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Midwestern course stretches from state conventions to theology dispute

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A course designed to educate seminary students about state convention history and polity, or governance, included sessions with leaders from the Missouri Baptist Convention and the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists and two laymen who represent both conservative and moderate viewpoints, Oct. 11 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The one-day course became a point of controversy Oct. 7 when the state Baptist paper, Word & Way, reported that Jim Hill, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, had withdrawn as a speaker when he learned of the participation of Roger Moran, research director of the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association and leader of “Project 1000,” a campaign successful in electing conservatives as convention officers during last fall’s MBC annual meeting. Hill voiced concern that the inclusion of Moran as a speaker had given the course “the appearance of having a political agenda.”
After the news story and an editorial by Word & Way editor Bill Webb critical of the seminary’s lineup of speakers, Midwestern’s interim president, Michael Whitehead, released a statement in defense of the course’s purpose and the presence of Moran and a later addition, Rob Marus, coordinator of the Baptist moderate Mainstream Missouri Baptists organization.
In addition to Marus and Moran, the course’s speakers included R. Rex “Peck” Lindsay, executive director of the Kansas-Nebraska convention, and Jay Scribner, first vice president of the MBC.
More than 80 students and guests were in attendance, while 70 were enrolled in the course for credit. In order to receive credit, students were required to attend the Oct. 11 sessions and are required to serve either as an elected messenger or an observer at the annual meeting of the MBC, the Kansas-Nebraska convention or the Illinois State Baptist Association. In addition, they are required to write two reaction papers. No tuition fees were charged for the course.
Classes on Midwestern’s Kansas City, Mo., campus are canceled Oct. 26 to allow student attendance for at least one day of the MBC annual meeting, which will take place less than 30 minutes away in nearby Liberty, Mo.
Steve Prescott, Midwestern Seminary registrar and visiting professor of church history, related the historical context of state conventions, noting that many, like Missouri, predate the Southern Baptist Convention’s formation in 1845.
Encouraging students to interface with the state convention to learn about extensive ministries that help churches with programming and growth, Prescott observed that the proportion of funds retained by state conventions before sending the local church Cooperative Program receipts on to the SBC varies from 80 percent in pioneer areas to 50 percent in the new Virginia and Texas conventions organized by conservatives.
While the MBC has experienced a decline in the number of churches, Prescott pointed to a “New Directions” strategic planning report to be considered at the Oct. 25-27 state meeting in response to various evangelistic challenges facing the state’s Baptists.
Although Hill was not present to outline the “New Directions” plan, support for the strategy was expressed in every speaker’s message. Prescott noted, “It is often stated that we need to plant churches in pioneer areas, but we also need to plant churches in the South. Missouri is grossly underchurched.”
“You are the future of the Missouri Baptist Convention and the Kansas-Nebraska convention,” Prescott told the class. “You’ll find things you agree with, you disagree with and you are uncertain [about] — therefore, carefully think and react to it.”
Lindsay provided an overview of the focus of Southern Baptist ministry in the two-state region. “Our vision,” he said, “is to see healthy, indigenous New Testament churches with a global view of missions ministering and witnessing in every people group in Kansas and Nebraska.”
Lindsay spoke of the challenge nearly 400 Southern Baptist churches face in trying to double that base by 2010 through an ethnically diverse population. He explained that Southern Baptists are a minority in the strong Catholic and Lutheran region.
More than half the state convention budget is directed at fielding missionaries, Lindsay said, including work among various people groups and collegiate ministry.
By allowing a variety of approaches toward worship, organization, literature and either deacon or elder leadership, Lindsay said he finds methodology to be irrelevant so long as it does not violate moral, ethical or biblical constraints. “We are free to be what God wants the local congregation to be,” Lindsay said.
In the absence of Missouri Baptist Convention President Gary Taylor due to health problems, Scribner, the convention’s first vice president, offered his perspective on the work of the MBC.
Scribner heartily affirmed the state staff and expressed respect and admiration for Hill as executive director. “His vision for New Directions for the Missouri Baptist Convention is from the heart of God for Missouri Baptists for this hour,” Scribner said.
Scribner described the process of electing officers as well as the composition of the executive board which acts between state convention meetings.
“The hierarchical structure doesn’t go from the top down. The power flow goes from the grassroots up,” Scribner insisted, citing the autonomy of the local church as one of the reasons he’s a Southern Baptist.
Marus, in his presentation, said the reason Mainstream Missouri Baptists “has to exist in Missouri” should be framed with an understanding that “heresy can come from the right as well as the left.” The Mainstream group cares about key Baptist principles he said are “under attack” in Missouri, after having been under attack at the national Southern Baptist Convention level.
The principles Marus cited include: 1) the authority vested in local congregations; 2) the authority of Scripture, which he said would not include creeds which bind conscience; 3) the priesthood of the believer; and 4) the separation of church and state.
“The takeover in the SBC was a 20-year movement by people who disagreed with the SBC and with things going on in the six seminaries, and [they] re-made it in their own image,” Marus said. “They were largely successful on the national level, and have not been successful on the state level.”
Moran, from Winfield, Mo., and a member of the SBC Executive Committee, spoke on “How the State Conventions Affect the Person in the Pew.” Moran’s presentation named key components of the SBC controversy since 1979 and why he believes the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is using the Mainstream Missouri Baptists group as a forerunner for a cause which he said precedes the kind of split undergone by both the Virginia and the Texas state Baptist conventions.
Highlighting relationships between state convention personnel, the CBF and other groups which he considers are supportive of homosexuality and other liberal influences, Moran said Project 1000 is about electing conservative leaders at the MBC level.
“There are two very different and competing visions for the future of the MBC,” Moran said. “Project 1000 is about holiness. Holiness is rooted in sound doctrine. Holiness does not flow from falsehood and error — being sincere does not miraculously convert falsehood and error into truth.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan