By Bill Webb
The Missouri Baptist Convention committee set up to root out violators of its "single alignment" policy has gotten busy this summer. A half dozen leaders in each of several Missouri Baptist congregations have received "the letter" from the credentials committee.
Single alignment is a regulation that prohibits churches that choose to affiliate in good standing with the MBC from cooperating with other Baptist groups, particularly those with which MBC leaders believe they compete. In addition, single alignment as it is now defined by the convention requires that a congregation also affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention.
A relationship with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — either the national body or the Missouri affiliate — and/or the Baptist General Convention of Missouri is most likely to get a church drop-kicked out of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
The national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship came into being almost a generation ago as a reaction to perceived exclusion at the Southern Baptist Convention level. Not too long after, a state CBF was formed, budgeted and staffed. The BGCM was formed as an alternative state convention in Missouri by Baptists who claimed that they had grown weary of bitter strife within the MBC.
While extremely rigid, the membership regulation is flexible enough that other groups can easily be added to the list of banned Baptist organizations should the need arise.
Activities that are particularly scrutinized include giving financially to either CBF, CBFMO or BGCM as a church — individuals can designate funds to these organizations without the church's being excluded — or relating formally by sending messengers or members to state conventions or general assemblies sponsored by the suspect organizations.
The recent rash of credentials committee letters have apparently gone to churches identified in some way with CBF or CBFMO and note that such a connection could land a congregation in hot water if the committee presents a negative recommendation at the MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau.
The form letter suggests that congregations examine themselves lest they inadvertently disqualify themselves, but closes with a stern warning that suggests they have already been found guilty and need to change their ways. That is how many recipients have interpreted the correspondence.
The mailing of the letter to five church leaders in addition to the pastor might suggest that the committee believes that sending a letter threatening disassociation with the MBC might alarm and intimidate at least one of the six. My guess is that many pastors within Missouri Baptist life — whether enamored with single alignment or not — would resent receiving a letter that is copied to several others in the congregation.
The last time the convention met in Cape Girardeau — in 2001 — was the last time messengers voted to unseat fellow messengers from an affiliated church, Second Baptist of Liberty. The congregation's messengers walked to the front of the packed convention center and turned in their messenger credentials. Several people wept at the sight.
The aisles of the meeting hall this fall could be more congested if churches under investigation by the credentials committee decide to test the new regulation and the convention's will. By all indications, MBC leaders will be ready to make their case against those whose cooperation with other Baptists falls outside the MBC's narrowing parameters.
Only the credentials committee knows for sure how many churches have been sent one of its form letters — some of which have been signed by a committee member, others not. Expect more before the annual meeting.
The tragedy in all of this is that cooperation and collaboration among Baptists to engage in meaningful kingdom endeavors is being discouraged. The new credentials committee approach smacks of intimidation and encourages Missouri Baptists to snitch on perceived offenders. As a result, the MBC will become increasingly fractured.