The Ghosts of John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, and Lee Roberson (IBTR #44)

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They made a mark. No trio of names among Independent Baptists could possibly have more admirers. This question about them is worthy of examination: why did they become so well known? The usual answers– books and newspapers, large churches, large meetings, large colleges, and large numbers of professions of faith– are not, in my opinion, what really took them from among the ranks of preachers and lifted them up.

You would have to go back to when they were younger men. You would have to back to before they were Independent Baptists to when they were part of the Southern Baptist Convention. A battle raged in those days as many felt that liberalism of the worst sort (full-blown unbelief in Scripture) was creeping in. Many like these men started standing against it. As can happen within any denominational setting, pressure was brought to bear to not buck the denominational leadership. These three men were particularly charming, dynamic, and natural leaders. I’ll leave their legacy for someone else to figure out, but even their worst enemies could not deny this fact. So more than usual pressure was applied because of the influence they clearly had from their youngest days.

Many around them in those days could not help but admire them paying the price. And pay it they did. If you listened or read them enough, you realize they were threatened to the point they were told they would never find another Baptist church to preach in. You know they were nervous about it. You know it because you can never know how such things will turn out. The cost of going independent was real and great. Still, they did it.

Whatever you would want to say about these three men, only following what they believed to be true could explain the decision they made. No pressure from others could cause them to violate their consciences on matters they felt important before the Lord. People saw this for what it was and they each had a following the rest of their days.

After those pivotal days they each had a ministry that lasted many years and influenced many preachers and families. As with anyone else in ministry they made decisions about every detail of life and ministry. We can’t criticize that as every single one of us do the exact same thing. They were never afraid to let others know what they thought as you might expect from such strong personalities.

Now fast forward to the latter years of their ministries and even now after they are gone. The throngs of people who count them as spiritual fathers number in the thousands. These followers understand that these men possessed something of greatness (as men go) and see themselves as following in their footsteps. My question is simple: Do they really follow these three men? Do they really follow in the one vital element that made them great? The greatness that said no man or group will dictate to our consciences?

It seems that many of their followers today do not follow them in the defining step of their lives. Not only do they not follow, but also they fully reject and ask of others the very things that Rice, Hyles, and Roberson were asked years ago. You know…follow us or pay the consequences. Don’t rock the boat. Do exactly what we do simply because it is what we do. Years ago these three were told to be good Southern Baptists and today how many times within the Independent Baptist world is the argument little more than that you had better make sure you are a good Independent Baptist?

 I hope you see that my point is in no way Southern Baptists versus Independent Baptists, but rather soul liberty versus denominationalism. Despite all the wonderful Independent Baptists I know and I admire for their love of Jesus Christ, and despite the fact that I am personally an Independent Baptist myself; we must admit that denominationalism now runs amok. Allegiance to our group is now the separating point rather than the Person of Jesus Christ or even the more well-known tenants of Baptist thought. The minutest detail about how a church service looks or the precise details of what we wear or watch or listen to, are in play to turn away from someone. In other words, soul liberty has been sacrificed upon the altar of the acceptance of men.

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a wasting of a legacy. It’s a repudiation of the historic Baptist position. It’s a direct assault upon our consciences. And worst of all, it’s disloyalty to Jesus Christ.

Do you see their shadow? If you listen carefully do you hear their ghosts passing through the Independent Baptist world? I suggest you look and listen more carefully and not miss the best lesson they ever taught us.

21 thoughts on “The Ghosts of John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, and Lee Roberson (IBTR #44)

  1. Jimmy,
    A thoughtful post. Pastor was just talking to our students about the dangers of fundamentalism. We are strong fundamentalists. But we do not belong to “fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism is like denominationalism – it is an “ism” that allows men to be the determining factor instead of Christ. I appreciate your article. Glad to be an independent Baptist – free in the Lord and serving Him in liberty of conscience.

  2. Not to mention, the movement we have now is not the movement they lead. Sadly, John Rice and Lee Roberson would not be fundamental enough for the movement of today. Fundamentalism is much like the republican party, it has been hijacked by ill-informed extremist. Balanced, level headed men and ministries don’t seem to be welcome.

  3. Bro. Jimmy,

    I don’t think this point could have been made better. It seems we again take our cues from the Pharisees.

    Matthew 23:29
    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

    But we have missed the lessons the “prophets” taught.

  4. Jimmy,

    I appreciate the post. I believe God is using you to articulate what many of us believe. Keep him letting God use you.

    Seth Alcorn

  5. I’ve been an independent Baptist for twenty years but I guess I haven’t seen the denominationalism of the IFB you are speaking of. Most of the IB I know are very independent and choose to fellowship with people they agree with, like everyone else does. As to your main point those men did not want to be independent but their stand for doctrine forced them to become independent. Same with J Frank Norris. All of them were kicked out of the conventions because of their beliefs and practices. It seems that your post is meant to backhand fundamentalists because of certain beliefs/standards/etc that perhaps you do not hold or hold any more, and that you are using the names of these great men to do it. Perhaps I misread it. Anyway we are all entitled to our opinions and that too is a Baptist distinctive.

    • My thought was not to backhand fundamentalists, but yes, perhaps, to backhand one certain practice. Everyone has standards of some sort, some place to draw the line, and people do naturally more closely associate with those who most closely agree with them. The problem is shunning and separating from those who do not agree to every detail. The idea of denominationalism is the pressure some key figures push on the rank and file to submit. I’m sorry–I’ve talked to too many missionaries to not realize how great this pressure can be. This pressure to conform or pay the price is an attack on one’s conscience and has no corresponding Scripture to back it up. Before the 3 I wrote of decided to become independent such pressure was put on them . It is well documented in the many recorded sermons they have left us. I think they are herioc for not letting others dictate to them just I think we too should not allow a few well-known IFB people to dictate and pressure us. That is where I was coming from.
      Thanks for leaving your imput. I appreciate it.

  6. I have often thought that when God saved me, He did not put me into a movement or a denomination. He lead me into a local church. I am happy to identify as a fundamentalist and an Independent Baptist. Yet, we must guard against the danger of losing sight of the Lord and living by the acceptance of movements.

    Thank you for the post!

  7. Pingback: It’s Time For An Independent Baptist Truth Revolution! | The Reagan Review

  8. Hi, Jimmy. Excellent essay. You hit the nail on the head. I’m prejudiced though, I have to admit. John R. Rice was my grandfather, and I went to Tennessee Temple when Lee Roberson was in his prime, graduating in 1976. I see that this post is from years ago, but I just now found it.

    If you and your readers are interested, I’ve just finished a new biography of John R. Rice. I was able to do a lot of research previous works have not accessed, especially in the John R. Rice Papers at Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Here is the preorder page:

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