NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — Two past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention paid tribute to a third — Franklin Paschall, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. — at Paschall's funeral April 14.
Paschall, 86, died April 10 at his home. He was pastor of the influential Nashville congregation from 1956 until his retirement in 1983. He served as SBC president from 1966 to 1968.
Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston who served as SBC president in 1993-94, called Paschall his "hero" and "father in the ministry." Young said he first met Paschall after his first year in seminary, when Paschall preached a revival at the church where Young was working as youth director and the young minister was assigned to drive the visiting evangelist around. Young said Paschall was the first person to teach him how to lead a person one-on-one to receive Christ.
"We're celebrating his graduation, and we think he graduated head of his class," Young said from the pulpit of First Baptist Church. He said Paschall "left behind a legacy for everyone privileged to touch his life."
Jim Henry, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., and SBC president in 1995-96, was baptized at First Baptist Church in Nashville. He said that, as a young preacher, he looked up to Paschall.
Henry called Paschall "one of our great leaders and pastors." He described him as "a preaching machine" who brought "intellect, heart and preparation" into the pulpit.
Lloyd Elder, former president of the SBC's Sunday School Board (now called LifeWay Christian Resources) knew Paschall both as his pastor and someone who lived just around the corner from his home. After leaving the post, Elder taught for a decade at Belmont University in a chair in biblical studies and preaching established in Paschall's name. "He was quite a friend and neighbor," Elder said.
Paschall was president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the late 1960s, when America was facing social upheaval with Vietnam, race riots and assassinations.
In his second term as president the SBC adopted A Statement Concerning the Crisis in our Nation that confessed shortcomings by Southern Baptists in advocating racial justice and pledging to work toward reconciliation. Baptist editors called it the denomination's strongest statement ever on race. More than one-fourth of messengers opposed the statement drafted by denominational leaders.
Paschall's tenure as SBC president also saw developing tension between advocates of social ministry and those that supported a stricter focus on evangelism. Many of the tensions in that debate broke out, a decade later, into a full-blown controversy over social issues, the nature of the Bible and other topics that divided the nation's largest non-Catholic faith group into the 1990s.
Paschall's term was sandwiched between twin controversies over The Message of Genesis — a 1961 book by SBC seminary professor Ralph Elliott that proposed a non-literal reading of the first 11 chapters of Genesis — and the 1969 publication of the Broadman Bible Commentary, which included a volume on Genesis written by British scholar Henton Davies that was later withdrawn and assigned to a new author.
Paschall's successor as SBC president was W.A. Criswell, who later came to be regarded the spiritual father of a coalition of self-described biblical inerrantists that gained control of the denomination and purged moderates from SBC leadership in the 1980s and 90s.
Other controversies during Paschall's presidency days included Baptist involvement in the ecumenical movement, federal aid to Baptist institutions and the need for improved evangelism and discipleship training.
A resolution honoring Paschall's presidency said he had "spoken responsibly, fairly, firmly, and in love" in leading Southern Baptists.
Paschall was born May 12, 1922, in Calloway County, Kentucky. He was converted and baptized into Oak Grove Baptist Church in Henry County, Tennessee, in 1936 and ordained a minister in April 1941.
He served on executive committees of both the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Tennessee Baptist Convention. He was also a trustee of Belmont College (now Belmont University) in Nashville. He was a member of the SBC Executive Committee from 1964 to 1970 and was on the search committee that recommended Harold Bennett's election as the committee's president and treasurer in 1979.
Paschall graduated from Union University in 1944. In 2002 he donated more than 4,500 books he collected during three decades of ministry to Union's R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies.
He received both bachelor's and doctor's degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an honorary doctorate from Union University in 1956.
Paschall was a frequent speaker at evangelistic conferences, the Tennessee Baptist Convention, the SBC Pastors Conference and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Paschall was preceded in death by his wife of 50 years, Olga, who died in 1994. The Paschalls had two daughters, Palma Lynn Paschall Freeman of Dallas and Sandra Kay Paschall of Nashville, who survive.
Expressions of sympathy may take the form of contributions to H. Franklin Paschall Chair of Biblical Studies and Preaching at Belmont University.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.