Oklahoma Baptists celebrated their centennial anniversary in November. Certainly, the BGCO can be proud of many achievements through the first 100 years of their existence. In a recent editorial ("Back to the Future" Links to archived articles are no long available.) in the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, BGCO executive director, Anthony Jordan, sounded a strange note. Comparing the BGCO to the church in Ephesus, he wrote:
As was true in the words of our Lord to the church at Ephesus, we must return to our first love. Nothing among us must take preeminence over a passionate love for our Savior.
Pardon me, but when did Oklahoma Baptists lose their first love? At what point in their history did Oklahoma Baptists cease to have a passionate love for their Savior? I haven't been an Oklahoma Southern Baptist now for more than three years, but I can't remember a single example of an Oklahoma Baptist (church, pastor, or layman) who strayed from possessing a passionate love for Christ. I have no idea what Jordan is talking about when he writes these words.
He went on to write:
Although our church buildings look different, our ministries have varying shapes and our worship styles have changed, the future of Oklahoma Baptists is centered in a return to the biblical and powerful fundamentals of the past. A love for Jesus, a passion for the lost, a commitment to planting churches and a generosity in our mission support are keys to a dynamic future.
At what point in their history did Oklahoma Baptists stray being a "biblically centered" denomination? At what point in their history did Oklahoma Baptists depart from the "fundamentals of the Baptist beliefs of the past"? I can't answer the questions. I don't know what Dr. Jordan has in mind, but I don't remember that Oklahoma Baptists ever departed from being a biblically centered state convention. Nor I remember anything about Oklahoma Baptists departing from the fundamentals of the past. But I do know when Oklahoma Baptists began the slide into mean-spirited fundamentalism. It began early in the last decade of the first 100 years of Oklahoma Baptist history.
The rise of mean-spirited fundamentalism in Oklahoma occurred simultaneously with the birth of the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma. Southern Baptists began moving toward fundamentalism in 1979 when Adrian Rogers was elected as the first SBC president in the takeover of the denomination. W. A. Criswell, Paul Pressler, and Paige Patterson convinced the rank and file of Southern Baptists into believing that their denomination was sliding head-long into liberalism.
Of course the notion that Southern Baptists were being threatened by liberalism is a myth. While a great many Southern Baptists followed the takeover leaders toward narrow fundamentalism, a great many Southern Baptists, including myself, remained faithful to what we had always believed. Those who remained faithful to the traditional Southern Baptist beliefs came to be known as "moderates." Moderate Oklahoma Baptists rejected the rhetoric of the fundamentalists. They did not change their views about the Bible. They rejected the narrow theory of biblical inerrancy. They did not change their views about the infallibility of the Bible. They did not change their views concerning missions, ecclesiology, and theology.
Anthony Jordan's attitude toward moderate Baptists was not Christlike. His passionate dislike for Cooperative Baptists and Mainstream Baptists wasn't pretty. He has a passionate distaste for moderate Oklahoma Baptists because they did not fall into line with the with the neo-fundamentalism that came with the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. He doesn't understand that there was a major shift toward narrow fundamentalism among Southern Baptist thinking over the past quarter century.
The fundamentalist takeover led to a dismissive attitude toward those who rejected the modern ideas about biblical inerrancy. Those who rejected neo-fundamentalism were considered to be liberals of the worst order. Those who rejected the inerrancy theory of the Bible were systematically demeaned and excluded. Subscribing to the inerrancy theory of the Bible became a test of fellowship for the fundamentalists. After the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message was adopted, those who openly opposed the new statement of faith (which functioned more like a creed than a statement of faith) were marginalized and pushed aside. They were purged from leadership positions in Oklahoma Baptist life. They were blackballed, ignored, fired, and demeaned. I know this to be true, because I experienced it first hand.
Dr. Jordan wrote, concerning the first century of Oklahoma Baptist life:
These 100 years of history are marked by the hand and blessing of Almighty God. He has chosen to bless His people with strength in numbers, resources and influence.I believe God did bless Oklahoma Baptists through the first 75 years of their history, God did bless them strength, numbers, and resources. But that's only part of the story. There's another side to the story. And it isn't as pretty. The next post will delineate part of the other side of the story.