CAVE CITY, Ky. (BP) — Kentucky Baptists are defending a church slammed in secular media outlets over its practice of church discipline.
Cave City (Ky.) Baptist Church, some 90 miles north of Nashville, sent a letter July 16 to nearly 70 members it alleges were not attending “habitually,” giving “regularly” or sharing in the congregation’s “organized work” as required of members in the church’s bylaws. The letter stated, “Cave City Baptist Church cherishes you as a member of this fellowship,” but “your name has been removed from the membership roll,” according to a photo of the letter published on Facebook.
The letter added, “The doors of Cave City Baptist Church will always be open to you.”
Within two days, newspapers and television stations had reported on the letter in Nashville; Louisville, Ky.; Lexington, Ky.; and Bowling Green, Ky. Headlines included: “Church members furious after pastor revokes memberships” and “Kentucky church sent letters kicking out members over common transgressions.”
Cave City Baptist pastor Ryan Broers told Baptist Press via text message he is “weary of the media circus” and that “lots of lies and half-truths are being told.”
“I really wish this thing would have remained a private issue,” Broers said. “The only reason I commented publicly is that it became public knowledge when a man who has not been to the church in 20 years made it public on Facebook. This is a church discipline issue and we are following our bylaws. Many attempts for several years were made both in letters and in person when people could be located and were willing to speak. If anyone feels they received the letters in error, they are welcome to call and have a conversation with me.”
Among Baptists to defend the church, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator Hershael York said in a series of tweets that he asked the Lexington Herald-Leader staff member who reported on Cave City Baptist “if the Rotary Club dismissing members for non-attendance and non-payment of dues is noteworthy.” York, dean-designate of Southern’s school of theology, added that a fair headline would be, “Church requires members to take their commitment seriously.”
York, who also serves as pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, told BP he tweeted in response to the Herald-Leader’s coverage because “I don’t want churches to be afraid to do church discipline well and do church discipline right because they fear a reaction.”
David Prince, pastor of Lexington’s Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, tweeted that the Herald-Leader was “outraged a church would care about its members enough to hold them accountable. Where’s their outrage over other groups that have standards?”
Broers said sending the letter was a collaborative decision made by him, associate pastor Steven Wilson and the chairman of deacons, with “the deacons’ support.”
Broers has pastored Cave City Baptist for only about a year, but the process of contacting absentee members has spanned the past eight years, he said. At least three letters have gone out, and home visits have been attempted, the pastor said, noting shut-ins receive pastoral visits and are not subject to church discipline for failing to attend.
In hindsight, Broers told BP, “I wish we would have worded the letter differently.” Still, he added in a Facebook post, “I know it [the letter] won’t make me popular (none who preached the truth in the Bible were thought well of) but I am not in a popularity contest. I’m trying to point people to Jesus and the inherent responsibilities that come along with being a follower of Christ.”
Among disgruntled letter recipients, Samantha Esters told Bowling Green’s WBKO television station she attended Cave City Baptist three weeks prior to receiving the notification and did not “ever want to go back to that church.”
Lynn Traylor, director of missions for the Liberty Association of Baptists, with which Cave City Baptist cooperates, wrote in a July 20 email to the association’s churches that social media and news outlets “are telling only one side of the story.”
“I personally spoke with the Pastor at Cave City, who assures me that this is not a unilateral action on his part (as has been wrongly communicated) and that the church did due diligence in contacting and communicating with members prior to the mailing which was publicized by many who were not in contact with or members of the church,” Traylor wrote.
The church, he added, “has received calls and prayers of support from across the country, and perhaps God can use this to share His name and the Gospel.”
Some commonly cited Bible passages on church discipline are Titus 3:10-11 and Matthew 18:15-18. The Matthew 18 passage instructs believers to confront a sinning brother or sister one-on-one initially. Then if the person doesn’t repent, they are to be confronted again by a group of two or three fellow believers. If they still do not repent, they are to be confronted by the church body as a whole and excluded from fellowship in the absence of repentance.