I am a fundamentalist who is young. I attended–still attend–a seminary that does not treat the course in the history of fundamentalism as a time to revel in hagiography. But when I hear the scandalous stories, the stories of power-brokers and fundamentalist cardinals making threats to slightly lower fundamentalist bishops about institutional loyalty, I am still somewhat incredulous. This is due in part to the fact that the passages about the qualifications of overseer hold a very powerful grip on my imagination. The servants of the Lord simply ought not act that way. Another reason for my incredulity is the example given to me by the man who was my pastor–Pastor Douglas McLachlan. In some ways, I never knew the scandalous fundamentalism of days gone by. In retrospect, Pastor McLachlan was in many ways not your ordinary fundamentalist. Last Sunday was Doug McLachlan’s final Lord’s Day as the pastor of Fourth Baptist Church.
Douglas McLachlan would often recount the setting of his conversion from the pulpit. He was (if I remember right) the son of bartender, and the grandson of a gangster. When the youth of the Baptist church in Montrose, Michigan, took interest in him, he had nothing to offer them. Yet they took the time and effort to explain to him the gospel and attested to its verity in their lives. After attending Moody Bible Institute and Pillsbury, he came to Central Seminary. Folklore has it that he is one of two students to graduate with a 4.0–and he finished it in three years, something nearly unheard of today. He became pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in the wake of the towering fundamentalist figure Richard V. Clearwaters. After five years at Fourth (1982-87), he ministered at Northland Baptist Bible College and then returned (he called it his “second coming”) to Fourth Baptist Church (1994-2007).
As I sat in the service on Sunday night–his final service as the pastor of Fourth Baptist–I recalled a number of areas for which I am grateful to Pastor McLachlan in providing an example. I first became acquainted with “Dr. McLachlan” as a student at Northland Baptist Bible College. He did not teach there when I attended, but I distinctly remember being struck by his preaching. Here was someone who actually handled the text with some integrity. He actually seemed to think deeply about the text. He stood out above the other speakers in chapel. When he would come to the college recruiting for the seminary, he would talk to students over some pizza about Central. He seemed genuinely interested in me, and even emailed me once. I can still remember getting that email. I thought my computer monitor glowed with an “extra luster”–here was an important leader taking an interest in me. (Alas, my motives were so corrupt!) I visited the seminary (I remember thinking that all the professors sitting around the lunch table resembled a bunch of Muppets), and, after a year of traveling with an evangelist, my new wife and I were on our way to the Twin Cities. So here was a man who not only took care in handling the Holy Writ, but took the time to take a bit of interest in a loud, brash college student. I am not the only one who enjoyed Pastor’s preaching. The man in front of me in line at the reception Sunday night made a point to tell Pastor that his Bible was filled with notes from his sermons. I heard others make similar remarks.
Another thing that I appreciate about Pastor McLachlan was his irenic spirit. When you go to seminary, certain beliefs are confirmed, while others take you in different directions. In reality, Pastor McLachlan and I shared a great deal of theology in common. But when there were differences, he was altogether decent about it. I suppose he learned this from presiding over an independent fundamentalist Baptist seminary. Being the pastor of Fourth Baptist Church, whose membership includes the faculty of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, is not easy. Here were men with all sorts of theological idiosyncrasies, yet McLachlan was patient and understanding. He was a man of conviction, but knew how to hold a disagreement. He modeled the type of leadership that he described in Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, despite the fact that the hallways of Central whisper that he himself had been on the receiving end of leadership and congregants who were anything but irenic.
Finally, I am thankful for Pastor McLachlan’s example to me in fidelity to the Saviour. I have classmates who have already disqualified themselves from gospel ministry by bringing reproach to the name of Christ. Here was a man who was faithful in his personal life to the Gospel and its implications for his life. In an era that saw drastic changes in the venues and possibilities for immorality, here was a man who remained faithful to his God. He not only showed this in his fidelity to his wife, but in his handling of church funds, and even in how he spoke and loved. He was greatly influenced by the writings of Francis Schaeffer, and exemplified the kind of Christian love Schaeffer had called for a generation earlier. The body of Christ has been weakened by the number of pastors who thought they were exempt from the demands they themselves proclaimed, and brought ruin and scorn to the cross of Christ. Doug McLachlan, on the other hand, has shown himself to be a true “blameless” servant of the Lord.
By God’s grace, I too will someday serve the Lord Jesus in pastoral ministry. When I come to the end of my ministry, I hope these things can be said about me that have been said about Pastor McLachlan. The church of 600 you can keep; I am not looking for fundamentalist status or a cult following. I nevertheless hope that I can be, for the glory of the Lord, a pattern of moral fidelity, of irenic conviction, and of thoughtful exposition of the Holy Scriptures. Thank you, Pastor McLachlan, for your years of ministry, for enduring to the end in providing an example to me and to many others who would fain pick up your mantle of Christian integrity.