Monthly Archives: March 2010

Autonomy

One of the core values of Texas Baptist churches, in fact of most Baptist churches, is local church autonomy. As a corollary to this time honored belief in the “priesthood of the believer”, local church autonomy has been a hallmark of religious freedom and liberty. Each local church under the guidance and leadership of its pastor and leaders has the God-given right and authority to set its own course under the direction of the Spirit, and the counsel of Holy Scripture.

With this autonomy comes diversity and freshness. Although Baptist churches hold dear the core values of the faith, the manor in which these truths are implemented is expressed in a wide variety of ways among Baptists of all strides. The old adage said about Baptists holds true “where you find three Baptist you will get four or more opinions!”

Over the course of recent days the issues revolving around the actions of Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, and its public stance on the issue of homosexuality has created quite a perplexing position for the leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  The BGCT has been quite clear historically on its corporate stance on this divisive issue in American culture. The BGCT has stood firm on the nature of marriage—one man and one woman, and on the biblical interpretation that homosexual behavior is sinful. The BGCT has historically stood with great solidarity about the importance of moral purity among ordained leadership, and its commitment to the highest standards of ordained leadership.

In hallway conversations on this issue, there have been many who have lobbied that the BGCT should not respond to the position taken by Royal Lane based on the Baptist distinctive of “local church autonomy.” It must be understood, that the BGCT leadership fully embrace and in no way seek to force Royal Lane into a position of submission. Royal Lane has freedom to act as it deems best and proper. However, much like the local church is autonomous, the BGCT is likewise autonomous. As a voluntary network of Baptist churches, it has the right and authority to define itself and its values.

The leaders of Royal Lane must have known the historic position of the BGCT that was reaffirm last year during its annual meeting in Houston. Yet, a handful of Royal Lane’s leaders chose a course of action contrary to the clear articulated position of the BGCT. It appears to me, this was their right as an autonomous church, but it does not negate the right of the BGCT to stand on its values and principles. The BGCT has not redefined itself. It is standing firm within its historic position when it asked the leaders of Royal Lane to examine their position on this matter.

Freedom comes with responsibility and accountability. Within the BGCT circle there is much freedom of expression and ministry diversity, yet there are boundaries that must the affirmed if the BGCT is to be true to its core values. The BGCT has been a champion of freedom and rejects legalism in all forms, but it has also been highly committed historically to its corporate understanding of the Word of God. Texas Baptists are men and women under the Lordship of Christ, who live as “people of the Book.” For me the Bible is my Baptist Faith and Message, and I have chosen to stand where it stands to the best of my understanding. On this issue, Texas Baptists have taken a conservative approach that embodies both grace and boundaries. I believe it is a good place to stand.

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BGCT Royal Lane Statement

Dallas: Today Randel Everett, Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas released the following statement concerning the BGCT and its relationship with Royal Lane Baptist Church of Dallas. The stress on the relationship developed after an article in the Dallas Morning News reported Royal Lane had changed its website, and some of its leaders had made public statements about the church’s position on homosexuality.

In response Dr. Everett wrote:

Recent reports concerning Royal Lane Baptist Church implied that the church’s position on homosexual behavior was clearly different from the historic theological position of The Baptist General Convention of Texas. The theological position on marriage, and specifically on homosexual behavior, has not changed within our 160 year Texas Baptist history. Because of this, the leadership of the BGCT asked to meet with the church’s leadership to clarify their position.

On Thursday March 11, the pastor of Royal Lane and one of the deacons met with BGCT leadership about the situation. During the discussion it was learned that the church had taken no actions on these decisions, and questions about sexual orientation never came up in deacon selection. However because of the serious nature of the public remarks attributed to church leadership, with consultation with the officers of the Executive Board and the President of the BGCT, I asked the church to remove the partnership with the BGCT from any of its church’s publications and said we would escrow any money received from Royal Lane in 2010 until such a time that the church has clarified its position reflecting that it is in agreement with the theological position of the BGCT.

How can we share the hope of Christ with all people and at the same time reflect the righteousness of Christ? How can we welcome everyone to our churches and preach that all of us must be rescued from the destructiveness of sin by Christ? This is obviously a challenging situation that all of our churches face.

The deacons of Royal Lane Baptist Church met on Sunday, March 14, to discuss the matter and voted to ask the church to clarify its position on this issue. It is my prayer that Royal Lane Baptist Church will take the appropriate action to return to these Texas Baptist values and restore its fellowship with the BGCT.

Randel Everett

As President of the BGCT, I have had the opportunity to be very close to this dynamic situation. From my perspective Dr. Everett has championed our historic convictions while seeking to keep lines of communication and understanding open between the BGCT and Royal Lane. David Matthews, pastor of Royal Lane, and the deacons of the church need our prayers as the church seeks to navigate this media storm and crisis.

Ministry today is complicated and messy, as is grace. Ministering and living between the tension of hope and holiness tests the resolve and resourcefulness of our churches. As we move closer to Easter Sunday, we need to redouble our efforts to share the hope of Christ with all who fall under His grace.

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Sex in the City: Boundaries and Grace/Thoughts on Royal Lane Situation

On Saturday, March 6th, Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News broke a story about a ministry decision made by the Royal Lane Baptist Church of Dallas. His opening line captured the essence of the situation when he wrote:

“A church, like a person, can come out of the closet. And that’s what Royal Lane Baptist did recently.”

Royal Lane under the leadership of its Senior Pastor David Matthews posted on their website this description of their fellowship:

“Royal Lane Baptist Church is an inclusive, multi-generational congregation joined in Christian community. We are a vibrant mosaic of varied racial identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and denominational backgrounds.”

There is much right about how they described themselves in terms of their inclusiveness that reaches beyond many of the walls that separate us—especially on Sunday mornings. However, the disturbing statement about “sexual orientations” pushed the boundaries of the vast majority of Baptist churches.

In 1989, Cecil Sherman, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, preached a sermon entitled:

“Homosexuality: Alternate Life Style or Sin?” In his sermon, he did a wonderful job wrestling with the issues raised by homosexuality in our society today.

Sherman was very insightful when he spoke of the challenges faced by the church today in responding to the hurts and needs of those who struggle with or have embraced a homosexual lifestyle. He noted wisely that historically the church has settled in one of three places:

“1. One part of the Church would say homosexuality is the worst of sins.

2. Another part of the Church is silent. These congregations are confused, mixed up, pulled in two directions. They want to be forgiving and open; they want to be faithful to the Bible. These people are waiting for some order or direction.

3. And a third part of the Church is ready to accept the view that homosexuality is not sinful and that the Church ought to weed out the judgmental people who would exclude.”

In response, it is my prayer the “silent” church will speak up and speak out. I personally feel the extremes hurt the cause of Christ, and diminish the hope of the gospel. However, for “silent” churches to end their silence the confusion must cease, and the gospel must light a path of grace and boundaries into the future. If ever the tension between the grace of God and the holiness of God were put to the test it is when we deal with any besetting sin that mars and redefines our understanding of personhood. Homosexuality is not alone in this impact on the human soul.

Please pray for the leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the leaders of Royal Lane Baptist Church that as they meet in the coming days, that the LORD will open a path before them that will be redemptive and offer hope to all who need hope while staying true to the Word of God.

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Good

Last week as I was preparing for Bill Wright’s funeral I reflected on his life and ministry. Bill was a bold, loving, direct leader who challenged others to live with abandonment. For some he was too gruff and confrontation, but to me he was good and passionate. As I reflected on his character I was reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis:

“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Our Lord Jesus, the Lion of Judah, was far from safe. Lewis used the lion Aslan to bring out the courage, presence, and life of Jesus in this amazing children’s story. The theology is incredible. Bill captured this part of Jesus’ character well. Jesus was not the Mister Rodgers of my childhood dressed in a sweater and tennis shoes. Jesus was a dangerous man who challenged the deadly orthodox of his day, and spoke of His Kingdom with bold colors.

In this day of transition and lightning fast change as the world is getting flatter and smaller, as followers of Jesus we would be wise to learn the secret of being “dangerous—and good!”

See these words of Jesus through new eyes:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own
household.’

37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matt 10:34-39 (NIV)

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