Is the SBC Positioning to Be Able to Oust Half Of Its Churches?

A 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.
 
 

4 Responses to Is the SBC Positioning to Be Able to Oust Half Of Its Churches?

  1. I wish people would read the proposal before stirring the water with speculative imaginings. I am a member of the Executive Committee and the vice-chairman of the By-laws workgroup that dealt with this proposal. Never did anyone bring up a hard line stance on the BF&M or mention anything about open versus closed communion. The proposal has been released publicly for comments and suggestions – but please don’t try to make it say what it does not say. The desire of the members of the Executive Committee in every discussion I heard was an interest in how to increase participation in the Convention, not decrease it. At the same time, Article III needed updating in several areas, from the 1888 financial figures to clarity on what entails “convention causes”. The release of the proposal to the public is for Southern Baptists to see for themselves and give input before the next EC meeting prior to the convention. I can assure you, no one is vying to make the BF&M a requirement for service. The proposal states only that no messenger will be seated that stands in opposition to what we, as Baptists, have adopted as our statement of what we believe. Some churches follow the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, some follow the 1963 BF&M – this was said in committee. No one is trying to oust those churches, just promote the distinctives of Baptist doctrine, as opposed to those who do not believe as the vast majority of us do , but might try to have messengers seated by giving a token amount. The appointment of missionaries, the hiring of professors at Seminaries, all these are the duties of the trustees of that particular entity – not the Executive Committee – and it never even entered our radar that anyone would interpret Article III to mean anything other than what it is really about – messengers for the SBC. I hope this answers some of the questions people are asking about the proposal. I would be glad to respond to any inquiries about what the EC is doing with Article III and can be reached at njba@bellsouth.net.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective, Steve. I figured that that was the case – at least as far as the intent of the EC goes. I was not trying to say that anyone on the EC was intentionally trying to outst 50% of our churches. But, if that is the result of your action because of unintended consequences, then it is a difficult place to put us all in.
    Dr. Barber was the one who mentioned Article VII of the BF&M2000 and the communion issue. He said that it never came up in your deliberations, to his knowledge. So, I completely believe you that you were not intending for this to be an issue. However, if your move in one diretion then exposes 50% of the churches who do not fully agree with Article VII in their practice, then my hope would be that that would be considered. Perhaps there could be an exemption on Article VII? I get what you are trying to do here – I am just concerned about unintended consequences.
    Again, thanks for stopping by and for your thoughts on this. I will likely email you privately to discuss this more.

  3. Interesting read, also the comment from Steve. We practice open communion. We clearly explain that communion is for believers and offer the requisite admonition to examine ourselves before partaking. We encourage people to refuse taking communion if their heart is not right with God so as not to condemn themselves. We practice and teach baptsim by emmersion. But if I read Setev’s response correctly, if this is approved we could not have a messenger seated at the convention if we do not adhere 100% to the BF&M2000, even in regards to open communion? Who are we to judge someone’s heart because they come from a different tradition regarding baptism? Is it not the baptism of the Holy Spirit that matters? Isn’t this a conflict with individual autonomy, which has it’s issues, but allows for doagreements on non-essentials? Honestly, don’t we have more pressing issues to deal with?