November 3, 2011

A Kind and Gentle Yet Aggressively Militant Richard V. Clearwaters

Dr. Rolland McCune has continued commenting at Sharper Iron (SI). I want to make excerpts of what he is sharing available to readers here, many of whom do not and would not visit or participate at SI.  We began with his initial comment, which you can read at Kevin Bauder’s “Kinder-Gentler Motif…Will Not Carry the Day.”* Please now consider the following by Dr. McCune as he remembers “Doc” Clearwaters.

One last thought/clarification (I trust). From my 14 years of association with R. V. Clearwaters he and I never had a cross word between us, and I left for DBTS with his disappointment, but none the less his “blessing.” We were especially close during my last six or seven years. I participated in his funeral in 1996 and unashamedly wept as I hugged his daughter Jane farewell as we left Crystal Lake Cemetery.

Doc, as a good leader, prudently chose his hills to die on based on several non-negotiable biblical truths and convictions. But in a showdown when these were being challenged, trampled, disobeyed, avoided or neglected, he was militantly aggressive. This earned him a lot of unwanted and unearned opprobrium over the decades, actually to this very day. Some of the opponents mused out loud that they hoped for the day they would see RVC in his casket. Fortunately he outlived most of them.

Included in his non-negotiable truths was the primacy of the New Testament local church. Thus he opposed the movement that tried to hijack the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches (NTAIBC) from an association of churches to a pastor's fellowship (at Eagledale Baptist Church, Indianapolis, 1966) contrary to the minutes of the call to form an association (passed at Beth Eden Baptist, Denver) one year earlier. The NTAIBC became an association of churches. He also opposed self-perpetuating boards of Baptist institutions who generally wanted him and Fourth Baptist to “pray and pay, but not to play.” This was the case in the formation of the Baptist World Mission** in the 1960s. On the grounds of local church ideology/doctrine he expected first loyalty to Fourth Baptist by paid servants of a Baptist institution whose membership was at Fourth, rather than their first loyalty elsewhere. The same went for paid servants of Central Baptist Seminary, church staff, the Christian school, custodians, et al, as well as all the membership in general. He was loyal to people and he expected the same from them. It was not “my way or the hi-way.” These incidents all became controversial to the point of public resolution with him being blamed in one way or another for the disturbance, usually on ecclesiastically political or pietistic notions.

The local church rubric caused Doc to vigorously oppose interdenominationalism, especially after its failure to sustain Northwestern Schools in the late 1950s when it’s Bible College and Seminary closed down, leading to the founding of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Seminary as Baptist, not interdenominational, schools. He was on the board of Northwestern and a confidant of W. B. Riley, and went through the rough waters after Riley’s death.

Ecclesiastical separation was a non-negotiable, both “primary” and “secondary.” Thus Doc participated heavily in the fight within the old Northern Baptist Convention against liberalism, and within the Minnesota Baptist Convention/Association and the Conservative Baptist Association of America against New Evangelicalism. In these controversies, Fourth Baptist Church and the MBA “kept the faith and the furniture.” But of course, RVC took heat for not being loving, kind, gentle and Christ-like when push came to shove and straight talk finally took precedence over quiet, emotional, pietistic diplomatic discussions.

RVC’s style of church administration was summed up in two words, as he constantly told the Seminary students—“through channels.” Anything major that affected Fourth church was first taken to the deacons, after that to the “official family” (composed of all people elected by the church), and finally to the floor of the church. This happened on many occasions while I was there.

Other of RVC’s leadership principles included “take the historical approach,” giving him an uncanny insight to people and proposals that came along. His ability to size up a situation and know of the right, or a good, solution was amazing. He relied heavily on “documents” when in battle, pulling out minutes, resolutions, etc, because “documents don’t lie.” This happened when he was contradicted, whether in court fighting to retain the MBA’s control of Pillsbury Academy or as an expert witness on Baptist polity in suits to prevent the Northern Baptist Convention from stealing the property of churches who voted to withdraw from it, or simply during the formation of a new association.

This has droned on far more than intended, typical of the “few minutes” that Baptist preachers promise to audiences. I did not take space for anecdotes of his life as a pastor, friend, counselor, family man, and others. There his kind and gentle side always showed, whether for a student finding a job, those needing food and raiment, a pastor looking for a church, or churches looking pastors. For funerals he would ask for the Bible and “life verse” of the deceased and conduct a very meaningful service. He was willing to be called back from his annual vacation in Florida (in February/March usually, naturally) for emergencies.

I hope that these vignettes put the man in a better light than is too often forgotten or ignored.
Rolland D. McCune
I trust those remarks have been encouraging to those who appreciate what the best of Fundamentalism has been, can be and still looks like.

Related Reading:
*Kevin Bauder’s “Kinder-Gentler Motif…Will Not Carry the Day.”

**In October Baptist World Mission celebrated its 50th anniversary at the church where it was founded, Marquette Manor Baptist Church.
SI Administrator, Jim Peet, posted  a particular comment in the thread.  Dr. McCune rebuked him for it.  For example,
If this is any kind of resemblance to the apparently newly discovered and coveted kind and gentle fundamentalism, you have discredited them and embarrassed yourself.”
Go to Jim Peet in the Jaws of the Lion


  1. Pastor Marc Monte11/03/2011 12:13 PM

    Thank you, Dr. McCune, for your kind words about my personal hero, Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters. Many outsiders remember him for his militant stance against apostasy and compromise. But there was also a side of Doc that his congregation knew: a kind-hearted pastor who loved the souls of men. Allow me one illustration:

    It was our first time to attend a Baptist church. My father had passed away the previous year, and my mother was searching. Mom had enrolled my twin brother and me at Fourth Baptist Christian School in order to satisfy a last request of my dad who had been a public school teacher and didn't like the direction of the schools. We had absolutely no idea what a Baptist was--let alone an independent, fundamental one. Mike and I persuaded mom to take us to church several weeks after we started the school year. We had never done this as a family before. We were nervous that first Sunday.

  2. Pastor Marc Monte11/03/2011 12:14 PM

    We parked in the large south lot and entered through the main entrance. There was a flight of stairs and a large lobby just ahead. When we got to the top of the stairs, an elderly gentleman met us, recognized us as first-time visitors, spoke kindly to us, and led us to seats on the back row of the front section (the auditorium seated 2,500 or so). He made sure we were comfortable, and then he went on his way. I remember my mother commenting on how nice the church was--that it even had ushers! Well, when the service began, our "usher" walked out onto the church platform. You guessed it: it was Dr. Clearwaters himself! My mother was absolutely amazed that the pastor of such a large church would recognize us as visitors and take a personal interest in us. From that moment on, she was hooked! We were all saved through the ministry of Fourth Baptist Church. Mom is 83 now, but she still recalls with a tear in her eye the kindness of an "usher" that would ultimately point her to Christ.

  3. Pastor Marc Monte11/03/2011 12:14 PM

    I am saved and serving the Lord today because of the love, vision, burden, and plain old hard work of my pastor and hero, Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters. His fundamentalism was the most authentic I've ever seen! The critics may say what they want. I knew Dr. Clearwaters as a man among men--a man who loved Christ and the souls of men. Thank you, Dr. McCune, for your kind remarks.

  4. "The local church rubric caused Doc to vigorously oppose interdenominationalism, especially after its failure to sustain Northwestern Schools in the late 1950s when it’s Bible College and Seminary closed down, leading to the founding of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Baptist Seminary as Baptist, not interdenominational, schools. He was on the board of Northwestern and a confidant of W. B. Riley, and went through the rough waters after Riley’s death."

    Isn't this the same as saying that Clearwaters was opposed to what fundamentalism was always about? Fundamentalism has always been interdenominational. I agree with Clearwaters on this. However, how does this add to "fundamentalism?"


  5. Michael:

    Thanks for asking. I don't know how either Dr. McCune or Dr. Clearwaters might answer.

    Of course, if Dr. McCune were to look in to this thread and see your question he is welcome to post a reply.


  6. Michael:

    I was just thinking and speaking only for myself- your term "interdenominational" reminded me of Promise Keepers. One of their key positions was knocking down denominational barriers for the sake of unity. Now, they had in mind inclusion of all sorts of denominations including the Roman Catholic Church. The bottom line, however, is that there are numerous denominations because they primarily formed first because doctrinal divides. So, PK was a call to tear down the doctrinal divisions.

    When we think about crossing denominational divides we had better know what doctrinal positions we may cross over to have our fellowship.


  7. As we get to know people in an intimate way, we soon discover that everyone has his own personal enigmas. However, it is completely unjust to point out the enigmas of others without recognizing we have our own. Secondly, it completely unjust to judge a person's whole life without having experience the heat of the battle out of which difficult decisions were be made. Fundamentalism is at another impasse just as it was during the battles fought by Dr. Clearwaters, Dr. Pickering, and Dr. Cedarholm. These men came through that fire offering solutions without compromise. They left us all stronger, not weaker. They united with truth and exegesis. They did not divide. They separated. The tools they chose, must be our tools and, ultimately, their final answer must be our final answer - separate. They let the old schools go on the pathway of chosen compromise. They started new associations of churches, new Bible colleges, and new seminaries. Like Nehemiah, they began to rebuild with the remnant. If we do not teach that lesson, when the next generation of the remnant gets where we are in another 30 years, they will be destroyed. God is always in the midst of the faithful remnant.

  8. Dr. Ketchum, I second that motion! A hearty Amen and Amen.

  9. To answer Michel's question:

    There has always been two streams of Fundamentalism. There is Baptist fundamentalist (notice large "B" on "Baptist" and small "f" on "fundamentalist" - this establishes emphasis. Baptist fundamentalists never sacrificed their Baptist distinctives for "fellowship." Therefore, they did not "fellowship" with Presbyterian fundamentalists, Congregational fundamentalists, Methodist fundamentalists, or many others.

    The Fundamentalist Movement, the other stream of Fundamentalism was interdenominational and fellowshipped together with various other fundamental denominational churches. Convergent Evangelicalism wants Baptist fundamentalists to converge with the interdenominational "fellowship" of the Fundamentalist Movement. That kind of thing has always been rejected by Baptist fundamentalists.

  10. "God is always in the midst of the faithful remnant."

    Dr. Ketchum, thank you for your perspective and encouragement. God has always been in the remnant business.


  11. And I especially appreciate your historical perspective in answering Michael's question above.

    "Convergent Evangelicalism wants Baptist fundamentalists to converge with the interdenominational 'fellowship' of the Fundamentalist Movement."

    I think we have men who still roam in FB circles who at least as much or are even more eager to converge in fellowship with the non-separatist evangelicals. So much so that the self-descrbed separatists in FB circles can barely raise their voices when confronted with aberrant doctrine, ecumenical compromise and worldliness in their new interdenominational fellowship/community.


  12. I think Doc would have been more comfortable with some "non-denominational" Christian institutions (such as Bob Jones University, which granted him an honorary doctorate) than "inter-denominationalism" which promote cooperation between the denominations. Doc was a Baptist and I remember a Central Seminary Press paper he wrote showing the errors of Presbyterianism, Catholicism, etc. In his mind, "Biblicists" should be Baptists. But there are uncompromising (Baptistic) "fundamentalist" non-denominational organizations like BJU.