The influence of my childhood pastor on my life

Our pastor had an incredible way of remembering people by name, and somehow he remembered mine. His obvious love for God, his church, and people was something that was almost tangible. His emphasis on the importance of God’s Word, it’s authority and power to change lives, and his emphasis on evangelistic missions whether local or international, all made an impact on my ministry later in life.

Rather than shaping me into a somebody with strong loyalties to a denomination, he often warned that God would find others to do his work if our Southern Baptist churches, colleges, seminaries, newspapers, and other entities did not stay “lashed to the cross”. B.H. Carrol former president of the young Baptist seminary in Ft. Worth, from his deathbed in 1914 told the president L. R. Scarborough “Keep the Seminary lashed to the cross. If heresy ever comes in the teaching, take it to the faculty. If they will not hear you and take prompt action, take it to the trustees of the Seminary. If they will not hear you, take it to the Convention that appoints the Board of Trustees, and if they will not hear you, take it to the great common people of our churches. You will not fail to get a hearing then.”

This was a historic time for that church, and for our denomination as well, as future leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention were on staff such as Jimmy Draper and Paige Patterson. Much of what would become the resurgance of conservative theology in the world’s largest protestant denomination came from this group of leaders, and was influenced by my pastor, the author of “Why I believe the Bible is Literally True”.

Dr. Criswell initiated two schools as part of his ministry, Criswell Bible Institute and First Baptist Academy.  The later would influence my life as I attended 7th grade there.  Our neighborhood school had become a flashpoint of racial violence, and to spare me some of the unprovoked physical attacks that had happened to my older brother – – or maybe to keep me from saying something stupid that would bring on such attacks — my parents sent me to this private school while they prepared to sell the house and move to a safer neighborhood.  It was there that I learned that not all scientists believed in the theory of evolution, and that some of the “facts” just didn’t add up.  It was there that I was first made responsible, with grades to reflect it, to not only memorize scriptures (some of which remain memorized to this day and have proven helpful) but to study it as well.

Dr. Criswell’s influence continued after we moved to that newer safer neighborhood.  He championed a local Baptist college which he had a hand in influencing to move to Dallas from Decataur, Texas.  It was a school with deep financial problems, which he and some of those who loved him had a vision to see succeed.  Without the early support of Dr. Criswell, and members of his church such as Nolan Estes, the H. L. Hunt family, and Mary C. Crowley, that fledgling school would never have become the wonderful Dallas Baptist University that today has an enrollment of over 5,600 students.  It was a college that I would later attend, and again have my philosophy and theology shaped with a solidly biblical and theologically conservative bent.  While being exposed to other world views, including classic liberalism, I was equipped with hermeneutically solid reasoning skills to decide my own path, and led by example of Godly men and women who taught and worked at Dallas Baptist College.

So what influences did this loving pastor have on my life?

  • a belief that the Bible is a gift from God, which makes a real difference in our lives when we spend time reading, studying, meditating, memorizing, utilizing it.
  • a belief that the Bible is true, that it can be trusted, regardless of if it’s talking about how the world was formed or how we get to the next one.  There is room for poetic language, room for individual authors to have their own influence on how they wrote, room for difference on opinion on things that are not explicit, room for the Holy Spirit to say different (though not opposing) things to different believers about how they should live out their lives, but no room for error of any kind.
  • a belief that God can use an uneducated cowpoke from the Texas/Oklahoma to impact thousands of lives if he is willing to believe and obey faithfully.
  • a belief that the gospel has the power to change anybody in an incredible way
  • a belief that it is my duty and priviledge to share God’s good news with others – – both in obedience to my Lord and out of compassion for those who are without the benefit of knowing enough of the Gospel to have made a decision about how they will react to it
  • a belief that heaven is a very real place, as is hell
  • a love for the local church
  • a belief in the power of cooperating with other like-minded believer and churches to spread the Gospel
  • a belief that it honors God to share his love with my fellow man, and that his love will woe them so much more effectively than me beating the bible over their heads
  • an understanding that the worship service of a church needs solemnity, that there ought to be a sense of awe when we are in God’s presense, that kneeling before God in prayer does something special in the heart while God looks at our heart and not our clothing or physical posture
  • an understanding that great leaders help raise up other leaders and calls lay people to the serious business of the Gospel
  • an understanding that learning is a life long goal
  • a belief that this list is long, but not long enough 😉