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New Orleans trustees join faculty in affirming Baptist Faith & Message

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–In a motion approved by hearty applause, trustees voted to affirm New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley for his work in helping develop the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and his subsequent defense of the document, especially in the face of opposition from leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

During their Oct. 10-11 fall meeting, trustees also showed their support by affixing their signatures to the Baptist Faith and Message, joining the NOBTS faculty, who, in their August “Back to School” workshop, unanimously affirmed the use of the revised statement of faith as a doctrinal standard for their teaching.

Notwithstanding the opposition from BGCT leaders, Kelley acknowledged that he had many blessings to share in his report to the trustees, including an enrollment of more than 2,900 students, the largest number of students in the history of the seminary, as well as a successful financial year, despite the seminary’s $2.2 million renovation of its Bunyan classroom building.

The seminary has been successful in implementing other campus improvements, including the rebuilding of faculty homes and the closing of the trailer park to make way for new student housing. Students moving from their trailer homes have been “Olympic gold champions of faith” in letting God take care of their needs, Kelley said.

He also commented on the seventh consecutive year of record giving to the Cooperative Program by Southern Baptists across over the nation. In spite of all the efforts by leaders of the breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and BGCT to continually paint the SBC in a negative light, Southern Baptists have continued to give record amounts to the Cooperative Program, Kelley said. “The result is a new high in missionaries on the field and ministers being trained in our seminaries.

“It is difficult to share the number of ways in which God has shown himself faithful to this seminary,” Kelley said, in the midst of the challenges being faced.

The greatest challenge, he said, is the recommendation of BGCT leaders to defund the six seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC Executive Committee. Rather than continuing the historic participation of the BGCT in training students from all 50 states and many countries of the world, Texas leaders want to fund only students in Texas, he explained.

However, he affirmed that the BGCT is not the enemy. “Satan is the enemy,” Kelley said, “Our mission is to save lost souls and grow healthy churches, not to get Texas money.

“We want to raise up a generation of leaders who can help our churches grow again. We’ll let Jesus handle the logistics of doing that,” he assured trustees.

Kelley detailed NOBTS’ involvement with the BGCT to the trustees, beginning by reading a response he had shared during chapel on Sept. 14. The statement, which can be accessed at www.nobts.edu/drskelley, was met with more applause from the trustees. (Kelley’s convocation address concerning his involvement in the Baptist Faith and Message revision can also be accessed on this webpage.)

In his chapel response about the BGCT, Kelley assured seminary students that the seminary would not compromise its stance on doctrinal integrity and that the seminary’s security is in God’s hands. He cited the example of how God had provided through an estate gift of $400,000 to complete the endowment of a chair in Christian education. He said, “The source of the gift? A sweet precious lady who was a lifetime employee of the Baptist General Convention of Texas! That was a reminder to me that God will provide.”

Kelley also shared how he had been misrepresented in Texas’ Baptist Standard newsjournal concerning things he had purportedly said regarding the Baptist Faith and Message. “Everything that you have read in the Baptist Standard, I did not say,” Kelley clarified, sharing how the Baptist paper had reported him as having told the seminary’s faculty members they could not criticize the revised Baptist Faith and Message anywhere at any time, “even in a private conversation at an off-campus party.” He told the trustees: “Not only have faculty members said that they do not recall me saying this statement, but the entire faculty voted to affirm the BF&M before the Texas committee even visited the campus.”

By asking the faculty to sign the Baptist Faith and Message, Kelley explained that he is upholding the same practice his predecessors at the seminary, from its earliest beginnings, have done. In an open letter to Southern Baptists that Kelley sent to every Baptist state paper editor, he outlined his responsibility: “New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has required a confessional commitment from all members of the faculty throughout its history. This means faculty members voluntarily agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the doctrinal statements of the seminary. Those doctrinal statements are the ‘Articles of Religious Belief’ written when the seminary was established, and for many years now, the Baptist Faith and Message.”

He continued in the letter, “It has been, is now, and always will be inappropriate for a faculty member to make this type of voluntary commitment and then ignore it in what they actually teach.”

To the trustees, he further explained, “Unfortunately, the Baptist Standard never called to confirm quotes attributed to me, to discuss any stand attributed to me or to discuss any concern raised by the study committee about our seminary.” In response to a letter from Kelley, Robert Campbell, chairman of the BGCT theological education study committee, did acknowledge in writing that they misquoted him at least once, and a retraction was published in the Baptist Standard.

Kelley also shared how the BGCT study committee came to the New Orleans campus reluctantly, meeting with him and just a few others. “They did not talk to our students, they did not talk to our faculty and they did not attend any classes,” he said. In fact, they did not survey or talk to any Texas Baptist students or Texas Baptist faculty, he said. “It was not a comprehensive study by any stretch of the imagination.” Moreover, the committee crammed meetings with all six seminaries in a three-week period, he said.

“There is no action to take, except to pray,” Kelley said. “Forcing the controversy on the floor of the local church is a terrible distraction. We need to pray for pastors and lay leaders who have to make decisions about the Cooperative Program.”

Again, he reminded those present that the enemy was the not the BGCT, but the devil. “We must concentrate on our mission of raising up a generation of leaders who will grow healthy churches. Jesus is Lord, and we trust him completely!”

Kelley said that the second challenge facing the New Orleans Seminary is its New Horizons campaign. “Our challenge is not getting theological doctrine straight. We have done that. It is not teaching practical classes that will get students ready for the real world of ministry. We are doing that. Our greatest need today is getting a logistical base to make the teaching possible,” he said.

“We need to rebuild this campus and build up our endowment,” he continued. The New Horizons campaign, to officially begin in March 2001, will focus efforts on doing just that.

The third challenge, he noted, was the doctor of philosophy program at NOBTS. It has a long and proud tradition at NOBTS, he shared. “Now that we have completed the updating and revision of our other degrees for the 21st century, it is time to do the same for the Ph.D. degree.” Kelley will be appointing a study task force to assess the current program and make whatever modifications necessary to bring it into the 21st century.

Concluding his report, Kelley said, “We have greater victories still to win. We seek to raise up a generation of soul-winners. We seek to raise up a generation of disciplers. If we can accomplish that mission, then everything else will take care of itself.”

In other news, trustees:

— welcomed new members to their board: Dan Crow, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, Ellicott City, Md.; Rudy Gray, pastor of Utica Baptist Church, Seneca, S.C.; and Lenny Shores, pastor of Waldron Road Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, Texas.

— approved the purchase of a lot near the North Georgia campus, in Decatur, Ga., for $105,000 to continue the growth of the SBC’s largest extension center.

— Elected six new faculty members, all of whom have already been serving at the seminary by appointment: Lloyd A. Harsch as assistant professor of church history; Kenneth Keathley as dean of students and assistant professor of theology and philosophy; Steve Ortiz as assistant professor of archaeology; W. Dan Parker as associate professor of pastoral ministry and director of the undergraduate extension center system; Margaret “Margie” Williamson as instructor of Christian education, continuing as associate director of the NOBTS extension center system; and Laurie Story Watts as assistant professor of education technology.

— approved the financial report that indicated that the audited statements of investments was sound and according to the seminary’s policies.

— adopted a response to an SBC motion requesting that SBC entities not require their employees to sign the Baptist Faith and Message. The response, in its entirety, stated:

“Whereas New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) has always hired only those faculty members who voluntarily agree to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the seminary’s doctrinal guidelines;

“Whereas for many years those doctrinal guidelines have included the Baptist Faith and Message;

“Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963 and 2000 affirmed the right and need for educational institutions to establish doctrinal parameters for their faculties;

“Whereas past SBC seminary presidents repeatedly pledged to the convention to hire only faculty members who would teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message;

“Whereas for many years the by-laws of the seminary have required the faculty members to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message; and

“Whereas the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary voted to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a doctrinal guideline and all faculty members signed a commitment to teach in accordance with and not contrary to it before any Trustee meeting was held following the 2000 convention;

“The trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary affirm the seminary will continue to use the Baptist Faith and Message as a doctrinal guideline for faculty members.”

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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