Screen shot from BBFI website 7/24/2018
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 1987 autobiography, Strength for the Journey, Falwell referred to the “Catholic brothers and sisters in the Moral Majority” (p. 371). That year, Falwell took over the leadership of the sleazy, heretical PTL ministry, claiming, amazingly, that it was “certainly worth saving” (Ibid., p. 442).
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).
Not surprisingly, along the way Falwell capitulated to “Christian rock.” Speaking at Word of Life in New York in the 1980s Falwell said: “Other than Heavy Metal and vulgar lyrics, it’s all a matter of taste and has nothing to do with Christianity.”
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.
In 2017, High Street Baptist Church of Springfield, Missouri, “the flagship church” of the BBFI, joined the Southern Baptist Convention. The pastor, Eddie Lyons, was also the international president of the BBFI at the time. He said, “When the Southern Baptist Convention overall took their conservative move, it was very clear that there was no difference between us” (“Southern Baptists Target Independent Baptist Churches,” Don Boys, Common Sense for Today, 3, 2017). In fact, it’s not the Southern Baptist Convention that has gotten more conservative; it is the BBFI that has gotten more liberal. While the Southern Baptist Convention no longer has open theological liberalism in its seminaries, liberalism remains in its state colleges, and the convention is being overrun with charismatic heresy. (See “The Southern Baptist Convention and the Charismatic Movement” at www.wayoflife.org.) The practice of church discipline is almost an unknown entity among Southern Baptist congregations, though it is commanded by God and is necessity to keep the church pure. Southern Baptist membership rolls are a sad joke, with the vast majority of “members” nowhere to be found. Only a small percentage are active in any sense, and a large number of those are “Sunday morning only” Christians. Most SBC pastors are mere hirelings, serving at the whim of the deacons. Further, SBC congregations are rife with worldliness and lukewarmness, which is no small issue. The Word of God says “the friendship of the world is enmity with God” (Jas. 4:4). What advantage is “theological soundness” if one is the enemy of God because of worldliness? Christ said the lukewarm church will be spewed out (Re. 3:16). The Southern Baptist Convention is rapidly dying for lack of spiritual life and power, but it still has money and prestige like the church at Laodicea, so it holds a certain attraction.
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.
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