The history of the SBC includes thousands of missionaries, pastors, workers, and others who often get lost to history. My goal is to highlight a few of those people in order that we can be encouraged and inspired by their lives and sacrifice.
The evangelist Billy Graham called Dr. Cauthen ”one of the greatest missionary statesmen in all American church life.” That statement alone ought to be enough to get your attention. But the legacy of Dr. Cauthen can be seen in many other ways besides that testimony. For over 25 years Cauthen led the Foreign Mission Board (now the IMB) in historic mission advance across the world.
Born in Huntsville, TX and then moving to Lufkin when still an infant, Cauthen grew up in Texas and was always ready to speak hs mind. His older brother told the story that when they were young they visited the Methodist church in nearby Nacogdoches, TX. After observing a “sprinkling” the young boy, who the family called Bake, stood up on his pew and said “That’s not the way that Jesus was baptized!”
He had felt a call to ministry at the age of 8 and soon ordered his life around that prospect. In 1926 he graduated from Lufkin High School at age 16 and as class president. He planned to commute each day to Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches and begin to prepare himself for ministry. As the Lord led him though, he prepared for ministry while doing ministry himself. While still 16 years old, at only five feet ten inches and 110 pounds his biography records, he filled the pulpit at Providence Church. The following Wednesday they invited him back, and to his surprise after the service they called the church to business meeting and called him as pastor. Two weeks later, a week shy of his 17th birthday, the wife of the oldest deacon passed away and young Bake preached his first funeral message. He quickly found himself in the throes of pastoral ministry as he also pursued his education.
His older brother also told the story of when baptizing new believers in the river, and a man named Red Conditt came down. The future county sheriff towered over the young Cauthen and weighed more than twice he did. Cauthen showed no hesitation and and proceeded to baptize the man. His method, however, might have been questionable. His brother said that “What Bake did was climb on a man and sink him, and then let him get out the best way he could.” The young preachers reputation spread in the community and surrounding areas.
He graduated from Stephen F. Austin and earned a masters degree from Baylor. While there he first met Eloise Glass, a daughter of missionary parents who would later became Cauthen’s wife. After earning a Masters and Doctoral degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Baker and Eloise journeyed to Richmond for appointment by the Foreign Mission Board as missionaries to China. In 1939, Dr. Cauthen and Eloise went to China as missionaries, not long before the country fell to the Japanese. It was a difficult time to be a missionary in Asia. Both of his children became very ill and his wife too, facing polio, fever, and more They faced famine, disease, and often had to flee to crowded mountain caves during Japanese air strikes.
The family returned home when Cauthen became the Secretary for the Orient in 1945. When FMB Executive Director and President MT Rankin passed away suddenly in 1953, Cauthen was the obvious choice to become the Board’s next leader.
While President of the FMB, Cauthen led the mission organization to unprecedented growth. The biography of his life titled Cauthen as the “A Man for All Nations,” and Advance was the key word of his ministry. The obituary of his life that ran in newspapers across the country recorded that
Under Cauthen’s leadership, the number of Southern Baptist missionaries increased from 908 to nearly 3,000, and the number of countries in which they served grew from 32 to 95. Mission financing increased from $6.7 million in 1954 to $76.7 million in 1979.
Cauthen urgently preached the need for more missionaries everywhere he went. The board members of the FMB increasing heard the story from new missionaries that they had surrendered to the field while hearing Dr. Cauthen preach. They heard him at the convention, at Ridgecrest, at their church during Lottie Moon emphasis, at an evangelism conference, associational meetings, summer camps, chapels at Baptist colleges, and anywhere they would have him. You can listen to one such message he gave at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly in OK in 1969.
Cauthen served as leader of the Foreign Mission Board through one of it’s greatest periods of growth in it’s history. Before his retirement in 1979 he led in a program called “Bold Mission Thrust,” a 25-year plan for sharing the message of Jesus Christ with all the people of the world by the year 2000. After his retirement he still preached of the need for missionaries and taught at Golden Gate Seminary and later Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He not only led in the area of missions. Upon his death Baptist Press reported that
In the late 1950’s, he courageously began to call Southern Baptists to put on “some sackcloth and ashes” regarding civil rights. Missionary work is tarnished, he said, “when any story goes out of people of any race being refused admittance into a house of worship.”
In his last sermon to the Southern Baptist Convention, he said in 1979, “Let us pray, give, go, send, preach, teach, bear witness to the lost, the hungry, the poor, the broken, the distressed, and, if need be, suffer and die that the name of Jesus Christ be made known to every human being on the face of the earth.”
Baker James Cauthen passed away at home on April 15, 1985.
Find the sermon audio on the SBC History Podcast on iTunes or other providers.
Baptist Press release on his death (Scroll down to page 5)