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First Baptist Church, Houston, votes to embrace new convention

HOUSTON (BP)–First Baptist Church of Houston, in a congregational vote, approved a study committee’s recommendation to reduce the church’s ties to the Baptist General Convention of Texas to minimal levels and shift Cooperative Program support through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The deacon-appointed study committee listed such concerns as the failure of the Baptist General Convention of Texas to adopt recent changes to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs and the BGCT’s support of groups holding beliefs contrary to biblical teaching.

The 21,000-member church celebrates its 160th anniversary in April and has consistently supported the Southern Baptist Convention through the years.

The study committee recommendation was approved Sunday, April 1, in a congregational meeting attended by approximately 500 members, with only a handful of members voicing opposition. The study committee report had earlier been approved unanimously by a deacon administrative committee and passed by the general deacon body with only one dissenting vote from a member favoring severing of all BGCT ties. A missions committee now will address funding allocations for the coming year and bring recommendations to the church body in a future business meeting.

At least $156,505 will be contributed to the Cooperative Program, amounting to 1.8 percent of a $9.3 million budget in the coming year, said Kirk Beaudreaux, the church’s financial service director. That amount was given to the Cooperative Program by the church last year. The missions committee will follow the mandate of the church in deciding the portion to be sent through BGCT in order to retain voting privileges and authorize membership on trustee boards of BGCT. Funds given through the BGCT will be designated to preferred ministries. Remaining CP dollars will be sent through SBTC.

First Baptist Church of Houston dedicates 10 percent of its budget to missions, including support of the Cooperative Program, Union Baptist Association, local ministries, specific missionaries, dozens of preaching points, and nine missions to non-English speaking congregations. “We have to give John Bisagno a lot of credit for our missions emphasis,” associate pastor David Self said of the now-retired former pastor. The church also contributed $125,000 to special offerings for international, national and state missions last year.

The Houston church voted three years ago to reverse traditional allocations of its Cooperative Program funds, instructing the BGCT to send two-thirds of its mission dollars directly to the Southern Baptist Convention for distribution worldwide, allowing the state convention to retain one-third for in-state use. Last August the church approved a recommendation to escrow the BGCT portion until the study committee reached a conclusion as to whether support should be continued.

Study committee member John Brunson, a semi-retired lawyer who has attended the church from “nine months before birth,” said the question was raised whether the church should wait until a new pastor is called before addressing the issue of state convention affiliation. “We decided to move forward on this,” he told Baptist Press, believing the matter should be settled by the church instead of expecting the next pastor to make the decision.

Brunson said the committee compiled information about the BGCT and SBTC in a four-inch thick binder, inviting representatives of each state convention to their meeting. BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade declined to meet with the group, Brunson said, then expressed interest following the recent vote.

SBTC Executive Jim Richards met with the group, sharing the perspective of the state convention formed in 1998 as an alternative to BGCT affiliation. SBTC now has 727 churches, with more than 70 percent uniquely affiliated with the new convention.

The study committee, in making its report to the church, centered its arguments in the context of biblical interpretation and support of the SBC. Noting that the church bylaws stipulate the church’s acceptance of the Bible “as the sufficient rule of faith and practice in all matters of doctrine and policy, and believes that all mandates of the Scriptures are authoritative and binding,” the committee said actions and statements by the BGCT and its representatives “leave doubt as to whether their view of the Bible is consistent with the view of our church body.”

The BGCT’s failure to adopt the BFM as approved by the SBC last June and the 1998 BFM family amendment, as well as issuing significant public criticism of these revisions, were noted in the report. Continued financial and other support by the BGCT of “organizations, fellowships and ministries that hold beliefs contrary to scriptural teaching on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, women in the pastorate and secular humanism” were also cited.

In reference to the SBC, the study committee noted, “The Baptist General Convention of Texas has by its actions demonstrated that it no longer fully supports the Southern Baptist Convention or the programs supported by the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Brunson cited several factors that led to concern about the BGCT on the part of the Houston church, including “an indication to pursue a separate national convention.” Budget allocations approved last fall in Corpus Christ by BGCT messengers were the final catalyst, he said, as $4.3 million was re-allocated from SBC-related seminaries to BGCT-favored schools and ministries, the report stated.

“The fact that they have set up so many things that are parallel to the Southern Baptist Convention” also influenced Brunson and other committee members, he said. The report stated that the BGCT has embarked on a course to duplicate, if not replace, many of the programs of the SBC, citing:

— publication of competing church resources and literature.

— increased funding of seminaries associated with BGCT-affiliated universities in Texas while dramatically decreasing funds for SBC-operated seminaries.

— pursuing support for Bible college programs and degrees in competition with SBC-related seminaries.

“The recent actions by the Baptist General Convention of Texas lead us to believe that the BGCT is on a course to establish a national or international convention in competition with the Southern Baptist Convention,” the report concluded.

In contrast, the foundational elements of belief in biblical inerrancy and unqualified support of the SBC were cited as reasons for the church to affiliate with SBTC. The committee also affirmed the new convention’s adoption of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, allocation of 51 percent of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program, directing a majority of its budget to missions and evangelism, and an intention to avoid duplicating ministries coordinated by the SBC.

Members of the study committee included chairman Paul H. Sanders, Howell Allen, John S. Brunson, Louis Duck, Ed J. Finlay, Jerry L. Ford, Mark S. Palmer, Frank Pierce, Malcolm Pierre, Darrell W. Taylor, and Walter C. “Dub” Wilson.

Another Houston church, meanwhile, the 12,000-member Sagemont Baptist pastored by John Morgan, voted recently to double its Cooperative Program allocation, sending $360,000 of a $6 million budget through SBTC. In addition to supporting Southern Baptist causes through CP contributions, the church contributed $160,000 last year to special offerings for international, national and state missions.

Sagemont allocates a total of $600,000 for direct mission support, including funding for 165 adopted annuitants amounting to $140,000. The church has earmarked $100,000 mission projects by members, twice the amount allocated last year.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter