Rise and Fall of Southwide Baptist Fellowship!

The music became louder and more contemporary and “progressive” pastors began to dominate the platform. Southern Baptist preachers became more numerous until some of us thought they were equal partners in the deal. They never were.


Southwide Baptist Fellowship was formed in 1956 at Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga under the leadership of Dr. Lee Roberson. Many of the leaders of that loose-knit group were Lee Roberson, John R. Rice of the Sword of the Lord, Jack Hudson, Lester Roloff, Dolphis Price, Gary Coleman, Raymond Hancock and many others.

The annual conference, usually convened at Highland Park Baptist, took place in early October and was always attended by thousands of people, mostly pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. Those attending were very conservative independent Baptist preachers and independent-minded Southern Baptist pastors often trained at Tennessee Temple, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Bible College and in later years, Crown College.

Occasionally, a well-known Southern Baptist pastor would be asked to preach; however, he was always friendly to independent Baptists.

In recent years, Southwide has changed as have independent Baptist Churches. The music became louder and more contemporary and “progressive” pastors began to dominate the platform. Southern Baptist preachers became more numerous until some of us thought they were equal partners in the deal. They never were.

In 2004, a group broke off from Southwide to form the National Independent Baptist Fellowship with the purpose of staying on the “old paths” from which Southwide had strayed. At their first annual meeting the following October the list of speakers included Dr. Bob Gray who had been disciplined by his Trinity Baptist Church for an “indiscretion.” That indiscretion was his admission he had “French-kissed” little girls in his church office. If the officers knew of Gray’s sin, they were serious compromisers; however, the Gray affair did not become big news until his arrest in May of 2006. So since we don’t know who knew what when, it would be wise to give the leaders of the new group the benefit of the doubt.

This coming October, the Southwide Baptist Fellowship will meet at Southside Baptist Church in Warner Robbins, GA and it is obvious that  Southwide has “grown” and “expanded” and become far more “progressive” than in the past. Two contemporary musicians are scheduled to sing and while they may be Christians, their appearance and their websites scream, “carnal,” “worldly,” “fleshly.” One of them has appeared on the Crystal Cathedral television program with Robert Schuller! The one with extremely spiked hair doesn’t help allay the first impression of carnality. We’ve come a long way in a short time from the Cruz Brothers.

The announced preachers are Johnny Hunt, Bobby Welch, Ron Bishop, Bill Monroe, Brad Powell, Dino Pedrone, and Tom Messer—heavy on Southern Baptists! I know most of those men and frankly they can all out-preach me! However, Southern Baptist pastors are like many good, even great, Hebrew kings who refused to “cut down the groves and remove the idols.” I’m not suggesting SBC pastors are idolaters; but I am suggesting that, like Old Testament kings, they are not totally obedient.  

II Kings reminds us that King Jotham “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD: Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places.” Other Hebrew kings were commended by God with that same caveat: they did not deal with the high places and groves. That, in my opinion, is like great preachers in the SBC who refuse to break with the Convention and “cut down the groves.” 

I have other concerns about Southern Baptists: (1) Denominations are not Scriptural; (2) members of the SBC are identified with liberal professors in their colleges and seminaries; (3) almost 50% of the SBC pastors babble in tongues; (4) the refusal of the convention to oust churches that refused to discipline Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Rick Warren, etc. (5) they still have pastors who advocate drinking booze and while those preachers were voted down recently, those pastors are still associated with the convention.

I choose not to be identified with such a group even if they have hundreds of good pastors. Moreover, last week the SBC mega First Baptist Church of Decatur, GA chose a female senior pastor! While a local church can choose a monkey as pastor, the SBC can and should remove them from membership in the denomination. Southern Baptist pastors can do what they think is right and remain in the convention and I’ll do what I think is right and stay outside the convention. Christians will answer to Christ at the Bema. I choose to be as independent as a hog on ice and not a clog in a big machine with all the above compromises.

Hunt is a tremendous preacher but much into contemporary music. His website reveals that he has more than 5,500 in Sunday school and has increased to over 6,800 in church with a church membership of 15,000! All that is impressive except for the fact that his membership is almost twice that of his church attendance! He has also led in starting 60 new churches, something very commendable that more independent Baptists should emulate instead of building a monument to themselves.

Bobby Welch, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and great preacher, has many things to commend him except of course, like Hunt and others, he should leave the convention.

If Ron Bishop is still a member of a SBC church then that makes three SBC men preaching at Southwide Baptist Fellowship this fall and three independent Baptist preachers (one, Messer being severely wounded) and an interdenominational  preacher who walks arm-in-arm with compromising megachurch leaders such as Hybels, Warren, etc. 

Independent Baptists are represented by Monroe, Pedrone, and Messer. Messer is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville whose church has been charged with covering up the sin of Bob Gray who admitted to “French-kissing” little girls. There are also five civil suits against the church, “each one worth millions.” Because Messer is preaching at Southwide, I could not be a part of  Southwide or preach in their conference if I were invited.

Then we come to Brad Powell who is pastor of NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, MI. Brad accepted the pastorate of Temple Baptist Church of Detroit and totally gutted many of the distinctives of that great church formerly pastored by J. Frank Norris, G. B. Vick, A. V. Henderson, and other leading fundamental Baptists. NorthRidge Church in Plymouth is the result of Brad’s makeover. His annual conference for church leaders is ironically called “Change without Compromise”! What a misnomer! 

Brad’s website has a recommendation by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. (Don’t drink from those waters; don’t even gargle!)  Also Brad joined Rick Warren of Saddleback fame in a teaching seminar and Brad’s church follows the Purpose Driven philosophy.

In Todd Rhoades’ interview with Brad, he tells about his call to the old Temple Baptist Church of Detroit in 1990, and how he changed “a  dying church locked in a pattern of cultural irrelevance, to an exciting, contemporary church communicating God’s Word to over 12,000 people in their services every week.” What Brad doesn’t say is that the church was located in a dying area of Detroit.

Brad mentions that J. Frank Norris was an early pastor “and very conservative.” (Gasp!) Then he said, “He was actually kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention for attacking the SBC’s ‘slide into liberalism’… during the 1920s!” That was during Norris’ pastorate of First Baptist in Fort Worth where he had over 6,000 in attendance each Sunday.  Norris also strongly attacked the liquor crowd, Fort Worth gangsters, and other Bible-haters in Texas. His church was burned at least twice including his home and a thug tried to kill him in the church office; however, Norris pulled a gun and shot him first, killing him. Maybe the weenies out there think Norris should have sat there and permitted the thug to plug him. No danger that Brad will be so hated for his strong preaching against sin.

Norris was an outspoken critic of Modernism, Communism, liberalism, evolution, ecclesiasticism, and organized crime. Norris correctly charged SBC schools, especially Baylor University, of teaching “evolution and infidelity” and consequently the Tarrant County Baptist Association withdrew fellowship from the church in 1922.

In 1935, Norris accepted the pastorate of Temple Baptist in Detroit and served both the Fort Worth and Detroit church until he left Temple in 1950 reaching over 4,000 people each Sunday. He died two years later. G. B. Vick led the church until his death, making it one of the most effective mission-minded churches in the nation. 

Brad added, “Many of the people left at Temple Baptist still believed their church was great, and that the decades-old philosophy of ministry at the church was biblical.” Can you believe that Temple members still believed that what they had been doing for decades was “biblical”? According to Powell, “We were locked in a pattern of irrelevance.” Let me tell you a fact: Norris and Vick were not irrelevant.

Brad then says that Christ was put on the cross because He gave God’s truth using a “different delivery system than the religious leaders who were bound by tradition.” No, there was no problem with how Christ delivered His message. It was what He said that resulted in Calvary! Christ was put on the cross because He claimed to be God!  Brad’s statement is “bottom-line justification” whereby Brad seeks to justify his departure from fundamentalism/evangelicalism by using a modern, soft, compromising “delivery system” of his own that makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy.
While many will not agree with my criticisms of Southwide, all informed people will agree that we have come a long way from Lee Roberson, John R. Rice and Jack Hudson. Jack was known for his motto, “Making Much of Jesus.” Now we are making much of Southern Baptists, “Progressive” interdenominational pastors, and contemporary musicians. Yep, fundamental Baptists have come a long way Baby—but in the wrong direction.

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