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Arkansas Baptists support 2000 SBC beliefs statement

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (BP)–Messengers to the Nov. 6-7 Arkansas Baptist State Convention annual meeting elected three conservatives as convention officers and took a first step in a constitutional change to make the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement the doctrinal guideline for Arkansas Baptists.

The convention, meeting at First Baptist Church of Russellville, also approved mission partnerships with North and South Dakota Baptists and with Baptists in Seattle, Wash., which is a North American Mission Board “strategic focus city.” Messengers also approved a $19 million Cooperative Program budget of which 41.77 percent will continue to be forwarded Southern Baptist Convention causes.

Jim Lagrone, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Bryant, was elected president unopposed. He pledged to work to unify Baptists in Arkansas and “walk together.” He was nominated jointly by Rex Horne, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock, considered a moderate, and Stephen Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Russellville, considered a conservative.

Royce Sweatman, associational missionary of the North Arkansas Baptist Association, was elected first vice president with 52 percent of the votes in a race with Mike Seabaugh, pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden. Wallace Edgar, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church of Texarkana, was elected second vice president unopposed.

Bryan Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church of Van Buren, made the motion to change the convention’s articles of incorporation to make the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement the doctrinal guideline for Arkansas Baptists.

Constitutional revisions require a two-thirds majority vote at two consecutive conventions. A similar motion last year failed to garner a two-thirds vote. This year, 69.5 percent of the messengers approved the constitutional change, with a vote of 805-353. The second vote will come at next year’s convention.

Speaking to his motion, Smith said the 2000 statement “is not a creed intended to coerce or dictate one’s own personal theology nor is it a veiled attempt to force this state convention into lock-step with the SBC as some have charged. … The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message affirms the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church. … The new language of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message makes it very clear that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who has been clearly revealed in the inerrant Word of God. It does not make Southern Baptists worshipers of the Bible.”

Dan Grant, a messenger of First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia and a former president of Ouachita Baptist University, urged messengers to vote against the motion. “I cannot understand why the writer of the 2000 statement deleted the sentence, ‘The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,'” Grant said. “I’m very concerned about pressure from outside our state convention to fall in line with those at the top of the hierarchy.”

Bill Blanchard, pastor of Grand Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Smith, noted, “Outside of Scripture, there is no doctrine produced by man that is inerrant. That is why from time to time doctrine needs to be updated and improved. The BFM as adopted in 1963 was and is a great doctrine. There is no question about that, but it is not perfect. It is not inerrant.” He said the 2000 revision improves the wording of the 1963 document regarding Scripture and will “give our moderate brothers and sisters less wiggle room in making pious platitudes about the inspiration of the Bible all the while teaching doctrines that are antithetical to the Bible.”

Bruce Tippit, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jonesboro, spoke against the motion. “I declare myself as a believer in the full inerrancy of Scripture,” he said, noting that the committee that drafted the 2000 statement initially omitted the priesthood of the believer but included it at the “12th hour,” making it plural — “priesthood of believers.”

“I see the plural definition, ‘priesthood of believers,’ as a way to coerce [majority] belief upon the [individual] believer. Not only is the priesthood of the believer found in Scripture, it is also one that has been formed in persecution. … It is something which we cherish and something for which we have lived and died.”

Lagrone, who had just been elected president, said he stands with Emil Turner, executive director of the convention, who had supported the 2000 statement in his column in the Arkansas Baptist News. “As Arkansas Baptists, we’ve always followed the direction of the leadership when we’ve been challenged in times like this. … I would never ask you to change your convictions but I do ask you to lay down your swords and follow the direction of our executive director and let’s walk together as we go into the future.”

The Arkansas convention also passed four resolutions. A resolution on witchcraft and sorcery noted that “the Harry Potter book series and its subsequent materials are inconsistent with biblical morality and ethics and promotes pagan beliefs and practices.” It resolves “that we will firmly denounce and speak out against any books or materials that promote witchcraft, sorcery and the casting of spells and the making of charms and specifically the Harry Potter book series and subsequent materials.” Additionally, the resolution stated that the convention “will notify businesses that promote and sell the Harry Potter book series and subsequent materials of the material’s anti-Christian theme.”

Another resolution urged prayer for revival and spiritual awakening during America’s current crisis. The other resolutions supported the Cooperative Program and expressed appreciation to convention leadership and the host church.

There were about 1,370 registered messengers to the convention. Next year’s annual meeting will be Oct. 29-30 at First Baptist Church, Cabot.

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  • Charlie Warren