Seven churches leave Heartland association
By Allen Palmeri
August 26, 2003
More may depart soon
LAWSON – Disturbed that Heartland Baptist Association has been unwilling to pass a resolution affirming historical ties to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), seven churches have pulled out of the association and at least two more may leave.
"We’ve been going through the education process here at the church," said Bill Edwards, pastor, First Baptist Church, Polo, "addressing the issues why this is necessary and being very, very patient with everybody, because we don’t want to lose anybody."
Meanwhile, the association already has lost seven of its 32 churches: Pisgah Baptist Church, Excelsior Springs; Kidder Baptist Church; Elmira Baptist Church, Lawson; Lawson Baptist Church; First Baptist Church, Kingston; Fleming Baptist Church, Orrick; and Paradise Baptist Church, Smithville. More may bolt, including First Polo and First Baptist Church, Cowgill.
"We have honed in on the issues and what’s important to us as a church," Edwards said, explaining that it will come to a vote Sept. 10 at his church’s regular business meeting. "I feel pretty confident that it will pass and we will pull out of the association."
Director of Missions (DOM) Jerry Palmer said that much of the squabbling comes from "miscommunication and misunderstanding of motives." He emphasized that the 25 churches still within Heartland all consider themselves to be MBC and SBC.
"We have not left either convention," he said, stressing that associations do not belong to conventions. "Our constitution gives several references to those relationships. We continue to pray for those who have gone, that God might bless the ministries of those churches, just as we believe He will bless the Heartland Baptist Association."
On April 14, in a 68-54 vote at a semi-annual meeting, the association chose not to adopt a proposed resolution in support of the MBC and SBC. Jess Taylor, pastor of Paradise Baptist Church, attended that meeting with three of his deacons, who responded to the action by telling their pastor it was time to leave the association. On May 4, the church voted unanimously to do just that.
"When I talked to the DOM, I thought I was hearing the right words, but I found out in the end he’s supporting some folks who have a different theology than mine," Taylor said.
Some pastors loyal to Heartland have argued that the churches of the association have continued to support the MBC. However, Kevin Ritter, pastor, First Baptist Church, Hamilton, attended the founding meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri and worked to defeat the MBC/SBC resolution. Ritter also was listed among the "program personnel" attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) of Missouri’s General Assembly meeting in April at First Baptist Church, Independence.
"The growing influence of the CBF" is obvious within the association, Edwards said. Pastor Douglas Crabb of Rock Falls Baptist Church has publicly aligned himself with Ritter, Edwards said.
Still, other pastors, like Bob Curp of Hopewell Baptist in Cowgill, say they are caught in the middle.
MBC Executive Director David Clippard pointed to Article IV, Section 1 of the MBC Constitution, which states that messengers are to come from "any Baptist church in sympathy with the objects of the Convention and desiring to cooperate with the Convention in her program of single alignment with the Southern Baptist Convention."
The phrase "single alignment with the Southern Baptist Convention" as it is worded in the MBC Constitution puts this Heartland issue into the proper context, Clippard said.
The seven churches that have pulled out remain in good standing with the convention, Clippard said.
"They have not done a thing to jeopardize their relationship with us. Obviously, we appreciate their support."