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Formation of The Executive Committee

On May 17, 1917, the second day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, upon recommendation of the Committee on Consolidation of the Boards, the SBC Executive Committee was created.

Casting a Vision

The previous year, 1916, Manson Horatio Wolfe had offered the following resolution:

Resolved, That Articles V to X of the Constitution of this Convention be amended and revised so as to create one strong Executive Board which shall direct all of the work and enterprises fostered and promoted by this Convention.

The motion was referred to a Consolidation Committee and charged to prepare a report for the following year’s annual meeting. Wolfe served as chairman of the committee.

In the following months, the committee received input from Baptists across the South, many of whom expressed serious concerns about so much power being centralized into one body.

In January 1917, the committee released a majority report and a minority report to the denominational press (state Baptist papers). Rather than recommending a centralized executive board, the committee presented the following recommendation to the Convention:

First: In view of the diversity of opinions concerning the best method of conducting our work, and the distressing conditions in our country, resulting from the world-war, we recommend that the Boards of the Convention remain separate as at present.

Second: Recognizing, however, that there is a strong sentiment in favor of greater unity in the general direction of the Convention’s affairs, and believing that some improvement in the methods of conducting the work would be attained by the creation of a standing committee of the Convention to act for the body between its sessions in ways hereinafter set forth, we recommend that an executive committee of seven, representing the different parts of the territory of the Convention, be elected annually by the Convention as are its standing committees.

A messenger immediately offered a substitute motion. In response, the committee agreed to support the formation of a committee to look into legal issues associated with the trustee relationships of the various boards and between the boards and the Convention. With this compromise in place, the SBC Executive Committee was created—“without discussion”—on May 17, 1917. The following day, the first Bylaw governing the work of the EC was unanimously adopted.

Newly created SBC Bylaw 6 assigned the Executive Committee five duties, limiting its work to those duties, “except as other things may be committed to it by the Convention itself.” The lead assignment in that list has not changed for one hundred years—To act for the Convention during the interim of its meetings on matters not otherwise provided for in its plans of work.

The Executive Committee met several times during the six-day annual meeting. It met again the following May just prior to the SBC annual meeting, a practice it continues to the present.

Finding a Cause

The first record of Wolfe’s involvement in Southern Baptist life dates to 1903. A messenger from his church in Wolfe City, Texas (named for his father’s grist mill), he stood up following the Home Mission Board report and pledged $500 for Home Missions. The Tennessee Baptist and Reflector reported at the time that Wolfe said “laymen ought to be induced to come to the Convention every year and get stirred up so that their gifts would be larger.”

The following year, Wolfe served as part of a three-member committee to review the report of the Home Mission Board. The committee opened its report with these stirring words: “Your Committee believes that Home Mission occupies a position of peculiar and transcendent importance in our missionary work.”

Born in Wolfe City, Wolfe was converted to faith and became a committed churchman. At age eighteen, he already showed great business acumen and began pursuing various mercantile interests. By his mid-thirties, his business interests had expanded into the cotton, banking, and real estate business. In 1905, he relocated his commercial activities to Dallas. He and his family joined First Baptist Church where he later served many years as chairman of the deacons during the pastorate of George W. Truett.

Business and Beneficence

Following Sunday worship services at nearby churches on the fourth day of the 1908 SBC annual meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Committee on Devotional Exercises provided a number of break-out sessions. One session was for those with an interest in a laymen’s movement. Wolfe, one of the keynote speakers, addressed the assembly and was instrumental in helping create what became the SBC’s Laymen’s Missionary Movement, serving on its executive committee and providing guidance for a burgeoning set of ministries.

At the following year’s SBC annual meeting (1909), Wolfe read the Committee on Systematic Beneficence report. Its opening statement seems to capture Wolfe’s heart: “That we urge the application of business principles in the matter of Christian beneficence.”

A review of twenty-five years of SBC Annuals reveals Wolfe as a layman committed to that guiding principle, serving the Lord and his Convention by presenting his business skills as a living sacrifice on the altar of service. His name appears again and again, serving on committees designed to strengthen organizational and administrative effectiveness and accountability for the Convention’s ministries.

Wolfe served two terms as one of the Convention’s vice presidents (1913 and 1914). In 1915, he nominated Lansing Burrows for SBC president. The following year, Wolfe was nominated for SBC president, placing second to Burrows. Later that year, he was elected president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In 1918, after hearing two National Baptist representatives address the SBC about the need for a seminary for African American pastors, Wolfe and fellow Texan R. E. Burt addressed the Convention, pledging $5,000 each to the proposed seminary.

Staying the Course

Undaunted when his hope for “one strong executive board” was not embraced, Wolfe led his study committee to recommend the standing committee model. He was selected to serve two successive years as the Executive Committee’s first chairman and continued to serve as a committee member until 1922. His pastor later served as the first chairman of the restructured, incorporated Executive Committee (1927).

Wolfe was also instrumental in creating the Committee on the Legal Status of the Boards of the Convention, serving on that committee from 1917 through 1927. He served as a member of numerous other committees and was on the Board of Ministerial Relief and Annuities in 1918.

REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON CONSOLIDATION OF THE BOARDS

The committee appointed at the last Convention to consider and report on a resolution to revise Articles 5 to 10 of the Constitution so as to create one strong executive board which should direct all the work and enterprises fostered and promoted by this Convention, beg leave to report that, obeying the instructions of the Convention, a majority and minority of the committee put forth, through the denominational press, last January tentative statements making certain suggestions covering the matter submitted to the committee. Having further considered the whole question, the committee respectfully submits as their completed report the following recommendations:

First: In view of the diversity of opinions concerning the best method of conducting our work, and the distressing conditions in our country, resulting from the world-war, we recommend that the Boards of the Convention remain separate as at present.

Second: Recognizing, however, that there is a strong sentiment in favor of greater unity in the general direction of the Convention’s affairs, and believing that some improvement in the meth- ods of conducting the work would be attained by the creation of a standing committee of the Convention to act for the body between its sessions in ways hereinafter set forth, we recommend that an Executive Committee of seven, representing the different parts of the territory of the Convention, be elected annually by the Convention as are its standing committees. No officer or member of any of the Boards of the Convention shall be eligible to membership on the executive committee. The duties of the committee shall be to have oversight of the arrangements for the meetings of the Convention with power to change both the time and place of meeting in case an emergency arises making such change necessary; that this committee shall act for the Convention ad interim on such matters as may arise pertaining to the general business of the Convention and not otherwise provided for in its plans of work; that this committee shall also be empowered to act in an advisory way on all questions submitted to it on matters arising between the Boards of this Convention, but only on request of one or more of the Boards concerned; that this commit- tee shall have no further duties except as other things may be specifically committed to it by the Convention itself at its annual meeting; that the committee shall hold meetings at such time and places as it may select and its necessary expenses shall be a charge equally divided among the three Boards of this Convention.

M. H. WOLFE E. Y. MULLINS JOHN E. WHITE
JOSHUA LEVERING WILLIAM D. NOWLIN W. A. McCOMB
E. C. DARGAN E. J. A. McKINNEY POWHATAN W. JAMES
W. M. VINES F. C. McCONNELL J. F. BROWNLOW
A. J. BARTON FRANK WILLIS BARNETT
This article first published in SBCLife Special Issue 2017. Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention communications and relations for the SBC Executive Committee and is a member of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
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