By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
The Missouri Baptist Convention will no longer cooperate with Baptist churches in the state that support any other body considered in competition with the MBC or the Southern Baptist Convention.
Meeting Oct. 24-26 at Second Baptist Church, Springfield, messengers adopted two constitutional amendments on second reading that narrow MBC membership requirements.
Passed by raised ballot vote, the first amendment changed wording of Section 1 of the membership article from "Any Baptist church in sympathy with the objects of the Convention…" to "Any Southern Baptist church singly aligned with the Convention…."
As approved, the membership article permits MBC-affiliated churches to relate to racial, ethnic, cultural and community organizations and conventions, as long as those relationships do not violate the MBC constitution and bylaws or "accepted Southern Baptist faith, polity and practice."
An adopted amendment to the constitution's relationship article allows the MBC to determine the churches with which it will cooperate. The article had allowed the convention to decline to seat messengers. The change now allows the convention to "decline to accept or continue cooperation with a church," as well.
Messengers overwhelmingly defeated two attempts to modify the proposed constitutional changes.
Jim Goforth, pastor and messenger from New Life Baptist Church, St. Louis, offered an amendment to eliminate the word "singly." The intent of the alignment language, he said, is to prevent MBC churches from supporting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at national and state levels and the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, an alternative state convention officially organized in April 2002.
Calling it a matter of "integrity," Goforth said the convention could not call affiliation single alignment when the constitution would allow cooperation with other organizations.
"I wish we would have the courage to just name the organizations and be honest about it," he said.
Brad Haynes of First Baptist Church, Grandview, responded that "those groups have a history of using semantics to lure churches" and that they would "merely change their corporate names" if the constitution listed specific organizations.
Messengers also rebuffed an attempt by David Mason of Green Valley Baptist Church, St. Joseph, to return the proposals to the committee on continuing review.
Mason said that while he was "very friendly to the motion," he believed "the timing is wrong." Alluding to the New Testament story of the tares and wheat, Mason suggested consideration of the proposals be delayed until legal action currently pending between the MBC and five institutions is settled.
The convention filed legal action in August 2002 to try to force The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and Word&Way to rescind charter changes that allow each entity to elect its own trustees. The five agencies filed amended charters with the Missouri Secretary of State in 2000 and 2001.
Messengers to the 171st annual meeting also amended the constitution to turn the temporary credentials committee into a standing committee.
In the past, the MBC president named a credentials committee at least 30 days prior to the convening of the annual meeting. The committee would deal with any challenge made to a church's messengers prior to or during the annual session.
With the change, credentials committee members will be able to take up questions about a church's status or challenges to a church's messengers at any time throughout the year.
The new committee will operate under guidelines that spell out the rules a congregation must follow to be considered a cooperating MBC church.
Although the convention's constitution does not list a financial requirement for membership, the committee's guidelines note that a church will be considered singly aligned if it contributes to the MBC "at least on an annual basis" and does not belong to or financially support another state convention or organization that "serves and/or acts as a state convention" in Missouri.
The MBC will consider a church as cooperating with another body if that church sends representatives to the organization's meetings, financially supports its work or includes the organization in the church's budget.
A church also must be a cooperating Southern Baptist church, which the MBC defines as adopting a doctrinal statement in line with accepted faith and practice, contributing financially to the SBC, and refraining from participating with or contributing to another national convention.
The guidelines define a national convention as any organization that can independently endorse chaplains to U.S. military service branches. Under that definition, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and some state conventions, such as the Baptist General Convention of Texas, would be considered national conventions, although neither CBF nor state conventions consider themselves as such.
Under the guidelines, the committee would be able to investigate the qualifications of churches and of individual messengers if either is challenged. The committee also could investigate "upon receipt or discovery of any information which causes the committee to believe" a church or individual does not qualify.
Committee on continuing review chairman John Holstein pointed out that providing a mechanism to deal with challenges prior to the annual meeting allows more order. "It doesn't become something that just pops up at the convention," he said.
Greene County Baptist Association director of missions Michael Haynes was the only individual who spoke against the proposals. He called the changes "unbiblical," "unprecedented," "unnecessary" and "unpredictable." The proposals create suspicion, and a means to discipline churches and individuals for sin is already in place, he said.
The association is charged with protecting its churches, he said. "If a Greene County church is investigated, I promise there will be strong reaction and response…. Our churches are not perfect, but we are family," he said.
Although the changes were adopted, it is unclear when the committee will be put into place. The committee on convention committees nominates individuals to all standing committees, and messengers vote on the list at annual meetings. That committee did not present nominees before the annual meeting adjourned on Oct. 26.
See the Nov. 3 issue of Word&Way for complete 2005 annual meeting coverage. (10-28-05)