The Christian Index, the newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC), has published a notice of an amendment to the GBC Constitution that will be recommended to the convention by the Executive Committee this November.
The amendment is to the "Membership" article; the proposed addition is in boldface.
Article II. Membership.
Section 1. This body shall be composed of messengers from cooperating Baptist Churches. A cooperating church is one that gives evidence of its belief in Holy Scripture as its authority in matters of faith and practice and is in harmony and cooperation with the work and purpose of this Convention. A cooperating church does not include a church which knowingly takes, or has taken, any action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.
Because I have some questions about the amendment I wrote a letter to the editor of the Christian Index. I do not know if editor Gerald Harris will publish it--and let me be very, very clear that whether or not to do so is absolutely and totally his choice and I have no grounds for complaint if he chooses not to publish it.
The beauty of a blog, though, is that I have this forum through which to state my questions and that is what I want to do here. So, what follows is the text of my letter.
September 18, 2009
I noted with interest the proposed amendment to the "Membership" article of the GBC's Constitution, which would add to the definition of a "cooperating church" that such a church "gives evidence of its belief in Holy Scripture as its authority in matters of faith and practice."
While I am sure that no Georgia Baptist church would see itself as doing anything other than that and while I certainly affirm that the worship, preaching, teaching, discipleship, doctrine, and ministry of all Georgia Baptist churches should be formed through the prayerful and ongoing study of Holy Scripture, the proposed amendment nonetheless raises some obvious and, at least to me, troubling questions.
First, what is the nature of the "evidence" that is going to be required? Will it be good enough for a church to say, "Why yes, we believe in Holy Scripture as our authority in matters of faith and practice"?
Or will each local Georgia Baptist church that desires to continue as a cooperating GBC church be required by the GBC to adopt a confessional statement that affirms its commitment to biblical authority? If such an adoption is to be required, will a church be expected or allowed to compose its own statement or will it be permitted--or maybe even required--to adopt the Baptist Faith & Message Statement (rev. 2000) article on Scripture--or perhaps the entire statement--in order to be seen as providing sufficient "evidence"?
Second, if the forced adoption of a confession is not to be required, then who is going to determine what constitutes "evidence" of a local Georgia Baptist church's "belief in Holy Scripture as its authority in matters of faith and practice"? Is the GBC going to set up an "evidence of belief in Scripture" watchdog committee that will examine each GBC church?
Or perhaps the intention is only to deal with churches that present the GBC with some kind of "problem" in the kind of "evidence" it presents in its "faith and practice." The problem still remains--who is going to be "Big Brother"; who is going to decide which churches are and are not "in cooperation" with the GBC under the terms of this proposed amendment?
Third, if each local GBC church is not going to be required to adopt an acceptable statement regarding its fidelity to Scripture as its way of providing "evidence," then what are the standards going to be by which the adequacy of a church's "evidence" is evaluated? Is the GBC going to investigate each local church's "faith and practice" to see if it offers "evidence of its belief in Holy Scripture as its authority"? If so, how is that to be done? Will the Christian Index publish a list of standards to which each church must live up if it is to be welcomed as a "cooperating" church?
For what it's worth, I have my own suggestion as a beginning point for a standard: let's start with the Sermon on the Mount. Let's examine our churches to see if their members individually and if they corporately willingly and consistently express their "faith" and carry out their "practice" in ways that reflect the instructions of the Lord Jesus Christ in that Sermon. If we deem all the churches that fail to do that to be out of compliance with this proposed amendment, then the GBC will, as of the first annual meeting following its adoption, be no more, because no church will qualify.
I hope and trust that, before it is brought up at the November meeting in Woodstock, the rationale behind this proposed amendment and the plan for implementing it, should it be adopted, will be dealt with in great detail in these pages.