Selsus Estol Tull was born in rural Livingston Parish, Lousiana on July 29, 1878. The youngest of six children, Tull’s father moved his family from Louisiana to Gillsburg, Mississippi when Tull was two years old. He attended Gillsburg Collegiate Institute before his family moved again, this time to Magnolia, Mississippi.
Tull planned to attend Union University in the fall of 1897, and prior to leaving, he received a “license to preach” from the pastor and clerk of Magnolia Baptist Church on August 15, 1897. During his first year at Union, Tull began pastoring while still a student at the Old Zion Church of Haywood County, Tennessee in 1899. After a brief stint at First Baptist Church of Jackson, Tennessee (where he was ordained), Tull enrolled at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
At the close of his first (and only) year at seminary, Tull received an invitation to preach a revival in Kosciusko, Mississippi the last week of June, 1903. His performance impressed the members to the extent that the offered him the pastorship. He accepted the position and began on the first Sunday of July. Tull preached at First Baptist Church in Kosciusko for four and a half years; while pastor, he met and married Laura Nicholson, to whom he would be married for 56 years. The Tulls' marriage resulted in three children: Martha Ann, Mary Louise and Paul Flint.
Early career and influence on Baptist thought
Tull’s next pastoral appointment was at First Baptist Church of Paducah, Kentucky where he served from 1911-1913. It was during this appointment that Tull had his first brush with notoriety thanks to a series of articles he penned for the Western Recorder on his disappointment with the Sunday school curriculum being used at the time (1912). Tull’s “disgust” with how lessons were scaled for children of different age levels generated interest in members of the Southern Baptist Convention, where his proposal to dissolve the SBC’s use of the International Sunday School Lesson Committee’s curriculum in favor of a locally-generated program created by Baptists was adopted by a wide margin at the 1912 convention in St. Louis.
Also during his pastorate in Kentucky, Tull received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity (D.D.) degree from Union University, affording him the honorific of “Dr. Tull.”
It was also during his brief time in Paducah that Tull hit on the idea of creating a church budget. Tull noted that each church in which he served had approached raising funds in a scattershot way. Weekly collections were taken up, each with a different focus; one week might see a call for funds to support mission work, the next to fund the pastor’s salary, and so on. Tull sat down with his deacons and presented a model wherein the church membership would “subscribe” to provide a certain level of giving each month and the church’s expenses would be paid from this one large pool of money, as opposed to scraping for each necessary expense when the time came.
Tull used this process to great effect in Paducah and at First Baptist Church of Temple, Texas, where he next served as pastor beginning in 1913. Word of Tull’s budget spread through the SBC and it was taken up by the Convention at the 1916 annual meeting. The measure to implement a similar system across the churches in the Convention was approved, and a committee of powerful Baptists (including George W. Truett) worked on a formal document outlining a “systematic single-budget finance” model. (See “Item Seventy-one” from the proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1916.)
The resulting document was titled Church Organization and Methods: A Manual for Baptist Churches, released in 1917. One of its recommendations was that Baptist seminaries across the country introduce coursework on church administration, an area which Tull believed was unaddressed in his contemporaries’ educational backgrounds. Subsequently, when Gaines S. Dobbins was appointed the first chair of church administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary a short time later, he told Tull that the Church Organization and Methods was his first textbook for his course.
Evolution and the “Tull Resolution” of 1926
At the 1925 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis, members voted to adopt the “Memphis Articles of Faith,” which read, “We believe that man was created in holiness under the law of his maker.” This wording was important as it coincided with the national conversation then underway regarding the subject of evolution, embodied most famously by the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” that was decided on July 21. A representative to the meeting by the name of Stealey proposed adding the phrase “and not by evolution” to the end of the articles; the proposal was narrowly voted down.
At the following annual meeting in Houston (1926), a statement was introduced that read, “This convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was a special creation of God and rejects every theory, evolution or otherwise, which teaches that man originated or came by way of a lower and animal ancestor.” The statement was accepted by the membership, and Tull suggested it be accepted and endorsed by all “our institutions, from the Foreign Mission Board down,” including seminaries. It subsequently became known as the Tull Resolution and was adopted at the 1926 convention as well.
Later pastoral appointments and death
Tull remained an active preacher and sought-after revivalist well into his old age. In addition to churches in Kosciusko, Paducah and Temple, Tull also pastored churches in Greenwood, Mississippi; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and New Orleans, Lousiana, among others. He authored several books, most notably a work titled The Imperial Christ (1942). His works and sermons addressed critical societal issues over the course of half a century, including socialism, Prohibition, two World Wars, Baptist thinking, politics and the anti-Christ.
Tull spelled out his approach to preaching and crafting sermons in the Foreword to his book The Imperial Christ:
"Whatever the subject matter of a message, a good sermon also expresses the individuality of the preacher. Effectiveness of preaching is in a great measure determined by events which are transpiring in the world. While the truth of the gospel is changeless, the alert preacher will adapt his methods of emphasis to the circumstances of the times in order to make men see and realize that Jesus came to deal with the souls of men under any condition or test which may come upon the world."
S.E. Tull (The Imperial Christ, p. 9)
Tull died in Florida in 1973 at the age of 94.
(Information excerpted from Oral Memoirs of Selsus Estol Tull, recorded in 1965 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas)
Introduction from Tull’s Autobiography
(Excerpted from the Oral Memoirs of Selsus Estol Tull. Tull mentions in the memoir that he has planned this passage as an introduction to his biography; at this time, we are unable to confirm if it was printed.)
Before one begins to read an autobiography covering a period of more than eighty years, he should try to get some concept of what this world was like when this biographer was born July 29, 1878. This can better be understood when one realizes what was not in this world at this time. Some few "was nots" are as follows: there was not a drop of gasoline in the world. There was not an automobile on earth. There was not a square yard of concrete highway in the United States. There was not a motion-picture theater in the world. There was not an airplane in the air. There was not a radio on earth. There was not a television in the world. There existed no such thing as a refrigerator or deep-freeze in any kitchen on earth. There existed no such thing as an electric fan or air conditioning in the world. There existed no such thing as electric appliances of any kind. Natural gas and its uses had not been discovered. Of course, there was no such thing on earth as a filling station, because there was nothing to fill.
There existed no such thing as power implements on the farm; all farming was done by mule and plow and ax and hoe, and all farm products were gathered by hand. There was no telephone system established in the United States. (Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone two years before I was born.) There was no rural mail delivery; there was no typewriter on earth. Few states had established a public school system. There were no women voters in the United States. There were no skyscrapers in any of the great American cities. The federal government of the United States had begun to meddle in the private affairs of the people.
If a bureaucrat had started out to kill pigs and tell farmers how much and what he should plant, he would have been shot. There was no income tax; there was no sales tax. There existed no such institution as General Motors, and Henry Ford was a child. There were no linotypes in the world, and there were few daily papers in the United States, and there were no supermarkets. In other words, the last eighty years has witnessed the rise of the industrial age of the United States. The present-day American should remember that all these achievements have been accomplished by private enterprise and private investments without the interference or meddling of any government appropriations. In other words, the horse-and-buggy days, the spirit of the horse-and-buggy days, marched right square into the blaze of American industrial glory. And I have lived these eighty years to witness the golden age of American history and the matchless age of Baptist history.