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New Mexico leaders express dismay over Texas pastor’s BGCT comments

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP)–The newly elected president of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico said he was disturbed and saddened by accusations of creedalism and violating church autonomy made against the convention by Texas pastor Phil Lineberger.

“The appearance of ‘recruitment’ of out-of-state churches and the disparaging remarks by Dr. Lineberger display an ignorance of and a lack of respect for the autonomy of a sister state convention,” said Robert J. Butler, president of the BCNM and pastor of Sandia Baptist Church. “Should any congregation within the boundaries of the state of New Mexico desire to affiliate with the BGCT, that would purely be their decision which we would respect and honor.”

“However, I cannot imagine why any New Mexico church would want to make such a move,” Butler said. “Most New Mexico Baptists I know view the goings-on between the BGCT and the SBC with distaste and broken-heartedness.”

Lineberger delivered his charges against the BCNM during the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting in Corpus Christi, when he spoke in favor of a BGCT decision to welcome churches outside of Texas into the convention.

Lineberger, pastor of Williams Trace Baptist Church in Sugar Land, Texas, told The Baptist Standard he brought the motion “so churches outside Texas affected by the rising tide of creedalism” in Southern Baptist life would have a place to be involved.

He specifically referred to changes adopted by the BCNM that requires churches support the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in order to participate in the state convention. Lineberger said the change is a “is a violation of local church autonomy.”

However, Butler said that simply isn’t true. “I am personally aware of at least one of our member churches in good standing that specifies that its missions funds not be used for SBC causes although most all our churches are comfortable with the traditional funding formula for SBC entities,” Butler said.

Joseph Bunce, pastor of First Baptist Church, Bloomfield, N.M., and immediate past president of the BCNM, also criticized Lineberger’s statements.

“New Mexico Baptists believe strongly in the autonomy of the local church, but we also believe in the autonomy of the State Convention,” Bunce said. “Texas Baptists in the BGCT have voted their choice and they are an autonomous convention and are free to do so.”

“The BGCT vote clearly illustrates that the present leadership of the BGCT is not where New Mexico Baptists are,” Bunce added. “We believe that supporting the work of the Seminaries is a good thing for the kingdom of God.”

“I am saddened by the remarks of Phil Lineberger concerning the New Mexico Baptist Convention,” he continued. “I find it unfortunate that people cannot keep their feuds among themselves. The New Mexico Convention is a place of unity. New Mexico Baptists do not desire the politics that have boiled in our sister convention.”

Butler also responded to Lineberger’s charge that the BCNM was in violation of local church autonomy and creedalism.

“New Mexico Baptists have a clear understanding of Baptist heritage, polity and theology,” Butler said. “Any member church of the BCNM is free to associate or not associate with any other body as they see fit. In point of fact, our newly revised by-laws adopted in 1999 strengthened our position against connectionalism.”

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  • Todd Starnes