Baptist battles miss heart of issue, educator says : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
October 30 2003 by Steve DeVane

Baptist battles miss heart of issue, educator says : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Baptist battles miss heart of issue, educator says

By Steve DeVane
BR Managing Editor
ROCKY MOUNT - Both sides of the Baptist controversy have missed the "genius of what it means to be Baptist," the president of a moderate seminary said.

Tom Graves, president of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, spoke at the opening service of a "Baptist Heritage Conference" Oct. 3-4 at North Rocky Mount Baptist Church.

About 60 people attended the opening session that featured Graves' sermon. About 90 attended events the next day.

Using Jeremiah 31 as the text, Graves talked about remembering the pathway that Baptists have traveled. He asked what should be the "guideposts" for Baptists.

Graves told the group that they had probably heard a lot about what it takes to be a "real Baptist" during the controversy.

One side says real Baptists believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, the subservient role of women and strong pastoral authority, he said.

The other side holds that real Baptists emphasize freedom, the priesthood of the believer, the autonomy of the local church and the separation of church and state, he said.

Graves said he wasn't making light of those issues.

"It seems to me something's been lost," he said. "As we battled each other, we've forgotten what it really means to be Baptist."

Graves called for an emphasis on a spiritual encounter that he said is "at the heart of what it means to be Baptist."

"What's important is our relationship with Jesus Christ," he said. "That's been the genius of Baptist life."

Graves told of preaching trips he took while on sabbatical in Zimbabwe. He and the music minister who drove him to the churches would argue heatedly about theological issues all the way to the church, he said. After they arrived, the music minister would lead the music and Graves would preach. At times, everyone present at the service would make a decision to follow Christ, he said.

Once back in the car, the theological debates would continue, Graves said. Those disagreements didn't keep the two from worshipping together, he said.

Graves told about a chairman of deacons coming to his office shortly after he was called to pastor a church. The man asked Graves a number of theological questions. After Graves' answered all the questions, the man said he thought Graves was OK and left after saying, "I'm glad I got to know you."

Graves said the man knew some of the knowledge that Graves had in his head, but not what was in his heart.

"He didn't know me," Graves said. "He knew what I believed, but he never asked about who I encountered."

Graves called on Baptists to focus again on their relationship with Jesus.

"The focus is on the faith experience," he said.

Ida Mae Hays, a retired missionary to Brazil who was called Oct. 5 as pastor of Weldon Baptist Church in Weldon, led two breakout sessions and spoke during the morning service on Oct. 4. Her message was centered on her call to missions and her ministry in Brazil.

Before she retired, the International Mission Board (IMB) asked Hays to rescind her ordination and title of pastor emeritus, which were both from a Brazilian church. She refused.

IMB trustees later adopted a statement saying the organization does not recognize the ordination or title.

In a breakout session, Hays said she received the IMB's request to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) about three weeks before she retired. She said she wouldn't have signed.

In May, the IMB fired 13 missionaries who refused the sign the document. Sixty-four others resigned or retired rather than sign.

Gene Scarborough, pastor of North Rocky Mount Baptist Church, spoke at the Oct. 4 afternoon session of the conference. Using Genesis 11:26-32 as a text, Scarborough talked about how the church today is at "some significant halfway places."

Scarborough talked about how Abraham's father, Terah, died at an oasis halfway to the promised land. Many people today throw up their hands in despair rather than having courage to face the future, he said.

The church finds itself in the halfway place of institutionalism, Scarborough said. Some Baptist churches have turned their buildings into idols, he said.

The church is also stuck at the halfway place of talking, rather than taking action, according to Scarborough.

"All or us are sickened by the changes in Baptist life, but how many are willing to attend conventions, speak up to our congregations about the wrongs, encourage our people to be aware of the Fundamentalism which is ruling the day?" he said. "If we are to preserve our heritage, we must do more than gripe among ourselves. We must risk some church turmoil. We must encourage discussion of the issues even if church members may disagree with one another about their beliefs."

Scarborough said talk and action combine to make people grow.

"Talk without action only generates confusion," he said. "Do we quietly let evil reign because we might lose our retirement plan, or do we 'tell it like it is' so people realize we need to get out and vote?"

The church is also stuck at the halfway place of indifference, Scarborough said.

"When our career goals and dreams keep us from doing anything but that which is popular we become indifferent to the truth and the need to be involved in preserving our heritage," he said.

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Steve DeVane | with 0 comments

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