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Pastor voices dismay with BGCT as board tables inerrancy motion

ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)–When Dwight McKissic asked the Baptist General Convention of Texas executive board to take a stand on the inerrancy of Scripture, he was surprised that numerous board members responded by shouting, “No!” McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, had hoped the board would give messengers to the Oct. 29-30 BGCT annual meeting in Dallas an opportunity to clarify their position on scriptural authority.

At the close of the Sept. 25 meeting, McKissic, a first-year BGCT board member, asked the board to affirm a statement which reads, “We believe in the divine inspiration of the whole Bible and the inerrancy of the original manuscripts.” He urged adoption of the statement as a means of unifying Texas Baptists and reconciling with the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Every time you pick up a newspaper or magazine [from BGCT] or go to the mailbox, they’re mailing you something trying to convince you about their position on Scripture,” McKissic told Baptist Press.

“But when they reject such a simple statement” that affirms the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture “and mail you letters saying the Bible is true and trustworthy, that sounds Clintonesque,” McKissic said. “And with close to 1,000 churches affiliating with another state convention, these churches are apparently having some issues that they’re grappling with regarding the integrity of Scripture.” Either the affirmation of the original manuscripts as inerrant or support of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 would “help stop the hemorrhaging,” he insisted.

The board ultimately tabled McKissic’s motion as well as a substitute motion to affirm Texas Baptists’ “historic commitment” to the “complete trustworthiness” of the Bible. Instead, they asked BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade to guide them in affirming the convention’s dedication to Scripture.

In September, the 1,200-member Cornerstone Baptist Church voted to broaden its state convention affiliations to include both BGCT and the newer Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. After his attempt to clarify BGCT’s position on Scripture failed, McKissic resigned from the board and his church withdrew from BGCT membership, affiliating uniquely with SBTC.

During the board’s Sept. 25 meeting, Azle pastor Wesley Shotwell of Ash Creek Baptist Church responded to McKissic’s motion, objecting to any reference to inerrancy, believing the term to have multiple theological meanings and heavy political overtones. According to a report in the Texas Baptist Standard, he said the word can have six or seven meanings, some of which are “too liberal” for him.

BGCT communications reporter Ken Camp reported that Shotwell characterized inerrancy as “a very slippery term theologically” and as “politically divisive.” Camp noted Shotwell’s criticism that even the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention did not use that word. “Why should churches make it an issue of fellowship when the SBC had the perfect opportunity to insert the word and did not do so?” Shotwell asked.

Other board members expressed concern that McKissic’s motion placed the BGCT in an awkward “lose/lose” situation. “In the interest of unity,” one board member asked both men to withdraw their motions. Shotwell agreed to do so if McKissic would also. However, McKissic declined, saying his conscience would not allow him to withdraw the motion.

Once board members approved the tabling of McKissic’s motion, they requested that BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade discuss the issue with him. According to the Standard, Wade spoke directly to McKissic while “fighting back tears.” Committing to work together with him on the matter, Wade told McKissic any further comments would do more harm than good.

Camp quoted BGCT President Clyde Glazener in his closing remarks as stating, “The BGCT is made up of people who believe the Bible to be the Word of God.” He further insisted that Texas Baptists are committed to living under the authority of “the Living Word of God … Jesus Christ.”

Baptist Standard writer Mark Wingfield cited some board members as having speculated that “McKissic’s controversial motion had been originated by BGCT critics, namely leaders of the competing Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.” Editor Marv Knox asked McKissic whether SBTC leadership prompted his motion.

In the interview with Baptist Press, McKissic, an African American, said, “The roots of that question are racist. I don’t think they would have asked that question of Jack Graham, Mac Brunson or Ed Young,” referring to three Texas pastors of mega-churches, all of whom are white.

“It’s a question that asks, ‘Who’s thinking for you,’ as if I’m not capable of thinking for myself or that I can have an independent thought process. That gives me insight into the mindset of the writer” of the Standard article, he said.

“Unquestionably, those are my absolute convictions. My mother taught me as a kid that the Bible is the pure, unadulterated Word of God.” McKissic said he dealt with the issue in a book he prepared in 1990.

Of his appeal to the BGCT board, McKissic said, “That was first time in Baptist life that I’ve had an opportunity to express my convictions and try to clarify an issue that I think needs clarifying. The inerrancy of Scripture is a nonnegotiable for me,” he stated, allowing for the use of a “synonymous term.”

He viewed the phrase “truth without mixture of error” in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message as a reference to “inerrant, infallible, original autographs that are inspired and profitable,” citing 2 Timothy 3:15-16. “But I discovered that for moderates ‘truth without any mixture of error’ means in matters of faith and redemption you can trust it, but they’re not willing to go on record that you can trust it on other matters.” Because of such varied definitions, McKissic said he returns to the term inerrancy.

Quoting Proverbs 30:5, McKissic said, “I just give one definition. ‘Every Word of God is pure.’ God breathed the Scripture, so how could a perfect God breathe imperfect Scripture?

“Words like true, trustworthy, inspired, high view of Scripture and even authority — all of those are great words to use to describe the Bible and we all use them. But you have to have a word to describe the Bible that can’t describe the New England Journal of Medicine. Give me a word to describe the Bible that places it in a category beyond Time magazine. I’ve got a high view of Charles Wade’s Ph.D. dissertation, but I need a word to describe the Bible that cannot be said of his dissertation or any other.”

McKissic said this isn’t the first time he’s raised the issue with the BGCT’s executive director. “I’ve had private conversations with Wade across the years. And I consider him a dear friend. I’m well aware of where he stood and we maintain our friendship. But once you get on the board, to me it’s about the institution and not an individual,” McKissic said, referring to his responsibility as a part of the executive board. “This was the first time I had a chance to ask the question” before the full board, he said.

“I was shocked to know I was in a room with a hundred Baptists and was the only one who would stand up and say I believe in inerrancy,” McKissic told Baptist Press. “They have a problem with the term ‘guilt by association.’ I do, too. I don’t want to be associated with the guilty,” he said of his decision to resign from the BGCT board.

“If that group could not affirm that simple statement, then our church made a decision” to end its relationship with BGCT, McKissic said. The 45-year old pastor described the foundation of his church’s ministry as “an unshakable belief that the Bible is inerrant.” In 18 years of leading the church, he has emphasized expository preaching and evangelistic outreach, currently utilizing the FAITH program promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention. McKissic is among the workshop leaders at the early October Urban Alternative Church Development Conference hosted by Tony Evans in Dallas, speaking on church and community mobilization.

Among area pastors, McKissic has found inerrancy to be the first issue raised when the discussion deals with the BGCT. “There is a lack of confidence as to where they stand on inerrancy. And with them coming out opposing this motion, they’re making it clear that they leave room for doubt on that.” He charged other board members with “trying to cloud and confuse the issue by talking about seven different definitions of inerrancy. That’s a lawyer’s technique when facts and truth are not on their side.”

While applauding Wade and other BGCT churches for standing firm on the issue of homosexuality, McKissic said he objects to the appropriation of designated gifts to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship which he described as having a faction that promotes tolerance of homosexuality. “And with all the anti-SBC rhetoric that they articulate in CBF meetings, how can the leaders of BGCT have respect for people like me who gladly use the term inerrancy while they go off and listen to CBF leaders?

“If this convention [BGCT] does not go back to a strong, unquestionable view of the pure and unadulterated Word of God, we’re going to look like the CBF 20 years from now and that would be a tragedy.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter