Clarification to Joel Tetreau's "Line in the Sand"

Singleton at deskI consider myself a good friend of Joel Tetreau’s. He’s only five years my junior, and we graduated from the same high school and college. In 1997, when I was the Associate Pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church, Joel and I spent many hours in private discussion concerning the church Dr. Singleton and I had just planted, Southeast Valley Baptist Church. I also spent many hours on private email with Joel, encouraging him to come and take this church that is about 10 miles from where I pastor at Tri-City Baptist. Joel’s three sons are in our Christian school, and I see him and chat with him on a regular basis. Additionally, Joel’s father, Dr. Jerry Tetreau, has his signature on three of my five diplomas, and he currently serves as President of International Baptist College, a ministry of Tri-City Baptist Church. Although I have neither the time nor the desire to involve myself in a “blogging war,” I do think that I, as Dr. Singleton’s immediate successor, have a responsibility to correct any potential misunderstandings of Joel’s article as it relates to our ministry and Dr. Singleton’s legacy. (LEFT: Dr. Singleton and his wife, Mary)
Joel and I have discussed his articles that he placed on SI (Parts 1, 2, and 3). After clearing away all the other issues—like multiple-elder rule, KJV-onlyism, pants on women, rock music in church, dictatorial pastors, etc.—it seems that the bottom-line issue for Joel is that Type A fundamentalists don’t think men like MacArthur and Dever are fundamentalists, Type B fundamentalists do, and Type C fundamentalists are MacArthur and Dever. Michael Riley noted this on his blog, and Joel agreed during his give-and-take with Dave Doran on Chris Anderson’s blog.

While lauding my predecessor and the co-founder of the church he now pastors, Dr. Jim Singleton, Joel states that starting in the ’80s and then more so toward the end of Pastor’s life, he really had some A, some B, and some C tendencies. Since it is hard to determine exactly what Joel means by that, I want to clarify what I think that doesn’t mean so no one is confused. Joel’s article could be interpreted to say that in the last year of Dr. Singleton’s life, while he was heavily involved in chemotherapy and radiation, he expressed opinions among a small group of loyal young followers that went against his 50 years of ministry and all of his public writings and speaking. I would like to quickly present evidence that would correct any misperception like that, if it exists.

One must bear in mind that Dr. Singleton grew up in an old-line holiness Methodism in the old South of the ’20s and ’30s. After World War II, he attended Bob Jones College and took a five-point Methodist circuit in North Carolina. He became convinced of Baptist theology through the study of the Word and took B.D. and Th.M. degrees from a Southern Baptist Seminary. He pastored in several Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches for many years until he became convinced that the liberalism and the compromise of even the “conservatives” were overwhelming, and he left everything behind. (He never went back on that conviction. He repeatedly stated in private up to his death that Dr. Criswell was a “traitor to the cause of Jesus Christ” for staying in the convention. I heard him use that phrase several times through the years.) Upon leaving the SBC, he took a Conservative Baptist Association (CBA) church in Michigan in the mid ’60s and soon discovered that the CBA was just like the SBC he had left. At the encouragement of a BBF pastor in Tucson, he came to the Phoenix area and started Tri-City Baptist Church (TBC, 1969), Tri-City Christian Academy (1971), Time for Tots Pre-School (1973), International Baptist Missions (1980), and International Baptist College (1980). Singleton coupleIn the mid-70s Tri-City was a quasi-BBF (Baptist Bible Fellowship) church, but when Jerry Falwell shifted the focus of his ministry, Dr. Singleton wrote and took a position that was not and still is not extremely popular. That stand separated him from almost all of his former BBF friends in Arizona. He left the pulpit and the role of Senior Pastor of TBC in September of 1999. He went home to be with the Lord less than two years later after a battle with cancer.

His whole life was one of an A fundamentalist in Joel’s taxonomy. He left the UMC (United Methodist Church), SBC, CBA, and BBF. When the IBFNA (Independent Baptist Fellowship of North America) left the GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptist Churches) a few years ago, he immediately began attending their national meetings, and his widow attended that meeting every year. He had very few kind words to say about Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism by Doug McLachlan. He felt that it was insulting to find that the heirs of the institutions that his generation had created were now busy criticizing the very men who had established the institutions that paid their salaries. Jim Singleton was a very loyal man, and he saw that book as a great act of disloyalty. You can agree or disagree; I’m just relating how he saw it.

No B or C tendencies are found in Dr. Singleton’s life and ministry. He never believed MacArthur was a fundamentalist, and he never believed the conservatives in the SBC were fundamentalists.

He did want to see the power of the Spirit. He did want to see fundamental people serving and ministering to one another rather than simply sitting and soaking in another “deep” Bible study. He wanted to see real evangelism, not just pseudo-prayers that did not have the power of true regeneration. His views on the sovereignty of God, on repentance from self as a part of salvation, and on the nature of the blood of Christ were not adopted from John MacArthur but were his views in the mid-’70s when I heard him preach and teach on those subjects.

Dr. Singleton had a huge private library, and he studied the writings of a wide variety of authors. He consistently read Charismatic authors. He was never tempted to be a Charismatic and wrote against them all his life; however, he often wondered if they had not stumbled upon the first-century truth of “every member ministry,” a truth that he felt fundamental Baptists did not practice as often as they should have. He believed that there was an unspoken “law” among many fundamentalists that lay people were to sit and tithe, and a few leaders were to do all the “real” work. His critique of that kind of Fundamentalism could be very biting and quite strong.

Dr. Singleton loved to philosophize and argue all sides of an issue. It is possible that some people might have perceived Dr. Singleton’s support of a given position for the sake of argument as actual support for the position; such a perception would be incorrect. What Jim Singleton truly believed he put in print and preached. He knew that his legacy would be determined by the documents he authored and the institutions he founded, not by misunderstood private conversations or speculative musings. Perhaps he was not as careful with some men on his staff as he should have been, in that he recommended books from which they had difficulty distinguishing the good from the bad. Dr. Singleton had feet of clay like any great leader, but as I think back on the hours he spent privately with me during the last five years of his life, preparing me to take over his life’s work, I am consistently amazed at how wise and knowledgeable he was. Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t think about some piece of advice he gave me for my life and ministry.

In 1993, only eight years before his home-going, Dr. Singleton wrote this booklet (PDF, 412 KB) describing his understanding of the history and future of Fundamentalism. While very balanced, it is a very clear presentation of what Joel would call an A fundamentalist.

Here is a link (MP3, 13.6 MB) to Dr. Singleton’s last message as Senior Pastor of Tri-City in August of 1999. We did not know as he spoke that Sunday, but he had been told a few days before that he had only 8 to 12 weeks to live. He eventually lived for 22 months, but he believed that this might be his last message to the church to which he had given his life. It is really an amazing message of love and warning to a congregation that he was leaving. In many ways, it is very similar to 2 Timothy 3–4. The content of the message is a series of warnings, loves, and exhortations. No indications of B or C tendencies exist in his last message.

Anyone who visits the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship website to read its past resolutions will notice that, starting in 1992, they take on more depth and breadth and also become much more scholarly. Dr. Singleton became the chairman of the resolutions committee and began writing almost all of the resolutions from 1992 until 1996. I came to his staff in 1996 but had very close contact with him from the time I graduated from IBC in 1985 until 1996. I took my doctoral work under his leadership from 1987-1995.

The resolutions below are highlighted because of their relevance to the current discussion. Many excellent resolutions exist, and in the midst of all the give-and-take on SI, I would encourage anyone who really wants to know the heartbeat of hundreds of pastors to fully read these resolutions. Don’t argue anecdotal evidence or even about the perceived failure of leaders.

I lived outside of Fundamentalism in the Air Force chaplaincy for five years and can give an anecdotal story for just about anything I want to prove. I have seen mean liberals, dictatorial Charismatics (in fact, my perception from talking to the lay people from many Charismatic denominations while I was on active duty is that almost all Charismatic churches are very dictatorial in their leadership), KJV-only Church of God in Christ, sarcastic Catholics, and kind and gentle pagans.

No one fully lives up to any biblical message or even every resolution. That is not an excuse for failure but simply a statement of human weakness and sin. However, the resolutions are a historical snapshot of the desire of the hearts of many pastors regarding purity, holiness, evangelism, servant-leadership, music, missions, biblical ethics, etc. Some younger fundamentalists question the very need and nature of resolutions, but as can be seen below, they are great in clarifying positions from a historical perspective. Understanding history creates a humility about my own limitations.

We know what Jim Singleton believed from 1992 to 1996 about the conservatives in the SBC and his warnings against them because every year that he was the Chairman of the Committee, he wrote a resolution about them. We know the warning that he gives about John MacArthur in 1996 because he tells us. These are historical facts, and facts are stubborn things, but they are facts nonetheless.

As Chairman of the Resolutions Committee for the FBF, I know that the majority of these resolutions he wrote himself because I recognize wording and syntax that are distinctively his. Additionally, he told me that he wrote most of the resolutions during this period.

1992 FBF Resolutions (Link):

The FBF declares its opposition to the following forms of apostasy and/or compromise:

PSEUDO-FUNDAMENTALISM, which is New Evangelicalism in embryonic form, and which was set forth in The Fundamentalist Phenomenon by Jerry Falwell with his proposal for both new evangelicals and Fundamentalists to eliminate their fringe elements and then to unite to save the nation and to evangelize the world. This appeal to restore historic Fundamentalism has been devastating to the cause of true Fundamentalism.

The FBF applauds the attempts of some in the Southern Baptist Convention to return this movement to a belief in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, but affirms that at best the Convention is New Evangelical and warns Fundamentalists against the current craze to unite with conservatives in the Convention.

1993 FBF Resolutions (Link):

The FBF applauds every attempt made by members of the Southern Baptist Convention to return that movement to an infallible and inerrant Bible, but do not believe that there are “fundamental” Southern Baptists. We come to this conclusion since even those in the Convention who are committed to inerrancy do not want to be called Fundamentalists (in fact, look with disdain on the movement known as Fundamentalism), but prefer to be called conservatives; and by the fact that at best a Southern Baptist conservative is a New Evangelical who practices a type of ecumenical evangelism. We believe that the call for cooperation in pulpit ministries between Fundamentalists and Southern Baptists is not Scriptural and will result in further weakening the cause of Biblical separation.

The FBF would applaud the emphasis in the charismatic movement on Spirit-empowered living and world evangelism, but cannot identify or cooperate with the movement because of its false ideas of ecumenicity and its emphasis upon experience, mysticism, and illuminism. This ecumenicity leads the charismatic movement further into cooperation with Rome and groups such as the World Council of Churches. The experience-centeredness causes the movement to live on the edge of an illuminism with its claims to direct divine revelation.

1994 FBF Resolutions (Link):

The FBF believes that the attacks on so-called “secondary separation” are really an attack on first degree or primary separation and come from sources that do not understand the meaning of Biblical separation. We do not believe that the word of the Psalmist (119:63), “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts,” can be used to express tolerance toward those who, while sound in the faith themselves, express tolerance and cooperation toward those who deviate from the faith. We believe that the Scriptures do command separation from those who aid and encourage compromise with infidelity.

While applauding the attempts of conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention to reemphasize the doctrine of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, we do not believe that these men are “fundamental” Southern Baptists. Our reasoning is twofold: first, they still accept the ecumenical evangelism of Billy Graham which makes them New Evangelicals; and second, they do not desire to be known as Fundamentalists. Writing in “The Church God Approves,” James Draper, conservative in the Southern Baptist Convention, condemns Fundamentalists for their divisiveness, bigotry and unfairness; and says that they have a wholly negative approach and show little love and compassion. Those who call for cooperation in pulpit ministries between Fundamentalists and Southern Baptists either misread the nature of the conservative movement in the Convention, or themselves have compromised the cause of Biblical separation.

The FBF rejoicingly acknowledges that the New Testament believer, as a participant in the dispensation of grace, is free from the law (Romans 6:14). Yet we stand in firm opposition to modern attempts to promote libertinism as liberty under the guise of “grace” living. We reject all forms of legalism which rise up to threaten the doctrine of justification by faith, but wholeheartedly challenge the careless and inaccurate use of the term legalism by New Evangelical writers such as Charles Swindoll (Grace Awakening) in reference to any attempt to establish standards for godly living based on Biblical principles. We affirm the Biblical emphasis that grace, rather than freeing us to live in whatever manner we choose, teaches us “that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). A Biblical understanding of grace and the pursuit of godliness demands that we carefully apply Biblical principles to our culture, not retreat behind the convenient wall of cultural relativism and careless living.

1995 FBF Resolutions (Link):

The FBF some years ago defined Jerry Falwell and his ministries as being pseudo-fundamental, which was said to be New Evangelicalism in embryonic form. It was our contention then that when the baby was finally delivered it would be New Evangelical. With some sadness, we have seen the prophecy come true. Falwell’s recent invitation to host a Promise Keepers rally at Liberty University’s Vine Center at which 10,000 men are expected is but another step away from the Fundamentalism which he once professed to believe and practice. In this connection, we are concerned that leaders in the BBF such as John Rawlings and Jim Combs, for some years editors of the Baptist Bible Tribune, have joined forces with Falwell. Further drift of these ministries is reflected in a recent article in Falwell’s National Liberty Journal which promoted Billy Graham’s “Global Mission” crusade and praised his “remarkable career.”

The FBF applauds those in the Southern Baptist Convention who fought a battle for the inerrancy of Scripture, but disagrees with Jerry Falwell and Tim Lee who attempt to convince followers that the SBC conservatives are Fundamentalists. At best, conservative Southern Baptists are New Evangelicals who cooperate with and promote the ecumenical evangelism ministry of Billy Graham. The Southern Baptist Convention dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, the two Southern Baptist leaders who signed the 1994 ecumenical Evangelicals and Catholics Together agreement (the furor created caused them later to ask to have their names removed), and statements made by Convention leaders embracing charismatics indicate dangerous drifts in the SBC.

We believe that statements made by Charles Stanley, twice elected president of the SBC, such as, “If it’s a Southern Baptist seminary, it should be balanced in its approach. If you’re going to have liberals, you need strong conservatives … if you’ve got people who don’t believe in the virgin birth, you need people who do,” lead to unscriptural confusion. Adrian Rogers, elected to two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has said, “I don’t want any witch hunt to purge the seminaries.” Statements such as these reveal that even conservative leadership in the SBC will not take the strong stands necessary to rid the Convention of its liberal and neo-orthodox factions. Until this happens, we do not see how independent fundamental Baptists can make common cause with Southern Baptists.

The FBF condemns the ecumenical evangelism of Luis Palau as it did that of Billy Graham. With age and health problems curtailing his ministry, Graham’s position now seems to be taken by Palau, who practices the same type of compromises as did Graham. It is sad, therefore, to see that when Palau comes to Chicago in 1996 for a crusade that Moody Bible Institute President Joseph Stowell will serve in a “Leadership Chair” and says, “Since the time of D. L. Moody, God has raised up godly and effective evangelists who without compromise share the commitment to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Our friend, Luis Palau, is among them.” The meeting also has the commendation of megachurch pastor Bill Hybels.

The FBF appreciates John MacArthur’s expositional ministry of the Bible, but believes that his trumpet would give a more certain sound if he separated himself from speaking in places such as Moody Bible Institute, which has given support to past Billy Graham crusades and puts its stamp of approval on an upcoming Luis Palau crusade, and at Southern Baptist meetings in which he is on the same platform as Charles Colson, whose leadership in the movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together represents a betrayal of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. We differ with the evaluation made by James Stitzinger, faculty member at Master’s Seminary, in a recent book Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, in which he portrays MacArthur as being in the tradition of a Charles Spurgeon in the Downgrade Controversy since in all the articles written in 1888 as to why he separated from the compromising London Baptist Association the “prince of preachers” contended that the only complete protest was separation. While contending for the truth MacArthur continues to associate with those who by their actions and associations aid those who dilute and destroy the truth. We believe that those who follow the MacArthur line of reasoning and practice will produce a second generation of New Evangelicals.

1996 FBF Resolutions (Link):

The FBF applauds recent attempts within the Southern Baptist Convention relative to the authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture but believes that much of this is negated by the participation of Southern Baptist churches in ecumenical interfaith worship services and continuing support of the Cooperative Program.

The FBF reaffirms its commitment to separatist Fundamentalism. This title, separatist Fundamentalism, is a clear statement of our distinctive character. “Fundamentalist” identifies us as a group committed to orthodox Christianity and distinguishes us from groups which have deviated from the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. “Separatist” identifies us as a group which believes that we can have no fellowship and engage in no cooperative ministry with apostates (II John 9:11; II Corinthians 6:14-18). It further distinguishes us from other orthodox Christians who refuse to acknowledge and obey the biblical command of separation from apostasy (II Thessalonians 3:6-15). As Separatist Fundamentalists we believe that separation on both fronts, from apostates and disobedient brothers, is essential to the preservation of God’s truth. On the basis of our separatist commitment, we believe it is necessary to limit the scope of our fellowship in ministry to those men, churches, and ministries which likewise agree with and practice separation from those who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Faith and from those who deny the doctrine of separation from disobedient believers.

None of these resolutions or his booklet or his last message or even many contemporary witnesses to his life and ministry would attest to Dr. Singleton’s being a closet B or C fundamentalist. By God’s grace, the ministries he founded continue to take his same position five years after his death.

Christians have been here before with this same discussion concerning the extent and cause of separation. In the early 17th century, with the English civil war looming on the horizon, three non-Catholic groups existed in England. One, the Anglican Church, held sway. Another group within the Anglican Church, Puritans, wished to purify the church and fix its problems. A third group that was identified two years ago in the Wall Street Journal as the “fundamentalists” of the 17th century decided that Holland would corrupt their children, and England’s hierarchical church government prevented them from practicing the congregational government as they wished. They separated, left, and half of their company lost their lives in their first winter in New England. However, they gave us the Mayflower Compact and led the way for thousands of minority religious and political refugees to come to this country. We aren’t the first generation to debate the extent of separation in confusing political and religious times. Let’s not walk away from the instructions of history as we move forward into a culture that doesn’t know Christ.

Dr. Michael Sproul is senior pastor of Tri-City Baptist Church (Tempe, AZ). He also serves as chairman of the board of International Baptist College, Tri-City Christian School, and Time for Tots Preschool. He is also president of International Baptist Missions and board member of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary and the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. He is senior chaplain (Lt. Col.) of the 161st ARW Arizona Air Guard. God has blessed him and his wife with two children.

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