Thursday, February 2, 2012

Association yields doctrinal autonomy to the SBC?

The Surry (NC) Baptist Association made news last year as a result of their action to summarily and quickly expel a member church because the church had called a female pastor.

The association, presumably tidying up things after that mess is in the process of revising their associational by-laws. Sounds like a good idea.

Here is the proposed revision as concerns the association's doctrinal statement:
Bylaw I. DOCTRINAL POSITION. The Association affirms the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Perhaps the Association desires to have it in writing that the senior pastor of a church can only be a male and that is what the SBC's doctrinal statement, Baptist Faith and Message, says. Perhaps they want to say that without explicitly stating it, which they have done by merely linking their doctrinal stance to the SBC's.

But should an association, an autonomous, cherished, Baptist entity, one that precedes the establishment of the national Southern Baptist Convention, completely yield autonomy on doctrinal matters to the SBC?

I'm thinking no.

But that's what is being done, intentionally or unintentionally, when the association's by-laws reads as it does above. The practical effect of this is that whatever the BFM says counts for the Surry Association. This may be fine for 2012 but the wording is such that whatever changes the SBC makes automatically applies to the association.

Suppose in 2022 the SBC votes to allow female pastors, unlikely, but let's get wild with the possibilities here. That change automatically applies to Surry Association. Letters of apology to follow then, perhaps.

This is all inside baseball and is arcane stuff, but associations should maintain their own doctrinal statement, even if it only "affirms the BFM adopted by the SBC in the year 2000." That wording limits the matter to that document alone and doesn't automically commit the association to any future changes.

Every association I've ever been a part of has some brethren that I would call parliamentary and ecclesialogical geeks who pay attention to this stuff. Surely Surry Association has at least one of these folks who see this yielding of associational autonomy.

I'd hate for my association to adopt by-laws that simly ratify and automatically incorporate whatever the SBC does. The idea that a few thousand folks in Phoenix, or New Orleans could vote and change my association's doctrine doesn't suit me at all. I said, this is really arcane stuff.

And, yeah, I know that this is none of my business...but what would blogging be without meddlesome bloggers?


Jonathan said...

I can't speak to the situation at this particular association but in the several associations that I have experienced over the past 40 years, I've noticed a trend that might have some bearing. 2-3 decades ago, associational meetings tended to have pretty good laity involvement. Laity were also quite well represented on associational committees and offices...and not just pastors wives. Today, I rarely talk to a layperson who is actively involved at the associational level.

As the SBC (and SBC affiliated conventions and associations) have become overwhelmingly dominated by pastors, it should not be a shock that a preacher-centric worldview would dominate policy decisions.

Without a non pastoral worldview to provide a balance, associational meetings are actual CEO conferences. CEO's tend to be on the lookout or a better CEO position. Thus, associational policy reflects the desire to be seen by higher placed Pastors in a positive light ("We've been watching you...we like what we see...we have a position opening up at _____, interested?")

The ultimately result is that since fewer and fewer laity are involved, fewer and fewer laity care. Associations that go this way will head toward irrelevance.

Simple test: query a random set of layfolks who are actively involved in their local church about the association their church belongs to.

Matt said...

Great point, assuming that the association still exists in 2022.