Thursday, January 31, 2013

Elder rule and the Baptist Faith and Message

The list of largest churches in the SBC include just nine with reported weekly attendance over 10,000. My curiosity over just how Southern Baptist these churches really are led me to their public information. Most interesting was Village Church, ninth on the list and a church that has their constitution and by-laws on their website.

The SBC at the national level has on occasion kicked out (or taken action to "cease their relationship" if you are picky about the language) churches for being too homosexual friendly and the basis for that action has been the Baptist Faith and Message Statement.

So, I ask a hypothetical question: If a church is found to be non-compliant with the BFM in other areas, should not they too be excised from our convention for the sake of doctrinal consistency?

Just asking. Not suggesting. 

The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas (legal name: First Baptist Church of Highland Village) looks in their legal documents to be a true elder ruled church, and, seems to me, is a church that is non-compliant with the BFM. 

Article VI of the BFM:
Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.
Village Church constitution:
The overall policy, control, direction and management of the ministry, operations and finances of the church shall be vested in the elder body. The elders are designated as the directors of this corporation as the term is defined and used in the Texas Nonprofit Corporation Act. Subject to the provisions and limitations of the Texas Nonprofit Corporation Act, any limitations in the Articles of Incorporation, this constitution and the church’s bylaws, all corporate powers shall be exercised by or under the direction of the elders.
Village Church by-laws:
The elders shall have the sole authority to appoint new elders. A man shall be appointed as an elder by a passing vote of the elder body after he has been tested and proven to meet the qualifications stated herein.
The members of the church will be allowed to raise concerns, in accordance with Article 2.01.d herein, before any prospective elder is confirmed. However, confirmation of the elder will be at the final discretion of the elders. The elders may appoint a committee or group to vet qualified elder candidates to the elders. The elders may also receive recommendations for elder candidates from the Covenant Members. 
If the BFM calls for congregational governance ("democratic processes"), and I am unaware of any who say that it does not, is another form of governance something that should be examined?

If the wording of the BFM was deliberately phrased so as to be able to accommodate elder ruled churches, and I cannot quite see how, then perhaps our denominational doctrinal gurus could just say so.

I suppose one could stretch the wording to a ridiculous extreme and say that Village Church's elders operate through "democratic processes" since they (elders only) do vote democratically among themselves, each of the elders having a vote, very democratic. However, I do not see how one could squeeze the congregation into that process.

If one maintains that the congregation voted to give all authority to elders, and at some point in the past one presumes that they did and thus was both democratic and BFM compliant, then the same could be said about the congregation voting for any form of non-congregational governance, say, voting to anoint the senior pastor as King or to rename the church Presbyterian or something similar.

This is a question that is often discussed among the blogs and now Frank Page has this informal Calvinism study group meeting in order to help us acheive some comity over the Calvinist/Traditionalist conflicts. The area of elder governance, elder rule, is an issue that surely, surely, this group has discussed. Unfortunately, their discussions are all on background so we do not get to hear the best minds and the key people around the convention speaking on this important issue.

I might suggest, not on background but right out in the open, this:

"My Calvinist colleagues and friends, Here is an elder ruled SBC congregation. Is this a church that is clearly not in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message Statement?"
"Why or why not?"
"If so, what, if anything, should be done about it?"

I have no quarrel with this particular church and don't get too exercised over how a church chooses to govern itself. Churches may arrange their governance as they see fit and I am, now as always, happy to rejoice where Christ is preached.

It is a salient question to be examined, though, and certainly worthwhile for church laymen to understand. I'd recommend that any church where the word "elder" is raised by a new or prospective pastor check out what elder rule did to this church.


HBK said...

apples and oranges

A church might not fire a pastor for getting a speeding ticket, which is breaking the law. But they will fire him for sleeping with a deacons' wife.

Adam Harwood said...

Interesting thoughts. But as a point of clarification: The first sentence is problematic because the SBC at the "national level" has never "kicked out" a church and had no authority to do so. A local church may be disfellowshipped at the associational level, but that is an action by area churches.
In Him,

Andrew Green said...

If this church has chosen to be elder ruled than has not the congregation decided this? A congregational rule does not have to invest every decision to the congregational body. In fact I beleive one of the greates hindrances of many church bodies is that they feel everything has to be voted on.
Lets be more concerned about church renewal than being petty about a growing churches type of government.

JL Carver said...

Perhaps we could establish an unwritten standard that beyond salvific issues, enforced sections of the BFM will be limited to sexuality and gender related questions.

Anonymous said...

"If one maintains that the congregation voted to give all authority to elders ...."

Can one that has his right hand removed then state that he has two hands?

Mark | hereiblog said...

The material from their bylaws certainly reads as though they are elder-ruled rather than elder-led.

I think you raise a good question. It is a question of consistency. How much of the BFM should the convention enforce? I would simply ask: why not all of it?

There is another issue along the same lines. The Village Church has their bylaws accessible to the public while many SBC churches do not provide the same level of access. I went to FBA since it is right by my office and could find nothing about congregational voting, etc.

Anyway, what about churches who are elder-ruled by a single pastor (elder)?

William Thornton said...

Adam, I am aware that the more acceptable language is euphemistic for "kicked out." I don't think one can work around the reality that those few congregations were deliberately excised.

Andrew, you may think it petty but ecclesiology is a major area of theology and the BFM does include it. That a church arrived that their present theology and practice congregationally does not make it acceptable. They could democratically vote to sprinkle rather than immerse.

Mark, we both observed that VC put their constitution and by-laws up for public consumption, something not done by many churches. I do not think, however, that it is a case of "appearing" eler ruled. Their legal documents plainly state it.

And I am unaware of any SBC churches whose legal authority permits a single pastor or elder to rule. I know of plenty of pastor led churches where the congregation could still exercise governance if enough votes could be found.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago the elder run church "Casas" Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Tucson Arizona would not make any decisions unless the elder board voted in complete unity to do so. When the decision to move locations came up and complete unity could not be found the rules were changed to only require a majority. Later the elder board was changed to somewhat diferent responsibilities and a church "counsil" began making major decisions. None of these people are voted on by the church members. In the end this church just says give us money and do what we say, we do not require your input.

Adam Harwood said...


Thanks for your reply.

My objection wasn't to the language of the first sentence but the premise.

You write "The SBC at the national level..."

This has never occurred. It is not possible for this to occur. The national SBC leadership has no authority to remove any church from the SBC. That is my only point.

If a church is disfellowshipped, then that occurs at the associational level. This means the SBC churches in the area take such an action. The national SBC (you mention and tag Frank Page in the post) has no such authority.


In Him,

William Thornton said...

Adam, the SBC at the national level has voted in session to refuse to accept contributions from some churches. This may be called many things but it may certainly be called in a non-technical manner, "kicked out."

That is clearly what is intended and what is understood by the churches in question.

I think that I am on solid ground with my informal wording.

I do intend to get up to Cleveland one day and will contact you.

THanks for the comments.

Jonathan said...

In classic Baptist form, I have 3 points:

1. I would agree that the Village Church, as understood in the section of its constitution that you snipped, stretches the definition of Article IV of the BFM beyond a reasonable understanding of the definition and usage of the terms in the article.

2. Nothing meaningful can, or should, be done about this at this time because....

3. ...this is clearly in line with the leadership culture of the current SBC and most of those who have been in leadership since the end of the Conservative Resurgence. I would argue that moves in the last several years, by decidedly no Calvinistic brethren in leadership, would make it hypocritical if not completely unworkable to do anything about the Village Church.

Here's my support:

3a. Sherri Klouda's lawsuit brought against SWBTS was dismissed because of arguments by SWBTS's legal counsel that the seminary should be treated as a church by the government. I would suggest that this definition of church is a significantly larger stretch than anything I see in the constitution of the Village Church.

3b. What troubles many (including me) about what I've read in this church's constitution is that decision making authority is solely in the hands of a select few (who then, have the sole authority to select other select few to join them...a self perpetuating board, if you will). Yet, this situation is, in essence, what exists in multiple megas around the SBC where the senior pastor has virtually the same power to do what he wills and uses his massive influence to get what he wants (even if it means using this influence to do damage to dissenting members of the congregation).

My guess is that the carnage of attempting to enforce article IV would be so great that this discussion is an an interesting one but nothing more.

Lee said...

This is going to get complicated. If some parts of the BFM, particularly those related to same-sex issues, can be used to declare churches "not in friendly cooperation" with the SBC, such as occurred with the Broadway Baptist Church of Ft. Worth several years ago, what is to prevent other parts of it being used for the same purpose? Will each succeeding convention meeting have to address a whole list of doctrinal issues related to the BFM at every meeting? The issue of speaking in tongues, and private prayer language came up several years ago at the convention in San Antonio, and I made a motion specifically asking the convention to form a committee and study it, just as Frank Page did on the Calvinism issue this time around. Page was president at that time, and the motion was referred to the executive board, which never considered it, ruling the next year that it was a local church issue that the convention didn't need to address.

Anonymous said...

"The elders shall have the sole authority to appoint new elders. A man shall be appointed as an elder by a passing vote of the elder body after he has been tested and proven to meet the qualifications stated herein."

This is a great recipe for group think which I have seen much of in my days in the mega industrial complex and "elder led". They called it "elder led" when it was really elder ruled.

I even have a family member who travels around to teach churches how to go "elder led" when they know for a fact it is really "elder ruled". I know the game and the drill real well. Sadly, many of the new clients are baptist churches where the pastor is interested in how to do it without splitting the church.

Sorry but staying anonymous on this one.