When most of what you know about the Bible and ministry is what you have learned from those who are independent, fundamental, and Baptist. you think alike and have the same characteristics. Those ideas that generally characterize IFB preachers--I can’t remember if my father ever mentioned those terms, or even exhibited them. I knew I was Baptist, but I don’t remember that dad ever preached like many of the preachers I listened to. I don’t remember dad preaching against everything under the sun either. . I really do not remember dad mentioning preachers at the dinner table, or that he ever spoke against any preacher or their preaching. He was definitely fundamental, and independent and Baptist. Growing up, in Roanoke, Virginia I never gave the terminology a second thought.
Never really understanding all that was happening in our church, I just knew that dad was a gracious, kind and wonderful preacher and pastor and dad and husband. He loved preachers. He loved preachers who were down and out. He never turned down the opportunity to help encourage a preacher. My dad Everette Whisnant set the example of what I thought an Independent Fundamental Baptist Preacher should be like. I had a shock ahead of me.
Dad wanted me to attend Bible Baptist Seminary so, six months after his death, I arrived in Arlington Texas with such great expectation and joy and wonderment. I couldn’t wait to see a group of students who loved the Lord, loved learning about the Bible and loved preaching and teaching. I couldn’t wait to learn how to preach and how to be a preacher and understand about the Word of God. I believed that this would be the most incredible place in the world to be and fulfill my desire to preach and pastor a church. The day that I arrived in Arlington Texas, sometime in the summer of August 1966, I believed I was ready to set the world on fire with the Gospel. But the world of Bible Baptist Seminary was not ready for me.!!!!!. But I genuinely was prepared to get into my first class. I wanted to absorb as much as I could about the Word. So I had my Scofield Bible notes and all. IFB seemed to have a Scofield Bible, (which I still have in storage). I was a Dispensationalist, and believed the Book of Revelation was yet future.
I don’t think I missed a class in three years. (I said I don’t think, after all it’s been forty years this month when I arrived in Arlington Texas.) I believe I turned in the largest notebook in the Life of Christ Class History, some three hundred and fifty typed pages, but you would have to talk to Dr. Raymond Barber who gave me a A+., if this is true.
The first set of books I ever bought was Spurgeons’ Topical Sermons, 18 Volumes, but to my knowledge Charles H. Spurgeon was never mentioned by the professors. But neither was John Calvin, Thomas Watson, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Martin Luther, John Owen or any of the Reformers, unless you think J. Frank Norris was a Reformer.
I was so surprised how few of those students were really as excited about being in Seminary.as I was. I really loved campus life. I did not like the food, but I loved the surroundings. Dorm life was interesting, but I soon realized that the students were more interested in having fun than learning and going to classes. The students were always wanting to go places and have fun. I would say, “ I need to study.”
There were some who were like me, who loved the experience and were sincere about why they were in Seminary, but for the most part, many did not finish seminary.
I wanted to find a church where I could continue to minister as I did before I came to Seminary. After all, I had for twenty-seven months been a youth director in my dad’s church. I believed I could continue to do this kind of ministry. Thus I approached the pastor of a church (I would mention the church and pastor, but I have enormous respect from him) and asked him if I could work in the church. He said “Charles, I know what you did in your dad’s church, but our policy here at the church is not to use first year students.” Thus, I was to sit and listen and learn about ministry. And that was the environment that I found myself in for the next several years. I went back in the summer to Danville, Va, and worked as a youth director in a church that had over 900 in attendance, but when I went back to Arlington, I could not work in a church. This I could never fully understand. I enjoyed students on campus, and I really had a good time. I am not sure I ever understood the spirit of ministry in these churches, I felt that I didn’t have the hearts of the professors.
The spirit of the campus was always difficult. When I arrived on campus, there was a fighting spirit. Theology was the issue between students. There was a poor spirit between the president of the college and the mission director. There was a difference of opinion between professors. There was a spirit of ill feelings between preachers in the fellowship. There seemed to be always something to fight or disagree about. What I always found strange was how the professors would always choose the next up and coming “Billy Graham” to speak, or to take a position in their church. Only fact was several months later they would quit school. I never quite understood that the professors would not use me. I thought that if you really loved the Lord, desired to learn the Word, that they would be so happy to help you advance in the ministry. That never happened.
What is it about some Independent Baptist preachers that they can’t seem to work well with another preacher in their church? Here I believe I have come upon the reason why fundamentalism has destroyed a lot of churches and preachers.
These churches and preachers believe in soul winning, believe in preaching to reach the lost, they believe in getting the lost in the church, they believe in missions, they believe in preaching the Gospel, they believe in separation from the world. That part of their ministry is not what is so bad. This is a true fundamental Bible believing independent church.
The climate in the 60's and 70's might have been different than today’s climate for ministry. Yet you walk into many of the IFB churches, and you are in the 60's and 70's. The way ministry was done in the 60's and 70's is still the main focus today.
So what is the problem with Fundamentalism today? Why do we think the J. Frank Norris’s influence is outdated today? The Jack Hyles’s influence!! The Lee Roberson’s influence! The Earl K. Oldham’s influence!