Shortly after accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior back in 1983, my wife and I began attending an independent fundamental Baptist church and we stayed there for eight years. I’ve already shared several memories from that time, both good and not so good (see here). Another memory from our stay at that church was “The Sword of the Lord” newspaper.
I’m an information person. I love to read, always have. As a baby Christian, I was drawn to our church’s information table, which was well-stocked with tracts (including Chick tracts), along with copies of “Our Daily Bread” and “The Sword of the Lord.” What? You’ve never heard of the “Sword of the Lord”? Well, back before the internet age, people used to get their news and information from the printed page and independent Baptists of a particular strain relied on “The Sword of the Lord.” I fell in love with the bi-weekly newspaper and subscribed immediately.
Pastor and evangelist, John R. Rice (1895-1980), first began publishing the Sword in 1934. The readership grew and grew as did Rice’s influence. Circulation of the newspaper peaked at 300,000 in the mid-1970s. Although independent Baptist churches are autonomous, there is a certain degree of networking through conferences, seminary support, etc. The major camps in the independent Baptist movement back in the 60s, 70s and 80s were the Sword group, spearheaded by Rice, and the Bob Jones group led by Bob Jones, Jr. and Bob Jones III. Rice and Jones, Jr. had split over the issue of separation, with the latter taking a much harder stand against the Southern Baptist “compromisers” (and racial integration).
Rice had died by the time I had started subscribing to the Sword, but the paper was continued by his successor, Curtis Hutson. I looked forward to seeing the Sword in our mailbox every other week. There was news, columns, and sermons from Sword regulars and Rice allies, Jack Hyles, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, Bob Gray, Truman Dollar, Lester Roloff, Jerry Falwell, etc., along with classic sermons from Spurgeon, Moody, and Sunday. Very helpful to me were the advertisements from ministries to Catholics including The Conversion Center (Donald Maconaghie), Mission to Catholics (Bart Brewer), and Christians Evangelizing Catholics (Bill Jackson), all of which I contacted for resources.
There was a lot of good stuff in the pages of the Sword but some of the information also bothered me. Patriotism and nationalism in excess were constant themes. There was also a certain degree of spiritual arrogance and moral superiority that characterized the messages, as if to say, “We are such good Christians and wonderful people who do right as opposed to those terribly wicked unbelievers (and non-IFBers).” The hearts of the contributors didn’t always seem to be humble and contrite before the Lord. One could even sense a spirit of pomposity and Pharisaism. There seemed to be more “Dr.”s in the pages of the SOTL than a medical journal. It’s sad to say but public scandal eventually caught up with some of the names I mentioned above.
After a couple of years I let my subscription to the Sword run out. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Shelton Smith succeeded Hutson as publisher in 1995. Circulation has dropped to around 100,000. Independent Baptist Fundamentalism isn’t what it used to be and that’s both good and bad. Praise the Lord for men like John R. Rice who upheld the Gospel of grace by faith in opposition to those who began to accommodate and compromise (Billy Graham & Co.). But something went sour with the Rice camp and some of the other Baptist fundamentalists. They often came across as arrogant WE ARE SOMEBODYS rather than humble sinners saved by grace.
There’s a lesson there for all of us.