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.