Monday, December 18, 2006

MBC Woes

Two prominent SBC bloggers have recently addressed the issues plaguing the Missouri Baptist Convention. Wade Burleson and Art Rogers have each weighed in on certain aspects of the current controversies in Missouri. I commented on Art's blog that I would likely post on my own blog about these concerns, given that I have a certain vested interest in them as a Baptist residing in Missouri. I chose the preceding words carefully, and they do in fact reveal that our church is not associated currently with the Missouri Baptist Convention. Ours was one of 19 churches recently dismissed by the MBC for violating their single alignment clause. It is the issue of single alignment that I wish to address briefly in this post, for it is part and parcel of the trend that many have observed of the narrowing of parameters of cooperation.

I've only spoken up one time at a meeting of the MBC. I did so in November 2004 when the convention was proposing the language for single alignment. Word & Way picked up a portion of my objection to the language that the committee had employed in an earlier letter in the Pathway entitled "Debunking Myths about Single Alignment." I found the opening paragraph to contain a number of not-so-veiled attacks on moderate Baptists. The references to the "duty to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit," to "count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed," and the allusion to brand knockoffs and cheap imitations," as "those who have come among us who trumpet to the world that they are Southern and/or Missouri Baptists when in reality they are Baptist in name only" were deeply offensive and I drew the attention of the messengers to the inflammatory language of this document. The other phrase in the document that raised my hackles was the purported justification of the single alignment procedure in that it "allows the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention to avoid having their doctrinal positions compromised by the heretical actions of a corrupt few." Calling fellow Baptists heretics certainly goes beyond the pale of Christian love and grace. To his credit, following my objections to the tone of the document, James Freeman issued a public apology, but the ongoing attacks on moderate Missouri Baptists by the MBC, especially in the Pathway, certainly raise the question as to whether or not moderate Baptists are still deemed to be heretics.

As one who taught Baptist and church history for many years, I always associated the charge of heresy with denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, not with questioning some of the cultural issues addressed in the BF&M 2000. Evidently the term heresy is a bit looser in its application in our day. I well remember the experience of reading Dr. Rankin's letter in January 2002, asking IMB missionaries to sign their agreement with the BF&M 2000. It arrived via email late one night after we had recently moved from Argentina to Mexico City and I awakened my wife to share the disturbing news. One of the justifications he gave for this action was the need to protect us from accusations of heresy behind our backs. It wasn't clear at that time exactly who was making said accusations, but I felt then as I do now that the term heresy was a misnomer to describe the objections to the changes that were being introduced into the statement of faith.

The MBC's actions reflect a witch-hunt mentality, and amazingly, there is almost a rather perverse sense of pride in that mindset. The latest issue of Pathway also contains an article that states the convention has now named an ad hoc committee to study the theological soundness of all non-political para-church organizations with whom the MBC relates. The quest to exclude other Christian groups who cooperate but who might not cross their t's and dot their i's the same way as Missouri Baptists reflects an inordinate amount of arrogance rather than a desire for purity and holiness from my perspective. The same issue of Pathway also contains an article entitled "Single Alignment proceeding toward '07." Let me quote just one line from it near the end of the piece. It states, "Missouri is unique in its approach to single alignment in that no other state convention in the SBC has passed such a definite statement articulating the ever-strengthening ties between the MBC and SBC." This statement oozes with self-righteousness and pride--despite the fact that it means that fellow Christians and Baptists will be cut off from fellowship because of the desire to control how autonomous Baptist churches spend their missions dollars and with whom they choose to cooperate in missions efforts. May God have mercy on us all.

6 comments:

Wade Burleson said...

Gary,

Your logic is irrefutable.

Your writing is cogent.

Thanks for crystal clear posts that keep me informed on things in Missouri.

Anonymous said...

Gary,

I have a slight issue with the following statement and the logic behind it:

"This statement oozes with self-righteousness and pride--despite the fact that it means that fellow Christians and Baptists will be cut off from fellowship because of the desire to control how autonomous Baptist churches spend their missions dollars and with whom they choose to cooperate in missions efforts."

1) How can autonomous bodies be controlled from giving whatever they wish to anyone they desire? You put too much power in the hand of those you disagree. Ultimately the "single alignment" issue is about "choice" - the first "choice" was in the hands of the 2/3's majority of messengers who approved the language two years in a row despite your reasonable (and in some cases unreasonable) opposition (the very fact that you were reasonable, however, does not make those who voted for the change "unreasonable" "stupid" or "ignorant."). The last "choice" was in the hands of those who were removed - they in fact removed themselves for "conscious" sake -which I wholly approve of and admire. I do not agree "in total" with the alignment issue, least of all what I sense is the spirit behind it - the "arrogance and pride" you comment upon. However, I do have an issue with the "competitive" spirit that has in sued between two similar organizations vying for the same real estate, and the spirit of "if we can't get along, we will just move on elsewhere" that Baptists are notorious for (Gary, I sat in convention for years and years being very, very disappointed yet stayed on being MBC despite my disappointments). Clearly one side does not care too much for the competition, and gave each church a choice to support the competing state convention of their choice. It is what it is without the mischaracterization or the bias you have placed on it.

2) How can autonomous bodies cease from being in "fellowship" with fellow believers whenever and wherever they choose? Again, you are putting too much power in the hands of those you disagree. Does the lack of having messengers being seated forbid anyone from coming and having fellowship with friends? How about the BGCM? Do you allow visitors to come and view, or is it a closed meeting only for your messengers? I can make choices that no longer place me in "membership" status with any organization, but still remain friends and family with them. How many churches have you been a member? Do you still maintain fellowship with these friends despite your lack of formal membership? My lack of "membership" does not forbid me from enjoying fellowship and the companionship of friends and fellow travelers, Christian believers all (as I have many friends who are SBC, CBF, BGCM, MBC, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Calvinistic, Armenian, yada, yada, yada) - does it? If it does Gary, I maintain that the issue is not then "lack of fellowship" due to the action of an autonomous body setting up boundaries to determine formal membership with said body - it has to do with bitterness, resentment, and lack of forgiveness which is a sin. And this sin is found on all sides of this divide, not just one.

Gary - this is the season which Christians celebrate that brings together the two most important doctrinal truths in Christendom, which really is unique among all of the world's religions: Sacrifice and Forgiveness. These were founded upon the announcement of the angels to those shepherds in the hills, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth Peace, Good Will Toward Men." Here is hoping that peace can be found in Missouri this year for the sake of the Kingdom and its enlargement.

Rob

Gary Snowden said...

Rob,

Thanks for your comments and the gracious spirit with which you register your "slight issues" with my statement and logic. Regarding my assertion that the MBC seeks to control autonomous bodies and their freedom to direct their own missions giving, you're correct of course technically speaking in that the MBC cannot prevent a church from giving its missions offerings to any group it desires. That does not lessen however their opposition to such decisions and giving as evidenced in the very fact that the single alignment issue was born to combat and punish those churches who do so by excluding them from MBC life--at least in a formal sense with the privilege of sending messengers to the annual meetings and voting. I'm not certain why you chose to place in quotation marks the terms "unreasonable," "stupid," or "ignorant" to describe those who voted for single alignment. I didn't use those terms so I'm not sure who you are quoting. I do think the vote was shortsighted and unfortunate as several of the churches excluded have been supportive of the MBC since its inception around 150 years ago.

On the second issue of the formal exclusion of these churches not truly being the cause or justification for not fellowshipping together, you are once again correct technically speaking. Individual believers or churches are certainly free to continue to fellowship with those who are of the other convention and to attend their annual meetings as non-voting guests. You mention that bitterness and a lack of forgiveness over these issues is to be found on both sides. That undoubtedly is also true to some extent and your call and prayer for forgiveness and healing is a positive one with great merit.

My invitation to you at this point would be to make a comparison between the official statements of each convention and their leaders with regard to the conflict and the postures that each have assumed. You can do so fairly easily by reading both the Pathway and Word and Way. I have no doubt that an unbiased and impartial reading of each will disclose that the leadership of the MBC has continued to attack moderate Baptists--specifically the BGCM and CBF--almost weekly in the Pathway. There have been times when the rhetoric has been more subdued, but on a whole, the continuing attacks have come from the MBC. I challenge you to read both publications with an open mind and come to a different conclusion.

I join with you in the desire and prayer for peace in Missouri Baptist life in this Christmas season and throughout the coming year. Thanks again for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Thank you brother for your reasoned response.

I put the words in quotations because I have heard them before. While I agree that the rhetoric from the MBC has been pointed to the point of absurdity (and I have said so to the highest levels yet it has waned only a little) this is the type of rhetoric I have heard in the past from the other side. Perhaps you have never heard these expressions used in public or private conversations about the good people of the MBC or their current leadership - which is good. Place this in the category of my bias - a bias that is based on my very personal and recent experience of the past.

You comment upon your perception that the "single alignment" issue was started to "punish" churches yet you have ignored my comments concerning the issue of competition. "Qui tacit consenture vidatur?" I think it is both - I think the overwhelming spirit of the messengers was the issue of competition - the overwhelming spirit of the leadership was punishment. How is that for splitting the apple?

In the end, however, it is the individual church and her decision to conform or depart which carries the day - a fact that you wish to only "technically" concede. To whit what would you say about a church who, being dually aligned, changed and became singularly aligned to conform to the new rules. Would you say about them that they were "forced to stay" as you also say about those who in your own words were "forced to go?" I say that both of these acts are in fact "autonomy" still in healthy use. The only "forcing" which the changing of membership rules did was to "force" a choice - yet your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no." - and that is a good and scriptural thing as well.

We could discuss if the new rules are "exclusionary" "cumbersome" or "a violation of autonomy" - with each point I would answer in the negative. We will probably agree to disagree on this - and that is okay. Since our church in its 150 year history being in Missouri has not come close to being dually aligned, perhaps I am blinded by a lack of perspective.

Merry Christmas and blessings upon your family and ministry!

Rob

www.cbbaptist.org

Bennett said...

It sounded to me that if a church gave money to both the MBC and the BGCM that MBC would feel that they were dually aligned and the church would soon not be associated with the MBC.

Is this the interpretation of the alignment rules that the MBC is taking?

Gary Snowden said...

Bennett,

That probably is the rationale or the fear that motivated the MBC to adopt their current single alignment stance. The baffling thing about it is that in other states where 2 state conventions exist, while there are certainly tensions, those state conventions do not force a local church to choose which convention they will channel their offerings through. They tend to respect a bit more the historical Baptist principle of the autonomy of the local church. The MBC gives lip service to the principle, but in effect says that if you exercise it in a way we don't like, you're no longer fit to associate with us.