By Vicki Brown
Word&Way News Writer
Single alignment is an issue that has alternately united and divided Missouri Baptists almost since Baptists began cooperating in the state in 1834.
Messengers to the 171st annual meeting in Springfield again will face the issue when they consider on second reading a constitutional amendment that will tighten language to restrict membership in the MBC to messengers of churches that are singly aligned with the Southern Baptist and Missouri Baptist conventions.
If passed, the proposed amendment of Section 1 of the constitution's membership article would change wording from "any Baptist church" to "any Southern Baptist church" and would change the words "in sympathy" to "singly aligned" with the convention. No church could be an MBC church without being a cooperating SBC church.
The addition of Section 4 to the article would apparently permit some churches to relate to other organizations, conventions or associations along racial, ethnic or cultural lines as long as the relationship is not contrary to the MBC constitution and does not "violate accepted Southern Baptist faith, polity and practice."
Other proposed changes to the constitution and bylaws would make the MBC credentials committee a standing committee, rather than a temporary one. Under current rules, the president names the credentials committee to operate from 30 days prior to the annual meeting to the session's conclusion. The committee reviews any challenge to a church's standing and recommends action to the convention.
According to the report presented at the 2004 annual meeting, a church would have to adopt a doctrinal statement and contribute financially to the work of both the SBC and MBC to be considered a cooperating church.
Currently, the MBC constitution does not require giving as a condition for affiliation, although the SBC constitution does so.
The congregation also could not send a representative or messenger or financially support any other state or national convention or an organization that acts as a convention.
The committee's rules define a national convention as "any organization which independently sends and ordains ministers to the United States military services."
By that definition, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and some state Baptist conventions, such as the Baptist General Convention of Texas, would be classified as "denominations."
Neither the CBF nor state conventions consider themselves as denominations.
Rules and procedures would allow the committee to "investigate" the qualifications of a church and of individual messengers. The rules do not define how much leeway the committee has in its investigation and whether a church would be required to hand over financial and other records to committee members.
Under proposed committee procedures, the convention might claim the right to examine churches' contributions to determine whether congregations support other national or state conventions or bodies that act as conventions.
In a pamphlet about its 2004 report, the committee only addressed the question of whether it would be able to investigate the "internal affairs and giving of church members," not the church itself.
Although it recognizes the autonomy of the local church, the committee "will work directly with the churches and utilize objective information." It does not spell out how it would do that.