April 4, 2003
LAWSON – Two churches are threatening to leave the Heartland Baptist Association because it refuses to insert language into its constitution that would require member churches to solely align with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs and First Baptist Church, Polo, disagreed with a decision made March 20 at a task force meeting.
The decision was to do nothing. If it stays that way, by the end of the year these churches and possibly two others could pull out of the association, said David Tolliver, pastor of Pisgah Baptist, the largest church in the association with an average attendance of about 350 for Sunday worship.
"I’m a fourth-generation Missouri Baptist preacher," Tolliver said. "My great-grandfather was a circuit-riding preacher. I’m used to having us all cooperating so to not be cooperating is just unthinkable now." Dale Meehan, a member of Pisgah who represented Tolliver on the task force, said the March 20 meeting was destined to go a certain way.
"I think the conservatives walked into a stacked deck," he said. At least three churches in the association are actively behind the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), Tolliver said, referring to the organization begun by disgruntled moderates and liberals who do not like the conservative direction of the SBC or the MBC.
Many other churches are in the middle. The decision to do nothing upset Bill Edwards, pastor of First Baptist, Polo.
"As a result," Edwards said, "we will either defund or pull out of the Heartland Baptist Association." Meehan said he would encourage any undecided Baptists to line up with the MBC.
"They’re (the MBC) just standing straight and tall and I don’t hear any wishy-washiness going on," Meehan said. "When you ask a question you get an answer. I guess I’m conservative to the point of being a fundamentalist."
Tolliver can see how churches within his association are being influenced. He said it is part of a larger drama that is being played out all over the state these days.
"We have some influential churches in our association who are affiliated with the CBF, and their sympathies are with the new (state) convention," he said.
The number of churches in Heartland that would attend the breakaway Baptist General Convention of Missouri likely would be limited to three, he said.
The association consists of 32 churches with 5,623 members.