Problems With Proposed Article III to the Constitution of the SBC

On March 4, Baptist Press published the following article titled, Q&A: Article III on Messenger Qualifications.

In this article, in a Q&A with SBC LIFE, Ernest Easley, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, addressed some of the main issues surrounding a proposal regarding how churches qualify to send messengers to the SBC annual meeting.

The following are the proposed changes that were approved at the EC meeting in February to be revisited at the June 9 meeting of the Executive Committee meeting for presentation at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the SBC in Baltimore. To read the article in BP CLICK HERE.

Following is the text of the proposed Article III, to be considered in June.

Article III. Composition: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of Baptist churches in cooperation with the Convention at levels which the Convention, from time to time, determines. The following subparagraphs describe the Convention’s current standards and method of determining the maximum number of messengers the Convention will recognize from each cooperating church to attend the Convention’s annual meeting.

1. The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that descriptive term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:

(1) Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)

(2) Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. (By way of example, the regular filing of the annual report requested by the Convention would be one indication of such cooperation.)

(3) Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.

2. Under the terms above, the Convention will recognize to participate in its annual meeting two (2) messengers from each cooperating church, and such additional messengers as are permitted below.

3. The Convention will recognize one (1) additional messenger from each cooperating church for each full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts or for each six thousand dollars ($6,000), whichever is less, which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity.

4. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by their church to the Convention, but the Convention will not recognize more than twelve (12) from any cooperating church.

5. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he or she is appointed.

6. If a church experiences a natural disaster or calamitous event and, as a result, the church is not qualified to appoint as many messengers as the church could appoint for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event, the church’s pastor or an authorized church representative may, for no more than the three (3) annual meetings after the event, certify the facts to the registration secretary and obtain the same number of messengers it could have certified for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event.

I have already commented on the 1% provision and the $6000 limit for additional messengers.

Today I want to look at what I believe is the more egregious language in the proposed changes and this has nothing to do smaller church complaints on messenger representation.

I find the following proposed changes very troubling.

1. The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that descriptive term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:

(1) Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)

My first question is why this proposed change in the first place? Dr. Easley gives an answer to this question in the BP article:

Q: If giving or attendance are not expected to be improved by the suggested changes, what improvements are expected?

A: To name a few, friendly cooperation is better defined, the Cooperative Program is explicitly referred to and prioritized, greater participation by smaller churches is facilitated, filing an Annual Church Profile is promoted (though not required), and involvement in the annual meeting is protected for churches affected by calamity.

By making participation in the convention more than just about money, it sends a signal to churches that may wish to give a token contribution to the convention in order to benefit from such things as seminary tuition discounts, that being identified with the SBC means something.

I understand what Dr. Easley is saying here and I am not questioning the intent of the proposed provision. However, I do believe it poses a serious potential problem. The problem is not in the intent today but in the application in the future. “Friendly cooperation with the convention” opens the door to all kinds of interpretation and that seems terribly problematic. The proposed changes should be focused on messenger qualifications but these provisions reach much farther than that. These provisions seem to qualify what is and what is not considered a member church of the convention. One might argue that is not the intent but clearly it could be seen as such down the road.

Dr. Easley makes a great point in his discussion when he says, “filing an Annual Church Profile is promoted (though not required), and involvement in the annual meeting is protected for churches affected by calamity.” I believe it would be well to require churches that qualify for additional messengers to be those that file the ACP report. However that should not be a determining qualification in determining a church’s being friendly with the convention.

The proposed changes continue in defining what could be considered a non-friendly church:

(1) Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)

This is terribly problematic. A friendly church could now be defined as one that has “not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith.” This provision has no business being in the Constitution of the SBC. If a church took a stand against some provision that was deemed oppositional to the BF&M, that church could be voted out of the SBC. The issue of homosexuality is listed today but tomorrow that could be Calvinism, Communion or a host of other theological issues that the current leadership might want to seek to isolate and eliminate.

Some will no doubt say, these are outlandish charges. The Executive Committee has no intention of any such thing taking place. I have no doubt but what that is true. The point is, if these provisions are adopted as they are presented, they will no doubt open the door to applications that may not have any basis in intent today but may be used at a later date in much different applications than those being suggested for the adoption of these provisions today.

My prayer is that these provisions will be reconsidered and the EC proposal deals specifically with messenger quotas and drop the additional proposed provisions.

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Interested in bringing the issues facing The Southern Baptist Convention to light.
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10 Responses to Problems With Proposed Article III to the Constitution of the SBC

  1. DP says:

    I would think that the current language of the doctrinal statements (BF&M) would have to be changed before they could use the “non-friendly” clause to terminate their association with the SBC. There does seem to be a significant (if not majority) voice that still wants to maintain both Calvinistic and non Calvinistic churches in the denomination. They have done it, pretty much since the beginning. I would predict that the hot issue will remain homosexuality (and not Calvinism) that threatens the unity of the SBC. The gay issue is providing a great shibboleth test for churches who profess to be Bible believing.

    • sbcissues says:

      Doug,

      I think you are right TODAY but I firmly believe the calvinist contingency will grow to the point that they will begin to exercise their voting block to begin to eliminate those who are in direct conflict with their theological position and plan. Basically, they are almost there now. This new language is not being proposed out of thin air.

    • Les Prouty says:

      Bob, it could go the other way too. I’ve seen many comments from certain NCs who want to severely limit what Cs can do in the denomination. Several want a sort of quota system and maybe if these NCs and those like them come to power, well goodbye Cs.

      • sbcissues says:

        NC New calvinists or non-calvinists?

        Non calvinists were not concerned with calvinists until they took control of the entities… that has indeed created a serious problem for some… but it seems that the vast majority of non-cals either do not care or do not realize the extent of calvinist influence… and most do not want another fight….

        I think this is a move to slip this in to help control the damage in the days ahead… I have said this kind of move is coming… and why not at Baltimore where the voting block will be easily controllable.

        Not good at all as I see it.

      • Les Prouty says:

        NC=Non Calvnist. You may be right about your assessment. You’d know better than I.

      • It made more sense to me when I thought that NC mean New Calvinist. New Calvinists blocking out old Calvinists. Makes perfect sense. Because old Calvinists are somewhat tolerant of non-Calvinists and are therefore “uncle toms” to the NCs.

      • sbcissues says:

        Actually…. I almost agree with you on this one.

    • Les Prouty says:

      But in any case, I still can’t see any way the SBC can enforce any statement of faith.

  2. And the clause about not opposing at all the most recent statement of faith thing is something they want to slip in so they can boot the churches that don’t want the Calvinists around, since the most recent statement says basically that the SBC believes Calvinism is the truth but will tolerant Arminians anyway.

  3. Welcome to the NWO SBC.

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