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Church network seeks broader cooperation

ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)–A diverse group of evangelical pastors and laity, including several Southern Baptists, have announced the formation of a new Antioch Network of Churches to cooperate in fulfilling the Great Commission without requiring conformity on “secondary” doctrinal matters.

In a news release issued after an inaugural March 2-3 meeting in Arlington, Texas, Southern Baptist pastors involved in the network said it would be an additional connection for churches “to partner with like-minded believers as the Spirit leads.”

The group of 50 people, including 42 pastors, met at the invitation of Dwight McKissic Sr., pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, and Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla.

McKissic, who resigned as a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth last year, and Burleson, who resigned as an International Mission Board trustee in January, were critical of the boards for what they described as a narrowing of doctrinal parameters for service in SBC entities.

During the opening session in Arlington, Burleson moderated a discussion about doctrinal parameters for the network, which he said require simplicity and clarity, the news release said.

“A consensus doctrinal statement is needed to affirm our passion for Jesus Christ and the good news about his person and work,” Burleson said, according to the news release. “Because we treasure church autonomy, we respect churches that go further in their doctrinal statements, but it is unnecessary for a network of autonomous churches who desire to cooperate in ministry to expect conformity on tertiary doctrinal matters.”

The group affirmed the following purpose statement:

“The Antioch Network of Churches will serve Jesus Christ by encouraging fellowship and ministry cooperation between churches of diverse denominational heritage and by affirming the autonomy of local churches to partner with like-minded believers as the Spirit leads. We are thankful for and intentional about retaining our preexisting identities, yet we do not suppose that those identities preclude our joint ministry with others who share our passion to proclaim the gospel.”

Another Southern Baptist, Paul Littleton, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Sapulpa, Okla., presented a paper on emerging church models and noted the need for multi-ethnic churches as a witness of the power of Jesus Christ.

The news release said Ralph Emerson, pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in Fort Worth, led the discussion about an organizational structure and strategy for the network that included “bold gospel proclamation and application.”

The network named an exploratory leadership team to finalize the confessional framework and coordinate long-range plans, the news release stated. The 12-member team will meet in April and includes six African Americans, six Anglos, and men and women.

An initial confession drafted by the Antioch Network was offered, though it may include later changes, the news release said. The doctrinal statement said:

“We affirm the authority, sufficiency, reliability, and consistency of God’s infallible revelation in both the Words of Holy Scripture and the Person of Jesus Christ. We affirm that the one true God exists eternally in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that these, being one God, are equal in deity, power, and glory. We also affirm both the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ.

“We affirm Christ’s virgin birth, His substitutionary death for sinners, His resurrection from the dead, His second coming, and His gift of eternal life to all who are in relationship with Him by grace through faith alone.

“We affirm that God has ordained the proclamation of the gospel message by His people in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is both the Gift of God to the church and the Giver of diverse spiritual gifts. We also affirm baptism as the public testimony for those who have come into covenant with Jesus Christ in Lord and Savior.

“We affirm that persons apart from a relationship with Christ will face God’s judgment.”

McKissic resigned from the trustee board of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last June, citing “too much mental, physical, emotional and even spiritual energy” spent on his role in a conflict over speaking in tongues and private prayer language at the seminary.

McKissic caused a stir in a Southwestern Seminary chapel sermon in August 2006 when he said he speaks in a private prayer language and criticized the International Mission Board’s policy, now a guideline, on refusing prospective missionaries who speak in tongues.

Subsequently, the seminary refused to post audio of McKissic’s sermon on its website and later the trustees, with McKissic’s sole dissent, voted that Southwestern staff would not advocate private prayer language or charismatic practices nor hire faculty who did.

Burleson resigned from the IMB trustee board Jan. 30 after the close of the trustees’ meeting in Gainesville, Fla.

Burleson’s contention with the board began with his opposition to a policy it passed in 2005 prohibiting the appointment of missionary candidates who spoke in tongues or a private prayer language. The policy was later modified to a guideline. Burleson also opposed a policy restricting appointment to candidates who received believer’s baptism in a church that taught eternal security.

On his Internet blog, Burleson answered questions related to the new network, noting the network could include paedobaptists (those who sprinkle or effuse) as well as churches that practice believer’s baptism by immersion because the network is not a denominational organization.

“The NETWORK only fosters cooperation between churches through fellowship, equipping and partnership; but the LOCAL CHURCH maintains ultimate authority,” Burleson wrote.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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  • Jerry Pierce