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Sunday, February 11, 2007

North Carolina Congregation "Outs" Itself

According to the Biblical Recorder, Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte has notified the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina that the congregation is in violation of the BSC's new policies concerning homosexuality.

The deacons at Myers Park Baptist Church sent an open letter to BSC officers. The letter, dated Feb. 6, says the church welcomes gay and lesbian persons to participate fully in church life and serve as church leaders.

Messengers to the BSC meeting in November changed the BSC governing documents to reflect that churches that support homosexuality are no longer in "friendly cooperation" with the convention.

The letter notes that BSC procedures call for two complaints about a church before an investigation is started.

"The purpose of this letter is to inform you there is no need to wait upon the secret reports of others," the deacons wrote. "We, with our 1,850 members serving as witnesses, hereby turn ourselves in."

BSC officials declined to comment.

The letter invites BSC officials to visit the church and get to know the congregation this spring. It notes that the deacons "believe strongly in the gospel's power of transformation through experience."

"Please come join us in all facets of our church life, including our worship, Christian education, mission outreach and all of the other activities of our congregation," the letter says. "We welcome the opportunity for dialogue with you."

The letter acknowledges the BSC's authority as an autonomous group to determine its membership, but also notes that the BSC's Articles of Incorporation said the convention "is not set up to govern or exercise any authority over other Baptist bodies, but to assist churches in promoting missions, evangelism, education and social services."

The letter says that the Sanderson amendment's effect "is to govern interpretation of the Bible by majority vote."

"We hope that a Baptist Convention operating in the spirit of the Baptist principles of soul competence, soul freedom and local church autonomy would provide for a wider range of scriptural interpretation than your decision indicates," the letter says. "We are also concerned about what other differences of scriptural interpretation the Convention might use in the future to exclude North Carolina churches."

The letter says Myers Park has been a part of the BSC since the church's founding in 1943.

"We have happily contributed both our members and our financial resources to the purposes of the Convention," the letter says. "While we have not always been in agreement with you (nor you with us), our differences were guided by a mutual respect and a spirit of fellowship."

The deacons say in the letter that they recognize that both the church and the BSC are seeking to be faithful to God.

"We have a long and important relationship with North Carolina Baptists," it says. "While we are not eager to see ties broken, we reaffirm Christ's welcome to all persons and our commitment to being a healing witness in a world of divisions and a part of God's dream to make all things one."

Home to the late Southern Baptist Progressive Carlyle Marney, Myers Park Baptist Church has been at the forefront of the fight for social justice for nearly 50 years. Under the leadership of Marney, Myers Park hosted many interracial meetings between white and black Christian ministers during the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to their commitment to racial justice, Myers Park has lead the march against the death penalty. Despite Marney's passing many years ago, Myers Park has not backed down from its commitment to helping the oppressed.

It would be a shame if the Baptist State Convention chose to disfellowship such a prophetic congregation...

20 Comments:

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

It's worth noting that Marney didn't really like Myers' Park. He loved his time FBC Austin, but he thought the Myers' Park folk were classist, elitist, and racist. They barely tolerated him, too. They liked him better after he was gone. He called them "Beggars in Velvet." They accused him of dragging horse---- into the pulpit on his cowboy boots.

Even today Myers' Park's REP as a socially progressive church is much larger than its actual accomplishments. I must say, however, that it has done far more for GLBT rights than it ever did for African-American civil rights.

And it is still classist to the core.

1:46 PM

 
Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

I have read in a book what you said about Myers Park being classist. Marney once remarked to Martin England that the folks at Myers Park were more welcoming to African-Americans than they were to poor whites.

Alot of churches are like that, though. Calvary BC in Waco is the first church that I've attended that welcomes and actively invites those from the neighborhood including poor whites, blacks, and hispanics.

I could rattle off a few rich white churches that would poop a brick if someone from the streets walked in to visit on a sunday am.

2:02 PM

 
Blogger D.R. said...

Now wait BDW,

In previous conversations you noted that you do believe that homosexuality is indeed a sin. Correct? So, if you believe that Romans 1 speaks to homosexuality as a sin, why would you think it wrong for the SBC to terminate its relationship with a church that is openly endorsing sinful behavior? I don't see how success in one area of religious endevours negates the huge elephant in the room concerning their views on homosexuality. For instance, if the church were to embrace universalism, would that be enough to terminate a relationship? Or the prosperity gospel? Or hypercalvinism? In your opinion, at what point would a sinful position elicit action to be taken?

It seems to me that the SBC (and more specifically, the local Baptist associations and state conventions) function as a cooperation between like-minded churches. It's a symbiotic relationship and as such both benefit or suffer harm from each other. In this case, I believe that the NC convention continuing to cooperate with a church that is in direct violation of a Scriptural mandate and an historic tenet of Christianity is a bad deal. You just can't ignore something this big simply because they have done well in other arenas. We obviously would not invite Mormons into the SBC simply because we like their stance on abortion and other social issues. It just seems you're advocating ignoring sin to hold on to other benefits, like unity, image, PR, and stance on civil rights issues. If a high tithing deacon who was a huge supporter of civil rights decided to have an affair, it would be unethical for the church to ignore it. In that same regard, it seems unethical to ignore this (especially since they "outed" themselves very publically).

4:32 PM

 
Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

One correction to D.R.: Myers' Park was kicked out of the SBC long ago. It is the Baptist Convention of North Carolina that is at issue. Remember, in Baptist polity, local associations, state conventions, and national conventions all set their own rules of membership.

7:44 PM

 
Blogger D.R. said...

I am not sure you can get kicked out of the SBC. I don't remember hearing about a vote at the annual meeting about a church. I think that membership in the denomination comes down to membership in the conventions. Maybe you could show me the documentation on such a ousting. Still, the state convention should take action and that was really what I was getting at.

8:19 PM

 
Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

In 1992, the SBC approved an amendment to its constitution stipulating that churches which "affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior" are "not in friendly cooperation" with the Convention. In 1993, the SBC approved provisions to keep such churches from attending SBC annual meetings or sending contributions through the SBC Cooperative Program. Citation Here

Whether a congregation affirms or not should not be a test of fellowship. I just began my theological journey not many years ago - and yes I stick by my previous statements regarding Romans 1. However, I do believe that two same-sex partners in a committed and loving relationship is preferable to the alternative. I also recognize that quite a few of my Baptist friends disagree with me on the issue of homosexuality.

As you know, I come from the CBF background. The CBF has passed statements dealing with allocation of funds/hiring practices relating to homosexuality. While the CBF is "welcoming but not affirming" they do not seek to exclude congregations which do affirm. Ultimately a personal relationship with God through Jesus is more important than precision on exactly what is and is not a sin. Baptists shouldn't be forced to fragment over this issue.

The Baptist State Convention has always been a diverse body of Baptists with a strong Progressive strain including notable names like William Wallace Finlator, Martin England, Robert E. Seymour, Robert McClernon, Carlyle Marney, Poteat Family, Walt Johnson and many others. BSC of North Carolina surely has the right to make their own policies - but it would be a shame to lose congregations that are for much more than just full inclusion of gays and lesbians.

I suspect the BSC will eventually oust all gay-friendly churches. But once the exclusion begins - where will it end? I fear it won't stop with the issue of homosexuality. It never does...

9:43 PM

 
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

"why would you think it wrong for the SBC to terminate its relationship with a church that is openly endorsing sinful behavior?"

I know this wasn't directed towards me and I don't think DR is speaking to me these days, but for what it's worth:

I think the difference is that we will have differences of opinion on individual sins. It seems unwise to disfellowship over these differences. After all, what two churches could remain in fellowship if complete unity on every sin were a requirement?

I'd think that, if a church didn't agree with Baptist (or Mormon or whatever common faith) doctrine, there is reason to say "let's part ways" with an umbrella group. But disagreeing about individual sins?

What sins would you insist upon parting ways over? And what criteria would you have for drawing up that list of sins?

1:11 PM

 
Blogger RM said...

Don't you just love being a Baptist! I could spend hours just looking at us (and laughing at ourselves.)

We go crazy over the word "homosexual" and have such divine pronouncements while we tolerate the other sins of gluttony, gossip, and such. Guess those are more socially Baptistic.

1:27 PM

 
Blogger Kevin Bussey said...

As a NC SBC pastor, those churches have long distanced themselves from the rest of the NCBSC churches. I welcome all people to visit my church but anyone who is openly sinning no matter what it is must be removed from church leadership.

1:31 PM

 
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Does this include those who commit the sin of greed or sloth? And who determines that?

5:59 AM

 
Blogger RM said...

I guess we could weigh people when they come to church to see if they are guilty of gluttony...

8:14 AM

 
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

ooh, in my experience of Baptist pastors, weighing them to check for gluttony would be certain to convict more than a few...

3:56 PM

 
Anonymous Lee said...

I'm all for the give and take of Baptist churches and organizations related to their individual autonomy and their ability to conduct their ministry as they see fit. From the letter sent by their deacons, I'd have to say that I strongly disagree with their position, as the BSC of North Carolina obviously does as well. What I question is why we are focusing on just this issue, and not addressing other doctrinal issues or sins that other churches endorse by allowing people who commit them to serve as leaders.

d.r. uses the example of hypercalvinism. A close investigation might find that there are a number of churches in the BSC in North Carolina who preach it. Likewise, especially up there in the mountains, you might find some neo-pentecostal or Charismatic practices in some of the churches. And are there churches in North Carolina that allow divorced men to serve as deacons, or even pastors? I'll bet, if you looked closely enough, you'd find churches that have called pastors or have deacons who aren't scripturally divorced, and are therefore, according to the scripture, living in an adulterous relationship. You might even find a few pastors and church leaders who are guilty of chronic gluttony or gossip, and haven't been disciplined by their church. And you don't even want to get me started on how many Baptist churches embrace the prosperity gospel. The real question isn't whether or not homosexuality is a sin, or whether a church that welcomes and affirms homosexuals is in error. The question is, who decides which sins are bad enough to cause a rupture in a cooperative missions relationship, and which sins will be tolerated in maintaining that relationship.

7:27 AM

 
Blogger D.R. said...

Lee, please email me with a list of churches that preach hypercalvinism, along with a clear definition of what that means. In the meantime please check out this website before you go heaping that charge on churches:

http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/hypercal.htm


BDW,

Sorry that I haven't responded yet, but despite that resolution there is no action taken by the SBC to actively remove anyone or to reject gifts given to the denomination. Basically, no one is checking into any churches through the greater SBC. The way it works is through membership in the local associations and the state conventions. Through those organizations is membership granted or denied in the SBC (and even then it is not necessary to be apart of the state conventions to be a part of the SBC). So Michael's original comment ("Myers' Park was kicked out of the SBC long ago") is still false.

As for the rest of your comment, you did not really deal with my argument. You simply avoided it. What I want to know is if the acceptance of homosexuality is not enough of a violation of Scriptural truth and Baptist tradition, then what exactly is? While some others on this page apparently believe that all sins are the same (though God doesn't punish all sins the same and God never has stated that all sins are the same), surely you can recognize that homosexuality is a sin that was heinous enough to be mentioned in passages related to hell and to be punishable by death in the OT (something gluttony and eating shrimp were not). So, if this offense is so great and yet it is still not enough to disfellowship, then what in your opinion is?

9:55 AM

 
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

I'd still like to see the list of sins that we ought to part ways over, DR. How will we know if we're offending you if you don't tell us what sins are on that list?

12:57 PM

 
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Let me try a shot at such a ist.

Being considered "liberal" by some, I am not so much of the camp that says we must part ways over sins. But, IF I were to try to create a list of sins that would make it hard to fellowship with another believer, it would be the list of what Jesus specifically taught.

I don't know what to make of "sins" such as drinking, smoking, cussing or gambling, for instance, since Jesus and the Bible never really address these sins (these being the Big Sins when I was growing up).

But Jesus clearly teaches us to love our enemies, to beware wealth, to act out in solidarity with and love for the poor. So, anyone who was part of our church who was actively teaching hatred of enemy, hoarding of wealth or encouraging neglect of the poor, I and my church would likely reach out to such a person as one who is rejecting Jesus' teachings, moreso than as a brother or sister.

So, that's what would be on my list. Were I to create one.ejxbps

7:37 AM

 
Anonymous Lee said...

d.r.,
Are you saying that an offense that was "bad" enough to be punishable by death according to the Old Testament is the requirement for disfellowshipping churches from a missions organization based on voluntary cooperation and local church autonomy?

Does it take more forgiveness on the part of the Holy Spirit to justify people through Christ who have committed "death penalty" sins based on the Old Testament than it does to justify those who committed lesser offenses?

What I object to here is that you are taking the position that your particular interpretation or application of those passages of scripture is the only correct one, and that no one else could possibly receive any spiritual insight or guidance as to how to apply them in a different way. It's not as if Myers Park is being deliberately disobedient on this issue, as an autonomous Baptist church, they at least have the right to be heard as to why they hold this particular position on this issue. Instead of taking the approach that the BSC's position is the only correct one, and any variation from it warrants dismissal, why not at least make an honest attempt to listen to what they have to say. If, after a reasonable and respectful dialogue, there is still an impasse on the issue, then agree to part ways.

Would you disfellowship a hypercalvinist church, or is that "doctrinal error" within the acceptable limits of Baptist cooperation. And I assume, from your argument, that since neither gluttony or divorce make the list of death penalty sins (except in the case of a woman who marries a man who is not scripturally divorced--she can be stoned, but he can't, according to the O.T.) that it is O.K. to continue fellowshipping with churches that allow these things?

1:34 PM

 
Blogger D.R. said...

kvLee,

You are obviously a very smart guy, but your logic is seriously flawed. First, you said:

Are you saying that an offense that was "bad" enough to be punishable by death according to the Old Testament is the requirement for disfellowshipping churches from a missions organization based on voluntary cooperation and local church autonomy?

Obviously not. What I am pointing out is that homosexuality was a serious enough offense to God that He required the death penalty for the offense. If it is that serious to God in the O.T. and he clearly speaks on it through Paul in the NT, why shouldn't it be serious enough to us to not fellowship with a church that blesses such a sin? After all, Romans 1 is a clear text on this subject and anyone who holds that Paul is speaking authoritatively on this can't get away from the fact that vv.28-32 build upon this sin and close with saying that "...those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practive them." I take it from that text that giving approval to such acts is also a serious offense. And when we see the ecclesiology of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 requiring a disfellowshiping of members of churches engaged in sexual immorality, it seems that as Christians, or more particularly Southern Baptists, we should not fellowship with believers who engage in or endorse others' engagement in such a heinous sin.

Now, the fact that Christians (though not all obviously) have bent toward overt sin in the past in some issues is a critique against the state of the Church - its low view of sin and God's glory and righteousness, not a reason to continue to bend toward sin, as if it doesn't matter or as if Christ didn't die to give us the ability to repent of those sins and accept the righteousness of Christ.


Second, you said:
Does it take more forgiveness on the part of the Holy Spirit to justify people through Christ who have committed "death penalty" sins based on the Old Testament than it does to justify those who committed lesser offenses?

For the sake of argument I am going to skip over the theological problems inherent in your question and simply say "NO!" But that is not the issue. The idea that some sins are worse than others has been a generally accepted idea until the past few decades. Aquinas in his Summa Theologica deals with this issue, as does Thomas Watson in his A Body of Practical Divinity (1692). There are plenty of other resources out there for you to examine as well if you really want to understand that this idea of all sins being equal is not Scripturally correct. Additionally, we have Mark 3:22-30 and in Matthew 12:22-32 and the issue of an unpardonable sin (which has been incorrectly asserted as rejection of the Holy Spirit regarding salvation for far too long). Finally, if all sin is equal then not only is our current justice system corrupt, but so is the theocracy God set up in Israel through the Law.

So that really doesn't apply to the case here. The ability of God to save us despite any sinful act is a miraculous event, whether it be small or large. The degree of the sin does matter to ecclesiology, Church discipline, and human justice, as well as reward in Heaven and punishment in Hell. Thus, your question is a red herring in this discussion.

Third, you said,
What I object to here is that you are taking the position that your particular interpretation or application of those passages of scripture is the only correct one, and that no one else could possibly receive any spiritual insight or guidance as to how to apply them in a different way.

The choice is simple here. Is homosexuality a sin or isn't it? There is a correct answer and an incorrect answer and the consequences of that answer are huge. This is a question that has been settled for 2000 years. So, are you suggesting that 2000 years of Church history is wrong? Or that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul incorrectly? Or that The Holy Spirit has changed His mind on this issue? You know it's not like it is just my view here. It is the view of the Church universal. The Anglicans are splitting on this, the Methodists are talking about it, and already the ABC has seen segmentation because of it. One of us is wrong. To lose sight of that is miss the point that people's salvation hang in the balance on how we answer that question. We must be definitive. And I would rather stand with Anselm, Aquinas, Chrisostem, Abroisiaster, Tertullian, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Criswell, and a host of others Christians than conform to a flawed interpretation that can only be traced back to the sexual revolution and reeks of culturalism. That's the bottom line.

Fourth, you said:
It's not as if Myers Park is being deliberately disobedient on this issue, as an autonomous Baptist church, they at least have the right to be heard as to why they hold this particular position on this issue.

Myers Park is just as accountable to their actions as anyone else. They have access to Church history, to Scripture, to relevant research, all of which oppose homosexuality. It's not like they just don't know. They made a conscious decision. I just don't think this argument works or even makes sense to this situation.

I don't understand what they are going to say that is going to change 2000 years of church history or the Scriptural record. And their letter doesn't indicate that they believe they are going to change the minds of the SBC, the NCBC, or anyone else. So again I don't see the rationale in this line of discussion.

Going ahead, you said:
Would you disfellowship a hypercalvinist church, or is that "doctrinal error" within the acceptable limits of Baptist cooperation.

Yes, though I doubt that a "hypercalvinistic" church would be so easy to spot or so willing to admit their viewpoint (and even then they probably wouldn't choose to be a part of the SBC, which is another consideration in this case - why Myers Park would want to be a part of a conservative Baptist group?), despite your charge that "a close investigation might find that there are a number of churches in the BSC in North Carolina who preach it" (still waiting for that list of churches you suspect are hypercalvinists and your definition of what constitutes hypercalvinism - dr_randle at yahoo). But the answer is "YES." If Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas were a part of the Kansas state Baptist convention and I was in the KBC, then I would seek to remove them from the convention.

Finally, you said:
And I assume, from your argument, that since neither gluttony or divorce make the list of death penalty sins (except in the case of a woman who marries a man who is not scripturally divorced--she can be stoned, but he can't, according to the O.T.) that it is O.K. to continue fellowshipping with churches that allow these things?

Here you assume your first argument - that all sins are the same and that none require special attention. But, if you show me an SBC church that DENIES that gluttony is a sin or DENIES that divorce is sinful (except for the cases Scripture gives exception to), then I would say those churches should be disfellowshiped by the state conventions and local associations.

And see that is the problem here. Myers Park DENIES what Scripture clearly teaches. If the church DENIED that Christ arose, or that adultery was sinful, or that Christ was the literal Son of God, then we wouldn't be having this discussion. But, since we are dealing with an issue that culture takes one view of and Scripture and Church history clearly take another view of, then people seem to think the Church must either be wrong, or should consider that She is. Unfortunately, the Myers Park made its decision - they chose to go down this road. It's truly a sad situation, but I think that Myers Park has made it clear that it is not willing to back down on its position and as Southern Baptists, and more importantly Christians, who believe in the authority of Scripture and the witness of the Church universal, we have no choice but to part ways and pray that God brings these men and women to repentence. That doesn't mean that discussion can't carry on, but it does mean that cooperation in missions, evangelism, and ministry should be suspended.

7:58 PM

 
Anonymous Lee said...

Wow. What a response!

Isn't any SBC church that hires a grossly overweight pastor who is obviously a glutton denying that gluttony is a sin by their action? According to your reasoning, they would be, as would a church that either accepts as members individuals who are unscripturally divorced and remarried. And I could point you to a bunch of them that do both.

Now, back to the original subject. Your claim is that Myers Park denies the clear teaching of scripture, according to your personal interpretation of it, and according to those in the Christian community who agree with your perspective. However, they simply claim that they hold a different interpretation of the scripture, which is the result of, according to their own covenant, "A critical examination of the scripture, as interpreters of God's active presence in the world."

Frankly, I am in essential agreement with your view, and I disagree with the position taken by the Myers Park Baptist Church. However, as an autonomous and independent Baptist congregation, they are entitled to their own interpretation of scripture and neither you, nor I, nor the SBC has any authority over that. And I believe your contention that Myers Park voluntarily left the SBC of its own accord is correct.

However, Myers Park's interpretation of this issue has been widely known for a long time, yet the BSC of North Carolina continued to accept their Cooperative Program gifts and include them in full fellowship. It seems to me that if this issue were really a major obstacle to cooperative missions and ministry, and Myers Park's position is enough to cause their disfellowshipping now, that those churches in the BSC that opposed Myers Park's position should, out of principle, have left the convention during all those years when Myers Park was a fully cooperating church. If they can't cooperate now, and want Myers Park to leave, why could they cooperate back then?

If you want the SBC to be as doctrinally narrow as you have put forth here, it isn't my responsibility to list churches that might be out of step with what you think is meant by "the clear teaching of scripture." It should be the SBC's responsibility to investigate, and then politely decline to accept any more funding for the CP from the churches that are "out of line" on any doctrinal issue, including this one.

12:46 PM

 
Anonymous Stephen Fox said...

Bdiddy:

Uncle Prentice is gonna get a link to this blog. a long time fan of Marney, and a member of the Out front CBF congregation in Fayville, Snyder Memorial, will see how it plays with him

5:03 PM

 

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