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Withdrawal of Messianic Fellowship ruled unconstitutional by members

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship during its annual meeting June 11 ruled as unconstitutional a decision earlier this year by its former president to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention and then elected a new slate of officers.

In a letter sent earlier this year to Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt as well as the national media, James Austin, then president of the fellowship, reported the organization had “terminated its association with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Fellowship members meeting at the Louisiana Superdome on the eve of the annual meeting of the SBC instead accepted Austin’s letter as his as well as his supporters’ official request to withdraw from the existing fellowship.

“We are reading that as applicable only to Jim and his board,” said Michael Smith, an attorney from Louisville, Ky., who preceded Austin as president of the fellowship. “The organization’s function is to reach out to all Southern Baptists and to enable Jewish ministry among all Southern Baptists.”

Austin’s four-year term as president of the fellowship expired this month. He did not attend the June 11 meeting.

About 45 members of the fellowship attending the meeting at the Superdome invalidated Austin’s attempt to withdraw the fellowship from the SBC, citing the organization’s failure to ratify the decision through a constitutionally required amendment.

Austin had said he conducted a vote by mail of 28 member congregations who unanimously supported severing ties with the SBC because of a perceived “lack of ethnic and cultural sensitivities.”

But some of the fellowship’s executive committee members said they were never asked by Austin to consider withdrawing the organization from the SBC.

Austin and his supporters have since reorganized in South Carolina as the North American Messianic Association.

In other business, the fellowship approved the following constitutional amendments:

— The fellowship’s annual meeting shall be held in conjunction with the annual SBC meeting.

— Membership in the fellowship will be extended to individuals only not churches or congregations as in the past.

— The term for the presidency of the fellowship shall be reduced from four years to two.

The following members were elected to serve as officers: Ken Alpren of Boynton, Beach, Fla., president; Jorge Sedaca of Southfield, Mich., vice president; Tom Cox of Columbus, Ohio, secretary; and Penny Isbell of Bessemer, Ala., treasurer.

The meeting included a time of worship through prayer and special music as well as addresses by Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., and former president of the SBC, and Jorge Sedaca, language ministry leader with the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.

“There is nothing any more important than getting the gospel of the Messiah to those that are his offspring,” said Patterson, who has personally shared the gospel with three different Israeli prime ministers.

Jim Sibley, the North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for Jewish ministries and a member of the fellowship, reported that significant progress is being made toward establishing a Southern Baptist Messianic congregation this fall in New York.

“The Lord is opening doors in the Southern Baptist Convention like you wouldn’t believe,” Sibley said. “Southern Baptists are doing something great when it comes to reaching the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SOUTHERN BAPTIST MESSIANIC FELLOWSHIP REORGANIZES.

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  • Lee Weeks