Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Executive Committee's New and Improved SBC Constitution

When Baptist Press reported last Wednesday about our Executive Committee's meeting and a part of that which was covered under the rubric of "Updated qualifications weighed for messengers" I was curious. I'm a bit of a numbers junkie and stuff about the dollars per messenger or percent per messenger and how that might be received interests me.

Outstanding Texas pastor, and current SBC First Vice President Bart Barber soon informed me and others through his comments under my blog article at SBC Voices and then later in his own article there, that the Committee's proposal included far more than just inflationary adjustments to the dollar amount. The proposal includes a linking of the Baptist Faith and Message to the definition of being "in friendly cooperation" with the Convention. Barber wrote:
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 and Message
Barber, who was in XComm meetings on the subject, is going from memory, since the proposed change hasn't been published.

The way this has unfolded reminds me of the old joke about the man whose wife sent him to Walmart for a loaf of bread. He came back with a new lawn tractor, flat screen TV, rod and reel, and a new vacuum cleaner...and the loaf of bread. When asked by his wife, he could only answer sheepishly, "Well, I was in the neighborhood and these looked like some things we could use."

The Executive Committee delivered the loaf of bread, and a proposal for the most significant change in our constitution that I can recall. Our SBC Constitution doesn't mention a statement of faith or link it to membership and award of messenger credentials.

Being a hacker and plodder in the SBC hinterlands, I ask my more erudite colleagues if this is deliberate and why so? I am the least networked person in the SBC, defiantly so. Surely there is a prof, SBC junkie, or insider who can rehearse the history on this with explanations of the causes and potential dangers if this is changed.

So far, only the estimable Dr. Barber has attempted explanations and expansions. I appreciate his effort. His writing and comments indicate that including the BFM in the definition of "friendy cooperation" would:

1. Solve the problem of fence sitting Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches who have relationships with both the SBC and the CBF. Presumably, these churches have not adopted the BFM, not unlike the vast majority of SBC churches.

2. Put a majority of SBC churches' SBC membership in jeopardy as a result of their practice of "open communion." LifeWay Research found that a majority of SBC churches practice this, in violation of the BFM.

3. Fix the problem of continually adding specifics to the membership article, as we did to have grounds to exclude churches that "act to affirm approve, or endorse homosexual behavior." No need to add a proviso to spell out a laundry list of churches that whose actions are so offensive as to deserve exclusion. The constitution will be brief and tidy.

4. Simplify the problem of non-SBC churches who want to give a few dollars to get cheaper seminary tuition.

5. Name the Cooperative Program in the Constitution (though gifts through it are still not required, I think).

6. Make a provision for membership by both updated dollars and percentages (the loaf of bread).

The only other reaction from SBC officials were rather desultory, decidedly non-positive, remarks in the BP article. One was from Frank Page ("...if the perception is that this would hurt small churches, this is DOA") and the XComm chairman Ernest Easley ( the proposed change "is not a hill on which to die"). Neither mentioned the BFM.

It's time for some questions:

1. Do we really think it necessary in 2014 to inform thousands of SBC churches that their communion practices are liable to cause them to be dismissed from the SBC? It is not allowed to say, "Nah, we will never wield this sword. It's just nice to have."

2. Is the CBF still such a problem that we think it necessary to find a clean, neat way to get rid of them altogether?

3. Do we want to invite scrutiny on this basis of all SBC churches that are happily supporting our work, missionaries, and entities which churches may not be adhering to the BFM in all of its entirety and subject to the varying interpretations of this SBC sub-group or another? While the BFM is a good guide for our employees, entities, and personnel, would it be better used as a club against churches that might tweak this or that part of it.

4. Aren't we happy to have considerable numbers of dually affiliated African-American churches who might differ in some small degrees from the BFM?

5. Will we have a call to further tighten the BFM or distill it for the essence of what being in friendly cooperation really is.

6. Do we want yet another Cooperative Program reduction plan and isn't Frank Page hopeful, finally, for a slight "uptick" in it?

Of several quirks about we Southern Baptists, one is that we all have two eyes, a nose, innumerable opinions, and pockets full of agendas. Whose agenda is best served by these changes?

Maybe we should take the lawn tractor, TV, rod and reel, and vacuum cleaner back and keep the loaf of bread. Best I can see the new system for dollars and percentages looks OK.


Tom Parker said...

I certainly wish Dr.Barber well in trying to rid the SBC of the churches that he and others of his mind set find unacceptable. The SBC is just not pure enough yet.

The goal must be a smaller SBC.

Anonymous said...

Having read some of Barber's blog posts, it is not surprising that he seemingly would advocate for this. Reminds me of an old Eastwood film in which he would say, "right turn, Clyde." Then a mess of something ensues. If one wishes to continue the SBC politics of the 80s and 90s, Barber is your man. If you wish the SBC to speak to the growing number of 'nones' of the current century and work toward healing an ailing religious body, you might seek doctors with more viable opinions.

dr. james willingham said...

All of this is meant to shatter the SBC, thus ending the largest Protestant mission force in the world today, one that is fairly commendable for trying to be orthodox. However, in the effort to produce such a unity as seems desired (gotta dot every i and cross every t exactly the same), the folks who will be outside the pail will include those like David Rogers who does not agree and has not agreed with some of the articles. Just think the son of one of the leaders, Adrian Rogers will be out. I went and voted in 1963 in the first public clamor over the issue of what was being taught in the seminaries. I went and voted every time I could. And I think that had something to do with my getting fired from my last pastorate, for I had some members that definitely angered about the matter. They even blamed me for the firing of the President at SWBTS, when I was actually opposed to his firing. I hold that no one who disagrees except a few radical people like those who deny the virgin birth or something like that should be terminated. Anyway, I have never been on the board of SWBTS or any board for that matter.

I don't remember David Rogers problem with the BFM, but mine has to do with women in ministry. And my view does not come from the radiclibs as radical liberals were sometimes called years ago. I did a study of why Sandy Creek Assn. had eldresses and found biblical and theological and historical justification for it. In any case, I will not recount the causes, simply noting one item that be the cause of my departure should such extreme demand for group think be carried out.

The real reason for what is happening is that we are being staged managed by forces (that's people) outside the Convention who intend to reduce the rope of sand to sand. In other words, isolate, separate, and segregate us from one another until our numbers will mean nothing and another denomination can move in and begin to pick up the pieces. I'll leave it the reader to guess who.

Brother Thornton, you might want to write a blog on the ending of our annuals and websites, where one could locate churches and associations and fellow pastors and etc. Just think we will not know if a church or an assn. is in the fellowship. All because scam artists and advertisers take advantage of such records to sell their wares. But if we do not know one another, our mission effort, perhaps the greatest, certainly one of the largest, will effectively be at an end. O yes, add to that the utterly asinine insensitivity of leaders and institutional employees to the reality of who pays the bills. Some of them definitely need sensitivity training in order to deal with the people who support the effort. I could say more, but my prayer is well summed up in Hab.3:2:"O Lord< I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy."

dr. james willingham said...

I forgot in the above comment that I have been on local associational boards and/or comittees and/or whatever they are called.

and a correction in the first paragraph, line 4 from the bottom of that paragraph "were definitely angered."

Anonymous said...

Dr. Willingham differs from Dr. Barber, but neither represent an alternative that will likely excite many. While the rope of sand is probably embraced by both, the theological structures evidenced in their writings seemingly suggest a value in such that is more espoused than is practiced.