EDITOR’S JOURNAL: Back to the future
“His grasp of the fundamentals is so thorough and his ability to make all knowledge serve the purpose of emphasizing the truth that all truth is God’s truth, history is His story, that he makes the message pulsate with life.”
Tribute to W. D. Moorer
July 3, 1913, Baptist Messenger
William Durant Moorer was known among his professors at The Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. as one of the finest theological students ever to study at the mother seminary of Southern Baptists. His prodigious study of Holy Scripture set him apart as a model pastor/theologian who possessed an unusual aptitude for preaching and teaching the Bible. Throughout his early ministry as a pastor in South Carolina, he evidenced an ability to connect with young people and sought every opportunity to teach them the Bible as he had been taught at Southern Seminary. By his own admission, he saw the local church as the epicenter of ministry and would never allow any person or program to supplant the serious study of the Bible in the context of a local congregation.
When he and his family moved to Oklahoma in 1902, they experienced many personal trials as missionaries of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. So different were those on the frontier from those of the American Southeast that he often wondered if he had made the right decision to leave all that he had known to come to Oklahoma. It was at Anadarko that he found a new vision for the development of what was then a cutting-edge ministry strategy to equip local churches through systematic study of the Bible, Christian doctrine, church history and Baptist ecclesiology. Moorer desired to strengthen local congregations by helping them establish Sunday Schools on the frontier, just as he had done through his own pastoral work.
So stellar was his theological content and his pedagogical methods that in 1905, the Baptist convention of the Oklahoma territory invited him to become the first Sunday School secretary in the state. At 37, Moorer had already made his mark as a leading figure in Southern Baptist life. He soon began writing Sunday School lessons each week in the Baptist Messenger and his readership grew to encompass pastors, church leaders and Sunday School teachers throughout the SBC. He constantly refined his curriculum and established a teaching module that brought Sunday School teachers into contact with the leading theologians of Baptist life in his day. By 1913, he had established the Teacher Training Institute with books and lessons drawn from some of his former teachers—John A. Broadus and A.T. Robertson as well as E.Y. Mullins and the editor of the Baptist Standard, J.B. Gambrell.
Writing in the Jan. 27, 1913 edition of the Baptist Messenger, he exegeted Gen. 4:1-15. “Redemption is wholly of God, through blood, by faith,” Moorer wrote, and thus helped hundreds of Sunday School teachers across Oklahoma and the nation to understand the doctrinal intent of the text as applied through the account of the Fall of mankind into sin. A believer that intentional labor and thoughtful engagement by the local church was a primary means of God’s grace to advance the Gospel and strengthen Christians, Moorer’s vision to establish Falls Creek as a place set apart to the instruction of young people set the pace for fruitful ministry development by other evangelicals to model ministry after Oklahoma Baptists. Later, as a professor of Bible and Christian theology at Oklahoma Baptist University, he impacted thousands of students for Christ through his teaching and writing.
Like every generation of ministers who serve the church of Jesus Christ, Moorer faced the perennial quest for ways to make a maximum impact for the Gospel. A comparison of Moorer’s methods to those found in many modern leadership journals reveals that an entire cottage industry has grown to include local churches as a potential client for everything from leadership development to most any of the management initiatives currently in play in the modern American corporation. While many of the insights gleaned from these management processes might prove helpful, the implementation of such programs to the exclusion of a strong emphasis on Bible teaching as the dynamic factor in the conversion and sanctification of individuals is certain to leave the church highly organized, but lacking true spiritual power.
Many in the modern church create ministry methods void of solid biblical content. Their actions betray a belief that in-depth Bible teaching is incompatible with church growth to such an extent that efforts are made to minimalize truth to a maximum number of people, thinking that too much too soon might either offend or overwhelm. W.D. Moorer’s legacy, however, is a lesson for the increasingly frenetic and faddish formulas of modern ministry engagement. Whatever the challenge—regardless of the people group or embedded culture—the Bible must remain as the center of all ministry outreach.
The Bible forbids spiritual nostalgia (Ecc. 7:10) and the methods of former servants of Christ may not prove effective in the modern era. Yet, the heritage of faithful men and women exemplifies the priority of looking back to the future for the development and expansion of ministry in a 21st Century post-Christian culture. W.D. Moorer’s life remains an example of retaining the priority of local church ministry while employing the energies of a denominational structure committed to biblically educate, equip and serve local congregations in their task to reach their community and the world with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.