Theological crossfire in Richmond as MBC, BGCM, CBF debate differeneces
By Bob Baysinger
October 7, 2003
|Kenny Qualls, Missouri Baptist Convention associate director, church and family equipping, speaks to members of First Baptist Church, Richmond, as Harold Phillips, center, of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri, and Dick Lionberger of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri listen attentively. Pathway photo by Bob Baysinger|
RICHMOND – First Baptist Church, Richmond, caught up in the Heartland Baptist Association controversy, decided it was time to get some straight answers.
And they did, Oct. 2 in the church fellowship hall.
That’s when representatives from the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM) and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri (CBFM) came together to explain differences in the three organizations.
Kenny Qualls, MBC associate director, represented the MBC.
Dick Lionbarger, the new convention’s first president in 2002 and now a member of the new organization’s board of directors, represented the BGCM. Lionbarger unsuccessfully sought the MBC presidency in 2000.
Harold Phillips, who oversees the CBF movement in Missouri, represented an organization born out of its utter contempt for the theologically conservative movement in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and MBC.
The meeting arose out of controversy in the Heartland Baptist Association earlier this year. Seven of Richmond’s pro-MBC/SBC sister Missouri Baptist churches dropped out of the association in recent weeks, citing the association’s refusal to singularly align with the MBC. Two other Heartland churches have BGCM and/or CBF sympathies.
"There are a few in the church who are not happy with the MBC," said David Penny, the Richmond church’s deacon chairman. "We decided it was time to get some clarification."
Each representative was asked to limit remarks to 15 minutes. A 60-minute question-and-answer session followed.
Differences in the three were quickly obvious. Lionbarger and Phillips each told who they were and why they were with their respective organizations. Qualls opened his Bible and preached.
"Paul’s one mission was the Great Commission," Qualls said. "And that is the mission of the Missouri Baptist Convention."
Qualls pointed out that Paul had "many adversaries," adding that any church with the same mission as Paul will face opposition from the government, lost people and religious factions.
"Paul did not know how to go along to get along" Qualls said. "He stood on the Word of God, hated sin and believed that Jesus was the only way to Heaven."
Qualls avoided criticism of the BGCM and CBF, pointing instead to accomplishments by the SBC and MBC in recent months.
Qualls repeatedly called Lionbarger and Phillips his "brothers," but left little doubt about the target of his remarks when he said that "you can judge a ministry by the people who do not speak well of you."
He noted how through the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s 43,000 churches funded a record 5,545 foreign missionaries with the International Mission Board to 1,497 people groups that resulted in 421,000 baptisms and 8,369 new church starts in 2002.
"The North American Mission Board has 5,100 home missionaries that started more than 1,700 churches in 2002," Qualls emphasized. "At our six seminaries — in a cultural that denies the existence of absolute truth and will not call sin "sin," we had 15,000 future pastors and missionaries who stand on the Word of God and share Jesus as the only way to heaven.
Meanwhile, the MBC — in cooperation with its 2,007 affiliated churches – "wants to start 1,000 new churches the next 10 years and we are the only state convention in the SBC who have four men who have served as state directors of evangelism," Qualls continued. "Great partnership opportunities exist with Romania and Iraq, while in Sunday School, we saw 2,504 come to Christ for salvation through Vacation Bible Schools in 2002. God is doing so many great things in Missouri in fulfilling His Great Commission. The goal of the MBC is for peoples’ lives to be changed for the glory of God by the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Lionbarger, a product of Southwest Baptist University and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, served on the MBC executive board from 1992-1998.
"Mentally and spiritually, it was exceedingly painful for me to abandon the MBC," Lionbarger said. "But the straw on the camel’s back was the 2001 convention at Cape Girardeau. Things happened there that I didn’t think I would ever see happen. I left that convention with a broken heart."
Two actions mentioned specifically by Lionbarger were the decision to pursue legal action against five MBC agencies that amended their charters to become self-perpetuating and the decision to unseat messengers from Second Baptist Church, Liberty. "When they were asked to turn in their credentials, I regret that I did not turn in mine also," he said.
Second Liberty had declared itself to no longer be affiliated with the SBC, thus putting it in violation of the MBC Constitution.
"We really believe in historic principles," Lionbarger said, mentioning specifically "the priesthood of the believer."
"I don’t have a problem with (an) infallible, inerrant (Bible). I’m also very conservative when it comes to my theology. I believe that sin is what it is, and I don’t consider any side to be my enemy. I’m just trying to determine where I best fit."
Phillips told the Richmond members they needed to ask themselves why they had set up the meeting.
"If you’re comfortable with your current mission partners, stay with them," Phillips said. "If you’re not, you need to look around."
Phillips said some refer to what happened to the SBC in 1980 as a conservative resurgence. He said he calls it a "fundamentalist takeover."
He described the CBF as having "a passion for missions" and a "desire to work together." He said the CBF has been accused of having a pro-homosexual agenda, adding that he doesn’t know of a CBF church in Missouri that has a homosexual pastor or staff member.
Phillips had no response, however, when Qualls pulled out documentation during the question/answer session, linking the CBF to pro-homosexual activists. Qualls produced a Knoxville, Tenn., newspaper account about Glendale Baptist Church being disfellowshipped by its association because of the ordination and hiring of a lesbian associate minister. Qualls said the church has now affiliated with the CBF.
The audience was shown a CBF advertisement, inviting those who attended the CBF national convention to stop by a booth and learn how "to embrace homosexuality into your church," Qualls said.
Lionbarger suggested to the audience that the BGCM supports "all nine Missouri Baptist agencies."
"And we still send money to the SBC," Lionbarger said. "We cooperate with those who want to cooperate."
The SBC Executive Committee stated after the BGCM was formed that it would not accept money from the new convention. Lionbarger boasted openly at Richmond, however, that his organization "launders money through the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT)" to the SBC. "We’re laundering money, that is true," he said.
When advised that the SBC has learned of the "laundering" and that the BGCT will be returning the money to the BGCM, Lionbarger said he was not aware of the plan to return money.
When a Richmond church member pressed Lionbarger and Phillips about what safeguards their organizations had in place to prevent homosexual involvement, both admitted there were no safeguards.
Phillips said the CBF has a "radical respect of local church autonomy."
"We have a very strong trust in the local church," he said. "The heart of Baptist life is the local church."
Phillips likened choosing the CBF or MBC to a person choosing to sit beside Jimmy Carter or Jerry Falwell on an airplane flight.
"Who you would choose to sit with tells a lot about who you are," Phillips said.
Qualls pointed out how Carter, often critical of the SBC, has embraced the CBF, stating that he supported homosexual ordination and doubts the validity of some of the miracles in the Bible.
Qualls said he also believes in the autonomy of the local church.
"But I also believe in biblical authority," he added. "Lord help us if we ever get to the point of watering down sin."
When asked if he considered it "love" to file lawsuits against the five institutions, Qualls responded that it would be the same if a robber marched into the auditorium of First Baptist Richmond next Sunday, steals the offering, goes outside, takes his mask off and announces to the church that it can do nothing to him because he is a Christian.
"The most loving thing we can we can do, brother," Qualls said, "is not turn our back, but hold their feet to the fire."
Qualls, while holding up a BGCM vision statement and Pathway column by Mitchell Jackson, pastor of Minor Baptist Church, Sikeston, called on the BGCM to stop recruiting MBC churches. The vision statement said the BGCM would not do such a thing, but Jackson’s column was a first-person account of how a BGCM representative came to his church and tried to persuade it to join the new convention.
Speaking directly to Lionbarger, Qualls said: "I challenge you to use your energy and resources in starting churches instead of trying to take away MBC churches."