The BBFI is a fellowship of pastors rather than a fellowship of churches. Any Baptist pastor can affiliate by adhering to the fellowship’s 20 articles of faith and leading his church to support at least one approved BBFI missionary or missionary project (such as the fellowship’s schools).
The BBFI grew quickly and became very influential among Independent Baptists. By 1969, enrollment in Baptist Bible College was 1,370, graduates totaled nearly 2,500, 1,594 pastors were listed in the Fellowship Directory, and 336 BBFI missionaries were ministering on 32 mission fields (Keith Bassham, “The BBFI - A History,” Baptist Bible Tribune, www.tribune.org/the-bbfi-a-history). Five of the 10 largest Sunday Schools in America were affiliated with the BBFI (Elmer Towns, America’s Ten Largest Sunday Schools).
The founders died in the 1970s, Noel Smith in 1974, and G.B. Vick in 1975.
In the 1970s, enrollment at Baptist Bible College peaked at 2,481.
The number of affiliated BBFI pastors and missionaries probably peaked in the late 1990s when 3,326 pastors were listed in the Fellowship Directory and 880 BBFI missionaries were working on 111 mission fields. (It must be noted that the BBFI directory is not carefully maintained and purged, and a lot of pastors and churches listed are not actively involved with the BBFI.)
Many pastors and churches have disaffiliated with the BBFI in recent decades, but there are no exact statistics. Many of these have affiliated with Heartland Baptist College in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, which was founded in 1998 independent of BBFI. It was formed from the remnants of Pacific Coast Baptist College of California, which was a BBFI school, but Heartland was independent of BBFI from its inception.
The BBFI was the first group of fundamental Baptists to reject biblical separatism and to go in a contemporary direction.
In the late 1970s, Jerry Falwell, who graduated from Baptist Bible College in 1956 and was associated with the BBFI throughout his career, took an ecumenical stance with the founding of the Moral Majority political organization in 1979. Half of the state chairmen of the organization were members of the BBFI (Daniel Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, p. 177). In that capacity these Baptist pastors joined hands with practically every denomination and cult in direct contradiction to 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. By February 1986, Falwell told Christianity Today that Catholics made up the Moral Majority’s largest constituency (30%). In his autobiography, Strength for the Journey, Falwell referred to the “Catholic brothers and sisters in the Moral Majority” (p. 371). Falwell endorsed Chuck Colson’s 1992 book, The Body, which urged evangelicals to join forces with Roman Catholics and charismatics. Colson said, “... the body of Christ, in all its diversity, is created with Baptist feet, charismatic hands, and Catholic ears--all with their eyes on Jesus” (World, Nov. 14, 1992).
In spite of this incredible compromise and error, Falwell remained in good standing with the BBFI and continued to speak at their meetings. Very, very few BBFI preachers publicly decried Falwell and his heretical thinking and practice.
Even in the late 1980s, the music was moving rapidly in a contemporary direction through the specials. I recall attending BBFI meetings in those days and being disgusted with the special music accompanied by pre-recorded background tapes that featured a Nashville sound. Most of the preachers didn’t seem to have a clue about the difference between sacred music and worldly music. As long as the people liked it and it got the preacher’s toe tapping, it was fine. I stopped attending those meetings because of the music, the biblical shallowness of the preaching, and the religious politicking.
In the 1990s, some prominent BBFI leaders supported the ecumenical Promise Keepers even though PK promoted unity between Protestants and Catholics. Roman Catholics were featured as speakers a PK conferences and were appointed as leaders within the organization. In 1996, Billy Hamm, pastor of the Mountain States Baptist Temple, Denver, Colorado, spoke at a Promise Keepers seminar and wrote a report justifying his involvement. Hamm had served five terms as treasurer of the Baptist Bible Fellowship, and in the late 1970s he had taught at BBFI-connected Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College. Again, there were hardly any voices lifted publicly against Hamm’s blatant disobedience of Scriptures such as Romans 16:17 and 2 Timothy 3:5.
The direction of the BBFI was clear by 2002 when Bethlehem Baptist Church in Fairfax, Virginia, was chosen to host the fellowship’s annual conference. The music was led by a contemporary “worship team” composed of four young women. Around that time Bethlehem Baptist had dropped the “King James Only” clause from the by-laws, and the New Living Translation and other corrupt versions began to be used from the pulpit. The pastor sent out a letter to members saying, “With regard to dress and modesty issues, we enforce NO RULE on our folks. … apparel issues are really of no concern to us.” (This type of statement is always a lie, because these churches don’t allow women to teach Sunday School in bikinis or men to sing specials in lipstick, dresses, and high heels.) The church’s Skate Night, which was sponsored by raunchy secular skateboarding companies, featured “throbbing Christian rock.” The church’s youth pastor in 2002 had an earring and in the church’s newsletter sported a T-shirt promoting the rock band P.O.D.
Following is a testimony of someone who attended the 2002 conference:
“All of us from our church got up and walked out. It was sickening to see the cutesie young women in their tight pants and high boots, sitting with legs crossed on high stools, leading the worship music. I was stunned. A far cry from what I had known when I attended back in the Viet Nam days when my husband was serving in the Air Force.”
Since then, Bethlehem Baptist Church has changed its name to Expectation, a very cool emerging-type name.
In 2003, BBFI in the Philippines invited the country’s Roman Catholic president to speak at an evangelism conference.
There are still some “conservative” BBFI churches (though they are usually not outspoken about reproving the compromise of the mother organization, which in itself is compromise and sin), but as a movement it is well on its way to the emerging church.
Related: BBFI Wordliness
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