The Beginnings of the New Testament Association
July 14, 2017
Kevin T. Bauder
By the early 1960s three issues divided the Conservative Baptist Movement. First was the question of separation, especially in view of neoevangelicalism and Billy Graham’s tactic of “cooperative evangelism.” Second was eschatology—many Conservative Baptists had moved away from pretribulationism, and some had abandoned premillennialism. Third was the relationship between the agencies (such as the seminary in Denver or the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society) and the local churches. Of the two parties, the “hard core” favored stricter separatism, pretribulational premillennialism, and local church priority. Those who favored the “soft policy” were willing to work with Graham in spite of his promotion of anti-Christians on his platform; they were also willing to accept greater breadth in eschatology, and they were less bothered by the agencies’ attempts to dominate and manipulate local church pastors.
Another issue was added in about 1963, when a church with unbaptized members was received by the Conservative Baptist Association. The hard core attempted to block the CBA from seating messengers from this church. The attempt succeeded temporarily, only to be reversed. The CBA also refused to reaffirm either its original statement of purpose or the Portland Declaration of 1953, both of which committed Conservative Baptists to a separatist direction. By 1963 it was clear that a seismic shift was occurring in the Conservative Baptist Movement.
In 1963 a committee of reconciliation, including both hard core and soft policy leaders, issued a report that could have stopped the conflict. That report, however, was blocked by soft policy sympathizers and never presented to the Conservative Baptist constituency. About that time calls began to come from the soft policy for the hard core to “get out and leave us alone.” Then in 1964 the CBA voted to void the election of representatives from the Central Regional, which was dominated by the hard core. Clearly a division was imminent.
The hard core still hoped for reconciliation, but began to prepare for the worst. At some point a group of hard core spokesmen requested a meeting with leaders from the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. They suggested that they could induce most of the hard core churches to join the GARBC as a bloc if the GARBC could guarantee them a certain number of seats on its council of 14. Robert Ketcham replied that the GARBC was a fellowship of churches; consequently, congregations had to vote in one at a time. The hard core leaders responded that it would take years for some of them to get on the council that way, and they left in dismay. Ketcham remarked to the other GARBC men, “It’s been thirty years, and they still don’t understand how we work.”
In October of 1964, Bryce Augsburger invited the hard core leadership to Marquette Manor Baptist Church in Chicago to take the first steps toward forming a new fellowship. Nearly 200 attended. Besides Augsburger, Richard Weeks (pastor in Oak Lawn, Illinois) and R. V. Clearwaters of Minneapolis were prominent in this meeting. Clearwaters moved and Monroe Parker seconded that a meeting be called for May of 1965, to be held at Beth Eden Baptist in Denver, for the purpose of organizing the new association. In the meanwhile, a committee of 21 (chaired by Weeks) would work out the details and bring a proposal.
To protect the name of the “New Testament Association of Baptist Churches of America,” members of the committee immediately took out incorporation papers in the state of Minnesota. Early in 1965 the committee received a communication from the board of the CBA asking for a meeting to try to resolve the conflict. In response, the committee prepared a nine-point proposal for reconciliation. When the proposal reached the CBA board, however, it was merely read and filed. That ended the last hope for reconciliation between the two groups. At the same meeting of the CBA board, B. Myron Cedarholm (who was still the general director) presented a seven-page statement describing what would have to happen to return the CBA to its original position. He may as well have been reading his resignation.
Over 300 individuals representing about 150 churches registered for the Beth Eden meeting. Another 200-300 attended without registering. The assembly voted to organize the New Testament Association of Baptist Churches, and then it adopted a provisional constitution. This constitution clearly defined the new fellowship as an association of churches. Voting messengers would have to be authorized by their churches. To send messengers, the churches would have to vote to affiliate with the new association.
The new constitution spoke clearly to the issue of dual affiliation, which had been a sore spot in the old CBA. To affiliate with the NTA, a church could “not be in affiliation with any other national association of churches.” This measure was aimed not only at the old Northern (now American) Baptist Convention but also at the CBA. Some suspected that it was also calculated as retaliation against the GARBC.
No officers were elected in Denver. Instead, the planning committee was expanded to 25 and appointed as trustees of the new association. A second organizational meeting was planned for Eagledale Baptist Church of Indianapolis in 1966.
In October the Ravenswood Baptist Church of Chicago invited the committee of 25 to a “Central Area Rally.” The rally featured preaching by several of the hard core worthies, but the high point was an open forum in which key leaders discussed the issues and responded to questions. These leaders included Bryce Augsburger, R. V. Clearwaters, Warren Dafoe, Chester McCullough, and Peter Mustric. At this point, the way seemed clear for the new association to be finalized.
A problem arose in April, however, when Weeks sent out an informational letter in behalf of the committee of 25. Weeks’s letter stated that all messengers invited to the Eagledale Baptist meeting would be allowed to vote on matters concerning the formation of the association. Weeks had forgotten, however, that the provisional constitution limited franchise rights to messengers from churches that had voted into the NTA. This misunderstanding would create a disruption at Indianapolis.
Because of Weeks’s letter, all messengers arrived at Eagledale Baptist Church (pastored by Warren Dafoe) expecting to vote on association business. Only 21 churches, however, had voted to affiliate with the new group, and only their messengers were constitutionally permitted to vote. This episode was more than an embarrassment. It brought to the surface a difference of opinion as to the kind of organization that the hard core leaders thought they were founding. That difference will be traced in greater detail in the next issue of In the Nick of Time.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Prayer for Patience
William Cowper (1731–1800)
Lord, who hast suffer’d all for me,
My peace and pardon to procure,
The lighter cross I bear for Thee,
Help me with patience to endure.
The storm of loud repining hush;
I would in humble silence mourn;
Why should the unburnt, though burning bush,
Be angry as the crackling thorn?
Man should not faint at Thy rebuke,
Like Joshua falling on his face,
When the cursed thing that Achan took
Brought Israel into just disgrace.
Perhaps some golden wedge suppress’d,
Some secret sin offends my God;
Perhaps that Babylonish vest,
Self-righteousness, provokes the rod.
Ah! were I buffeted all day,
Mock’d, crown'd with thorns and spit upon,
I yet should have no right to say,
My great distress is mine alone.
Let me not angrily declare
No pain was ever sharp like mine,
Nor murmur at the cross I bear,
But rather weep, remembering Thine.