Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What If the Georgia Baptist Convention Decided to Be Consistent?

At the annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) that was held in Jonesboro November 10-11, messengers approved a “Policy on Receipt of Property, Cash, and Non-Cash Gifts by the Georgia Baptist Convention.” The policy states,

If there are questions or concerns as to whether or not the Georgia Baptist Convention should accept or retain certain funds or property, where the acceptance or retention of such: (i) raises issues of risk or liability which cannot be overcome; (ii) involves a church, organization or donor not in cooperation and harmony with the approved work and purpose of the Convention; (iii) involves donor restrictions which are not in accord with the approved work and purpose of the Convention; or (iv) is not otherwise in the best interest of the Convention, then the Executive Director and the Administration Committee as the audit committee of the Convention shall review the matter and they shall have authority on behalf of the Convention to determine whether or not to accept or retain such funds or property. (2008 GBC Book of Reports, p. 34)

The need for such a policy is understandable. As a pastor I know that churches are sometimes offered gifts that we don’t want or need. For example, since I am about to leave The Hill Baptist Church, it is possible, though not likely, that someone might offer the church a life-sized statue of me to stand in front of the church as a memorial to my years of service here. While it would no doubt be a close call, I suspect that the church would decline such a gift, as appropriate and thoughtful as it might at first glance seem and as nice a ministry as it would provide to the local pigeons.

The GBC could very well be presented with the dilemma of being offered an inappropriate gift. Why, one member of the GBC Administration Committee even raised the horrible specter of someone trying to donate an old bus or warehouse to the convention.

But that same person affirmed that the policy could also apply to the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia, an interpretation that was also affirmed, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, by GBC Executive Director Robert White. Why? Because FBC Decatur has a female pastor, Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, which puts the church in the category of “a church, organization or donor not in cooperation and harmony with the approved work and purpose of the Convention.” Why is that church deemed not to be in cooperation with the GBC? Because the most recent version of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) statement (2000) says, in the article on the Church, “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

I do not believe that line should have been added to the BFM for two reasons. My first reason is scriptural: when one takes into account the overall tone and trajectory and spirit of the scriptural witness, an approach to the Bible that is more valid that selective proof-texting, one finds (or at least I find) that the tendency is toward the full inclusion of men and women in the ministry of the church. At the very least there is ample reason to treat this issue as one on which people of good conscience who practice rigorous hermeneutics could agree to disagree.

My second reason is Baptistic: I still believe in local church autonomy which means, among other things, that a local Baptist church can and should call as pastor whomever they feel led of the Lord to call and it should not be the business of the convention. Now, to be fair, I don’t think that most Baptists, including those who run the GBC, would argue with that. They would simply point out that the state convention is also free to associate or to disassociate with any church for any reason and they would be right about that. I just don’t think that a church’s choice of pastor justifies such disassociation.

To be fair again, in the AJC article Dr. White is said to have said that the new policy would still allow FBC Decatur to remain affiliated but their gifts would be refused and they would thus lose their voting privileges. On the other hand, I’m not sure how a church could lose their ability to give money and to vote and still be considered a “member” of a Baptist convention in any way that I’ve ever understood membership to be defined.

Anyway, as regards FBC Decatur it all boils down to this: their missions and ministry gifts may be refused by the GBC because they are deemed to be not in cooperation with the Convention because they are deemed to be in violation of what the BFM says about the gender of pastors.

That got me to thinking—what if the GBC decided to be consistent and to refuse gifts from any church in the state that was in violation of the BFM?

Well, let’s see.

The article on “God” says, To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. What if the GBC evaluated all of the churches to see if they are doing that?

The article on “Man” (by which is meant “Humanity”) states, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love. What if the convention refused the gifts of all churches that exhibited any racial or ethnic bias or prejudice?

The article on “Salvation” affirms that growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life. What if the GBC asked all its member churches to provide evidence that such was happening in the lives of all their members?

The article on “The Lord’s Day” says, It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. What if the GBC began to crack down on all those churches that violate that teaching by holding non-spiritual gatherings--like committee meetings--on Sundays?

The article on “Evangelism and Missions” asserts that it is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ. What if the GBC began to deem as “uncooperative” all those churches that could not verify that at least a majority of their members were providing such witness?

The article on “Stewardship” states, According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer's cause on earth. What if the GBC…oh, we don’t even need to think about going there.

What if the GBC decided to refuse to accept missions gifts from any church that was deemed not to be in compliance with any line in any article of the BFM? What if the GBC decided to apply all of the lines in all of the articles of the BFM in the same way that they are apparently about to apply the line about only men serving as pastors?

So far as anybody can tell, their application of the “the office of pastor is limited to men” line will apply to only one GBC church.

So far as I can tell, if the GBC chooses to have integrity enough to be consistent, they will have no churches left.


Gary Snowden said...

There's a lot of wisdom and insight in your words, Mike. Unfortunately, we as Baptists have always had our pet "sins" and those we pick on most are always the ones that we're not as tempted to commit. I appreciate your call for some consistency.

Randy said...

Reminds me of Oral Roberts gladly receiving the gambler's money that allowed God to spare his life several years ago. Inconsistency is a terrible blight...unless we're talking about filthy lucre.

Preacher Bill said one time that if someone gave him dirty money he was sure he could clean it up.

Keep writing, brother. The bullseye isn't big enough yet.