The first time I heard him was a teenager at the Perth Bible Church in Amsterdam, New York. His name was Dr. Bob Gray and he was the pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. At the time I was junior in high school and serving a suspension from school. I wasn't allowed to attend the day chapels, but I did come to the evening services. The first night he spoke on "God Still Uses People Who Make Mistakes." Now for a kid who had just gotten into trouble and was being told by certain people that I would never be of any use to the Lord, that message impacted my life like few sermons ever had. That night God melted my cold heart.
Our church many of the well known fundamentalist preachers of the era stand in the pulpit but Bob Gray was different. He was down to earth and real. I liked his preaching style. I liked him. I considered going to his college, Trinity Baptist College, but eventually went to Hyles / Anderson College.
I had a few of his preaching tapes. One of those tapes I treasure to this day entitled "Highways, Hedges, and Buses" which always seems to renew my commitment to the Bus Ministry.
The Fundamental Movement, which I am a member of, has had long heritage of standing for positions which are seemingly to others unpopular or unimportant. Many within "my" camp can preach long and loud about the sins of other camps and chastise other men by name for doing "wicked" things like replacing the church organ with a keyboard or not following a particular standard in the same manner in which they practice it. Yet, there seems to be a silence to name men within our movement who sin. I don't mean make a mistake. I mean sin. Grossly sin in moral disobedience.
On Friday, May 18, 2006 at the age of 80, Dr Bob Gray was arrested on charges of sexual battery against minor age children during the lates 60's through the mid 80's. I couldn't believe it. As I researched the articles on line and watched news footage it was clear that not only are there multiple accusers but apparently in 1992 the leadership within Trinity Baptist Church asked Dr Gray to step down. Things have been kept pretty silent but now the whole world is watching.
I believe in local church autonomy. If a pastor sins or mishandles himself then I believe it's between him, God, and his congregation. When a pastor crosses a line into a moral failure that also violates the law then it is no longer a simple matter of church discipline. Dr. Gray has been charged with molesting girls between the ages of 6 and 9 years old over two decades.
As Fundamentalists we like to claim autonomy on these issues. "Let Trinity handle it. It's a local church matter," is the usual montra. Really? Then why do we chide Pensacola Christian College for their lavish campus or Jerry Falwell for becoming a southern Baptist or churches who incorporate a "praise & worship" style of music into their local churches? Aren't they autonomous, too?
Recently, I wrote a letter to Dr. Shelton Smith of the Sword of the Lord with regard to this....
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Dear Brother Smith,
I am writing to share with you a concern that weighs heavily on my heart. I have been sickened over the past forty eight hours as I have read newspaper accounts and watched TV coverage of the events surrounding the arrest of Dr. Bob Gray of Jacksonville, Florida.
Now, I realize this is in the early stages of the investigation and the media seems to have a flair for sensationalism which isn’t always anchored in unbiased truth but it does not change the fact that these are serious allegations. There was apparently an issue or issues which led the leadership at Trinity Baptist Church to “discipline” Dr Gray and seek his resignation in 1992.
I am not writing to you as an attack on Bob Gray or Tom Messer or Trinity Baptist Church. Again, these are still just allegations but the list of victims seems to be growing and one must assume that where there’s smoke there is at least a small fire.
Just a week ago I was sitting in a restaurant with a well known preacher within our camp. We were discussing the known scandals within our camp that get whispered about quietly at tables in preachers’ fellowships but never shouted from the pulpit. I told that pastor that I was sick and tired of attending conferences where many in our camp ride their high moral horses about peripheral issues and point their guns while thundering the sins of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and pedophile priests while remaining deafening silent on sins which “lieth at the door” within our own camp. Now, we have a mess in Jacksonville. Yes, I said “we” because this affects us all.
The typical independent, fundamental Baptist approach to a scandal like this is first to deny it. I understand that. I truly do. None of us wishes to believe that people we loved and admired and followed could be capable of such sinful acts, especially against children. Then when it is realized there may be merit and teeth to the charges we ignore it. I mean we’ll remove Bob Gray’s picture from our websites, remove his name from our missionary lists, reprint conference flyers that once featured his name as a guest speaker, and gather up all of his preaching tapes. Neither his name nor anything about him will ever be mentioned from the pulpit in any conference where he once spoke. It will almost be as if he never existed.
Dr. Smith, there is a better way… a more biblical way. Let’s face it. I mean let’s address it. At one time Dr Rice used to print the names of southern Baptist officers who owned properties which they rented out to the owners of liquor stores, movie houses, and taverns. How much more accountable should we hold those who claim to be called by God to an office that features a list of character and moral requirements that includes mandates like “blameless” and above reproach?
I know, we’re independent and one of the Baptist distinctives is autonomy. But Bob Gray was not simply a local pastor. He held a national platform. One of the providers of that platform was the Sword of the Lord.
His actions reflect on not only all independent Baptist churches but the Body of Christ as a whole. If can we write about Jerry Falwell changing his standards at Liberty or Dave Bouler changing the music and special speakers at Southwide then certainly someone who has broken God’s moral law and violated the innocence of children should also have his name mentioned.
There can be no lasting repentance or revival until there is accountability.
The Sword of the Lord, which at one time held the ear of the vast majority of fundamentalists in America, needs to take the lead on this issue. At the very least there needs to be an article informing people of the charges. You can encourage your readers to pray for all of those involved from Dr Gray to Trinity Baptist to the alleged victims. You can also encourage them to pray that the truth, whichever side it may fall on, be revealed and justice served. If he is found guilty and the allegations are in true, then Dr Gray needs to be publicly rebuked and not only by Trinity but also within the pages of the Sword.
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” I Timothy 5:19-20
Yes, I love Bob Gray. He was truly one of my heroes of the faith. He had a great influence on my life when I was teenager. His sinful actions do not make the truths he preached any less true but it certainly does bring reproach to the cause of Christ.
In the past there have been men who got away with adultery and worse. I realize that ultimately they will face God but in the meantime innocent people have been hurt and lives have been shattered and destroyed. I am for the local church. I am for local church governing itself. But the local church cannot properly govern if it does not know what it is never told.
Dr. Smith, there is nothing which can be done about the sins of the past. However, there is something that can be done about this sin. We have no right to wave our Bibles or call ourselves the hope of America if we ignore this or simply talk about it quietly in private while pounding the pulpit in public over which preachers are now using movie screens and power point in their services. Funny how the autonomy argument becomes moot when preaching against local churches deciding what kind of music they prefer for their services or which standards they choose to have or not have. Purity is more than a haircut or a dress length. It’s a matter of the heart before God.
If we truly want to see revival then we need more than just preaching that shears the sheep. We need an accounting of the shepherds.
By His Grace,
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