CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (BP)–A 13-member committee will be framing the specifics of a $1 million Baptist General Association of Virginia “Kingdom Advance” reshaping of the state group’s ministries and its missions partnerships.
A “Vision Committee” received a go-ahead in a special BGAV meeting attended by more than 2,400 messengers from 385 of the association’s 1,440 churches May 10 in Charlottesville.
The initial steps to launch the new initiatives passed by large majorities on voice votes. A town hall-type discussion, however, included two pastors who voiced strong reservations about the proposed changes.
Among the details to be worked out is how to raise the $1 million in “new money” BGAV Executive Director John Upton estimates will be needed — whether by seeking to generate additional giving or by redirecting funding from such entities as the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.
It is a “still-evolving plan,” as described by the BGAV’s Religious Herald newsjournal in an article about the special meeting. The Vision Committee’s recommendations will be presented at the Nov. 8-9 annual meeting in Virginia Beach.
The BGAV’s first vice president, Beth Fogg, a member of Second Baptist Church in Richmond, is chairing the committee. Among its members are Upton; Earlene Jessee, executive director of Woman’s Mission Union of Virginia; BGAV treasurer Edward Stratton; four former BGAV presidents, Darrell Foster, Walter Harrow, Raymond Spence Jr. and William G. Wilson; and as an ex-officio member, Reginald Warren, the current BGAV president and pastor of Sycamore Baptist Church in Franklin.
Upton was elected as BGAV executive director during last November’s annual meeting and assumed the position March 1 when Reginald M. McDonough retired after 15 years in the position. Upton had led the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s mission mobilization group since 1995.
A vision for “Kingdom Advance” emerged from conversations he has had with BGAV leaders and pastors, church staff members and laypeople, Upton told the special meeting.
In a document outlining “Kingdom Advance: A new mission vision for Virginia Baptists,” Upton recounted “four areas of interest” that have come to the fore: “the empowerment of leaders; the need for courageous churches; the development of leadership among our children, youth and young adults; and a focus on ‘glocal’ missions and evangelism,” emphasizing that missions must be “both global and local to be effective.”
As described by the Religious Herald, Kingdom Advance “envisions a flexible approach to missions that would avoid competing with other Baptist bodies, such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s International and North American mission boards, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or the Baptist World Alliance.”
“Instead, it would expand current cooperation with these and other entities and open up opportunities for Virginia Baptists to partner with other Baptists around the world,” the Herald recounted.
The newsjournal added, “Upton and other [Virginia Baptist] leaders have repeatedly emphasized that they will not launch an effort to lead Virginia Baptists out of the SBC or undercut the SBC’s Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings” for international and North American outreach, respectively. The BGAV is one of two conventions in Virginia with ties to the SBC; the newer Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia holds theological stances and budget commitments fully in sync with the SBC.
In addition to authorizing the Vision Committee to draft recommendations to implement Kingdom Advance, messengers at the May 10 special meeting also approved the option of using the BGAV Alma Hunt Offering for Virginia Missions as a funding vehicle for the initiatives.
Jeff Riddle, pastor of Jefferson Park Baptist Church in Charlottesville and one of two pastors who voiced strong reservations about Kingdom Advance in the meeting’s town hall segment, noted Upton’s expressed desire for grassroots response from BGAV churches.
“Perhaps we should use the 2001 designated [missions offerings] gifts from BGAV churches to get a grassroots sense of BGAV churches’ leanings,” Riddle suggested. “Despite all the anti-SBC rhetoric, 83 percent of those gifts (more than $5 million) went to our traditional SBC partners (the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board) while only 17 percent (a little more than $1 million) went to all other causes combined (CBF, Alma Hunt state missions, etc.).
“Will you accept this grassroots message that most Virginia Baptists still trust our traditional mission partners and may not feel the need to create the kinds of alternatives you are suggesting?” Riddle stated.
Riddle also voiced three Scripture-based concerns about Kingdom Advance:
“1. Do you think that the numerical decline of BGAV churches (75 percent of BGAV churches plateaued or declining) might be related to a doctrinal crisis in our churches? You have said that you want to build ‘courageous churches,’ but what kind of churches, led by what kind of leaders, making what kind of disciples?
“2. You have suggested that the BGAV send out its own missionaries and ‘servants.’ What kind of doctrinal criteria will be used to evaluate their fitness for service and ensure that they are using methods ‘in accord with the Word of God’?” Riddle asked, citing words from the BGAV’s purpose statement of 1823.
“3. Can we really, as you suggested, ‘welcome everyone to the table’? What about churches and individuals who fall into doctrinal or ethical error? What criteria will be used to evaluate their participation in this fellowship?”
Upton, in his presentation at the special meeting, had said three questions have been consistently voiced in his discussions across the state, the Religious Herald reported: “1) Can you give us something bigger than us to excite our church? 2) Is there a place for us at the table? 3) Is there any way to lift ourselves out of this denominational controversy and get on with the gospel and ministry of Jesus Christ?”
“Kingdom Advance says, ‘Yes,’ to all three questions,” Upton said, according to the Herald.
Another Charlottesville pastor, Rick Sadler of Calvary Baptist Church observed in comments to Upton that “you have been our executive director for only two months and, like a whirlwind, you are leading us to monumental changes.”
Kingdom Advance, Sadler said, “sounds more like you are starting a new denomination — a denomination that says, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, let’s just agree to do missions.'”
Sadler said Upton’s plans “blend” with others who have taken anti-SBC stances to various degrees. The pastor cited three in particular:
— Michael Clingenpeel, editor of the Religious Herald, who wrote in a March 7 editorial that “the BGAV is poised to conduct missions strategically instead of looking to a national denominational body for its cues. Virginia Baptists are right-sizing our relationships to reduce the influence of the missions middlemen … .”
— Richard Clore, coordinator of the Virginia CBF, who told a Virginia CBF General Assembly meeting in March: “Surely, this is the time to examine your church’s and your own commitment to the International Mission Board’s and the North American Mission Board’s approaches to missions. Does your continued giving to Lottie Moon help the IMB carry out their agenda to remove Jesus as the criterion by which we interpret Scripture and substitute for Jesus with a manmade document? … And, by your contributions to Annie Armstrong, are you helping NAMB in the devaluation of women in the work of God’s kingdom … ?”
— Keith Parks, president of the former SBC Foreign Mission Board who subsequently led CBF missions efforts, in comments posted on the Arkansas CBF website: “We must not lose the very heart of the Gospel and the distinctive missions commitment of our heritage. We must find a way to be true to both. The IMB no longer provides that option.”
Sadler said, “Let me say it loud and clear … I want to affiliate with a denomination, a mission board and state convention who believe the Bible to be the inerrant and inspired Word of God not a ‘manmade document.’ I want to fellowship with a people called Baptist who express God’s love and grace but who also stand for right moral living, who call sin [as] sin and who are a voice for the unborn. I want to be a part of a movement that embraces our Southern Baptist Convention.”
Sadler noted, “… today is a sad day for our Southern Baptist Convention and for many Virginia Baptists. I believe that what we have is not ‘kingdom advance’ but a ‘kingdom divided.’ This is a day of grief and sadness for me. Like Lottie Moon, First Baptist Church of Charlottesville is where I have my spiritual roots — where I was saved, baptized and surrendered to the call to ministry. I am afraid that after today the history books will read that the place where Lottie Moon was baptized was also the place where Virginia Baptists walked away from God’s initiative to follow a movement called ‘kingdom advance.'”
The Religious Herald reported that Upton answered “with one sentence that drew a standing ovation from messengers and visitors in the sanctuary of First Baptist, the church where missions pioneer Lottie Moon was baptized in 1858. ‘It’s my prayer’ that the history books will record that today ‘Baptists divided became Baptists united,’ Upton replied.” Sadler then walked to the platform and shook hands with Upton.