THE EARLY BACKGROUND
Baptist World Mission was born out of a theological struggle. The conflict began in the old Northern Baptist Convention (now called the American Baptist Churches in the USA). Within that denomination, the system of thought called "modernism" had made considerable progress. Modernists (now called "liberals") denied the great historic truths of the Christian faith such as Christ's deity, His virgin birth, His atoning death, and His bodily resurrection.
The colleges and seminaries of the denomination, as well as many pastors and churches, were tainted with this heretical system. The American Baptist Foreign Mission Society had sent out some missionaries of this persuasion. All of this greatly disturbed Bible-believing people within the American Baptist constituency. They decided that a mission board was needed that would send only evangelical missionaries to the field. Thus, the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society (CBFMS) was organized in 1943. The Conservative Baptist Association came into being as a national fellowship of churches in 1947. In 1950 the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society was born.
Prior to the existence of these groups (which were organizationally separate from one another), another body, made up of individual members, had been active. It was originally called the "Fundamental Baptist Fellowship," whose principal reason for existence was to protest and combat the modernism within the Northern Baptist Convention. This body changed its name to the "Conservative Baptist Fellowship" (CBF) and along with the other entities mentioned, became a part of what was known as the "Conservative Baptist movement."
THE GROWING CONFLICT
It was not long before the movement began to show signs of strain. There actually existed within the Conservative Baptist framework two distinct groups. One group was more openly fundamental in their stance and more militant in their defense of the faith. This group became known as the "hard core." The Conservative Baptist Fellowship formed the nucleus of this group. On the other side stood a group that had embraced the philosophy known as the "new evangelicalism." It was a compromise position which was gaining increasing acceptance in the 1950s. Those espousing this position became known as the "soft policy" group. The leadership of the two mission agencies were aligned with this body.
The strong fundamentalists within the Conservative Baptist movement became increasingly unhappy with the encroachments of this compromise position. Repeated efforts were made at different levels and in different organizations to repudiate the new evangelicalism and to firmly establish Conservative Baptists as fundamental separatists. Through political maneuvering their efforts were thwarted. Fundamentalist leaders pastored some of the strongest Conservative Baptist churches and also headed some of its educational institutions. They felt deeply that the Conservative Baptist movement was drifting from the biblical moorings upon which it had been established.
THE BATTLE OVER THE DENVER SEMINARY
In 1950 the Conservative Baptist Seminary was formed and located in Denver, Colorado. There were great expectations for this, the first Conservative Baptist school. Some of the strongest leaders were members of the board. It became evident after a time, however, that there were ideological differences between those who held a softer position on separation and those who wished to maintain a stronger position. Some of the more separatistic men gradually resigned from the board and it was left under the control of those of milder persuasion.
Dr. Vernon Grounds became the president of the seminary. He was a vocal advocate of the new evangelical position and began to author many study papers espousing this viewpoint and decrying the more fundamental and separatist stance. The seminary had considerable influence among many churches in Colorado and did not lose opportunity whenever possible to place pastors favorable to their viewpoint. The position and activities of the seminary caused a great uproar within the Colorado fellowship of churches. Strong separatist leaders in that state fought against the seminary and refused to support or commend it. This group went their own way. The issues there were a microcosm of the issues that were being debated nationwide.
THE BATTLE OVER PREMILLENNIALISM
The doctrinal statement of the CBA of America includes a commitment to premillennialism. Most of the early Conservative Baptists were of premillennial persuasion. However, the original doctrinal statements of the two mission boards--CBFMS and CBHMS--did not have a premillennial confession. Repeated efforts were made to get the word "premillennial" inserted into the doctrinal statement of both mission agencies. The Home Mission Society finally did insert the word and thus became officially premillennial. The Foreign Mission Society, however, steadfastly refused to make the change. Very specious arguments were offered as to why this should not be done, but probably the most honest answer is found in Bruce Shelley's History of Conservative Baptists when he writes:
Those who opposed the insertion of the word into the doctrinal statements did so not because they denied the doctrine but rather because they saw an effort to include it as part of the narrowing process already marked in the areas of polity and separation (p. 90).
Opponents of an open premillennial confession vigorously acclaimed that they themselves were premillennial, but that they did not think, for various reasons, that the mission societies should be so positionalized. The arguments enlisted in their cause were not theological but pragmatic.
THE BATTLE OVER THE PORTLAND MANIFESTO
At the annual meetings of Conservative Baptists held in Portland, Oregon, in 1953, the so-called "Portland Manifesto" was adopted. In the document, which was agreed to by the CBA and the two mission agencies, the Conservative Baptist movement was declared to be "separatist in spirit and objective." However, the passage of years began to reveal that many Conservative Baptists were not nearly as separatistic as this document might seem to suggest. For this reason efforts were made to have the document reaffirmed by a vote of the messengers. At the meeting in 1963, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Rev. Ronald MacDonald, a pastor from Michigan who was a member of the CBHMS board, moved the reaffirmation of the Manifesto. A spokesman arose and made an impassioned speech opposing the motion and declared that the circumstances that called for the adoption of the Manifesto in 1953 were no longer present, and that, furthermore, the document was being misused and misinterpreted by the "hard-core" separatists. Such devious attacks upon the document plus skillful political maneuvering insured the defeat of the motion. The opposition to a clear statement which had once been affirmed by all Conservative Baptists openly revealed that a drift had occurred within the movement--a departure from some of the original principles that were espoused.
THE BATTLE OVER NEW EVANGELICALISM
One year at the CBA annual conference, Dr. Charles Woodbridge was a featured speaker, addressing the gathering on the subject of "The New Evangelicalism." It was a masterful address, but on the way downstairs in the elevator, a CBA seminary president stated to another leader, "None of it applies to us." Unfortunately, he was mistaken and a great deal of it "applied to us." Leaders in the CBA and its affiliates were not willing to admit to their new evangelical position which they had embraced.
One of the leading figures in new evangelical circles was Billy Graham. His ecumenical campaigns were bringing believers and unbelievers together under the banner of evangelism. There was considerable support for Graham's position among Conservative Baptists.
Even in earlier days the Conservative Baptist movement as a whole had strong ties to the National Association of Evangelicals, a bastion of the new evangelical philosophy. The strength of those ties has been evidenced more recently as the Conservative Baptist Association has been received into formal fellowship with the NAE.
Featured at Conservative Baptist meetings and promoted by many Conservative Baptist pastors were various interdenominational organizations that did not profess to take a separatist position let alone a Baptist one. For instance, at the Long Beach convention in 1964, the following groups had displays: American Bible Society, Bible Institute of Los Angeles, Gospel Light Publications, Presbyterian Ministers Fund, Narramore Christian Foundation, and the National Association of Evangelicals.
THE BATTLE OVER "CONVENTIONISM"
While the Conservative Baptists disavowed "conventionism" as they had known it in the old Northern Baptist Convention, they nevertheless had tendencies in that direction. While each Conservative Baptist group declared itself an autonomous body there was an interlocking arrangement which tended to strengthen the denominational spirit and loyalty. There was talk from time to time of merging everything together, but this never materialized. Many of the objectionable features of the old Northern Baptist Convention were gradually making their appearance within the Conservative Baptist movement.
A NEW MISSION SOCIETY BORN
Some of the fundamentalist leaders requested a special meeting of the Conservative Baptist Fellowship in order to discuss the situation within the movement. This historic meeting was called by the President of CBF, Dr. Earle Matteson, and was held in Chicago in September of 1961. After considerable prayer and discussion, the board of CBF voted unanimously to organize the World Conservative Baptist Mission (WCBM). It was formed to be a consistent fundamentalist and separatist mission agency without any compromise with new evangelicalism. In June of 1966, the name was changed to "BAPTIST WORLD MISSION." It became apparent that Baptist World Mission (BWM) and the Conservative Baptists were going in different directions, and all ties with that movement were severed.
The first officers of the Mission were the following:
- President - Bryce Augsburger
- Vice-President - Ernest Pickering
- Secretary -Kenton Beshore
- Treasurer - Henry Sorenson
The original board members were as follows:
- Arthur Allen
- Roy Austin
- Mrs. Harriet Bratrud
- David Farrington
- Herbert Hoover
- John Johnson
- Joseph MacMullen
- Earle Matteson
- Peter Mustric
- Ed Nelson
- Monroe Parker
- Paul Seanor
- Mrs. Willard Stallcup
- David Tirrell
- Richard Weeks
- Arno Weniger, Sr.
- John Weidenaar
- Allan Williams
Dr. Lee Long, General Director of the Conservative Baptist Fellowship, was elected Missionary Secretary of WCBM and served in both capacities in the early days of the Mission. He headed the Mission until his retirement in 1967.
THE BATTLE OVER THE WORLD CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST MISSION
Needless to say the appearance of the Mission produced a fire-storm of controversy within the Conservative Baptist movement. Vitriolic articles were written against the agency and its founders. Some of its leaders were referred to as "Johnny-come-latelys" who were fomenting division within the movement. A paper published in the east called "Conservative Baptist Witness" constantly opposed the stronger separatists and promoted the official "denominational line."
Repeatedly efforts were made to obtain display space for the WCBM at the annual conferences. There was no success. Display areas could be provided for all kinds of interdenominational groups, but a genuine Conservative Baptist mission was not allowed representation.
As the organizational structure of the Mission was being developed, two approaches were discussed. Some desired a board composed of persons elected in some manner by the supporting churches. This was the pattern followed by CBFMS whose board members were elected in annual regional meetings. After considerable debate, however, it was voted to make the board self perpetuating. The majority felt that this structure was better suited to protect the Mission from future deviation. The decision was made at the annual meeting held in Casper, Wyoming, in 1967.
In November of 1969, Dr. Monroe Parker accepted the call to be the general director of the Mission. He assumed the assignment with the understanding that the Mission office would be relocated from Chicago to Decatur, Alabama, where he made his home. In May of 1981, Dr. Fred Moritz was installed as Assistant to the General Director. In 1984 he was appointed Executive Director by the board.
Under Dr. Parker's leadership the Mission grew. Over 4000 independent, fundamental Baptist churches now channel support through Baptist World Mission. Dr. Parker went home to Heaven in July 1994. Dr. Moritz became the leader of the Mission, retaining the title of Executive Director. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, he also serves as field director for Russia, the Baltics, and Canada. He also holds Bible, evangelistic, and missionary conferences and travels to minister in foreign countries.
Dr. Ron Brooks was added to the staff as field director in 1991. Retired from the United States Army with the rank of Major, he had become a missionary under Baptist World Mission in 1986 and established a church in Heidelberg, Germany. His current duties at the Mission include ministry in churches, schools, and conferences as well as the supervision of the missionaries serving in Europe and Africa.
In June of 1993, Dr. Ernest Pickering became deputation director. While teaching in Moscow during the summer of 1996, Dr. Pickering began to lose his sight. By November he was completely blind. In December of 1996, the Pickerings moved to Pennsylvania to be near their daughter. Dr. Pickering represented BWM as a field representative and has since gone home to be with the Lord.
Dr. David Cummins joined the team at Baptist World Mission in June of 1997. He serves as deputation director, taking the appointed missionaries through the appointment process and assisting them through the time of deputation until they leave for the field. He brings to BWM a wealth of experience in the pastorate, having pastored for 45 years. He is also a gifted writer, speaker, and historian.
Baptist World Mission experienced a year of growth in 1997. Another mission board of like persuasion merged with BWM, bringing 15 of their missionary families. Coming in August from this board was Dr. Jack McLanahan. His experience in the pastorate and as a mission director for 15 years was beneficial to BWM. He serves as a field director for North and South America.
Steve and Martha Anderson joined Baptist World Mission in 1997 as furlough-replacement church planters, serving anywhere in the Baptist World Mission family. In April of 2002, Steve was appointed BWM’s field administrator for Africa. They currently serve in both of these capacities. The Andersons spent three terms as missionaries in Togo, West Africa, from 1979 until 1991.
As the Lord continued to bless with more missionaries, the need for additional staff was necessary. Dr. Dennis Walton, a successful pastor with a heart for missions, was added as a field administrator for Asia and Down Under. He has traveled to several fields to assist in teaching and preaching ministries. Dr. Walton began his work at BWM in February of 1998.
"The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad."
-- Psalm 126:3