Debunking rumors about single alignment
September 28, 2004
As Baptists who not only preach the Word, but also imperatively must live His Word in the spotlight of an increasingly skeptical world, we have a duty to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, as we perfect holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1) As workers together in Christ’s ministry we are not to receive His grace in vain, giving no offence in anything so that His ministry not be blamed. (2 Cor. 6: 1, 3) Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. (1 Tim. 6:1) Unfortunately, in today’s world of brand knockoffs and cheap imitations, there are those who have come among us who trumpet to the world that they are Southern and/or Missouri Baptists when in reality they are Baptist in name only.
With this background, the Continuing Review Committee, by bylaw mandate and direction from the MBC, examined what we as Missouri Baptists could — and should — do to insure that we as Missouri Baptists remain a peculiar people, whose message is not drowned out or polluted by those who claim to be Missouri Baptists but do not hold to fundamental Biblical doctrines agreed to by Missouri Baptists and that we continue to respect the Baptist polity traditions, which have birthed and led us to this position God has placed us in today.
As the Committee completed its work, false rumors spread that the Committee’s proposals would interfere with the Baptist polity of connectionalism or would limit the Convention’s ability to minister to the quilt of social, ethnic and racial groups ministering together as Missouri Baptists. Now that the Committee’s report is released for all Missouri Baptists to see, read and pray about, the falsity of these rumors is evident. These rumors have circulated primarily concerning the issue of Single Alignment.
It should be made clear what the recommendations do not do. They do not dictate to the Southern Baptist Convention what church is or is not a Southern Baptist Church. They do not dictate any doctrinal statement to any church. They do not prohibit a church with historic racial, ethnic or cultural relations to other conventions or organizations from maintaining those relations (or as was specifically asked of me earlier, a church with historic ties and relations to the National Baptist Convention may maintain those relations under the proposed changes). They do not remove from the messengers to the Annual Meeting the ultimate determination as to who may be a messenger or what church may remain a Missouri Baptist Convention church. They do not dictate that a church must be trustee-, deacon-, council-, elder- or pastor-run or dictate any local church governance structure. They do not prohibit a church from maintaining its fellowship with the Convention because of the actions of individual church members outside the local church’s governance. They do not prohibit a church from continuing fellowship through associations or programs, such as AWANA, Gideons, Willow Creek, etc. They do not prohibit a church or association from assisting state conventions outside of Missouri (such as Wyoming).
Equally clear is what the proposals will do. They re-affirm that the Missouri Baptist Convention is a body of independent churches which freely agree to cooperate to jointly minister to the state and the world and share the Gospel of Christ using the Cooperative Program. They re-affirm the messengers’ ability to determine who may be a messenger and which churches may remain Missouri Baptist churches. They provide definitions and guidance to the messengers and the Credentials Committee as to how these determinations are made in full cooperation with the local church body. They re-affirm that as Southern Baptists there are core, historical doctrines and principles upon which we all agree. Also, they re-affirm the local churches’ right to establish and operate by their own doctrine and governance.
Mechanically, the Committee’s proposals accomplish these goals by several interdependent changes.
The first installs a constitutional provision that places in the Convention’s core, primary legal document the exemption for racial, ethnic or cultural relations. As a constitutional requirement, the provision has primacy over all other documents and actions of the Convention. No act of the Convention may be in contravention of the constitutional provision.
Second, the changes express, what was always known and applicable under Missouri law, that messengers have the affirmative ability to reject or remove a church from association with the Convention if the church substantially deviates from accepted Southern Baptist faith, polity or practice. This determination will be made by the messengers upon recommendation of the Credentials Committee using Convention approved due process rules and guidelines. Thus, a church which trumpets to the world that it is a Missouri Baptist Church, while at the same time espousing doctrine clearly in contravention of accepted Southern Baptist faith, polity or practice, may be removed from the roles of the Convention. This in turn allows the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention to avoid having their doctrinal positions compromised by the heretical actions of a corrupt few, in accord with the teachings set forth in 2 Cor. 7:1. Until this change is made, a church’s only real protection from such staining by association is to dissociate itself from the Convention.
Third, the Credentials Committee becomes a standing committee. Thus, the committee will have adequate time to dispassionately investigate all relevant facts, obtain input from experts on the relevant issues and make well-investigated and doctrinally-supported recommendations. Further, continuity of decisions will be increased by making the committee a rotating board.
Fourth, the Credentials Committee is given express Rules and Procedures within which it must operate. These Rules and Procedures will be Convention approved by the messengers. Further, they may be modified, expanded, restricted or retracted at any time by the Convention. This maintains the messengers as the ultimate decision makers. The Rules and Procedures give express guidance as to what actions of a church (note it is actions of a church, not its members) which would result in a church dissociating itself from the Missouri Baptist Convention. Those church actions which would support dissociation of the church, as proposed, are well defined, giving express guidance to those who are or wish to become Missouri Baptist churches. In addition, individuals searching for a church to attend would have assurances that a Missouri Baptist church maintains certain fundamental, core Baptist faith, polity and doctrine, while being fully able to celebrate the diversity found within that bundle of Baptist faith, polity and doctrine.
Thus, the Committee after a year of prayer and extreme exploration of ideas and options believes its proposals correctly draw the balance between full connectionalism and accountability of association. (James Freeman is a Kansas City attorney, a deacon at Oakwood Baptist Church and chairman of the MBC’s Continuing Review Committee.)