Looking Back on Bailey Smith: Former Southern Baptist President Dead at 81

Multiple Baptist sources on Twitter have reported that prominent evangelist Bailey Smith has died. Before embarking on a three decade career as an evangelist, Smith served as the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Oklahoma and the 44th President of the Southern Baptist Convention. His term of service, 1981 to 1982, was pivotal. Smith followed the great Adrian Rogers into the SBC presidency, becoming the 2nd president of the Conservative Resurgence era. Rogers, Smith, and their successors over the next decade successfully freed the Southern Baptist Convention from liberal control and turned its mission boards and seminaries back toward a biblically faithful path. Smith’s legacy, however, is as controversial as it is conservative.

Smith’s biblical stands drew criticism from the theological left. Smith ardently defended the truth that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. His proclamation of the primacy of Christ drew the ire of ecumenists and mainliners, the very individuals the Conservative Resurgence leaders sought to purge from the SBC ranks. Smith was equally as controversial to many on the theological right. Smith and the other leaders of the Conservative Resurgence brought their brand of decisional regeneration to prominence along with them when they rose to power. Smith once hatched a scheme called the “Soul-a-Month Ministry.” Taking stock of the total expenses of his evangelistic ministry and the number of salvations he was reporting, Smith determined that he was spending $48 for every person it led to Christ’s. Smith’s advertising pitch was a simple one; send his ministry $48 a month and you’d be helping save one soul. In effect, Smith had invented a soul-of-the-month club. Through his association with Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, Smith became a board member of the reorganized PTL, after the outster of Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker. The legacies of PTL and Falwell are questionable at best. Smith also openly endorsed the disgraced fake-jihadist Southern Baptist charlatan Ergun Caner, stating:

I make no apologies for saying this, and neither do I hesitate: I am who I am because of Dr. Bailey Smith. His courage, his prophetic voice, his unabashed enthusiasm for the Gospel- it radically affected me. To go from borrowing money to get gas money to attend a Real Evangelism Conference in 1987, to having the honor of preaching the REC many times now, God has used Dr. Smith to shape and mold me. If Bailey Smith called me to lead a silent prayer at a highway dedication, I would do it. The man is a living embodiment of John the Baptist. No fear…and faithful.

Upon his recent entry to Heaven, Smith may have been surprised to learn that many of his reported thousands of converts weren’t there, the sad result of the salvific inefficacy of decisional regeneration methodology. Arguably, Smith helped turn evangelism without discipleship into big business. Nevertheless, Smith’s positive effect on the conservative direction of the flagging Southern Baptist Convention cannot be ignored. Nor should it be forgotten by younger Southern Baptists who find their convention being taken over by social justice warriors under the leadership of men like Danny Akin and Russell Moore. Despite his foibles and associations, the Southern Baptist Convention is in desperate need of more leaders like Smith who boldly proclaim a blood-bought, not social, gospel.

Rest in peace Bailey Smith.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant