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Personal evangelism S.C. Baptists’ focus

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (BP) — South Carolina Baptists focused heavily on personal evangelism at its 195th annual meeting themed “Tell the Story,” held Nov. 10-11 at Spartanburg First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C.

Speakers reiterated the compelling need for all believers to share the Gospel, with Tommy Kelly, pastor of First Baptist Church of Varnville, urging messengers to ensure that every person in the state hears the Gospel by the group’s 200th annual meeting in 2020. Messengers adopted a new convention vision statement, “Helping Churches Fulfill the Great Commission,” as recommended by the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) Executive Board Future Vision Committee.

In a business session, the convention unanimously voted to end fellowship with Augusta Heights Baptist Church of Greenville because the church performed a same-sex marriage ceremony. But messengers left the door open for the church to regain fellowship by expressing a “corporate repentance and return to a biblical view of marriage and sexuality that is in agreement with the principles of God’s word as summarized in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

The Oct. 10 same-sex marriage ceremony did not take place at the church, but Augusta Heights’ pastor Greg Dover performed the ceremony with the approval of his deacons, messengers learned. The Greenville Baptist Association had already dismissed the church Oct. 22.

In motioning for the SCBC disaffiliation, SCBC Executive Board Chairman Dwight Easler expressed a “burdened and heavy heart” and said the convention “must lovingly and without apology stand together for the word of God in order to call sinners to repentance.” Easler told messengers he contacted Dover about the issue and said the church cited the absence of a marriage policy and soul freedom as reasons not to reverse its actions.

“We believe this action by the pastor and the subsequent inaction of the church to correct this policy through an expression of repentance and returning to a biblical view of marriage and sexuality is evidence that they are sadly and tragically no longer in friendly cooperation with this convention,” Easler told messengers. “We believe that the Gospel is for the gay person and the straight person, the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the young and the old. However, we believe that no man can come to the Gospel without the acknowledgment of sin and confession and faith in Christ.”

Augusta Heights is the second Baptist church in Greenville to endorse gay marriage. In September, Greenville First Baptist Church withdrew from the SCBC after receiving a letter from Easler asking the church to reverse its policy of allowing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to be married and ordained. Greenville First Baptist ended its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999.

In other business, messengers approved a $28.6 million budget, adopted a new vision statement, elected officers, and endorsed resolutions addressing moral and social concerns. The attendance of 965 messengers from 440 of the state convention’s 2,138 churches marked an increase from the 941 who attended in 2014.

The 2015 budget anticipates $28.5 million in Cooperative Program gifts — $100,000 in other gifts — and is unchanged from last year. Messengers voted to forward 41 percent of Cooperative Program receipts, or $11.69 million, to Southern Baptist Convention national and international causes, including a $1.13 million supplemental gift directly to the International Mission Board.

The 59/41 ratio has remained steady for several years; however, with the adoption of a state Great Commission Resurgence initiative in 2011, the convention began forwarding a portion of budget receipts directly to the IMB, meant to compensate the entity at the same level as if the SCBC split its CP receipts equally between the SCBC and the SBC.

Newly elected officers are president Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church in Fort Mill; first vice president Bart Kelley, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Westminster; second vice president Bryant Sims, pastor of First Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Greenwood; recording secretary Kathy Hall, a member of First Baptist Church of Camden; and registration secretary Naveen Balakrishnan, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church in Adams Run.

Keith Shorter, pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, was elected to the newly created office of president-elect, and will assume the office of president after serving one year.

Guest speakers included Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg; Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee; and Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. Videos included messages from South Carolina Baptist Bobby Richardson, former second baseman for the New York Yankees; Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney; and Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.

Interim executive director-treasurer Richard Harris applauded the work of South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief in the wake of October’s floods, reporting more than 80,000 meals have been served by volunteers and more than $338,000 has been given for Baptist relief efforts from 32 states.

Harris updated messengers on the search for a new executive director-treasurer. He affirmed the leadership of North Greenville University, and said the SCBC will restore Cooperative Program funding to the school following former president Jimmy Epting’s abrupt resignation. SCBC leaders were satisfied with the resignation after meeting with the school’s leadership, Harris said.

Messengers approved resolutions:

— expressing appreciation for the grace and forgiveness demonstrated by families of victims of the June massacre of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, and noting the “multiethnic and multicultural unity” that developed in the wake of the shooting and continues to grow;

— reaffirming the 2010 SBC action calling all Southern Baptists to “continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach,” and encourages congregations to consider increasing their CP giving by 1 percent each year;

— noting cultural and legal challenges to religious freedom, and urging churches, pastors and individuals “to understand and exercise their right and responsibility to stand for biblical values and to influence the culture;”

— asking churches to embrace faith-based pregnancy care centers and community health care centers as alternatives for comprehensive healthcare centers that provide abortions, citing published accounts of “gruesome abortion procedures and the exchange of fetal body parts” by organizations that receive federal funding;

— encouraging churches to develop ministries that provide refuge and healing for victims of human trafficking, citing the annual trafficking of 27 million people worldwide and noting the existence of such acts in South Carolina;

— challenging churches to bolster awareness of foster-care opportunities, noting the 2,500 children and youth enrolled in South Carolina’s foster care system.

The full text of the resolutions can be found at scbaptist.org/2015-annual-meeting-resolutions.

Messengers set the 2016 annual meeting for Nov. 15-16 at Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Irmo.

    About the Author

  • Butch Blume and Scott Vaughan

    Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier (www.baptistcourier.com), the news magazine of the churches of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Scott Vaughan is interim director of communications for the SCBC.

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