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SBC leaders, Texas directors of missions share concerns for healing & unity

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Responding to a Baptist General Convention of Texas proposal to drastically cut funds to the Southern Baptist Convention, heads of the SBC’s 12 entities and seminaries met with Texas associational directors of missions Sept. 21 to discuss the SBC’s longtime cooperation with Texas Baptists.

SBC leaders adopted a statement celebrating the longtime partnership of Texas Baptists with the SBC and inviting the “leadership of the Baptist General Convention of Texas to join us in this affirmation and to stand together in this partnership.”

The meeting, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, lasted more than two hours and covered topics as far-ranging as the SBC’s Cooperative Program giving channel, the Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs, and Calvinism.

The meeting came a week after a BGCT administrative committee recommended pulling more than $5 million in Cooperative Program funds from SBC entities, including a projected $4.3 million from Southern Baptist seminaries and $1 million combined from the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Executive Committee.

Neither BGCT executives nor leaders of the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention attended the Sept. 21 meeting at Southwestern Seminary.

The BGCT board will vote on the recommendation Sept. 26; if passed, it will be considered during the BGCT annual meeting Oct. 30-31 in Corpus Christi.

The SBC Executive Committee Sept. 19 called the BGCT recommendation a “unilateral breach” in the state’s support of SBC missions and ministries. Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee and a former Texas pastor, moderated what he called an unprecedented meeting between the SBC Great Commission Council and 45 or more of the 71 associational directors of missions in Texas. He urged the associational leaders to “shed some light that would be helpful to us in knowing how to operate” within Texas.

“We’re just trying to find our way through this,” Chapman said during opening remarks. “We’re not organized at the Southern Baptist Convention level to go from precinct to precinct in a political way throughout the state of Texas. We are going to try to communicate our message the best way we know how, but there are certain limitations to that.

“We’ve come with no plan in mind, no ulterior motive. But we do have some concerns.”

Responding to criticism from some Texas leaders, Chapman offered copies of a 12-page report called “The Truth about the SBC & Texas.” It addresses allegations that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message elevated the Bible to idol status as well as the issue of women as pastors. It also includes articles about the Cooperative Program and the history of the SBC theological controversy.

“We will plan to distribute this in as many churches as possible,” Chapman said.

Questions from associational leaders were sometimes pointed, but dialogue was cordial, with humor deflating several tense moments.

Asked by a Texas associational leader during the meeting if SBC and BGCT leaders were currently discussing their differences, Chapman said no, but that “we would be happy to talk at any time, anywhere, under any provisions.”

Robert Reccord, North American Mission Board president, said NAMB officials, however, met with BGCT leaders for nearly six hours recently.

“Does that mean we see everything eye to eye? No, we’re Baptist. That doesn’t happen,” Reccord said. “But we have an ongoing cooperative agreement.”

Larry Johnson, of Texas’ Ellis Baptist Association, told SBC leaders his churches “are grieved” by the disagreement between the BGCT and the SBC.

“My younger pastors are mad, but they’re mad at everybody,” Johnson said. “We’re getting ready to see some churches change the way they do business. … If we can’t get together, you can write it off. What are you going to do to keep that from happening?”

“I think that’s why we’re here,” Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins, formerly pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, said. “I think that is why we wanted to meet tonight [with BGCT leaders in a proposed forum],” but BGCT leaders declined to participate in the forum.

Reccord lamented that if, for instance, SBC leaders gathered for prayer with Texas associational leaders loyal to the BGCT “somebody would consider that political, and that grieves me. If our motives are questioned when we’re doing kingdom work, then we’re in trouble.”

One associational leader suggested that if SBC leaders communicated to Texas Baptists their desire to cooperate, “I think we could begin to see some healing in this place.”

During the meeting, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. drafted the following statement, which the Great Commission Council unanimously adopted at the conclusion of the meeting:

“We, the presidents of the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention, celebrate our partnership with the Baptist churches of Texas, and we affirm our eagerness to work with all Texas Baptists through our historic partnership.

“We express appreciation to the associational directors of missions who met with us today, and ask them to join this affirmation of partnership in the gospel and our support of the Cooperative Program in its historic and time-honored form.

“We invite the leadership of the Baptist General Convention of Texas to join us in this affirmation and to stand together in this partnership.”

Warren Hart, an associational leader, complained that discussion of proposed changes to the Baptist Faith and Message last year in Texas overshadowed a Sunday devoted to prayer for persecuted Christians.

“We’re fussing about the color of the carpet” while Christians elsewhere are suffering, he charged.

Southeastern Seminary President Paige Patterson responded that though some Baptist disagreements have been petty, disagreement on critical doctrinal or moral issues, such as partial-birth abortion, make it difficult to “walk together.”

Responding to speculation that SBC leaders were unwilling to work with those who refused to embrace the Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs adopted at the SBC annual meeting in June, Patterson said “at no point to my knowledge have we said that we would not play ball with someone who upholds the 1963 statement.”

“No, the problem is the other way, my friend,” Patterson said. “We’ve had a difficult time getting our positions represented before the people in Texas.” Patterson added that contrary to what some have alleged, the Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed but a “statement most generally believed among the people.”

“There is one creed — the Bible,” he said.

At one point, the discussion shifted from Cooperative Program giving to Calvinism, a doctrine that has stirred controversy among Texas Baptists and which emphasizes God’s sovereignty in salvation.

Asked if he is a “five-point Calvinist,” Mohler answered yes after making some qualifications, noting he is in the company of notable Baptist Calvinists such as B.H. Carroll, James Boyce and Charles Spurgeon.

Patterson also addressed the question, saying he rejects two of the five Calvinistic tenets, limited atonement and irresistible grace.

Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said most Baptists have always been Calvinistic in varying degrees.

“When Baptists start talking about doctrine, that’s a sign of health, not unhealth,” Mohler added.

Chapman said following the meeting that SBC leaders planned to publicize the adopted statement in Texas and that he planned to “be in touch with the BGCT in the hope we’ll be able to find a starting point on the road back to cooperation in reaching the world for Christ.”

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Harold Sellers, director of missions in Texas’ Coastal Plains area. “I hope the BGCT and the SBC can get together and move forward together to what we’re all about.”
Adam Myrick contributed to this report.

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  • Jerry Pierce