1990 ARCHIVES: Mike Huckabee’s “Ten Commendations”

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On Oct. 30, 1990, Mike Huckabee — then pastor of Beech Street Baptist Church in Texarkana, Ark. — delivered the president’s address at the Arkansas Baptist convention. The message was entitled, “The Ten Commendations.” Huckabee had been elected convention president the previous year.

Having reviewed the message in recent days, we are wondering why the Executive Committee search team has not made any effort to pursue Gov. Huckabee as the next President and CEO in Nashville. Maybe at 63, Huckabee would be considered too old for the position. Nevertheless, the SBC would do well with a little more of Mike Huckabee’s spirit and vision in the mix of leadership.

Below is the full text of Huckabee’s address, as prepared for delivery:

“If ever in my life I have prayed to communicate the right message in the right spirit, it’s today. As much as I love speaking to groups of people, it still scares me to death because I feel such a burden in wanting to say just what the Lord wants me to say. I try to pray like the old preacher who beseeched the Lord by saying, ‘Lord fill my mouth with the right stuff, and nudge me gently when I’ve said enough!”

There’s always the fear of being misunderstood or — even worse — forgetting what you’re to say altogether.

One of the famous lines in the movie Cool Hand Luke is uttered by a brutal prison guard who says, ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate.’ I think that has been one of our greatest problems as Southern Baptists these past few years. We haven’t communicated very well with each other. We’ve said a lot about each other, but not enough to each other. My prayer is to communicate with you and to you in a way that will help us put aside some of the past and genuinely strive to lock arms in Christian brotherhood rather than lock horns in an ungodly and unholy war of words.

I would like to title my message “10 Commandments for Arkansas Baptists.” I recognize that no Baptist can tell another Baptist what to do. Even God has a tough time getting Baptists to do what He wants us to do! I’m not so stupid as to think that I have the right to “tell” you what we have to do in the family of Arkansas Baptists. Ted Turner got into a lot of trouble some time ago by advocating we replace the 10 Commandments with the “10 Voluntary Initiatives.” In light of that, I think it would be best to simply present to you what I call “The 10 Commendations.” My purpose is to propose for your consideration my prayer and hope for Arkansas Baptists.

1. Thou shalt love like a family

The theme of our convention is “Building God’s Family.” My burden is that we have become a fractured family; instead of a ‘family of faith’, we are headed toward becoming a divorced denomination.

These days extraordinary effort is required to keep a marriage together. Good marriages result when each partner strives to respect his spouse instead of suspect his spouse. The goal of a good marriage is to protect one another — not neglect one another. I don’t want my three children to grow up in a broken home, but neither do I want the spiritual children I lead to Jesus to grow up in a disrupted denomination.

The relationship of people within a denomination is akin to that of a family. No two family members agree on everything. We’re different in attitude, personality, interests, and hobbies. We’re not bound together by a mutual affinity for Mexican food; or tennis; or on the hidden meaning of an old movie. What binds a family together is the mutual and yet voluntary choice to act in the best interest of one another, and to trust the motives of others in the family. Unconditional love — the kind Jesus demonstrated on the cross — will hold a family together even through crises and conflicts of daily living.Many of us here today are pastors or staff members. We serve as counselors to people whose families are in trouble. We spend hours each week hearing the same story. The only difference is the names of those who tell it. We’ve seen buckets of tears flow down the faces of hurting people and have often stood by helplessly and watched two individuals dismantle a marriage they have spent 20 or 30 years to build. Of all the people in all the professions in the world, those of us in vocational ministry ought to know that no one wins the divorce but the attorneys. We should also know that the divorce is never really final. The wounds and hurts linger forever. Its impact is not only felt by those whose names appear on the documents, but it affects the children, the rest of the family, friends, and even co-workers. Everyone loses.

Should our denomination go through a divorce, not one wins and everyone loses.

Can we as a family of Arkansas Baptists expect to survive if we beat each other and speak contemptuously of each other with words that would chill any relationship? Frankly, we can’t. We destroy our capacity to reproduce and baptize new believers if we don’t learn how to love like a family. That’s why the first 10 Commendations is: Thou shalt love like a family.

2. Thou shalt live by faith. 

How much of what we do requires God? Think about what we do as churches and as a denomination. How much is actually dependent on God’s intervention?

Jesus walked on water — we’re more likely to sponsor a cruise aboard a luxury liner. Jesus cursed the fig tree — we’re more likely to take a bus load of senior adults on a trip to watch the autumn leaves change colors. Jesus took mud and made a blind man see — we take mud and offer classes in ceramics so our folks can make mugs and Christmas ornaments. Jesus called out 12 misfits and taught them to heal the sick and case out demons — we call out a handful of good athletes to hit home runs for our softball team.

We often mistake our retreats for spiritual revivals. Because we come away “feeling better,” we think we are better. There’s nothing wrong with “getting away.” Even Jesus retreated. But God help us when we believe that the ultimate goal of being saved is getting out of the world — the Bible says we are to overcome the world. Instead of putting our boats in the water, we tend to put the water in our boats. No wonder we’re sinking!

It’s not that all activities are bad, but how much do our programs really need God? Are we putting ourselves in a place where only God can make it work, or do we design our doings so as to depend on our organizational skills, our vast resources, or our technological advances?

We need to decide if our real task is to advance the Kingdom of God or to perpetuate our institutions. We strive to make people more comfortable, but do we strive to make them more committed?

We talk a great deal about the survival of Southern Baptists. If we fail to do that which God commissioned, we don’t deserve to survive!

3. Thou shalt be found faithful

At the risk of being misunderstood, let me say that I’m deeply troubled that we have created for ourselves an ecclesiastical echelon that gives eminence to those whose efforts appear successful. We tend to have a disdain for those whose ministries lack the glitter and grandeur of success. There are those among us whose only real contribution to the Kingdom is faithfulness to their calling from God.

Can real fruitfulness be measured in statistical terms? Is it really Biblical to evaluate each other on the basis of the 3 Big “B’s” of Baptists: 1. Budgets; 2. Baptisms; and 3. Buildings?

Perhaps we’ve come to worship at the altar of success rather than the altar of sacrifice. We too often gauge success in ministry by the salaries men render to us rather than by the actual service we render to God. We’ve gone from wanting to serve a King to wanting to be treated like one.

We are so often judged successful based on our positions before men rather than our power before God. We celebrate our celebrities — not our Savior.

To us, success is a large church with a good salary; Jesus attracted only a handful of valid followers and he had to retrieve a coin from the mouth of a fish to pay his taxes.

To us, being able to drive the finest car and wear tailored suits marks our arrival at the top; Jesus had to borrow a donkey for a ride into Jerusalem, and his only garment was taken from him and fought over by those who nailed him to the cross.

To us, success is a suite at a luxury hotel and having our own show in prime time. Jesus had no place to lay his head, had to use a borrowed tomb for his burial, and he lived in virtual isolation.

Some of the men I’ve come to respect the most in our convention aren’t superstars who have hundreds of admirers swarming after their every tape. Some of the really great men in our convention are men in their 50s or 60s who have never pastored a big church, preached a denominational meeting, and have been repeated passed over by search committees from larger churches because they didn’t have the proper pedigree from the “right school” or hadn’t chalked up the kind of stats that bring razzle-dazzle to a committee’s eyes. And yet these are often the same pastors who faithfully stand behind the sacred desk week after week and rightly divide the Word of Truth; who rouse out of bed at 3:00 a.m. when there’s death in the church family ; who will stand alone in a long line at a Southern Baptist Convention to buy a hot dog paid for out of his own pocket. Those we call “successful” hurry of to the most expensive restaurant in town.

The greatest work among us is probably not the most celebrated, but where would we be without the faithfulness of the bi-vocational pastors and the pastors who serve as their own staff and secretary? Be assured that the work of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and even the Southern Baptist Convention would shut down more so from the loss of our smaller churches than if the 10 largest churches in the convention started designating their money elsewhere.

We owe as much to the combined cooperative efforts of those in small and rural churches as we do to the few who are fortunate enough to serve in places of prominence.

4. Thou shalt lift up the fallen

A newspaper’s editorial masthead has long carried this axiom: “Comfort the afflicted; afflict the comforted.” Jesus offered something utterly revolutionary to people — unconditional love and forgiveness.

Those who find themselves in positions of power or authority should see themselves as “the stronger brother.” Romans 15:1 says, “we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.”

We are admonished in the Word of God to reach out to help and lift up the weaker brother. The mark of a strong Christian is that he seeks to restore his brother — not remove him. If we really think we’re closer to God than our brother, our goal should be to bring him up to the level we think we’re on, not to keep him under our feet.

A story is told of a boy who was mean and cruel to his classmates. He was forever in trouble, and most of the time he created the crisis. The boy’s home life was deplorable. His mother had married numerous times. His present stepfather was an abusive alcoholic. His teachers often made him sit by himself under a schoolyard tree for punishment during recess. Not long after his 12th birthday, the boy took a shotgun from his stepfather’s closet, pointed it at his face, and in a split second ended his troubled life.

His teachers noticed the boy often placed little pieces of paper in the tree at the school yard. The day after the boy’s funeral, one of his teachers decided to look in the tree to see if she could find out what the boy had placed in the cracks of the tree. She spied a piece of paper pressed into a hole inside the tree and dug it out. As she opened it, she recognized the handwriting of the boy. The note simply read, “Whoever finds this, I love you.” All the boy really wanted to know was that someone loved him. But it was too late. As another teacher read the note she remarked, “Isn’t it a shame we are just now finding these notes?”

But the shame wasn’t to just be finding the notes; it was a shame to just now be finding the needs of a forgotten boy.

Before we raise our voice or hand against each other over the program of the denomination, we need to raise our voices against the horrors of abortion, alcoholism, addictions, and abuse; and we need to lift our hands in compassion and help the hungry, the homosexual, the homeless, and the heartbroken.

5. Thou shalt learn from thy forefathers

Whether or not we will be the church glorified or the church vilified may depend on how well we heed the heritage passed on from those who have pioneered the paths we walk.

Southern Baptists aren’t the new kids on the block for stating a clear position regarding the veracity of God’s Word. From John Broadus to B.H. Carrol to Lottie Moon to W.T. Conner to Hershel Hobbs we really haven’t been confused at all about the infallibility or inerrancy of Holy Scripture. It doesn’t embarrass me one bit to let you know that I believe that Adam and Eve were real people, that actual fire rained down on Mount Carmel when Elijah humiliated the false gods of Baal, or that Jesus took two — count ’em — two fishes and five little biscuits and fed several thousand people. But what does embarrass me is when we draw lines of fellowship over the application and interpretation of the Bible rather than over the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. To say that the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate should present no problem for a faithful Southern Baptist. But to indicate that one’s support of a particular denominational agency, or one’s leadership style, or one’s view on the 2nd Coming determines his orthodoxy is moving beyond Baptist borders.

We can learn an important lesson from our ancestors during the time of the conquest of the promised land. The Reubenites, Gadites, and 1/2 the tribe of Manassah built an altar to commemorate their relationship with the other tribes. They assumed the other tribes would understand their intentions were to build a monument of peace. In fact, when word reached the other tribes, those tribes assumed the altar was an altar of idolatry. They then readied for war against their own kinsmen. Both sides fully believed they were acting in such a way as to preserve their heritage and keep their faith pure, but as sincere as they were, they were sincerely wrong! They were guilty of something that Southern Baptists on every side have been guilty of far too many times — we have made many accusations before we asked for explanations; we’ve talked about each other before we’ve talked to each other; and we have assumed that our own motives were pure and have been equally sure that our brother’s motives were not.

We must learn to love each other as much as we love the book that commands us to love each other!

6. Thou shalt not listen to factions

We must exchange partisanship for statesmanship. Essential to our survival is a return to listening to our own consciences rather than to someone else’s contentions in order to know what to think. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we came to every Baptist meeting with an open mind to God and to the integrity of our brothers so that we didn’t have to read someone’s partisan publication (be it from the right or the left) to know how we ought to vote or for whom we should vote?

Don’t we as Baptists have enough sense and spiritual discernment to come and hear the same information at the same time, and process that information? Then with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we can come to a decision without consulting some other human being who is no higher than any of the rest of us on God’s ladder of grace.

7. Thou shalt not lead by force. 

Let us remember that Jesus did not rule with an iron fist, but with a broken heart. The power of his kingdom is not measured by the cleverness of voice or by the calculation of votes. He perfectly revealed God as a servant who willingly suffered for those who didn’t deserve it and didn’t appreciate it.

He is the prince of peace. He did not come to inflict upon us wounds, but to bear them upon himself. He did not come to lay upon us stripes, but to take our stripes upon himself. He did not come to bruise us, but to accept our bruises upon his own sinless body. He did not come to humiliate us, but to be humiliated for us. He did not come to take our lives, but came to give his life in order than ours might be preserved for eternity.

Before we speak ill of a brother, write an angry letter, make a motion in a business session, introduce a resolution, pick up a telephone, or whisper in the hallway, we should ask, “Is what I’m doing and the manner in which I’m doing it being done in the spirit of the One who went to the cross and came out of the grave? Is what I’m doing and the way I’m doing it a reflection of a savior who demonstrated his greatness by taking a towel and wiping the feet of the disciples?

Jesus did not demonstrate his authority by taking a gavel in his hand; he demonstrated his authority by letting spikes be driven in his hand.

There is more to being right than having the right structure, the right system, and the right people to run it. We must also have the right spirit and the right motive for running that system.

We must purpose in our hearts to be prophets for the Prince of Peace instead of puppets for powerful personalities. Those of us who hold any position in our denomination whether by employment, election, or appointment have been granted a sacred trust. We do not hold positions to honor ourselves or advance our ideas, but to act on behalf of all who are in the body. We are to serve not only the majority that puts us where we are, but also the minority who did not. We owe as much consideration to those who don’t agree with us as we do to those who do.

8. Thou shalt not look for fault

As the controversy and tension in our denomination lingers, there is often heated debate as to ‘whose fault it is.’ Healing might happen if we had a greater burden for experiencing brokenness than establishing blame.

At our Lord’s last supper with his disciples, he told them of his coming betrayal and crucifixion. As he spoke, they each begged to know ‘Is it me? Am I the one? Am I at fault?”

What a tragedy! Their concern was not for their Master’s betrayal or brutal crucifixion, but that they might be blamed for his death!

During the same evening of our Lord’s betrayal, many of the disciples clamored for chief positions. They saw Jesus as their ticket to moving up in the world and getting ahead in line. After they witnessed the Lord Jesus shedding his blood at Calvary and beheld the conquering power of the resurrection, they no longer begged for the best seats. They didn’t feel worthy of any seat. The once ambitious followers no longer felt they deserved glory. After the cross, they rejoiced in the grace they knew they didn’t deserve.

Trying to decide who’s wrong or even who’s most wrong in our convention won’t resolve our crisis. To say that we won’t stop the fight until we know who started it is as ludicrous as saying we won’t cease bigotry until we know who started the Civil War! We must recognize that we are all wrong — only Jesus is perfectly pure and righteously right.

9. Thou shalt not lack in forgiveness

In recent years we have seen Israel and Egypt sign peace accords. Within the last year alone, we’ve been astounded by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, we’ve seen Romania and Czechoslovakia discover freedom, and we’ve had to adjust to the warming of the Cold War between our own nation and the Soviet Union in an era of glasnost.

Surely, in such a time as this, those of us who call ourselves Baptists, but moreover, who call ourselves Christians, can find ways to experience harmony among ourselves. Instead of engaging one another in hand-to-hand combat, let us join in heart-to-heart companionship to advance the Kingdom of God.

We must let go of our bitterness and hurts. Let us remember that our strength won’t be measured by ‘how many we have on our side,’ but by whether we are on God’s side. He will not bless bitterness. He does not anoint selfish anger. Forgiveness is not optional. It is not even optimal. It is our obligation to Christ!

10. Thou shalt not limit thy brother’s freedom

Baptists and freedom go together. From the earliest days, people have suffered intense persecution to wear the name “Baptist.” It has been one of our bedroom beliefs that every person of faith is equal to every other person of faith. We have historically held and our ancestors have died to preserve the notion that each of us has equal access to God and equal position in Christ.

Freedom doesn’t mean, of course, that we may believe anything we care to and continue to wear the moniker “Baptist” any more than a soldier for the United States can shoot any weapon he chooses at any target he chooses remain on active duty. We remind ourselves often that we are a people without a creed, but that does not mean w are a people without convictions.

I would not for one moment intimate the two should get so free as to become fools. We cannot depart from the Word of God and call it freedom. That’s not freedom — it’s infidelity. It would certainly not be acceptable to ordain practicing homosexuals to positions of leadership in ministry. We dare not endorse gambling or the use of intoxicating beverages to demonstrate our freedom. It’s unthinkable to suggest that freedom is allowing for modes of baptism other than the immersion of believers. Freedom can never mean that our schools are free to destroy faith instead of develop it. And freedom doesn’t give us license to look the other way as millions of unborn children are thoughtlessly terminated in the name of women’s rights.

But for Baptists, freedom should mean that we can come to meetings like this and be heard. It means that I should be free to vote differently than you and yet still be your friend. It means that we can break rank with the prevailing opinion of a budget item and yet still break bread with each other when the vote is over.

Something is wrong when we aren’t sure how we feel about a particular issue or a certain individual being considered for office or employment until someone else tells us what the “right” view is supposed to be. Let us be careful that we do not so esteem our heroes that we excuse our own hearts from the necessary struggle of making decisions for ourselves.

It’s one thing to value the opinions of those I respect, but it’s quite another thing to let someone else’s thinking nullify the need for my own.

Within our denomination, there is a principle to which I subscribe and seek to practice. If we ask for and receive funds from a church, and seat its messengers at our conventions, then we have a moral obligation to insure that they are able to participate in the processes.

In even the roughest neighborhoods, a rule of the playground has always been that if a kid brought his bat and ball and glove and came to the practices, he would get a chance to play in the game.

We in the Arkansas Baptist neighborhood must play fair. And if there are those we don’t want playing on our team, then we must have the integrity to give back their money. Furthermore, if they aren’t worthy to work alongside us, we are compelled to challenge their being seated as messengers. If there has been a violation of the constitution that we have all mutually agreed to abide by, then let’s deal honestly with it. If not, then let’s grow up, shut up, and look up to the fields white unto harvest!

As for me, I don’t want to be hooked up to the life support of someone’s moderate machinery any more than I want to be manipulated by someone’s fundamentalist fingers. I want to belong to God and God alone.


There is a prevailing spirit of pessimism among many Baptists these days. Many contend that as a denominational body, we will not hold together. Maybe they’re right. But they don’t have to be

On January 19 of this year, I was in Smackover to conduct a deacon’s retreat for First Baptist Church. During dinner, some arriving late told us of reports that a corporate jet had crashed at Little Rock just after 5:00 PM, killing 7 people. We all felt a deep sense of grief, and even prayed that very night for the families of the victims.

The following afternoon, I drove to Little Rock to speak at a banquet for the Second Baptist Church of Little Rock. On my way into town, I picked up a paper and read the grisly details of the tragic crash of the Gulfstream jet.

Later investigation revealed that a violent storm had been the primary factor in scattering pieces of the plane for over 200 yards just short of the runway at Adams Field.

The crash had happened at 5:12 PM on that Friday afternoon. At 5:20 in Batesville, an attractive young wife and mother of two small children turned on the television. At that precise moment, she heard the words, “It has now been confirmed that it was an Eastman Kodak corporate jet that has crashed.” As scenes of the wreckage appeared on the screen, the words of the newscaster rang out, “There were no survivors. The names have not been released pending notification of next of kin.” Debbie Wood didn’t need notification now. She had just received it.

Her husband, Randy, a 39-year old chemical engineer with Arkansas Eastman, and a faithful deacon at First Baptist Church of Batesville, had called earlier that afternoon. He told Debbi that he wouldn’t have to use the commercial air tickets he had for his flight home. There was a seat available on the company plane, and he’d be flying in on it. It was the last conversation they had.

As she watched the television coverage of the torn and twisted steel, Debbie knew in her heart that Randy wouldn’t be coming home, and she began to pray and cry out to God. She acknowledged to the Lord that her husband was dead, but she repeatedly asked the Lord to let Randy’s body be spared from dismemberment. For a reason known only to God, she desired strongly that his body would be intact. At 1:30 in the morning, Debbie received the official news that Randy’s body had been identified by one of their best friends. By a miracle not explainable by human means, the body of Randy Wood was intact and fully clothed. The only outward signs of trauma were a broken jawbone and a broken little finger. The storm had scattered pieces of the aircraft over a wide area, but the body of Randy Wood held together as if it were stronger than steel, just as Debbie prayed.

In June, Debbie attended the Southern Baptist Convention as a messenger from the First Baptist Church of Batesville. It was her first time to be away from her children since the accident, and it was her first convention. On Wednesday morning the New Orleans sky was marked with a threatening cloud overhead. It seemed so very much like the one that had arisen so suddenly over Adams Field the day Randy was killed. Inside the Superdome, a storm of a different kind was brewing as tension and sometimes open hostility filled the room. For Debbie Wood, this was a different atmosphere than she had expected. She had anticipated mostly inspirational preaching, stirring singing, and prayer meetings. She was taken aback by seemingly splintered fellowship. Her thoughts went back to January 19, and she felt the Spirit of God bringing to her the memories of that day. She remembered the stunning grief that had overwhelmed her and forever changed her life, but she also remembered how the unseen hand of the Lord had held her together.

As she sat in a divided convention atmosphere, the Lord gave her a special burden to pray for her fellow Southern Baptists. She was reminded of the miraculous answer to her prayer that her husband’s body would be intact. At that moment, the Holy Spirit revealed to her in an unspoken yet distinct voice, “God can hold together whatever is in his hand.”

Debbie Wood is in this very church today, serving as a messenger from her church. But perhaps out of her tragic experience, she has an important message for us. She has given me permission to share her story. It seems that her testimony points us to the most important commandment of all.

From John’s Gospel, chapter 17, we read:

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

As Debbie shared her story with me last week, I thought about our convention. I was engulfed with the realization that our greatest need is not to be in the hands of any particular leader; it’s not to be in the hands of any well-intentioned yet partisan group within our convention. Our greatest need is to simply be in God’s hand. The God who kept the body of Randy Wood intact through a storm and a crash can keep Arkansas Baptists intact. As the Lord demonstrated so vividly to Debbie Wood, I pray he will reveal to us: God can hold together whatever is in his hand.

God bless you!

4 thoughts on “1990 ARCHIVES: Mike Huckabee’s “Ten Commendations”

  1. Thank you ! Love this. Fav part: “Can real fruitfulness be measured in statistical terms? Is it really Biblical to evaluate each other on the basis of the 3 Big “B’s” of Baptists: 1. Budgets; 2. Baptisms; and 3. Buildings?”
    This is exactly the world I serve right now. Man measuring man against man.

  2. I am shocked no one lusting for power, applause and control during that time from the Paige Patterson crowd did not cut off his mic.

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