The Conservative Baptist Association: "Winning the World"

Lesson 13: The Conservative Baptist Association: “Winning the World”

The Northern Baptist Convention had firmly set its direction towards liberalism. Though the Baptist Bible Union attempted to establish a new movement outside of the NBC, internal problems led to its demise. The only organized voice for orthodox theology was that of the Fundamental Fellowship.

The Fundamental Fellowship firmly desired to stay within the NBC and provide a dissenting voice to the onslaught of liberalism. The fundamentalists believed that the Convention was becoming liberal. In reality, however, the NBC was always dominated by the liberals, established liberal schools, and sent liberal missionaries. The fundamentalists tried to use their influence and capture the convention. However, it was not to be.

The fundamentalists tried to get the NBC to adopt a confession, it failed. The fundamentalists moved for the NBC to investigate their schools for liberalism. The NBC reported that their schools were “doing a work of which the denomination may well be proud.” The fundamentalists shifted their attention to the missionaries. Attempting to proceed with their investigation, the NBC hindered their progress by claiming that the files were confidential. Not satisfied with the answer, W.B. Riley did his own investigation and found that many missionaries denied the authority of the Bible, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc. Rather than “winning the world” to Christ, the fundamentalists found the liberals socializing pagans. So, “winning the world” became the fundamentalist agenda.

The situation which led to the formation of the CBA

In 1924, the NBC adopted the “evangelical policy.” With that policy, the liberals claimed that they would appoint only evangelicals to the mission field. What is an “evangelical?” The liberals attempted to cover their liberalism by using vague terminology. The fundamentalists called the policy the “inclusive policy” since it included liberals in missions.

The fundamentalists called for four stipulations at a decisive conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1946). The stipulations were:

  • That the record of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ as stated in Matthew 1 and Luke 1 and 2 is true and trustworthy.

  • That the record of the Resurrection of Christ as stated in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20,21, is true and trustworthy.

  • That the record of the miracles of Jesus as given in the Gospels is true and trustworthy.

  • That the New Testament is inspired of God in all its contents and all the acceptance of its historical facts, revelation, teachings, and doctrines are obligatory in Christian faith and practice.

The liberal Winfield Edson followed Woelfkin’s procedure of offering the substitute motion: “We reaffirm our faith in the New Testament as a divinely inspired record and therefore a trustworthy, and authoritative, and all-sufficient rule for our faith and practice.” It was adopted.

The liberals were again attempting to cover their unbelief. Shelley well notes:

“Such creeds, it was charged, violated Baptist practice and belief in liberty of conscience. But the reply asserted that this charge is based upon a misunderstanding of soul liberty. “Logically, our Baptist fathers announced their principle of soul liberty as a protest against the coercive ideas of their age . . . They never meant by that principle that a man could believe anything and be a Baptist, nor did they believe that the signing of a confession of one’s own will contradicted that principle.”1

Formation of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society.

In 1943, the fundamentalists found that they could no longer support the missionaries of the NBC. In Chicago, Illinois, they convened to establish another mission society within the NBC, one that was fundamentalist driven.

It was an impressive beginning. In the first four and a half months of its existence, the CBFMS had received over $42,000 with a constituency of over 200 churches.

The aim of the CBFMS was foreign missions. It is this aim which became the driving force in the CBA.

Formation of the Conservative Baptist Fellowship of the Northern Baptists

Three years after the founding of the CBFMS, a new committee (the Committee of “Fifteen”2 met at Winona Lake, Indiana to discuss the events that transpired at the Grand Rapids Conference. They moved to form of a new association which should be called the Conservative Baptist Fellowship.

They resolved to form a new association. Yet, like its sister, the CBFMS, they purposed that the churches remain in the NBC. The CBF announced its intentions to stay within the NBC and provide a voice for fundamentalism. However, different from the NBC, each church in the CBF had to subscribe to a confession.

Gabriel Guedj, the Chairman of the CBF stated the group’s desire to remain in the NBC.

“Fundamentalists must also be loyal to the fellowship of Baptists known as the Northern Baptist Convention or they forfeit the right and the privilege of exerting their influence in the right direction. Those who have left the Northern Convention have on the one hand, cut themselves off, from any influence (or vote) which might have been instrumental in bringing our denomination direction and testimony back to where it historically belongs; and they also have weakened the hands of those who still strive to maintain that testimony true to the Word.3

By 1950, the CBF fell into financial straits. One member, Dr. Tulga, published two books (”The Case Books”) which enjoyed a large printing. The large sales revived the CBF and gave it the distinction of being the publications arm of the CBA.

Formation of the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society

Realizing that the Conservative Baptists had organized a foreign outreach, and a publications venture, the home front needed to be established with like-minded churches. Hence, the CBHMS was developed in the late 40s. It formally organized in 1950 when the CBHMS saw success.

Formation of the Conservative Baptist Association

The same year that the CBHMS was formally organized, the Conservative Baptists combined their efforts into the Conservative Baptist Association.

The CBA became a well organized, fully endowed organization. It produced Sunday School literature. It also had foreign and home missions agencies. The movement had momentum.

As the CBA was formed, talk of establishing a Conservative Baptist seminary became evident. A budget was adopted, faculty was secured, and a forty-room estate in Denver, Colorado was purchased. This was organized as the Conservative Baptist Seminary. During the 50s, the Conservative Baptists had established many seminaries:

  • Western Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon (established in 1927 added “conservative” to its title in 1953)

  • Central Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1956)

  • San Francisco Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary (1958)

By 1953, one decade after the CBMFS was established, the CBA became a powerful machine. Note the following:

  • The CBFMS boasted 301 foreign missionaries, 1.25 million dollars, 1,632 affiliated churches.

  • The CBHMS boasted an increase of 46% in income, 124 affiliated churches, and 64 new church plants.

The internal problem of the CBA

Too broad of a doctrinal statement

The CBA, CBFMS, CBHMS, and CBF all shared the same constitution. The constitution was typical in format. It had nine articles including articles of purpose, doctrine, and amendment.

The doctrinal statement was conservative, but like the Fundamental Fellowship statement, it failed to include statements on important doctrines such as premillinealism, separation, and election.

Another carryover from the Fundamental Fellowship was the adopted motion:

“Moved, seconded, and passed – That we recommend to the Fundamental Fellowship that when the new society is incorporated that the doctrinal statement be included in the articles of incorporation with the provision that they shall never be changed, altered, modified, or revoked except by unanimous vote.”

To maintain the doctrinal position of the CBA, this clause was placed in Article IX.

Constitutions as well as confessions of faith are not static documents. They are written in a certain time by fallible men. They should never be protected with such a clause. As future generations face theological error, they will have to amplify, or narrow, their doctrinal statement to oppose the errors/heresies.

It should be noted that the CBA’s doctrinal statement, one page in length, was far too broad. In 1648, the Second London Baptist Confession was produced. It was over 110 pages and covered many other important doctrinal matters including (Creation, election, Hell, sanctification, eternal security).

A broad theological constituency

Since the doctrinal position of the CBA was broad, it only follows that the constituency was varied theologically.

The New Evangelicals were on the rise. Many in the CBA sided with new evangelicalism which prefers a broad doctrinal position. However, the more fundamental group (CBF) desired a more narrow theological document. The two groups were labeled “Soft Core” and “Hard Core” respectively.

ladd-tenny-discussion The first controversy centered around the doctrine of the Last Things. The CBF men desired a more narrow confession that included a statement on premillinealism. That is the belief that Christ will return before the millennium to take his saints (Rev 3.10, 1Th 5, Mt 24). Later, this doctrine was more correctly named as “pretribulationalism.”

The CBF wanted this added to the constitution. Each year (1954–1958), the CBF presented this issue for constitutional amendment. Knowing that a change to the Doctrinal Section of the Constitution required a unanimous vote, the CBF moved that a 2/3rds vote be all that is necessary. That motion was tabled in 1958 by the presiding officer, Rev. W.H. Bisgaard. He moved that the motion was “illegal” though no statute had been identified as violated.

In fact, Bisgaard was a “Soft Core” following in “lock step” with the National Association of Evangelicals and Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver Colorado. The “Soft Core,” generally speaking, did not subscribe to premillinealism. Though some were premillineal, the “Soft Core” crowd did not want the matter to “become a test of fellowship.”4

To strike a compromise, the following year, the C.B.F.M.S. added to the purpose article that they would not send out any missionary that did not subscribe to premillinealism. The C.B.F.M.S. further stated that the board was not in favor of “keeping the door open for amillennialists or postmillennialists.”5 It should be noted that the C.B.F.M.S. said nothing of “mid-tribulationalists,” the position of the Dr. Merrill Tenny, dean of the graduate school of Wheaton College.6

Going separate ways

As a result of the premillinealism controversy, the CBA would no longer give the CBF men time at the annual program. They also found it difficult to find space to display their materials at the annual meetings. The CBF men found themselves practically forced out of the CBA.

Furthermore, at the CBA meetings in 1962 (Detroit, Michigan), the CBA removed the following italicized portion from their constitution:

“To provide a fellowship of churches and individuals upon a thoroughly Biblical and historically Baptistic basis, unmixed with liberals and liberalism and those who are content to walk in fellowship with unbelief and inclusivism.”7

Four years later, a group of fundamentalists left the CBA and formed the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches (1966). The following year, the CBF became the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship (1967).


Illustration by Don Pfaffe appearing in the Central Conservative Baptist Quarterly (Summer 1960) p. 12.

Local regions developed their own association. In Illinois, the Association of Independent Baptist Churches of Illinois as formed in 1968. As late as 1979, the CBA group in Michigan formed the Independent Fundamental Baptist Association of Michigan.

Lessons we can learn

1. A broad confession of faith does not protect doctrinal purity and leads to splits.

2. The New Evangelicals fear a “narrowing” of one’s doctrinal position. In their quest to “win the world,” they believe that a broad doctrinal confession produces evangelistic efforts. Actually, the opposite is the case. Allowing for liberalism and theological error to remain in one’s movement will move it away from the gospel.

3. Doctrinal purity must be safeguarded. Working together for a common cause demands a common theology. One cannot expect to accomplish the mission of the church8 if there is no common confession.

1 Shelley, Conservative Baptists, p. 51.

2 There were actually 18 men on the committee. The chairman and two alternates were not included in the number.

3 cited in Shelly, p. 46.

4 Conservative Baptist, a publication of the C.B.F.M.S. (July–August, 1954), 3.

5 C.B.F.M.S. April 1956

6 In 1968, the CBA moved its headquarters to Wheaton, Illinois. This was the center of New Evangelicalism.

7 Beale, In Pursuit of Purity, 293.

8 The mission of the church is to reproduce itself doctrinally and philosophically. See Lesson 6.

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