In the winter of 1966 there was a conflict brewing between the Doc and Don Nelson at 4th Baptist. Nelson, my primary mentor and influence on me at the time, was a different breed of pastoral staff member. He and the Doc had been very close, but Don’s penchant for dramatic escapades and occasional conflicts with parents tested the tranquility of the church on several occasions.
Ultimately, Nelson decided to seek a new area of ministry and he was offered and accepted a teaching position at Bob Jones University. But after a trip to the campus in Greenville Nelson determined BJU was not a good fit for him. However, he had already announced his proposed leaving and that resulted in a tenuous situation back at 4th. It is very difficult for an assistant, albeit a controversial one, to walk back a resignation without adding fuel to an already simmering fire. (Years later Don nursed Doc back to health in Florida, when the Clearwaters were on vacation.)
In the midst of this time Doc or the leaders of the church – or both – gave Nelson time to sort out his future ministry options. Subsequently, Nelson received a call from Littleton, Colorado, to become pastor of the Caley Ave. Baptist Church in the suburban Denver area. During the four months that all of this was transpiring I was called upon to step in as a substitute for Nelson in leading the very large youth program that Don had built over nine years of ministry. That wasn’t a problem to me because I had already been serving as Nelson’s chief lieutenant anyway. Still it was a dicey position for a 24 year old to occupy.
However, that winter, I was contacted by Bud Weniger, at that time a young pastor in a growing church in Normal, Illinois, who was seeking a youth pastor. In the middle of this troubled time, one of the seminary professors approached me to say that I should hold my options open because I was probably going to be asked to be the next youth pastor at 4th Baptist. I knew that I did not want to be in the midst of an unsettled church conflict, or to follow the man who was a legendary youth pastor. The Lord rescued me when I received a call from the Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois about two weeks before the 4th Baptist position became definitely open.
I was very glad to be able go to a new ministry and to basically start from scratch in my first full-time pastoral experience. I remember going to Doc Clearwaters after receiving the call from Normal to ask his advice, or get his blessing. The only question he asked me was whether Calvary could take care of me and Connie with an adequate salary. I truly appreciated his concern and wisdom.
Doc knew the background and circumstances of the church in Illinois. Calvary was a relatively new church at the time that resulted from one of those notorious court cases where he, and my dad, had testified at ten years previously. Doc evidently wasn’t sure that church was established enough to handle the financial responsibility of an assistant pastor. But it was, and God was exceedingly faithful and we had four fruitful years of ministry at Calvary.
A year before we moved to Illinois Connie and I were married on June 26, 1965 in a ceremony conducted by Doc Clearwaters in the Fourth Baptist Church. That evening was also memorable because at 4:00 p.m. WCTS-FM, the radio voice of Central Seminary, went on the air for the first time. I remember going into the Doc’s office before the start of the ceremony and seeing him seated at his desk enjoying the new station broadcasting recorded musical selections. He was listening to a FM radio that my seminary classmate Glen Eveland had procured in quantity from a wholesaler. Doc marketed those radios for a $25 gift to the station and we bought one on the spot.
Many church members and listeners bought those radios in the opening months of the station’s history. I became the first newscaster for the 5:00 o’clock news show and shared that time-slot with Gary Gillmore, my fellow church janitor and seminary classmate. Gary read the sports and I read the news and weather. We would drop our mops at about 4:45 and run to the AP teletype machine and rip our copy just in time for the 5:00 hour.
I also remember that Myron Cedarholm had been announced as the new president of Pillsbury just a few weeks before our wedding. Of course, Uncle Myron and Aunt Thelma were at our wedding – they went to the wedding of every young person they influenced; that was just the way it was. At the reception that night I remember talking to him about his new appointment, and I also remember realizing he had a whirlwind schedule of preaching, traveling and moving ahead of him before the fall term began. I had no idea what the years in the immediate future would bring.
However, it was during those years in Normal that my extended world, the bigger world of family, friendships and ministry connections, went from being predictable and tranquil to being unpredictable and topsy-turvy. It all was wrapped up in the conflict that came to the forefront due to the leadership and personalities of these two indomitable men.
In the spring of 1967 and 1968 Bud Weniger and I made the trek to the Pillsbury campus during college days activities with a group of our church young people. I remember on both occasions we stayed at the Cedarholm’s residence on campus. The large stately home on the northwest corner of the campus had been obtained by the college as the President’s home. Little did I realize that almost 30 years later Connie and I would occupy that home for one year during my short-lived presidency at Pillsbury. But that is another story.
The mid 1960s was a time of tumult and change in what had been the Conservative Baptist Movement. It was at this time that Myron Cedarholm left the position of General Director of the CBA to become the president of Pillsbury. His transition from leadership of the CBA also marked a significant step in the shift among many of the Central Regional CBA churches toward an independency from the association, and an independent spirit in general. Some churches coalesced around the new World Conservative Baptist Mission, and others moved toward the New Testament Association (NTA). Others simply became markedly independent, although most continued relationships with the various state associations that had been part of the CBA. Some pastors found their main fellowship in the annual meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, which had been the Conservative Baptist Fellowship of the late 40s and 50s.
In my opinion, all of this change gave rise to different views of leadership strategy and organizational structure within this increasingly independent milieu of the emerging and changing movement. Doc and Cedar were at the center of these developments. Doc was the leading proponent for the associational philosophy or emphasis of the NTA. Cedar ultimately became more of a rallying point for the more independent spirit developing among many of the churches. Again, in my opinion, these two different strains of thought, or emphasis, would play into the change that would come in the late 60s and into the 1970s.
Dr. Cedarholm inherited the Bob Jones style discipline and demerit approach that Dr. Parker had instituted at Pillsbury. It should be noted that it was Dr. Parker’s system, and not just a Bob Jones concept, because he had been part of the administration at Bob Jones that had structured the disciplinary program. I must say that when I was a student at Pillsbury I was not particularly in love with the discipline system. However, even through my immature thinking at the time I could grasp and appreciate that the goal of the system was to build character. Still, my main thought pattern was thus: I have so many of demerits to spend and so I must spend them wisely.
My experience was that students who were generally in agreement with the school’s spiritual purpose were also students who could submit to the discipline system. Students definitely chaffed who were determined to break the rules and live outside of rules of the college. But there always could be the human aspect involved in administering the rules and confronting potential rule breakers.
I’m not sure how well Cedar understood the discipline system before he became president. I know, from a conversation with Dr. Parker in 1966, that the two men had very little time together during the transition period, but I know that Cedar was committed to backing the disciplinary committee that Dr. Parker had left in place. Thus it was in 1968 a conflict came to head over an action taken by the discipline committee, and backed by Dr. Cedarholm. I really don’t know any of the specifics about the disciplinary action that caused the crisis that followed. I only know about what I saw and heard about the fallout from the resulting clash.
In my understanding evidently the board of trustees urged Cedar to either rescind or review a disciplinary action taken by the discipline committee of the college. After the committee completed its review and reaffirmed their original decision a cleavage opened up that resulted in Cedar’s resignation. All of this transpired a few days ahead of the 1968 college days recruiting event on campus. On Monday and Tuesday of that week I attended an Illinois association meeting in Clinton, Illinois, where the phone calls from Minnesota were hot and heavy. A few days later Bud Weniger and I arrived to a Pillsbury campus that was in turmoil. I don’t want to re-litigate the conflict of that time, but I’d like to add a perspective that can possibly give light to why the new school that resulted from this split fared well in the years following.
At the time of the split I believe the folks in Minnesota, and the churches that remained supportive of Doc, tended to interpret the conflict as being about discipline and board governance. Pillsbury proponents declared and defended the idea that it was a board run school, as opposed to being a president run school. This was especially significant because the Pillsbury board was elected from the membership of the association of churches, and therefore the college was under the control of the MBA.
Another issue that surfaced early, but faded in following years, was the charge that Cedar was a poor administrator. I believe that idea came from a self deprecating remark Cedar made at the time of his investiture, where he was comparing himself to Monroe Parker. That kind of comment and expression was very much in keeping with the Cedar that I knew my whole life. He was always promoting someone else. As the years rolled on the success of Maranatha seemed to dim the force of that charge.
What I do remember vividly from that time period was the fact that hundreds of pastors and churches rallied to support Myron Cedarholm. I attended a hastily called meeting, by Dr. Don Camp in Anderson, Indiana, within days of Cedar’s resignation. At that meeting, attended by about 60 preachers, Don Camp made a strong pitch to Cedar to come to Anderson to establish a college.
The issue for these folks was a desire to have a school that would be responsive to the churches and not be solely under the patronage of the Minnesota Baptist Association (MBA). Whether the discipline issue was a big item to them I don’t know, although I would imagine most of those folks would be supportive of the philosophy of Monroe Parker and Myron Cedarholm – because they knew both of those men intimately. They did not know Doc that well. They knew him by reputation, but Doc had not been in their churches and homes like Cedar and Dr. Parker.