Autonomy of the local church?

by Jason Smathers on March 28, 2011 · 56 comments

The Arizona Southern Baptist Convention provides sample bylaws, articles of incorporation, property deeds, and other legal documents for church plants. One of the clauses in these documents is a reverter clause which transfers all the church’s assets to the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention in the case that the church ceases to be a Southern Baptist Church. My own church has such a clause in their bylaws, but they are not nearly as strict as the current templates available.

This language is encouraged for all churches and is required for church plants to get support from the convention. I understand the Southern Baptist concern to protect their investment. I also understand the desire in the local congregation to be sure that no cult takes over the church. This clause would allow the local SBC association come in, take over the property and start a new church in that case.

However, does this language not scare you? We have seen denominations leave the orthodox faith before. Is the SBC immune from liberalism, heresy, and apostasy? Shouldn’t the local church have some protection against being kicked out of the SBC and have their assets seized by the convention?

Is a church with these sort of bylaw restrictions still truly autonomous? Looking forward to your comments…

Blessings,
Jason Smathers
Twitter | Facebook | Web


ARTICLE IX (emphasis added)

Purchase of Real Property

In the event the Church owns, or elects to purchase real property, the following covenants, conditions and restrictions shall apply to such real property:

Section 1.        The deed conveying the ownership of the real property to the Church shall contain covenants, conditions, and restrictions consistent with those set forth in sections 2-6 of this Article IX (the “CC&Rs”).  If the Church already holds title to real property, or acquires title to real property, at any time, without the CC&Rs being recorded against such title, then the Church shall immediately take action to record the CC&Rs against such title and the language of these Bylaws shall be a grant of authority for the Pastor or Chairperson of the Deacons to execute and record such CC&Rs without any further action being taken by the members of the Church.

Section 2.        Real property owned by the Church as Grantee shall be used for the benefit of the members of the Church who are determined to be in harmony with and affiliation with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention (“ASBC”), even if the members determined to be in harmony with the ASBC shall be a minority of the membership.

Section 3.        For Church members to be in harmony with and affiliation with the ASBC requires that the messengers of the Church shall be recognized and given full voting privileges at the annual meetings of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

Section 4.        Should the Church messengers be denied such recognition and voting privileges by the ASBC, or in case the organic existence of the Church shall cease, or in case its house of worship or the real property owned by the Church shall be abandoned or shall cease to be used as a house or place of Southern Baptist worship by those in harmony with or affiliated with the ASBC, as above set forth, or in case same shall be sold by the Church or the title be transferred by legal process or otherwise, without the written consent of the ASBC, then in each and every such case the title to the above described property shall revert to and become vested in the (local Southern Baptist Association’s name), or its successor, to be used for a church or mission in harmony with and affiliated with the ASBC.

Section 5.        No reversion of title that might occur, as a result of the circumstances set forth in Section 4 above, shall render invalid or operate in any way against the lien of any mortgage or deed of trust given, with respect to the conveyed property, in good faith, and for value and on any such reversion (local Southern Baptist Association’s name) shall take title to the conveyed land subject to any such mortgage or deed of trust.  However, any lien of any mortgage or deed of trust given, with respect to the conveyed property, that is not in good faith and not for fair value, or that is an effort to circumvent the intent of this restrictive covenant, shall be void and of no effect.  The ASBC, or its successor, may enforce any of the covenants, conditions, and restrictions set forth herein by any appropriate action at its respective option.  At any time following the date of this document, the covenants, conditions, and restrictions contained herein may be terminated by a written agreement signed by the Church and ASBC and recorded in the County Recorder’s Office in the county where the real property is located.

Section 6.        Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, the provisions in this ARTICLE IX of the Bylaws may not be amended or repealed except by unanimous consent of the voting members of the Church at any special business meeting of the Church, after such proposal for amendment or repeal has been made available, in writing, to all Church members at the worship services taking place during at least the two (2) weeks prior to the special meeting wherein the vote will be conducted.


View the complete document templates:
Articles of Incorporation
Bylaws
Declaration of Restrictive Covenants for an existing deed
Warranty Deed

1 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Okay, I don’t know if anyone else cares about this – maybe just you and me. But I think these revision/rescission clauses are generally heinous and completely contrary to autonomy and Baptist polity.

This is a practice that should be abandoned among free churches.

Thanks, Jason.

2 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm

In Cedar Rapids, my church was under the most onerous, one-side, draconian rescission clause ever. Basically, the mother church could take our property any time they decided we were no longer a faithful SBC church.

It was in the clause that they did not have to show cause, and that we had no appeal.

Fortunately, they saw how heinous the clause was and forgave it on their own.

This kind of thing is out there. It might make sense in hierarchical churches, but not here.

3 Doug Hibbard March 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm

They didn’t exercise when a Yankee fan became the pastor?

Gracious folks, that lot…

4 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Liberal!

5 Eileen March 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm

A church that wants to be free of government interference abstains from tax dollars. A church plant that wants to be completely autonomous of denominational control abstains from denominational church-planting funds.

6 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Eileen,

It makes sense for a church plant to have some kind of reversion system in place – they fail. But these clauses remain in force in perpetuity.

Are you saying that if a church takes denominational money, it must sacrifice its autonomy to do so?

7 Jason Smathers March 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

What do you think of a church that puts these kinds of strings on their missions offerings?

8 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Personally, I think it shows that a church does not understand that giving and control are not identical.

9 Jason Smathers March 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm

We spent a great deal of time in my missions class discussing how we should give to international missions without strings. We either believe in the mission or we do not. God has given them the call to act and given us the call to give, we should stick to doing what God called us to do. We do want people to be accountable, but accountability and control is also different. The consequence of failing to be accountable or your sponsor disagreeing with your actions in this setting is an end to continued support, not a seizing of the ministry.

10 bill March 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Like I’ve stated in the past, there are controls in place which prevent true autonomy.

11 Doug Hibbard March 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I think that, in view of “protecting investment” there could be other methods. One reason I don’t like these clauses is this question:

What if the Southern Baptist Convention ceases to be what it should: a body of autonomous churches working together under Biblical guidance to fulfill the Great Commission? What if the SBC becomes: too liberal? too fundamentalist? too dictatorial? too sloppy with money? The same questions apply to the appropriate states/associations.

In short: it seems that these clauses tie a church’s property to an organization that cannot be guaranteed to always remain in peaceful accord with the church.

And that’s not good with local church autonomy.

If it’s only about money/property, there are ways to quantify that debt and allow it to be covered in other ways. When I worked for UPS, for example, they had a student loan program for college students. If you worked for the company for (x, I don’t remember) years, the company paid for your school costs. They basically made a principal payment on the loan every year, increasing each year until it was paid off. Meanwhile, if you quit (I did), you paid off the loan. Either longevity of relationship paid your debts or you found another way to satisfy them. Maybe there’s a way to adapt a system like that.

But you’re right, Jason—those need to go. So do the “employment agreements” I’ve seen some churches give to pastors that are essentially the same: that if the pastor should ever decide that the church shouldn’t be SBC, he must resign. Not he can present it to the church, but that he will not ever ask the church to vote on the issue. I think both are born from good intent, but aren’t the way to handle it.

Doug

12 Greg Buchanan March 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Doug-
That is a painfully appropriate question here in Arizona in light of the Baptist Trust Savings scandal of some 5-6 years ago. The ASBC was part of the problem then either through commission of its staff or omission in oversight.

Kind of interesting that we’d have that kind of clause here in AZ. Glad I haven’t tried to plant a church here with ASBC money :)

13 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Iowa has had an interesting phenomenon in recent years. Churches that used to be ABC have affiliated with the SBC and we rejoiced that God had worked in them.

A couple of SBC churches decided to break affiliation with us. That was a scandal. Church-stealing. Dishonest.

We can’t have it both ways. Any SBC church has the freedom to cooperate and to decide to not associate with us. Autonomy requires the freedom to STOP being SBC.

14 Jeff Musgrave March 28, 2011 at 5:35 pm

This issue is a much hotter one in the new work areas I would guess. We have frequent conversations about reverter clauses here in the Dakotas and I had never heard of them when I lived in Arkansas.

I like Doug’s idea, because it addresses the realities of the situation from both sides. As much as we might not like it, money adds up power/control. Anyone who has ever taken out a loan can certainly understand this concept and the Bible even says that the borrower is slave to the lender. Autonomy is a wonderful thing, but it is simply not present when there is a financial chain in the relationship.

15 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Again, I think an agreement that is in place while a church is a mission is one thing. Mission churches are not really autonomous anyway.

But if a Baptist church is ready to make its own decisions and be an independent church, it also has freedom to make decisions that we don’t like.

We tell churches – make your own decisions as long as you make the decision that we like!

16 Jeff Musgrave March 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Dave,
I agree with you about churches that are ready to stand on their own feet. That is the part I like about what Doug suggests. When they are able to “cut the purse-strings” then their autonomy is unquestioned.

Isn’t this similar to what is driving the debate over the GCR changes? States like the Dakotas and Iowa and other new-work states are heavily dependent on outside money to survive, but we still want to assert autonomy as well. It is a tricky proposition.

17 David R. Brumbelow March 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm

This is a tough decision because I can see both sides of the issue. I think the big majority of SBC churches do not have this kind of restriction. I agree that it does restrict the church and leaves the church, to this degree, less than completely free.

Reasons for it:
1. Some groups will gladly take our SBC mission money to start a church, then as soon as the mission money is gone, they cut all ties with the SBC.
2. A church can be taken over by an outside group.
I know of a SBC church taken over by a Pentecostal group.
One taken over by an independent Baptist group. They called a pastor who dishonestly told them while he had a somewhat independent background, he was a committed Southern Baptist. Once called, he had independent Baptists from miles away join, while refusing to allow any positive word in the church about the SBC. He ran off most all who opposed him. When they had enough votes, they left the SBC.
Another that welcomed a group into their membership who did not have any physical property. Soon after the new group fired the pastor and got their own man in as pastor.
These groups essentially got (stole) free church facilities.
3. If an autonomous church decides on their own they want such a restriction to protect themselves, then they should have the freedom to do so. In this case, I guess they are just exercising their freedom to place a restriction on themselves.

Reasons against it:
1. Without necessarily any outside influence or coercion, a church can decide they want to leave the SBC. If they are autonomous, should they not be able to do so?
2. Suppose the SBC Conservative Resurgence had utterly failed and the SBC become liberal. Should we not have the freedom to leave with the buildings conservatives have paid for. By the way, the more liberal SBC churches have had the freedom to leave with their buildings. A few have even been encouraged to do so.
3. Suppose the state convention got hard up for money or just got it in for a particular church. Could they just take the facilities away with no legitimate reason?

On the other hand, the state convention has the freedom to make such a demand, and the mission has the freedom to reject the money and restriction.

Freedom can be costly.
Maybe a middle of the road position could be a mission church should be required to be participating SBC for 10 years, then the restriction ends unless the church chooses to keep it.
We should all make sure our churches, and especially our leaders know what we believe and why we believe it. Let the church know why we are Southern Baptist. Subscribe at least the leaders to a good SBC state paper.
David R. Brumbelow

18 Doug Hibbard March 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm

“Should be required to be participating SBC for 10 years”–

That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking would be good: the local body is autonomous to make a time-limited commitment. I’m not a fan of the open-ended language that appears to be in the sample from Jason. It reads like 40 years down the road, the church, though it could have completely different membership, is still bound by earlier choices. That could be dangerous.

Short-term, even medium-term, out to about 10 years, seems like a good idea. The long-to-never-ending-term, not so much.

19 Tom Bryant March 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Just a personal story: Alot of this reverter clauses occurred because in the 1960-80′s, come SBC churches who were unhappy with the theological drift of the convention started calling independent Baptist pastors. Those pastors would then pull the churches out of the convention. Thus, CP dollars were lost, property, that in some cases had been bought with money loaned by national or state conventions, were lost.

When I became pastor of my first SBC church, the local DOM asked me to meet him in his office to ask me about my “intentions” about the church and the convention. He assured me that there was no liberal drift in the convention. (truth was, he didn’t consider anyone liberal, even those that were) But he was very insistent that if I moved the church into the independent camp, that he would make certain that the reverter clause was used to throw the members out of the SBC’s building.

It was never my intention to pull out of the convention, but I understood his thoughts. I can see both sides like Dr. Brumbelow has mentioned.

20 Tom Bryant March 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I should have mentioned that I was trained in a fundamentalist Baptist college and had until the time I was called at the SBC church been only in Independent Fundamental KJV only churches. The freedom I felt being in the SBC precluded any desire to ever be a part of that slavery again.

21 Dave Miller March 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

That journey might make a VERY interesting blog!

22 Howell Scott March 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Properly done, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reversionary clauses. There is an autonomous choice by both parties on the front end. If a group of folks want to start a church plant and need funds to do so, they have many options. One option is through the local association and/or State Convention. If an autonomous organization is going to contribute significant funds for a new work, then it is entirely reasonable that there be a reversionary clause, particularly if the funding organization either donated land or gave money which was used directly to purchase property.

That being said, the Arizona reversionary clause language does seem a bit strict. If there was no was no direct funding of the purchase of real property by the State Convention or if the ABSC did not deed property to the church plant, then I might think that reversionary clause language would be excessive in that instance.

I think that the autonomy of each entity needs to be respected. But, as often happens, the more powerful entity (State Convention, Association, “Mother” church or Seminary) may use the reversionary clause as a club. Such appears to be the case with Southwestern Seminary and Tarrant Association in Ft. Worth.

What is a new church plant willing to agree to in order to receive funding? There are always strings attached, whether we like it or not. Those strings might be used for proper accountability or for improper influence, but the strings are there. Personally, I want some accountability from a new church plant or mission church that they will remain Southern Baptist, especially in cases where land is donated or money is given for the express purpose of purchasing land. In both cases, this would not be an insignificant investment by the churches of the association or State Convention. The reversionary clause does not necessarily have to be in perpetuity, but a certain length of time would be appropriate. If a mission church or church plant does not want to agree to those stipulations, then they don’t have to take the money.

23 Jerry March 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm

What would keep a church from amending its bylaws once it is no longer receiving convention funds?

We amended our bylaws several years ago (the original ones were over 50 years old), and added a clause to the effect that should the church cease to exist the trustees will ensure that the property be dedicated to Christian ministry. The old bylaws originally stated that the property would transfer to the state convention, and they voiced no objection to this change (we asked them, and they appeared to be somewhat relieved after the experience of losing money disposing of another church).

24 Howell Scott March 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Jerry,

The By-Laws, while important, would not control a situation where there was a reversionary clause included in the deed. In that case, the deed’s reversionary clause language would control, no matter what the church subsequently did with their by-laws.

Reversionary clauses are typically used to prevent property that has been donated by one party (i.e., a State Convention or a founding church) to another party (i.e., a new church plant or a mission church) from being used for purposes that the granting party deems immoral or wrong. For instance, it is quite common for property that has been given for use as a church to revert back to the original owner if the church property were to be sold for use as a bar.

Some look at this as the original owner exercising control well into the future. At the time the property is deeded, the new owners generally have no funds or property and are therefore happy to receive this gift, even with a reversionary clause. Again, in the case of new church plants, if ABSC is expected to provide funds and/or property, it would be reasonable to expect some type of reversionary language in the deed.

25 Bob Cleveland March 28, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I believe, in Jamaica, all the Jamaica Baptist Union churches deeded their properties to the Union. They did this in response to a move by the Seventh Day Adventists to have many people join a particular church, gain a majority, and then re-align with the Adventists from the Baptists. This is as I was told by friends there, one of them a pastor, and the churches did not seem to mind doing it. For one, it stopped the raiding.

Apparently, also, JBU churches trust their Association. That may be another key difference.

26 Bob Cleveland March 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Incidentally, at the last JBU Convention for which I got numbers, 25% of their MEMBERS were present at the Convention. On the order of 10,000 out of 40,000, country-wide.

27 Rick Patrick March 29, 2011 at 8:17 am

I like reversionary clauses. To me, their message is not, “You have lost autonomy.” Clearly, you have the autonomy to enter into them or not on the front end of the deal. Once you enter into ANY agreement, you are bound by your promise. After all, no one has the “autonomy” to ignore their creditors, right?

In reality, the message of a reversionary clause is, “You cannot steal from me, taking resources I intend for one use and then misappropriating them for another.” That’s a good thing, everybody. (Please See Commandment Number Eight.)

28 Dave Miller March 29, 2011 at 9:20 am

If a church freely decides to NOT be Southern Baptist any more, that is a free choice by a free church.

If we do not give churches that ability, then we should stop talking about autonomy.

You are advocating a heirarchical denomination, Rick – one that exerts control and power over the local church.

29 Howell Scott March 29, 2011 at 11:59 am

Dave,

I beg to differ with you on this one. Rick summed up the philosophy behind the reversionary clause very well. There have been numerous instances where a church (i.e., the property and buildings) have been stolen from unscrupulous pastors who take over a Southern Baptist church and run off members. There is a church in my association that this is happening to now.

The process of taking control is usually over time, with members leaving the church in different waves. Finally, the pastor and those who are left can do whatever they want with the property. A reversionary clause protects those who have donated land, money, time, blood, sweat, and tears.

By all means, a church (which is the people) can freely decide to NOT be Southern Baptist. That does not mean they can freely do whatever they want with the property if it was deeded with a reversionary clause. The church can give back the property and go meet somewhere else if they voluntarily choose to cease being Southern Baptist. I am very concerned about autonomy issues within the Convention, but this is not even in the ballpark.

30 Dave Miller March 29, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Disagree with me?

How dare you?

It is odd that the ones who are usually championing autonomy on this are arguing for institutional control.

Now, Howell, for disagreeing with me, say three Hail Marys and send a large donation to the Dave Miller Evangelistic Association.

31 Howell Scott March 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Dave,

The check is in the mail! :-) I do not believe that championing autonomy and supporting reversionary clauses are mutually exclusive. As far as I know, when a new church plant receives direct funding and/or property, it is a gift. However, in order to ensure that those receiving the gift do not misappropriate the gift for purposes that the donor would have never sanctioned, a reversionary clause is inserted into the deed. No one is forced, at gun point or otherwise, to accept any gift of property under any circumstances. If you want to do whatever you want to do, with no accountability or no strings, then raise the funds and buy your own property.

This is a stewardship issue. Where are the funds coming from? From other Southern Baptist churches, mainly through CP (until that dries up). Why should my church contribute to funding a Southern Baptist church that has no intention of remaining as such? This is where the new NAMB’s church planting focus will fall apart. If new church plants want funding from other SB churches, then there will be accountablility. I see no conflict between autonomy and reversionary clauses. Can reversionary clauses be used to violate autonomy? Yes. But, the two principles can co-exist peacefully under most circumstances.

32 Rick March 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm

FWIW, I do not advocate a hierarchical denomination. I am very happily congregationalist in ecclesiology. Each local church has autonomy. No one from above tells them what they must do.

However, there are terms they must obey to remain associated with other denominational structures which also possess the autonomy to set doctrinal and practical parameters, and there are consequences if a church withdraws or is removed.

I am merely advocating that my local, autonomous church be able to protect its investment in a very specific form of gospel advance, namely Southern Baptist evangelism and missions. If we give $100,000 to start a Southern Baptist Church, and they later decide they want to be Acts 29 only or Evangelical Free or non-denominational or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever, then they should give us our money or our property back.

I agree with you that they should be free and autonomous to leave the SBC. I don’t agree that they should be free to take the property and income provided by SBC churches and use it to start churches of another persuasion. In my view, that is a serious breach with the sponsoring church or churches.

33 Dave Miller March 29, 2011 at 9:24 am

Essentially, that is coerced association, not voluntary.

34 Jim Pemberton March 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm

This is often the pattern of enabling: “I give you things, but there are strings attached.”

Good thing? Bad thing? I don’t know. Biblically, I see how Paul exhibited rights as an apostle over the churches that he planted. But Paul didn’t create a bureaucracy to handle things. Small is better in matters of accountability. What does the SBC know of me? What does the SBC know of my church? Not much, really. As big as my church is, I imagine that we are a relatively small blip on their radar screen. However, there are other churches nearby who are familiar with my church, and members in these other churches also know li’l ol’ me, and especially our pastoral staff, personally.

Now, my church is probably as conservative as any you will find in the SBC. We have some of the wisest, godliest, humblest men I know as deacons. (We don’t have elders otherwise, which is an organizational hold-over from a lesser time.) Our pastoral staff, and a significant number of teachers otherwise among us, are diligent to study the scriptures for our own edification and teach the truth in all submission to God. We are active in mission work and even have our own mission board to handle issues of many of the activities we are involved in.

Nevertheless, I am wary that we can still be compromised inside of a generation. The need for a congregation to be independent must be checked by good association with other churches. That’s a good NT pattern.

As for the physical plant belonging to the state convention, who knows. Was the money given only as an investment for the convention with an expected return of sorts, or was it a gift? The former implies that the church is not independent at all, and that any independence is granted only by the rightful owners: the state convention. To whit, that the church is not to be truly congregational.

On the other hand, if the subordination to the state convention is only for a period, then it could be reasonable for a fledgling church plant to be non-congregational for a time until it was firmly established and fully self-supporting.

35 Dr. James Willingham March 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Mr. Miller and I are in complete agreement. As a Baptist Historian (I have served as chairman of the historical committee of Bap. State Convention of NC and chairman of the Historical committee of the Sandy Creek Bap. Assn. of NC, I SAY EMPHATICALLY, “THAT AIN’T BAPTIST DOCTRINE.” The only assurance we have for the future is what our Lord said. The tactics of stated above were those of the Moderates in NC, when the North Rocky Mount Baptist Church tried to pull out of the State Convention, and they took them to court and let the minority group have the property (the minority were Southern Bap.)(this was never mind the constitution and rules which indicate the number needed for a vote to take actions). When the shoe was on the other foot the mods shifted positions…even though they knew the original. I was in Mo. at the time, and I knew it was wrong. God forbid! that we should institute old Rome’s practices to keep churches or converts who will not obey the truth.

36 Dr. James Willingham March 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm

What happened on the national level was this: We Conservatives had the votes, and the Moderates did not. End of story. Except, we had forgotten that man is depraved, and even the best Conservative is not to be trusted until he proves himself or herself and then to be watched carefully. We had also forgotten how to allow for change ad adjustment and how to maintain our faith under assualt. We had forgotten the intellectual aspect of Faith after a horrendous cnetury and a half of religion as feeling (compliments of Schleiermacher) under the guise of heart until we lost almost all of our critical abilities (imagine working with deists like Jefferson and others to secure religious liberty).

37 Jeff Meyer March 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm

This is an interesting topic to me, mainly because I am not SBC. I have some honest questions about this desire for “autonomy” (in quotes because of the varied opinions of what that means.) Shortly after God saved my wife and I, we began attending an E-Free church. I believe they have a similar concept of autonomy as many of you would have – each local church is free to decide how it is governed, how its bylaws are written, etc. Basically, each local EFCA church must agree with the EFCA’s statement of faith, and that’s about it.

However, even that would be seen as denying autonomy by some here. One of the points of the EFCA’s statement of faith explicitly declares premillennialism the official position of the church, and in order to be a member, you must be premillennial. Some “dispensations” were given to churches to grandfather in versions of the SOF that did not have that requirement.

Does autonomy mean being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as it is supported by scripture? If so, then why even associate with a denomination? In the EFCA, the local “district” holds the credentialing of the pastors. If a pastor does not agree with the doctrinal position of the EFCA, he is removed. What if a pastor, through prayer and study, is able to defend an amillennial end times position? What if he comes to believe it? Local church autonomy says he should be able to believe it. But his church is not really autonomous.

I suspect it is the same with Baptist churches. What must you “obey” to be considered an SBC church? You are all willing to give up some autonomy to remain affiliated with the SBC.

I guess my main question is, why is that considered “a bad thing”?

Thanks for listening,
Jeff.

38 Rick March 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Jeff,
Thanks for bringing some reason and perspective to the notion of autonomy. Some of us throw that word around as if we should have the autonomy to shout “fire” in a crowded theater.

39 William March 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Whatever the case in Arizona, look for NAMB (themselves or by agreement with associations and/or state conventions) to have some similar, stringent requirements for church plants. We all expect NAMB to be putting more cash into church planting and because of that to be expecting churches like mine to give more towards that.

I believe some SBC entities already have requirements for church plants to give certain percentages to the CP, but I cannot document that at the moment. It would be irresponsible for NAMB not to do due diligence on this matter.

As noted, there is a clash of principles here: autonomy vs protection of SBCers’ investment. But then, perpetuity is a long time.

The church planter or whomever gets to make a choice here: money and some limits vs no money and complete freedom. I am willing as a church to give such freedoms but I would not be willing for NAMB or other entity to make that decision on my behalf with my money.

40 Ron Hale March 30, 2011 at 11:23 am

The provisions are needed, especially, in new work areas.

When I was a DOM in Pittsburgh, PA … the association had lost several of its larger congregations to Independents who came in as pastor with a strategy of slowly withdrawing the church from SBC cooperation.

Within a matter of a couple of years, they had a “free” church (paid for in full by Southern Baptists; usually with church planting dollars upfront). If it’s not in the property deed, it will not hold up in court, etc.

41 Dave Miller March 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I have agreed all along that missions should have a plan for if the mission fails. No question.

My quarrel is with established churches that still have these heinous anti-Baptist clauses in their deeds in perpetuity.

(But I don’t have strong opinions on the matter).

42 Ron Hale March 30, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Dave,
So who protects the founding vision, values, and denominational connection and loyalities of the founders of the mission?

43 Dave Miller March 30, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Here’s the point, Ron. A free church HAS to be free to leave behind the founder’s mission. If the mission was worthly, godly and biblical, it hopefully will survive.

But the clauses are an attempt at top-down control, to prevent free churches from making free decisions.

The essence of free speech is allowing people to say things we don’t like.

The essence of free church is allowing churches to make decisions we don’t like.

44 Rick March 30, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Dave,

I don’t mind if the free church “leaves behind the founder’s mission” as long as they also “leave behind the founder’s money and property” rather than stealing it and giving it to some other denomination. The reversionary clause doesn’t limit the free church’s autonomous conscience. It simply prevents church plants from robbing from Peter to pay Paul — even if they want to do that 50 years later.

New church, you have the autonomy to become a cult whenever you like. What you do not have is the right to steal a building paid for by Southern Baptists and use it to worship Mickey Mouse.

The concept of autonomy extends to spiritual conscience and the self-governing decision-making process of the new work. Remember, they autonomously entered into this agreement in the first place. Now they must pay back the startup money and leave or keep the Southern Baptist money and remain. They have the autonomy to choose either one, but not to break the contract.

Here’s an analogy from a fictitious wealthy father: “Son, you are free to divorce my daughter, but I’m also free to write you out of the will.”

45 Dave Miller March 30, 2011 at 5:45 pm

To call that stealing is unfair.

The money is given to the church.
The church makes its decisions.

If the church makes a free decision, there is not stealing involved.

That seems to me to be a ridiculously self-serving statement.

When churches come INTO the SBC we don’t call it stealing. Do you deny that it could be a godly choice for a church to decide to leave the SBC?

That just seems to be almost SBC-centric to me.

Again, I don’t have strong opinions here.

When you GIVE money, you give up control. If you demand control in exchange for your money, then lets not call it giving. Let’s call it “control-purchasing”.

46 Rick March 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm

I think we will argue in circles on this because you seem to believe the only truly fair and autonomous gift is one in which the donor does not specify the purpose denominationally by attaching strings. I think the donor church should be given the autonomy to donate however they wish. The recipient church has the autonomy to accept or reject the gift, but if they accept the gift and its associated terms, they are obligated to honor those terms, not bound by evil, autonomy-hating donors, but rather bound by their own word and promise given when the contract was signed.

47 Dave Miller March 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

When the founders of a church leave by death or choice, they no longer control the future of the church. The present members decide the direction of the church.

That’s just the way it is in free churches. As much as we would like to, we cannot dominate and control the future of God’s people.

The simple fact is that these clauses are contrary to autonomy and free church methodology.

48 Rick March 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm

No, they’re not.

49 Rick March 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

More precisely, if the recipient church dislikes the terms of the donation, they do indeed possess the self-governing autonomy to refuse the gift. Just like Frodo and Jesus, Autonomy Lives!

50 Howell Scott March 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Rick,

You make way too much sense! As to Frodo and Jesus — LOL! Thanks.

51 Darby Livingston March 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Free means free. I don’t understand why folks want to continually put restrictions on the word.

For example, many Christians would say that we are free, but not free to sin. But this definition of freedom contradicts Paul’s words in Galatians 5:13. This freedom terrifies people who think restrictions, clauses and rules are necessary to keep Spirit-led Christian in line.

I see the same idea arising with this issue. Either the church is autonomous or it isn’t. Period. Autonomy doesn’t stop at the offering plate.

52 Doug Hibbard March 30, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I’m curious how all of us conservative folks would feel about this had the CR gone the other way—-would we want to see churches continually bound to the SBC as it went away from Biblical truth?

The perpetual clauses assume that “being an SBC church” will always be a good thing.

And if it’s about owning the building, then let the Convention buy the building and rent it to the church plant. Let the Convention handle the maintenance, upkeep, modifications, and liabilities for it. Except that’s the whole point: insert the revisionary clause into the deed, then let the church handle the maintenance issues of the building. After some time, if the church goes a different direction, the whole thing, properly maintained, updated, decorated, whatever, then becomes the property of the Convention.

If I were a cynic, I’d say that the forces of liberalism or, worse, Presbyterian or Methodism (joking on those) are waiting in the wings for more modern church facilities bound up in these types of agreements. Then, they’ll infiltrate these (and other) churches, send messengers to the appropriate conventions, vote to approve something un-Baptist at the convention. Then, on principle, the churches will leave the conventions, the liberals (or Presbyterians!) will get the buildings!

Oh, but that’s ridiculous, right? No one would orchestrate something that bizarre just for a few pieces of property that we could have a real discussion about whether or not we should even own, right?

Except that’s the logic: if we don’t insert the revisionary clause, then someone, sometime, might steal our building. Which is as bad as moving the flower stand that was bought with the memorial money from Aunt Lulu’s passing 3 generations ago. That flower stand was given with the purpose of having beautiful flowers in worship! How dare anyone steal that money by moving or removing it!

If further generations are bound by the intents of original givers, then Southern Seminary might should go back to Charleston. The first donors supported a seminary in South Carolina, not Louisville. The original intent of the SBC has long been discussed—but do we really want to stick with the intent of the original givers? To fund missions efforts while holding slaves?

What of money given to support the liberal-ish teachers/seminary leanings in the last generation?

If you want to give, give. If you can’t trust who you’re giving to, give to someone else. Note: this sentence could also apply to Thornton’s latest post about the CP and why it’s dropping.

53 Dave Miller March 30, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Had the CR gone the other way, I’d be E-Free or Bible church or something else.

I’m a Southern Baptist by both heritage and conviction. But I would never put denominational loyalty above biblical fidelity – even for the sake of the CP.

54 Howell Scott March 30, 2011 at 10:06 pm

“If further generations are bound by the intents of original givers, then Southern Seminary might should go back to Charleston. The first donors supported a seminary in South Carolina, not Louisville. The original intent of the SBC has long been discussed—but do we really want to stick with the intent of the original givers? To fund missions efforts while holding slaves?”

Doug,

I’m assuming that you are using hyperbole in making your case and that you were not equating the reversionary clause argument with owning slaves. From a legal and theological standpoint, I find this discussion very interesting and enlightening. I can certainly understand reservations or even objections that one has to a reversionary clause being in perpetuity. I’m not opposed to some lesser time frame, but I would probably start with 25 years as a bare minimum.

While autonomy is impacted by these reversionary clauses — usually on the front end, but sometimes, as with the case of SWBTS and Tarrant Baptist Association, on the back end — this is first and foremost a matter of real property and contract law. If someone is offering a gift of property or funds to purchase property and wants to included a reversionary clause, then the recipients of the gift can either take it or leave it or negotiate something else in regards to the property.

If a group of folks somewhere down the line want to violate the terms of the reversionary clause by, for example, ceasing to be Southern Baptist, then the reversionary clause is not stopping the group from becoming whatever it is they want to become — independent Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, or Muslims. What the reversionary clause does prevent is the violation of the original terms of the deed and the one who gave the property. Personally, if I were donating property to be used as a Southern Baptist church, I would have some type of reversionary clause in the deed. I think it was entirely reasonable for Southwestern to include a reversionary clause in the deed to Tarrant. I simply object to how they are using it in this particular instance.

I imagine that the divergent viewpoints on this issue may stem, in part, from personal experiences — both good and bad — that each of us have had or know about with regards to reversionary clauses. That being said, I would be comfortable negotiating away a reversionary clause if I were representing a purchaser (such as mission church or new church plant), but I would equally be comfortable negotiating for the longest possible reversionary clause if I were representing a seller or one donating property. Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. It’s just fun to speculate! :-)

55 Jeremy Parks March 30, 2011 at 11:15 pm

It seems to me that there is a symbiotic relationship between the convention and the church plant. Both autonomous groups choose to enter into thie relationship knowing full well the implications.

The convention gives money support, time, and energy to a church plant without any guarantee of success. They take most of the financial risk, knowing that poor choices will haunt them as money runs out. Those are the risks. The pay-off is that they bind themselves to this new church, strengthening the convention as a whole and spread the organization’s influence into a new area or ethnic group. The convention is no longer as free as it once was, having an additional obligation to yet another church.

The church plant gets something from the relationship as well. They get training, support, ideas, and yes, money. They, too, sacrifice a bit of freedom. They give up the right to take the help of the convention and use it to support theological positions contrary to SBC thinking.

Is the autonomy of the church reduced? Yes. Do they do it willingly in order to accomplish a certain goal? Yes. Are they the only ones who sacrifice a bit? No.

For me, the only question is how to keep these clauses from becoming a club, or a bludgeon to keep member churches in line.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: