A denominational battle reaches the association
March 9 2001 by Jimmy Allen , BR Assistant Editor

A denominational battle reaches the association | Friday, March 9, 2001

Friday, March 9, 2001

A denominational battle reaches the association

By Jimmy Allen BR Assistant Editor ENFIELD - Mildred Middleton knows the frustration of women being treated as second-class members in church. She experienced it while participating in a Wednesday night Bible study about nine years ago at what was then her church. She asked a question related to the lesson, and she got her answer. But it didn't come directly to her. Her husband, Charles, was told the answer so he could, in turn, tell her.

"This is what I fear," Mildred Middleton said about uncertainty in the North Roanoke Baptist Association.

She was one of about 110 people who attended a meeting at Enfield Baptist Church on March 6 that was organized by leaders of the association's Woman's Missionary Union (WMU). The meeting was designed to inform laity of the association about perceived threats to historic Baptist principles and to examine the laity's role in preserving them. Speakers expressed fear that attempts will be made to impose what they consider legalistic policies on the association, particularly the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, which limits the pastorate to men and de-emphasizes the priesthood of each believer.

The meeting was held during a time of conflict over the nomination committee's recommendations for the 2001 personnel committee. Two well-known conservatives had been recommended for the committee, but at a second meeting the nominating committee chose different candidates. That move is now being challenged.

One of two removed was Michael Cloer, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount. The reason for the change was theological, Cloer said, because the personnel committee will eventually choose a successor for the director of missions, J.D. Harrod, who plans to retire next year.

"That's what it's all about, who controls the personnel committee," Cloer said, noting that conservatives don't want the committee controlled by churches supporting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). "It's a denominational issue on the local level. Is the association CBF or SBC (Southern Baptist Convention)?"

Principles like priesthood of the believer and local church autonomy aren't being threatened in the association, he said. No conservative effort has been made to adopt the BF&M as associational policy although Cloer said he hopes that happens.

"I would like it," he said. "I hope there would be a clear distinction. Two different families can't exist in the same house. ... I'm not trying to be divisive. Man, the divisiveness was here before I got here."

Cloer said the BF&M doesn't threaten believers, but it does challenge them to know what they believe. "I'm hoping there will be a clear distinction in our state, especially our association."

If the BF&M is adopted by the association, one of its member churches, Antioch Baptist in Enfield, would be excluded because its pastor, Joy Heaton, is a woman.

Heaton participated in the March 6 meeting by leading the group in a prayer in which she asked God to help those attending to resist the temptation of safety and face the risks of discipleship.

One of the presenters was Edna Weeks, the associate director for WMU. She described the difficulties women have faced in Southern Baptist life by reading an article written by Bruce Prescott titled "Subjugating Women in the SBC." The article notes the WMU was founded in the basement of a Methodist church because its founders weren't allowed to gather in the Baptist church. For the first 73 years of the SBC's existence, women weren't allowed to serve as messengers, and it wasn't until nine years later that a woman instead of a man was allowed to give the WMU report at the annual meeting.

"You see, we've come a long way," Weeks said. "And we still have a long way to come. No matter where we turn, people are trying to snuff us out. ... We can't let that happen."

Tea became a symbol for the fight for independence during the Revolutionary War, and another speaker at the meeting, Ruby Batchelor, a former WMU director, used tea as a metaphor of their struggle.

"Women are like tea bags," she said. "We never know their strength until they are dropped in hot water. Women, we are in hot water in this association."

Wayne Martin, pastor of Weldon Baptist Church, talked about an associational meeting 30 years ago in which "legalistic" theological statements were proposed by who he called "pseudo-Baptists." The move was turned down by messengers in what Martin called the association's "finest hour."

A similar type of stand is needed now, he said, because some people in the association want to establish theological guidelines that Martin described as "legalistic" and "Pharisetic."

"Should some have their way, you and I would become more accountable to them than perhaps (to) God Himself," Martin said.

If principles of priesthood of the believer, soul competency and local autonomy are lost, they are lost forever, he said.

In August, a group of concerned pastors organized a laity gathering to talk about threats to Baptist principles. Since that meeting, large crowds have attended associational meetings. Fear of the crowds has prevented proposals to make the 2000 BF&M a test for fellowship as well as to spoil attempts at "actions they wanted to be made," Martin said.

"It seems your enthusiastic attendance has made an impact," he said. "Keep it up."

He encouraged those attending to be vigilant in standing for Baptist principles. Baptists in Virginia and Texas have stood up to those threats, he said. "We Baptists are getting pretty good at it in North Carolina."

One attendee asked how the trend in Southern Baptist life the last 20 years has impacted the WMU. Heaton, a member of the WMU as well as a pastor, said Southern Baptist leaders are building a foundation based on biblical interpretations that moves women into second-class status to men. Women who agree with this submissive view of themselves will be put into WMU leadership positions, she said. The reason for the SBC's interest in WMU is the great mission offerings, she said.

"WMU has always been respected for its mission efforts," Heaton said.

Controlling the organization that has been so successful at garnering funds for the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board is vital to the SBC, she said.

In response to a question about what WMU members should do, Heaton said to "recognize you're a Baptist. You're a priest with a relationship with Jesus."

Some people will tell others what the Bible says. Heaton's response: "Read it for yourself and see what it really says. ... It's too often I've had to look someone in the face and say, 'But you aren't God.'"

Another way to respond is to serve as a messenger, Heaton said.

Another attendee asked about the theological differences between the two sides in Baptist life.

Charles Wilson, pastor of Bear Swamp Baptist Church in Littleton, described the difference as follows: "They want to say to others 'You have to believe the way we do.' ... Everyone's responsible for their own relationship to God. That's a big difference."

Cloer said later the difference is related to scripture. "We believe in the integrity and authority of scripture. That takes precedence over personal preference. That's a major difference. ... Once a person says 'I believe ...' then you're taking some other authority."

Also during the meeting, Batchelor expressed appreciation to the associational director of missions, J.D. Harrod, and his wife, Donice, the associational secretary, who were not at the meeting. She described the couple as a blessing to everyone in the association, which has 62 churches with 22,307 members. She described their diligence about work and noted their ability to treat each visitor to the associational office as if they were the most important person the Harrods had seen that day. Batchelor's comment about the importance of the Harrods doing their job was greeted with applause.

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3/9/2001 12:00:00 AM by Jimmy Allen , BR Assistant Editor | with 0 comments
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