Theology committee tackles Emerging Church

Theology committee tackles Emerging Church

By Allen Palmeri
Associate Editor

JEFFERSON CITYThe Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) theological study committee April 16 heard the new interim executive director of the MBC affirm its position statement regarding Scripture and policy guidelines for MBC staff members desiring to work with non-political para-church ministry organizations.

David Tolliver asked several questions about the document before stating, “I welcome the guidelines. They do protect us.”

Chairman Michael Knight, pastor of First Baptist Church of Viburnum, was pleased with the meeting, which was largely spent with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s D. Mark DeVine, associate professor of Christian theology, as he talked about the Emerging/Emergent Church. Committee members agreed to review seven preliminary statements about this movement that Knight drafted based on DeVine’s remarks and subsequent discussion. The committee’s next meeting will be at 10 a.m. April 30 in the Baptist Building.

“We had a lengthy time of question and answer, and I feel many people benefited from it,” Knight said. “I thought it was a very positive, fruitful, productive meeting.”

Studying the Emerging/Emergent Church is relevant to the committee’s work in part because one of the 192 partnerships/research documents that is linked to MBC staffers is the Acts 29 Network, which is a fellowship of Emerging churches that may not be in step with many Missouri Baptist churches concerning alcohol policy. While committee members are clearly troubled by this, they agreed that their job is not to make any judgments about any one of the existing partnerships but rather to remain focused on developing a reasonable and useful set of guidelines.

“I think I don’t want to investigate all of those,” said Committee Member Denny Marr, minister of education and administration, Calvary Baptist Church, Republic. “I’d like our staff to be responsible.”

DeVine presented his 24-page paper, “Fast Friends or Future Foes: The Emerging Church and Southern Baptists.” The professor spoke for 55 minutes, touching off a 90-minute period of interaction with an audience that included staffers, pastors, Executive Board members and other Missouri Baptists. That resulted in Knight drafting the seven preliminary statements about Emerging/Emergent (to be dealt with at a future meeting) which are as follows:

1) Acts 29 is a part of the Emerging Church movement;

2) We have great difficulty with the notion or philosophy that a church can be theologically conservative and methodologically liberal. There is an inherent connection between biblical theology and missions methodology;

3) There seems to be levels of immaturity and even rebellion among the leadership of the Emerging Church movement;

4) Acts 29 should not be an organization with which the Missouri Baptist Convention networks by means of our Cooperative Program money, missions emphases and church planting;

5) A commitment to planting indigenous churches in Missouri is not a commitment to cultural compromise;

6) We recognize the diversity of opinion in American evangelicalism when it comes to alcoholic beverages. This does not negate our historic and ongoing affirmation of the resolutions at 57 annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding abstinence as the Baptist position on the sale and use of alcoholic beverages;

7) There are vast theological extremes and a profound depth of doctrinal diversity, even instances of clearly heretical statements, within the Emerging Church movement with which we are greatly uncomfortable.

Knight spoke of the need to bring closure to “the day of ambiguity”–something he described as an attitude of blind trust.

“We are living in a day and age where we need doctrinal precision and we need to be definitive in what we believe,” he said. “The day of presuming what everybody believes—that’s ambiguous. I believe most people do not thrive well in ambiguity. We thrive well with parameters such as the Baptist Faith & Message (2000), and any clarification that can be made of a statement like that.

“We very much want our Executive Board staff to be theologically discerning when they choose to network with a particular ministry organization.”

 In the spirit of ending the day of ambiguity, the committee voted 4-0 to send out CD copies of “What’s So Dangerous About the Emerging Church,” by John McArthur, to every Missouri Baptist pastor and director of missions. Another McArthur CD on the sufficiency of Scripture will be mailed to MBC ministry specialist staff and Executive Board members. The motion did not include a cost cap, but it is expected that the MBC would spend no more than $2,500 on the project.

The position statement/set of guidelines that was approved March 15 was not changed in the April 16 meeting. Tolliver’s first impression of the document was that it is “something they (MBC staffers) can work with, and I don’t see it being a big problem.” Knight, who noted that Tolliver’s presence in the meeting was “refreshing,” clearly views the committee’s work on the four-page document as largely complete.

“I can’t imagine it being tweaked anymore, but we’ll go from here,” he said. “It’s workable. It’s accountable.”

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 the various ministries. 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 Member David McAlpin, pastor, First Baptist Church, Harvester, in St. Charles, was ill April 16 and did not attend the meeting.