Is the SBC Positioning to Be Able to Oust Half Of Its Churches? (by Alan Cross)

by Guest Blogger on February 25, 2014 · 33 comments

Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift.

recent post on SBCVoices.com raises that question. Bart Barber, current 1st VP of the SBC and a friend of mine writes about a recent meeting of the SBC’s Executive Committee. They put forward a proposal to amend Article III of our Constitution which deals with member churches and messengers to the annual meeting. There is the business about trying to raise contribution requirements and a few other things, but what really caught my attention was the part about requiring firm adherence to all points of the BFM2000 to be a participating SBC church or to have members seated at the convention.

Dr. Barber says,
This is the best thing about this entire proposal: It defines friendly cooperation with the convention to exclude from friendly cooperation those churches who deliberately and publicly demonstrate their opposition to the convention’s statement of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message (which, as our friend Nathan Finn so eloquently reminds us, is and only is the document in its latest revision). I do not recall the precise wording of this portion of the proposal, but the effect is what I have written in the preceding sentence.
He goes on to talk about three categories of people/churches who will be opposed to using the BFM2000 in this way – the first has to do with those who have aligned with the CBF, the second as those who practice open communion, and the third as those who just generally oppose using the BFM2000 in this way. It is what he says about the second group that caused me to raise my eyebrows.
The second category consists of those churches who practice open communion (or worse) in the SBC. It would be the effect of this measure, they will remind us, to make the practice of open communion a dismissible offense in the Southern Baptist Convention. To that group I would have to concede that their reading of the proposal would be correct, but I would remind you that the wording of Article III would not dismiss a church for practicing open communion; it would only make the practice of open communion one of the grounds by which a church could possibly be dismissed. The convention assembled would still have to vote to boot you. I (who think that open communion is a sign of our present weakness) think it far more likely that the SBC would vote to amend the BF&M on this point than that the convention would actually vote to exclude any church for the practice of open communion. And indeed, should we come to use this document in a way in which we have never used this particular document before, we may find that a very few revisions are expedient. I urge you to look at this matter realistically and to consider not so much the enforcement of the BF&M in its present form as the general idea of having a confessional fellowship in lieu of trying to tack on a running laundry list of dismissible offenses to Article III.

So, according to what Dr. Barber says about this new proposal (and I have not read it yet as it has not been released publicly, to my knowledge), if your church opens the Lord’s Table to visiting Presbyterians or Methodists or Anglicans or Lutherans or others who have not been baptized by immersion but who still claim faith in Christ – if you allow them to take Communion with you without chastising them or fencing the table against them, then you are eligible for ouster from the SBC if the Convention decides to do so. Is the only thing that would then keep you in the SBC is the negligence or the whims of the voting members of the SBC Annual Meeting? Am I reading him correctly here? Also, since approximately 50% of SBC churches practice some form of open communion according to the latest poll on the matter (and are thus in disagreement with the BFM2000 in Article VII), are we also to keep members of those disobedient churches away from the Lord’s Table as well? If other churches allow them to participate, are they also to be disfellowshipped? Just asking.

 

If this proposal is actually what the EC is putting forward, then every Trustee Board of every SBC entity will then have a green light to question and remove any SBC entity employee from a church that allowed other Christians who have not been baptized by immersion to partake of the Lord’s Table. It will not be enough if membership is reserved for those who have been baptized or if the church holds up the call for believer’s baptism by immersion as a command of The Lord. Rather, what will now be required to be an SBC church in good standing is to make sure that you do not allow Christians from other denominations to take Communion with your church. Dr. Barber is right in saying that it is unlikely that the Convention would actually vote to oust such a church from the SBC – primarily because we are talking about thousands upon thousands of churches here. But, a Trustee Board of an entity would have no such trouble with investigating potential or current employees as to their church membership and asking them what their church believed and practiced regarding Article VII of the BFM2000.

What I have found on this issue is that now that we are 2000 years into Christianity and 500 years after the Protestant Reformation when Western Christianity splintered into a hundred different sects, there are some dispositions that are needed to maintain some semblance of unity in the Body of Christ beyond our own denomination. Not everyone understands the Scripture the same way. The table of The Lord is for all Christians and we are to partake of His body and blood in remembrance of Him. Who am I to keep a Christian from remembering their Lord or to send them elsewhere because they were taught differently on baptism and do not yet understand what the Bible actually teaches – or, they do understand our view and they disagree? I understand keeping them from being church members simply because as a member they would potentially have the ability to be in leadership and direct the affairs of the church. But, am I to keep them from remembering our Lord and recognizing His death until He returns? Does their belief on baptism then force them into the double error of not partaking of Communion?

Reading the comments section of Dr. Barber’s post as he is questioned on the matter and then gives his responses only solidifies that this is the direction that we are headed – at least in theory. At the same time, the EC is calling for churches to raise their Cooperative Program giving by percentage points of their undesignated giving or up to $6,000 to have more than 2 messengers seated.

So, are the ideas coming out of the EC to put roughly 50% of our churches in a category of discipline and potential ouster if the messengers to the SBC Annual Meeting decide to get around to it and thus putting in jeopardy the appointment of future missionaries, trustees, seminary professors, and denominational employees from those churches, while simultaneously requiring the churches to give more money to have messengers seated? I’m really asking.

If so, it is an interesting move, to say the least.

1 Dave Miller February 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm

I don’t know why I had so much trouble formatting the paragraphs here. Some disappeared and some are doubled. Sorry, Alan.

2 Dave Miller February 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm

As to the content of this proposal, I am sure as I can be that there is no INTENT on anyone’s part to use this proposal in the way you mentioned in the post – as a means of excluding from fellowship those who do not practice close or closed communion.

It would be institutional suicide to do so.

But as we have seen, you never know how an overzealous BoT might take the ball and run with it. So, the fear is legitimate – based on recent history.

3 Joe Blackmon February 25, 2014 at 3:00 pm

I would not agree with removing from the SBC a church that practiced open communion just because the practice open communion. But I love the proposal that has been made because it would lead to the removal of churches that try to be SBC and CBF. I don’t even have words for how happy that makes me to think about.

4 Gary Snowden February 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I think Alan’s concern is well-founded. In addition to the IMB Board of Trustees’ actions a few years ago to eliminate from consideration any candidates who practiced a private prayer language or who were baptized in a church that didn’t affirm the eternal security of the believer, you also have the precedent of the IMB itself utilizing the BF&M 2000 to dismiss dozens of missionaries who could not in good faith and conscience affirm the changes it introduced. The ever-narrowing definition of what it means to be a Southern Baptist in friendly cooperation with the convention doesn’t bode well at all for the long-term future of the SBC.

5 Todd Benkert February 25, 2014 at 5:37 pm

If a BoT wanted to deny candidates from churches that practice open communion, they are already able to do so. Both the Baptism and PPL requirements of the IMB are beyond the scope of the BFM2000. The ability for any BoT to enforce a closed-communion requirement is not affected by a change to article III.

6 Alan Cross February 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Todd,

I know that nothing keeps trustees from doing that now. The PPL/Baptism thing demonstrated that they have a pretty wide latitude to do what they want and if the SBC doesn’t like it, then they can just elect presidents to restack the trustee boards for the next 10 years or so.

But, my concern is that a change to Article III might possibly open the door for a full-fledged enforcement across the board of the BFM2000 without any potential caveats that have been allowed in the past. Obviously, I am talking about Article VII, which has traditionally been allowed – at least overall – to be a place where some wiggle room was allowed.

As for me, I personally agree with Article VII that baptism should precede communion. I do not agree with telling Christians worshiping with us who do not share that conviction that they should not partake in remembering their Lord with us. So, I can affirm Article VII in theory, talk to people about baptism, and withhold membership from those not biblically baptized. But, I do not go so far as to turn away Presbyterians or Methodists who profess Christ as Savior and who have other convictions on baptism who are with us in worship. Perhaps I am wrong and am open to be proven so. But, in my study, prayer, and research on this topic, I believe that my position is allowed.

I think that there is a lot more nuance here that what we think and allowing room for churches to have different practices here and still be in good standing in the SBC is important.

If this passes the EC, the “good standing” immediately goes away, in my opinion.

7 Mike Rasberry March 11, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I certainly believe we have cast too wide a loop in our desire to grow numerically and not be considered “FUNDAMENTALISTS.” I believe it is obvious the “Lord’s Supper” is fellowshipal and therefore difficult to include those who are not in harmony with the purpose of the Fellowship.

Those denominations which over the last couple of decades have evolved into bodies structured for societal reformation through good works are clearly not in harmony with the belief that man’s greatest need to recognize his lostness and come to faith in Christ.

8 Jim Shaver February 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Let me go on record and say that my Church, The Providence Baptist Church of New Bloomfield, Missouri, Organized in 1826 (prior to the organization of the MBC and the SBC Conventions – 1834 and 1845 respectively) has no intention of agreeing to any statement of faith newer than our founding Articles of Faith of 1826.

We however remain hopeful that both the MBC and the SBC might return to the Baptist roots that spawned them. In the meantime we will continue to fellowship with Baptist Churches in our local association and with any others in our state or nation as long as they are willing. We will continue to give money to the Cooperative Program and to other SBC Causes and to our Local Baptist Association until such time as any of the recipients choose to refuse our meager offerings.

If the SBC chooses to draw the circle tighter so be it, we’ll just keep on doing what we’ve been doing for 187 years.

9 Bart Barber February 25, 2014 at 3:34 pm

The proposal, if adopted, does not call upon your church or any other to adopt the BF&M.

10 SVMuschany February 25, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Really off topic, but I just had to mention that I actually used a selection from your Church’s minutes in my Masters Seminar paper. Very interesting stuff.

11 Bart Barber February 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Alan,

Institutional employees are ALREADY bound by the Baptist Faith & Message. Nothing proposed in Article III would make any change whatsoever to their status. Why are people who for years championed not going beyond the Baptist Faith & Message suddenly terrified that our convention might double down on sticking with the Baptist Faith & Message?

12 Alan Cross February 25, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Bart, I am not talking about what individual employees affirm. I am talking about the threat of discipline or expulsion against those churches and then calling into question the church affiliation of people no matter what they personally affirm.

And, using the BFM2000 this way would be going
beyond it, no?

Article VII has been an area of disagreement with many for a very long time. I am not really charting new territory here. What is new is how it could be applied in the future.

13 Tim Patterson February 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm

As we continue down this road, a question comes to my mind… Are we becoming more like Jesus, or more like the Pharisees?

14 volfan007 February 25, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Tim,

Are you the Tim Patterson, who went to UTM back in the 1980′s?

David

15 truthunites February 25, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Bart Barber: Why are people who for years championed not going beyond the Baptist Faith & Message suddenly terrified that our convention might double down on sticking with the Baptist Faith & Message?

Silly wabbit. There’s a difference between a 55 MPH sign and a law enforcement officer writing you a ticket for excessive speeding.

Doubling down = = Enforcement

BFM 2000 = = Just a sign post. (… to ignore. Heh, heh.)

16 clark February 25, 2014 at 4:14 pm

I don’t get the comparison to missionaries or other people employed by the SBC or its boards. I do think we ought to reconsider the closed communion Question. This is supposed to be a joint confession. I don’t deny confessions can also be creeds in certain aspects and applications and I’m OK with that. But if 50% of us have some measure of openness in our communion, we ought to reflect that in our confessions. I think its more important to build a fence for the unregenerate to know there is something here that is too important to be taken lightly or flippantly.

17 William Thornton February 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm

This is a runaway train. Bart is just being helpful in providing more information. It would be good for someone to put on the brakes.

18 Andrew Green February 25, 2014 at 4:28 pm

We could wait until the complete proposal is released and then be able to read it for ourselves.

19 Bart Barber February 25, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Great idea!

20 William Thornton February 25, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Too late for that; besides, there is no reason not to trust one of the participants.

Interesting strategy by the EC, though, in managing this.

21 volfan007 February 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Bart,

Do you have a headache, yet?

David :)

22 Dale Pugh February 26, 2014 at 7:16 am

Andrew,
That suggestion has been made…….MULTIPLE times during this whole conversation. So far, to no avail.

23 Bob Browning February 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm

I think you’re missing a “to” in your article’s title.

24 Dave Miller February 25, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Not anymore.

25 Greg Harvey February 25, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Is this the first, unofficial, SBCVoices Kerfuffle of 2014?

26 volfan007 February 25, 2014 at 6:10 pm

And, Bart is the one, who started all of this! Him and his posse, the EC!

David

27 SVMuschany February 25, 2014 at 6:12 pm

No, the discussions from the end of January and beginning of February were likely the first. Then again “it” always is. But Dave stopped us from talking about “it” so we had to move on.

If we really wanted to have fun, in this discussion about communion, lets talk about the use of “real” wine during communion! Just out of curiosity, what is the level beyond kerfuffle?

28 Dale Pugh February 26, 2014 at 7:16 am

Hullabaloo.

29 Alan Cross February 25, 2014 at 6:20 pm

I do want to be clear that I am in no way attacking Bart or the EC and, if I did in any way, it was not intentional. I really do believe – or am happy to believe based on what I know, that the problem that I am describing is not the intention. I love Bart and think he is a great guy. He is the messenger and I don’t want to shoot him in any way.

So, thanks for letting us know about this, Bart.

I just see a real danger here going forward and a real way that this can be abused, even if that is not the intent of the EC right now. I would agree with Dave that there needs to be a way to close the door on misusing the BFM2000 in regard to enforcing Article VII in a way that could eliminate participation from churches who allow for a modified open communion.

30 Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr. February 25, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Alan,

The issue here is that inherently, a denomination and the Kingdom are somewhat at odds with each other. A denomination is always going to do what it perceives is best for the denomination. Obviously, the Kingdom is going to advance the Kingdom. Sometimes, they are compatible and are moving in the same direction. This is a case where denominationalism trumps Kingdom. To exclude genuine born-again believers from the Lord’s Supper because they are not a part of your local church, or Southern Baptist, clearly prioritize the local church over and above citizenship in the Kingdom of God. I love what you have written here.

31 parsonsmike February 26, 2014 at 11:47 am

Dwight,
I was going to say the same thing, but you said it better.
How is it we give the right hand of fellowship to a brother then deny him a place at the table?

32 nathanhickman February 26, 2014 at 12:15 am

So here we are…people still going to hell everyday because we Baptists (which I have been longer than I have known Christ) sit and argue instead of go and tell. Is it the blood of Christ that makes us worthy for participation in the ordinances or is it the water in the tub, baptistry, river, swimming pool?

This kind of reminds me of the “your baptism didn’t count because the water wasn’t moving… Like when Jesus was baptized” (and yes, that was presented to me once…). Baptism is the picture of obedience, but the water is just water. Baptism is the picture of the blood making me worthy, but If I go into the water without the blood Of Christ being applied, then I’m going to get wet.

So if we start dismissing churches because of this issue, are we putting the weight on the water? Blood? Opinion? Proof of righteousness? Should we become the southern Baptist convention of legalists?

Communion is exclusive… To believers!

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