VAN BUREN, Ark. (BP)–By a narrow margin, messengers to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention annual meeting Nov. 6-7 rejected a proposed change to its articles of incorporation which would have eliminated the following statement: “The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion.”
The change needed a two-thirds majority vote at two consecutive conventions to pass. However, since only 63 percent (383 of 608 ballots) voted for the proposal, it failed, and the 225 messengers (37 percent) who opposed the amendment prevailed. The language was added to the articles on incorporation in the early 1970s.
Meanwhile, Wes George, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rogers, Ark., was elected ABSC president during the meeting, held at First Baptist Church of Van Buren. Clay Hallmark, pastor of First Church of Marion, was elected first vice president and Robbie Jackson, pastor of East Mount Zion Church of Clarksville, was elected second vice president. All three were unopposed.
In presenting the amendment from the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws Committee, Greg Addison, pastor of First Baptist Church of Cabot, offered three reasons to vote for the amendment: the definition of baptism, the autonomy of the local church and “Arkansas Baptists understand the issues” and are ready to decide.
“Baptism is not a matter of heritage, history or denomination,” Addison said. “Baptism is best and only defined by Scripture.” He urged relying on the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message section and Scriptures on baptism without further interpretation. He further noted the committee “affirmed that we would never step away from any process that would remove or weaken our dependence on the Baptist Faith & Message.”
Addison said Article III — where the language concerning open communion and alien immersion are found — and Article IV of the convention’s articles of incorporation are in conflict with each other and “need to be changed to reflect how we operate as Arkansas Baptists.
“Article IV states very clearly that nothing in our constitution or our convention will ever interfere with your church,” he said.
Van Harness, pastor of Westside Baptist Church of Greers Ferry, opposed the change.
“Open communion is a practice that many of us do not approve of, but it does not directly affect our churches,” Harness said. “… That’s not the case with alien immersion.”
He said when a Southern Baptist church that does not accept alien immersion receives a member from a Southern Baptist church who does accept alien immersion, that individual’s baptism was an alien immersion baptism. That causes the receiving Baptist church a great problem.
“We all agree that a valid baptism is a prerequisite for church membership,” he added. “When we receive someone into our church, we want to be sure they have had a valid baptism…. Only congregations that teach a correct doctrine of salvation and have a correct practice of baptism can authorize and administer a valid baptism.”
Harness also said Baptist history “would plead” that messengers oppose the change.
Speaking for the change, Richard Piles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden, said there was an “inconsistency in our logic.” He said just because a church accepts someone’s alien immersion does not mean it has to accept all that church believes.
Piles said the committee affirmed “one of the most cherished distinctives” of Southern Baptists, the autonomy of the local church, “which should be more important than tertiary issues” such as accepting alien immersion or open communion.
Bill Carter, Garland County Baptist Association missionary and a messenger from Immanuel Baptist Church of Hot Springs, offered a motion to refer the amendment “back to committee for further study” and asking them to consider dealing with the issues of alien immersion and open communion separately.
“It would be a travesty if we spent such little time in open discussion and debate,” Carter said. “I would like to see the Arkansas Baptist News and any other means for discussion … in a point and counterpoint on this issue so the true voice of the people in this state can be heard.”
A vote by raised ballots on Carter’s motion was determined too close to call. A subsequent ballot vote failed with 39 percent affirmative and 61 percent opposed.
In further discussion on the committee recommendation, John Greer, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church of Conway, speaking for the change, asked, “Do you want us in the convention or do you want us to leave?”
Greer later told Baptist Press that the baptism of a person presenting himself for membership at his church would be acceptable if the individual is a believer and was immersed in water. However, candidates who were sprinkled or baptized as infants would be regarded as an “alien baptism” and thus, unqualified. In regard to communion, Greer said his church expects participants to examine themselves as to their qualification, citing Paul’s instructions on the ordinance as the pattern he follows.
“More and more people are coming from Bible churches that are similar to us in doctrine and were immersed as believers, so why immerse them again?” he told BP. While it is not an issue often raised by prospective members at his own church, it is common among larger churches, he added.
Rick Hyde, pastor of First Church of England, noted messengers to the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio “overwhelmingly decided the Baptist Faith & Message, without clarifications, is sufficient grounds for cooperation, and I would love for our state convention to do the same.”
Nevertheless, the amendment failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority vote.
In other business, messengers approved a $20.5 million 2008 Cooperative Program budget. The $20,561,000 budget includes $8,629,452 (41.97 percent) for Southern Baptist Convention causes and $11,931,548 (58.03 percent) for missions and ministries within Arkansas. It includes a .2 percent increase for SBC causes, the first such increase in a five-year plan to increase the SBC portion by 1 percent.
The 2008 budget represents a 2 percent increase over last year’s budget goal.
Arkansas messengers also passed six resolutions, including ones on church unity, ministering to children at risk and disabled people and opposition to a state lottery.
Other resolutions included recognition of the 300th anniversary of Baptist associations and appreciation to First Church of Van Buren for hosting the ABSC annual meeting.
Each was approved with minimal discussion.
The lottery resolution notes that gambling is a predatory enterprise that violates a number of biblical mandates. It states that lottery gambling is “the most regressive tax in use today” because it is a poor and unpredictable source of revenue that exploits those in the “lower socioeconomic strata.” The resolution states the lottery “only serves to redistribute money from the many to a very few.”
It expresses unyielding opposition to lottery gambling and calls on messengers to “aggressively work to defeat all proposed constitutional amendments to establish a state lottery.”
Next year’s ABSC annual meeting will be Oct. 28-29, 2008, at First Baptist Church of Bentonville.
Charlie Warren is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.