Category Archives: Hillsdale Baptist Church

At the Risk of Being Misunderstood

John McCain’s death has drawn tributes from all quarters of the world…political and religious; however, I fear we too easily overlook the one lasting lesson we might take from his life … “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Lest I be accused of callousness, I extend to John McCain’s family sincere condolences, being reminded the grief and sorrow of death is a universal certainty. Indeed, death is no respecter of persons and we all, great and small, live under the shadow of death, “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

I am not privy of John McCain’s spiritual relationship with God at his death.  Commended by many for his service to our country, the only commendation that has lasting, eternal value is whether or not God received him on the basis of his faith in the redemption found in Jesus Christ alone (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

Of all the acclamations expressed to a man for a life-time of service, the most important is not one he deserves, but one promised as an expression of God’s grace: “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

United States Naval Academy graduate, naval aviator, tortured prisoner of war, and life-time politician…all earn the acclaim of an adoring public, but I wonder if God received John McCain as a believer saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  After all, “there is no respect of persons” before God’s judgment (Colossians 3:24-25).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

To My Critics

I realized my earlier blogs stating my observations and concerns regarding Bob Jones University  would not be received well by some.  While I expressed my thoughts in a spirit of love and sorrow, I was aware I might be greeted with a vitriol that might turn personal and caustic.

Like the culture we live in, I have found many believers infected with a strident spirit that maligns and attacks. Indeed, it is that harsh vindictive spirit that chides many into silence.

I have no interest in debating ad nauseam my concerns, nor do I have time to address every critic.  My concerns are my concerns. If you do not share them, that is fine by me; however, do not attack me for daring to express them.

My blogs were not written with a spirit of malice, but as an expression of a shepherd who loves his sheep. After nearly 33 years of ministry at Hillsdale Baptist Church, I am content with being a pastor and have no interest in being a crusader for or against any institution.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

A Failure to Stay the Course

Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018

Institutional erosion often begins slowly, perceived by only the most discerning, and too often explained and dismissed as harmless and inconsequential change.  When the signs of decay are apparent, it is often too late to correct without a major, often expensive, and sometimes impossible attempt to salvage.

Like the disaster that follows a ship at sea when its captain fails to stay the course only by degrees, so too is a Christian institution’s end when it departs from the very distinctives that instilled discipline and character in its student body.

For more than 15 years I have observed a pattern of change at Bob Jones University that is all too familiar.  Like a ship slowly, imperceptibly drifting from its course, the University is adrift from the disciplines that shaped the character of generations of Christian students in its past.

While the University has failed to stay the course in its disciplines, its alumni have failed to hold its administration accountable for its direction.  Fundamental pastors, so quick to point out the flaws and failures in other ministries in the past, have been all but silent while the board and leadership at BJU steers the University away from its fundamental moorings.  Why the silence?  Why the accommodation of changes we know are not welcome in our own ministries, but are being thrust upon us and our children by an institution we loved and trusted?

The University recently announced changes to this year’s Student Handbook that include allowing women to wear pants to class and athletic shorts raised to 2 inches above the knee.  Other changes in the clothing standard are summed up as “too many changes to write”.

Admittedly, there were some things in BJU’s Student Handbook that did not make sense in my era (for example, guys wearing ties to classes in the morning, but not in the afternoon; men wearing suit jackets to dinner and ties to go off campus; women wearing hose year round).  All of those irritants are gone now, but so are many of the disciplines that instilled distinctive Christian virtues in the student body.

In a video Facebook post, Dr. Steve Petit addresses the dress code changes that  take effect in this Fall’s 2018 Student Handbook (see pp. 29-32) and gives his reasons for the changes.  Some changes in the handbook are practical and merely an adaptation of institutional policy taking advantage of new technology.  Other changes are, in my opinion, a continuing pattern of pragmatism evidencing a drift from core principles that were once the trademark of Bob Jones University.

It is not the individual rule changes that are bothersome as much as it is the continuing pattern of change that is eroding the core values that once shaped the character of the student body at BJU.  The distinctive disciplines that set BJU apart from the likes of Furman University, Liberty University, and Cedarville University are eroding as is the polished character that was BJU’s hallmark.

The board and administration of Bob Jones University are following its smaller predecessors to its own ruin.  Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Northland University, Tennessee Temple University, and Clearwater Christian College (to name a few), all drifted from their distinctive character as fundamental Bible Colleges and because of that drift their demise became inevitable.  I am afraid their end will be sadly the same for the University. 

For too long we have given liberty to the BJU board, administration, and faculty, believing they shared the same convictions and core values as our churches and families.  It is with sorrow I confess, while many of the University’s alumni have stayed the course, the board, administration, and faculty have not.

The erosion and decay of BJU has manifested itself openly.  The institutional drift has taken the University far from its distinctive moorings.  I fear Bob Jones University is too far gone and what was once the flagship of Bible fundamentalism is a shadow of her past.

With the heart of a shepherd and a 1977 alumni of Bob Jones University,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

  • An Addendum (09\07\18) – I became aware some of the critics of my original post have tried to paint me as an old “fuddy-duddy”, anti-pants pastor; however, my article on the dress-code change at BJU was not an anti-pants rant, but a question of where the institution will draw the line in holding to its disciplines and distinctives.  I believe BJU’s decision on the matter of women wearing pants to class and chapel removes yet another discipline for teaching young women godly modesty and appropriate decorum.  BJU was at one time all about training, discipline, and developing a sharp product.  I fear that philosophy continues to be sacrificed at my alma mater.
  • On a personal note, every organization of any worth will have established policies for appropriate decorum.  While Hillsdale Baptist Church requires men on our platform to wear suit jackets and women to wear modest dresses, we do not expect the same of our audience (although the overwhelming majority of our membership follows the lead of our platform dress).

Note from the author: The concerns expressed in this blog are the latest of a series I have published expressing my concerns with the drift of our Bible fundamental institutions and churches. For more background, please refer to: 1) From the Front Pew; 2) A Travesty of Abandonment; 3) A Travesty of Abandonment: Christian Schools that Have Left the Ancient Landmarks; 4) Warning: Cater to the Carnal and You Do So at Your Own Peril; 5) What Were They Thinking?; 6) Catering to Carnality; 7) Hijacked: You Can Lose Your Church; 8) Where is the Christian Westpoint of this Generation?

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

Silent No More

This brief blog post serves as an introductory post to one that will follow titled, “A Failure to Stay the Course: Bob Jones University Student Handbook Changes, Fall 2018”.  I am a 1977 graduate of Bob Jones University and one who has been a loyal alumnus.  

I arrived at Bob Jones University as a 16-year-old freshman in the fall of 1973 and was overwhelmed with a culture shock like none I have experienced since.  This son of the South, born in Lancaster, South Carolina and aptly self-defined as a country-boy was unacquainted with the graces of culture and the refinements of art.  I was a rough, crude piece of coarse clay; a public-school graduate who loved and longed to serve the LORD and desired the training and polish of a Christian education.

My childhood home was loving and disciplined. I knew the rigors of rising early on a small farm, working hard, and appreciated the sacrifices of my loving parents. My desire to go to a Christian college was foreign to my family and the culture of my community; however, it was a seed planted in my heart by the visit of a missionary to Alaska.

A child of the hippy culture of the 1960’s and the anti-war, anti-establishment of the 1970’s, I was unaware of my immaturity as a believer, the deficiencies of my education, or my cultural backwardness.  I knew little of the scriptures and nothing of Christian Fundamentalism, Keeping the Faith, or Fighting the Good Fight.

The administration and faculty of Bob Jones University gave no accommodation to this southern boy’s worldly-wise ways and even less provision for my academic failings.  I found myself, in a proverbial sense, thrown into the deep-end of the pool where I found little empathy for my struggles. BJU had somehow insulated itself from college-campus riots and “panty-raids” that were dogging other college campuses. The school was not only unapologetically Christian, it was doggedly adherent to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

There were many irritants in the BJU culture that were not only exasperating, but provoking.  There was a discipline that gave little grace and even less understanding for the excuses and failures of youth.  Outside the campus fence my generation was bold and rebellious; casting aside disciplines and morals that had shaped the “Greatest Generation”.  Inside the campus fence little had or would change for another twenty-years.

I thank God it was that culture of discipline, tough-love, and unapologetic convictions that were present to shape and prepare the pliable heart of this Christian teen.  I learned my superiors were not concerned with fairness, but rightness.  I also knew there were times they were wrong; however, the rules were the rules and institutionally the approach was “one size fits all”.

I have learned rules and regulations, often inconvenient and at times inexplicable, are necessary.  Patterns of personal and academic disciplines thrust upon us in our youth shape attitudes and strengthen character.  When we cast off or adapt rules and standards to accommodate youthful immaturity or to enhance cultural assimilation we do so at the peril of a generation that will never know the enrichment of exhortation or the powerful influence of loving correction.

I close with a brief dedicatory of names whose lives provoked me in my youth and whose influence follows me to this day: Dr. Bob Jones, Jr; Dr. Gilbert Stenholm; Dr. Richard Rupp; Dr. Gunter Salter; Dr. Walter Fremont; and Dr. Dwight Gustafson.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Note from the author: You will find the observations expressed in this blog mirrored in several posts I have published in recent years regarding the drift of our Bible fundamental institutions and churches.  For more background, please refer to: 1) From the Front Pew; 2) A Travesty of Abandonment; 3) A Travesty of Abandonment: Christian Schools that Have Left the Ancient Landmarks; 4) Warning: Cater to the Carnal and You Do So at Your Own Peril; 5) What Were They Thinking?; 6) Catering to Carnality; 7) Hijacked: You Can Lose Your Church; 8) Where is the Christian Westpoint of this Generation?

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

“Honor all men…” (1 Peter 2:17)

I observed in an earlier post that America cannot be great again if “We the People of the United States of America” fail to bind ourselves to the idea of “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.   

 For a half-century, “We the People” have pursued a path of self-destruction and I fear we might be nearing the tipping point of no return. Should we continue defying God’s Laws, we cannot with a sincere conscience pray, “God bless, America.”  Should we continue to sacrifice patriotism and love of country for partisan politics and political expediency, we will never be indivisible.  Should we entertain the demand, “equality for all” (equal pay, equal reward), we do so at the sacrifice of the individual and our liberties as a free people.  Should we make every man and woman a victim, we prejudice the judicial system and render justice for none.

How did America get to this sorry state? I believe Christians bear responsibility for this nation’s decline and its moral decay.  We have failed God and our nation.

The founders of our nation aspired to the highest ideals of self-rule and gave us a Republic to inspire the noblest qualities in her citizenry.  Should we desire our nation to become great again, we who call upon the LORD must dare embrace four mandates of Christian citizenship:

1 Peter 2:17 – “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

This is my second post on the first mandate, “Honour all men(1 Peter 2:17a).  “Honor” ascribes worth to an individual by one’s words and actions.  I made the following observations in my earlier posts: 1) “Honor” is universal in scope and blind to race and ethnicity; 2) Honor is not without discretion; 3) Honor another does not negate the fact some are more deserving of honor than others; 4) Finally, the nature of virtue calls for honor.

That brings me to another consideration.  While all men are to be honored, some are purposely and specifically honored.  Consider three instances where the scriptures charge God’s people to honor others.

The first, children are to honor their parents. The fourth commandment reads, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORDthy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:15).  Indeed, to honor one’s parents was so fundamental to Hebrew society that the penalty for dishonoring one’s parents was death (Mt. 15:4; Mark 7:10).  The command to obey and honor one’s father and mother comes with a conditional promise, “That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Husbands are commanded to honor their wives.  Men make much of the wives submitting to them; however, as much should be made of the husband’s duty to honor his wife.  Peter instructed believers, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them [wives] according to knowledge [understanding]giving honourunto the wife, as unto the weaker [i.e. physical strength] vessel [because she is a complement to her husband]…”  (1 Peter 3:7a).  Wise is the husband who cherishes and honors his wife.

Thirdly, we are to honor our elders.  Too many families warehouse their Senior citizens in institutions and make too little effort to oversee the care of their loved ones.  The gray head (i.e. “hoary head”) saints are to be prized and valued.  Paul instructed Timothy to give particular attention to widows, especially those who are “widows indeed” (meaning those having no children, grandchildren, or family).

The honor due “widows indeed” was personal, practical, and even sacrificial.  In a day when there was no social welfare system, the cares and financial needs of the widows fell upon their families.

Another aspect of honoring one’s elders is the instruction to stand up in the presence of an elder.  The children of Israel instructed their chidlren, “Thou shalt rise up [lit. stand up; i.e. indicating value] before [in the presence of] the hoary head[old, gray-haired], and honour [favor; respect; defer; value] the face presence] of the old man, and fear [be afraid; revere] thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32).

I close today’s challenge to “Honour all men” with a story from the life of George Washington, the commander of America’s revolutionary army, father of our nation, and first president of the United States of America.

One morning while riding his horse on his plantation in the company of the French General Lafayette, a slave approached Washington on foot and greeted him with “Morning, Sir.” 

Washington, acknowledging the slave’s greeting, tipped his hat and said, “Good morning, my dear friend.”

Lafayette was astounded and asked, “Why is it that you, General and President George Washington would speak and tip your hat to a common slave? 

Washington replied, “Why sir, I could not allow him to be the better man!”

What an inspiring outlook on life; to live in such a way you aspire to be the better man or woman.

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

“One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (part 1)

I am afraid America is no longer that nation.  We have become a people who put politics before patriotism.  We have defied a Holy God with our sins and are divided by racism, prejudice, partisan politics, corruption and gross depravity. Our liberties are under assault and justice has faltered.

It is with sorrow I confess the Church has failed God and our nation.  We are commanded to be the “Salt of the Earth”, but we have become “good for nothing…”(Mt. 5:13).  We are to be the “light of the world” (Mt. 5:14), but we have abdicated the moral high ground for sinful pleasures.

While the political left assaults Biblical convictions and moral values, our pulpits retreat refusing to engage an enemy greater than flesh and blood politics.  The apostle Paul warned the Church, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).  Peter describes the enemy “as your adversary…a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Nothing has brought to the forefront the division we suffer as a nation more than the vitriol directed at a President who aspires to “Make America Great Again”. The unrelenting attacks of the media and the vicious assaults of the Left serve as a revelation that many of our leaders are enemies of the founding principles that made America great.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), the great French statesman of the 19thcentury and author of Democracy in America, traveled these United States in search of the qualities that defined America’s greatness as a democracy. Tocqueville wrote:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” [emphasis added]  From Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 1, Copyright 1945 and renewed 1973 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., a division of Random House Inc.

It is that last statement I find prophetic.  Christian friend, if we have any hope of seeing “America Great Again”, we must take up our role as the “Salt of the Earth” and “Light of the World”!

In his first epistle to the church, Peter challenged Christians with four mandates that define Christian citizenship: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”
 (1 Peter 2:17)

Let us focus only on the first mandate: “Honour all men(1 Peter 2:17a).

What a striking contrast this mandate of Christian citizenship is with 21stcentury American society.   A lack of civility, rudeness and crassness has become the way of our nation.  The President is cursed by a Congressional intern who receives a mere slap on the wrist and a brief suspension.  FBI agents write texts referencing the President in boorish terms while protestors march in the streets expressing all manner of vulgarities.  Civility, respect for authority, and humility are lost.

And yet, the church is commanded, “Honour all men…” (1 Peter 2:17a).  To honor is to ascribe worth to an individual by one’s words and actions. It is to treat another with dignity; to prize, value, regard, and respect.

Notice the command to “Honor all” is universal in scope.  There is no room for prejudices, knowing men and women are created in the likeness and image of God (Genesis 1:27).  “Honor” is blind to race and ethnicity. Honor does not discriminate based on skin color or physical characteristics.

“Honor” however, is not without discretion. For instance, though we are persuaded to “honor all”, we are not to lack discretion and honor the wicked in their sins.  Solomon urged his son, “…so honour is not seemly [fitting] for a fool [an immoral, insolent man]” (Proverbs 26:1). We have learned all too well, promoting the wicked to places and positions of influence will invariably “corrupt good manners (morals)” of a nation (1 Corinthians 15:33).

We also understand some are more deserving of honor than others. There are some who are like “vessels of gold and silver”; there are others like vessels “of wood and of earth (clay)” (2 Timothy 2:20).  In other words, we are for the most part common, ordinary men and women.  While “all men are created equal”, some are more talented, gifted, and honorable than others.

Finally, the nature of virtue calls for honor.  We might say of some, “He is a good man” or “She is a good woman.”  The implication is an individual possesses character qualities that are treasured and therefore honorable. Of such a one Paul writes, “Render therefore…honour to whom honour”is due (Romans 13:7).

My next post will invite you to consider: While all men are to be honored, some are to be purposely and specifically honored.

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2018 – Travis D. Smith

A National Missionary Worthy of Your Support: Yaovi Kpogno, Hillsdale’s Missionary Appointee to Togo

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Reader,

Greetings from Hillsdale Baptist Church!  I have enjoyed a reprieve from the pressure of writing daily devotional posts in recent months.  During this season of rest, I am enjoying an in-depth study of the Gospel of John as I prepare for my Sunday morning series, “Reflections on Compassion and Grace”.  I plan to begin regular posts in the near future and once again enjoy the privilege of ministering to saints around the world.

The purpose of this letter is to introduce you to a young man Hillsdale Baptist Church has come to love and appreciate.  Mr. Yaovi Kpogno is a national of Togo, West Africa.  I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing Yaovi a year ago and my heart was touched and challenged as I listened to his testimony of salvation and God’s calling on his life to return to Togo as a church-planting missionary pastor.

Yaovi was born in a small village in Togo and raised by his mother in a hut where she continues to live today.  In fact, one of Yaovi’s goals when he returns to Togo in July, 2018 is to build a small concrete home for his mother.  

Yaovi accepted Christ as His Savior in August 1996 and publicly dedicated his life to serve the Lord in 2002.  Yaovi moved to Lome’, the capital of Togo, in 2005 to begin his formal education and ministered in Bible Baptist Church of Adakpame until he came to the United States to attend Bible College.

 Yaovi has earned four college degrees from The Crown College of the Bible while working full-time and paying his way through Bible college.  His hard work and dedication has paid off and his long-awaited return to Togo as a church-planting missionary has arrived.  Yaovi has purchased tickets to return to Togo this July 2018 and will begin his ministry in Lome’.

That brings me to the purpose of this letter.  Unlike American missionaries who travel for 3-5 years raising support, go to language school for another year, and require thousands of dollars in support each month, Yaovi is returning to Togo determined to live by faith, believing God will meet his financial needs through the giving of His people.

After completing four months of his five months missions internship, Hillsdale Baptist Church voted this past Sunday to be Yaovi’s supporting and stateside sending church.  We have estimated Yaovi needs a minimum monthly support of $2,500.  This amount includes not only his personal support funds, but also ministry funds to support his evangelistic endeavors and eventually rent a meeting place for his church.   It is Hillsdale’s missions policy to commit to 20% of a missionary’s support when we are the “sending church”.  In keeping with our policy, Hillsdale will be supporting Yaovi for $500\month, leaving a balance of $2,000\month needed for support.

We estimate Yaovi will need at least $20,000-25,000 to fully fund his ministry as he returns to Togo.   This amount includes $15,000 to purchase a used truck to carry equipment for public evangelistic campaigns and to transport children for summer Vacation Bible Schools and Sunday School programs.

Yaovi will eventually have a means for support dollars to be designated to him through a missions agency; however, until that time you can make designations for “Yaovi Kpogno” to Hillsdale Baptist Church  and our Deacons will insure 100% of the designated funds will go for Yaovi’s ministry in Togo.  It is my prayer many who read this letter will take the initiative to support a young man who loves the LORD and returns to Togo determined to reach the souls of his countrymen with the Gospel.

Please note that Hillsdale and this pastor will serve as Yaovi’s accountability partners.  If you have questions, please contact me directly at pastorsmith@HillsdaleBaptist.org.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor