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Believer’s baptism departure prompts association’s dismissal of church

ANDERSON, S.C. (BP)–Boulevard Baptist Church, Anderson, S.C., was dismissed from membership in Saluda Baptist Association during the association’s annual session Oct. 19 at Varennes Heights Church, Anderson.

Boulevard’s dismissal follows a June decision by the congregation to accept candidates for church membership who have not been immersed from churches of other faiths. Less than 15 messengers voted in opposition to Boulevard’s dismissal.

While requiring a statement of previous Christian experience and “meaningful baptism,” Boulevard’s new policy recognizes “the diversity of baptismal practices among Christian churches.”

It further states, “The church shall make clear that our primary concern is for the reality of the candidate’s experience of salvation and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If the candidate affirms he or she has already made a faith response and has been baptized to symbolize his or her identification with the Christian faith and the whole church as the Body of Christ, no other baptism by immersion shall be required.”

The five-member credentials committee of the association — led by Tony Howell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Starr — met to determine if the church’s bylaw was in accord with the association’s bylaws, which are based on the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statement. During the meeting, the association voted 133-31 to update its bylaws to be based on the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted in June at the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The credentials committee met with Johnny McKinney, pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church, and the congregation’s constitution and bylaw committee Aug. 31 to request that the church reconsider its baptism policy or voluntarily withdraw from the association. However, according to the credentials committee’s report, McKinney said they did not feel they were out of accord with the association’s faith and practice, and no subsequent action was taken.

“We do this with a heavy heart, but with a firm belief about what the Bible says,” Howell said. “The issue really is believer’s baptism, not just baptism by immersion,” he stressed, noting that Boulevard’s committee stated “meaningful baptism” could be interpreted as including infant baptism.

Eddie Greene, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church and former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, remarked, “We will continue to love them [Boulevard], but they have gone their direction, and we have no other choice but to cut ties and wish them Godspeed.”

After the meeting, McKinney told reporters that Boulevard will “do church like we’ve been doing church. Boulevard is doing well and growing.” He added that he felt the association’s actions reflected “the widening gulf present in Baptist life these days. We’re operating with two different visions of what it means to be Baptist.”

Director of missions Delano McMinn commented, “It is a sad moment in our experiences in working with churches that we come to the point of dismissing a congregation. However, their decision to move in a new direction of recognizing members without believer’s baptism leaves us with no choice as Baptists but to sever ties with Boulevard.”

Boulevard becomes the third South Carolina Baptist church to be dismissed by an association after deciding to accept members who have not been baptized by immersion. Saluda Baptist Association also withdrew fellowship from First Baptist Church, Clemson, in 1976, and Abbeville Baptist Association withdrew fellowship from First Baptist Church, Greenwood, in 1970.

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  • Todd Deaton