Florida association severs ties with church led by husband & wife : Friday, Nov 21, 2003
November 21 2003 by

Florida association severs ties with church led by husband & wife : Friday, Nov 21, 2003
Friday, Nov 21, 2003

Florida association severs ties with church led by husband & wife

From wire and staff reports

SOUTH DAYTONA, Fla. - Central Baptist Church of Daytona Beach has been removed from membership in the Halifax Baptist Association due to "doctrinal differences," according to a unanimous vote of the Florida association's executive committee at a Nov. 18 called meeting.

The meeting was called, moderator Dennis Littleton of First Baptist Church in Palm Coast said, "to clarify and affirm" action that had been taken at the association's annual meeting Oct. 28. Apparently there had been some confusion at that meeting over the motion to dissolve Central's membership in the association.

The "doctrinal differences" involve Central's calling of a husband-wife team earlier this year as co-pastors, Dave and Sonja Phillips.

"It saddens us that we have to take this position, but Central Baptist's action prompted this action," Littleton told the Florida Baptist Witness after the meeting at South Daytona First Baptist Church. "We are grieved about it."

Dennis Belz, director of missions for the Halifax association, said the calling of a woman pastor was "in direct opposition to the Word of God and the revised Baptist Faith and Message of 2000."

The Baptist Faith and Message's 2000 revision says "the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.'" While the statement is not binding on congregations, it often is used as a tool of acceptable doctrine by local associations.

The original motion at the October associational meeting, made by Rima Ridge Baptist Church pastor Chris Lybarger, was that the association "not seat the Messengers from Central and that we disfellowship with the church because of doctrinal differences."

Central's messengers were not allowed any voting rights at the meeting.

The Halifax Baptist Association, which stretches from Palm Coast to Oak Hill in Flagler and Volusia counties in Florida, now consists of 33 Southern Baptist churches. The association's vote to disfellowship Central, one of its charter members, is the first such action in its 46-year history. Littleton, answering a question from the floor, confirmed that a group representing the association sat down with Dave Phillips and explained that their associational membership was in jeopardy as long as Central chose to ignore the policies and principles the church had agreed to keep.

"Dave Phillips just told us that removing his wife as a pastor was not going to happen," Littleton said.

In a telephone interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Phillips reiterated that statement and added: "We understand the actions of the association and will certainly abide by its ruling. We're just going to continue doing the Lord's work here."

Sonja Phillips, 40, said her decision to become a pastor was "not about me being a woman."

"It's about me being a child of God," the former social worker told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "I'm just trying to serve God the best way I know how."

Sonja and Dave Phillips take turns preaching for the Daytona Beach church, which has a reputation for its multiple social ministries.

Longtime church member Jim Page represented Central Baptist as a messenger to the October associational meeting but was not allowed to participate. He said the church's ouster doesn't matter nearly as much to church members as their relationship with the co-pastors. "I feel sorry for those other churches that have such restrictive thinking and policies," he added.

An explanation that appeared on Central Baptist's website for a few days following the Oct. 28 meeting described the church as "a 'different' kind of Baptist church."

"That is to say Central has never fallen into the pit of religious fundamentalism that currently plagues the Southern Baptist Convention," the statement said. "Many of our 'sister' churches in the area have been led astray by fundamentalist pastors. This is the case not only with the SBC, but also with the Florida Baptist Convention, and sadly, the Halifax Baptist Association. The differences that make Central Baptist such a unique and loving congregation have compelled the fundamentalists in our area to 'take action' against us. Since they cannot control us, they would rather disown us."

The statement said the association Hal is upset that the church called Sonja Phillips as co- pastor.

"They think the Bible says a church can't do that. They're wrong," the statement said. "They are misguided in their beliefs and actions. Central is different from the fundamentalists. Not only is Central a different place to be Baptist, we are a better place to be Baptist."

Belz expressed gratitude for the community outreach Central has had over the years but had been dismayed by their lack of associational involvement.

"We have seen a change in Central as they have become more involved in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship," Belz said in referencing the group which formed as a missions and ministry alternative to the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1990s.

Central, which advertises itself under "Baptist" churches in the BellSouth Yellow Pages, lists its congregation as "partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship" in the same ad.

"Since Central belongs to the CBF, this action was probably not a big deal to them," said Don Quinn, a member of Rima Ridge Baptist Church of Ormond Beach and the association's immediate past moderator. "I feel badly about it, but if they are involved with the CBF, they shouldn't be a part of our association anyway."

A N.C. Baptist church came under fire and eventually withdrew from its association last year over the issue of a woman co-pastor.

Cullowhee Baptist Church withdrew from the Tuckaseigee Baptist Association in August 2002. The church called Jeffrey and Tanya Vickery as co-pastors in January 2002.

Five other churches pulled out of the association later, some citing a concern for church autonomy and others saying they wanted to get away from fighting in the association.
11/21/2003 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments




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