Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Year 25 B.C.P.

What was life like in the Southern Baptist Convention before the birth of the Cooperative Program? Few people are alive today who hearken back to that time, and none of them were really old enough before 1925 to provide much in the way of first-hand testimony about the SBC before the CP. The decades having swiftly passed, all we can do today is read about it.

Fortunately, there's plenty to read. The state of Southern Baptist life in the year 1900 (to choose an arbitrary moment in time) was interesting and produced plenty of ink.

  • At Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, W. H. Whitsett had just lost his job for having claimed that Baptists did not immerse until 1641. As the culmination of a process marked by political intrique and behind-the-scenes personality clashes, Southern welcomed to her helm a relatively obscure Texas expatriate who had been serving in Newton Centre, Massachusetts—Edgar Young Mullins. One contemporary critic remarked that Mullins was not properly educated for the prestigious liberal arts position, since Mullins had pursued training as a common telegraph operator as a member of the inaugural class of a mere "agricultural and mechanical school in Bryan, Texas." Although Landmark sentiments had succeeded in ousting Whitsett, Landmarkers had not managed to place into Louisville a president sympathetic to their agenda.
  • The aforementioned critic, Benjamin M. Bogard, was fomenting an agrarian, populist uprising that started in the Arkansas Ozarks by splitting the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in 1902 and then eventually united with other similar movements to lead several churches out of the Southern Baptist Convention nationwide. Bogard and his followers were reacting primarily against efforts in the Southern Baptist Convention to pursue "efficiency" and "professionalism" by consolidating Southern Baptist money and executive power in towns and cities (towns and cities being relatively recent developments west of the Mississippi).
  • The two parties in Arkansas, the New South "efficiency" party and the agrarian "common man" party, were fighting over who could rightfully claim the mantle of the recently-departed J. R. Graves, father of "Landmarkism." Truly, both parties were thoroughly Landmark (as was the preponderance of Southern Baptists in Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, much of Tennessee, and a handful of other regions). Graves's own son-in-law and heir-apparent, O. L. Hailey, amidst much fence-jumping, considered both sides to be in line with Graves's teachings.
  • Regionalism, probable slight theological dissatisfaction with Southern Seminary, and vision for a slightly different kind of seminary education in the Southwest led B. H. Carroll just one year later (in 1901) to launch a Theology Department at Baylor University. This department grew rapidly over the following decade to become Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Lottie Moon, having served in China for nearly three decades, was surviving the dark days of the Boxer Rebellion, a militaristic anti-Christian uprising marked by such shameful excesses as the Taiyuan Massacre of Christian missionaries, believers, and children in the Summer of that year.
  • Robert Cooke Buckner, having established himself as a pioneer of orphan care twenty-one years earlier, rushed to Galveston in 1900 in the aftermath of what is still today the deadliest hurricane in American history. Buckner gathered up and took to his Children's Home in Dallas roughly a hundred children from the swath of destruction, some of whom were orphans but some of whom merely hadn't yet located their parents in the chaotic aftermath of the storm. His passion for children earned him the nickname "Father Buckner."
  • George W. Truett was the pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, where he assisted in the development and funding of such expansive ministries as Baylor University Medical Center (founded 1903). Truett became a world-renowned preacher and a tireless champion of religious liberty.
  • Isaac Taylor Tichenor had just resigned from the presidency of the Home Mission Board. His is widely regarded as the most successful administration that the HMB/NAMB has ever known.
  • After a fire, the First Baptist Church of Farmerville, Texas (where I now pastor), was constructing the sanctuary in which we now worship.

A lot was going on in Southern Baptist life, as you can see. Southern Baptists, seeing a wide variety of needs, had begun to respond in a wide variety of ways. We were involved in health-care, orphan-care, theological education, and missions both domestically and internationally. The Southern Baptist Convention, the various state conventions, and the various local associations were all robustly active. The area west of the Mississippi River was not at all considered "reached" by Southern Baptists. Evangelism and church planting were naturally considered by Southern Baptists to be an enterprise that began right at home.

The churches were young. Their facilities, if they had facilities, were young. The associations were planting new churches. The educational institutions were mostly young. The hospitals were young. The orphanages were young. Indeed, the simple realization that the South actually would stand on its own two feet again after the disasters of Civil War and Reconstruction was pretty young itself; therefore, the thought of Southern Baptists doing anything beyond first surviving belonged to the generation alive in 1900. At every strata and in every way, we were a young convention.

The upside of all of this: The Southern Baptist Convention in 1900 was an innovative group of people looking for creative ways to proclaim and live out the gospel. The manifold ministries that so many Southern Baptists take for granted were birthed, many of them, during this era.

The downside of all of this: These young institutions, starving for money, developed inefficient and counter-productive methods of soliciting donations from Southern Baptist churches. Some specific weaknesses of the pre-Cooperative-Program approach to Southern Baptist financial support:

  1. A class of Southern Baptist employees emerged whose sole business was to solicit money from churches. These "agents" existed at virtually every tier of Southern Baptist life and at virtually every entity. They were not bad people, but they had a bad job that tended to provoke resentment among the churches. Consider this passage from the Missouri Baptist Word and Way of early 1901:

    Every observing person must recognize the advance of a dread commercialism which is eating like a [cancer] at the vitals of our generation. . . . This sordid money-loving spirit on the part of God’s professed people has led them to form their co-operative bodies on a “money basis,” and this often on a fixed basis which necessarily excludes the poor man or church from their councils. . . . We are coming to believe that there should be no agents going up and down the land whose sole business it is to get money. They learn to make money through God and educate our people in a bad way. They should be preachers of a whole Gospel, like Paul. A faithful Gospel preached in its fullness will set the churches upon methods, Scriptural methods, which will not only collect the money needed, but which will insure its faithful expenditure. Let our agents change front, and instead of seeking only the money of the Lord’s people, let that whole matter take the secondary and incidental place where it belongs, and make piety, consecration of life and property the great burden of their message.

  2. Some of the fundraising arrangements left Southern Baptists with the suspicion that their gifts were not reaching the causes for which they were solicited. William A. Clark, while serving as the General Missionary for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, also served as a fundraising agent for the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He served under what was a common arrangement for the day—he got to keep for himself 100% of the gifts that he received from churches until he had received the amount of his salary. The board then received gifts beyond that amount. In the first church to make a gift to the Home Mission Board for a given year, then, none of the money actually made it to the Home Mission Board. The Board, however, was doing what was necessary to recruit motivated individuals to solicit funds in the local churches.

  3. As a result of these developments, some Southern Baptists believed that gifts to Southern Baptist causes did more to provide the livelihoods of certain prominent families in the SBC than to spread the gospel. Widespread involvement of siblings and offspring of prominent Southern Baptists in denominational enterprises fueled these suspicions. In Texas, B. H. Carroll and J. M. Carroll were both serving, and some disgruntled Southern Baptists in Texas alleged financial improprieties on J. M. Carroll's part. Carroll was vindicated upon subsequent investigation, but the point is not that the charges were justified at all, but that Southern Baptists were lobbing accusations against one of the Carroll brothers.

    John H. Eager was a fundraising agent of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who worked full time to appeal directly to SBC churches and wealthy people to give funds to the seminary. His brother George was a professor at the seminary. His other brother Patrick was president of Baylor Female College in Belton, Texas, before settling as a faculty member at Mississippi College. These brothers were the children of an influential pastor in Mississippi, E. C. Eager.

    So, if you were a Mississippi Southern Baptist, you might attend a church that E. C. Eager pastored and hear one Sunday from an agent seeking to raise money for Mississippi College where Patrick H. Eager was employed, and then the next Sunday from John Eager raising money for Southern Seminary where George Eager was employed. Nepotism eroded some Southern Baptist confidence that it was only the family of God being enlarged by Southern Baptist generosity.

    The Carrolls were gifted brothers who each contributed greatly to Southern Baptists in Texas. The Eagers were fine people and committed Baptists as well. Southern Baptists are probably better off for the contributions of each. They were likely as dedicated and skilled as some of the families in Southern Baptist life today in which siblings and lineal descendants are able to parlay relationships into denominational posts. The SBC would be far the worse were it not for some of these (technically speaking) "nepotistic" arrangements. Yet the situation, when combined with the higher-pressure environment of direct monetary appeals to the churches, made for an easy avenue of criticism for those who chafed under the constant requests for gifts.

  4. The multiplication of institutions and agents meant that some churches were inundated with people seeking a Sunday to speak at the church and take up an offering. And all of this came at the time when, at least in the Southwest, many of these churches were just undertaking either the construction of their own facilities or the retirement of associated debt.

  5. The resultant distribution of funds was haphazard rather than strategic, reflecting more the skill, lineage, and network of the employed agents than the spiritual importance of the institution. E. Y. Mullins used to complain that the seminary belonged to everybody (in the Southern Baptist Convention) and therefore belonged to nobody. In other words, he believed that "local" interests such as state colleges and hospitals and the like had a great fundraising advantage over the seminary.

Southern Baptists who wanted more money to reach "lostness" in the years B.C.P. (Before the Cooperative Program) and who were wearied of the negative aspects of accelerating competition in fundraising appeals to the churches began to look for a better solution. Why do Southern Baptists not face this problem today? Because of the Cooperative Program.


Tim G said...

Great intro! One point of interest that ties with the past you mentioned is that now we have in some manner returned to this first approach with the multiple offerings coming from every entity in state and nationally. I hear more and more of people tiring of the multiple offering approach and wondering why the CP does not handle it?

Ed Stetzer said...

Well done and helpful, Bart.


Bill said...

Thanks Bart. Lottie Moon must have been a direct descendant of Methuselah. ;)

David R. Brumbelow said...

Very good historical article. We need to be reminded why so many non Southern Baptists envy the Cooperative Program.
David R. Brumbelow

FBC said...

Right on target. Thanks for the research

Bart Barber said...

Thanks to Wes Kenney for calling me and notifying me of my typographical error with regard to Lottie Moon. Thanks to all of the rest of your for your good comments.

Tim G, the special offerings are vestigial to be sure, but are popular enough and successful enough that I don't think they're going anywhere soon. If there were a universe in which we could well handle all of it on-budget in an undesignated manner, I think that would be a better arrangement.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


This has to be one of your best posts ever. This should be read by everyone in the SBC (perhaps reprinted in a national magazine or newspaper); and ought to be mandatory reading for those on the GCRTF.

Tim G said...

Agreed. I think one of the things coming out today is that many churches are moving to a year round Missions Giving Plan thus they are able to increase total dollars to all.

Stuart said...


Did Whitsitt claim that Baptists did not immerse until 1641, or did he claim that Baptists did not "emerge" until 1641. I've always thought his heresy was that he rejected the JJJ theory in favor of the (now predominant) English Separatist view of Baptist beginnings.

I don't mean to detract from the CP postings, but am curious about Whitsitt.

Tangientally, did you have Dr. Rosalie Beck at all during your undergrad at Baylor? I believe her dissertation was on The Whitsitt Controversy.

Bart Barber said...


It depends upon whether there can be such a thing as a non-immersing Baptist. The standard ESD theory that I received at SWBTS dated the emergence of Baptists to 1609 (John Smythe), but had Baptists not "recovering immersion" until 1641.

Now that's a distinction that we would only observe in history. Anybody not immersing today, we would rightly label as non-Baptist. That's the way many people RECEIVED what Whitsitt was saying back in the day, but I think (I would really have to go back and re-read to be sure) that Whitsitt was arguing for an earlier, pre-immersion, emergence of Baptists. In either case, he was rejecting the "JJJ theory" of organic succession, and thereby enraging people. But strictly speaking, the "1641 question" dealt with immersion and an only slightly earlier date treated the emergence of Baptists.

Dave Miller said...

Enjoyed the post, but I have a question for clarification.

You said, under number 4: "And all of this came at the time when, at least in the Southwest, many of these churches were just undertaking either the construction of their own facilities or the retirement of associated debt."

Was it common for churches in those days to get mortgages to pay for buildings?

Just a nit-picking, silly question, but your statement got me thinking.

it was a great post.

Chris Johnson said...

Brother Bart,

An excellent brief focus on the history of the immerging methods of the CP. As I was reading, I found myself wondering if the CP should not somehow revive some of the efficient questions it pondered in those days. Was it so bad that people would conjecture that men were using the funds wrongly? Was is so bad, and something to be silenced, that the fund raising was an intensely personal matter to these families and more specifically those men making the rounds to collect money? The Apostle Paul was hit with the same concerns and wrote a defense to those same accusations.

I am looking forward to learning more about the CP from your posts. It could be that we need more attention to personal passion and efficiencies in order not to lose the importance of collecting money in order to meet the needs of the Saints. Sometimes, and maybe this is my main concern, the CP tends to Federal Reserve “our view” of the needs and keeps the people from being concerned about “the dollar with respect to the need”, sense we have many millions that flow through the system. Maybe its not personal enough. The CP is an amazing system, but can it continue to be proved worthy without much and systematic scrutiny and concern?

Like Luke, I think it is good to cover the tough questions (Acts 6). The complaining Jews were not the problem that needed to be silenced…. They were the church learning how to be served by those called to lead it and above all serve the Word.

Again, I really enjoy and respect your views on history and really look forward to learning from this series!


Bart Barber said...


I have not performed any research with regard to how many churches paid as they went for construction in that period and how many borrowed. I can say that I have, in reading primary sources from the period, encountered the stories of several churches with building loans at the time.

These were a people closely acquainted with debt (at least, the farmers were). The entire Southern economy functioned (albeit poorly) on what is called the "crop-lien" system.

Stuart said...


Thanks for the clarification on Whitsitt and the dates.

Bart Barber said...


Both the CP strategy and the direct appeal strategy involve personally encouraging people to give, or should. The difference is that the CP strategy has the appeal being made by people actually performing ministry. Paul was a person actually performing ministry. He was not a fundraising agent who did nothing other than go around to churches raising money.

Robert Reeves said...

Excellent look at the history that demonstrates why the Cooperative Program was such a needed addition to Baptist life. The old society system of giving that relied on the "colporteurs," or professional solicitors, not only was an inefficient system. It put our various Baptist organizations in direct competition with each other. This was counterproductive because it left such a bad taste in the mouths of church members. The Western Recorder, the state Baptist paper for Kentucky where I live, assessed it in 1927 as causing "an unfraternal competitive spirit...in which case the causes that were nearest the churches would be able to make the dominant appeal on the basis of personal interest."

I'm doing some writing about this myself out on www.greatcommissionkentucky.com comparing the rhetoric around the formation of the Cooperative Program with today's GCR discussion if you're interested.

volfan007 said...


This should be in every state paper. This should be read by more than just the folks who come in here. I doubt that it will though. :(

Also, dont expect to be invited to many seminars and training clinics to share this info. ;)


Mark Osgatharp said...

I would like to see an article outlining how the Cooperative Program facilitated the wholesale theological rape of the Southern Baptist churches by modernism.

Mark Osgatharp
Wynne, Arkansas