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Baptist association cuts ties with church led by husband, wife

SOUTH DAYTONA, Fla. (BP)–Central Baptist Church of Daytona Beach has been removed from membership in the Halifax Baptist Association due to “doctrinal differences,” according to a unanimous vote of the Florida association’s executive committee at a Nov. 18 called meeting.

The meeting was called, moderator Dennis Littleton of First Baptist Church in Palm Coast said, “to clarify and affirm” action that had been taken at the association’s annual meeting Oct. 28. Apparently there had been some confusion at that meeting over the motion to dissolve Central’s membership in the association.

The “doctrinal differences” involve Central’s calling of a husband-wife team earlier this year as co-pastors, Dave and Sonja Phillips.

“It saddens us that we have to take this position,” Littleton told the Florida Baptist Witness after the meeting at South Daytona First Baptist Church, “but Central Baptist’s action prompted this action. We are grieved about it.”

Dennis Belz, director of missions for the Halifax association, said the calling of a woman pastor was “in direct opposition to the Word of God and the revised Baptist Faith and Message of 2000. The Bible is clear that pastors are to be male individuals, and the Baptist Faith and Message emphasizes that when it states in Article VI, which deals with the church: ‘Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.'”

The original motion at the October associational meeting, made by Rima Ridge Baptist Church pastor Chris Lybarger, was that the association “not seat the Messengers from Central and that we disfellowship with the church because of doctrinal differences.”

Central’s messengers were not allowed any voting rights at the meeting.

The Halifax Baptist Association, which stretches from Palm Coast to Oak Hill in Flagler and Volusia counties in Florida, now consists of 33 Southern Baptist churches. The association’s vote to disfellowship Central, one of the its charter members, is the first such action in its 46-year history. Littleton, answering a question from the floor, confirmed that a group representing the association sat down with Dave Phillips and explained that their associational membership was in jeopardy as long as Central chose to ignore the policies and principles the church had agreed to keep.

“Dave Phillips just told us that removing his wife as a pastor was not going to happen,” Littleton said.

In a telephone interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Phillips reiterated that statement and added: “We understand the actions of the Association and will certainly abide by its ruling. We’re just going to continue doing the Lord’s work here.”

An explanation that appeared on Central Baptist’s website for a few days following the Oct. 28 meeting stated:

“Central Baptist Church has always been a ‘different’ kind of Baptist church. That is to say Central has never fallen into the pit of religious fundamentalism that currently plagues the Southern Baptist Convention. Many of our ‘sister’ churches in the area have been led astray by fundamentalist pastors. This is the case not only with the SBC, but also with the Florida Baptist Convention, and sadly, the Halifax Baptist Association. The differences that make Central Baptist such a unique and loving congregation have compelled the fundamentalists in our area to ‘take action’ against us. Since they cannot control us, they would rather disown us.”

Central’s statement continues: “Basically, the Halifax Baptist Association is upset that Central Baptist called Sonja Phillips as co-pastor. They think the Bible says a church can’t do that. They’re wrong. They are misguided in their beliefs and actions. Central is different from the fundamentalists. Not only is Central a different place to be Baptist, we are a better place to be Baptist.”

Belz expressed gratitude for the community outreach Central has had over the years but had been dismayed by their lack of associational involvement.

“We have seen a change in Central as they have become more involved in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,” Belz said in referencing the group which broke from the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1990s. “If a church is a true partner in the life of an association, then that church should be a vital part of it. This has not been seen from Central for many years.

“This decision to withdraw fellowship was carefully and prayerfully looked at by the credentials committee that followed the process for months. I am pleased that, as an association, we have taken a strong biblical stand on these doctrinal differences. Yes, we as Southern Baptists do have a standard — the Word of God. Associations are to be a part of starting new churches, but when a church is moving away from God’s Word, then it is time to take a stand.”

Central, which advertises itself under “Baptist” churches in the BellSouth Yellow Pages, lists its congregation as “partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship” in the same ad.

“Since Central belongs to the CBF, this action was probably not a big deal to them,” said Don Quinn, a member of Rima Ridge Baptist Church of Ormond Beach and the association’s immediate past moderator. “I feel badly about it, but if they are involved with the CBF, they shouldn’t be a part of our association anyway.”
Jerry Schaeffer is a correspondent for the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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