Theological review committee begins policy phase

Theological review committee begins policy phase

By Allen Palmeri
Associate Editor

JEFFERSON CITY A Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) theological study committee has voted, 4-0, to establish a position statement regarding Scripture and policy guidelines for MBC staff members desiring to work with non-political para-church ministry organizations.

The ad hoc committee was formed following a motion made during the MBC’s annual meeting in Cape Girardeau in October. The motion was referred to the Committee on Order of Business which recommended to the convention that the motion be referred to the Executive Board where Chairman Mike Green, pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Republic, established the committee which is to bring a report to the Executive Board in July.

The committee is charged with reviewing the theological soundness of all relationships the MBC staff has with such ministries. The vote, on March 15, had one abstention to accept the guidelines as presented and modified, with the understanding that there could be further revisions. The new guidelines, if adopted, will apply only to MBC staff; they are not meant to come into conflict with the autonomy of local churches and will not apply to MBC churches or missions.

Committee Chairman Michael Knight, pastor, First Baptist Church, Viburnum, presented the material that was ultimately approved by committee members Jeff White, pastor, South Creek (Baptist) Church, Springfield, Denny Marr, minister of education and administration, Calvary Baptist Church, Republic, and Kim Petty, laity, Grace Community Church, Smithville. David McAlpin, pastor, First Baptist Church, Harvester, St. Charles, abstained.

Before the vote, MBC Executive Director David Clippard suggested the committee delay a decision on the issue.

“Why don’t you just table it for adoption at the next meeting?” Clippard asked.

When Knight emphasized that there was a motion already on the table, McAlpin offered to amend the motion to read that the document would be given an opportunity for further discussion at subsequent meetings. The amendment died for lack of a second.

Knight said he wrote the document, which includes a one-page “preamble” and a four-page set of questions, so he could fulfill his responsibility as chairman to both manage the flow and move the work along.

“If I had not done that, we would still be talking, so it’s always good to have something on paper and maybe depart from that, which we did on a few points,” he said.

Committee members generally affirmed the position statement, leaving 10 items basically intact. There was some discussion on the final point – “the Scriptures are to lead individual believers and local churches to reject worldly and man-centered philosophies related to modern ministry, methodologies, marketing, counseling, entertainment and traditions”—as definitions of “man-centered” and “entertainment” were discussed. Ultimately, the phrase “that are not thoroughly biblical” was added.

The 14 points of the questionnaire were likewise studied, with most of the scrutiny falling on the lengthy final item. Five of the proposed 15 statements under No. 14 were removed, primarily because the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 already addresses those points, committee members said. Another statement asking if a para-church ministry is supportive of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) or the Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM) was amended to include the theologically liberal Baptist World Alliance and pro-homosexual Alliance of Baptists as well.

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m., April 16 at the Baptist Building.

“I want this to be a vetting policy,” Knight said.

Earlier in the committee meeting, McAlpin and White continued their debate over interpretations of the theological views of noted author Gary Smalley, whose para-church ministry is one of 192 partnerships that are currently working with the MBC. McAlpin presented a four-page paper challenging White’s credibility and criticizing his handling of a process of correction with MBC staff. White said the allegations are untrue and pointed out that Smalley, in a private meeting with White, admitted he was an integrationist, which runs contrary to a sufficiency of Scripture position that the committee is sustaining.

McAlpin wrote that Smalley, in his book “The DNA of Relationships,” writes that we all have a relationship with God because we are God’s creation. He then quoted Acts 17:28b-29, which uses the phrase “God’s offspring” to describe this relationship.

White countered that the problem in Smalley’s writing, which pinpoints a father-child relationship, is poor theology.

“I’m not an alienated child of God if I’m unsaved,” White said. “I’m dead in trespasses and sin. I’m not even in the family. I’m in Adam. I’m not in Christ.”

White noted that Smalley frequently writes of “self-love, self-esteem and self-image,” concepts which originated with psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. When the MBC brings in an integrationist like Smalley to do a marriage conference, it is a poor choice when “multitudes of other people” out there in the counseling realm both believe in and teach the sufficiency of Scripture, White said.

“The issue is the sufficiency of Scripture,” White said. “Are we affirming, in our convention, in practice, the sufficiency of Scripture? Why do we feel so threatened about having any kind of a position that says we believe the Bible is sufficient?”

Knight said the April 16 meeting will shift gears a bit to examine the Emerging/Emergent Church. The movement has made headlines recently in Missouri with The Journey, a congregation in St. Louis that tries to witness in settings where alcohol is served.

“The Emerging/Emergent Church is clearly a phenomenon in our day and age,” Knight said. “It’s out there. It’s in the news. It’s all over the place. There are conferences, workshops devoted to that. There are no doubt churches in Missouri Baptist life who are interested in it, but we really don’t know a lot about it. We want to do a Basic 101 introductory level investigation of it as part of determining with whom we’re networking.”