Defining Moments in a Baptist Life

Dr. Russell Dilday got the nod as an interim pastor at FBC Richmond and will serve in 2007. The congregation has wisely selected someone who will give great preaching and caring leadership during the search process. He will evidently be one of several who will have this privilege. I wish him all the best, and the same goes for the church. These large moderate churches deserve our support and prayers, as the selection of a pastor is a critical matter. There are too many “closet fundamentalists” who would deceive the pastor search committee of a moderate church in order to “change them.” I don’t think this will happen here, as this church no doubt has the discernment to make good choices.

Upon hearing of Dr. Dilday’s selection, I began to think about seminary days and some of the events that took place in the SBC years ago. I’m fortunate not to be caught up in convention politics, although it is entertaining to find out what Southern Baptists are fighting each other about now. I recall hearing about Dilday’s difficulties with trustees at Southwestern as he attempted to fight off a growing fundamentalist tidal wave. One particular memory stands out for me at seminary. My major professor, Dr. Paul Robertson, gave a chapel sermon in which he mentioned the lock on Dilday’s office door had been changed to keep him from returning to work. This was done at the same time Dilday was in a trustee meeting fighting for his professional life. I couldn’t believe that people would treat someone like that. I couldn’t believe it could happen among Baptists, especially to a seminary president with a good reputation. It was a sad day, and a defining moment.

Growing up in a typical Southern Baptist church I didn’t know a thing about Baptist politics–even if such an animal existed. After finishing college and being involved in the Baptist Student Union, the Lord led me to NOBTS. Even then I didn’t know what I was doing, only that it was where I needed to be. I got a great education, and came through at a good time. Things are different now, of course, and this saddens me a little. I do have some fond memories of the school, and laugh about some of the students I got to know. Times were hard, and money was hard to come by. Stress seemed much more abundant. It really was “the best of times, and the worst of times.” As I progressed into the Ph.D. program, I did get to do some contract teaching in the theology field. These opportunities continued after I graduated. The extra income helped, and working with students was enjoyable (for the most part).

Another significant event happened in the summer of 2000 when I received a letter requesting my signature on the revised Baptist Faith & Message (BFM). This surprised me, even though I knew the convention was considering the matter. I naively thought that a year’s study on the matter would be in order, but no. I had been preparing to teach a Church History course at an extension center, but upon receiving the news realized my teaching days were over at NOBTS. I couldn’t sign the document to teach “in accordance with and not contrary to” the 2000 BFM. This was somewhat disappointing, even though I only taught every now and then. The professors on campus were the ones I thought about. Many are gone now, but I remember them.

In hindsight, I now realize that the decision not to sign proved to be a defining moment for me. No sirens went off, and I doubt very seriously that anyone missed me. The irony, however, was that the school replaced me with a fellow seminary friend who happened to be of the female persuasion. Anyway, from that moment on, I knew I was “on the outside looking in.” Circumstances had changed, doctrinal parameters had tightened, and the SBC missionaries who were supposed to have been exempt from the convention mess were required to sign the new belief statement. Some of these had been serving faithfully for decades, now their theology was in question. These were strange times, and I won’t elaborate on them. Water under the bridge.

The 2000 BFM issue moved me “off the fence” and toward the CBF. I have found a home with thousands of other Baptists and it feels like family. The Lord has since placed me in a church that values Baptist distinctives, holistic missions, and doesn’t exclude persons from service based on their gender (by the way, Jesus Christ really is the criterion for interpreting Scripture). I’m very fortunate, but six years ago could not have imagined how an event in the SBC could have such a personal and lasting impact. What at the time seemed difficult and painful turned out to be a blessing. I have become more confident in who I am, where I am, and what I believe. There are many others who could say the same thing.

It’s been a while since I’ve articulated this growth process. I guess hearing the name of a former SBC soldier brought back some memories for me. My only regret is that so many younger ministers don’t have a clue about the battles that have been fought and the many casualties that came out of a denominational war. I remember, and express my heartfelt appreciation to traditional Baptists like Dr. Dilday who stood for their convictions.

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2 thoughts on “Defining Moments in a Baptist Life

  1. Ircel says:

    I think it is important for us to remember faithful leaders like Russell Dilday and find a way to articulate to a new generation of ministers why their witness was (and is) important. At the core, these men and women were not fighting for a denomination. They were trying to retain principles that should be important to every Baptist (and most Christians!).

    The saddest thing about all of these stories is the lack of integrity shown by those who “took ’em out.” These “Christian” leaders quite honestly believed that the ends justified the means. Faithfulness, commitment, and integrity counted for little in this warfare.

    I am reminded of cartoon I saw several years ago. A group of men were sitting around a board room table. One was on a phone saying, “Miss Smith, can you send soemone in here who knows right from wrong?” Maybe that’s the lesson we need to be teaching.

  2. Dr. Danny Chisholm says:

    Where are the statesmen and stateswomen? They are needed even more today to chart a new course for Baptists. It’s an exciting time for us.

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