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Prestonwood in Dallas unanimous in aligning with Texas conservatives

DALLAS (BP)–A report citing “grave concerns about the current direction” of the Baptist General Convention of Texas was unanimously approved by members of Prestonwood Baptist Church, Dallas, in a July 23 vote to dually align with the new conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The action, taken at a Sunday night business meeting, followed a vote by Prestonwood’s deacons to approve the report, drafted by a 10-member committee on denominational relationships.

The committee’s study, begun in February, was initiated by Prestonwood’s pastor, Jack Graham, according to the report. The committee was chaired by Edward Pauley, with popular motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar among its members.

Two key recommendations approved by Prestonwood members call for:

— the 17,000-member church to continue its current affiliation with the BGCT through this fall, “and that the Committee on Denominational Relationships reconvene immediately following that meeting to recommend whether to continue this relationship or uniquely affiliate with another body.”

— Prestonwood to “dually affiliate with the SBTC,” noting that the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention “supports the conservative stance of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Voicing hope that the BGCT’s “direction will change,” the church noted its actions were necessitated by a “concern for Biblical integrity and the stewardship of [Prestonwood’s] resources.”

The church committee listed eight concerns related to the BGCT, topped by the BGCT’s “rejection of the 1998 version of the Baptist Faith and Message,” which incorporated a new article on marriage and the family to the longstanding SBC statement of beliefs.

A key theme in all eight concerns: actions by the BGCT leadership to distance the state convention from the Southern Baptist Convention.

The committee noted that its four months of meetings, research and interviews included a four-hour discussion with BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade.

Prestonwood has joined a growing number of Texas congregations that have aligned themselves with the conservative SBTC.

In mid-July, for example, four other Texas Baptist churches announced their affiliation with the SBTC: First Baptist Church, Buchanan; Family of God Mission in Crockett; Magnolia Baptist Church; and Dehli Baptist Church.

On July 6, 23 Texas Baptist congregations in the Henderson Southern Baptist Association voted to affirm their support of the Southern Baptist Convention and the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message revision adopted during June’s SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Last November, First Baptist Church in Dallas, in a near-unanimous voice vote, loosened its ties to the BGCT and aligned with the SBCT.

The FBC Dallas vote was based on a sweeping 18-page deacon report that documented links between the BGCT and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and a host of organizations, such as Texas Baptists Committed, critical of the SBC’s conservative stance on biblical and moral concerns.

Prestonwood, meanwhile, focused on other concerns, though describing the First Baptist, Dallas, study as “a compelling case for dual alignment.”

The Prestonwood committee, concerning the marriage and family article, noted, for example:

— the fact that the church “strongly objects to the vote taken at the last BGCT convention in El Paso to reaffirm the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message without the addition of Article XVIII on the family … .” The committee described the BGCT action as “unwise and unwarranted.”

— the church’s belief “that Article XVIII is the clear teaching of Scripture on marriage and family roles and relationships (husbands and wives, parents and children) and that the BGCT action is, therefore, a rejection of that clear teaching.”

— the BGCT leadership’s expressed concern that the new Baptist Faith and Message article did not specifically incorporate Ephesians 5:21 on mutual submission and that the language of Article XVIII was “insulting to women” since it quoted Ephesians 5:22 that speaks of the willing submission of wives to the loving servant-leadership of their husbands.

The committee noted that it undertook “a study of Ephesians 5:21 and concluded that it does not in any way alter the teaching of Scripture on family roles and relationships” and, further, “that the principle of mutual submission” indeed is “incorporated into Article XVIII.”

— the importance of the marriage and family amendment “because of the disintegration of so many marriages in our society, not to mention the attempted redefinition of marriage by some in our secular culture.”

“It is usually a crisis in belief or practice that has prompted Christian groups in times past to highlight one or another doctrinal teaching,” the committee continued. “The family is in crisis in our society at the present time, with potentially devastating consequences for the society in general and the church in particular. For the Southern Baptist Convention to address this critical issue and to affirm Biblical teaching on the family was entirely warranted. Significantly, a number of evangelical groups outside the SBC took out full-page ads in major newspapers following the SBC’s action to applaud its courageous stand.”

— a key question: “What remains to be determined is whether the BGCT’s vote to reject the 1998 version of the Baptist Faith and Message was based on a misunderstanding of the intent of Article XVIII on the family, and whether the BGCT would be willing to reverse its action if it was a misunderstanding.”

The other seven issues listed in the Prestonwood study entail BGCT actions “that have had the clear and systematic effect of distancing the state convention from the SBC,” the committee stated.

The seven issues are:

— “[the BGCT’s] failure to make a clear and unequivocal long-term commitment to the SBC and its leadership, including support for all ministries of the SBC.”

— “[the BGCT’s] replacement of the Cooperative Program, as originally conceived, with the current options system adopted by the BGCT.”

— “[the BGCT’s] adding a significant dollar cost, in addition to church size, to the requirements a church must meet to have its full complement of messengers to the BGCT annual meeting.” The new requirement “has the effect, intended or otherwise, of disenfranchising poorer churches,” the committee stated.

— “[the BGCT’s] duplication of SBC functions and services,” stemming from a 1997 BGCT vote to, among other things, publish alternative Sunday school lessons and other resources for Texas Baptist churches “that may be used in place of LifeWay [Christian Resources] materials produced by the SBC.”

— “[the BGCT’s] move to regionalize the BGCT by allowing non-Texas churches to affiliate with the BGCT.” The committed noted, “One unintended effect of this move … may be to create tensions with other state conventions over their churches affiliating across state lines with the BGCT.”

— “[the BGCT’s] failure to disavow unconditionally the proposed creation of a new national convention, the Baptist Convention of the Americas.”

— “[the BGCT’s] failure to be fair in its public statements about the conservative direction of the SBC and about the churches that support that direction, as well as in its appointment of conservative members to the BGCT boards and committees.”

Amplifying its concern about public statements by BGCT leaders, the Prestonwood committee stated: “Admittedly, the issue of fairness is a matter of perception, but when one BGCT leader characterized the addition of Article XVIII on the family to the Baptist Faith and Message as ‘Neanderthal,’ that pejorative comment from such a prominent leader of the BGCT spoke volumes about his attitude toward the conservative direction of the SBC.

“The Committee will be watching closely the statements of BGCT leaders quoted in the Baptist Standard [state Baptist newspaper] and the secular press … .”

The committee also noted, “… it has become increasingly clear that conservative voices are not proportionately represented on BGCT boards and committees.” The committee noted it will be assessing such appointments at this fall’s BGCT annual meeting.

Concerning the BGCT’s Cooperative Program practice, the committee explained: “Under the options system adopted by the BGCT, churches may elect the proportion to go to the state convention, with up to 100% going to purposes determined by the state convention. In other words, the latest option adopted permits nothing to be given to the Southern Baptist Convention! This action clearly undermines the original and historic intent of the Cooperative Program and makes it possible to give to non-SBC ministries while still calling it the ‘Cooperative Program.'”

In its conclusion, the Prestonwood committee stated in part:

“In recommending temporary dual alignment, the Committee does not expect the Church to continue supporting both state conventions indefinitely. Rather, it hopes that the BGCT will take some action at the fall 2000 convention to reverse its stance against the 1998 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, and to address the other issues outlined above. It is important that the leadership of the BGCT make some verbal statement at the annual meeting in the fall of 2000 affirming its intention to support all of the ministries of the SBC on a long-term basis.

“The Committee wants to make it clear that it is not attacking individual leaders of the BGCT, and that it is supportive of the free work being done by many of the ministries carried out under the auspices of the BGCT. The Committee further wishes to express appreciation for those committed brothers and sisters in Christ within the BGCT who seek to serve our Lord and advance the cause of the Gospel in Texas and throughout the world. They need and deserve our support.”

Disenchantment with the BGCT reached a focal point during a Feb. 28 meeting of conservative Texas Baptist pastors hosted by Graham; Ed Young Sr. of Second Baptist Church, Houston; and Claude Thomas of First Baptist Church, Euless.

At the time, Graham predicted that more than 40 percent of the churches were unhappy with the BGCT’s current direction and said major changes were on the horizon as conservatives consider their relationship with the state convention.

Jim Richards, executive director of the SBTC, told Baptist Press in mid-July he was looking forward to working with Prestonwood.

“We are excited and delighted to have Prestonwood Baptist Church seek affiliation,” Richards said. “We have already partnered in some endeavors in missions and ministry and now we look forward to a full working relationship.”

Richards said he believed other churches may affiliate with the SBTC if Prestonwood approved the committee’s recommendations.

“The influence of Prestonwood is greatly respected in Texas and across the SBC,” Richards said. “Because of their bold stand, many other churches will feel comfortable in perhaps moving in the same direction.”