Messengers to deal with single alignment
May signal a culmination of the conservative resurgence in Missouri
By Allen Palmeri
October 18, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY– Single alignment will be a requirement for membership to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) if messengers to the annual meeting Oct. 24-26 at Second Baptist Church, Springfield, give final approval to a report that was overwhelmingly accepted at last year’s annual meeting.
The final vote to authorize the several interdependent changes to the MBC Constitution is meant to re-affirm the MBC’s long-held affinity for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and sever ties Missouri Southern Baptists might have with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM) or Mainstream Missouri Baptists, according to James Freeman, former chairman of the Credentials Committee which authored the single alignment language.
The current chairman of the Credentials Committee, Springfield attorney and former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice John Holstein, will be on the platform at 3 p.m., Oct. 25, to answer any potential questions from messengers about the proposal. A final vote will follow the discussion.
“Solid MBC churches repeatedly have instructed the MBC to eliminate the conflict arising from allowing CBF and BGCM supporters to maintain dual, competing and conflicting associations within the MBC,” Freeman said. “Although many Missouri Baptists desire a choice for simpler language, they understand the more complicated language and integrated changes to both the Constitution and Bylaws are necessary to prevent the CBF/BGCM/Mainstream supporters from simply changing their name from year to year. It is the anti-MBC associations which are being addressed, not the name of the actual organizations.”
Freeman, a deacon at Oakwood Baptist Church, Kansas City, explained why several of the voiced concerns regarding the proposal are false concerns.
“Single alignment, which has been a part of Missouri Baptist life since 1919, according to J. Gordon Kingsley’s book Frontiers, does not interfere with the autonomy of the local church,” he said. “A local church today and a year after the amendments pass will continue to have the choice to associate or not associate with those organizations, associations, fellowships and conventions as it desires. The amendments will allow the MBC to exercise the same rights of freedom of association as churches now exercise, by allowing the messengers at the annual meeting to disassociate with those who hold biblical positions contrary to traditional Southern Baptist faith, polity and practices.
“The standing Credentials Committee will not become a ‘police’ and the MBC will not become hierarchical as a result of the successful passage of the single alignment proposal. Messengers to the annual meeting will continue to make the decisions as to which churches, if any, maintain positions which are contrary to the MBC’s mission of ‘together growing Great Commission churches’ and contrary to traditional Southern Baptist faith, polity and practices. The amendments are clear that a local church is free to maintain its own practices, beliefs, associations and doctrinal beliefs so long as they are within the ‘big tent’ of diverse, traditional Southern Baptist faith, polity and practices.”
Freeman expressed dismay at the mistaken concern that the Credentials Committee will become the “thought police” of the MBC.
“The Credentials Committee is being made a standing committee for the express purpose of eliminating the hurried, incomplete, emotionally manipulated charges, investigations and the resulting incomplete recommendations currently made by the committee during the hectic annual meeting when a challenge is made,” he said. “Once adopted, the committee will have time and previously lacking guidance upon which to make its recommendations to the messengers at the annual meeting. The messengers will continue to be the only group deciding which associations with the MBC, if any, should be severed.
“Furthermore, the Credentials Committee will not be conducting ‘internal audits’ or investigations of our churches. The Committee will simply be able to use Christian principles and rely upon the information which is already provided to the MBC in the Annual Church Letter or that which is publicly known as a result of church business meetings. This is because the single alignment proposal is directed to the official actions of churches and not of the individual members.”
If a church is challenged, Freeman said the Committee will have plenty of time to approach the church’s pastor, moderator or other institutional head to seek clarification on the allegations. Once a church responds to the challenge, the investigation would end, unless a church gives inaccurate information in its response and the committee has proof to the contrary, he said.
“Simply put, once the single alignment proposal is approved by the messengers, the 1919 and 1961 amendments which resulted from the experience of the failure of a workable dual or multiple alignment will be completed,” Freeman said. “Missouri Baptists will be able to emphasize their commitment to the growing together of Great Commission churches with unity of spirit.”
The amendments propose to require that MBC churches be affiliated singly with the SBC and the MBC, and not competing national or Missouri state conventions. A more detailed explanation and the proposed changes are printed on pp. 248-250 of the 2004 Annual Report and on the next three pages of this issue ofThe Pathway.
Opponents of single alignment claim that the proposal amounts to “piling on” the moderates and is not needed at this time. Since the Constitution and Bylaws are going to be rewritten anyway, opponents argue that single alignment should be tabled for at least a year—perhaps until the MBC’s legal battle to recover five breakaway agencies is over. Even so, one prominent moderate has written on his church’s Web site that single alignment is “sure to pass” this year. He went on to state defiantly that he and his congregation will keep on being the church they have always been.
“Single alignment is the obvious outgrowth of the battle that we’ve fought since 1998 in Missouri,” said Roger Moran, incoming chairman of the MBC Nominating Committee. “Basically, you’re either in support of the kind of theology advocated by the SBC or the kind of theology advocated by the CBF. The two are not compatible.
“We are as two different trains on two different tracks going in two different directions, with two distinctly different destinations,” Moran reiterated. “Those who claim they can comfortably ride both trains either don’t know where they are being taken or don’t care where they are going. Probably the most important aspect of the issue of single alignment will be the degree of theological honesty and spiritual integrity it will encourage. If the heart of a church is bent toward the theologically liberal CBF and its various sister organizations, why then would it also want to work within the theologically conservative MBC and SBC?”