by Keith Bassham
About this time 60 years ago, preachers and church members were planning to take a trip to Springfield to celebrate the opening day of Baptist Bible College. For those excited founders, the World War II surplus barracks and the borrowed space at High Street Baptist Church represented a summer of prayer, work, giving, and sweating.
The practice of coming together on such an occasion was customary in the fellowship they had left. In fact, those forming the new fellowship were not radicals, and they wanted something like the older one. They wanted a loose network, where no single preacher or group of preachers or churches would exercise control over the others. Each local church was autonomous and each pastor had a voice in the affairs of the Fellowship. For that matter, they believed this whole fellowship business would be voluntary and participative. You joined simply by participating and agreeing with the others on what came to be known as the 20 Articles of Faith,
There were between a dozen and 20 adult missionaries, depending on how you count, in about a half dozen places, and they had purchased a piece of property in Springfield, Missouri, for a college. One short and tumultuous decade later, college enrollment had grown from a little over 107 to 565. The missionary force had swelled to 169 missionaries serving on 17 fields, and in 1959, the BBF Mission Office processed three quarters of a million dollars for those missionaries, an unbelievable amount in those days.
But in September 1960, the Fellowship was in a conflict over church autonomy, though at the time they were not aware that was the true issue. Specifically, some preachers had come to the position that we should require of our national officers something beyond what is spelled out in the 20 Articles of Faith. In other words, they wanted more rules based on applications of specific doctrines. The subject was debated and studied over a year’s time, and the pastors came to an important conclusion. They believed that by adding more rules, even if the rules applied only to the officers, those officers were pastors of churches, and thus the new rules would affect churches as well. Very wisely, in September 1960, the gentlemen rejected additional rules, the 20 Articles remained as they were, and the requirements for officers were left alone. In the process though, the Constitution and Bylaws for the Fellowship were redrafted, and in particular this statement was added:
ARTICLE IX – RELATIONSHIP TO CHURCHES
All New Testament Churches are autonomous and self-governing; therefore, no article in this Constitution or By-Laws shall ever be interpreted in any way as to infringe upon or jeopardize the absolute sovereignty of any local church. The property rights, the missionary policies, and the practical procedures for autonomous, self-governing churches shall never be endangered in any way by the Baptist Bible Fellowship International, its agencies or subsidiaries.
For a thorough analysis of this important chapter in Fellowship history, see the article “The BBFI Philosophy of Fellowship” by Mike Randall on the web at http://bbfi.org/philosophy.htm.