I have served as Pastor to several great churches not the least of which is Southcliff Baptist Church in Ft. Worth Texas. It was while there that a profound moment came to my life and ministry at the age of 40. To fully explain this event I will need to give a bit of background and follow this with a few individual posts on specific subjects. But the background first.
Having been born into an alcoholic family with little or no church ties at all, you can understand my lack of biblical knowledge of any kind into my first ten years of life. My sister then started dating a baptist preacher and all that changed for the good. It was off to church with some regularity. At age 13, under deep conviction and great fear, I responded to the gospel and was converted, baptized, and well on my way to a different life. My now Brother-in-law was my role model, the only real one I'd ever had, and like him I wanted to be. At age 15 I "felt called to preach" and told him so. He wisely accepted my leanings and tested them in September of 1955 by asking me to preach for him on a Wednesday evening. I did and the rest is history, you can do the math.
Ordained at 16, called to my first church as pastor at 17, three weeks before my 18th birthday, and married to a 17 year old girl whom I loved deeply, and still do, I was 18 at the time, I was on my way to being the best baptist preacher/pastor Southern Baptists had ever seen. [IMHO]
My hero in the faith, my brother-in-law, and my sister had long since gone to Chile as missionaries, where they served for over 35 years, so I had lost the one pointing the way. I found another. He was my father-in-law. A SBC evangelist lifted out of the oil industry and the planning and resources board for the state of Oklahoma, fired for witnessing on the job, he began to preach and replaced my need for a direction setter. It was at this time I began reading, not only J.M.Carroll's book "Trail of Blood," but the reformed writers old and new. It was A.W. Pink, with whom my father-in-law carried on a personal correspondance, that carried the day theologically for me. I now had my pace setters again. You can see the pattern setting up already. I wound up a rabid Landmarker, a Calvinist, a dispensationalist and having many other systems firmly in place. I then came to the place of a Christ in me/Holy Spirit life being as real to me as any system could possible be.
Don't misunderstand, all of this was genuine in me and I was learning to preach while developing sermons and reading all of this time. But it was a dependence on the regurgitated thoughts of others in which my confidence lay. My preaching was Truth as I heard and knew it, and, if people were to be believed, I did a fair to middling job of presenting it sunday after sunday. Add to that all the seminars and movements that capture preachers and I was one of the captured. I'm not condemning them or me, just setting the background for what I want to say later.
Before my friends jump to my defense and tell me how much I helped them, I want those friends to know I'm aware God did some extraordinary things in me, through me, in them, and through them to me. He takes us where we are and I, along with several churches, was hungry for God to be God and He said "Okay".
But in the late seventies and event took place. A couple, her husband had departed twenty years before leaving her to raise her daughters which she did marvelously, his wife had died of cancer, met and it was love. Marriage was decided upon. When I heard, the first thing I did was protect my theology. I couldn't do it according to my held view of divorce and remarriage which was embraced from a seminar teaching that I had jumped into with both feet. The funny thing is, they didn't ask me to or want me to, as a friend in Houston was going to perform the ceremony. Well, they married. They continued to love me, their somewhat self centered pastor, as evidenced by the fact that rather than rejoicing with them when they told me of their plans, my first thought was how it would affect me. In fact, those two now serve on my Board of Directors for my ministry and are dear lifelong friends.
But that brought me pause. Why had I been so quick to react to protect my theology? The answer came. It wasn't mine. It was another's and my fear of being challenged was to the level of my ignorance of my own. So in 1980, at the age of 40 years, I began a journey. No longer would I teach anything in the pulpit that I did not find in the text of the scriptures. I did not then nor do I now discount the value of baptist tradition. I simply believe it is not our guide for belief or behavior as an absolute standard. I do not hold the BF@M as an absolute standard either. While I greatly appreciate the effort to catalogue our uniqueness as baptists into a confession, I do believe we really are to be a people of the Book. So I can affirm such a confession with some reservations with a clear conscience but what I teach and believe must be the text of a scripture I trust.
The battle for inerrancy was now going on and I must plead ignorance of a lot of what was being done and said. I did not like the attitude of either side particularly and would defend my friends on both sides. It was during this time, arriving in Atlanta, a pastor, whom I did not know well, was speaking desparagingly about Daniel Vestal and I told him to keep his mouth shut or take me back to the airport. Daniel Vestal was a friend of mine and as conservative theologially and gracious personally as any person I'd known before or since. I may and did disagree with some of what Daniel and others were doing but I would not allow that kind if disrespect of a friend in my presence. I may have been a bit weak theologically but never lacked in ethics or guts. I would have told a moderate the same thing had he spoken the same way about my friends who were conservative. I will admit moving to Oklahoma, heart surgery, and many other things kept me from being politically involved along with a natural revulsion for it all. But my ministry continued with friends from both sides while I was hammering out my own place in the understanding of the scriptures.
It is during this time, the last twenty-five years, that I began to be sure of some things and not so sure of others. I'm going to write about both. I'm not asking anyone to agree with me, but rest assured, it will be what I think. This excercise is probably of little significance for anyone but myself and a few friends, but it will be my attempt to share what I see as really important to my journey. If it is of interest or help to anyone else, that will be a special blessing to me personally.
More to come, for good or bad, in PART I