1969 SB Convention Report
June 15th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
1969 SBC CONVENTION REPORT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-15-69 10:50 a.m.
Glorious choir, oh how I love to see you just stand up there and sing out of your soul, no score, no music written down on a piece of paper, just singing to the praise and glory of God. You know I do not understand how some people think. At the pastor’s conference of the convention, a professional singer – he has given his life to sing. That is all he does. He is a singer – a professional singer: stand up there, take his music with him, and sing a hymn that has been sung ten thousand times, and he has that score before him. Why, I would love God more than that. I would love Him enough to memorize the song. I believe I would if I were going to be a professional singer.
Now, we are going to change the service this morning, and I have lots of time. Ah, I feel so good! Yes, and you who are listening on the radio and you are watching this service on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor changing from the announced subject and title to a report on our Southern Baptist Convention. I have never done this before, but I feel out of gratitude to God and indebtedness to you I owe this address.
Now I am going to read a background passage of Scripture. It is from Jude. He was the Lord’s half-brother. His brother was James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. They were sons of Joseph and Mary.
“Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” – the pastor of the church –
to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called – elected.
Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.
In the King James Version, I have added that word in the old manuscripts, “for all.” “We just earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all” [Jude 1:3]. There’ll never be another; there’ll never be another Christ. There’ll never be another Bible. There’ll never be another revelation from God. It is finished in this Book. “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” [Jude 1:3]. And that’s what we are a-doing.
Now, in this work, some of our brethren were kind, and there is a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Orange, Texas named Cooper Waters, and he sent me a gavel. He said, “I have made it with my own hands out of the woods of Texas, different woods.” And he said, “I want you to promise that at least at one session of the convention you will use that gavel.”
Well, I was afraid they would think that it was more like a sledgehammer, but I told him I would, and I did. That’s one of the most unusual gavels I have ever seen. It is, usually a gavel would be made out of one piece of wood this way and then one this way. Well, this is made up of all the different woods you would find in Texas: oak, cedar, pecan, hackberry, ash, white pine, and it’s kept together by a dowel, and all of those – boy, it’s ingeniously done.
Then while I was there, a dear couple from Marietta, Georgia came to me, and they said, “They have torn down the old courthouse in Marietta, Georgia, and we took a piece of the timber and made this gavel. We want you to use it at one of the sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention.” Then they told why, and I already knew why.
It was when the Georgia Baptist Convention met in Marietta, not being able to hold the convocation inside the First Baptist Church, they moved to the county courthouse, and it was at that convention that F. C. McConnell introduced a young mountain boy and called him George W. Truett. And that was the first time the world ever heard of that mountain boy, George Truett. He spoke to the convention. He electrified them, and the repercussion of that first speech of that mountain boy reaches down to us today and shall to all eternity. So they made that gavel out of a piece of timber from the old Marietta County courthouse. And we’ll put these things in our historical room and keep them.
Then once again, to my very great surprise, when the preacher for our annual sermon – the convention sermon – stood up to preach – he’s Dr. Scott Tatem of Shreveport, Louisiana – to my amazement he presented me with this gavel and asked me to use it for one of the sessions of the convention. Now you’ll be surprised. That is one of the prettiest pieces of wood I have ever seen and just came out beautifully from the tool of that lathe. And this gavel is presented to me, and the description of it here and it is made from a piece of timber of our own chapel of our own church, from the steeple of the First Baptist Church here in Dallas. He read in the paper and saw a picture of it that it was being torn down, replaced with a new steeple, so he came over here and got a piece of that timber and made that gavel for me to use at the Southern Baptist Convention. Ah, how unusual!
Now of course, as everyone turned their faces to the convocation of the messengers of the largest denomination in America, the intensified publicity that surrounded the meeting was even heightened because of the prospective appearance of the black militants. There were sent to that convention more cameramen, and pressmen, and newsmen, photographers, and reporters than at any other convention in the history of our Southern Baptist people.
Now, in my own heart, I do not know why I feel these things. Just as our own church, think of the years that we’ve been through these things. And think of the years in which your pastor has been so embroiled in these issues. Yet, out of all the churches in America that you would have thought would have been a target for some kind of disruption, this church would have been prime. Yet I have always felt that it would not happen here, that God would deliver us from it here.
Well, I had that same feeling when I went to the convention in New Orleans. We will not have that nasty and threatened violent disturbance. My dear friend – and I look upon him as a personal friend – Governor John McKinnon, when we arrived said to me, “Don’t let that trouble your heart. I and my men will see to it that the convention is not disturbed.” And he meant it. He had all those state troopers with him. Then, the mayor of the city of New Orleans and the chief of police said to me, “Do not let that trouble you. There will be no appearance or disturbance at that convention.”
Well, I know these things, yet of course, no matter how a policeman might try, you could have a scene, and that would please them of course to be photographed in a struggle with a policeman, and I don’t need to expatiate on that to you. If pictures like that were sent around the world and they would be sent, and our brethren over in Africa were to see at our Southern Baptist Convention a policeman dragging out a black man, you can imagine the hurt it would be to our testimony on the foreign field. So as I said, I felt in my heart there would be no appearance, there would be no scene, there would be no riot and no violence.
Now the attitude of our people toward James Forman and those black militants is expressed in no uncertain terms. When the convention began to set itself in order for a convocation, I began to be deluged with telegrams, and with letters, and with telephone calls, and with special deliveries. It began while I was here in Dallas and increased to an avalanche there in New Orleans, and they expressed themselves in very emphatic terms. I never had any letter to the contrary. They were all alike.
It is amazing how our people are one solid phalanx against the threatened blackmail of the black militants. Now here is a typical telegram addressed to me as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it only has three words in it: “Throw him out.” Well, he doesn’t name him, but I knew whom he was talking about.
Now in the presentation of this work in America, and its social upheaval and its – in some instances – violent repercussions; when I got off the plane yesterday coming back from New Orleans, a man met me when I came into the terminal and said, “Would you be kind enough to come for this interview?” So right over yonder to my right and beyond, they had set up camera and lights and recording device, and we had our little press conference there.
And after it was over, why, there was a couple walking down the hallway who stopped me. There had – as the conference was out in the open, it was not in a private place, and as I talked loud enough for somebody to hear, why, people began to gather around. So this couple came up to me after the conference was over and they said, “We’re from New York City, and we’re on our way through Dallas, and we saw this group here and saw that it was an interview. Are you a United States senator or are you a governor of the state?”
Well, I suppose that is supposed to be a compliment, but I had much rather look like a pastor and a preacher than a judge like Claude Williams here, or a senator, or a governor. I’d love to look like an emissary from heaven, an ambassador from the courts of glory, but I think that it would be a compliment if I could look like that. I’d rather be a preacher of Jesus than to be the president of the United States or the prime minister of England. I have a greater office and a greater calling. Well anyway, I’m sure they were seeking to be nice to me, and they said, “Just as we came by, we heard the name of James Forman and something that you said, and we just wanted you to know that though we live in New York City and far away from you, we feel exactly as you do.” Well, I said, “Amen. God bless you up there in New York City.”
Now, when the service was done Friday night and the convention was adjourned, the press representative of one of the great daily newspapers in an eastern city said, “Would you be kind enough to sit down here with me, and we’ll do it right here, and let me tape an interview with you?” Why, I said, “I’d be delighted.” So we sat down, and as we began to talk questions and answers, why, he volunteered a word to me, and it was an amazing thing for a man to say.
He said to me, he said, “It is in this convention, this one here, that James Forman has lost his moral leadership.” Why, I said, “Man, he didn’t even appear. He’s not even here. Why would you say something like that?” And he replied – now I am quoting this press representative of one of the great daily newspapers of America – he said, “If you will look carefully and notice carefully” – and it would never have occurred to me, I don’t live in that kind of a world, but he does, he said – “if you will look carefully, you will find that James Forman and his black militants have appeared before liberal churches, and they have appeared before liberal conventions.” Then he paused and said, “For example, the denominational convocation that was held in San Antonio recently, that denomination paid for James Forman to come down there and speak to them.” Well, I did not know that.
This is a man who is advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government. This is a man who is calling for guerilla warfare in America and on the streets of our city. This is a man who avowedly and statedly is seeking to destroy the churches of America. If you have read that Black Manifesto, that is a document more seditious and more traitorous and more blasphemous than any I have ever read from Karl Marx or Nikolai Lenin. Yet this is the man that our liberal churches invite and encourage.
So this press representative said to me, “You will notice that he appears before liberal churches, and he appears before liberal denominations, but when time came for him to appear before the largest denomination in America, and when time came for him to appear before the most conservative denomination in America, he didn’t have the courage to do it! He left New York City, got as far as Cincinnati, and never crossed the Ohio River!” And the press representative said to me, “That shows he’s a moral coward, and we all know it.”
Well, how do your people fare, your fellow Baptists and your Southern Baptist Association of churches? How do they fare when they discuss the social upheaval represented by these men? Now, resolution number ten was on Christian social concern. It’s a magnificent resolution, but there was one part of the resolution they deleted, and there was one part they vociferously kept. Now the one they deleted is this:
Be it further resolved that we urge Southern Baptists to give continuing support to all governmental and social service agencies which work through legitimate channels and means to lift the material and social status of all native peoples.
And when they discussed it, they said, “We are in favor of any effort or any means or any avenue to lift up downtrodden people, to feed the hungry, and heal the sick, and encourage those that are hopeless, but this would give the impression that we were giving our imprimatur on every harebrained idea that the government spawns,” in all of this stuff that you read and hear in these social agencies that waste, so much of them waste our governmental tax monies. So they deleted it. We are in favor of helping, but we’re not in favor of far-out, screwball, left-wing ideas. So they took it out. That’s the kind of folks you belong to.
All right, the second one they refused to take out, though there was a war made against it; now I read it. This is the one they refused to take out:
Be it further resolved that we reject in total the demands, principles, and methods espoused by the National Black Economic Development Council –
that’s James Forman’s group –
which has made outrageous claims against religious bodies in our nation, proclaiming our disapproval of the intimidation, threats, and ultimatums propagated by the leaders of this movement.
They tried to take it out, some of them, but when the convention voted, out of maybe ten thousand that were there at that session, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety of us voted to keep it in. That’s the Southern Baptist Convention.
Well, in our group, in our Southern Baptist Convention, we are spawning some left-wingers. It’s just one of those developments. You have them everywhere. There’s nowhere you don’t have them. It’s a sign of this generation, these far-out gropers, seekers. They don’t know where they are going. If you were to ask them, “If you were to destroy this social structure, just exactly what would you put in its place? If you were to destroy the churches, what would you put in its place?”
Why, they couldn’t answer. They’re just out there, and they are taught to be vocal, and vociferous, and garrulous, and get up and speak – though they don’t have anything to say – but get up and speak. So we got them, and they came down to the convention, and they appeared. You see, there is a little handful of left-wing, liberal professors, and they take those malleable students, and they set them in a certain way. So they to them, “You go down there, and you stand up, and you speak, you talk, you say.” So, here they come. Here they come.
I don’t blame those youngsters. Maybe it’s my age. They don’t look dry behind the ears to me. I don’t blame them. That’s the way they’ve been taught, and that’s the way they’ve been set and encouraged to do, and they are very fine young people in themselves, but my soul, when you talk to them and listen to them, they are the most lost and bewildered youngsters you can imagine. They have no foundation. They have no anchor. They have no moorings. They’re just on a troubled sea, theologically, socially, economically, philosophically, every way you can name it. They don’t believe in the Bible. They don’t believe in Jesus the Son of God. They just believe in belief, and have faith in faith, and don’t know what, or how, or when, or where, that’s it.
Well, they’re the ones of course who are publicized, and they’re mentioned, and you get the impression that the whole wide world is like that, this young generation coming up, they’re just like that. They’re lost, they are out, they are meandering, they’re wandering, they’re groping, they don’t have any foundations, and, of course, so many of them in that expression of it. They don’t cut their hair, and they don’t shave their beard. They wear dirty, filthy clothes, and they are dirtier and filthier in their hearts and in their lives. Thank God these young people haven’t gone that far, but the young generation is kind of like that, it impresses us like that.
Well, on Wednesday night, there was a program dramatically presented to the convention of the seventies, the 1970s called ekklesia, the Greek word for the church, the called-out ones. And it was beautifully and effectively presented by a group of young people, college kids. And as I listened to it, ah, I just thank God for all of it and for those young men and women there especially. And after the adjourning of that session of the convention, why, the leader who presented that got all those young people and came around me, and he said, “I just want you to see another kind of young people. These youngsters have given their lives all summer long without stipend, or reward, or salary, or payment to work for Jesus all summer long, all these young people; another kind of young people.”
And after one of the sessions at night, I was delayed talking to people, shaking hands with people, and it was way late. I went back of the stage, and there, in a large open area, was a group of young people with their heads bowed in a service of intercession and prayer before God, and that same remark was made to me again: “Look, there is a different kind of young people.”
And I went through a restaurant, and there was a group of young people there, singing “Let the Whole World Know,” and they were testifying to their faith in the Lord, and that same word was said again: “Look, there is a different kind of young people.” Randy West of SMU who belongs to our church said after the 8:15 service, there were about twenty-five of them who went down those streets, past a whole group of hippies. Every place they went they sang and they testified. It’s a different kind of young people.
It is strange how things – maybe little things – will impress thousands of people. On Tuesday night, our youngsters – I don’t know who all they were, but the Clarion Choir was there, and the Chapel Choir was there, and the Sanctuary Choir was there – and on Tuesday night when the session opened, the convention opened, I walked into the great vast coliseum, and I walked in on the side of the choir. And when I did, some of them saw me and began to clap their hands, and when all of them saw, why, some were clapping, they all began to applaud. Then they stood up and began to applaud – all of them – and applauded and applauded and applauded.
And one of the most knowledgeable and gifted men in our Southern Baptist life said to me, he said, “You know the most impressive thing that I have seen in this Southern Baptist Convention?” I of course did not know and asked him, “What?” And he said, “To me the most impressive thing that I saw and witnessed in the Southern Baptist Convention was when you came in that door on Tuesday night and all those young people stood up and clapped and clapped and clapped,” a different kind of young people. We are so persuaded, I say, that they are just mad, they have lost their foundation, and that the future is ominous for the world. That’s not so. There is a tiny minority, and it is so tiny, that whenever you count it, it is hardly seen.
All right, let’s demonstrate it. Let’s verify it. For the first time in the history of our Southern Baptist Convention, a man was nominated – presented as a candidate for president – on the basis of his liberal theology. The nomination speech was based on that. We are going to organize a liberal party in the Southern Baptist Convention, and we’re going to try to sway our churches and our people toward liberalism. And the nomination was made with that stated purpose, and they nominated a liberal professor from the University of Virginia, from the University of Richmond.
Well, that’s fine. That’s fine. It’s a free country, and our Baptist people of all religious groups in the world are a free and a democratic people. Every man – our basic doctrine – every man is his own priest, the priesthood of every believer. He can go to God for himself. He can read the Bible for himself, and he can believe for himself. That’s what it is to be a Baptist. There’s no coercion in the faith. So they have the right to do that; fine. And the nominating speech was made, and the man’s name was presented, and then the vote was taken.
There is a rule in the Southern Baptist Convention that no tally, no vote numerically is announced. They merely come back and say “So-and-so is elected,” or they come back and they say “The motion lost,” or “It was carried,” but there is no number announced. To my great, great surprise, one of the men – when the report was brought back – one of the men got up and made a motion, and he said, “This was done on the basis of a liberal platform. Now I make a motion that the convention be told the tally of the vote. Let’s find out how many liberals there are. Let’s just say it. Tell us the vote.”
When I put the motion – to my surprise – practically everybody voted for it. So, the secretary of registration came to the podium, and he announced the vote, and the vote was this. There were seven thousand, there were seven thousand five hundred votes for the man who represents the faith of our fathers, and there were four hundred fifty votes for liberalism. That gives you a pretty good idea of whether or not our churches and our pastors and our people have turned to the left; seven thousand five hundred to four hundred fifty; still with the faith.
You know, it’s amazing again the impression that a man who believes in God and the Book makes upon another man who’s not accustomed to hearing it or seeing it. In the press conference, there is a man who is very gifted, he very much stands out. There’s a whole throng of those people, a whole room full, a whole jammed room full of these press people, and one of them stands out.
So after the conference is over, he said, “Could I set a time and talk to you?” He said, “For one thing, we have a national magazine, we have a magazine supplement with our daily papers,” one of the great daily newspapers of America – “and I want to write a special article about you in that magazine.” But he said, “Mostly, I’d just like to talk to you.”
So I set a time for him to come to the hotel room, and that brilliant – and he is a brilliant, that fellow uses the most beautiful language I’ve ever heard in my life, he’s a born writer and author – – he sat there by my side in the hotel room and just talked to me humbly, humbly. I thought about Nicodemus [John 3]. He talked to me about how it was I could believe that Book. He was seeking, he was thirsting, he was hungering, and he asked me through the Book so many things, so many things. Ah, if the preachers of America in the pulpits of our churches would just take God’s blessed Word and tell the people what God says, they would find a hunger and a thirst for those answers beyond what they imagine. That man was just one of them, and as I’d explain, he’d say, “Well, I have never thought of it like that. Yes, I can see that. Yes, that’s the meaning of that,” going through the Word of God.
These liberals are a strange kind. They are a funny folk, and they love to embarrass you, to try to trap you in your words, to put you in a corner, to humiliate you, to stick a knife in you and turn it. They love to do it. Of course, I’m a prime target. So after the service, why, one of them came up, a young fellow, oh, he was all set. So he starts off talking to me – a young theologue – points his finger and he says, “Why don’t you exalt Christ instead of exalting the Bible? Why don’t you exalt Christ?”
I said to him, “My young brother, I do. When I preach the Bible, I preach Jesus because outside that Bible you’d never know His name. Outside that Bible, you’d never know He lived. Outside of that Bible you’d never know who God was. We can only know God through His own self-revelation, and when I preach the Bible, I preach Jesus.
And he laughed, “Ha ha ha ha! Aw, so you think that when John wrote in John 1:1, ‘In the beginning was the Logos, the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,’ so you think that logos was the Bible, the Bible? So you think the Bible created the world? Ha ha!” and he laughed. “And you think that in Bethlehem, that when the virgin gave birth, according to your story, to the Christ [Matthew 1:23], that she gave birth to a Bible. Ha ha! And you think that it was a Bible that was crucified on the cross. Ha ha!” And then he added, “And I suppose you think it was the King James Version.” And may I parenthesize? There must be something good about this King James Version because all those liberals hate it. Isn’t that right? And just laughed.
I haven’t time to follow it through. I have to conclude. I conclude with a word about the Word. Outside of that Book, you will never know God, never. Those ancient Greek philosophers – there’s never been a time in the history of the human race when men reached the intellectual heights obtained by Socrates, and Plato, and Aristotle – – not long ago in the University of Oxford there were more than four hundred courses offered on Aristotelian philosophy alone, but with all of their genius of mind, those philosophers never came to know God. A man cannot know God by searching. Natural religionists have tried and sought, Confucius, Lao-tse, Mahavira, Zoroaster, Muhammad, but they never found the true God.
And science is now probing. They are struggling. They are seeking and searching and experimenting. But after science has searched and probed and experimented for ten billion years, they’ll come no nearer to knowing God than when they first began. As the scientist probes and looks in the macrocosm above us and the microcosm beneath us, they may find that whoever created this universe, whoever made it, wherever it came from, whoever did it was one of great power.
As they probe and search, they may find that whoever did it loved beauty. There’s no utilitarian purpose in a sunset, in the colors of a rainbow. Why isn’t everything drab and gray? He must have loved beauty. Whoever it was, He must have been morally sensitive because we have judgments in our souls. But the scientist by his searching and experimenting, seeking, could never find who He is. The only way we know God is in God’s self-revelation. I know His name. He told us His name. I know what He is like. Our Jesus said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9]. “I and My Father are One” [John 10:30]. If I seek God, I find Him in Jesus, and where do I find the revelation of Jesus? In the Word.
I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was Faithful and True.
On His head was many crowns. And His eyes were as a flame of fire.
He was dressed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God.
The incarnate Word, the spoken Word, the written Word, and the three are One. When I study my Book, I’m studying Jesus. When I believe the Book, I am believing Jesus. When I love the Book, I’m loving Jesus. When I stand here in this pulpit and preach the Book, I’m preaching Jesus.
“Bring me the Book,” said the dying sage;
“Read me the old, old story.”
And the winged word that can never age
Wafted his soul to glory.
“Bring me the Book.” That’s the faith, same yesterday, today, and forever [Psalm 119:89]. We’re past our time, and we must sing our song, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, will you come and stand by me? “Here’s my hand, pastor. I’m giving my heart to God.” In the balcony round, on this lower floor, make the decision now in your heart. Do it now. Make it now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. On the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle and down here to the front, make it now. Decide now, and come now, while we stand and while we sing.