClellan.

Nor does the much-more restrictive Baptist Faith & Message 2000 allow for that degree of freedom or collegiality anymore. It declares itself to be "a measure of doctrinal accountability" - a tool for policing doctrine, if you will - which is unprecedented, and totally inconsistent with McClellan's legacy.

You and I do agree, however, that Albert McClellan was a giant in Baptist life. said...


Thanks for your post.

I read Ron's post again and frankly, did not find it to be out of line.

He was respectful, did not personally attack anyone, and spoke from his heart.

You, or I, may not agree with him totally, like I don't agree with all you say in your post, but I frankly am grateful you both have the freedom and privilege to post here.

Again, thanks for your post.