Mainstream Baptists focus on freedom at national meeting
February 22 2002 by Jimmy Allen , BR Assistant Editor

Mainstream Baptists focus on freedom at national meeting | Friday, Feb. 22, 2002

Friday, Feb. 22, 2002

Mainstream Baptists focus on freedom at national meeting

By Jimmy Allen BR Assistant Editor

CHARLOTTE - Freedom was an often-used word during the first national gathering of Mainstream Baptists on Feb. 15-16.

Speakers described freedom. They utilized biblical stories to relate to the importance of freedom found in Christ. They talked about contemporary threats to freedom. And they used examples from church history to highlight people committed to freedom.

The approximately 250 people attending the convocation in a hotel ballroom were there as representatives of the 15 Mainstream state organizations. Although officially titled Mainstream Baptists, other names can be used to describe them, according to Roy Smith, interim chair of Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina (MBNC) and a retired executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Those names include authentic Baptists, traditional Baptists, and free and faithful Baptists.

Smith spoke during the Friday evening banquet. He said he sees three values or freedoms that are being threatened in Baptist life.

One of those is Baptists' belief in the authority of the Bible only. "There are those for whom the Bible is no longer sufficient," Smith said, referring to writers of the 2000 version of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M).

"For the first time in our history we have an official, doctrinal statement," Smith said. That document is being used as a prerequisite for hiring, serving on boards and cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention, he said.

"I contend, my friends, it is a gross and drastic departure of who we've been and who we ought to be as we seek to honor Jesus Christ," Smith said. His comment generated applause.

In North Carolina, an effort is underway for the state convention to adopt the BF&M, he said. "I hope and pray that day never comes."

Smith also sees a threat to the freedom of local church autonomy. No one should have the right to dictate to churches, he said. He referred to Benjamin Merrill who in the 1700s protested Gov. Tryon's decision to approve all pastors and their pay. Merrill, leader of more than 700 men willing to fight to preserve their autonomy, was arrested and convicted. He was hung, disemboweled and beheaded by the government because he was willing to stand up for the church's freedom.

"This business of freedom we often talk about glibly did not come easily," he said.

Smith also said the freedom of cooperation is a value that goes back in history. Two men, Shubal Stearns from the Sandy Creek tradition, and John Gano from the Charleston tradition, were able to come together for ministry in an effort that would result in the founding of the Baptist State Convention.

"We don't have too much of that attitude today," Smith said.

When a committee of cooperation in the BSC made recommendations for bylaw changes designed to encourage shared leadership at November's convention, two people stood up in opposition. One said the changes would be the basis for disunity. The other said no cooperation could exist until everyone agrees on the nature of scripture. So the convention didn't vote.

"We're living in strange and difficult times, and strange and difficult winds are blowing in North Carolina," Smith said.

David Sapp, pastor of Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, read a story of freedom from Acts 16 in which Paul and Silas set a fortuneteller free.

"The really great leaders in the history of the church have been those who have understood the word 'cross;' who were willing to pay a price to set others free - the martyrs, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer," Sapp said.

"It seems to me that those of us who have been captured by the Baptist idea have a unique responsibility to share our freedom," he said. "It is, after all, for freedom that Christ has set us free."

That freedom can be threatening to those in power and the sources of freedom are often put in prison, he said. That is what happened to Paul and Silas after setting the fortuneteller free.

Missionaries who have left their families, who have gone to the ends of the earth with little pay, and who model the saving love of Christ for others are now being asked to sign a creed, the 2000 BF&M, Sapp said.

"It is necessary because their freedom is threatening to those in power," he said.

Freedom is the most fertile soil for faith, Sapp said. "We do not advocate freedom in order to encourage people to embrace crazy ideas, although some of them might," Sapp said. "We do not advocate freedom in order to provide a license for heresy, although some might commit it. We advocate freedom so that people will be free to find truth, free to find life, free to find God who the Bible says is in Christ.

"So this is the simple call today. Keep the Baptist idea live. Run the risk of freedom so others might run the risk of faith."

Don Gordon, past chair of MBNC, told about his father being severely injured in a car crash. After several days, Gordon was told his father's tire business in Winston-Salem was facing a difficult time because his father was the one who created the cash flow. Gordon called a meeting of the business' seven employees and then went out generating business.

"I wouldn't allow his business to collapse," Gordon said. "I have similar feelings about the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina."

Gordon said he wants to pass on the Baptist heritage to his three daughters because "the Baptist State Convention has shaped my faith in a thousand ways known and unknown."

Testimonies were also given by Lynn Williams, a church-staff minister whose ordination in Florida led to a failed effort to expel her church from the local association; David Flick, the only director of missions in Oklahoma who refused to sign the 2000 BF&M and a self-described "closet moderate" until three months ago; and Mike Chancellor, the father of two Journeyman missionaries through the SBC's International Mission Board. Chancellor wrote a letter to IMB president Jerry Rankin saying Rankin is requiring missionaries to choose between their calling and integrity.

Raymond Earp, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Beaufort and a former candidate for president of the BSC, attended the gathering. He said he liked the two-day event, especially after the IMB's announcement to require missionaries to sign the 2000 BF&M.

"If it (the convocation's message) can get out to the people in the local churches, it'll have a great impact," Earp said.

Johnnie Jackson attended the convocation from her home in Buies Creek. "I have really appreciated its focus on love and grace," Jackson said, "and the fact it is centered on the ministry of Jesus Christ."

She said she hopes the impact of the meeting is to motivate people to go into local churches and educate people.

"I really like Don Gordon's comment that it's up to those who are already educated (about Baptist issues) to carry the torch so others can see what's really happening," she said.

David Currie, MBN national consultant, said the convocation was an opportunity for people to get fired up and then inspire others.

Thirty-seven people, including five with North Carolina ties were inducted as the charter members of the Mainstream Baptist Network Hall of Fame. They are Randall Lolley, former president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the pastor of several N.C. churches; Cecil Sherman, former pastor of First Baptist Church, Asheville, who is now an instructor at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond; James Dunn, former executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee and now a visiting professor at Wake Forest University's divinity school; Dan Martin, a former pastor in North Carolina after being fired from Baptist Press; and Duke McCall, former president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an associate member of First Baptist Church, Highlands.

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2/22/2002 12:00:00 AM by Jimmy Allen , BR Assistant Editor | with 0 comments
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