EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Wade, former executive director of the Baptist General Convention Texas, delivered the following remarks at a memorial service for Jimmy Allen at Big Canoe Chapel in Big Canoe, Ga., on Jan. 18, 2019.
What Jimmy Allen did
I could recite the litany of Jimmy’s life, work, and achievements:
• How he was involved in the Youth Revival movement in Texas while a student at Howard Payne University.
• How he studied with and was shaped by the remarkable Baptist layman and professor of Christian ethics, T. B. Maston, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
• How he led the Royal Ambassador movement in Texas for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. R.A.s is a mission organization for boys in Baptist life.
• How he became the director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and, in 1962, led the first statewide workshop on Christianity and race relations in Southern Baptist history.
• How he was called in 1968 to become the pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of San Antonio, leading that great church—one of the largest in the Southern Baptist Convention—to reach out to people with the gospel, baptizing hundreds each year, and to engage the congregation with the physical and social needs of the people who lived around the church who were the marginalized, largely unnoticed, citizens of urban San Antonio.
• How he led Texas Baptists, as president of its convention, to include Baptist leaders from African-American and Hispanic congregations and conventions to come and share in Texas Baptist life, symbolized most powerfully in a 1971 rally gathering over 41,000 people celebrating their life together in Christ at a massive service in the Houston Astrodome.
• How he later would be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention and—as President Jimmy Carter tells it in his book A Full Life took his suggestion to start a mission outreach that would involve Baptist young adults and other laymen and laywomen in mission projects around the world—how Mission Service Corps and Bold Mission Thrust grew out of Jimmy Allen’s passion to reach people for Christ and to engage local churches, pastors and laity in the spectacular vision of getting the gospel to everyone on the earth by the year 2000.
• How—as part of his commitment to help that vision happen—Jimmy went to be the director of the SBC Radio and Television Commission in 1980 and launched an ambitious vision to build a cable television network. He named it the American Cable Television System so he could call it the ACTS network, and he moved forward to get the gospel out to every part of America and to the world. He earned an Emmy Award in 1989 as producer of a documentary titled China: Walls and Bridges.
• How, in 1990, he was the key to gathering more than 3000 Southern Baptists in Atlanta for what was called a Consultation of Concerned Baptists, out of which the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was born.
• How, in 2008, he and his great friend President Carter sounded a call inviting Baptists from every Baptist union, group, association and convention to come to Atlanta for a meeting to found the New Baptist Covenant. At his death, Jimmy Allen was executive director emeritus of the New Baptist Covenant.
But, I don’t want to talk about all that. I want to say this: He was my mentor—and mentor to hundreds more like me—younger and older Baptist pastors, laity and leaders.
What did we learn from him?
What Jimmy Allen accomplished
First, we learned how to hold Christian ethics, social justice and Christian evangelism together in the local church and in Baptist life.
Second, we learned how to hold a passionate, exuberant faith and thoughtful study and theological reflection together without losing either passion or intellectual honesty.
Third, we learned how to love people—all people—and seek to get people to work together and then, when necessary, face down those who were working against compassion, justice, love for neighbor and unity in the family of faith.
Fourth, we learned how to love and preach the Bible and point out that it isn’t enough to say how much you believe the Bible. The true test is whether you live your life out of the Bible and a personal walk with Jesus.
But what I really want to tell you is how I believe he became the Christian and Baptist leader he was.
Remember I told you about Jimmy being a Royal Ambassador leader for boys in Texas Baptist life?
Jimmy was raised like a lot of us. He was the son of a Baptist preacher who truly loved Jesus and loved people. As a boy, he was a member of the RA chapter in his church, and he learned this Scripture:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again … God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God(2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19-20).
And in the Royal Ambassador pledge, he pledged himself to do this: “I will live pure, speak truth, right wrong and follow Christ the King, else wherefore born?”
Words like that sink deep into the psyche of a person who sincerely wants to follow Jesus. Later, T.B. Maston would have powerful influence on him, but I believe it was this Scripture and this pledge that formed deep roots in Jimmy’s soul. He spent a lifetime nourished by those roots and living out his faith, faithfully.
Thank you, Lord, for Jimmy Allen.