WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The first priority for Southern Baptist church planters in New Hampshire is spreading the Gospel, and the Episcopal Church’s election of the first openly homosexual bishop will not slow them down.
The ruling body of the Episcopal Church electing V. Gene Robinson, a homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire Aug. 5 has sparked controversy among Episcopalians across the country and Anglicans worldwide.
But New Hampshire church planters and former Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students John Brown and Ralph Green do not anticipate the uproar having a negative impact on their ministries, because about 95 percent of the state’s residents are unchurched and know little about the Bible’s prohibition on homosexuality.
Many of them know even less about the Gospel message that Brown and Green seek to convey.
“We have set out to reach unchurched people and show them the love of Christ,” Green said.
John Kuespert, director of missions for the New Hampshire Baptist Association, said New Hampshire residents often do not pay attention to denominational differences, be they Episcopalian or Baptist.
“We’ve run into people that have no understanding whatsoever of church,” Kuespert said. “They know it’s a religion, and they know a little bit about Catholics. But outside of that, they don’t know anything.”
That can be a challenge, Green and Brown said, when they try to distinguish themselves and their doctrine from that of the Episcopal Church. The challenge can also be an advantage, Green noted, because many people he encounters know very little about the Lord but are “hungry to know what it means to be a disciple of Christ.”
Green, who pastors Crossroads Baptist Church in Littleton, N.H., said it is possible he will have the opportunity to reach local Episcopalians disenchanted with the denomination’s decision.
“I don’t think we’ll see people flocking out of the Episcopal Church, but as we’re faithful to minister and share the Gospel door to door, we may see some Episcopalians come [to our church],” Green said.
Door-to-door evangelism and community-wide outreach events are among the primary tools the church planters use in reaching communities for Christ.
Brown, who serves as pastor of Hope Community Church in Keene, N.H., underscored the importance of community outreach such as the community cookouts his church hosts in reaching the lost. In fact, at the church’s last cookout, Brown baptized six people in a nearby lake.
“I believe in pastoring the whole town, not just my congregation,” Brown said. “Our church is conservative theologically, but very friendly socially. Anyone is welcome to come and hear the Word of God preached.”
Although some people hold a liberal viewpoint toward homosexuality, Brown said many New Hampshire residents categorize themselves somewhere in the middle on the issue. Brown said he counsels those who approach him with questions about the Episcopalians’ decision by turning to the authority of God’s Word, showing them the Bible’s prohibition of homosexuality.
Brown also said he has been preaching through the Bible and his scheduled text Aug. 10 was Genesis 19, in which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin of homosexuality. Although he did not purposely tailor his message to address current events, Brown indicated he would not shy away from proclaiming the Bible’s message of the sinfulness of homosexuality and the availability of God’s forgiveness.
Green likewise said that although he anticipated preaching about the issue soon in one of his sermons, he would not go out of his way to do so.
Kuespert agreed with the two, adding that although many pastors would likely address homosexuality to some degree, he doubted it would become a focal point of their ministries.
“Each [church planter] works in a different context,” Kuespert said. “Some work in larger communities where they might take a stance on this because it might be a social issue that they would want to address intentionally. And I’m sure they all will address it intentionally at one time or another.”
In the meantime, the church planters will keep doing what they have always done: evangelizing, discipling and reaching the people of these New Hampshire communities with the love of Christ.
“In fact,” Green said, “that’s why we exist. Our vision is to share with others the purpose, peace and hope found in Jesus Christ.”
Kyle Smith is a newswriter at Southeastern Seminary.