The fascinating history of the Commission for Theological Integrity begins at the 1959 Free Will Baptist National Convention in Asheville, North Carolina, when the Resolutions Committee presented and the body passed the following:
Whereas our American heritage has suffered at the hands of theological liberalism and other encroachments, and
Whereas Protestant denominations have been engulfed by infidelity to the Bible, and
Whereas the progress of missions has been hindered by the modernists’ social gospel, and
Whereas Scriptural education has been replaced by non-Christian philosophies in many schools, and
Whereas the Free Will Baptist denomination is not immune to those dangers,
Therefore, be it resolved that a commission be appointed to study the menaces of theological liberalism, secularism, worldliness, etc., and
Be it further resolved that a report of this commission’s work be made to this body at the next session.
The next year in Fresno, California, the newly formed commission, made up of Ronald Creech, Bobby Jackson, Paul J. Ketteman, N. R. Smith, and chaired by R. Eugene Waddell, reported: “As we see it, Free Will Baptists are approaching a crossroads. Within the decade additional measures should be taken to insure our future against modernism or else trends toward liberalism might set the stage for false doctrine in years to come.”
They added: “More care should be taken by ordaining councils in ordination.” They further recommended that the commission be made a permanent part of the denomination’s structure.
Behind the scenes, the group was even more concerned over the future of the denomination. Waddell wrote: “The future of Free Will Baptists could well be hanging in the balance of our work.” F. Leroy Forlines was elected to serve on the new Commission and was selected to chair the Commission in 1963. With the exception of a few years in the late 1960s, he guided the work of the Commission for fifty years before stepping down at the 2012 national convention.
The Commission work, especially in its early existence, focused strictly on issues of modernism and liberalism. However, the role of the Commission has evolved somewhat over the years. In 1986, the group was renamed the Commission for Theological Integrity, with the following purpose outlined in the Free Will Baptist Treatise:
The purpose of this Commission shall be: (a) To alert our people of theological trends that could threaten our theological integrity as a denomination. (b) To prepare materials that will contribute to the continued preservation of the theological integrity of our denomination. (c) As the need and opportunity arise to conduct seminars on subjects which are pertinent to the purpose of this Commission.
In accordance with this statement, the Commission has hosted an annual seminar for many years at the National Convention. Additionally, since 1997, it has planned and hosted an annual symposium where theological papers are read and discussed. In 2000, the Commission began publishing Integrity: A Journal of Christian Thought, an occasional scholarly journal.
Over the decades, the Commission has addressed many of the controversial issues that affected the Christian community, from biblical criticism to cheap easy-believism, the encroachment of post-modernism, the charismatic movement, evolution, Bible versions, etc. In spite of varying viewpoints in the denomination, Forlines and the other members of the Commission never allowed the organization to become a “political football,” choosing to focus their work on issues rather than personalities.
Forlines is quick to say the work of the Commission is not over. He continues to plead for “prophets of holiness, who will help us restore a Christian culture in the church.”
About the Writer: Paul V. Harrison pastored Cross Timbers Free Will Baptist Church near Nashville, Tennessee, for more than two decades and served as secretary of the Commission for Theological Integrity.
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Adapted from “Leroy Forlines and the Commission for Theological Integrity” by Paul V. Harrison. First published in ONE Magazine, June-July 2012.