Adapted from an article written and published by Tom Harper in the January 2000 issue of the Tribune. The title is taken from a statement made by Noel Smith in the founding meeting of the Baptist Bible Fellowship.
The Baptist Bible Fellowship began with no written plan or formal structure. As evidenced by Noel Smith’s quote at the Texas Hotel (see title), this was a spontaneous movement of Baptists ready to get to work now and iron out the details later. But few would have known much about the new Fellowship if not for Noel Smith and the Baptist Bible Tribune.
Smith’s background was journalism and evangelism. He had worked with J. Frank Norris for several years, editing The Fundamentalist. Though he never graduated from high school, he read voraciously and had a tremendous reservoir of general and scriptural knowledge. His understanding of human nature was unsurpassed.
Editor Smith’s legendary pen set the tone and the terms of the debate in the early days, and the personality of the BBFI was largely cast in his image. This was possible, almost inevitable, because of the nature of the organization. It was small at first, and there was no Sunday School Board, no common literature beyond the Bible, no state or county associations, no one overseeing anything.
The only entity with a common link to all the churches was the Baptist Bible Tribune.
The Fellowship congealed within a swirl of social change. Worldwide, Stalin was murdering millions of his citizens, the World Council of Churches had long ago exchanged the Savior for socialism, and the seeds of another war were being sown in the minds of North Korean peasants.
In America, the aftermath of WWII was further tempting the country into U.N. internationalism. Ecclesiasticism and liberalism, once the marks of mainstream denominations, were continuing to seduce Baptists and others. Socialism was in vogue, communists were in government, and Americans were becoming lazy and luxuriant.
Smith believed these issues were of great import to independent Baptists and drove to the core of them in the pages of the Tribune, all the while reporting the progress of churches, missionaries, pastors, BBC, and all the activities of the growing movement.
A typical issue, December 14, 1951, began with a missionary report from Japan, which included information about the Japanese government and religion. There was a warning about commercializing Christmas reprinted from the Religious News Service. A report on the Denton, Texas, Fellowship meeting (the first national meeting) included a picture of all the missionaries present. F. S. Donnelson had a report, the first Baptist Bible College yearbook was offered for sale ($2.50), and letters to the editor were all positive.
Beside “News of the Week” and “The Tribune Town Hall,” the editor’s series called “Nimrod, the Rebellious Panther” ran its second installment, and his editorial warned the “New Dealers” that judgment was coming.
Smith packed a lot of useful news into eight pages. And he was unflinchingly honest. He was also wise and knew that without a common information and news source, the emerging Fellowship would fragment. The Baptist Bible Tribune kept the vision clear, reported genuine progress, and let everyone know that the BBFI was a going concern.
When the founding editor died in January 1974, the Tribune had been an 8-16 page weekly for all of its 1,130 issues. Assistant editor Dick Barnard ran the paper until November, when Wendell Zimmerman, pastor of Jacksonville Baptist Temple in Jacksonville, Florida, was appointed editor. The operation was moved to Florida and some years later began publishing bi-weekly. Zimmerman edited from 1974 to 1983.
Then James O. Combs, a California pastor and evangelist, was asked to assume editorship. Mr. Combs focused his energy and creativity into the Tribune until 1995. Under his administration the Tribune was published every three weeks, then monthly beginning in 1991. In January of 1992 the current magazine format was adopted at that time, and we now publish 11 Tribunes a year (July-August are combined).
Mr. Combs retired from the Tribune in March 1995, after 12 years as editor, and Mike Randall succeeded him. In addition to a long and successful career pastoring in Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana, Randall served as a faculty member at Baptist Bible College, and, from 1991-1998, as vice president. When Randall returned to BBC as president in 2002, the Fellowship appointed Assistant Editor Keith Bassham to the post of Executive Editor, where he serves today.
The Fellowship’s world is different, and this current issue is very different from the early eight-page weeklies, but the Tribune remains today what it has always been, the record of what the BBFI is accomplishing in its service for God. There is no other record of the overall movement, no other way to know of the vast work of starting churches here and abroad. Years from now we will know the work of the BBFI through the pages of the Baptist Bible Tribune.
The focus has stayed the same: to report the work of Baptist Bible Fellowship in all its facets, and to encourage independent Baptists in the work of the Lord. We do this so you can know that you are not alone in this Fellowship work. You can pray intelligently for other servants of Christ in their struggles. And we can rejoice together in what God is accomplishing through us.